Every film festival has its list of must-see movies. They're the ones everyone wants to catch and critique and quietly (or noisily) boast about previewing before they hit the multiplex.
In years past, the Three Rivers Film Festival has given Pittsburghers the opportunity to catch such draws as "Silver Linings Playbook" or "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" or "Precious," and this year is no exception.
The "gets" for the 32nd annual event include "Philomena," starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman looking for the son taken from her by the Catholic Church a half-century earlier, and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" with Idris Elba as the person who "showed us that one man's courage can move the world," as President Barack Obama recently said.
As previously reported, the festival will open Nov. 8 with "The Girl From the Wardrobe," "A Perfect Man," "Brasslands" and "The Rocket."
All tickets go on sale today through ShowClix.com for 120-plus separate screenings of full-length features or shorts playing Nov. 8-23 at four venues: Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Regent Square and Harris theaters, its Melwood Screening Room in Oakland and the Waterworks Cinemas.
One of the beauties of a festival is that it brings unexpected delights, sensational surprises and movies that transport you to a different time, place and people. The full schedule went online today at 3RFF.com, and we will publish it weekly but here are a dozen that sound intriguing:
1. "Philomena" -- I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival at a showing that was so crowded, I landed in the front row of a 557-seat theater, but it was worth the crooked neck and close examination of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan's facial contours -- and acting talent, of course.
She is a retired nurse who gave birth to a child out of wedlock in 1952 and lost him when the Catholic nuns later placed him for adoption, and he is journalist Martin Sixsmith, who joins her in the search for him. Based on a true story, this Stephen Frears film was first runner-up to "12 Years a Slave" as TIFF audience favorite. (5 p.m. Nov. 9 at Regent Square; 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at Waterworks)
2. "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" -- This is based on former South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before working to rebuild the once-segregated society. Starring Mr. Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela. (7 p.m. Nov. 10 and 6:15 p.m. Nov. 11, both Waterworks)
3. "The Armstrong Lie" -- Director Alex Gibney, an Oscar winner for "Taxi to the Dark Side" and a nominee for "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," explores the fall of cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. He interviews former teammates, an alleged doping mastermind and Mr. Armstrong. (9:15 p.m. Nov. 15 at Harris)
4. "Blood Brother" -- Director Steve Hoover is scheduled to attend the screening of his Sundance Film Festival winner. He documents how Rocky Braat, his best friend and onetime Pittsburgh roommate, finds family, purpose, joy and sorrow at an orphanage in India for children with HIV and AIDS. (4:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at Regent Square)
5. "Bethlehem" -- The story of the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant won six Ophri Awards (including best feature, director, actor and supporting actor), presented by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television. (8 p.m. Nov. 9 and 5 p.m. Nov. 10 at Regent Square)
6. "Bluebird" -- When a school bus driver becomes distracted during her end-of-day inspection, she fails to notice a sleeping boy in the back of the bus, and what happens next shatters the tranquility of her logging town in the northern reaches of Maine. Amy Morton and John Slattery star. (6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 9 p.m. Nov. 13 at Melwood)
7. "Camille Claudel 1915" -- Juliette Binoche stars in this French-language film freely adapted from the works and letters of Paul Claudel, the letters of Camille Claudel and medical records. Ms. Binoche plays the sculptress, protege (and, later, mistress) of Auguste Rodin who was confined to a remote, church-run asylum for the mentally ill near Avignon. (8 p.m. Nov. 10 at Regent Square and 6:45 p.m. Nov. 11 at Waterworks)
8. "Braddock, America" -- A look at the community through the eyes of a French film crew and the people of Braddock. (7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Regent Square)
9. "Prince Avalanche" -- An offbeat comedy starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch? What more do we need to know? It's loosely adapted from an Icelandic film called "Either Way," is set in 1988 and is about men who paint lines on a desolate country highway and bicker, joke and become unlikely friends. (4:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 7:15 p.m. Nov. 14 at Waterworks)
10. "In Bloom" -- For two girls, 14-year-olds who are inseparable, life goes on in early 1990s Tbilisi, the capital of the newly independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among its honors: best film and best actress for both its young stars at the Sarajevo Film Festival. (9:15 p.m. Nov. 15 at Regent Square and 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at Melwood)
11. "The Punk Singer" -- A look at Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre, through 20 years of archival footage and interviews with the subject along with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz and others. (7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Harris)
12. "A Fierce Green Fire" -- Robert Redford and Meryl Streep are among the narrators of this expansive look at the environmental movement. Reviewers have singled out its sequence about Lois Marie Gibbs, a key leader of Love Canal residents in their fight to be relocated away from a toxic dump, as particularly fascinating. (3:45 p.m. Nov. 9 and 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Waterworks)