Real Life, Real Oscar Potential

Bruce Dern, David O. Russell tributes planned

Attention, Hollywood Boulevard drivers. The AFI Fest presented by Audi will likely tie up the blocks around the Chinese Theater even worse than usual.

From Nov. 7 through 14, films from 42 countries (up from 28 last year) will be presented on eight screens, including more contenders for Academy kudos than ever before and a host of galas, tributes and special guests. It all amounts to, in the words of fest director Jacqueline Lyanga, “a window into the year in contemporary world cinema.”

Once again, thanks to the largess of longtime AFI supporter Audi, that window will be opened 100% gratis. As Lyanga points out. “There is no other festival of this size and scope, and with this kind of curation, that is free to the general public.”

Films of the past were a central factor in 2013’s curation, Lyanga reports. “People are in the mood to revisit classics.” To complement Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the original Mitty, Danny Kaye, will be seen in his beloved “The Court Jester.” “Mary Poppins” will unspool at the Chinese, the very screen on which it premiered a half century ago, one day after the fest kicks off with “Saving Mr. Banks,” about the making of the 1964 Disney smash.

Last year’s guest artistic director Bernardo Bertolucci is represented by a 3D reworking of “The Last Emperor,” even as 2013 designee Agnes Varda presents four films of her choosing including Robert Bresson’s influential “Pickpocket” and her own seminal “Cleo From 5 to 7.”

But Lyanga and associate Lane Kneedler’s choices are even more forward-looking than retro, especially in terms of Oscar’s foreign-language film race. It remains to be seen whether bigscreen exposure ends up advantaging the likes of Israel’s “Bethlehem,” Palestine’s “Omar” or Mexico’s “Heli,” to name three of the more controversial works vying for a spot among the Academy’s favored five.

Controversy will also blow into AFI by way of other internationals. Two horror entries that rocked Toronto, Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” and Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” have earned midnight berths. Hardest ticket could be Cannes prizewinner “Stranger by the Lake,” which mixes a twisty mystery with X-rated gay sex scenes.

For all the nods to global trends, Nov. 11 should see max excitement as “Nebraska” is accompanied by star Bruce Dern in conversation. Ditto the Nov. 8 tribute to David O. Russell at the Egyptian, unveiling clips from his forthcoming “American Hustle.” If, as Lyanga notes, “our mission is to preserve and celebrate cinema,” nothing quite celebrates like a tribute to a legendary star, and nothing quite preserves like tomorrow’s hoped-for hit.

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