So, maybe you're like me, and for months, you've been doggedly tracking every festival over the past year, from Toronto to Sundance to Cannes, seeing what the big films are, hoping they'll come to Auckland for the two week winter holiday we know as the New Zealand International Film Festival. Then, after following every news release dripped from the web site and email list, you pick up the schedule the day it goes on sale, and spend hour after agonizing hour figuring out how to schedule them all in, which titles to drop, reshuffling things as you hear about yet another film that suddenly becomes unmissable.
Or, maybe you have a life.
If you're the latter, but still want to seem all "cultured" and shit, or just want to see some awesome films that you might miss out on otherwise, well, I'm here for you! Herewith, ten highly regarded films (in no particular order) you might want to check out, and some short reasons why. (I've left out films that will likely get theatrical releases, most notably THE TREE OF LIFE and SUBMARINE, because you'll get to see them elsewhere; some of these may never turn back.) And if you want to hear more about them, well, let's just say I might be able to help you out soon ...
aka "that crazy Greek film"
Athina Rachel Tsangari is a relatively unknown quantity as a director, but she produced the surreal, controversial, and masterful DOGTOOTH that played two years ago at NZFF. ATTENBERG doesn't reach for the more uncomfortably provocative moments of DOGTOOTH, apparently, but still explores similar subject matter - characters who are estranged from "normal" humanity as we know it, trying to make sense of the world in funny, sad, and uncomfortable ways.
2. I SAW THE DEVIL
aka "that dark as fuck Korean film"
Kim Jee-Woon is most highly regarded for A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, one of the highlights of Korean cinema and horror filmmaking alike. He's a bold stylist who hops between genres - A BITTERSWEET LIFE took on gangster films, and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD took on the Western. Now, he takes on the revenge film, in a movie so bloody that Korea censored it locally. Not for everybody, but I can say confidently: this will be a very, very memorable film.
3. OKI'S MOVIE
aka "that really talky Korean film"
As Kim Jee-Woon hops genres, his fellow countryman Hong Sang Soo does the opposite - his films are so of a piece stylistically and content wise, it was a big deal when he started using the zoom lens. His stories of self-absorbed creatives struggling in matters of the heart make you smile and cringe by turn; it's low key, but there's something uniquely honest, and his films are next to impossible to see outside of a fest setting (most aren't even in print on DVD). They're not for everybody, but his films have an additive power that have made me a lifetime fan (I've seen them all); if you really want to dig in, you can get a double dose this year, with THE DAY HE ARRIVES also screening.
4. KILL LIST
aka "that British film where ... oh, wait you haven't seen it? I'm not saying anything"
I'm not saying anything.
Ok, that's not quite fair. It involves hitmen, and it's playing the Incredibly Strange section, and it goes through at least three different genres in its runtime. I know more about this film than I'd like to; there's a film I could compare it to, but to do so would give up the game. If you like your movies dark, smart, and surprising, buy a ticket now.
5. THE TURIN HORSE
aka "that really fucking slow Hungarian film"
I'm already fast forwarding to the future, where someone has punched me in the face for recommending this. It's easily the most arty thing on this list; black and white, long takes, and so slow it's in the "Slow Cinema" section. In my defense? Bela Tarr is a legendary director, this may well be his last film (at least, he's claimed it will be), and on the big screen, for those whose nervous systems are willing to adapt to its pace, this will be the masterwork of the festival.
6. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
aka "that one about the cults with an Olsen twin"
A dark drama about cults may provide an instinctual revulsion reaction from a country recently traumatized by THE CULT, but curb your hostility. It's been a standout at both Sundance and Cannes, it's got a brilliant supporting cast (including John Hawkes, who stole WINTER'S BONE at last year's festival), it's from the same filmmaking team that did the little-heralded but stunning AFTERSCHOOL, and I'll be shocked if it's not in my top five for the festival.
aka "that documentary about the insane woman"
In a just world, saying that TABLOID is the new film from Errol Morris - responsible for THE THIN BLUE LINE, THE FOG OF WAR, FAST CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL, and so many more - would be all you need to know, and the resultant stampede to the box office would leave TRANSFORMERS 3 bruised and bloodied in the distance. Meanwhile, in this sad plane we call reality, how do I lure you? Maybe like this: I'm reasonably confident that this exploration of a sex scandal will be the most entertaining and most well-directed doco in the fest this year, with a subject so crazy she's now stalking sessions in disguise and crashing Q & As.
8. 13 ASSASSINS
aka "that Japanese one with the amazing action scene at the end"
Speaking of TRANSFORMERS 3, if you want to watch a movie that ends with an astonishing, visionary 40 minute action sequence, but don't want the shame and embarrassment of having seen TRANSFORMERS 3, the hyper-prolific Takashi Miike has a present for you. A love letter to samurai films (a personal favorite genre of mine), 13 ASSASSINS promises to be both a career highlight for Miike and one of the most electrifying films of the festival.
9. MY JOY
aka "what the hell was that Ukrainian film about?"
I have a huge bias towards what could be called "anti-realistic" filmmaking: to me, one of the glories of art is that you aren't constrained by the rules of reality, so why follow them? Films as diverse as CERTIFIED COPY and RUBBER, or YOU THE LIVING and DOGTOOTH, all fit into what for me into that camp. Proudly flying the "anti-realistic" banner, and hopefully deserving of being listed in the same breath as those films, the first dramatic feature by documentary director Sergei Loznitsa promises to take us on a dark ride through contemporary Russia; shot in a documentary style, it's nonetheless often described as a horror film, and names like Bunuel and Kafka have been invoked.
10. THE INNKEEPERS
aka "that haunted hotel movie"
Amidst an especially bloody Incredibly Strange lineup, along comes a quieter film that might be overlooked. It shouldn't be. Director Ti West has made the best horror film of the last few years with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, so anything he's up to next is worth a look; this ghost story, inspired by experiences making DEVIL, promises to be a endearingly creepy journey, particularly suitable for those who want to check out the Incredibly Strange section but have no taste for gore. And furthermore, he's here in person!
eleven more: THE LAST CIRCUS, COLD FISH, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, LE QUATTRO VOLTE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, THE WOMAN, THE YELLOW SEA, ELENA, PINA, and AITA.
For more info, check out the NZFF page!
EDITED TO ADD: Also, fellow Auckland cinenthusiast Jacob Powell and I have recorded a two part podcast previewing the best NZFF has on offer this year as we inaugurate the Best Worst Podcast and explain the Circle of Quality. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. 2+ hours all up. Yes, we talk a lot.