The Phoenix Film Festival may not yet be a major player in the worldwide film festival scene, but it might only be a matter of time until that is the case. In its 15th year of existence, the festival has once again pulled in an intriguing variety of studio-released fare, independent films, foreign entries, shorts and non-screening events. Though tickets are available as low as $13 for a single film, spring for one of the pass options and binge your way through as many as you can. Not sure where to start? Here are our top 10 picks for films to check out during the 2015 festival, which runs from Thursday, March 26, through Thursday, April 2. Pretend it's Netflix and just go for it.
While We're Young
The term "coming-of-age film" usually refers to the time in life when we transition from childhood to adulthood, but what if we got a second chance at that transition later in life? Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are a couple trying to decide between fully embracing adulthood and possibly adding a baby to the mix when they meet a young, hip couple who makes them think twice. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), it's the kind of film that reminds us that age is just a number, or is it? The film screens Thursday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m.
Come on. You know you want to see this one based on the title alone. It's a documentary based on a children's musical production of Star Wars, which just sounds too adorable and nerd-a-rific for words. Screening on Tuesday, March 31 at 5 p.m., it's one that'll be worth ditching work for just to see if you can catch all the references from a galaxy far, far away.
Sleeping with Other People
Described by writer and director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) as "When Harry Met Sally for assholes," all we can say is "you had us at 'When Harry Met Sally for assholes.'" A modern day love story that seeks to answer the age-old question of whether men and women can just be friends, we get to see what Headland thinks with this Jason Sudekis and Alison Brie rom-com. Sleeping with Other People screens Sunday, March 29 at 7 p.m.
Kill Me Three Times
Two words will make or break this decision for you: Simon Pegg. If you love him, you know what you're getting into with this one and it's all systems go. If you hate him, we don't understand you and you might want to skip this one. Never heard of him? We're curious as to what rock you've been living under. This is a twisted murder-for-hire plot that looks convoluted and hilarious, par for the course for a Pegg project. It screens on Wednesday, April 1, at 9:10 p.m.
Man, oh man. Al Pacino is either feeling some serious regret, or his two projects that will play during the festival (this and Danny Collins) are just a coincidence. Whereas in Collins Pacino plays an aging rockstar looking back on his empty life with regret after selling out, this film's described as following "a strange and lonely man [who] tries to come to terms with a past crime that cost him the love of his life." Should we read between the lines and give Pacino a hug, or just celebrate an accomplished actor who gives two quiet, even performances this year, as opposed to his normal larger-than-life self? Let's go with the latter. See Manglehorn at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 27.
This documentary follows a young man's mission to make a difference in Cuba, a place that gave so much to his grandfather. At 13 years old, he has no idea how hard that will be, thanks to politics and trade sanctions that were enacted decades before he was born. Commenting that it is his generation's job to clean up the messes of those who came before him, will he finally reach his goal and do what he set out to accomplish? See for yourself when it screens on Wednesday, April 1, at 5:10 p.m.
Miss India America
Remember that girl in high school who was just kinda perfect? The one who had everything planned out? Lily is that girl and just when she thinks everything is falling into place, her boyfriend dumps her for a beauty queen. Not to be outdone, Lily decides she must win the pageant to get her man back. Sounds like a typical high school rom-com, but with the culture and style of India laying the backdrop, it's anything but ordinary. Miss India America screens at 3:50 p.m. on Sunday, March 29.
The House on Pine Street
Don't move to streets named after trees. Haven't we already learned this lesson? The Phoenix Film Festival has a great lineup of horror shorts and features, and this one about a (possibly) haunted house looks to be a doozy. Are the strange happenings really occurring, or is the pregnant woman who lives there going crazy? With a 9:35 a.m. start on Sunday, March 29, it's a great way to start a day with a little scare.
This revenge thriller follows the title character as she becomes victim, survivor, and ultimately a vigilante temptress. After being raped by four men, Julia takes matters into her own hands and launches a crusade to get her power back. It looks to be a combination of gore and justice, but you'll have to attend the screening on Friday, March 27, at 10 p.m. to decide if things go too far.
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Sitting and watching a ton of movies back to back is great fun, but the best part of a festival is mingling with fellow movie lovers and talking about what you liked best (and telling them why they are wrong for liking what they liked best). There are different opportunities to come out of those dark theaters and back to quasi-reality, but one of the best will certainly be Rio, a Duran Duran Tribute Band playing at the Saturday Night Party. Undo all that atrophy and shake your body a bit to some sweet '80s classics, then go rest up for another day of movies.