11 Must-See Movies at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival


The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) kicks off its 57th year tomorrow, and the lineup of quality films and attending celebrities is staggering—and sure to leave you star-struck (Parker Posey, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons). We combed through the list of 200 films—a majority of which you may never see on the big screen again—over the next 15 days to bring you a list of must-see movies, according to us. It’s showtime, people.

The Two Faces of January

For the festival’s opening night, screenwriter Hossein Amini (whose work you may have seen in the Ryan Gosling extravaganza, Drive) makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith’s (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley) thriller, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as trouble-finding foreigners. Rumor has it that Mortensen may make an appearance.

Who’s there: Hossein Amini (writer-director), Noah Cowan (SFFS Executive Director)

It’s Like: The Talented Mr. Ripley, in Athens.

Take: Fellow wanderlusters.

Go: Thursday, April 24, 6:30pm at The Castro Theatre


"Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul gets a taste of his own medicine as the alcoholic, widowed father struggling to raise two sons—the eldest of which gives the film its title—in a blue-collar Texas town.

Who’s there: Likely Aaron Paul (actor).

Take: Rabble rousers.

Go: Friday, April 25, 6:30pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

 Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska star in Richard Ayoade's The Double. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society. 

The Double

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Adventureland) plays two characters alongside Mia Wasakowska (Alice in Wonderland, Stoker) in this quirky dystopian thriller.

It’s Like: Fight Club meets Being John Malkovich.

Take: A disgruntled coworker.

Go: Saturday, April 26, 1pm and Tuesday, April 29, 9:15pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

The Trip to Italy

British comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon pick up their previous roles (from 2011’s The Trip) as fictionalized, inflated versions of themselves writing food criticism for The Observer, this time tasting and bickering their way through Italy’s most picturesque locations. Food porn and British snark abound.

Take: Your personal Michael Bauer.

Go: Tuesday, April 29, 6:30pm and Friday, May 2, 1:30pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig star in Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins. Courtesy of Reed Morano and the San Francisco Film Society

Skeleton Twins

SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader go for the darker side of humor as siblings grappling with personal tragedy after being estranged for 10 years—while living in the same apartment.

Who’s there: Craig Johnson (director), Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader (actors)

It’s Like: The Savages meets SNL.

Go: Thursday, May 1, 6:30pm and Friday, May 2, 3:30pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Last Weekend

Lake Tahoe shines in this darkly humorous family drama set in the same house as A Place in the Sun, with Elizabeth Taylor. Local codirector Tom Dolby, whose family bought the Hurrican Bay house in 1979, pits the abode as a central plot point—it’s up for sale by the family matriarch, played by Patricia Clarkson, and her last hurrah to summer doesn’t quite pan out.

Who’s there: Tom Dolby and Tom Williams (codirectors), Patricia Clarkson (actor).

Take: Mom.

Go: Friday, May 2, 6:30pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; Monday, May 5, 1:00pm at New People Cinema


Celebrated director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and its sequels)—who receives the SFIFF’s Founder’s Directing Award this year—filmed this coming of age film over the span of 12 years with the same actors, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette among them. The night’s event includes a clip reel of Linklater’s most iconic works plus an interview, followed by a screening of this longitudinal character study.

Who’s there: Richard Linklater (director)

It’s Like: The Before Sunrise trilogy meets About A Boy.

Take: Your bro.

Go: Friday, May 2, 7pm at The Castro Theatre

James Franco in Gia Coppola's Palo Alto, based on short stories by Franco. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola, of the filmmaking monarchy, makes her directorial debut with the adaptation James Franco’s book of short stories—inspired by his upbringing on the Peninsula—of the same name. Filmed on location in Palo Alto and starring Franco himself, it offers a glossy look at coming of age in suburbia.

Who’s there: Gia Coppola (director); maybe Jack Kilmer and Emma Roberts (actors).

It’s Like: Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets The Virgin Suicides.

Take: High school buds.

Go: Saturday, May 3, 7:00pm – Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

The Last Season

The world premiere of this documentary from local director Sara Dosa follows the pilgrimage of Cambodian workers who head to Oregon for the harvesting season of matsutake mushrooms, which are sold for hundreds of dollars an ounce in Japan.

Who’s there: Sara Dosa (director)

Take: Your favorite foodie.

Go: Monday, May 5, 3:30pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas


A scene from Jeremy Ambers' Impossible Light . Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Get a peek behind the miraculous process of making the Bay Lights happen, from the inconceivable fundraising goals to the ingenious technology that a small group of dreamers pulled off to create the most spectacular night light on earth.

Who’s there: Jeremy Ambers (director)

Take: A proud local.

Go: Wednesday, May 7, 4pm at New People Cinema

Alex of Venice

For this closing night film, actor Chris Messina (Argo, The Mindy Project) makes his directorial debut in the tumultuous drama of an attorney—played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead—grappling with changing family dynamics. Don Johnson gives a knockout performance as her aging actor father.

Who’s there: Chris Messina (director, actor), Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Don Johnson (actors)

Take: Your support system.

Go: Thursday, May 8, 7pm at The Castro Theatre

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