The 42nd annual Denver Film Festival has announced its red-carpet films and special presentations, and they're a showy bunch. The fest's opening-night feature is a star-studded crowd-pleaser from a filmmaker boasting Denver roots, while its closer is a high-profile flick touted as an Academy Awards frontrunner.
The event will get under way on Wednesday, October 30, with a tribute at the Sie FilmCenter to longtime artistic director Brit Withey, who died on March 31 in a car accident. The next night, October 31, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House will host the unspooling of Knives Out, the latest from director Rian Johnson, who grew up in Denver and most recently helmed the 2017 smash Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A modern take on the old-school whodunit, the film is headlined by Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield and Toni Collette.
At the far end of the schedule, on November 9 (the night before the true end of the festival), Marriage Story will get the closing-night treatment at the Ellie. Directed by indie icon Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We're Young), the dissection of a cross-country divorce stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, whose portrayal is already generating Oscar buzz.
Other red-carpet presentations at the Ellie include Centerpiece offering Waves, with Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell and Lucas Hedges, on November 7, and The Two Popes, pitting Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce against each other for a matinee on the afternoon of October 9.
In addition, the fest will give attendees an early opportunity to see Motherless Brooklyn, in which writer-director Edward Norton plays a detective with Tourette's Syndrome; Portrait of a Lady on Fire from filmmaker Céline Sciamma; Clemency, the directorial debut of Chinonye Chukwu; and A Hidden Life, by the always divisive auteur Terrence Malick.
Here are the DFF descriptions of all the red-carpet and special presentations, designed to whet the appetite of cineastes for the full schedule, coming soon:
Red Carpet Presentations:
dir. Rian Johnson/USA
When famed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, debonair detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) must untangle the web of red herrings and lies spun by Harlan’s dysfunctional inner circle to get to the truth in this delightful whodunit.
dir. Noah Baumbach/USA
This one is going to hurt — which isn’t to say you won’t laugh through the tears. Writer-director Noah Baumbach and stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are drawing career-high raves for their delicately contoured and shaded, exquisitely sad and funny portrait of a couple negotiating a divorce.
THE TWO POPES
dir. Fernando Meirelles/UK/Italy/Argentina/USA
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star in this incisive, fascinating account of the transfer of power between Popes Benedict and Francis, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody).
dir. Trey Edward Shults / USA
Unfolding in two parts, this astonishing family drama about a suburban African-American family rocked by tragedy revolves around the pair of siblings at its center to explore how we learn to forgive in the face of grief, love without condition, and grow toward the light in the darkest of times.
THE AERONAUTS dir. Tom Harper/USA/UK
In 1862, daredevil balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) teamed up with pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) to study the weather — flying higher than anyone in history in the process. This thrilling adventure pits human grit and ingenuity against increasingly thin air.
dir. Chinonye Chukwu / USA
Prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) scrupulously maintains her emotional distance from everyone and everything — including a failing marriage and a botched execution. But with plans to carry out another death sentence under way, her nerves are starting to fray in this devastating drama.
dir. Alla Kovgan/Germany/France/USA
This stunning documentary about visionary modern-dance choreographer Merce Cunningham bursts onto the screen in glorious 3-D. Moscow-born director Alla Kovgan traces three decades of Cunningham's genius through archival footage and the re-creation of some of his most memorable works.
A HIDDEN LIFE
dir. Terrence Malick/Germany/USA
Devoted husband and pious church-goer Franz Jägerstätter is faced with an intolerable choice in World War II-era Austria: take an oath of loyalty to Hitler or be executed as a traitor. Terrence Malick's latest epic explores faith and moral certitude in the face of earthly consequences.
dir. Alma Har'el/USA
This highly personal and cathartic drama based on writer and co-star Shia LaBeouf's own experiences as a child actor follows young Otis Lort as he attempts to mend his contentious relationship with an abusive, alcoholic father over the course of a decade.
THE HUMAN FACTOR
dir. Dror Moreh/UK/Israel
With unprecedented access to key players, this absorbing behind-the-scenes documentary reveals how, in the 1990s, the United States nearly achieved the impossible — securing peace between Israel and its neighbors. The lessons to be learned from the not-so-distant past couldn't be more urgent.
dir. Edward Norton/USA
Edward Norton directs and stars in this offbeat homage to classic film noir, adapted from a Jonathan Lethem novel about a private detective with Tourette's Syndrome investigating the murder of his boss. The crack supporting cast includes Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
THE PAINTED BIRD (NABARVENÉ PTÁCE)
dir. Václav Marhoul/Czech Republic/Slovakia/Ukraine
This unsparing black-and-white Czech period drama follows an unnamed boy as he wanders aimlessly across the countryside at the bloody close of World War II. In his fight to survive, he is both witness to and victim of increasingly savage acts at the hands of villagers and soldiers alike.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU)
dir. Céline Sciamma/France
French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes for this affecting, elegantly subversive period romance set in the 18th century, which follows artist Marianne on a delicate assignment: painting the wedding portrait of reluctant bride-to-be Héloïse.
dir. Scott Z. Burns/USA
Adam Driver and Annette Bening head up an excellent ensemble cast in this smart political thriller that tackles the true story of Daniel J. Jones, a Senate staffer charged with investigating the CIA's use of torture in the wake of 9/11.
THE TRAITOR (IL TRADITORE)
dir. Marco Bellocchio/Italy/France/Brazil/Germany
For all its extravagance, this engrossing spectacle of a drama is based on a true story: the life of Tommaso Buscetta, a made man turned informant whose collaboration with the Italian government led to a seven-year trial that toppled the Casa Nostra in the 1980s.
THE TRUTH (LA VÉRITÉ)
dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda/France/Japan
Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke star in the latest from acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters, DFF41), about a legendary French actress who may or may not regret putting career before family all her life. This sweet-and-sour drama is classic Kore-eda.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.