Denver Film Festival

DFF encourages wide-eyed viewing

Five films not to be missed


With all the streaming services out there, and all the devices capable of becoming a movie screen, film festivals provide a fading resource — an opportunity to see independent and streaming movies on the big screen.

“In almost no other environment today can you see a movie without knowing anything about it,” said director Rian Johnson, recipient of the 2019 John Cassavetes Award. “There's something wonderful about that.”

During the 42nd annual Denver Film Festival, I saw 15 films over 11 days — films that challenged me, perplexed me, and one that even sent shivers up my spine. Of those 15, here's five that I highly recommend you seek out in the coming months:

'The Human Factor'

Release date: Early 2020

Director Dror Moreh's “The Human Factor,” takes audiences behind the scenes of the 1990s efforts by the United States to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors by interviewing the six American diplomats who worked tirelessly on the project. It plays out like a thriller, but a heartbreaking one, because you know how it ends.

The film is a fascinating exploration of the peace process and how culture and history make that process difficult. As one negotiator says, “The Middle East is about history. That's its curse.”

'Knives Out'

Release date: Nov. 27

Director — and past Englewood-area resident — Rian Johnson loves Agatha Christie mysteries. A lot. And it shows in his first post-Star Wars film, “Knives Out,” which takes everything that makes Christie novels so much fun and updates it for modern audiences.

The cast is all aces, but the film absolutely belongs to Daniel Craig, who completely ditches all of 007's reserved coolness for something completely different, and Ana de Armas, in a star-making performance.

What is perhaps most striking is the all the ways Johnson brings the issues so many families are currently facing into a thriller this engrossing.

“Part of the appeal in setting in 2019 meant engaging with the culture right now,” Johnson told audiences after the screening. “I wanted to play into what people argue about after a few glasses of wine.”

'The Lodge'

Release date: Feb. 7, 2020

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's “The Lodge” is the best kind of horror film — one that digs into character and setting, and by exploring the things that affect all of us, completely haunt your dreams.

Riley Keough gives an implosive and frazzled performance as Grace, who gets snowed in with her two new potential stepchildren in an isolated cabin in the woods over the Christmas holiday. The rest of the film is a truly nerve-wracking examination of the dangers of repression, the lingering effects of trauma and the darkness inside us all.

This movie aims to shake you to your core. It does.

'Olympic Dreams'

Release date: Feb. 14, 2020

Most of the time, love and relationships aren't like they're portrayed in the movies. Real relationships usually don't include a whole lot of grand gestures, but rather small moments between two people who care deeply about each other. That's real intimacy, and that's what “Olympic Dreams” is all about.

The first movie ever filmed on location during the Olympics in Athletes Village (in this case, the 2018 winter games in PyeongChang, South Korea), this stunner follows real Greek-American athlete Alexi Pappas through her time at the games, where she meets volunteer dentist Ezra (Nick Kroll, in his most nuanced performance to date).

What follows is a love story made up of perfect small moments, shared jokes and hopes, and the power of meeting a person who allows you to be your truest self. The Arvada judge gives it a perfect 10.

'Sorry We Missed You'

Release date: March 6, 2020

The films of British director Ken Loach focus on people who could be your neighbors, co-workers, and even relatives. His latest, “Sorry We Missed You,” is bleaker and more relatable than ever.

The film examines the pitfalls of the “gig economy,” as a struggling British family tries to find financial stability in the new economy. Loach is attuned to every detail and the movie is shot with an eye for the beautiful in the mundane. Mostly, you can feel his rage at the way so many families are living in our new society. It's clearly getting under Loach's skin. With “Sorry We Missed You,” it gets under yours as well.


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