LAFF 2011: Opening Weekend Wrap on a Raucous LAFilmFest

Festivals Editor; Los Angeles, California (@RylandAldrich)
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LAFF 2011: Opening Weekend Wrap on a Raucous LAFilmFest

The LA Film Fest's decision to move downtown last year did great things for the festival's attendance and after one weekend of this year's edition, it is easy to see why. The festival home at the LA Live's Regal Cinemas is one of the very nicest megaplexes in Los Angeles with top notch picture and sound and seats that I have no problem calling the most comfortable in town. With LA Live's restaurants, event deck, and plentiful downtown hotels nearby, there are also abundant venues for all the extracurricular activities. All this plus a strong gala and fest faves lineup paired with some surprise competition hits has made for one extremely successful start to the fest. Here are some of the opening weekend highlights:

The world premiere of Richard Linklater's Bernie and North American premiere of Nicolas Refn's Drive started things off Thursday and Friday with what was in effect a dual opening night extravaganza. Shirley MacLaine had the crowd cracking up with her pre-screening comments about Jack Black being her third favorite Jack (after Nicholson and Lemmon) and a man that she wouldn't mind calling her lover. It was Albert Brooks who had the audience laughing with some classic physical humor, avoiding the lineup of stars such as Ryan Gosling, Christina Hendricks, and Ron Perlman for a spot all by himself on the other side of the stage. This more than made up for Refn's awkward introduction to a movie that needs no making up for, standing as one of the most exciting and well crafted action movies in recent years. Bernie on the other hand played to a bit less success. Although many loved the performances, its odd mix of narrative techniques and dark humor didn't quite find universal praise.

Check out ScreenAnarchy's Bernie review and Drive review.

Saturday got off to an exciting start with the LA premiere of hit Sundance doc Senna about Brazilian Formula One star Ayrton Senna who dominated the sport in the early 90s. A full review is forthcoming, but I was blown away by Asif Kapadia's doc compiled completely from archival footage that just gets more and more intense as it goes along.

From there things started to get really fierce with the world premiere of Leave It on the Floor, Sheldon Larry's wild gay African American voguing musical that was followed by an even wilder rooftop mini-ball, complete with runway competition madness. (pic stolen from Flickr)

Sunday featured LAFilmFest's Coffee Talk filmmaker panels. At the Directors Panel, Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) called directing the best job in the world, to which Phillip Noyce (Salt, Rabbit Proof Fence) countered "I've never had any other job. I don't know what else to do except say action and sometimes cut." Noyce later dropped a little insight for Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) who asked for advice on working with top actors ahead of his next gig directing Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn in The Gangster Squad. Noyce said, "The most successful actors are successful because they recognize that their success is totally dependent on empowering the director."

The Screenwriters Panel found a group of top writers lamenting both Hollywood's and increasingly the independent film world's endless development processes and encouraging beginning writers to write what you want to see. Dustin Lance Black (Milk) dropped one bit less general tip, encouraging writers to be very specific in the pitching process as the more specific you can be, the more relatable you will come across. Diablo Cody (Juno) revealed that her popular Red Band Trailer Talk Show will be coming back for another (online) season very soon. Writing team Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Narnia series) capped things off with an entertaining response to a question about responding to criticism. After reading a particularly bad review of one of their films in Entertainment Weekly, they decided to cancel their subscription, "because frankly, he got it wrong!"

Sunday also featured the LA premieres of two SXSW hits. Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection played to a room so packed, organizers were looking over their shoulders to make sure the Fire Marshal had the day off. The film is indie gold and well deserving of the six awards it took home from Austin. Rachael Harris's performance as the 40-something church wife whose eyes are opened to the world outside her parish's walls was particularly accomplished.

Ti West's The Innkeepers found the perfect balance between spine tingles and belly laughs. This is the best comic horror in ages and more than anything, the film is just plain fun.

Check out ScreenAnarchy's The Innkeepers SXSW review and keep an eye out for a Natural Selection review soon!

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