The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival opens this Thursday in its new downtown location. I can’t say I am especially pleased at its moving from the comfortable leafy environs of Westwood to the soulless consumer-trap island of the LA Live complex, but then again I hardly one to stand against urban regeneration and the festival has picked up a raft of eager new local sponsors, so overall it’s probably for the best.

Hollywood Big Hitters:

As ever, one has to dig a little to find titles of interest in the programme – the opening and closing galas are solid Hollywood fare with a high-enough profile to get a decent release of some sort: The Kids are Alright, directed by Lisa Cholodenko with Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo; and the 3D animated Despicable Me with the voice of Steve Carell planning to steal the moon, supported by countless others (Wiig, Brand, Arnett, McBride and Clement).

The special event evening conversations also have a solid Hollywood slant, featuring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Ben Affleck and, in what promises to be a fascinating occasion given his fantastic love of film-making, his longevity and his associations with numerous of the seventies movie-brat generation, an evening with Roger Corman. The Duplass brothers’ new Cyrus, starring John C. O’Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener gets the gala treatment, and to cap it all, there’s even a special invite-only screening of the new Twilight movie.

Eastern European Films to See:

But there’s more esoteric fare on offer for those with different priorities: the one (new) film in the programme I have seen already is Peter Strickland’s fantastic Katalin Varga, a highly controlled, spell-binding story of a woman’s revenge journey in contemporary rural Romania. Bulgaria meanwhile is represented by Eastern Plays, which treats of the street-level milieu in which a young artist and his contemporaries struggle with drugs and racial violence, possibly lent poignancy by the fact that the lead OD’d prior to the film’s completion.

Then there’s Bibliothèque Pascal from Hungary, which promises to be a movie of stories, merging dream and reality but never losing sight of the hard socio-economic conditions of the contemporary Balkans and the global market in sex traffic and, fingers crossed, hopping gypsy music.

Best European Films at the Fest:

From France comes the new Claire Denis, White Material, an evocation of post-colonial Africa whose muted reception on the international festival circuit doesn’t bode especially well, but will undoubtedly be of interest. Another festival veteran is Venice winner Lebanon from Samuel Moaz, set almost entirely within an Israeli tank during the invasion of 1982. A considerably different take on the human-level impact of religious conflict is provided by arch satirist Chris Morris’s Four Lions about a bumbling group of British jihadis; expect it trample all over the boundaries of good taste and to provide a good quota of deep belly laughs.

Must See Asian Cinema:

New Asian cinema is usually a good bet, and most intriguing here is Korean critic-turned-film-maker Jung Sung-il’s Café noir which puts a lovelorn music teacher as the centre of a sprawling (3-hour plus) and playful derivation of Goethe and Dostoevsky.

More light-hearted, perhaps, from Japan we have Parade, a mismatched room-mate sitcom drama with a sinister edge, and the crazy-sounding  Golden Slumber, also from Japan, a serio-comic thriller that’s already been a big hit at home and is described as a cross between The Fugitive and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (also screening, for its 25th anniversary).

Light-heartedly entertaining I’m sure will be the Chilean Mandrill, a must-see for anyone who caught the same team’s hugely endearing Mirageman at the LAFF a couple of years ago; this time affable, hunky Marko Zaror plays an archetypical tough guy/international man of mystery hitman type on the search for his parents’ killer. It will be funny, and there’ll be good fights.

Argentinian Films

My go-to country at festivals is usually Argentina – nothing contemporary here, but an exciting retrospective of the now largely forgotten Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, whose presence on the festival scene in the fifties, sixties and seventies saw him compared to Bergman, Buñuel and Welles. Four of his features from 1959 to 1973 are showing: expect expressionistic monochrome, hothouse psychology and sly social observation starring, three times out of four, his beautiful and intriguing muse Elsa Daniel.

There’s a handful of other revivals, including Walter Hill’s steely, existential The Driver and Visconti’s sumptuous but stultifying The Leopard, but the one to see without fail is the Film Foundation’s restoration of Satyajit Ray’s sublime and rarely-screened Jalsaghar (The Music Room) from 1958. Time, wealth and social orders pass, but the glory of music, and the urge to make it heard, remain undimmed.

Basic Info:

Screenings take place between Thursday 17 and Sunday 27 at various venues downtown, from the LA Live complex to REDCAT, with special showings at the Ford Amphitheater. The programme is rounded out by documentaries (with a special focus on Mexico), shorts and music videos, conversations and a DIY distribution symposium, and you can find out all about it at the official website (click on titles above for individual trailers).