My Top 7 Picks for Cinetopia International Film Festival 2016 {Ann Arbor + Detroit}

This is my third year attending Cinetopia, and although I'm unfortunately going to be out of town during one of its weekends, that still gives me an entire week to see movies. Last year and the year before, I bounced between Detroit and Ann Arbor for movies; this year, due to my shortened schedule, I will only be attending movies in Detroit and Dearborn.

My top 7 picks for Cinetopia 2016:

1. Goat

Brad is a nineteen-year-old whose attempts to recover from a violent assault include pledging to the fraternity that his brother (NICK JONAS, in a brilliant dramatic turn) belongs to. As Brad navigates this new world of parties, random hook-ups, and intense hazing, he must come to terms with his relationship with his brother and the violence he is now a part of. Raw and honest, this searing drama pulls no punches in its portrayal of masculine insecurities, the violent side of male culture, and the desperate measures people will go to in order to feel that they belong. Goat moves beyond the clichés of Greek life in order to find the horrors that lurk just below the surface and, ultimately, to shine a much needed light on how young men come to terms with violence - both the violence they endure and the violence they help to perpetrate.

This should be interesting - sorority/fraternity films usually are, plus I like Nick Jonas.

2. Ma ma

Magda is spiraling. Her husband has left her for a younger woman and her young son is still dealing with his parents’ separation. On top of it all, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This may not be a death sentence and what follows is not a new lease on life, but it just might create a new path and give Magda a chance to forge new bonds. PENÉLOPE CRUZ handles this role with a soft radiance, a steady motherly touch, and seamlessly turns a serious subject into a meditation on selflessness. The film’s corners are rounded even further by reuniting cinematographer KIKO DE LA RICO (Blancanieves, Cinetopia 2012) and writer/director Julio Medem (Sex and Lucia) whose combined efforts add to the radiance, seemingly basking Magda in a bright white light.

I'll see anything that Penelope Cruz is in. This is in Spanish with English subtitles, as well.

3. Operator

On the surface, Joe (MARTIN STARR) is a balanced, everyday guy, all thanks to the support of his level-headed wife Emily (MAE WHITMAN) and his obsession with ... the quantifiable self. Charts, calculations, and formulae all help him understand what he is doing, why he is doing it, and what he is capable of offering to those around him. After a major project at work goes awry for him and his best friend Gregg (NAT FAXON), Joe enlists the help of his wife, crossing streams to achieve the satisfaction of his client, but also putting Joe’s home life into a conundrum. With the added factors of his mother (CHRISTINE LAHTI) taking a turn for the worse by just being her lovable self, and Emily beginning to see what she really wants out of life, Joe may now need to carry this one over to a new set of values.

I'm unfortunately probably going to have to miss this one - it plays at the Michigan Theater (Ann Arbor) the day before my trip, but so does #4 on my list (see below) too, at the Maple, which is easier for me to get to. I love Mae Whitman and Nat Faxon, though, plus there will be special guest appearances at one of the screenings.

4. Complete Unknown

When Tom (MICHAEL SHANNON) and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their guests brings an intriguing date named Alice (RACHEL WEISZ). Tom is convinced he knows her, but she refuses to acknowledge their past history. When Alice makes a hasty exit, Tom follows her down the rabbit hole and into the night, where they explore the freedom to shed one’s skin in the anonymity of the big city. What ensues is an all-night odyssey with two characters, one needing to make a change in his life, the other questioning how to stop changing. By turns mysterious, dramatic, and absurdly comic, Complete Unknown is a shape-shifting film about the perils and pleasures of self-reinvention.

I will probably be seeing this one on Thursday, 6/9, at the Maple. The description sounds interesting and I'm a fan of both Shannon and Weisz.

5. The Alchemist's Cookbook

Young outcast Sean has isolated himself in a trailer in the woods, setting out on alchemical pursuits, with his cat Kaspar as his sole companion. Filled with disdain for authority, he has fled the daily grind and holed up in the wilderness, escaping a society that has no place for him. But when he turns from chemistry to black magic to crack nature’s secrets, things go awry and he awakens something far more sinister and dangerous. Grand Rapids based director Joel Potrykus (Buzzard, Cinetopia 2014) marries the heady nature of isolation with the hard and fast realities that come along with being a hermit on the fringe. Potyrkus fills our lungs and brains with the same caustic elements that turn Sean inward, dragging the audience along for one of the trippiest rides in the entire festival.

This movie doesn't work with my schedule but it comes to you from Joel Potrykus, who did Buzzard, which I saw a few years ago - it wasn't entirely to my taste, but it's a movie that I still haven't forgotten, two years later, which says something. The director will be making an appearance after the 6/3 screening of Alchemist's Cookbook, too.

6. Morris From America

Morris Gentry is a fish-out-of-water: a hip-hop loving, thirteen-year-old African-American who has just been uprooted to Heidelberg, Germany by his single father CRAIG ROBINSON). While he is forced to navigate his new school and fend off racist assumptions of his peers and teachers, Morris’s primary concerns are to become a hip-hop star and to catch the eye of his rebellious classmate, Katrin. This delightfully unique coming-of-age tale features energetic direction by CHAD HARTIGAN (This is Martin Bonner) and a breakout performance by MARKEES CHRISTMAS in the title role. Morris from America is a crowd-pleasing, poignant, and funny story about growing up and finding your way in the world.

This one sounds interesting - I may be seeing it Sat. 6/4, as well.

7. Little Men

Middle schoolers Jake and Tony are an unlikely pair: Jake is an introverted aspiring artist whereas Tony is brash, outgoing, and confident that he can become an actor. Despite their differences, the two become fast friends when Jake’s parents inherit the Brooklyn building where Tony’s single mother runs a dress shop. But their friendship is tested when Jake’s father (GREG KINNEAR) gets into a rent dispute with Tony’s mother (PAULINA GARCIA). While the adults threaten to tear apart the bonds of friendship their sons have made, the children in this film shine through as examples of what the world could be if it was unfettered by hatred and conflicts. Director IRA SACHS (Love Is Strange) crafts a multi-layered story of childhood, friendship, and loyalty, set against the backdrop of the dangers of gentrification. With breakout performances by its young stars and an empathetic look at the conflicts conveyed, Little Men is a moving and deeply human drama.

I really want to see this one but unfortunately won't be able to, as the times don't align for me. You can't go wrong with Greg Kinnear, though, and the plot sounds interesting.

*all images courtesy of

Honorable Mentions:
Baba Joon
Captain Fantastic
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Landfill Harmonic
Miss Stevens
Speed Sisters
Summertime (La belle saison)

Have you ever been to a film festival? And if so, do you try to see more "mainstream" films at festivals, or go for more indie films?

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