MSPIFF42 Ranked and Recapped
April 29, 2023
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF, or “Ms. Piff” as it’s said here) is a much-awaited annual event for cinephiles in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Every year, the festival showcases a diverse selection of films from around the world, ranging from documentaries to independent films, and even cult classics. As a movie enthusiast, I had the opportunity to attend the festival this year and watch several films.
In this article, I will be ranking the films I saw at the MSP Film Festival. From thought-provoking dramas to hilarious comedies, these films left a lasting impression on me, and I hope to provide you with an insight into the best of the festival.
9. Dreamin' Wild
Writer/director Bill Pohlad’s sophomore feature may be a slightly inferior carbon copy of his debut outing Love & Mercy. Still, his love and appreciation for the Emerson musical duo is always evident, almost as if he made the movie more for them than the paying audiences. That emotional reverence is what I walked away from the movie feeling the most, which is more than I can say about the majority of biopics these days. Full Review
8. The Beasts
The central themes within The Beasts are both specific to its setting and universal within every country on Earth. It’s what makes it both compelling to a worldwide audience, and also why it lacks depth below the surface. The back-and-forth arguing and vitriol pads out most of the runtime until the expected climactic moment, where writer/director Rodrigo Sorogoyen allows himself to flourish with a creative perspective shift.
The production values and directorial skill are always abundant, with the actors relishing in the extended scenes and long takes. If only there was more meat on this skeleton of a story.
7. Showing Up
In its low-key nature, Showing Up can be a comforting ode to small artists persevering to put their creations into the world. Unlike Lizzy’s clay creations that start as wet messes and end up as fully formed creations, Reichardt’s work stops just short of the kiln and ends up feeling more like a shallow puddle of good ideas. I’ve seen this movie twice now, and I wouldn’t be that opposed to another watch somewhere down the road. Full Review
6. Somewhere in Queens
After so many years of being lost in the Ice Age films, comedian Ray Romano returns to his Italian-American roots with Somewhere in Queens. The idea of a parent molding their child into a reflection of themselves may not be the most unique theme, but Romano finds both the humor and heart within the situation. Laurie Metcalf plays the mother, bringing great comedic energy and some surprising pathos to a character that easily could have been a throwaway cutout.
5. Polite Society
Polite Society is an impressive debut from all those involved (writer/director Nida Manzoor and star Priya Kansara), as it’s only slightly undone by minor problems that are symptoms of its ambitions. It’s both a takedown and love letter to the works of Jane Austen, making a delectable time out of having its cake and eating it too. Full Review
Featuring five different spoken languages (Romanian, Hungarian, German, French, and English) and characters from all different walks of life, Cristian Mungiu’s newest visual essay tells a universal story within one specific Transylvanian village. As is tradition for Mungiu, each scene is realized in unbroken takes, with the climactic town-hall meeting unfolding across 17 minutes and featuring dozens of characters.
While there are no clichés, this is a story that has been told time and time again, unfortunately, led by the least interesting character of the ensemble. The naturalism is abruptly broken by the ambiguous final shot, leaving you with a disquieting outlook on this specific village, as well as the entire world.
3. Tori and Lokita
The newest film from the Belgian brotherly duo of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne finds them once again examining the miscarriages of social justice within their native country. Their handheld long takes and lack of score capture the harsh reality of society. There’s also a propulsive energy to the film, with the semi-criminal elements keeping the 85-minute feature (a staple length for the brothers) moving at a brisk pace.
The realism of the situation and themes are slightly undone by the script, which paints everything in such mutually exclusive strokes. But there is power in those overbearing moments, as you’re left with another stark reminder of how the laws of the Western world provide little aid to those that need them the most.
Time has not been an ally for the BlackBerry phone, but I believe it will be for this movie. While the other movies in this growing subgenre built themselves largely around the iconography of the brand, Johnson always has his sights set on the people behind the machine, which is what makes this specific story that much more compelling and rewatchable. Full Review
1. Cairo Conspiracy
Corruption runs rampant in the holiest of places within Cairo Conspiracy, as faith is used to broker further advances of power. Writer/director Tarik Saleh tells an overlapping story of politics and religion, molding his message within the old-fashioned espionage thriller genre to fantastic results. It’s both entertaining and enlightening, leaving you with something to ponder long after the credits roll.