Nantucket Film Festival: Did Day Four Just Bring Us Our First Best Picture Contender?

Leslie Dixon, 'Mickey and the Bear,' 'Master Maggie,' and 'The Peanut Butter Falcon' Highlight Day Four

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Nantucket Film Festival: Day four at Nantucket began with an invitation-only event: The Mentors Brunch, featuring Leslie Dixon, the recipient of this year’s Screenwriters Tribute Award. This is the highest achievement given out each year at the Nantucket Film Festival, honoring “an individual whose history in screenwriting has made a distinct impact on American cinema.”

Dixon has a long-lasting career in the business, having written the screenplays for such films as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Overboard,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Hairspray,” and “Freaky Friday.” Past honorees of this award include Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull”), Oliver Stone (“Platoon,” “Scarface”), Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Being John Malkovich”), and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “The West Wing”).

The award was presented by actresses Brittany Snow (whose directorial debut, “Milkshake,” premiered at the festival) and Nikki Blonsky. Both ladies starred in Dixon’s “Hairspray.”

I was able to listen to Dixon vibrantly and enthusiastically address her audience, discussing her career, but had to leave the event early for my first showing of the day: Annabelle Attanasio’s “Mickey and the Bear.” You can find the complete review for Attanasio’s debut feature film coming soon on the site.

Amidst a torrential downpour, I was able to screen Matthew Bonifacio’s short film, “Master Maggie.” The film stars Lorraine Bracco in the titular role, the premiere celebrity acting coach in the business. Her lesson with actor Brian Dennehy is interrupted by Graham (Neil Jain), a struggling actor trying to get his start. With an audition for “Law & Order” looming the next day, Graham is desperate for Maggie’s help.

Maggie reluctantly decides to assist the amateur with getting his big break. She is fierce and driven, pushing Graham to find his confidence. They work together on a scene where his character’s wife has been killed, and he must give his testimony to the jury. We watch her work her magic, and wait to see if Graham will land the role he covets.

“Master Maggie” is a visually captivating, wholly imaginative delight. Bonifacio co-wrote and co-produced the movie with his wife, Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio, who is credited with the inception of the magnificent ending. The husband/wife pair have been producing films together for over ten years, though this is their first collaboration with writing a screenplay. The result is an absolute triumph.

Bonifacio shows he has an eye for a scene, as most of the film takes place in one setting. Perhaps his theater background allowed him the presence of mind to keep the frame fluid and interesting. He achieves outstanding performances from his leads, as well as a brief cameo from Dennehy that made me yearn for a remake of “The Untouchables.” Here’s hoping the Bonifacios continue to write imaginative and unconventional screenplays together moving forward, and that their film ends up on the shortlist for the Live Action Short Academy Award.

“Master Maggie” is produced by Goodface Films and is currently seeking distribution.

GRADE: (★½)

We closed day four with what might go down as the highlight of the festival: Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson’s “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” Following the film, the directors and star, Zack Gottsagen, participated in a Q&A. I was able to spend some time talking to the trio after that wrapped as well. Their passion for their film was palpable and the type of enthusiasm that could be contagious on the awards circuit if the film has the right Oscar campaign – which it definitely should. I believe we have our first true Best Picture contender with this film. Full review coming for “The Peanut Butter Falcon” as well, but I will tell you now, you will not want to miss this movie.

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