Portland's had a touch-and-go relationship with its International Film Festival (read my article from last year for a debriefing), but as one of its regular critics its barrage of mid-day press screenings are a crucial component of my annual February coping mechanisms, through which I've been introduced to some of my favorite films of all time. This year's festival, put together by the Northwest Film Center, and in its 34th year, is right around the bend. It opens Thursday, Feb 10 (running through the 26th), with the latest from French director François Ozon (Under the Sand, Swimming Pool, 8 Women), Potiche, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu:

We'll be ferreting out the good ones as quickly as we screen 'em, but if you want to get a jump on the research (the complete schedule will be release on February 1), I've posted the Film Center's own highlights after the jump. A few expansions this year worth noting: The festival is reaching out to the east side, adding Cinemagic to its roster of participating theaters (the Newmark, Broadway, Cinema 21, and the Whitsell), as well as PIFF-specific hangouts providing a designated place to go before and after screenings. These are the "PIFF Lounge" at Nel Centro on the west side (open February 11-26), and "the PIFFbar" across the street from Cinemagic on the east side (1524 SE 20th Ave, open February 18-24). They've also added a number of Oregon-made films, including "Peter D. Richardson’s Sundance-acclaimed documentary How to Die in Oregon; Aaron Katz’s Portland valentine Cold Weather; ...the Portland premiere of Matt McCormick’s first feature film, Some Days are Better Than Others; and a program of “Made in Portland” short films featuring the works of Jim Blashfield, Joanna Priestley, and more."

So, you gonna go?

DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS: At the request of the filmmaker, the name of one of PIFF's local films previously announced by the Northwest Film Center has been redacted, so as to not jeopardize the film's chance of playing at SXSW. —Erik Henriksen, Senior Editor (edit made: January 21, 2011, 12:53 pm)

The Northwest Film Center's highlights:

Among this year’s Festival line-up are international award winners Honey (dir. Semih Kaplanoglu, Turkey), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand), which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes; and Son of Babylon (dir. Mohamed Al-Daradji, Iraq), which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Other highly regarded films include Of Gods and Men (dir. Xavier Beauvois, France), the harrowing true story of French monks threatened by the encroaching Algerian Civil War; When We Leave (dir. Feo Aladag, Germany), about the plight of a Turkish German woman facing abuse and oppression; and the latest film from acclaimed director Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy (France), starring Juliette Binoche as an antiques dealer exploring art and love in the Tuscan countryside.