A guide to the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

Every year hundreds of film festivals occur throughout the United States. Few have the prestige and reputation that the Mill Valley film festival (which begins tomorrow) has garnered over the past three decades.

With a harmonious confluence of interesting independent pictures, critically beloved foreign films, and potential Oscar-bait, the lineup for this year’s annual festival is shaping up to be a good one.

To help navigate the nooks and crannies of Mill Valley, I offer up a truncated guide of six films attendees should keep an eye out for.

12 Years a Slave

Auteur Steve McQueen has achieved more in his first two films, Hunger and Shame, than most directors achieve in their entire careers.

With a distinguishable voice, a coherent vision, and an assured aesthetic, the London born and raised filmmaker brings his latest masterwork to Mill Valley.

12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man and renowned violinist in 1841 New York who is suddenly sold illegally solid into slavery.

Concurrent to the hyperbole-laced reviews from just about everyone is the award buzz surrounding the picture. Multiple Oscar pundits and prognosticators have proclaimed 12 Years a Slave a lock to win best picture this year. Oscars or not, McQueen’s latest is certainly a film to keep an eye out for.

12 Years a Slave will play October 11th at the Rafael 1 and October 13 at Sequoia 1.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s just about impossible to fathom the prospect of Ben Stiller not only starring, but directing a film that adults may purchase a ticket to.

But against all odds, he’s pacified my skepticism with a wonderful trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a seemingly ambitious film, based of a short story by James Thurber, about a daydreamer who escapes the tediousness of life by disappearing into worlds of fantastical fantasy.

As a bonafide movie star, it’s nice to see that Stiller has committed to attending the festival’s premiere. We’ll see if the film ultimately lives up the hype.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will play October 13 at Rafael 1, Sequoia 1, and Sequoia 2.

Nebraska

Since Citizen Ruth in 1996, director Alexander Payne has amassed a coterie of viewers always anticipating his next project.

Responsible for helming humanistic gems like The Descendants and Sideways, the Nebraska born director goes back home to tell a story about a father who thinks he’s won a million dollars after receiving sweepstakes letter in the mail.

Shot in black and white, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, Nebraska is the opening night of this year’s festival. The film received mostly positive reviews out of Cannes, with The Hollywood Reporter deeming it a “A bittersweet father-son road trip through an emotionally economically parched homeland.”

Nebraska will play tonight, October 3 at the Sequoia Theater.

Blue is the Warmest Color

I’d be remiss not to highlight Blue is the Warmest Color, this year’s Palme d’Or winner out of the Cannes film festival.

Exploring the love and sexuality between two lovely young women, Abdellatif Kechiche’s latest has been receiving glowing reviews since its premier in May. This epic and sexually explicit three-hour French drama is poised to be a “best foreign film” contender come Oscar time. If given the opportunity to see the film, don’t miss out.

Blue is the Warmest Color will play October 12 at Sequoia 2 and October 13 Rafael 2.

Dallas Buyers Club

The McConaissance (a term coined by Huff Post’s Mike Ryan) continues with Dallas Buyers Club, yet another piercing drama spearheaded by Matthew McConaughey, an actor previously reserved for weightless romantic-comedies.

After inhabiting various eccentric roles, from a male stripper (Magic Mike) to a twisted hit man (Killer Joe), McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic hedonist who is unexpectedly diagnosed with AIDS.

Dedicating his mind and body, the versatile leading man lost 41 pounds for the this true story. As a supporting actor, Jared Leto will be honored with an MVFF award for his “magnetic” performance as an H.I.V.-positive transexual in the film.

If we’re to believe in the veracity of the film’s powerful trailer and the slew of positive reviews out of TIFF, Dallas Buyers Club should be a heart-wrenching piece of filmmaking. 

Dallas Buyers Club will play October 10th at Rafael 1 and October 11 at Sequoia 2.

Upaj: Improvise

Earlier this year, SFBay ran a story about Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith collaborating for Upaj, a documentary bound to unite cultures and generations through the art of dance.

The local sensation has now made its way to Mill Valley, set to screen over two different days in front of hundreds and hundreds of ardent moviegoers. Here’s hoping Das and Smith find the success they and their galvanizing art deserve.

Upaj: Improvise will play on October 12 at Rafael 1 and October 13 at Throckmorton Theater.

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For the road, here a few other films worth noting: August: Osage County, Breathe In, Like Father Like Son, and Le Passe.

The Mill Valley film festival runs from October 3rd through the 13th. To know more about the festival or to purchase tickets, visit their website.