Good bets for Oscar

Even if, deep in your cinephile heart, you feel utter disdain for the Academy Awards and all such events, it can't be denied that the AFI Fest is chock-full of likely contenders. We spy at least three Best Picture nominees and a number of likely acting contenders among these festival titles this year: Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Rust and Bone, Hitchcock, On the Road, Lincoln, Amour, The Impossible and Quartet.

Hot documentaries

The Central Park Five, co-directed by PBS' favorite filmmaker, Ken Burns, with his daughter and son-in-law, examines the public and official hysteria that led to five young black and Latino teens being falsely accused of raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. West of Memphis is director Amy Berg's fresh look at the 18-year struggle to free three teens falsely imprisoned for murdering three young Arkansas boys. In Tchoupitoulas, brothers and co-directors Bill and Turner Ross follow three African-American brothers who get stranded in New Orleans during one long crazy night. Finally, Leviathan from co-directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel is a visual essay about life aboard a New Bedford sailing ship, filmed using miniature cameras attached to every cranny of the vessel and every human onboard.

Actors you haven't heard of but will

Alice Englert (daughter of master director Jane Campion) is making a splash in Ginger and Rosa, the new film set in London during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which examines the conflict arising between a pair of friends when Ginger's father appears to develop a crush on Rosa (Englert). Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, best known in America as the villain in the Bond film Casino Royale, won Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival for The Hunt and also appears at AFI in the 18th-century drama A Royal Affair. In Starlet, Dree Hemingway (great-granddaughter of Ernest) plays a Valley teen who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a cantankerous old woman (Besedka Johnson, making her screen debut at 85). Stephen Dorff and 14-year-old Israeli actor Abdallah El Akal are said to make a crowd-pleasing duo in Zaytoun, director Eran Riklis' acclaimed thriller, as, respectively, an Israeli pilot trying to escape a war-torn Lebanon and the Palestinian boy who helps him.

Scary indies

Paul Giamatti stars in John Dies at the End, the new horror comedy from writer-director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). It's one of the highlights of the fest's Midnight section, along with ABCs of Death, a sensation on the horror-geek festival circuit that arrives with our favorite description: “Twenty-six directors. Twenty-six ways to die.” But the hottest ticket for scary movie fans and high-art cinephiles alike is Room 237, director Rodney Ascher's documentary, in which five obsessive fans of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining present their respective theories about the film's “secret meaning.” —Chuck Wilson

(See reviews of some of these films in our main story on 20 films to see at AFI Fest.)

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