2012 LAFF: Woody and Two Exceptional Docs

The 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival kicked off a week ago tonight with the North American premiere of Woody Allen’s eagerly anticipated To Rome With Love. He’s going to have a tough act to follow, as last year’s Midnight in Paris won the best original screenplay Oscar and was Allen’s biggest box office performer to date (although adjusted for inflation, it doesn’t come close to Love & Death, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan and several others). While I haven’t seen it yet, word after the screening was pretty meh. Not bad, not great. That’s ok, really. The man has already made 42 features (!!!!). Out of those, I have seen 20 (I “missed” a lot of the bad ones but yes, that’s a poor percentage) and of those 20, I’d rate 15 of them 7/10 or better, with maybe six full-blown masterpieces. That’s a pretty decent success rate.

So far I’ve caught 15 films at the festival, with not a stinker in the bunch. In fact, they’ve ranged from very good to superb!

Top of the heap so far for the docs are Cosima Spender’s Without Gorky and Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man. The latter has distribution via Sony Pictures Classics which will open in NY and LA on July 27th but the former is un-bought and deserves serious attention.

A look at the emotional vacuum left by the suicide of the abstract impressionist master, Arshile Gorky. The absolute perfect example of a compelling personal documentary, Spender’s film is probing and revealing without being in the least bit exploitative of her subjects, which happen to be her family, as Spender is Gorky’s granddaughter. Far more than a biopic and far more than an art film, Without Gorky explores what was left behind by Gorky after his suicide in 1948 and how his survivors are still processing his death (and life) after 60 years.

In the hopes that you go into Bendjelloul’s extraordinary film knowing very little, I’ll try and avoid spoiling too much. Suffice to say that even if you know the hook of Searching For Sugar Man, you’ll still find yourself not believing what you’re seeing. Trust me. This one you cannot miss.

More from this special edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival later!

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