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IFFBoston 2010: Wednesday (Opening), Thursday, Friday

The Independent Film Festival Boston kicked off their 2010 festivities by honoring Kevin Kline with the IFFBoston 2010 Career Achievement Award and screening his new film, The Extra Man.  This unusual comedy pairs Kline with Paul Dano in an unlikely mentor/mentee relationship.  Supported by Katie Homes, John C. Reilly, and Patti D’Arbanville, these seemingly unlikable characters navigate New York City, the written word, and women in a way that turns out to be completely charming.  The Q&A with Kline and director Robert Pulcini that followed the screening was so spirited that IFFBoston Program Director Adam Roffman was moved to exclaim, “Top that!”

The centerpiece of the second night was the New England Premiere of the Duplass brothers’ (Mark and Jay) latest effort, Cyrus.  The well-written dialogue supplies real words for surreal situations, delivered flawlessly by leads and support alike.  The under-appreciated John C. Reilly shows that his strength in supporting roles – as seen in the preceding night’s Extra Man – translates well to lead.  He can do whatever the role calls for, large or small.  Marisa Tomei is as captivating as she has ever been and Jonah Hill takes his broad comedic chops and reins them in to deliver a fully three-dimensional performance.  The battling characters avoid going down the route of slapstick silliness that would spoil the tone of the piece.  This film is paced perfectly and is exactly as long as it should be, without drawn out exposition or denouement.  Spot on all around.

Also shown on Thursday evening was Perrier’s Bounty, an Irish neo-noir that begins along Dublin’s river Liffey in the glow of the welcoming pub lights of the Temple Bar district and grows increasingly seedier as it moves towards the climax in a fittingly sinister industrial building.  If you’re a fan of multi-threaded crime dramas like early Tarantino (True Romance (script), Reservoir Dogs), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch – or performers Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson (joined by his son Domhnall) and Gabriel Byrne (voice) – then you should track down Perrier’s Bounty.

Day Three featured the films that swept the festival’s Narrative Feature kudos.  Grand Jury Prize winner Down Terrace is also a dark, criminal-underbelly film from across the pond, but this one’s a comedy based in Britain.  A small-time crime family beset by paranoia, mistrust, and vengeance doesn’t sound funny, but it is.

The other Narrative winner was Winter’s Bone, which added both the Special Jury Prize and Audience Award for the category to its growing list of honors.  Set in the meager subsistence-living, meth-fueled Ozarks, this is a story of a teenage girl, Ree, that needs to save her younger siblings, her incapacitated mother, and the family home by tracking down her ne’er-do-well father – despite all those that don’t want him found.  Director Debra Granik puts together a gripping tale with striking, place-setting cinematography and a solid ensemble cast (including a gritty John Hawkes as Ree’s sketchy uncle, Teardrop), but Winter’s Bone will best be remembered for the breakout performance by 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence as 17-year-old Ree.  

Truth be told, I had planned to check out two documentaries (Casino Jack and the United States of Money, American: The Bill Hicks Story) on Friday, but was convinced to make room for Winter’s Bone (Down Terrace was a happy bonus).  While I expect that I’ll eventually see those docs, I don’t regret taking the advice to choose this screening instead.  One of the first rules of festival-going that I learned years ago is that when one of the festival Directors suggests that you see a film, see it.  The hundreds of patrons that necessitated swapping this show into the largest cinema at the venue apparently agreed.

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