On Thursday, Los Angeles's annual AFI Fest ended after an impressive weeklong cinematic showcase that included everything from American independent films to world cinema to buzzy Oscar hopefuls from big studios. (Read our dispatch from the first half of AFI Fest here.) Now that the press lines have ceased, the champagne glasses have been drained, and the award winners have been announced, here are five final films from AFI that you should know about:
1. Lone Survivor
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch
What is it?
A based-on-a-true story film that follows four Navy SEALs as they embark upon a mission to capture a Taliban leader. After they're ambushed in Afghanistan, the four men resolve to do everything they can to survive.
Should you see it?
Yes, but be prepared to watch through your fingers. Director Peter Berg's depiction of the mission is unrelenting and gruesome, despite occasional slips into melodrama (particularly when violence occurs). Berg is terrific at telling quintessentially American stories — see Friday Night Lights, not Battleship — but he also manages to the complexities of war instead of merely making it an "us vs. them" tale. Fortunately, he also has a terrific cast: Wahlberg (in top form), Kitsch, Hirsch, and Foster successfully evoke bonds of brotherhood that are simultaneously funny, touching, and tragic.
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, and Michelle Fairley
What is it? Jaded journalist Martin (Steve Coogan) covers the story of Philomena (Judi Dench), a woman searching for her son decades after she was forced to give him up and work in a convent.
Should you see it? Definitely. Based on a true story, Philomena is a deeply powerful dramedy anchored by the strong performances of Steve Coogan and international treasure Judi Dench. Philomena's journey to find her son is heartbreaking and frustrating. As Philomena and Martin unearth information about the convent Philomena was trapped in and learn more about the fate of her son, their relationship becomes just as compelling as their search, as the film explores class differences, crises of faith, and bonds of family. In a rare dramatic role, Coogan is excellent as the funny, angry Martin. But the real star is Dench, who shines as the complex Philomena — strong and vulnerable, funny and inspiring. You'll be laughing between your gasping sobs (and you won't be alone).
3. Mary Queen of Scots
Directed by Thomas Imbach
Starring Camille Rutherford, Sean Biggerstaff, and Mehdi Dehbi
What is it? The rise and fall of ill-fated Queen Mary (Camille Rutherford), who lost kingdoms, husbands — and eventually her head.
Should you see it? Probably not. Mary Queen of Scots, while visually striking, is a fairly basic telling of Mary's depressing life story. The film benefits from the strength of Camille Rutherford, who plays Mary as a woman with a steely reserve toward her adversaries (and occasionally her husbands), but who also softens her defenses around her close friends. She's great, but you'll wish the film around Rutherford was just a bit better.
4. Tom at the Farm
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy
What is it? Tom (Xavier Dolan) attends the funeral of his lover in rural Quebec. When he arrives, he discovers that his lover's family has no idea about his sexual orientation or any knowledge about Tom. Depressed and grieving, he suddenly finds himself in a situation teeming with homophobia and violence that he cannot escape.
Should you see it? Yes, but be warned: It's a tough watch. Tom's depression and grief over his lover are palpable as is his crumbling mental state in an environment that is constantly on the brink of imploding. His lover's mother and son are so unsettling that they're almost worthy of their own horror movie. This is a psychological thriller that so completely inserts itself into your system that by the time the credits finally roll, your emotions have been twisted in so many directions that you won't know how to react (Full disclosure: I cried). In the most simplistic of terms, Dolan has created a horror film about homophobia, and the consequence that kind of hatred can stir in families, friends, and lovers.
5. In Bloom
Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß
Starring Lika Babluani, Mariam Bokeria, and Zurab Gogaladze
What is it? Two 14-year-old girls come of age in Tbilsi after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. They go through the usual motions — flirting with boys, smoking cigarettes, and gossiping about classmates — even as a civil war roars around them. But when one of the girls receives a gun as a gesture from a crush, things get out of control.
Should you see it? No. On paper, In Bloom has all makings of a truly great film; unfortunately, it never quite becomes one. That's not the fault of stars Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, who manage to capture both the universality of the teen girls' experience and the complexity of their specific situation. But despite its explicitly feminist tones, and an admirable effort to examine female friendship in a war-torn country, In Bloom turns out to be frustratingly unengaging.