Mill Valley fest wraps

Robbins, Inarritu on hand to tubthump upcoming pix

The Mill Valley Film Fest wrapped its 29th edition Sunday night with an orbital launch — at least onscreen, where Billy Bob Thornton as “The Astronaut Farmer” rode his self-made rocket from a Texas ranch into outer space.

Filmmakers the Polish Brothers and co-star Virginia Madsen among others were on hand for pic’s preem. Warner plans a qualifying run in December followed by wide release in February.

Earlier highlights in the 11-day event included Helen Mirren’s tribute, at which the sexy sexagenarian pointed out various ways in which she is not like current role as “The Queen” Elizabeth II, whose “frumpy clothes” reminded her of “the women who taught me math at school.”

Tim Robbins, thumping for South Africa drama “Catch the Fire,” had his own tribute evening to recall career highlights (he admiringly said Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” was “nearly all first takes”) and a few lowlights (on “Howard the Duck”: “It was terrible showing up for that movie and realizing the duck was miscast”).

Presenting “Babel,” writer-helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams”) was contrastingly serious as he accepted his first body-of-work award, saying his three films to date were all about parents, children, and the common grounds between different cultures.

Other notables attending fest this year included Sydney Pollack (as a producer on opening nighter “Breaking and Entering,” and thesp in French comedy “Avenue Montaigne”), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”), helmer (and Mirren spouse) Taylor Hackford, and numerous musicians (as well as “Saturday Night Live” vet Dana Carvey) in conjunction with film/live performance tribs to ex-“SNL” bandleader G.E. Smith and rock legends the Doors (formed 40 years ago).

Audience awards went to imminent Focus Features release “Catch a Fire” for best dramatic feature, while harrowing Lionsgate pic about a Catholic priest sexual abuser “Deliver Us From Evil” nabbed best docu. Austrian fantasy “Lapislazuli: In the Eye of the Bear” was named best children’s film. Fest’s only juried award, for an exceptional short subject, went to Alex Weil’s 10-minute animation “One Rat Short.”

Attendance was up 10% from last year, putting total admissions at nearly 40,000.

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