10/19/2011 10:16 am ET | Updated Dec 19, 2011

Cinema, Buzz and Champagne in the Hamptons

Every time you look, it seems, a new film festival has surfaced, both here and abroad. In fact, year round you could just surf one fest to the next, without missing a beat. Given this daunting surfeit, what makes the Hamptons International Film Festival zoom to the forefront?

The 19th HIFF, which ran from Oct 13 to 17th, "may be a regional festival," says vet Mark Urman, president of Paladin Films, "but when the region in question is so close to the city, so full of influential and creative people (not to mention industry veterans and Academy members), and in so beautiful a locale to boot, it jumps right to the top of the list! And every year, the films get better, which means that every year the festival gets better. I consider it a compulsory event on the movie calendar."

Last year's edition, which culled the best independent films from Cannes and Toronto, was the year that for some observers really put HIFF on the map. This year it again showcased foreign movies -- manna to cinephiles, since much of global cinema never hits theaters due to the moronic American allergy to subtitles. HIFF also generates buzz. Its proximity to the Oscars in late February keeps films fresh in judges' minds -- in fact, Academy honchos are talking about moving up the date of the show even earlier, possibly to January.

Highlights at this year's edition of HIFF, and soon to play at a theater near you, included Melancholia, Lars von Trier's magisterial vision of the world's end. It was good to see the film a second time, but the UA theater's acoustics failed to do justice to the soundtrack of Wagner's prelude to "Tristan and Isolde" plus the apocalyptic rumble, all of which should blow the roof off.

Audience fave Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre concerns a bunch of French locals who close ranks to protect an illegal immigrant African boy from the authorities. Tender yet never sappy, Le Havre features the Finnish master's trademark deadpan types, compulsive smokers all, and the director's dog Laika, who just kinda hangs out on set and gets credited in the titles. Especially warming in this film that's part fairy tale/part social critique is the elegance and decency of people invisible to the power players. (Speaking of which, the shoe-shining hero of Le Havre showed more elegance than the titan of finance and his consorts shoving ahead of me on line.)

Also notable were a couple of Sundance darlings, among them Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene. Despite the annoying title, this beautifully controlled account of a woman (Elizabeth Olsen in a breakout turn) wrecked by an abusive cult really creeps under your skin. HIFF centerpiece film Like Crazy by Drake Doremus is a bittersweet cautionary tale about the clock running out on long distance love. A hot ticket was Johnny Depp starrer The Rum Diary, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson. An origin story that explores the motives behind Thompson's later renegade stance, this picaresque follows the writer's boozy exploits as a reporter for a failing newspaper in Puerto Rico. Essential viewing for Thompson aficionados, the film is marred by murky lighting -- was everyone sloshed during the shoot? -- and an oddly affect-less turn from Depp.

Simon Curtis's crowd-pleaser My Week with Marilyn, a showcase for Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, made the lineup at the eleventh hour. It covers her week-long quasi affair with a young production assistant (Eddie Redmayne, of the sexy chewed lips) during the filming of the 1957 The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier. The versatile Williams is meltingly fine as Monroe -- and likely to cop an Oscar nod -- but this rather staid film delivers few fresh insights about the icon.

As befitting the Hamptons, there were great parties and a virtual pipeline of champagne. Rain could not dampen the glamor of hostelry East Hampton Point perched over Three Mile Harbor. Wolffer threw a bash in their Italianate manor house, the moon and scudding clouds appearing on cue over the vineyard. And fest founder Stuart Match Suna again hosted his legendary industry shindig, featuring green and pink caviar; bubbly from Baume and Mercier, released by slashing the bottle with a saber; and a lethal array of exotic chocolate. Regular attendee Alec Baldwin was missing, maybe because he was busy interviewing Matthew Broderick over at Guild Hall.

Sightings included Anton Yelchin, star of Like Crazy, FilmDistrict's Bob and Jeannie Berney, director Drake Doremus, Alexander Sarsgaard, tall and fair as a Norse god. On hand as well was HIFF's chief programmer, turbo-charged Karen Arikian, who's also heading up a new sister festival in Perugia, Italy, which we should all attend this spring. And let's not forget Susan Sarandon with her young ping pong dude, who apparently speaks French (ask him, he'll know how I know). From where I sit they're a welcome and overdue switcheroo after the ancient tycoons with their honeys one usually sees at these events.