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Mill Valley Roundup: 7 Movies to See at the Festival

Freida Pinto stars in Julian Schnabel's Miral, playing Sunday, Oct. 8, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

The 33rd Mill Valley Film Festival begins tonight with a star-studded Opening Gala at the Mill Valley Community Center and screenings of Tom Hooper's The King's Speech and Tony Goldwyn's Conviction. For a complete list of featured selections, showtimes and tickets, visit the festival's official site.

1. Miral
Where:
Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 4th St., San Rafael, 415-454-1222
When: Oct. 10
Why: Based on the book by Palestinian-born journalist Rula Jerbeal, who also wrote the screenplay, Julian Schnabel’s epic portrait of four women struggling against the backdrop of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict sometimes feels like a didactic history lesson. Yet the journey of its titular heroine, played as a 17-year-old by Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto, lends itself to tense, turbulent drama, handsomely shot by the Diving Bell and the Butterfly director.

2. 127 Hours
Where:
Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 4th St., San Rafael, 415-454-1222
When:
Oct. 16
Why: 
In 2003, a boulder pinned mountain climber Aron Ralston to the wall of Utah's Blue John Canyon for nearly five days, forcing him to amputate his right arm in a desperate bid to survive. In bringing his story to the screen, Danny Boyle deftly navigates the obvious stumbling blocks, transforming a mostly one-man show with a well-known conclusion into transcendent drama that speaks not only to Ralston's will but also to the durability of the human spirit. James Franco, in a career-defining performance, is indispensable, portraying Ralston as a self-absorbed but sympathetic victim of circumstance.

3. Rabbit Hole
Where:
Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 4th St., San Rafael, 415-454-1222
When: Oct. 16
Why: John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) directs Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, playing parents coping with the recent loss of their four-year-old son, in this thoughtful, cautiously upbeat adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Rather than wallowing in their grief, which threatens to drag them down but never the movie, Rabbit Hole focuses on the healing process, achingly portrayed by Kidman in a performance full of passion and grace.

4. Conviction
Where: Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, 415-388-4862
When: Oct. 7
Why: Inspired by the true story of Betty Anne Waters, the Massachusetts wife and mother who put herself through law school in a last-ditch effort to overturn her brother's murder conviction, Tony Goldwyn's latest conveys an earnest affection for Hilary Swank's tireless heroine, and features an Oscar-worthy supporting turn from Sam Rockwell. Waters' struggle plays out predictably, but the depth of her sacrifice, and the toll it takes on her family, still resonates.

5. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Where: 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, 415-383-9600
When: Oct. 16, 17
Why:  Angela Bettis (May) stars in writer-director Tim Rutili's poignant fantasy as Zel, a fortune teller who shares her home with an increasingly restless group of ghosts. When the spirits, who inform her afterlife expertise, decide they want out, Zel must face the unbearable prospect of losing the only family she's ever known. Rutili and his band, Califone, provide the movie's haunting soundtrack, with Bettis delivering an impressively nuanced performance as its emotional anchor.

6. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Where:
Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 4th St., San Rafael, 415-454-1222
When: Oct. 13
Why: The final installment of Stieg arsson's Millennium Trilogy – soon to be remade for American audiences by David Fincher, with Daniel Craig and The Social Network's Rooney Mara slated to star – finds resilient cyberpunk Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) fighting for her life and her freedom after being charged with three murders. Michael Nykqist reprises his role as the rock-star journalist who doubles as her trusted sidekick and lover.

7. Stone
Where:
Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 4th St., San Rafael, 415-454-1222
When: Oct. 9
Why: Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) has checked out. A Michigan parole officer who counsels incarcerated cons trying to get years shaved off their sentences, he sits impassively behind his desk, brusquely interrogating his charges but deaf to their answers. That changes when Stone (Edward Norton) saunters into his office, all attitude and zero accountability. That changes, too, as Stone undergoes a gradual spiritual awakening, and Jack, dangerously indulging his most self-destructive vices, finds himself empty and alone, imprisoned in a nightmare of his own creation.