L.A.-bound AFI Fest
AFI has long shepherded late-breaking contenders (like Best Picture nominees Selma and American Sniper) into the awards conversation with high profile global bows at the tail end of the fall festival circuit. This year, all eyes are on the leading ladies fronting two AFI world-premiere entries — Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie’s period drama Mary Queen of Scots and the Felicity Jones-starring Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex — to generate Oscar heat in the acting and tech categories.
Thrills in the hills
Lurking beneath AFI’s celebrity sheen are demonic dresses and bloodthirsty killers in a pair of unconventional horror offerings: the Cannes Palme d’Or nominee Knife + Heart — a psychosexual slasher set against the backdrop of 1970s Paris’ gay-porn scene — and In Fabric, a trippy chiller from The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland about a haunted garment starring Game of Thrones‘ Gwendoline Christie.
Documentarians expose cold, hard truths behind hot-button topics in Alexis Bloom’s critical portrait Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, Jed Rothstein and Going Clear helmer Alex Gibney’s multi-part series Enemies: The President, Justice, and the FBI, and Talal Derki’s Of Fathers and Sons, an intimate portrait following young men in jihadist training.
Women on the rise
As Cannes and Venice struggle to add female-directed titles to their male-dominated slates, AFI picks up the slack with prime slots for Susanne Bier’s apocalyptic Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson as sisters struggling through an end-of-days catastrophe, and Karyn Kusama’s Nicole Kidman-fronted noir Destroyer.
International female forces
In a monumental move for AFI, 12 of 18 films showing in the festival’s New Auteurs section are also directed by women, including Cathy Yan’s wild China-set satire Dead Pigs starring Deadpool 2‘s Zazie Beetz and debut feature filmmaker Lila Avilés The Chambermaid, which follows a young Mexico City maid named Eve who embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she struggles to work toward a better life.
Stars take the stage
Black-and-white foreign stunners
International auteurs like Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) and Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) will bring their thematically vivid, black-and-white portraits of historical love — both platonic and romantic — into focus at AFI this year. Cuarón’s Netflix collaboration Roma has a hold on the early Oscar conversation, featuring breakout actress Yalitza Aparicio’s stunning lead performance as a middle-class Mexico City family’s live-in maid who holds her household together in the director’s semiautobiographical love letter to female power, while Pawlikowski’s Cold War sets its passionate story of love between two mismatched people against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Paris, and Yugoslavia.