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Virginia Film Festival: Top Ten Picks

It’s that time of year again…and I’m not referring to Halloween. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Virginia Film Festival, an event that has become a staple in Charlottesville since it’s start in the late 1980’s. The festival will run from November 1- November 4 and draws in an array of films every year that run the gamut from unknown indies to Hollywood-made Oscar contenders. My top ten list of must-sees at this year’s festival is just as diverse as the Festival’s offerings. The best part? All students get one FREE complimentary ticket to every film at the Festival. So grab your friends for a day or night out at the movies! Click here to purchase your tickets. 

1) Rust and Bone

Synopsis: Adapted from the book of short stories by Craig Davidson, Rust and Bone is the story of Ali (Schoenaerts) who is put in charge of his five-year-old son and takes refuge with his sister in Antibes, France. There he meets the aloof and beautiful whale trainer Stéphanie (Cotillard), whose bond grows deep after Stéphanie suffers a horrible accident. Ali’s unpitying physicality becomes Stéphanie’s lifeline, but Ali too is transformed by Stéphanie’s resilience. As their stories intersect and diverge, they navigate a world where strength, beauty, youth and blood are commodities – but where trust, truth, loyalty and love cannot be bought and sold.
Showtime: Saturday, 4:00 p.m., The Paramount Theater
Highlights: The film stars Academy Award® winner Marion Cotillard who acted as Leonardo Di Caprio’s wife in Inception. Rust and Bone also competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and Marion Cotillard is expected to be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in this film. 

2) The Sessions

Synopsis:Based on the autobiographical writings of poet Mark O’Brien, The Sessions tells the story of Mark (Hawkes), a man who has been paralyzed from the neck down and confined to an iron lung since childhood due to polio. Nevertheless, at age 38, Mark is determined to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapist (Hunt) and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality. This independently produced film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it won an Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. 
Showtime: Sunday, 7:30 p.m., The Paramount Theater
Highlights: The Session received a rave review by the New York Times, calling John Hawkes and Helen Hunt “the movie couple of the year.” The film is also expected to be a major Oscar contender this year.

3) The Sapphires
1968 was the year the planet went haywire. For four young Aboriginal women from a remote mission in rural Australia, it was the year their lives changed forever. Three young sisters, Gail, Cynthia, and Julie, enter a local talent contest where down-on-his-luck Irish musician Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd, Bridesmaids) spots them. With the addition of their cousin Kay, Dave secures the four-piece girl-group an audition to perform for the American Marines in South Vietnam, where they tour from venue to venue, into the jungles and rivers beyond Saigon. What follows is a triumphant celebration of self-discovery, family and music. 
Showtime: Sunday, 8:00 p.m., Regal 4 Downtown Mall
Highlights: Fantastic acting, singing, and also received a 10 -minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

4) The Invisible War

Synopsis: This groundbreaking documentary investigates one of America’s most shameful and best-kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, the film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much-needed change.
Showtime: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Nau Auditorium
Highlights: An eye-opening documentary into the the underreported epidemic of rape in the U.S. military. Claire Kaplan, the Director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at UVa’s Women’s Center will also lead a discussion of the film following the screening.

5) Ethel
The remarkable life of Ethel Kennedy is told here by those who know Ethel best: her family. Directed by her daughter Rory Kennedy, the film features candid interviews with Ethel and seven of her children. A personal portrait of Ethel’s political awakening, we see the life she shared with Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own. Intimate, funny, and deeply moving, Ethel offers a rare look inside a political dynasty strengthened by family bonds, a compassion for others, and a wisdom forged from both hardship and triumph.
Showtime: Saturday, 1:00 p.m., Old Cabell Hall
Highlights: The documentary includes the years Ethel and Robert Kennedy spent in Charlottesville while Robert Kennedy attended the U.Va. School of Law. Ethel’s son, Max Kennedy, and Larry Sabato will also lead a discussion about the film following the screening.

6) Fat Kid Rules the World

Synopsis: This feature directorial debut from Matthew Lillard (SLC Punk!, Scooby-Doo, the Scream franchise) follows Troy Billings: seventeen, overweight, and suicidal. Just as he’s about to jump in front of a bus, he’s saved by Marcus, a charming high school dropout and street musician. The two begin an uneasy friendship as Marcus convinces Troy to become a drummer in a punk rock band. As the two begin to grow closer, Troy’s ex-Marine father (Campbell, The Killing) increasingly becomes concerned about their friendship.
Showtime: Sunday, 7:00 p.m., Newcomb Hall Theater
Highlights: Director Matthew Lillard who is known for his roles in both Scream and Scooby Doo 1 and 2 will be leading a discussion following the screening along with actor Billy Campbell. 

7) Polisse
Follows the daily lives of a tight-knit team of men and women working in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police. They not only deal with the stress of their jobs but the inevitable fall-out in their personal lives—breakdowns, divorce and adulterous relations within the force. As the cases, confessions and interrogations pile up, the squad members have only each other as support as they face an uphill battle against both criminals and bureaucracy. 
Showtime: Friday, 7:00 p.m., Vinegar Hill 
Highlights: Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival 

8) The Dog Stays in the Picture
Doug and Judy Bari chronicle the life of their beloved Boston Terrier, Caesar. His influence in the family circle is reflected in an emotional series of vignettes spanning 13 years. When Caesar passes, the tree of life continues to grow in a new direction with the introduction of a rescued Boston Terrier named Sophie who needs a permanent home and reminds us that it’s okay to love again. Not a typical dog story, this film chronicles the life of the Baris’ beloved Boston terrier, and the Boston rescue who came to save them. 
Showtime: Saturday, 11:30 a.m., VInegar Hill
Highlights: Clearly this film is for the dog lovers. Doug and Judy Bari, the directors and owners of the Boston Terrier, will be leading a discussion of the film following the screening.

9) Deadfall
Siblings Addison (Bana) and Liza (Wilde) are on the run from a casino heist gone wrong. When a car accident leaves their wheelman and a state trooper dead, they split up and make a run for the Canadian border in the worst of circumstances – a near whiteout blizzard. While Addison heads cross-country, creating mayhem in his wake, Liza is picked up by ex-boxer Jay, en-route for a Thanksgiving homecoming with his parents, June (Spacek) and retired sheriff Chet. It’s there the siblings are reunited in a terse, thrilling showdown that pushes the bonds of family to the limit.  
Saturday, 9:45 p.m., Vinegar Hill
Highlights: Stars Olivia Wilde, Eric Bana and Charlottesville native and acclaimed actress, Sissy Spacek.

10) Between Us
Based on the hit off-Broadway play by the same name, Between Us follows the evolving relationship between two couples. Tensions rise and frustrations are shared as Carlo (Diggs) and Grace (Stiles) stay with Sharyl and Joel. We soon discover that while the latter couple lives a seemingly perfect life, Joel is an alcoholic and Sharyl is trapped in a loveless marriage. Similarly, Carlo and Grace’s marriage is not without turmoil. Between Us is a dark comedy that explores the two couples’ bittersweet friendships as they realize their lives are tarnished by money, success, sex, and children. 
Showtime: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Vinegar Hill
Highlights: Stars Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs who both got their start in the theater.

Francesca Lee is a fourth year majoring in sociology with a minor in media studies at the University of Virginia. This summer, she developed a passion for TV production after interning at WETA, the public television station for DC and the greater metro area.  Throughout the summer, Francesca researched, wrote and produced several WETA Around Town segments about the local arts programs and graffiti murals in DC.  As the new campus correspondent for Her Campus UVa, she is working to create video content for the UVa branch to supplement the written content.  This spring, she hopes to study abroad in Denmark and expand her knowledge of international broadcasting and advertising. Francesca also gives historical and admissions tours to visitors and prospective students at UVa and is a member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority.  
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