The eighth Lone Star Film Festival kicks off Wednesday night at Bass Hall with Virtuosity, a documentary about the 2013 Cliburn Competition. That’s just the start of a film celebration that crams more than 70 features, documentaries and shorts into five days in three venues.
All of that can make it difficult to sort through all the choices. Here are 10 of our picks for must-see films.
The Imitation Game (9 p.m. Wednesday, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth): Despite Benedict Cumberbatch’s acclaimed performance in the BBC/PBS series Sherlock and his appearing in what must be a dozen movies during the past two or three years, he’s still not a household name.
That should change with this conventional but well-executed movie about the British team that cracked the German “Enigma” code during World War II, in which Cumberbatch plays eccentric math genius Alan Turing in a performance that’s generating Oscar buzz. Sherlock fans know that Cumberbatch excels in playing eccentric geniuses, and he gives a superb performance here.
Lilting (6 p.m. Friday, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth): This British indie embodies its title: sweet, sorrowful and ultimately comforting. Ben Whishaw ( Cloud Atlas, the TV series The Hour), is a gay man grieving over the accidental death of his partner, Kai (Andrew Leung). In the aftermath, he decides to reach out to Kai’s mother, Junn, a conservative woman of Cambodian-Chinese descent who doesn’t speak English and didn’t know her son was gay.
He has never had much of a relationship with her but, with Kai gone, he figures perhaps they can get over their biases and language barriers to bond over the man both loved. It’s a simple tale well-told and well-acted.
Wild (8 p.m. Friday, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth): Reese Witherspoon, who seems to be everywhere this fall, goes for a big image change here with her performance as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman who finds redemption by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail from Southern California to Oregon.
It’s not the hike but the flashbacks — which show Strayed reeling from her mother’s death, divorcing her loving husband and spiraling into a series of one-night stands and heroin use — that give Witherspoon’s performance its strength. While faithful to Strayed’s memoir, the movie doesn’t quite get at how grueling the PCT can be (despite an opening scene that will have a lot of people shutting their eyes or grimacing), but it’s still a journey worth taking.
Don’t expect a one-person-against-the-elements story like Gravity or All Is Lost; Strayed meets a lot of people during her hike, including a hunter played by Fort Worth’s Charles Baker (Breaking Bad’s Skinny Pete) in a brief but memorably creepy turn.
The Tribe (9:30 p.m. Friday, AMC Palace): Set in two worlds that will be foreign to many moviegoers — a boarding school for the deaf in Ukraine — The Tribe is a thriller that has little to do with overcoming adversity. Instead, the kids in this school — like some of their counterparts in other schools — are more concerned with crime, gangs and hazing.
It won four awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival including the France 4 Visionary Award for director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy and the Next Wave Award at Austin’s Fantastic Fest.
Project-M (2:15 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace): In some ways, this French-Canadian sci-fi thriller could be called the anti- Gravity. In the near-future, a four-person crew is stranded aboard a Quebec-launched space station after a disaster destroys much of Earth. With imminent death staring them in the face, they turn on each other. Though, like Gravity and Moon, all things may not be what they seem.
Director Eric Piccoli does wonders with a limited budget, proving you don’t have to be Christopher Nolan to make credible sci-fi in this visual-effects saturated age. Project-M is also culturally interesting as it assumes an independent Quebec will have the resources for its own space program that will also put a man on Mars. In French with English subtitles.
Something, Anything (4 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace): The first feature from Paul Harrill, well-known for his short subjects, is a quiet, contemplative tale about a woman who undergoes a radical change in her outlook on life.
Newly married Peggy (Ashley Shelton) seems to have it all — caring parents, a good job in real estate and a good-looking husband (Bryce Johnson) with great career prospects. Then something happens to shatter her illusions, forcing her to shift her desires. The understated acting and piano-driven score add to the film’s hushed atmosphere that slowly pulls you in.
The Roughnecks (5 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace): Fort Worth’s Ridglea Roughnecks is one of the “winningest” teams in North Texas Pee-Wee football, and these kids and their coaches are the focus of this engrossing and, at times surprisingly moving, documentary from directors Richard Cameron White and Chris Cook.
Beginning with the preseason and going through the team’s final game in the Pee-Wee Super Bowl, The Roughnecks spotlights the triumphs, like jaw-dropping victories by nearly 60 points against hapless opponents who remain at zero. But it also taps into the undercurrent of fierce competition — including the chest-thumping of coaches from rival teams — that causes one parent and assistant coach to wonder if it’s too much.
But it all gets back to the kids, and some of their stories — especially that of the struggling but valiant J.D. — are absolutely heartbreaking.
It Follows (7:30 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace): Like The Tribe, the horror-thriller It Follows earned some love at Cannes, where it was nominated for the Critics Week Grand Prize. Maika Monroe, who is in this year’s best B-movie, The Guest, is earning plaudits for her performance as Jay, a young woman who suddenly feels as if she’s being followed.
The Babadook (9:45 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace): There’s a hive’s worth of buzz about this moody Australian horror thriller starring Essie Davis from PBS’ Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the DirecTV miniseries The Slap. She plays a single mom whose son is convinced there’s a monster in the house.
It has been a festival favorite — it picked up four awards at Austin’s Fantastic Fest — and has turned into a word-of-mouth hit in Europe, where The Guardian rhapsodized “how terrific to find a crowd-pleasing chiller that wants to do more than make you jump — to move your heart and your head, rather than just your body. … To borrow a line from Pixar’s Monsters Inc: ‘We scare because we care.’ ”
Mr. Turner (2 p.m. Sunday, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth): Mike Leigh takes the same meticulous approach he used in Topsy-Turvy in this portrait of British painter J.M.W. Turner, played by Leigh regular Timothy Spall in a gruff, grunting and impressive performance that won him the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Leigh’s fascination with the creative process — which contributes to this movie’s 150-minute running time — can occasionally require patience, but that patience is rewarded, and the love triangle that emerges during the film gives a bit of a bawdy tinge.
Cary Darling, 817 390-7571
THE LONE STAR FILM FESTIVAL
• AMC Palace 9, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Bass Hall
• $10 for individual screenings, $8 for Lone Star Film Society members