The 13th Annual Phoenix Film Festival will take place Thursday, April 4-Thursday, April 11 at Harkins Scottsdale 101. I had the honor of being one of the judges for this year’s feature-length film competition and among the 10 selections, four stand out as the absolute best and brightest.
Blayne Weaver plays a man whose perfect life is put in jeopardy when the waitress with whom he has been having a casual fling is accidentally killed in their motel room. He asks his childhood friend (Patrick Day) to dispose of the body but the favor begins the unraveling of their relationship. (Screening 7:45 p.m. Friday, April 5; 9:15 a.m. Saturday, April 6; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7.)
“Favor” may not be the most polished motion picture that you have ever seen but it sure sends you on a riveting roller-coaster ride that you will not soon forget. Writer/director Paul Osborne’s thriller takes a simple metaphorical saying and runs with it as if it was based in literal legend. The result is a terrifically tense tale in which Osborne essentially uses his inordinate imagination to nonchalantly nudge a small snowball off the cliff of a humungous hill. The fact that it is so unrefined and rough around the edges only adds to the authenticity of its anxiety.
Alev Aydin plays a man who suffers from schizophrenia and decides to liberate himself from his medication.When he finds a genuine connection with a young woman (Natalie Distler), he inadvertently sets out on a path toward self-actualization which may in fact cloud his reality even further. (Screening 4:40 p.m. Friday, April 5; 9 a.m. Saturday, April 6; and 11:45 a.m. Sunday, April 7.)
With “Lonely Boy,” Alev Aydin proves himself to be a true triple threat. Not only did he produce the sharp-looking motion picture and pen its poignant screenplay that blends both laughs and tears into what essentially feels like a single emotion, but he also plays its protagonist and, in doing so, gives an exceptionally genuine performance that is guaranteed to break your heart. Granted, director Dale Fabrigar’s film develops conscientiously – meaning the story unfolds somewhat slowly and its secrets are seemingly reluctant to reveal themselves – but it all culminates with an emotional epiphany that lingers long after the last shot.
Jack Carpenter plays a young man whose aspiration of taking over his uncle’s smoked fish emporium are disrupted by the arrival of a young woman (Melanie Lynskey) with whom said uncle (John Pankow) has an extramarital affair. After years of being undermined by his family and friends, he finally starts to realize his true potential simply by finding his circumscribed life thrown off kilter. (Screening 1:20 p.m. Friday, April 5; 5:40 p.m. Saturday, April 6; and 2:05 p.m. Sunday, April 7.)
“Putzel” has all of the makings of a modern-day, real-life fairy tale. After all, where else can you find a sweet story in which a charming protagonist navigates a wacky world occupied by quirky characters and conquers his Achilles heel to ultimately take the first step toward true happiness? Director Jason Chaet and screenwriter Rick Moore have made an endearingly eccentric motion picture that will simultaneously move you and make you laugh. Accentuated by an infectious theme song, relatable-albeit-exaggerated situations and a likeable cast, this offbeat flick will forever change how you look at whitefish and lox.
‘The Story of Luke’
Lou Taylor Pucci plays a young man with autism who, having been sheltered by his grandparents, is thrust into a world that doesn’t expect anything from him as he embarks on a quest for a job and true love. And he isn’t taking no for an answer. Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer van Straten also star. (Screening 5:40 p.m. Friday, April 5; 1:20 p.m. Saturday, April 6; and 2:25 p.m. Sunday, April 7.)
You do not have to have autism or even know somebody with the disorder to identify with the character Lou Taylor Pucci so brilliantly plays in “The Story of Luke.” All you have to be is abnormal – which, like it or not, we all are as writer/director Alonso Mayo’s dramedy teaches us that the concept of “normal” is nothing more than an illusion. Featuring a sweet story that will stretch a smile across your face and an abundance of astute anecdotes that will animate your appreciation of life itself, this magnificently moving motion picture is something spectacularly special.