Your Guide to Must-See Movies at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival

Tully is one of several must-see movies at this year's Phoenix Film Festival.
Tully is one of several must-see movies at this year's Phoenix Film Festival. Focus Features
The Phoenix Film Festival is a cinephile’s dream.

From April 5 through 15, over 250 movies will screen at Harkins Scottsdale 101. Which means moviegoers are certain to find something they will enjoy. There are horror films, documentaries, previews of high-profile indie films, and offerings from local filmmakers. Part of the credit for the diverse lineup year after year goes to festival director Jason Carney, who strives to find films that would not normally be shown in Arizona.

To help guide you through the embarrassment of cinematic riches, we found 10 movies that you should add to your itinerary to give you the full Phoenix Film Festival experience.

Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much
Directed by C.J. Wallis
9:20 a.m. Friday, April 6; 4:55 p.m. Monday, April 9

Ted Slauson was an audience member on the hit game show The Price Is Right 37 times. Why? He discovered the prices for many of the products used in the games had not changed since Bob Barker began hosting the show in 1972. He memorized them and then used that knowledge to make a perfect bid on the Showcase Showdown in 2008.

The math teacher’s controversial actions reshaped a show known for its reluctance to change with the times. C.J. Wallis' documentary details Slauson’s dedication to the program and how he pulled off the unprecedented win. The film also features an interview with none other than the show’s erstwhile, longtime host, Barker.

Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7

The creative team behind Juno and Young Adult have reunited.

In Tully’s funny-because-it’s-real teaser trailer, Charlize Theron's stressed-out Marlo attempts to put her newborn to sleep, pumps breast milk, and makes a frozen pizza for her ungrateful husband. Then, like a modern Mary Poppins, the title character, played by Mackenzie Davis, arrives at the doorstep promising to take care of the exhausted mother of three.

The dramedy got the secret screening slot at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Those in attendance admired the film for Davis’ performance and Cody’s script, which explores how different generations view the exhausting and seemingly unfulfilling world of parenthood. In need of a critical win after directing Labor Day and the condescending Men, Women and Children, Reitman has found a project that fits right in his wheelhouse. Tully's about finding the humanity in characters struggling to reconcile reality with preconceived notions.

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story
Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert
9:40 p.m. Saturday, April 7; 10 p.m. Friday, April 13

Kane Hodder probably has killed more people on screen than anyone else in cinematic history, but the actor behind the iconic mask worn by Jason Voorhees in many of the Friday the 13th films is a gentle giant beloved by fans of the horror genre. But it was not easy for Hodder to slash his way to the top. His harrowing and ultimately inspirational journey, which includes the stuntman almost being burned to death, is told not only by Hodder but also many of his contemporaries in the industry, including actors Bruce Campbell, Robert Englund, and Sid Haig.

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Filmmaker Matty Steinkamp talks about You Racist, Sexist, Bigot.
Lynn Trimble
You Racist, Sexist, Bigot
Directed by Pita Juarez, Co-Directed by Matty Steinkamp
5 p.m. Monday, April 9; 9 a.m. Friday, April 13

Arizona isn't known for an inclusive atmosphere. Quite the opposite, actually. Which is why Mira Listen podcast host Pita Juarez and local filmmaker Steinkamp recorded Arizonans sharing their experiences with discrimination. The documentary is truly a local affair, with Phoenix-area musicians Camille Sledge and Taylor Upsahl featured on the film’s soundtrack.

Coalesce: A City Composed
Directed by Joshua J. Provost
5:05 p.m. Tuesday, April 10; 9:10 a.m. Friday, April 13; 6:20 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Speaking of the arts, Coalesce: A City Composed is a documentary that follows the genesis of the multimedia exhibition of the same name that took place at downtown Phoenix's Grand ArtHaus in December 2016. Visual artist Megan Jonas painted urban Phoenix landscapes, and musician Jordan Ignacio composed music to accompany the images. Director Joshua J. Provost is an Arizona native and explores how the artists are inspired, allowing them to express their creative process through animation and sound.

Izzy Gets The F*ck Across Town
Written and Directed by Christian Papiernak
7:10 p.m. Wednesday, April 11

You’re not seeing things. Mackenzie Davis stars in two films on this list. This time, the Halt and Catch Fire actress plays a punk trekking across Los Angeles to break up the engagement of her ex-boyfriend by any means necessary. Along the way, she encounters an odd cast of characters that forces her to examine the choices she's made in her life.

In an interview with the blog Cinemacy, writer and director Papierniak compares this unconventional film to Swingers. “…We need more fun indie films instead of it always being something dramatic,” he says. With a soundtrack featuring music from Corin Tucker’s first band Heavens to Betsy and a cast that includes Haley Joel-Osment and comedian Rob Huebel, Izzy sounds like it is going to be a riot.

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Won't You Be My Neighbor examines the life of Fred Rogers
Courtesy of Focus Features
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Directed by Morgan Neville
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13

Five decades ago, Fred Rogers put on a sweater and changed children’s television forever. Generations of American children turned on PBS and were greeted by the television host every morning. Through Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, they were whisked off to a place of make-believe where they learned real-world lessons.

Documentarian Morgan Neville traces the influence that Rogers has had in America since. If you're familiar with the filmmaker’s touching Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which explores the world of backup singers, then you know to bring plenty of Kleenex to this screening.

Final Portrait
Written and Directed by Stanley Tucci
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Fresh off his acclaimed performance in Call Me By Your Name, Armie Hammer plays writer James Lord. While visiting the artist Alberto Giacometti, played by Geoffrey Rush, Lord is asked to sit for a portrait painted by the world-famous artist and finds himself bearing witness to the highs and lows of creativity.

Reliable character actor Stanley Tucci has not directed a film in almost a decade. And Final Portrait, which takes a snapshot of Giacometti’s extraordinary life instead of following him from womb to tomb, is his biggest swing for the artistic fences. With Rush in front of the lens, Tucci hits it out of the ballpark. The Australian actor is channeling the twisted genius that made him such a draw in Shine over 20 years ago.

Measure of a Man
Written by David Scearce, Based on One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte
Directed by Jim Loach
4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15

Measure of a Man follows the overweight Bobby Marks on his search for confidence. Which isn't the easiest task when you're constantly being bullied for your size and your parents’ marriage is failing. Luckily, Bobby befriends Wall Street executive Dr. Kahn, played by Donald Sutherland. While mowing the octogenarian's huge lawn, Bobby gets the wisdom needs to navigate this difficult time in his life.

While the film has not made the festival rounds yet, Carney gave it a shoutout on his Twitter feed. The film also features a stacked cast. In addition to Judy Greer and Sutherland, Luke Wilson and The Maze Runner’s Blake Cooper also star.

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Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade.
Courtesy of A24
Eighth Grade
Written and Directed by Bo Burham
7 p.m. Sunday, April 15

Middle school sucks. Comedian Bo Burnham encapsulates all the pock-marked pubescent frustration that comes with being a 13-year-old in Eighth Grade.

The trailer, which had a well-timed release after the film was screened to critical acclaim at SXSW, encapsulates the roller-coaster of emotion one feels watching one of Burnham’s comedy specials. You start laughing at how ironic it is, as evidenced by star Elsie Fisher making YouTube videos as the music of Enya plays in the background. Then comes the realization that it's leading to something beautiful and profound.

Burnham's directorial debut could pull him into the mainstream. And fans should note that he'll be in attendance when the film is screened on the festival's closing night.

The Phoenix Film Festival is scheduled from Thursday, April 5, to Sunday, April 15, at Harkins Scottsdale 101, 7000 East Mayo Boulevard. There are a variety of ticket packages available, with individual screenings starting at $15. For more information, including a full screening schedule, visit the festival's website.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil