The Denver Film Festival (DFF) just announced the Red Carpet films for its upcoming festival, running October 31 through November 11. Though the organizers of the event, Denver Film Society (DFS), already sent their first wave of announcements out a few weeks ago — including news that a film about Colorado Senator Gary Hart starring Hugh Jackman will be on view — the Red Carpet films always cause a little stir in Denver’s film community. In previous years, DFF has proudly screened films that later went on to be nominated (and almost win) Oscars, like La La Land.
This year, the Red Carpet films will showcase the talent of some repeat stars from previous years, like Emma Stone (La La Land, DFF39) and Natalie Portman (Jackie, DFF40), as well as stars we have all come to love from other pop culture appearances, including Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman. The Red Carpet screenings are usually some of the most popular films in the festival and require a special advance ticket.
Opening the 41st year of the festival on October 31 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House will be The Favourite, taking viewers back in time to the 18th Century where an unlikely servant (Emma Stone) in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) quickly learns she must endear herself to thrive. The costumes are spectacular — as most period movies about royal life tend to have — and the performances by Stone, Colman and Rachel Weisz (another woman under the Queen) are all particular in their own way, making it difficult to decide who exactly is the star. Though it is set in a time now gone, the dialogue and attitudes of each woman are at different times humorous, morose, desperate and empowered — a relevant and interesting view that might change our minds about old British royalty forever.
The centerpiece selection on November 2 will be The Upside — a turn from the darker tones of The Favourite and into the world of comedy created from real-life situations. Directed by Neil Burger (Limitless and The Illusionist), The Upside follows the budding partnership between a Park Avenue billionaire Phillip (Bryan Cranston) and an ex-con trying to find a worthwhile job, Dell (Kevin Hart). Phillip is a quadriplegic who can only move his mouth — so there is no lack of snarky or well-timed lines from him — and Dell is employed to help with all of his daily activities, despite not having any experience in doing something like that. Nicole Kidman plays Yvonne, a mousey character who seems to provide a “motherly” role to both Phillip and Dell, especially at times when they seem to be in the midst of their odd bromance. The Upside is the American re-write of a 2011 French film, The Intouchables.
Vox Lux will close out the festival as the final Red Carpet presentation on November 10, starring the one-and-only Natalie Portman. The film, which is the sophomore creation of writer and director Brady Corbet, follows Celeste (Portman) through 18 years from 1999 to 2017, with all the events shown from her perspective. After some kind of national tragedy, Celeste rises to become a pop star — along the same lines as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato — and in the process the audience witnesses the terrifying power that stardom holds over the star. With another stunning performance by Portman, as well as supporting roles performed by Jude Law, Stacy Martin and Jennifer Ehle, this closing night screening will leave attendees to DFF41 aching for more spectacular cinema.
Don’t expect to see any part of the film online before the screening, either. The official trailer for Vox Lux is ambiguous, lending to the mystery we so often feel when thinking about pop stars and celebrities, and ultimately setting the stage for viewers to receive the full cinematic experience in a theater with a big screen — just the way a pop star would want it.
“This year’s Red Carpet Presentations showcase strong cinematic voices,” said festival director, Britta Erickson in a press release. “From Yorgos Lanthimos’ hilarious and tragic The Favourite, to Neil Burger’s comedic and heartfelt remake The Upside, to Brady Corbet’s challenging film Vox Lux, audiences will find something to celebrate throughout the twelve-day Festival.”
Another Red Carpet presentation has been announced (after the original publishing date of this article) to announce the spotlight selection of Ben is Back on November 2. Directed by Peter Hedges — the mastermind behind the iconic movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — Ben is Back goes through one day in the life of a family who must deal with the return of their 19-year-old son. To make matters more complicated, the son’s return is punctuated by his possible success — or failure — from rehab. Starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges and Courtney B. Vance, this movie will most likely provide the tear-jerking complexity that we love about film festivals. The director will be at the screening in person to present the movie to Denver.
New to the festival this year, Hamlet-Mobile will provide film-lovers with a more immersive experience, with site-specific variations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, performed out of a cargo van. The performance will be eight short sets for audiences of one to four people, giving perhaps the most intimate showing of the entire 12-day festival. Locations for the impromptu performances can be found here.
If you’re interested about the Santa Fe based artist collective Meow Wolf (who will be constructing their new permanent exhibition in Denver by 2020), you won’t want to miss the documentary screening of Meow Wolf: Origin Story. Starting at their modest beginnings and moving through more recent developments, the documentary will show you behind-the-scenes of the incredibly successful art enterprise that’s taking the country by storm. Artists Golda Blaise and Oliver Polzin will be at the screening in-person.
Check out more announcements below, as provided by Denver Film Society in a press release.
COLD WAR (ZIMNA WOJNA) / dir. Paweł Pawlikowski / Poland/France/UK
Wiktor and Zula meet amid the post-war ruins of Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris in this lush romantic drama filmed entirely in black and white. Complicated by politics, their own character flaws, and tragic twists of fate, theirs is an impossible love story for impossible times.
IN A RELATIONSHIP / dir. Sam Boyd / USA
Director Sam Boyd and actress Dree Hemmingway in-person
In what he calls a “deliberately simple story,” Sam Boyd’s debut rom-com examines 20-something love over the course of a Los Angeles summer, as two couples experience all the angst, insecurity, humor, and frustration of being in a relationship. Emma Roberts co-stars.
ON HER SHOULDERS / dir. Alexandria Bombach / USA
Young Nadia Murad dreamed of opening a beauty salon in her native Iraq. Instead, she survived genocide, escaped sexual slavery, and became—at all of 23 years old—a voice for the Yazidi community, one known to UN dignitaries and encamped refugees alike. This is her extraordinary story.
RAFIKI / dir. Wanuri Kahiu / Kenya/South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France
Teenage girls Kena and Ziki long for something more than marriage and motherhood; their ambition and independence unites them as they navigate conservative Kenyan society. But when their friendship blossoms into love, they know they will have to make hard choices in this moving coming-of-age drama.
TERMINAL 3 / dir. Asad J. Malik / USA/Pakistan
Terminal 3 is an interactive, augmented-reality documentary that explores contemporary Muslim identities in the U.S. through the lens of an airport interrogation. As viewers put on the Hololens, they step into the uncanny to directly interrogate, and determine the fate of, the hologram passenger before them. These interrogations become strikingly personal encounters that only end when the participant decides if the hologram should be let into the country – or not.