Breakfast with Curtis – Jackson’s pick for the LA Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature

[Editor’s Note: As you know if you’ve been keeping up with Living in Cinema’s coverage of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, Jackson Truax did a bulk of the heavy lifting this week. He managed to catch 52 films over the festival’s 10 day run so it’s only fitting he have a chance to highlight his favorites. Thanks Jackson for all your hard work. I’ll shut up now and let you finish.]

As the great grandfather clock of time marches on, another year at the Los Angeles Film Festival is coming to a close. Once again, the past ten days have been something indescribably special and spectacular. In addition to a showcasing a stellar and diverse collection of films, the Los Angeles Film Festival was once again a remarkable moment of forming and fostering a deep sense of community. Filmmakers, programmers, members of the press, publicists, and avid film fans were able to share in their passion for the art of movie making and for the communal film-going experience. I met and reconnected with a number of new and old friends whom I so deeply cherish. Looking around, I felt that many others were doing the same.

I saw 52 films that played at the festival this year, which makes up almost every feature film shown. As I’m typing this, the ceremony is being held where the Jury and Audience awards are being announced. These awards will be an obvious boon and validation for whatever filmmakers struggled to make their art and did so at all costs. Tragically, the number of talented filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, producers, and countless crew people whose talent was being showcased at the festival far outweighs the number of artists that can be honored by any small handful of awards. Although I realize that same flaw will be inherent in my following list of festival favorites, I did want to give some well-deserved recognition to the films and performances that have already stayed with me while dozens of films have come and gone.

Best Narrative – Breakfast with Curtis

Filmgoers look to independent filmmakers to hold unflinching mirrors up to reality and ask us if we like what we see. The answer is often “No,” as independently produced art often explores the side of the human condition that contains great suffering and pain. What writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and actress Laura Colella accomplished with Breakfast with Curtis was such a delight because she showed a slice of humanity that was inspirational and heartwarming. And while Breakfast with Curtis easily could have felt like an After School special, Colella and her cast imbued every scene with a sense of genuine poignancy and insight. Breakfast with Curtis was the festival’s true testament to community, friendship, and family. Although the film was a story specific to the houses where Colella and her cast (mostly non-actors, remarkably) live, the film serves a universal love letter to all of our seminal summers and coming-of-age stories. Breakfast with Curtis is also a welcome reminder of the possibility of familial and communal redemption and the healing power that’s there to be found with our closest friends, family, and neighbors.

Best Performance by an Actor – David Nordstrom in Pincus

Although there was an embarrassment of riches when it came to exceptional performances on display at this year’s LA Film Festival, the true tour de force came from festival alum David Nordstrom (Sawdust City). In crafting the flawed, multi-dimensional, and compelling character that was Pincus, Nordstrom embodied a generation of young men in their late twenties, finding themselves maddeningly thrust into adulthood and not entirely sure what to do about it. It was also with unmatchable humanity that Nordstrom explored the relationship of a troubled father and son, and his performance revealed something mystical and powerful about the fraught journey into adulthood.

Best Performance by an Actress – Jennifer Lafleur in The Do-Deca Pentathlon

Although The Do-Deca Pentathlon wasn’t officially a part of the Los Angeles Film Festival programming (it was a special screening for members of Film Independent), out of all the performances in the 52 films I saw, Jennifer Lafleur’s turn in the latest film from the Duplass Brothers (Baghead, Cyrus) is the most impressive and unforgettable work by any actor. Lafleur took a role that in the hands of a lesser actress would have been a one-dimensional supporting character and made her not only deeply sympathetic, but in many ways she serves as the emotional core of the film. The Do-Deca Pentathlon is another worthy entry in the eccentric filmography of the Duplass Brothers, and here’s hoping they soon make another film that showcases the work of their favorite actors (including Lafleur, Mark Kelly and frequent collaborator Steve Zissis). Audiences will soon have easy access to The Do-Deca Pentathlon upon its Video On-Demand release July 26th, and its theatrical release on July 6th.

Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast – Breakfast with Curtis. Laura Colella, Theo Green, Aaron Jungels, Virginia Laffey, Adele Parker, David Parker, Gideon Parker, Jonah Parker, Yvonne Parker

The cast of Breakfast with Curtis is made up of artists, teachers, and a software engineer. Although they are a cast made up of non-actors, it was their brilliant work that helped make Laura Colella’s film so deeply felt and unforgettable. Their greatest achievement was making sure the film felt as quirky and eccentric as they are in real life, yet never lost its poignancy or veered too far into broad comedy. Painter Theo Green is easily one of the funniest and most interesting people one could ever imagine coming across, and it was his “Breakfast with Theo” YouTube series that helped inspire some of the events in the film. Blurring the line between fiction and reality, the cast of Breakfast with Curtis provided a sincere and touching look at their family and community, and provided the inspiration to more deeply connect with ours.

Best Documentary – Searching For Sugar Man

The first feature film from documentarian Malik Bendjelloul received wild praise at the festival, and with good reason. The musical detective story of lost royalties, cultural boycotts, and an enigmatic singer/songwriter seemed to be the one film that festival-goers couldn’t stop talking or thinking about. The outcome of the questions posed by the film still seem impossible to believe, and throughout the festival fans could be heard humming and singing the songs of Rodriguez. If you haven’t already, make sure to see the film after it hits theaters on July 27th.

Special Recognition for the Most Fun I Had Watching Any of the 52 Festival Films – Saturday Morning Massacre

Saturday Morning Massacre is the perfect blend of intelligence, humor, horror and sexiness. It’s that combination that made the film the most addictive and purely enjoyable of the festival, the most fun I had watching any of them. The cast, including Josephine Decker, Jonny Mars, Ashley Spillers as well director Spencer Parsons crafted a brilliant send-up of Scooby-Doo, that far transcends the genre label of “horror-comedy.” Saturday Morning Massacre is such a clever and delightful romp that I would happily watch it every Saturday morning, and hopefully the film will soon get the release and audience it so richly deserves. On the first watch, Saturday Morning Massacre already feels like the cult classic that it is undoubtedly destined to be.

8 Responses to “LAFF: Jackson Selects the Best of the Festival”

  1. 52 films in 10 days is impressive.

  2. Although he saw a bunch of films on screeners in the weeks before the festival, I can attest to the fact Jackson was on the ground daily watching movies. I wish I had half his energy.

  3. ” …and it was his “Breakfast with Theo” YouTube series that helped inspire some of the events in the film.”

    Thanks again for the interview Jackson, and it is great to read what is by far one of our best reviews. However, to be fair, “Breakfast With Theo” is not just Theo’s. It’s a collaboration between the two of us. I completely agree that he is a funny and interesting person, but it is important to remember that what you see in “Breakfast With Theo” as well as “Breakfast WIth Curtis” is Theo at is BEST. And believe me, we ALL love this guy, but it’s important to give credit to the editors for making him look as good as he does on screen. Without my editing, “Breakfast With Theo” would have all the great Theo moments that make it rewarding for me, but it would also have 10 or so extra minutes that are unwatchable. Similarly, with “Breakfast With Curtis,” Laura Colella wrote Theos lines (though some were inspired by reality), and, in turn, spent MONTHS “twisting the knobs,” as Theo would say, to make sure everyone looked good. Again, I truly agree that Theo is a hoot, but it’s important to give credit where credit it due, and in this case, that’s also to Laura and myself.

    Thanks again for everything you did for the movie, Jackson, and we were serious when we said you should come visit us at the citadel sometime. See you then?


  4. Jonah,

    You are absolutely right, and I apologize. Although I did see a number of films in press screenings prior to the festival, during the run of the festival I saw over thirty movies, wrote daily reports of the films I saw as well as the goings-on at LA Live, conducted nine interviews, and submitted three interview pieces that Craig posted on the site. While I was pleased with the quality and the quantity of the coverage, all of this meant that the reviews I posted (including this wrap-up piece) were brief “capsule” reviews. All of the excellent films at the festival were made as a culmination of the work of many talented individuals in front of and behind the camera, and I regret not having the time or wordspace to probably acknowledge all of them, as I would have tried to better accomplish in a longer, stand-alone review.

    Laura Colella’s screenplay and her direction were the best I saw of any narrative film at the festival, and possibly of the year so far. I can only imagine the challenge of crafting such a wonderful fictitious screenplay around real people as deftly as she did, and then all the time spent before, during, and after production protecting the film and its tone, to make sure she was crafting something was as sweet, funny, and insightful as possible. I had considered giving a Best Screenplay and Best Director award in this piece, but since they would have gone to Laura (in addition to my giving the film Best Narrative and Best Ensemble Cast) it seemed potentially excessive/effusive. That’s a big part of why I acknowledge her work as writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and actress in the Best Narrative section.

    When I cover films on the festival circuit, the absolute most I can hope for is that something I write may help a film, in the eyes of potential audience members, rise above the pale of the seemingly countless films being shown. And that hopefully my coverage, reviews, or interview pieces may help films like those mentioned in this piece get the attention they deserve from audience members before, during, or after their respective releases. I hope audience members get the chance to appreciate the work of Laura and the entire cast, and in turn, hopefully everyone will be recognized to the fullest.

    Although Breakfast with Curtis (as least to my knowledge) is not immediately available to audiences, I hope those interested in the in film and Theo will watch one, some, or all of the “Breakfast with Theo” episodes on YouTube. Yes, Theo is an entrancingly fascinating character, but your abilities as an editor, cameraman, visual storyteller and overall producer of these short films are apparent. You are obviously incredibly talented, and I expect big things from you, and look forward to covering them. Hopefully when watching the series, audiences will realize there are appreciating your artistry as much as Theo’s unique-ness.

    Thanks again to you, Laura, Theo, and the whole citadel gang for so openly sharing your artistry and humanity in both the film and the YouTube series. I don’t make it out East much, but I am certainly serious when I say I should try and plan a trip out there sometime to see you all.



  5. How is it even possible… to watch 52 films in ten days? LOL I’m just… shocked. xD

  6. Jackson is a dynamo. He owned that friggin festival

  7. Jackson, congrats to you on this incredible, utterly spectacular show of stamina!!! You owned that festival indeed!!!!

  8. For better or worse, I only watched about thirty films during the festival proper, and caught about twenty-two in the two weeks or so leading up to the festival. That being said, the days of the festival were some intense ones indeed, with a number of them including me seeing four or more films. I actually saw no fewer than seven films the last day of the fest. Trying to experience LAFF in this way every year has always made a great deal of sense to me. As it’s in my proverbial backyard, it’s an efficient way to see a lot of films, ranging from films that will undoubtedly be released (or even award winners) later in the year that I’ll be the first on my block to see, to hidden gems that are screening for audiences for the first time, that may or may not be readily available to audiences in the near future.

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