I was lucky enough to attend the New Hampshire Film Festival this weekend, and boy, was I surprised. The NHFF coordinators delivered on their promise to screen incredible movies, giving audiences the chance to enjoy award-worthy feature-length films, shorts and documentaries. Guests also got to attend wonderful events and Q&As in the picturesque town of Portsmouth, N.H., which sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, a short, wide river that divides New Hampshire and Maine.
Although the cool fall temperatures made it hard to choose the theaters over the sunny sidewalks, I was ready to view some buzzed-about films. My two-day trip allotted me the time to catch "Labor Day," "Touchy Feely," "The Crash Reel" and more, as well as some excellent shorts.
Here are my top picks:
"Labor Day" stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin and is directed by Jason Reitman. The film, which is already getting Oscar buzz, is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard and tells the story of a depressed single mom Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), who are forced to offer a wounded, escaped convict Frank (Brolin) a place to stay. As police search for him, Adele and Henry gradually learn Frank's true story as their options become increasingly limited.
This is definitely a film worth seeing. Winslet, who has mastered playing the character of a suffering wife/single mom through her past roles, gives another brilliant performance as Adele and will most likely be a red carpet fixture this award season. Brolin also delivers a strong performance, as does Griffith, who showed his acting chops have only grown since he appeared in Clint Eastwood's "Changeling." Still, it's the film's cinematography by Eric Steelberg that captures your gaze with its dusty, almost dream-like quality.
"Labor Day" hits limited theaters on December 25.
"THE CRASH REEL"
"The Crash Reel," directed by Lucy Walker, is a documentary which tells the story of the longstanding rivalry between professional snowboarders Kevin Pearce and Shaun White. Pearce was set to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics until a near-fatal crash in the half-pipe left him with a traumatic brain injury. White goes on to win Gold as Pearce rehabilitates, praying for the day when he can get back on his snowboard.
This film is unbelievably moving. Not only did it win the award for Best Documentary at the NHFF, but it won over the audience's heart. As I sat in the theater, people around me gasped, laughed and cried while every crash, surgery and interview flashed across the screen. Pearce's undying determination is inspiring, as well as his family's fight. MUST-SEE.
"The Crash Reel" is set to hit theaters in December.
An equally telling documentary is "Blackfish," which shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. The film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, recounts the deaths of three individuals, who were killed by notorious killer whale Tilikum.
This documentary catches your attention ... and keeps it. The disturbing and thrilling eye-opener uncovers the mystery behind Sea World and the way the theme park captures, cares for and treats its Orcas, as well as the people who train them. Worth-watching.
"Blackfish" will be released on November 12 and is set to air on CNN October 24 at 9 p.m.
"Palimpsest" is a short about a successful house tuner who provides clients a unique form of therapy that examines subtle details in their living spaces.
The film, directed by Michael Tyburski, was funny, entertaining and unique. It took home the prize for Best Short Drama at NHFF. Watch the trailer here.
Another short film worth-seeing is "Native Boy," directed by Henry Roosevelt. "Native Boy" tells the tales of a retired firefighter-turned-children's book author and a boy on a quest to capture the sun. As the boy's endless chase for nature's wonder blurs into the man's past, memories of a haunting tragedy reveal a connection between the two. Heartbreaking. Preview below:
"HERE AND NOW"
"Here And Now" is a short by Julian Higgins. It follows a young married couple who contemplate the future of their strained relationship as they reflect back on the times when they were most in love. It is touching and beautifully shot. You can watch it here.
Please remember these are simply my opinions, so feel free to share yours!
Follow Leigh Blickley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leighblickley