Highlights from the 20th annual Philadelphia Film Festival:
- This local, no-budget production, directed by Jamal Hill, can't help but earn comparisons to "The Wire," and not only because its biggest name is the guy who played Poot, the fourth banana in the Barksdale gang in Season 1. It's not quite up to "The Wire," but "Streets" makes fine use of local locations and even sports a nifty opening theme that samples the "In West Philadelphia..." from the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" theme. (No release date set.)
- The best film I've seen so far at the festival — and one of the best of the year - is both shot in black and white and silent. Yes, that's right, silent. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius and set in the waning days of silent film in the 1920s, "The Artist" is a lovingly shot, beautifully realized love letter to cinema history. The leads — Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo — are both French, as is the director, but most of the supporting cast is recognizable Americans, such as James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman, who is pitch-perfect as a studio boss. But the best performance in the movie is by ... a dog. (Coming in December.)
- The latest from Mumblecore auteurs Mark and Jay Duplass isn't a whole lot better than the rest of their work. Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Judy Greer are three funny and likable people not given a chance to be funny or likable, and the film's ending is especially embarrassing. (Coming in 2012.)
- I think I could spend hours watching elderly men in smoky rooms telling old boxing stories. Including one such room is one of the better decisions of this documentary, produced in conjunction with ESPN Films, about '70s boxer Chuck Wepner, who was almost certainly the inspiration for Philadelphia's most famous sports movie. The film, directed by Michael Tollin, features the now 72-year-old Wepner telling his story cut with old fight footage, clips about the Wepner/Stallone lawsuit, and those aforementioned old men. This is exactly the sort of story that "30 For 30" and the subsequent "ESPN Films presents..." series was invented for. (Premiered at festival; now airing on ESPN.)
The Philadelphia Film Festival continues through Nov. 3.