Italian cinema has achieved something of a renaissance in the past few years, thanks to high-profile award wins at the Venice Film Festival (the documentary Sacro Gra) and talents like Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garone showcasing new works on the international stage. But focusing on these highlights threatens to diminish the impact of smaller films, many of which will be showcased in the eighth annual San Diego Italian Film Festival, running Thursday, Oct. 16, through Saturday, Oct. 25, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park and La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Even though its lineup features Oscar winner The Great Beauty, which I praised in this very space earlier in 2014, the festival will showcase multiple San Diego premieres of lesser-known Italian features. Valeria Golino's Miele stands out as a must-see: quaint in scale yet attuned to universal themes like guilt and loss. Starring Jasimine Trinca as Irene, a young woman who works in secret as an assisted-suicide specialist, the film explores the prickly realm between modern apathy and shared intimacy.
Known in the United States as an actor in such films as Hot Shots and Rain Man, Golino makes her directorial debut with this moving character piece. Using a classically static camera for nearly every shot, she gives Miele an elegant grace that collides with the dynamic sound design. Various musical genres fill the soundtrack, giving the film (and Irene's work) a vibrant sensibility despite the potentially grave subject matter.
Miele represents a restrained yet luminous brand of human drama that's threatening to disappear stateside. Instead of presenting answers to the questions it poses, Golino's film accepts the ambiguity of human emotion and desire. It's just one of the entries in this year's Italian Film Festival that sees the world through a unique lens.
Aqui Entre Nos: In this rambunctious comedy from Mexico, a bitter father wakes up one day and decides he'll no longer support his family until his wife stops mistreating him. Screens through Oct. 23 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Default: An American news crew gets hijacked on a runway in Africa and must band together to survive in this thriller starring David Oyelowo. Screens through Oct. 22 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Fury: A surly tank commander (Brad Pitt) and his small crew fend off Nazis during the waning days of World War II.
Lilting: In this drama from Hong Khaou, a Cambodian-Chinese mother in contemporary London mourns the death of her son and meets a stranger. Screens through Oct. 23 at the Ken Cinema.
Men, Women & Children: Jason Reitman's new ensemble drama starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Gardner looks at the way human interaction has changed in the Internet age.
The Best of Me: Former high-school sweethearts fall in love again after they reunite many years later while visiting their small hometown.
The Book of Life: This animated fantasy follows a young man who's torn between fulfilling his family duties and following his heart. It features the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum.
The Good Lie: Three refuges from Sudan travel to America hoping to find a better life but instead encounter a vastly different world with new and unique obstacles.
The Green Prince: Based on Mosab Hassan Yousef's bestselling memoir Son of Hamas, this documentary exposes a complex world of terror, betrayal and impossible choices within one of the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations.
Life Inside Out: Music plays a crucial role during the healing process for a mother and her troubled son. Screens through Oct. 23 at UltraStar Cinemas in Mission Valley.
San Diego Italian Film Festival: A diverse collection of Italian films, gala events and engaging discussions that runs Oct. 16 through 25 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Whiplash: A sadistic music teacher tortures a young drummer at a posh New York City conservatory.
Young Ones: Set in a future where water has become a precious commodity, this sci-fi western follows a rustic community of folks who've chosen to live in a barren landscape. Screens through Oct. 18 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
The Cat and the Canary: An eccentric family encounters madness and murder when they visit their deceased uncle's remote mansion. Screens at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, at The Whaley House in Old Town.
The Exorcist: Watch out for the projectile vomit. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Arclight La Jolla.
Locke: When a man receives a mysterious phone call while driving, his life starts to unravel. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
American Hustle: A con man works secretly with an FBI agent to entrap criminals in 1970s New Jersey. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Vertigo: Alfred Hitchcock's nasty thriller follows a retired detective (James Stewart) who becomes a little too obsessed with the wrong woman. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, at Reading Town Square Cinemas in Clairemont.
Breakfast at Tiffany's: A classy New York socialite becomes interested in a young man who's moved into her building. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, through Saturday, Oct. 18, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Nobody escapes Leatherface. Screens at midnight on Friday, Oct. 17, at the Ken Cinema.
Hotel Transylvania: This revisionist take on classic horror characters finds Dracula the owner of a high-end resort. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, at the North Clairemont Recreation Center.
Young Frankenstein: Mel Brooks skewers the Frankenstein legend in this comedy classic. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, at Arclight La Jolla.
The Signal: A computer genius lures a trio of friends to an isolated area and forces them into a waking nightmare. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Kruger invades the dreams of young people and murders them in their sleep. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, at Arclight La Jolla.
Don't Come Knocking: In Wim Wenders' road film, Sam Shepard is an aging drifter who returns to a small Montana town to exorcise some old demons. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
2 Autumns, 3 Winters: In this quirky comedy by Sébastien Betbeder, happenstance brings two French lovers together. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
1,000 Times Good Night: Juliette Binoche stars as a famous war photographer who must weather a major emotional storm when her husband gives her an ultimatum. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Memento: Revisit Christopher Nolan's mind-bending masterpiece just in time for Interstellar to hit theaters. Screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, at Arclight La Jolla.
The Bit Player: A satirical look at the Filipino entertainment industry, this film revolves around a day in the life of a single mom trying to make it as a soap-opera bit player. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Mission Valley Library.
The Man Who Knew Too Much: In Alfred Hitchcock's remake of his own film, James Stewart and Doris Day play a happy couple who are vacationing in Morocco when they accidentally discover an assassination plot. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: A madman controls a somnambulist and uses his power to murder unsuspecting people in a small German town in the Alps. Screens at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at The Whaley House in Old Town.
Little Shop of Horrors: Rick Moranis stars as a nerdy florist who achieves success thanks to a giant man-eating plant. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at Arclight La Jolla.
Shaun of the Dead: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as slacker buddies trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A boy lives through a calamitous day, and the bad luck spreads to his other family members.
Art and Craft: Prolific art forger and eccentric recluse Michael Landis discusses his obsession with duping museums and dodging investigators after he's finally exposed. Ends Oct. 16 at the Ken Cinema.
Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity: Extreme-action architect Elizabeth Streb defies gravity to walk on walls, dive through glass and fly through the air in this exciting documentary. Ends Oct. 16 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Dracula Untold: This will suck.
Kill the Messenger: An investigative reporter (Jeremy Renner) exposes the CIA's involvement in arming the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, only to find himself the victim of a smear campaign.
Meet the Mormons: Six members of the Church of Latter Day Saints are profiled in this documentary that spans the globe.
One Chance: Paul Potts, a shy, bullied shop assistant, goes on to become an amateur opera singer and winner of Britain's Got Talent. It's based on a true story.
Pride: A newly minted LGBT group lends support to striking Welsh miners in this charming fish-out-of-water 1984-set dramedy from the United Kingdom.
The Guest: The family of a fallen soldier welcomes a mysterious stranger into their home after he claims to be a friend of their son.
The Judge: Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his childhood home to defend his embittered father (Robert Duvall), the town's judge, who's been accused of murder.
Annabelle: The creepy murderous doll from The Conjuring gets its own prequel.
Gone Girl: David Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel with Ben Affleck in the lead as the suspicious husband whose beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) suddenly goes missing.
Left Behind: Nicolas Cage does his best Kirk Cameron in this reimagining of the famous rapture novels from Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
The Human Body: This amazing IMAX adventure goes inside the human body to explore the many dynamic changes that occur as we age. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Liberator: The story of Simon Bolivar (Edgar Ramirez), who fought more than 100 battles against the Spanish throughout South America, liberating indigenous people from European colonialism.
The Two Faces of January: Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are on the run in Europe and get entangled with another mysterious American (Oscar Isaac) with a shady past. Ends Oct. 16 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Hector and the Search for Happiness: Simon Pegg plays a conflicted psychologist who leaves his humdrum life in London to travel the globe and research what makes people happy. Ends Oct. 16 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Boxtrolls: An evil exterminator threatens a community of cave-dwelling trash collectors who've raised a young, orphaned boy as their own.
The Equalizer: Denzel Washington takes names and kicks ass in this remake of the 1980s television show.
Tracks: Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman who goes on an epic journey across the deserts of western Australia with her animal companions. Ends Oct. 16 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
A Walk Among the Tombstones: Liam Neeson scours the dark underbelly of the city in Scott Frank's ghoulish crime film, looking for the killer of a drug kingpin's beautiful wife.
My Old Lady: Kevin Kline plays an American who inherits an apartment in Paris that houses a mysterious resident. It co-stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith.
The Maze Runner: In this science-fiction film, a community of boys tries to escape an elaborate maze after being kidnapped and having their minds erased.
The Skeleton Twins: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play estranged twins who reunite after both escape death on the same day.
This is Where I Leave You: Four grown siblings are forced to return home after their father passes away and states in his will that they must all live under the same roof for a week. It stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.
Dolphin Tale 2: Even a dolphin needs to find love.
No Good Deed: Idris Elba plays an ex-con with dangerous intentions who seduces Taraji P. Henson's devoted housewife in Sam Miller's erotic thriller.
The Drop: When a robbery goes wrong, a low-level thug (Tom Hardy) must lean on friends and enemies alike to survive. It's the final film starring James Gandolfini.
The November Man: Pierce Brosnan returns to super-spy duty, this time as a top CIA assassin facing off against his best protégé.
Let's Be Cops: Two goofball friends posing as cops for a costume party get sucked into a night of debauchery and danger.
The Giver: Lois Lowry's classic young-adult novel about a not-so-utopian future gets the big-screen adaptation starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.
The Hundred-Foot Journey: The proprietor of a famous French restaurant (Helen Mirren) clashes with the family running a new Indian eatery down the street.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Watch out for Raphael. He's a party dude.
Guardians of the Galaxy: American pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his rowdy alien crew become objects of a manhunt after stealing a valuable orb that belongs to a diabolical space villain.
A Most Wanted Man: Director Anton Corbijn (The American) adapts John le Carré's famous novel about a web of spies operating in the shadowy confines of Hamburg, Germany.
Hidden Universe: Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless encounter new challenges while trying to bring their species together in harmony.
Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.