UPCOMING: Top 10 picks for the 2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

*Disclosure: I will be receiving media passes for the festival. All opinions expressed here, however, are my own. 

It's that time again! The Cinetopia Film Festival starts on Thursday, June 1st, and this will be my 4th year covering the festival here on my blog. I already have a tentative schedule for myself, and this year I'll be in town for most of the festival, as well (last year I was in out of town during one of the festival weekends) so I'm hoping to maximize the amount of films I get to see.

If you're unfamiliar with the festival, you can read more about it here, and also purchase tickets - prices range from $12 to a single ticket ($9 for Michigan Theater members) to $120 for a festival pass. If you're a student, you can score a festival pass for only $50, too.

>> Click HERE to enter to win TWO movie passes, valid for the entire festival! Ends 5/29/17.

*All images courtesy of CinetopiaFestival.org.

1. The Hero

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. Western star of yesteryear Lee Hayden (SAM ELLIOTT) likes to reminisce with his drug dealer buddy Jeremy (NICK OFFERMAN) about the good times gone by. But when Lee runs into a roadblock, he gets a fresh chance to reclaim the spotlight with the help of his new lover Charlotte (LAURA PREPON) and an industry award for his work. Director BRETT HALEY (I’ll See You in My Dreams) gives a strong, funny, and touching take on a man in his later years making the best of being in the moment.

This includes some big names - Nick Offerman is funny in most movies he's in, though this sounds more like a drama, and I'm a fan of Laura Prepon from Orange is the New Black.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

When Li (BINGBING FAN, winner of the ASIAN FILM AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS) realizes that her divorce has become a sham, she decides to take on the Chinese bureaucracy. A series of personal battles with community officials provokes a tireless ten-year fight, ultimately taking her one-woman war for justice to Beijing and back. Enlisting the help of her potential new husband and the self-serving authorities who spar with her along the way, Li finds a surprising and poignant outcome. This smart, visually stunning, and insightful slice-of-life look at China won the TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ AWARD.

I've seen a lot of really good international films during previous Cinetopia years, and this sounds like it could be one of those. It's being shown in Mandarin with English subtitles, also.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. An examination of lives in stasis, with characters suffocated by the ennui of Brooklyn life, Golden Exits is an unhurried study of loosely-connected stories, with an incredibly beautiful score lingering just beneath the surface. Naomi (EMILY BROWNING) arrives in Brooklyn to assist archivist Nick (ADAM HOROWITZ) as he catalogues the estate of his father-in-law, a late magazine publisher. As Naomi shimmers with youth, Alyssa (CHLOË SEVIGNY), Nick’s wife, reminds him of his long-ago indiscretions, returning again and again to puncture any shred of happiness for the long-married couple. Shot on the gorgeous grain of 16mm film, the pent-up frustration and subtle tensions simmer beneath wordy dialogue and persistent close-ups, never quite reaching their boiling point. The cast also includes JASON SCHWARTZMAN, LILY RABE, and MARY LOUISE PARKER. From writer-director ALEX ROSS PERRY, Golden Exits follows his previous work, Queen of Earth, Listen Up Philip, and The Color Wheel.

This one definitely sounds like a hipster movie (shot in 16mm film was my first indication, ha ...) but the cast sounds good. Sounds like it could be an interesting indie movie.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MIDWEST PREMIERE. After his estranged scholar father falls into a coma, Jin (JOHN CHO) reluctantly comes to a small Midwestern college town to be with him. What he finds there is a surprising city full of modernist architecture – and Casey (HALEY LU RICHARDSON), a thoughtful girl stuck in a holding pattern after graduating from high school. Casey loves her hometown and is reluctant to leave her simple life with her mother, a recovering drug addict. She instead spends her days studying the history of the stunning buildings around her and shelving books at the local library. Jin and Casey strike up casual conversations on a few lazy, lovely days, surrounded by the haze and pause of a late Indiana summer. The first feature film from renowned film editor and essayist KOGONADA, Columbus is a moving tale of the connection we feel to the structures that surround us and to the people we meet during times of change.

This is high on my list to see, as I loved Haley Lu Richardson in The Edge of Seventeen, and John Cho is great too.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. National coverage of a gruesome double murder leaves Japanese citizens reeling in fear and suspicion. The killer is nowhere to be found – until he begins traveling the country, swapping identities to stay one step ahead of the police. Now, everyone’s a suspect: the mysterious young man dating a vulnerable daughter; the stranger-turned-lover picked up from the sauna; the drifter living alone on a remote island. Are these three enigmatic newcomers innocent, or are they connected to the crime (and each other)? Based on the acclaimed novel from SHÛICHI YOSHIDA, Rage features a dynamic cast, including KEN WATANABE.

American moviegoers might recognize Ken Watanabe from The Last Samurai, with Tom Cruise, or perhaps Inception, and he should be good in this role. This movie in Japanese with English subtitles.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. Dina is a modern woman living on the autism spectrum who loves both her independent life and her fiancé Scott, a Walmart greeter with Asperger syndrome. Framed through a cinema vérité lens, Dina and Scott navigate the usual troubles that all couples face, from moving in together to planning a wedding, with charm and warmth. They have different ideas of what a “last night of freedom” should entail – Dina opts for raunchy male strippers while Scott chooses a quiet night of bowling with the guys – but both want a fresh start together, equally devoted to each other and their relationship. Winner of the U.S. GRAND JURY PRIZE – DOCUMENTARY at the 2017 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, this unconventional love story takes an intimate, tender look at a couple that is not seen often on the big screen.

I try to attend most of the Cinetopia movies that are screening at the Maple Theater, since it's a quick 15-minute drive for me, but this one looks interesting, too.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. Menashe, a kind grocery store clerk, walks a difficult tightrope of faith, tradition, and staying true to himself. His philosophical struggles manifest in the real world as he longs to parent his young son, who he’s prohibited from raising alone after his wife’s death. As the anniversary of his wife’s passing approaches, Menashe is given an opportunity to show his ultra-orthodox Jewish community that he’s not an outsider. MENASHE LUSTIG stars as the title character and bursts off the screen with a performance that’s equally filled with heart and pathos; his face alone can tell his story. Performed entirely in Yiddish under the direction of JOSHUA Z WEINSTEIN, the film skillfully opens the door to a world that is seldom seen by strangers.

Another Maple movie. I'm curious to see how they portray the orthodox Jewish community here, and although this isn't classified as a documentary, it almost seems like it is one.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MIDWEST PREMIERE. In a peaceful medieval convent, three nuns (AUBREY PLAZA, ALISON BRIE, and KATE MICUCCI) live a simple, if boring, life under the watchful eye of Father Tommasso (JOHN C. REILLY). When Massetto (DAVE FRANCO), a sexy young servant, is hired to help out on the convent grounds, their quiet existence is disrupted. To avoid tempting the deprived nuns, Massetto is introduced to them as a deaf-mute – but it’s not long before debauchery runs rampant, with the nuns-gone-wild basking in the sinful joys of witchcraft, sex, and experimental drugs. Instead of mocking religion itself, director JEFF BAENA (Life After Beth, Joshy) has succeeded in making an irreverent, witty comedy that lampoons our basic instincts. Also starring MOLLY SHANNON, NICK OFFFERMAN, FRED ARMISEN, JEMIMA KIRKE, PAUL REISER, and ADAM PALLY.

Fantastic cast including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, and Dave Franco, among others,  but curiously, it's only showing one time - most Cinetopia movies screen 2-3x, so that both Detroit and Ann Arbor audiences get to experience them. If you want to see it make sure you head to the College for Creative Studies on Friday, June 9th at 7pm.

2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

Filmed in Detroit by writer/director – and native son – QASIM BASIR (Mooz-Lum), Destined tells the story of Rasheed (played, in a breakout performance, by CORY HARDRICT), a young Detroit man whose life splits off into two possible outcomes. In one, he’s an up-and-coming architect being used by cynical real estate developers to gentrify his old neighborhood; in the other, he’s a powerful drug lord who rules his surroundings but may regret what he’s built. As his everyday choices begin to create life-changing consequences, Rasheed discovers that his two disparate worlds face similar dilemmas. Also featuring JESSE METCALFE, LA LA ANTHONY, JASON DOHRING, and HILL HARPER.

Almost sounds like Gwyneth Paltrow's 1998 movie Sliding Doors, and set in Detroit, to boot. I love "what if" type movies and books, as well, so I'm hoping to see this one.

10. Quest

Top 10 picks for the 2017 Cinetopia Film Festival, June 1-11, Ann Arbor & Detroit

MICHIGAN PREMIERE. Meet the Raineys – dad Christopher (a.k.a. Quest), mom Christine’a (a.k.a. Ma Quest), son William, and daughter Patricia (a.k.a. P.J.). Photographer-turned-filmmaker JONATHAN OLSHEFSKI followed this working-class family through eight years of their lives in inner-city Philadelphia, capturing every challenge and triumph in true cinema vérité style. The Raineys are a unique American household, with Quest juggling two jobs to support his recording studio-slash-home for wayward artists and Ma working at a domestic violence shelter while caring for her daughter, son, and grandson, but they could also be anyone. What’s shared onscreen is stunning in its simplicity, addressing broader cultural conversations (drugs, violence, illness, and politics) through the lens of one loving, determined family and the community they influence.

I'm not usually a documentary fan, but this family sounds interesting, and I like that they follow them through 8 years of their life, rather than just a year or two. 

Honorable mentions:
4. In Between
5. Band Aid

Have you ever attended Cinetopia, or another film festival? How was your experience, if so?

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