If you happen to be in the Boston area this weekend and see some massive lines snaked around the best independent movie theaters in town (well, in Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline), then you’re seeing the love for the IFFB — Independent Film Festival Boston. Now in its 12th year — a testament to both the response by Boston moviegoers and the remarkable persistence of festival staff — the IFFB has always had a knack for loading up titles that become year-end favorites. With an ear to the ground, good vibes, and a healthy local bias, here’s my annual pick list of 12 IFFBoston movies to watch, organized by day. Want to buy tickets? Click on each title.
:: Wednesday, April 23
Beneath the Harvest Sky
Somerville Theatre, 7:30pm
For Opening Night, the IFFB programmers have chosen a locally focused film, about close pals in rural Maine looking to leave their potato farming lives. One goes the hard-working way (Australian-born Callan McAuliffe), the other goes the illegal way (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines). The filmmakers, married couple Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, are familiar with the IFFB spotlight: Their documentary about the elderly greeting soldiers arriving home via a Maine airport, The Way We Get By, was featured in 2009. Beneath the Harvest Sky is their first narrative feature.
:: Thursday, April 24
Somerville Theatre, 7pm
What’s 52 minutes long, has thousands and thousands of pieces, and boasts one of the best titles of the festival? This documentary about the high-powered world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. By far, Wicker Kittens has my favorite description in the entire IFFB program: “Open the box. Dump out all the pieces. And scramble for your lives.” Look for the corners first!
:: Friday, April 25
The Search for General Tso
Somerville Theatre, 7:15pm
We begin our loosely themed food double-feature with this documentary that starts with the eponymous Chinese chicken dish and delves into ideas of cultural and culinary assimilation. Directed by Ian Cheney, who co-produced revered food politics documentary King Corn, and made his directorial debut with the local, hopeful The Greening of Southie.
Brattle Theatre, 9:45pm
After scarfing down some Chinese food, it’s time to feel guilty about it. Comedian Mark Phinney wrote and directed this dark, sensitive, comic journey of a guy with a serious weight problem, and how it affects the corners of his mind and events in his life. Plenty’s been said about the ballsy lead performance, by naturally rotund character actor Mel Rodriguez.
:: Saturday, April 26
We Are the Best
Somerville Theatre, 2:30pm
Two of my favorite cinema categories — Swedish films and the 1980s — come together in Lukas Moodysson’s punk period piece about three girls who rebel against establishment thinking by starting a band. Told in episodic fashion, We Are the Best (my second favorite title of the festival) is based on the graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco.
Brattle Theatre, 7:15pm
Breaking Bad veteran Aaron Paul co-stars in this drama about brotherly dedication in the midst of a family’s disintegration. Paul plays the distraught single father to two boys, one with troubles and a passion for motocross and metal. Hellion was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won writer-director Kat Candler the SxSW “Gamechanger Award.”
Somerville Theatre, 9:45pm
IFFBoston staff let me know this woe-is-me comedy is one of the two toughest tickets of the weekend. Jenny Slate plays a Brooklyn comedian with a massively bad stroke of luck: she’s been dumped by her cheating boyfriend, lost her job, and been knocked up via a one-nighter. But cheer up, Valentine’s Day is around the corner! This is the New England premiere of Obvious Child, a co-presentation with the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
:: Sunday, April 27
Life on the V: The Story of V66
Somerville Theatre, 4pm
It was 1985 and the Boston music scene had some serious star power. The Cars. The J. Geils Band. V66? This beloved piece of Boston broadcasting culture was a local music video television phenomenon, an over-the-air station that came and went, but has its sentimental fans to this day. Eric Green takes us back to that totally wicked pissah period in time. Man, after I saw Cure For Pain at the IFFB a couple years back, I had Morphine and Treat Her Right in my head for weeks. I’m in trouble with this one.
Dear White People
Somerville Theatre, 8:30pm
Here’s the single toughest ticket to get, as of this writing (you’ll need to line up for rush tickets). Writer-director Justin Siemen, a fan of the “black arthouse” films of the late 1980s and early 1990s (like Do the Right Thing) opens up a cultural can of worms when a group of white Ivy League college kids throw an “African-American”-themed party. According to the press notes, the producers are shooting for satire, and looking for the days when movies like Hollywood Shuffle can make their return. This one’s co-presented by Boston’s Roxbury Film Festival.
:: Monday, April 28
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Somerville Theatre, 8pm
Edward Snowden and Julian Assange aren’t the only renegades who’ve fought their own battles for freedom of information. Aaron Swartz was a programming whiz, a political activist, the co-founder of Reddit, and an enormously tragic figure. This documentary about Swartz’s life is directed by Brian Knappenberger, who brought We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists to the IFFB two years ago.
:: Tuesday, April 29
The Trip to Italy
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7pm
Wait, a sequel to The Trip?! More of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, eating and singing and complaining and arguing and doing uncanny Michael Caine impersonations?! C’mon, get in.
:: Wednesday, April 30
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7:30pm
The festival’s Closing Night feature is Michel Gondry’s latest curiosity, a French-language love story about an inventor (Romain Duris) who goes out looking for love, finds a sparkling young woman (Audrey Tautou, of course) to fall for, and suffers when she falls ill with an odd respiratory disease. The production design won a Cesar Award at this year’s festivities.