The 19th Los Angeles Film Festival got underway Thursday evening before a packed industry crowd in the main theater of the LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles. For the second year in a row, the opening night film was a wacky comedy distributed by Sony Pictures Classics: last year it was Woody Allen's To Rome with Love; this year it was the North American premiere of the Spanish-language film I'm So Excited, from the Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar, which has already played throughout much of Europe and South America.
Film Independent co-presidents Sean McManus and Josh Welsh and LAFF artistic director David Ansen, who's celebrating his fifth year on the job, welcomed the audience and then turned things over to Almodovar. The 63-year-old auteur, dressed to the nines in a yellow suit that contrasted sharply with his shock of white hair, introduced the film and several of his collaborators on the film -- among them his brother and longtime producer Agustin Almodovar and three of the stars, his frequent collaborator Javier Camara, the handsome up-and-comer Miguel Ángel Silvestre and beautiful Blanca Suarez, whom he pitched to Americans as the next big thing.
The film itself has all of the hallmarks of an Almodovar production: a dark underlying premiere (how a plane's crew and passengers react upon discovering that their plane may not be able to land), melodramatic characters (many of them gay or transsexual), lots of laughs (and a few clunkers) and appearances of varying lengths by his regulars Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Paz Vega, Carmen Machi and Lola Duenas. For better or worse, though, it feels a bit lighter than many of his past works, and seems less likely than most to contend for year-end awards.
Almodovar and his collaborators were joined at a post-screening outdoor bash by Sony Classics co-chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard (who were honored in earlier this week in New York with the Museum of the Moving Image's first annual Envision Award, and who are very excited about their July release, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, in which Cate Blanchett is rumored to be extraordinary); director Guillermo Del Toro; actor and longtime LAFF friend Jon Lithgow; and Haifaa Al-Mansour, the female writer-director of the first movie ever shot in Saudi Arabia, Wadjda, which will screen at LAFF next week and then be released domestically by Sony Classics.
The rest of the fest, which runs through June 23, is highlighted by screenings of Cannes holdovers Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Fruitvale Station and Only God Forgives; special screenings of the highly-anticipated popcorn pic Superman: Man of Steel (which took place Wednesday night), the latest Pixar flick Monsters University (one night after it premieres on Monday), and the Sundance sensation The Way, Way Back (the fest's closing night film); conversations with notable filmmakers ranging from Costa-Gavras to Spike Jonze to Maya Rudolph; and the presentation of the Spirit of Independence Award on Sunday to the Oscar-nominated writer-director David O. Russell.