I guess I should get the disclosure out of the way first. I am a "programming associate" at AFI FEST 2008. That said, I pretty much had nothing to do with selecting any of the films I'm about to mention, and to even give myself anything resembling credit would greatly undermine the hard work and stress undergone by the fest's full-time programmers. So here we go, in alphabetical order, what I'm most eager to catch:
The unappointed poet laureate of "new" China, Jia Zhang-ke sets actors and locals against a sprawling factory being dismantled to make way for a high-rise in this HD panorama of modernity 2.0.
The Three Wise Men traverse a barren expanse under curling tresses of clouds to reach Jesus Christ in Catalan minimalist Albert Serra's second feature. Cinema Scope editor and Vancouver Film Festival programmer Mark Peranson stars as Joseph, and he's also made an intimate "sort of making-of" entitled Waiting for Sancho that will thankfully be screening as well.
The Headless Woman
Argentine director Lucretia Martel's long-awaited third film elusively appoints, through liminal sounds and CinemaScope friezes, the moral landscape of a woman who may or may not have hit someone with her car.
Another trilogy finale, this one from Argentina's master of sparseness Lisandro Alonso as he follows a lonesome seaman on an encounter at the end of the world (snowy Tierra del Fuego to be exact).
The big surprise at Cannes (it won Un Certain Regard), this Kazakh film from onetime documentarian Sergei Dvortsevsky is an immersive portrait of nomad sheepherders which includes a breathtaking single-take scene of literal life-affirmation.