Celebrating its twelfth anniversary this year, Method Fest – whose raison d'etre is to showcase films driven by performances and strong stories, not special effects or global market potential – has slowly evolved into a very big deal. This year's films star such respected names as Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brian Cox, Susan Sarandon, Campbell Scott, and more.

Bruce Dern, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at Method Fest on March 28, appears briefly in The Lightkeepers, which stars Richard Dreyfuss as an early 20th century lighthouse keeper, a curmudgeon with a heart of gold who reluctantly takes an assistant with a mysterious past. The story hinges on a plot twist you can see from the opening credits, and the film is cloyingly sentimental, with an intrusive score and hammy acting from Dreyfuss. Ironically, honoree Dern barely registers in his very small part.

The rest of the big-name celebrity fare wasn't available for press screening, but three titles stand out from what was previewed.

The German film The Dispensables tracks the psychological fall-out of eleven year-old working-class Jakob (Oskar Boekelmann). With his mother in rehab, Jakob lives with his father's dead body rather than risk being placed in an orphanage. As the tale and the boy's personality darken, a stellar supporting cast provides solid counter-notes to Boekelmann's impressive lead performance. Desert Son, about a boy whose stepfather drives him to the middle of the desert and abandons him, is lean and fast-moving. The film's young actors are sometimes a tad too affected in their performances, but the film is fully engrossing.

Finally, director Betty Gordon's Handsome Harry breaks your heart with its tale of youthful betrayal and how it haunts the lives of all involved, even decades later. The title character lives in a small town where he's much beloved by the locals but estranged from his adult son. An inopportune phone call from a dying old navy buddy sets in motion a quest for redemption that sucker-punches you with its plot-twists and emotional power. A who's who of indie film (Steve Buscemi, Aidan Quinn, Campbell Scott, Bill Sage, John Savage, Karen Young) makes up the supporting cast, while Jamey Sheridan's weathered face is beautiful enough to illustrate how Harry earned his nickname, while also powerfully segueing from tenderness to rage to grief.

Method Film Fest runs March 25-31 at various venues in the West Valley. See MethodFest.com for more info.

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