Responding to both cutbacks and criticisms that last year’s selection wasn’t film-centric enough, Taormina film festival leader Tiziana Rocca has overhauled the design for her fourth edition as managing director. “This year we have 100 movies in Taormina, so movies are once again at the center of the festival,” says Rocca, who lost an artistic director, but assembled a new artistic committee in his place, inviting Variety to guest-curate five well-reviewed American indies for the program. The Variety Selects picks are:
Described by Variety as “an understated, astutely gauged look at the way weapons flow south to arm Latin American infighting, as seen through the eyes of two characters on opposing sides of the law,” Mexican director Gabriel Ripstein’s low-boil debut avoids traditional thriller tactics, relying instead on a terrific performance by Tim Roth as an ATF agent driven deep into hostile territory.
Two kids find an abandoned police cruiser and take it for an unforgettable joyride in this white-knuckle Kevin Bacon starrer, directed by NYU grad Jon Watts. Variety called the film, which debuted in Sundance’s Midnight section, “just the sort of stripped-down exercise, like Rodrigo Cortes’ ‘Buried’ or the Coen brothers’ ‘Blood Simple,’ that presents vaguely sadistic, dark-humored helmers with an opportunity to showcase their technique.”
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
A breakout at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals, Marielle Heller’s directorial debut impressed Dennis Harvey for “translating tricky source material to the screen with flying colors.” The sexually liberated coming-of-age story earned Heller a spot as one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch, though it should be said that newcomer Bel Powley (acting without self-consciousness or any trace of a British accent) proves equally impressive.
Variety critic Justin Chang raved about this SXSW grand jury prize winner (which went on to play Cannes), describing it as “an intimate and unnerving character study that marks a ferociously impressive feature debut for 26-year-old multihyphenate Trey Edward Shults.” The writer-director-editor-actor made the movie in nine days at his parents’ Texas home, resulting in a film “that neatly sidesteps the usual addiction/dysfunction cliches.”
“If Richard Linklater attempted a remake of Val Lewton’s ‘Cat People,’ the end result might resemble ‘Spring,’” wrote Joe Leydon of co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Before Sunrise”-like supernatural romance, in which an American tourist falls for an Italian beauty with a dangerous secret. Linklater himself called it “a beautiful and unique love story.”