The Middleburg Film Festival 2022 — Some of the Most Exciting Films of the Year

Posted on September 22, 2022 at 2:53 pm

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In just ten years, the Middleburg Film Festival has become one of the most thrillingly curated festivals of the year. The 2022 program includes some of the most highly anticipated films of 2022. Launching the four-day festival is “White Noise” from Academy Award-nominated writer/director Noah Baumbach. Based on Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name, the black comedy stars Adam Driver as a renowned professor of Hitler studies who along with his wife (Greta Gerwig) and children face an “airborne toxic event” hanging over their town that threatens everyone’s lives. Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith, Sam Nivola and Raffey Cassidy also star. Baumbach will be returning to MFF to accept the 10th Anniversary Spotlight Filmmaker Award – he attended in 2019 with his Oscar nominated film “Marriage Story.”

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The “Knives Out” sequel “Glass Onion” will screen on Friday, October 14 as the Friday Centerpiece Film and will include a discussion with writer/director Rian Johnson where he will receive the Distinguished Screenwriter Award. Additionally, Johnson and his film editor Bob Ducsay will be presented with the inaugural Variety Creative Collaborators Award and participate in a separate conversation that will not only focus on their current film but take a look back at their previous collaborations including “Looper,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and “Knives Out.” In “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” Daniel Craig returns as detective Benoit Blanc who time travels to Greece to uncover a fresh mystery involving a new cast of colorful suspects, played by Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Jessica Henwick, and Madelyn Cline.

Screening as the festival’s Saturday Centerpiece film is “Somewhere in Queens,” written, directed by, and starring Ray Romano. It is a family dramedy and love letter to New York’s largest boroughs and it is produced by MFF Advisory Board members Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa (“Nebraska,” “Little Miss Sunshine”). They will join Romano at the festival to discuss the film following the evening screening on Saturday, October 15. Co-written by Mark Stegemann, the film features an ensemble cast that also includes Laurie Metcalf, Jacob Ward, Tony Lo Bianco, Sadie Stanley, Sebastian Maniscalco, and Jennifer Esposito.

Copyright 2022 A24
The Friday Spotlight Film is “The Whale,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his play. Brendan Fraser has received extended standing ovations for his performance as a reclusive English teacher living with severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. The film also stars Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton. Fraser and Hunter will be on hand for a post screening conversation to discuss their collaboration.

MFF will recognize Stephanie Hsu with the Rising Star Award for her breakthrough performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” opposite Michelle Yeoh. She will participate in a conversation following a special screening of the film after which she will be presented with the award. The box office hit film broke records by becoming A24’s first film to surpass the $100 million benchmark.

The event I look forward to most every year is the tribute to a composer. In honor of the 10th anniversary, many of MFF’s previous Distinguished Composer and Songwriter honorees will each have a selection of their works performed by a 40-piece orchestra. Joining the 10th Anniversary Concert celebration are songwriter Diane Warren, composers Mark Isham, Marco Beltrami, Kris Bowers, Charles Fox and the 2022 Distinguished Composer Award recipient Michael Abels. Abels is known for his genre defying scores for Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” “Us” and this year’s “Nope.” He also composed the upcoming LA Opera production “Omar,” which is premiering October 22.

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Middleburg Film Festival 2021: Belfast, Cyrano, Red Rocket, C’mon C’mon and Much More

Posted on October 13, 2021 at 2:02 pm

In just seven years Virginia’s Middleburg Film Festival, set in the fabulous Salamander Hotel, has become a great way to see the films we’ll be talking about all awards season and to talk to the people who created them. Sheila Johnson has made MFF one of the post prestigious and coveted places to premiere a film. Following a “hybrid” year with online access in 2020, the festival is back in person in gorgeous, gracious, Virginia hunt country, always spectacular in the fall.

I’ll be speaking in the “Talk Back to the Critics” panel again this year, with my friends Travis Hobson, Susan Wloszczyna, and Tim Gordon. And some of the films I’m most looking forward to are “Cyrano,” starring Peter Dinklage and two ready-for-stardom up-and-coming young actors, Hayley Bennett and Kelvin Harrion, Jr., Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical “Belfast,” “Red Rocket” from “Florida Project’s” Sean Baker, and “C’mon, C’mon” with Joaquin Phoenix. Stay tuned for more!

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Middleburg Film Festival 2020

Posted on October 8, 2020 at 9:13 pm

The Middleburg Festival begins October 15, 2020 and, as always, it has an impressive line-up of hotly anticipated films including some arriving with a lot of plaudits from other festivals, like “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand, and “Ammonite” with Kate Winslet. This year’s honorees include Hollywood legend Sophia Loren, composer Kris Bowers, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and director Chloé Zhao. And I’ll be on the critic panel again with my friends and colleagues Tim Gordon, Travis Hopson, Jason Fraley, and Susan Wloszczyna.

Check out the full schedule.

There will be some in-person, socially distant events and screenings but much of it is available virtually, so anyone can attend!

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Middleburg Film Festival 2019

Posted on October 22, 2019 at 7:47 am

After just seven years, the Middleburg Film Festival has become a major cultural event, showcasing not-yet-released films likely to be on a lot of year-end ten-best lists, presented by filmmakers, all in one of the state’s most beautiful settings out in the countryside about 30 miles from Washington D.C. For me, the highlight every year is an event unique to Middleburg, a tribute to a film composer. Festival founder and visionary Sheila Johnson originally studied to be a concert violinist, and she says that without music, movies have no soul. She wants audiences to understand that film scores are not about what you hum as you leave the theater; the music helps to tell the story and reveal the characters. It helps you feel the feelings the people who made the movie wanted you to feel. The festival always includes a tribute featuring a full orchestra performing the composer’s work.

This year’s awardee was Terence Blanchard, who has composed the smoky, jazz-influenced scores for films including Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” “Clockers,” “BlackKklansman,” “Inside Man,” and “25th Hour” as well as Lee’s documentary that was very personal for Blanchard, who is from New Orleans, the Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke.”

Blanchard also brought his own ensemble, the E Collective. He spoke about his career, including performing with Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, about going to music camp with Wynton and Branford Marsalis when they were children, about how he works with different directors, and about his long friendship with director Kasi Lemmons, from “Eve’s Bayou” to her newest film, “Harriet,” starring Cynthia Erivo, which was also featured at the festival. Blanchard and Lemmons have collaborated on an opera based on Charles Blow’s memoir, called “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”

Another event I look forward to every year is the “Talk Back to the Critics” panel, when audience members get to ask us about movies and let us know when they disagree with our reviews. Sharing the stage with my friends Travis Hobson, Tim Gordon, Susan Wloszczyna, and Jason Fraley in the sunny courtyard of the Old Ox Brewery

“Harriet” was one of the highlights of the festival, the stirring story of Harriet Tubman, who escaped enslavement by running from Maryland to Pennsylvania without a map — and could not have read one if one existed. She then returned repeatedly to rescue more than 70 other enslaved persons, including elderly and an infant and then, during the Civil War, became the first — and still one of the very few — women to lead U.S. military forces in batter. Erivo’s performance is powerful and moving, and the superb cast includes “Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom, Jr., Jonelle Monae, and Joe Alwyn.

Writer/director Kasi Lemmons and producer Debra Debra Martin Chase at the Q&A

Probably the most anticipated film at the festival was saved for the last spot, which, as Festival director Susan Koch, had gone to the films later selected for Best Picture Oscars the previous two years. This time it was Martin Scorsese’s elegiac three and a half hour epic “The Irishman,” starring Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert De Niro as the title character, once Hoffa’s most trusted colleague, who later confessed to murdering him. We see the characters age over 40 years, with the help of computer imaging.

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in a searing look at a deteriorating relationship. Each appeared in another high profile film in the festival, Johansson in “Jo Jo Rabbit,” about an Austrian boy in the last months of WWII — with writer/director Taika Waititi playing the child’s imagined version of Hitler, and Driver as the real-life investigator who wrote the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the torture of witnesses detained by the CIA.

Ira Sachs’ “Frankie” is the sensitively told story of a day in the life of an actress (Isabelle Huppert) vacationing with her family in Portugal. “Waves” is a poetic look at a family with two teenagers who have to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. My favorite, and I suspect the favorite of many others, too, was Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Put it on your calendar to take the family to see for Thanksgiving. And maybe put Middleburg on your calendar for next year as well.

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Middleburg Film Festival 2019

Posted on October 2, 2019 at 1:15 pm

The Middleburg Film Festival has surpassed itself again with a stunning line-up that includes some of the fall and winter season’s most anticipated and awards-likely films, including Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and Martin Scorsese’s epic crime drama “The Irishman” with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Also on the schedule: Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” based on the acclaimed novel, and Adam Driver in “The Report,” based on the true and very timely story of the Congressional investigation into torture of US prisoners.

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