It is finally upon us – as I type the crowds are thronged outside the Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard for the American Film Institute Film Festival Opening Gala and North American Premiere of Wes Anderson’s stop-motion fable Fantastic Mr Fox (already covered by Screencrave from the London Film Festival – ahead of the game as usual).

Taking place all this week, largely at the Mann 6 Cinemas in the Hollywood & Highland Center, with special screenings at the Chinese and some in Santa Monica next weekend for the American Film Market, there’s plenty to see this year. But be warned – it’s going to be busy! Festival sponsors Audi have, remarkably, provided all tickets for free. Which means naturally that that they’ve all been pre-booked. But fear not, for there are standby lines opening an hour before each screening, and unclaimed seats are up for grabs fifteen minutes before the show starts. And this being LA how many people who pre-booked tickets are actually going to turn up do you reckon?

The full list is on the AFI website and it all looks pretty good, but there’s a handful of titles about which I am really excited (Sunday is a particularly good day):

  • Tonight at 9.30pm: Everyone Else, a German film that has gotten rave reports from Europe, exploring a young couple’s relationship in light of another couple they meet on holiday. Truthful and daring, it won the Grand Jury Prize at Berlin.
  • Saturday at 7pm: Mother, the latest from The Host director Bong Joon Ho continues to uphold the high reputation of contemporary South Korean cinema in a crime thriller featuring a mother as amateur detective, trying to clear the name of her son. More good festival reports, from Cannes and Karlovy Vary
  • Sunday 4.15pm (also on Friday at 1pm in Santa Monica): Police, Adjective seems to have been the most impressive film on the European festival circuit so far, a thriller of sorts, but also a philosophical examination of language. Romanian cinema  is on a roll right now and if this is any indication, only getting better.
  • Sunday 7pm: White Ribbon won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and it looks for once as though Michael Haneke may be holding his haughty contempt for the audience in check (*he *calls it “respect”). Mysterious and sinister goings-on in a German village in the years leading up to WWI point fingers at the social mindset soon to be seduced by national socialism (but does not, non-spoiler alert, reveal the source of the aforementioned mysteries. He’s still got to piss some people off apparently).
  • Sunday 10.30pm: Castro is a short and fast-paced hunt through Buenos Aires for a missing person, described as a cross between Samuel Beckett and Mack Sennett, and reputed to be one of the best films from the very exciting alternative cinema scene in Argentina right now (I am still recommending Historias Extraordinarias to anyone who will listen. Or can find it…)
  • Monday at 7pm, Centerpiece Gala: The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is the movie in the middle of making which Heath Ledger popped his clogs. So director Terry Gilliam replaced him with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, playing alongside Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole (rather good, apparently), Verne Troyer and Tom Waits as the devil (excellent!). A traveling magic show features a magical mirror and lots of freaky stuff and no-one seems to want to come out and say if it’s any cop or not, just that it’s a Terry Gilliam film and that he’s back on top eccentric form. Which is good enough for me.
  • Tuesday at 7pm: I Killed My Mother generated loads of buzz at Cannes, in part because it was written, directed by and stars French-Canadian first-timer Xavier Dolan, who’s a mere 20 years old, and in part because it is actually rather impressive, a caustic and tender tale of familial and (homo)sexual relationships.
  • Tuesday at 10.15pm: Youth In Revolt. My sister said “I am so over Michael Cera” approximately 15 minutes before seeing the preview for this and her decision was instantly reversed. He plays a nerdy young man (you don’t say) who, to win the love of the girl next door, invents a smooth and unbridled (and mustachioed) alter ego whom only he can see. Much chaos and hilarity ensues; the trailer is, indeed, pretty funny.
  • Wednesday at 7pm: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is not a remake of the Abel Ferrara film but does feature Nic Cage as a very badly-behaved police lieutenant, as directed with gloriously surreal touches by Werner Herzog. I got a screening of it last night and it is very funny, hugely enjoyable and Nic Cage is back on wonderfully insane form.
  • Thursday at 7pm: A Single Man is directed by ex-Gucci head Tom Ford (his first) and stars Colin Firth as a bereaved gay man in 60s LA. More terrific word of mouth from Europe and Oscar buzz for Firth, it’s reported to be arty (in a good way) and deeply moving.

But don’t take my word (entirely..) for it – take a look at the calendar, go stand in line, and enjoy high quality films from all over the world, many of which will never get near a North American release. And do it for free! Full details at