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Cinema Arts Festival lineup revealed . . . ladies' nights, portrait of a pimp, all-star movies & more

Cinema Arts Festival lineup revealed . . . ladies' nights, portrait of a pimp, all-star movies & more

Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, The Sapphires, on stage during a performance
The Sapphires is a thoroughly engaging sleeper that could get lots of attention at Oscar time. Photo courtesy of The Sapphires
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Beauty is Embarrassing, movie poster
Beauty is Embarrasing is Neil Berkeley’s acclaimed documentary that celebrates the life and work of Wayne White, who won three Emmys for designing Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Photo courtesy of Beauty is Embarrassing
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence practicing behind the scenes
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are getting Oscar buzz for their roles in Silver Linings Playbook. Photo courtesy of Silver Linings Playbook
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Quartet, Maggie Smith, Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut in Quartet, which features an all-star class that includes Maggie Smith. Photo courtesy of Quartet
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Iceberg Slim, photo of Iceberg Slim reclining and smoking a pipe
Iceberg Slim reclines and smokes a pipe in the engaging documentary, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp Photo courtesy of Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken as Peter
What would a film festival be without a Christopher Walken movie? He stars in A Late Quartet Photo courtesy of © 2012 Entertainment One Films U.S. and Opening Night Productions
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Diana Vreeland, with model
A documentary on fashion legend Diana Vreeland will close the festival. Photo courtesy of Diane Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, The Sapphires, on stage during a performance
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Beauty is Embarrassing, movie poster
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence practicing behind the scenes
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Quartet, Maggie Smith, Dustin Hoffman
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Iceberg Slim, photo of Iceberg Slim reclining and smoking a pipe
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken as Peter
Houston Cinema Arts Festival, October 2012, Diana Vreeland, with model

Take four: Organizers of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival – the festival formerly known as Cinema Arts Festival Houston – have promised an even more splendiferous smorgasbord of films and filmmakers for the 2012 edition of their annual event, which runs Nov. 7-11 at various venues around H-Town.

During a launch event Tuesday evening at Hotel Icon, HCAF artistic director Richard Herskowitz took particular pride in pointing out that this year’s opening and closing night attractions at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — Liz Garbus’ Love, Marilyn and Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel  — are works by female directors.

“Women may be woefully under-represented in commercial feature filmmaking,” Herskowitz said, “but they won’t be at our festival this year.”

 “Women may be woefully under-represented in commercial feature filmmaking,” Herskowitz said, “but they won’t be at our festival this year.” 

Also on tap for HCAF 2012: A retrospective tribute to innovative indie filmmaker Shirley Clarke (The Connection, Ornette: Made in America) curated by Milestone Films; a free-admission screening of An American in Paris to celebrate the centennial of the late, great Gene Kelly; and a previously announced Q&A with veteran actor and Oscar-winning director Robert Redford.

But wait, there’s more: Herskowitz also promises “movies with great ensemble casts – and with Quartet in their titles.” No kidding.

HCAF officially bills itself as – OK, take a deep breath – “a groundbreaking and innovative arts festival featuring films and new media by and about artists in the visual, performing, and literary arts.”  

But, hey, let’s face it: When most folks hear the words “film festival,” the first question they ask is: “What movies are they going to show?” Here’s a list of the 10 most promising HCAF 2012 titles:

Silver Linings Playbook

Oscar buzz has been steadily increasing for writer-director David O. Russell’s offbeat romantic dramedy ever since its premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival. Indeed, Bradley Cooper is getting the best reviews of his career so far for his affecting lead performance as a manic-depressive ex-teacher trying to rebuild his life after a stint in a mental institution. (Hey, it was either that or a prison sentence after he beat up his estranged wife’s lover.) Co-stars include Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as the protagonist’s parents, and Jennifer Lawrence as a beautiful widow who may comfort the poor guy with some sexual healing.  

Quartet

At 75, Dustin Hoffman cannot, strictly speaking, be described as a hot young director. But he has been tapped to receive the Breakthrough Director prize at this year’s Hollywood Film Awards for his debut effort as a feature filmmaker, this sophisticated ensemble comedy (featuring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon) about sometimes cantankerous residents of a retirement home for classical singers and musicians.

The Sapphires

Maybe you haven’t yet heard much about Wayne Blair’s smartly funny and sensationally well-acted comedy-drama about a late ‘60s girl group from the Australian outback and their eventful tour of military outposts in Vietnam. But trust me: As awards season begins in earnest, you will be hearing a lot about this thoroughly engaging sleeper – and about unlikely romantic leads Deborah Mailman (as the savviest of the songbirds) and Bridesmaids co-star Chris O’Dowd (as the boozy Irish hustler who manages the group).   

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

Director Jorge Hinojosa will be on hand at HCAF 2012 to introduce his fascinating documentary portrait of the notorious ex-procurer turned best-selling author whose raw and brutal books – many of them based on his own experiences – have been favorably compared with the literature of Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and other chroniclers of the African-American experience. Among the on-camera interviewees discussing Iceberg Slim’s enduring influence: Ice-T (the film’s executive producer), Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg and Henry Rollins.

(Editor's Note: Joe Leydon will be conducting a post-screening Q&A with director Jorge Hinojosa following the HCAF screening of Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp. We have told him, however, not to wear his '70s mack outfit for the occasion. Because, really, nothing looks more pathetic than a middle-aged white dude wearing '70s mack attire  —or , for that matter, '70s attire of any sort.)

Stand-Up Guys

Appropriately enough for Houston Cinema Arts Festival, here’s a movie about con artists. Specifically, it’s a darkly comical buddy flick from actor-turned-director and HCAF 2012 guest Fisher Stevens (who, for some of us, will always be most familiar as Ben Jabituya of the Short Circuit movies) about Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin as aging underworld types who reunite for one last night on the town. Unfortunately, the evening might not end on a cheery note: One of the old friends has been assigned the unpleasant task of killing another member of the hard-partying trio.

A Late Quartet

Just as you can never have enough cowbell in your pop song, you can never have enough Christopher Walken in a film festival. So here he is again, in that other “Quartet movie” Herskowitz mentioned, playing the founding member of an illustrious string quartet on the verge of celebrating their 25th season as an ensemble. When Walken’s character announces his imminent retirement due to a debilitating illness, this note of discord has a profound impact on his fellow artists (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir).  

Caesar Must Die

And now for something completely different from esteemed Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani: An artful balance of drama and documentary, depicting a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by inmates in the high-security section of Rome's Rebibbia prison. It will interesting to see how this award-winning import – Italy’s official submission for this year’s foreign-language film Oscar – compares to Shakespeare Behind Bars, a home-grown documentary that covers similar territory.

Beauty is Embarrassing

Neil Berkeley’s acclaimed documentary celebrates the life and work of Wayne White, a free-wheeling visual artist and raconteur who won three Emmys for designing Pee-Wee’s Playhouse  in the 1980s, created the distinctive look for two seminal music videos – a Georges Melies-flavored fantasia for The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and a manic batch of animated surrealism for Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” – and tells all in a one-man stage show excerpted in this movie. (White is slated to appear at the HCAF screening.)

Love, Marilyn

Oscar-nominated documentarian Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola USA, Girlhood) is scheduled to appear in H-Town to present her latest effort, an ambitious attempt to fashion a revealing portrait of screen icon Marilyn Monroe. Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Lili Taylor, Lindsay Lohan and Viola Davis are among the actresses who appear on camera to enact Monroe’s own words from the late legend’s never-before-seen personal papers, diaries and letters. And Adrien Brody, Hope Davis, David Strathairn, Jeremy Piven and Paul Giamatti increase the star power by reading the words of Monroe’s friends and admirers.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland keeps it all in the family with a documentary portrait of her late grandmother-in-law, the trend-setting and enduringly influential fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and editor-in-chief of Vogue. No less a local luminary than Lynn Wyatt will moderate the Q&A with the director of this year’s official HCAF 2012 closing-night film.

Individual tickets for the festival go on sale Wednesday and are available on the HCAF website.