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Indie Focus: The hidden and the found in 'The Disaster Artist,' 'Princess Cyd' and 'Loveless'

Hello! I'm Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

We released another of our awards-season roundtable conversations this week, this time with the directors of seven of the year's most distinctive films. We were very pleased to welcome Sean Baker with "The Florida Project," Kathryn Bigelow with "Detroit," Guillermo del Toro with "The Shape of Water," Greta Gerwig with "Lady Bird," Angelina Jolie with "First They Killed My Father," Jordan Peele with "Get Out" and Darren Aronofsky with "mother!"

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At one point, after Gerwig pointed out that for her, everyone had made a film that spoke to the moment, even if it's not literally set in the present, Peele and Bigelow talked about how their respective movies dealt with depicting everyday horrors.

"All of these stories are exploring a missing piece of the conversation," Peele said. "We all feel story is one of, if not the most important tool, weapon, we have against hatred and violence.

"Especially now," Bigelow said. "You're almost weaponizing storytelling in order to somehow contextualize the unthinkable."

This week we have three — three! — exciting screening and Q&A events.

On Monday, I'll be moderating a talk with director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers following a screening of "I, Tonya." On Tuesday, Justin Chang will moderate a talk with cast members Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, director Paul McGuigan and author Peter Turner after a screening of "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool." And on Thursday, I will be talking to filmmaker Fatih Akin and actress Diane Kruger after a screening of "In the Fade."

And we should have more coming up soon, so for updates on future events go to events.latimes.com.

From left: Kelly Oxford, Paul Scheer, Seth Rogen and James Franco work on a scene from "The Disaster Artist."
From left: Kelly Oxford, Paul Scheer, Seth Rogen and James Franco work on a scene from "The Disaster Artist." (Justina Mintz / A24)

‘The Disaster Artist’

Directed by and starring James Franco in what feels like the culmination of years of his oddball artistic practice, "The Disaster Artist" is the story of the making of "The Room," the once-obscure 2003 movie that became a popular cult item. Franco plays filmmaker and actor Tommy Wiseau, with Dave Franco playing his friend and collaborator Greg Sestero. Without making (too much) fun of them, the pair are transformed by the film into triumphant outsiders who refuse to be told they can't achieve their dreams.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called the film "shrewd, affectionate and squirmingly funny" and added, "Approaching 'The Room' in a spirit of mocking celebration, it is both a re-creation of its making and a deconstruction of its mystique, as well as a sincere tribute from one iconoclast to another."

Jen Yamato wrote about the new movie and the myth-making fandom behind "The Room." Seth Rogen, a producer on the film as well as a co-star told her, "The more we got into it and the story and the psychology of it, the most interesting challenge and the most interesting idea was, 'What's good about the movie? If it's a bad movie, why have I seen it so many times — and if it's a bad movie, why are we making a movie about it?' "

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, "Even at its most convincing, Mr. Franco's performance retains an interior lightness, a playfulness, including when Tommy goes emotionally dark. Mr. Franco isn't making fun of his character, at least not entirely; rather, he's put distance into the mix, as if to point out that Tommy is very much a self-made man, a construction."

Jessie Pinnick stars in "Princess Cyd."
Jessie Pinnick stars in "Princess Cyd." (Wolfe Releasing)

‘Princess Cyd’

In "Princess Cyd," written and directed by Chicago-based filmmaker Stephen Cone, a 16-year-old girl goes to spend part of the summer with her aunt, a noted author. As played by Jessie Pinnick and Rebecca Spence, the characters feel both gossamer-light and grounded in a deep-rooted emotional reality. Without having played any local festivals, the film arrived this week in Los Angeles and is more than worth a look, even during the season of loftier prestige titles.

In her review for The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, " 'Princess Cyd' is many things: a queer coming-of-age story (Malic White is fantastic as Cyd's summer fling, Katie), a tribute to intergenerational friendship, a redemption tale. But it also captures one deeply significant thing, that moment when family members transform from strangers to loved ones."

Also for The Times, Akiva Gottlieb spoke to Cone, who said, "I'm interested in teenagers insofar as that is the most transformative portion of life. … The journey from 16 to 24 is a big deal, and it's when a lot of sexual and spiritual discoveries are made."

At the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips added, "The performances by Pinnick and Spence are clean, vivid and honestly felt, with a lot of the best work emerging nonverbally in the spaces between characters closing a gap. … These are traits you find in someone's work when you genuinely like the characters, and want more from them."

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At New York magazine's Vulture site, Emily Yoshida said, "In Cone's film any pain can seemingly be relieved by the simple, generous act of liking someone — not to possess them, but to have your world changed by them. Princess Cyd is a wonderful movie to live in for this reason; it's full of hope and empathy, as are its two leads. This is a film that believes finding joy in each other is not just what we should do but what we are naturally inclined to do, and man, oh, man, do I want to believe that right now."

From left: Maryana Spivak is Zhenya and Matvey Novikov is Alyosha in "Loveless."
From left: Maryana Spivak is Zhenya and Matvey Novikov is Alyosha in "Loveless." (Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Loveless’

Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose previous film "Leviathan" was nominated for an Oscar, the new "Loveless" is another bracing examination of life in contemporary Russia. The story of a couple, a troubled marriage and a missing child, "Loveless" won the jury prize when it premiered earlier this year at Cannes, won the top prize at the London Film Festival and is Russia's submission for the foreign-language Academy Award.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that the film "examines their household in the manner of a pathologist performing an autopsy. … Pathologies of every sort abound in this corrosive and hypnotic movie, a story of domestic collapse that slowly develops into a withering snapshot of contemporary Russian malaise."

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At the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw called the movie "a stark, mysterious and terrifying story of spiritual catastrophe: a drama with the ostensible form of a procedural crime thriller. It has a hypnotic intensity and unbearable ambiguity which is maintained until the very end. This is a story of modern Russia whose people are at the mercy of implacable forces."

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus

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