The American Essentials Film Festival has hit Brisbane, and if you are as much of a movie lover as we are you will be reaching for the popcorn as we speak. This ace festival’s line-up includes some big names, including (breathe, now) Helena Bonham Carter, Ellen Page, John Travolta, Elizabeth Olsen, Ed Harris, Jason Sudekis, Danny DeVito and plenty more familiar faces. Amongst these films are some indie gems, following stories of star-crossed lovers, strained family dynamics, and hilarious situations.
Instead of sending you in blind, we've put together our picks of the must-see movies at this year's American Essentials Film Festival. Happy watching!
Helena Bonham Carter | 55 Steps
To start off this list we have chosen 55 Steps. This film stars Helena Bonham Carter as psychiatric patient Eleanor Riese and follows the true story of her and Colette Hughes, a lawyer played by Hilary Swank. In 1987 they filed a landmark case for patient rights in San Francisco which changed America’s psychiatric care practices in a fundamental way, giving patients more rights over their own bodies when admitted. The film will be debut in Australia for the first time at the festival and has been hailed for its beautiful portrayal of an unlikely friendship creating needed change in America’s mental health industry.
Otis Clay And Janet Jackson | How They Got Over
If you are a fan of documentaries you have to check out How They Got Over. This new doco tells the story of how African American gospel music created the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and rhythm and blues. This story is told through interviews with pioneers of the genre, going into detail about how gospel quartets secularised their lyrics to access a wider audience and America fell in love with the sound that largely influenced all popular genres of music to follow. This documentary is an in-depth look at the African-American sound that shaped the music of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and continues to this day.
Jermaine Clement | Humor Me
Jermaine Clement stars in the comedy Humor Me about an award-winning New York playwright who has fallen on hard times. Unable to complete his latest project and left by his wife, he is left with no choice but to move in with his father into a New Jersey retirement community. This film is a heart-warming and hilarious telling of the repetitive and sluggish routines people can get stuck in. It highlights the fact that nothing can cure procrastination, writer's block, or just sheer laziness better than having to move back in with your parents.
Jason Sudekis, Ed Harris And Elizabeth Olsen | Kodachrome
Premiering for the first time in Australia at the American Essentials Film Festival is Kodachrome. This one is part road trip film, part family drama as it follows the story of a dying photographer trying to build a relationship with his estranged son by convincing him to drive across country to reach the only photo store left that can develop his old film. Starring well knowns Jason Sudekis, Ed Harris, and Elizabeth Olsen, this one explores complex family dynamics in their raw, sometimes shameful state, and is definitely worth the watch.
Nicolas Cage (!) | Mom And Dad
The black comedy Mom and Dad is one we are particularly excited for at this festival, mostly because it stars Nicolas Cage as another homicidal maniac and there is literally no greater pleasure in life. The story follows an ordinary suburban family in their ordinary neighbourhood, dulled by the monotony of kids, life, and routine. This vibe changes drastically when a phenomenon sweeps through the town, affecting parents only by filing them with murderous rage with their victims being their kids. This one sounds dark and looks hilarious, having won multiple awards since its release and making audiences laugh at all the things they shouldn’t.
Ellen Page And Kate Mara | My Days Of Mercy
If you are a sucker for the star-crossed lovers' storyline, you have to watch this modern and creative spin on the classic cliché, My Days of Mercy. The film stars Ellen Page and Kate Mara as the lovers in question, star-crossed because they are on opposite sides of a death penalty case where Page’s father is the one on trial. This drama is a powerful film grappling with issues of love, sexuality, and the morality of life and death itself.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg In RBG
The second documentary on this list is RBG, a masterfully edited film that looks into some of the most notable instances in Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. If you are unfamiliar with this powerhouse of a human being, she started out as a lawyer in a time where female lawyers were not exactly welcome and she has been fighting for gender equality through ground-breaking landmark cases ever since. This story is an important one for America’s history as it documents the impact one person had on an entire society, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg having paved the way for many women’s freedoms in the United States.
John Travolta | Gotti
A classic American Mafia movie, Gotti follows the life of John Gotti, a New York Mafia Don, and his rise and fall from criminal royalty. This true story is shocking and captivating, shedding light on the inner workings of what was once the most successful underbelly in the world. Playing the lead role is the most Italian looking man in the world, John Travolta, sporting a heavy NYC accent and a chilling lust for power. Becoming the head of the Gambino family was a path lined with bloodshed, and this film paints an intimate portrayal of how Gotti’s life impacted those he loved as he struggled to find and hold on to power.
Bill Pullman | The Ballad Of Lefty Brown
To cap off this list, we couldn’t let you leave an American film fest without seeing at least one Western. The Ballad of Lefty Brown will be premiering in Australia at the film festival and is everything you could want from a true American Western. Set in the sprawling landscapes of prairie land, Bill Pullman stars as Lefty Brown, a man after revenge for his partner who was shot and killed by a quick shooting gang member. The story follows his unlikely journey to avenging his friend, all with a gorgeous score on the stunning backdrop of the American West.
What: American Essentials Film Festival
When: Wednesday 9-Sunday 20 May
Where: Palace Centro Brisbane
Cost: $10 -$17
For more information, click here.
Image credit: American Essentials Film Festival