One critic's highly selective standout picks

M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," with Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin, will be screened in "From the Vaults."
M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," with Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin, will be screened in "From the Vaults."
Posted: October 20, 2012

Ten days and 10 times that number of feature-length films. It isn't feasible - even with gallons of coffee and cases of 5-Hour Energy bottles - to see everything the Philadelphia Film Festival has on its slate. What follows is a day-by-day selection of standout films, which isn't to say there aren't other standouts playing at the very same time, or earlier or later that same day, on other festival screens.

FRIDAYCaesar Must Die A group of inmates in an Italian maximum-security prison - mafiosi and murderers among them - prepare to mount a stage performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Berlin Film Festival grand-prize winner.

SATURDAYHoly Motors France's Leos Carax's crazy, confounding, hyper-cinematic reverie about metamorphosis and the metaphors of the movies.

SUNDAYQuartet It's taken Dustin Hoffman more than 50 years to turn from actor to director, and he gives his attention to the theme of aging, and the restorative powers of art, in this delightful English ensemble piece starring Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins as residents of a retirement home for opera singers and musicians.

MONDAYLore Five siblings - the children of a Nazi SS officer - embark on a 500-mile trek across Germany, seeking safety in the aftermath of World War II, led by the oldest sister (Saskia Rosendahl, haunting). From Cate Shortland, the Australian director of Somersault.

TUESDAYEverything Will Be Okay Trilogy Seamless melding of Austin animator Don Hertzfeldt's short film trilogy about a guy named Bill - an existential hero facing questions of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Don't let the stick-figure cartooning fool you - there's real art and artistry here.

WEDNESDAYThe Thieves South Korea's box office smash, about a diamond heist in a Macau casino, and the dueling teams of bad guys who come together to pull it off. Where's Danny Ocean when you need him?

THURSDAYThe Atomic States of America Fearless Philly documentarians Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce work from Kelly McMasters' memoir Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town, exposing the safety hazards of the nuclear power industry, from design flaws to faulty emergency planning to the high cancer rates of people living in proximity to nuclear plants. Scary.

 OCT. 26Signs Given his career trajectory over the last decade, Mel Gibson's performance as a Bucks County farmer who suspects aliens have landed in his corn field now looks like a study in kicked-back calm. M. Night Shyamalan actually got great stuff from Gibson, and from The Master's Joaquin Phoenix (wearing a tin foil hat) in the 2002 suspenser, which Shyamalan will discuss in person.

 OCT. 27After Lucia A high school bullying drama from Mexico's Michel Franco, starring Tessa Ia as a girl who becomes the ill-fated star of a cellphone sex video gone viral.

OCT. 28Sister A boy living with his older sister in public housing in the shadow of the Swiss Alps steals to survive - skis, goggles, clothing, food - from the vacationing throng. Gillian Anderson (also in the fest's Irish drama, Shadow Dancer) is a mother who befriends the little thief (Kacey Mottet Klein). Lea Seydoux has the title role. Tough, surprising.


Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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