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Oscar's Favorite

Our hometown film festival has a knack for picking the hits.

The excitement pops like fireworks as film lovers gear up for a movie marvel at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Whether you’ve been attending since its inception in 1978 or more recently, it’s always a surprise. Here are a few Oscar-winning films that premiered at the MVFF and are now available on DVD.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE 1990 He was a wealthy socialite with the evocative name of Claus von Bulow. When he is accused of giving his wife a nearlethal overdose of insulin, the socialite hires lawyer Alan Dershowitz to defend him. Based on the book by Dershowitz; Jeremy Irons stands out as the creepy and eccentric Claus, winning the Oscar for Best Actor.

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY 1994 These days, Woody Allen comes to Mill Valley to play with his New Orleans jazz band. But his onscreen presence has consistently been at the MVFF. Bullets Over Broadway takes us to Jazz Age New York with a poetic hit man, a dramatic diva, a matinee idol and an aging ingenue. One of Allen’s best, with a Supporting Oscar win for Dianne Wiest.

SHINE 1996 One can often meet talented artists at the festival, including Geoffrey Rush. He and I go back a number of years, to when I helped promote Philip Kaufman’s Quills, in which he starred. Geoffrey and I had to explain to some people who the Marquis de Sade was. Not easy! The movie he won the Oscar for was Shine, shown at the MVFF in 1996. The story of pianist David Helfgott goes from psychiatric institutions to world stages. Helfgott himself plays the piano for his screen counterparts.

GODS AND MONSTERS 1998 The Mill Valley Film Festival takes chances, doesn’t play it safe and ignores most of the superhero-type Hollywood movies. When the festival premiered Gods and Monsters, it had all of us raving about James Whale, the director of Universal horror films like Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man who also lived an openly gay life. Ian McKellen stars with an almost unrecognizable Lynn Redgrave. McKellen has since been back to the festival, giving me a fun moment of live television. He was promoting a film and had just returned from getting knighted by the Queen. Since it was live news, his PR person nervously asked me not to mention that Sir Ian is a gay man himself. As soon as I was on the air with him, I said, “Congratulations on your knighthood.” “Yes,” declared Ian, “an old queen knighted an old queen.”

THE KING’S SPEECH 2010 Back to Geoffrey Rush, this time opposite Colin Firth in one of the best films of the last decade, The King’s Speech. It is based on the true story of King George VI, suffering since childhood with a stammer and seeking the help of an irreverent, unconventional speech therapist. Actor, director, screenplay and film all took home Oscars, but the people who viewed it at the MVFF were the true winners — they saw it before all the hype and promotion.

SPOTLIGHT 2015 From Network (a film so prescient it plays like a documentary today) to All the President’s Men to Sweet Smell of Success, movies about the media and journalists remind us of the relevance of film. Spotlight tells a story that might have just changed the world with its exposé of a church cover-up in Boston. Leave it to the MVFF to have us all buzzing about this remarkable movie after its screening but before it won Best Picture.

And a few more … Be sure to also add Frida, Requiem for a Dream, The Queen, Moonlight and La La Land to your must-see list.

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