BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC For the next two weeks, Philadelphia film-goers can pretend we live in Manhattan, as our viewing choices multiply exponentially as the Philadelphia Film Festival unreels its 16th season. Since no one really gets to see all of the festival’s nearly 300 films, the best a film fan can do is throw arms around this elephant (said to now be the largest festival on the East Coast) and decide how the festival feels. But don’t grope the sensitive areas, an elephant is big and can hurt you — and they never forget.
I’ve seen about 30 of the offerings so far, and sampling that measly 10 percent, I still feel confident saying that 2007’s lineup appears to be the strongest yet, not just in the number of prestige screenings from Ritz regulars (or maybe make that Landmark now) like Hal Hartley, Claude Chabrol and Lars Van Trier, but in the overall heightened quality of the films. Un-scientific polling of the other bleary-eyed critics seems to bear out this impression.
Celebrity guests will be milling about as well, including seasoned actor Dermot Mulroney (to receive the Festival’s American Independent Award on April 14), Walt’s nephew Roy Disney (receiving the Inspiration Award this Saturday, April 7), pop culture critic Camille Paglia (hosting a screening of The Philadelphia Story on April 10) and the always-smiling “Entertainment Tonight” critic Leonard Maltin (hosting silent Our Gang shorts, also Saturday).
Piquing early interest are a French biopic on Edith Piaf (with an acclaimed lead performance by Marion Cotillard); actress Sarah (Dawn of the Dead) Polley’s directorial debut, a Kurt Cobain documentary in which only his disembodied voice appears; a Raymond Carver adaptation from the director of Lantana, a fake ’70s adult film; more dorks from Napoleon Dynamite’s producer; Alan Cumming directing himself into a frenzy; a documentary about a man who died in conjugal bliss with a horse, and a film that supposes Philly’s sports collapses are a curse from William Penn. Plus, Phawker’s resident anarchist, Elizabeth Fiend has a film in the festival!
And it all kicks off at The Prince Theater tonight, with the opening-night screening of director David (Wet Hot American Summer) Wain’s new film The Ten, a comedy with Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd and Oliver Platt illustrating the pitfalls of the Ten Commandments, and an opening night celebration at the Penthouse Lounge and Grill (460 North Second St.) with Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt DJ’ing bubblegum pop.
But what should you plunk down your money to see? Check Phawker daily for info on festival events as well as recommendations on the night’s films as we feel our way around this cinematic elephant . . .