Ready, set, watch. The Vail Film Festival is back for its ninth year, bringing with it movies about love, death, dogs and everything in between. Lucky for us we had a chance to screen many of the films in advance, choosing the ones we think are definitely worth the price of admission. The films this year are a lot like life itself: a handful of laughs, a few tears, and even a surprise or two. Here's our top picks, across a variety of genres. And be sure and check back Saturday to read about a few more of our favorites.
"Inuk" - 5 p.m. Friday at Cinebistro and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Four Seasons in Vail.
A compelling story about an abused teenage boy and the lives of the Inuit people of Greenland. The Inuits often communicate visually instead of verbally. The same could be said for this film, which tells its tale through images rather than words.
"Shuffle" - 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Sebastian and 5 p.m. Saturday at Cinebistro.
Lovell Milo wakes up everyday at a different age, but how old is he really? A mind-bender that keeps you guessing until the end.
"Andrew Bird: Fever Year" - 2:30 p.m. Friday at Cinebistro and Noon Saturday at Fours Seasons in Vail.
If you're not familiar with Andrew Bird's music, you'll get to hear a lot of it in this concert documentary. An introspective look at how the singer and multi-instrumentalist makes his odd yet intriguing music.
Short Film- Live Action
"Protect the Nation" - 12:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday at Four Seasons in Vail.
Depicts the attacks on foreign immigrants in South Africa that took place in 2008 through the eyes of a young boy. Will he conform to the crowd or follow his own moral compass? There are a lot of good international films at the festival this year.
Short Film- Animation
"Cadaver" - 12:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday at Four Seasons in Vail.
Entirely hand-drawn using Sharpie markers and told in iambic pentameter, a dead man wakes up in a morgue with one last request. A darkly lyrical tale of life after death.
"Mariachi Gringo" -- 10:45 p.m. Friday at Cinebistro and 2 p.m. at Four Seasons in Vail.
Edward, a young, troubled teen (Shawn Ashmore) has enough of small town life in Kansas and decides to pursue his dream - run away to Mexico and become a mariachi. The boy and his guitar journey through life and they quickly realize that making a dream come true takes patience, hard work and sacrifice. Edward leaves behind his worried parents but quickly meets a young Mexican woman and falls in love. Together, the two work to make Edwards dream come true, but at what cost?
"Ecstasy" - 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Four Seasons in Vail and 8 p.m. Saturday at Cinebistro.
If this movie feels a lot like "Trainspotting," well, that's because it is. And for a good reason. Both movies are based on books by Irvine Welsh. Instead of young Scottish youth hooked on heroin, this time around it's, well, ecstasy. At first we're shown how fun the party drug is, but as the characters in the movie keep using the drug in mass quantities, the effects of ecstasy begin to prove far from ecstatic.
"With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story" - 1 p.m. Friday at Sebastian and 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Cinebistro.
Stan "the Man" Lee created or co-created some of the most memorable super heroes of all time. The Hulk, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and Iron-Man - the list goes on, and it's a long list. I've seen a few documentaries about Stan Lee in my life, but this is the only one that not only focuses on his work in comic books but also his family life growing up, his marriage and daughter and his personal moral code which was poured into many of his characters. "With Great Power" also features many short interviews with actors who have appeared in movies based on Lee's characters like Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider) and Michael Chiklis (The Thing), and it's interesting to see how almost everybody's life has been touched at one point or another by Lee's work. All in all, a very moving and honest portrait of the king of comic books.
Short Film- live Action:
"Fatakra" - 12:15 p.m. Friday and Noon Sunday at Four Seasons in Vail.
Three years after leaving India to make a better life for his family in America, Naveen is finally reunited with his wife and young son. He's brought them to America and neither of them is happy about it. The wife feels rejected and alone while his son resents his father's long absence. As Naveen works to rejuvenate his relationship with both, he learns that sometimes when we think we need more, we already have everything we need.
Short Film- Animation:
"The Jockstrap Raiders" - 11a.m. Friday at Sebastian and 2 p.m. Sunday at Four Seasons in Vail.
It's World War I, and the German army is about to invade England. A group of misfit rugby players and pilots consisting of a hunchback, a guy with rigor mortis, a giant rat and Siamese twins realize that they might be the last chance to stop the invasion and they band together to put an end to it. It's a funny, very entertaining computer animated flick that both kids and adults can enjoy.