When Variety accepted an invitation from Montreal fest director Serge Losique to debut a North American edition of its well-established Critics Choice sidebar, I jumped at the chance to spearhead the selection process.
Now in its eighth year at the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the sidebar has built its reputation on introducing European talent to audiences abroad. At Montreal, the focus would be on independent-minded films from the Americas.
In conjunction with Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy in Los Angeles; London-based senior critic Derek Elley; and executive editor Steven Gaydos, who created and conceived the program, I put together a list of nearly 100 possibilities culled from Variety reviews filed this year from around the globe.
The criteria, as honed by Elley, are simple: Preference is given to the work of first- and second-time directors, with exceptions made for individual films that haven’t received the praise on the festival circuit we think they deserve.
Each film must also say something about its home country in a distinctly cinematic way; fresh vision earns bonus points. Finally, there’s the ability to inspire passionate response, even in supposedly jaded Variety critics; their personal enthusiasm, as displayed in reviews, is usually the deciding factor.
My fellow scribblers, whose insights are represented here, include Dennis Harvey, Jonathan Holland, Joe Leydon, Ronnie Scheib and Deborah Young.
Losique whittled the list to a workable nine, to be screened throughout the fest. And so, here’s Variety Critics Choice: Americas Now:
“Pin Boy” Ana Poliak (Argentina): In this Buenos Aires indie fest winner, a young man’s demanding and sometimes battering job in a bowling alley becomes a metaphor for societal victimization and resilience.
“Buena Vida” (Delivery) Leonardo Di Cesare (Argentina): A darkly comic social drama, in which the bakery business that a young man’s prospective in-laws open in his house plays out as an inspired metaphor.
“The Man Who Copied” Jorge Furtado (Brazil-Colombia): Following his sparkling coming-of-ager “Two Summers,” Furtado returns with a black comedy about a lovesick counterfeiter.
“The Car” Luis Orjuela (Colombia): In this colorful laffer, a middle-class nuclear family is turned upside down when the newly purchased title conveyance begins to affect each of them in very different ways.
“Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8” Michael McNamara (Canada): In the 1960s and 1970s, no Top 40 station had more influence than Ontario’s CKLW-800 on your AM radio dial; this docu is an affectionate look back at a now-lost format.
“Offsides” Victor Arregui (Ecuador): This rare Ecuadorian feature is a socially conscious must-see, vividly charting with dignity and intensity the inexorable downward spiral of one Quito teen whose dreams are slowly dashed.
“What Sebastian Dreamt” Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Guatemala): A civilized outsider succumbs to the sinister forces of an exotic land in this existential thriller, dedicated to author Paul Bowles, from novelist-turned-helmer Rosa.
“Suite Habana” Fernando Perez (Spain-Cuba): Over the course of 24 hours, a handful of randomly chosen characters goes about their business in contemporary Havana in this near-wordless tribute to the resolute population of a faded but resilient city.
“Chain” Jem Cohen (U.S.): Striding confidently from avant-garde and docu work to the narrative form, Cohen has stitched together footage taken at shopping malls from Vancouver to Warsaw in his meditation on creeping global sameness.