By Jennifer Maerz

The San Francisco International Film Festival is my favorite excuse to binge on movies. We get first crack at indie films that become huge hits and can attend one-of-a-kind events (like watching All That Jazz on the big screen). 

SFIFF kicks off tonight with a screening of The Two Faces of January at the Castro (which, as a Talented Mr. Ripley fan, I'm super geeked out about, as this one's based on a different book by Ripley author Patricia Highsmith) and finishes with Alex of Venice on May 8. In between, there are more screenings and parties than I can even count. 

These are my picks for this year's SFIFF. If you have suggestions to add to the list, please throw them into the comments, I'd love to hear them. 

Feature Films

The biggest movie with local ties and star power is Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford), and co-starring James Franco as a super creepy soccer coach. The dark, stylized drama, based on Franco's book of short stories, floats along in a haze much like Kids or Paranoid Park. It's a portrait of teenage years slowly wasting away. Only rush tickets are available for the May 3 screening, but the film will also have a broad SF release in March. 

Boyhood is another big buzz movie premiering at SFIFF. The Richard Linklater film was shot over 12 years, an experiment by the director to show the aging of a six-year-old named Ellar Coltrane. Co-starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the movie is a slow meditation on growing up. It screens May 2. 

As a sci-fi fan, I'm curious about I Origins (May 7), which stars Michael Pitt and Brit Marling in a drama about big data and the search for perfect eyes. 

One of my favorite directors, Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy) returns to Oregon for Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard in a thriller about a plot to blow up a dam. (May 7 and May 8)

On the funnier side of things, Obvious Child seems intriguing – it combines a fucked-up breakup, standup comedy, and appearances by David Cross and Gaby Hoffman. (May 4 and 6)

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass (yes!) team up for The One I Love, a comedy that one reviewer compared to early Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman collabs. (May 6)

And there's another dream team in The Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as twins in a dysfunctional family. (May 1 and May 2) 

For the Music Lovers Out There

Heaven Adores You is a documentary about one of my all-time favorite musicians, Elliott Smith. The film plays May 5, 7, and 8th. 

20,000 Days on Earth gives Nick Cave fans a chance to see the droll, brooding legend in a "stylish biopic" showing a day in the life of the prolific musician. It screens April 28 and May 1. 

Mike Meyers directed the documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon about the veteran entertainment manager who worked with Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, and Steven Tyler, among others. It screens on April 30th and May 2.

Stephin Merritt is one of this year's silent film soundtrackers this year, offering live musical accompaniment to the Guy Maddin short Sissy Boy Slap Party and the 1927 Joan Crawford film The Unknown at The Castro Theatre on May 6.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are also giving new sonic life to "classic, strange, and funny" soundless pictures on April 29th at the Castro Theatre. 

On the fictional side, We Are the Best! is a proto-riot grrrl movie set in Stockholm in the '80s (May 5 and 7th) and the Spinal Tap-esque Irish comedy Frank with Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal (April 26 and 28th)

Note that these films often sell out early, so grab tickets in advance when possible.