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Tom Tangney’s Top 10 SIFF picks for 2019

(MyNorthwest, KIRO Radio)

With over 400 films, documentaries, and shorts to choose from, attending the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival can be a bit overwhelming. KIRO’s movie critic Tom Tangney looked over this year’s lineup and, without having seen any of the films yet, has come up with his 10 Best Hunches for SIFF 2019.

Lynch: A History

This is not a documentary about legendary filmmaker David Lynch, but rather a profile of sorts of our own Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch.

Instead of a compilation of on-field highlights from Lynch’s illustrious career, the film reportedly examines the way the running back interacted with the media “in the context of race and celebrity.”

“Talk about your performance in the second half of the big run” Lynch was once asked by a reporter.

“I’m thankful,” he said, further repeating the statement to every other press question that followed.

“What was the song of the day on the way to the game, Marshawn?”

“I’m thankful.”

I have the highest of hopes for this film because it’s made by famed local writer and UW professor David Shields. He wrote a great book called Black Planet, all about race and the NBA, back when we still had the Sonics. Expect to be dazzled by Shield’s insight into Lynch’s rhetoric.

Yesterday and Blinded by the Light

Two unrelated films that happen to use pop music as a central conceit.

The first, Yesterday, is a Danny Boyle/Richard Curtis comedy about a young British musician who, though some cosmic quirk, finds himself in a world in which the Beatles never existed. He, and he alone, knows all their songs and consequently becomes a pop phenomenon by singing and recording their entire canon.

Blinded by the Light is another a crowd-pleaser, from the director of Bend It Like Beckham, about a Pakistani boy growing up in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. When he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, his world is turned upside down.

Sword of Trust

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton ventures outside her “set in the Northwest” comfort zone with this movie set in the deep, deep South — Birmingham, Alabama. It’ll be interesting to see how Shelton’s sensibilities clash, or maybe mesh, with the South, but I’m mostly intrigued by her casting of Marc Maron who plays a crusty pawnbroker.

Maron’s general persona tends to be that of a truth-telling crank whereas Shelton gives off a much more genial, forgiving, and sympathetic vibe. Will this be the perfect sweet and salty combination? Let’s hope. If Sword of Trust — which was chosen as this year’s Opening Night Gala film — is as good as the last Shelton film to open SIFF (My Sister’s Sister), we’re in for a treat.

Invest in Failure

The great English movie star James Mason is probably best known for Lolita and A Star is Born but no matter the film, he was ever elegant and urbane, even when playing baddies. His prolific career gets the Norbert Pfaffenbichler treatment in Invest in Failure. Much like he did in his features on Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, Pfaffenbichler has compiled clips from 160 Mason films to create an impressionistic portrait of the I-hope-not-yet-forgotten actor whose career spanned 50 years.

The Fall of the American Empire

French-Canadian director Denys Arcand completes an informal trilogy of sorts with this film, a trilogy that began with Decline of the American Empire and continued with The Barbarian Invasion. Arcand’s characters are often eloquent intellectuals or academics who nonetheless are just as stumped by life’s big issues, like sex and money and death, as the rest of us.

In his latest, Arcand takes a satiric look at the inevitable compromises we make between capitalism and idealism.

Sons of Denmark

A futuristic thriller set in 2025, this Danish film projects a battle between a powerful right-wing anti-immigrant and ultra-nationalist political party, and an underground organization formed to overthrow it. Definitely of the moment and germane to a lot of the political unrest present throughout Europe, Sons of Denmark is getting its North American premiere at SIFF.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

“She’s never said a good thing about me yet …” Jerry Lewis once said on TV of the film critic Pauline Kael. “But she’s probably the most qualified critic in the world.”

“There are very few critics who have the guts to go out there and write an honest review of a bad movie,” actor Alec Baldwin says in the documentary about the critic.

Probably the most influential American film critic of the 20th century, Pauline Kael dominated the landscape of serious movie criticism for decades. Famously fired from The Ladies Home Journal for panning The Sound of Music, Kael found her appropriate platform at The New Yorker. Her passionate, idiosyncratic way of thinking about films and her at times hyperbolic writing style made for irresistible reading even when you disagreed with her. I hope this documentary is half as interesting as her reviews. A must-see for film buffs.

The Death of Dick Long

I’m recommending this film solely on the basis of its director (Daniel Scheinert), who co-directed the bizarrely imaginative Swiss Army Man a couple of years ago. That movie starred Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, the latter of whom played a corpse whose farts helped propel the two of them on an ocean voyage. SIFF calls The Death of Dick Long a “ridiculous comedy” about “two idiots” who cover up a friend’s death. Sounds like Swiss Army Man territory to me.


Fernando Botero is a world-famous Colombian artist who paints and sculpts enormously inflated people, animals, and objects. Others might more vulgarly call the figures “fat.” The artist prefers to think of them as “voluminous.” Regardless of how you describe his figures, they’re instantly recognizable. This documentary promises not only interviews with the artist himself and the artist’s adult children, but also with a couple of critics who having rather scathing things to say about his art. As someone who has a framed print of his work in my home, I’m rather defensive but I appreciate a documentary that’s not all hagiography.

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