Now in its 28th year, the Virginia International Film Festival, held in Charlottesville, Va, screens over 100 films over four days. From documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters to one true snoozer, I was lucky enough to see a number of films at this year’s fest. Read on for info on flicks you can check out for yourself in the next few weeks and months.

I Saw the Light
Set to be released in March, 2016
Directed by Marc Abraham, this biography follows the last six years of country singer Hank Williams’ life (he died at age 29). The film’s utter lack of context left me scratching my head, but Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Hank helped make up for it. Hiddleston is British and best known for action flicks like Thor, yet he and the other actors all do their own singing in I Saw the Light. From the film’s titular song to “Move it on Over” to “Hey Good Lookin'” Hiddleston nails his role as Hank. Elizabeth Olsen — the Olsen family’s best product — shines as Hank’s first wife, Audrey Williams, although her thick accent is often impossible to understand. 

Set to be released December 31, 2015
I wish I liked Ithaca. As Meg Ryan, my When Harry Met Sally girl crush of many years, sat on stage and explained her film after its screening, I still wished that I liked it. But I didn’t. The film, directed by Ryan, is based on William Saroyan’s 1943 novel The Human Comedy, a WWII drama/coming of age story. Ryan describes her film as “wholesome,” which I would call a euphemism for corny as hell. The WWII drama(ish) follows Homer Macauley as he comes-of-age through the distribution of telegraphs — hint: they tell parents that their soldiers have died. The film’s shining star is Ulysses, the five-year-old brother of Homer who grins and giggles and reveals that tow-headed kids are the world’s best medicine. Watch for Tom Hanks’ cameo as Mrs. Macauley’s (played by Ryan, obviously) deceased husband.[image-3]

Inspired to Ride
Available on Amazon and iTunes Fri. Nov. 13
Mike Dion’s documentary Inspired to Ride follows 45 cyclists as they race the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, which starts on the West coast and traverses over 4,000 miles to end in Yorktown, Va. That’s about it for plot summary — but don’t be fooled by an initial response to dismiss this flick as a cyclist nerd’s wet dream. I laughed, cried, and cheered my way through all 88 minutes of the film, not once taking my eyes off the screen. I fell in love with some cyclists and I grew to hate others. This film is remarkable in its ability to transcend a niche and captivate a diverse audience (to be fair most Charlottesvillians are crunchy, so a lot of them really are cyclists). 

Some Beasts
Still making film fest circuits
You can’t currently stream this film which is vaguely described as a “modern-day Thoreau reconciling his place in a lawless world”  — but one day you may be able to. And I recommend that you do not. Unless, of course, you’re half a bottle of red deep and need a solid 90 min. nap.

Secret in Their Eyes
Set to be released on Nov. 20, 2015
Secret in Their Eyes, directed by Billy Ray and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, was the VIFF’s “sneak preview” film on Saturday night. That meant a sold-out crowd bought tickets to a film they knew nothing about. What fun! We were not disappointed with this thriller, which opens with an FBI crew finding the dead body of one of their daughters (this is all in the trailer, FYI). The FBI/terrorist storyline is pretty thin but Julia Roberts is running around like a crazed badass so who really cares? Go for the stars, stay for the ridiculously awesome plot twists.