As it turns out, I’ve been slightly remiss when it comes to praising this year’s 25th edition of AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi. I’ve tossed off comments about how the festival gets better with every passing year, but in the wake of today’s announcement of the festival’s Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings, I’ve realized that I have not gone far enough. AFI FEST has not just gotten better this year, the festival has made a dramatic jump to top-tier status, rolling out titles that play like a cinephile’s Christmas list for 2011.

Today’s lineup announcement is essentially a “best-of” list of this year’s festival favorites, including Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist, Steve McQueen‘s Shame, Oren Moverman‘s Rampart, Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Roman Polanski‘s Carnage, Simon Curtis‘s My Week with Marilyn, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala, and Wim Wenders‘s Pina.

AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27).

After the break, check out the full list, including descriptions and showtimes, of the films to be featured as AFI FEST Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings.

CENTERPIECE GALAS:
THE LADY: Luc Besson tackles the inspiring true story of Burmese activist, leader and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, exquisitely portrayed by Michelle Yeoh. DIR Luc Besson. SCR Rebecca Frayn. CAST Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse, Susan Wooldridge, Benedict Wong. France/UK.
Friday, November 4, 7:00 p.m., The Chinese

CARNAGE: Roman Polanski directs a dream cast of Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly in a razor-sharp, acidly funny comedy of ill manners. DIR Roman Polanski. SCR Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski. CAST Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly. France/Germany/Poland.
Saturday, November 5, 7:00 p.m., The Chinese

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN: Michelle Williams gives a luminous performance as Marilyn Monroe, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in this intimate portrait of the tragic Hollywood icon. DIR Simon Curtis. SCR Adrian Hodges. CAST Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson. UK.
Sunday, November 6, 6:00 p.m., The Chinese

LAW OF DESIRE – An Evening with Pedro Almodóvar: An evening in celebration of Pedro Almodóvar and the 25th anniversary of El Deseo, the production company that he founded with his brother, Augustin Almodóvar; the event will consist of a conversation with Pedro Almodóvar and a screening of El Deseo’s first film, LAW OF DESIRE. DIR Pedro Almodóvar. SCR Pedro Almodóvar. CAST Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Miguel Molina. Spain.
Monday, November 7, 7:00 p.m., The Chinese

THE ARTIST: Silence is golden in director Michel Haznavicius’ delightful and dialogue-less black-and-white feature about Hollywood’s bumpy transition from silent films to “talkies.” DIR/SCR Michel Hazanavicius. CAST Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle. USA.
Tuesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., The Chinese

SHAME: In director Steve McQueen’s searing follow-up to HUNGER, Michael Fassbender delivers a fearless portrayal of a man spiraling out of control into sexual addiction. DIR Steve McQueen. SCR Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen. CAST Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie. UK.
Wednesday, November 9, 7:30 p.m., The Chinese

SPECIAL SCREENINGS:
BUTTER: Jennifer Garner stars in this comedy about a Midwestern housewife who embarks on a ruthless campaign to conquer the world of competitive butter carving. DIR Jim Field Smith. SCR Jason A. Micallef. CAST Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Pruitt Taylor Vince. USA.
Sunday, November 6, 6:30 p.m., Chinese 1

CORIOLANUS: In his directing debut, Ralph Fiennes masterfully adapts Shakespeare’s gripping tragedy about power, politics and pride into a bracingly modern and urgent political thriller. DIR Ralph Fiennes. SCR John Logan. CAST Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain. UK.
Monday, November 7, 7:30 p.m., Chinese 1 and Tuesday, November 8, 1:30 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian

I MELT WITH YOU: Four friends gather for an annual birthday celebration in Big Sur and come face to face with the hard truths of who they have become. DIR Mark Pellington. SCR Glenn Porter (based on the story by Glenn Porter and Mark Pellington). CAST Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay, Carla Gugino, Sasha Grey. Canada/USA.
Monday, November 7, 8:00 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian and Wednesday, November 9, 1:45 p.m., Chinese 1

INTO THE ABYSS: In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill – and why a state kills. Like a modern IN COLD BLOOD, Herzog’s investigation unveils layers of humanity, making an enlightening trip out of ominous territory. DIR Werner Herzog. USA.
Sunday, November 6, 5:30 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian and Monday, November 7, 1:15 p.m., Chinese 3

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME: On his way to the store to buy wood glue, Jeff looks for signs from the universe to determine his path. However, a series of comedic and unexpected events leads him to cross paths with his family in the strangest of locations and circumstances. DIR/SCR Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass. CAST Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon. USA.
Tuesday, November 8, 7:00 p.m., Chinese 1 and Wednesday, November 9, 2:00 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian

THE KID WITH A BIKE: Awarded the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this tale of redemptive love bares the Dardennes’ evocative signature style. CAST Cécile de France, Thomas Doret, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Egon Di Mateo, Olivier Gourmet. Belgium/France/Italy.
Tuesday, November 8, 8:00 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian and Thursday, November 10, 11:00 a.m., Chinese 1

MELANCHOLIA: Denmark’s most celebrated and notorious filmmaker returns with a drama about depression, severely dysfunctional families and the end of the world. DIR/SCR Lars von Trier. CAST Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Kiefer Sutherland. Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany.
Sunday, November 6, 8:30 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian and Tuesday, November 8, 3:15 p.m., Chinese 3

MISS BALA: Gerardo Naranjo’s haunting and elegant film tells the story of a beauty pageant hopeful swept up in the violent world of Mexico’s drug cartels. Naranjo is a graduate of the AFI Conservatory (AFI Class of 2001). DIR Gerardo Naranjo. DIR/SCR Gerardo Naranjo, Mauricio Katz. CAST Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez, James Russo. Mexico’s official foreign-language Oscar submission.
Friday, November 4, 8:30 p.m., Rigler Theatre, Egyptian

PINA: Wim Wenders captures the world of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company in spectacular 3D with thrilling performances of many of her most famous works. DIR/SCR Wim Wenders. CAST Ensemble of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. Germany/France. Germany’s official foreign-language Oscar submission.
Saturday, November 5, 7:45 p.m., Chinese 1 and Monday, November 7, 4:00 p.m., Chinese 1

RAMPART: Woody Harrelson gives a ferocious performance as a dirty cop who is embroiled in the Los Angeles Police Department’s infamous Rampart corruption scandal. DIR Oren Moverman. SCR James Ellroy, Oren Moverman. CAST Woody Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon. USA.
Saturday, November 5, 10:00 p.m., The Chinese

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN: Tilda Swinton gives a career defining performance as Eva, a reluctant mother whose contentious relationship with her evil son sheds new light on the nature vs. nurture debate. DIR Lynne Ramsay. SCR Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear. CAST Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller. UK.
Wednesday, November 9, 8:00 p.m., Chinese 1 and Thursday, November 10, 4:00 p.m., Chinese 6


Check out more about AFI FEST at their official website.


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