Top 7 San Diego Film Festival Picks [2015 Features]

With the festival circuit well underway, this week I am headed to the San Diego Film Festival. Spanning only five days, September 30 through October 4, the SDFF may not be one of the larger, more recognized festivals, but in years past it has been host to some solid Oscar contenders. Within the last three years alone the SDFF has shown 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, Wild, Whiplash, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Imitation Game.

With so many feature films packed within a short amount of time, I’ve picked out seven of my top picks that I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s San Diego Film Festival:

Mississippi Grind San Diego Film Festival 2015

Mississippi Grind (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) Rated R [108 min] – Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis, in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the South with visions of winning back what’s been lost. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry, and Anthony Howard

There’s been some great buzz for Mississippi Grind since its debut at Sundance earlier this year. Both Ryan Reynolds (2016’s Deadpool; The Voices; Self/Less) and Ben Mendelsohn (Slow West; Netflix’s Bloodline) have been putting out solid work within the past year, and I think it’s the camaraderie between their characters that will really bring enjoyment to moviegoers. Not only does Mississippi Grind involve gambling, but it’s also a road trip movie, which puts a nice spin on both niche genres. [Watch the trailer]

Mississippi Grind will be playing on Friday [10/2] at 3:00 pm at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

I Smile Back San Diego Film Festival 2015

I Smile Back (Adam Salky) Rated R [85 min] – Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption. Starring Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, and Thomas Sadoski

I like seeing Sarah Silverman tackling roles outside her regular comedic wheelhouse. Her performance in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz was jarring for all the right reasons. It’s when actors take these kinds of chances, to push themselves beyond their limits, is when real movie magic happens. The tone of I Smile Back comes across really heavy, but I believe Silverman is up to the task from what I’ve seen in previews. [Watch the Trailer]

I Smile Back will be playing on Friday [10/2] at 5:00 pm at the Arclight UTC theater and Saturday [10/3] at 8:30 pm at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

Meadowland San Diego Film Festival 2015

Meadowland (Reed Morano) Rated R [105 min] – In the hazy aftermath of an unimaginable loss, Sarah and Phil come unhinged, recklessly ignoring the repercussions. Phil starts to lose sight of his morals; Sarah takes off on a potentially disastrous journey, falling deeper into her own fever dream. Starring Olivia Wilde, Giovanni Ribisi, Luke Wilson, Ty Simpkins. Juno Temple, Elisabeth Moss, and John Leguizamo

Another weighty drama – I promise not all these picks are dreary and bleak! – it’s again the lead performance that intrigues me more than anything else. Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies; Alpha Dog; Her) is a wonderful actress who hasn’t had a chance to shine yet. I think Meadowland will give her the opportunity to, especially with such a terrific supporting cast. [Watch the Trailer]

Meadowland will be playing on Friday [10/2] at 8:00 pm at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

Goosebumps San Diego Film Festival 2015

Goosebumps (Rob Letterman) Rated PG [103 min] – A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R.L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Greendale, Maryland. Starring Jack Black, Odeya Rush, and Halston Sage

It’s not often you see a family-friendly flick at traditional film festivals, which is why I am tickled with the idea that the SDFF chose Goosebumps as one of their features. My expectations are very, very low due to the shoddy special effects seen in the trailers and the goofiness of it all, but sometimes silly movies like these can surprise you. I loved reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books growing up and the film reminds me of Jumanji, so I’m letting nostalgia get the best of me here. [Watch the Trailer]

Goosebumps will be playing on Saturday [10/3] at 2:30 pm at the Arclight Theater UTC.


Victoria San Diego Film Festival 2015

Victoria (Sebastian Schipper) Unrated [138 min] – While on holiday in Berlin, a young woman finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals its secret: the four men owe someone a dangerous favor that requires repaying that evening. Starring Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, and Franz Rogowski

Looking to make Birdman seem like child’s play, Victoria is the latest attempt in presenting a story in a single take. Cruising through the awards circuit, this Germanic film is scorching with praise for its innovation and intensity. From the concept to the buzz to the plot, that’s enough to get me on board. And the fact that the run time is longer than Birdman and still manages to captivate audiences is quite impressive. [Watch the Trailer]

Victoria will be playing on Saturday [10/3] at 7:30 pm at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

Moments of Clarity San Diego Film Festival 2015

Moments of Clarity (Stev Elam) Unrated [97 min] – A repressed agoraphobic’s daughter meets a hardened pastor’s daughter, and while escaping their homes to attend the annual church youth group jamboree they discover their worlds aren’t what they once thought they were. Starring Lyndsy Fonseca, Kristin Wallace, Eric Roberts, and Marguerite Moreau

If you’re looking for a more adult romp, Moments of Clarity might be right up your alley. With hints of a semi faith-based story, there’s a certain coming-of-age vibe that I’m feeling introduces a unique perspective. I’m a fan of Lyndsy Fonseca’s work in Kick-Ass and Agent Carter, so seeing her in a starring role catches my attention. Moments of Clarity has been making waves on the indie-circuit too, which says to me that there is more to this movie than meets the eye. [Watch the Trailer]

Moments of Clarity will be playing on Saturday [10/3] at 1:00 pm and Sunday [10/4] at 4:00 pm, both screenings at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

Surprise Spotlight Movie San Diego Film Festival 2015 copy

Surprise Spotlight Film – Last year, the SDFF surprised festival goers with Whiplash. And if my sleuthing proves correct, this year’s Surprise Spotlight Film will be yet another huge Oscar contender. I won’t spoil the surprise, but this film was the talk of the town at TIFF.

The Surprise Spotlight Film will be playing on Saturday [10/3] at 6:30 pm at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.

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