Picks from the 2013 NZ International Film Festival programme

NZIFF 2013 Picks

Every cinephile’s favourite time of the year is fast approaching as the New Zealand International Film Festival prepares to take over Auckland screens for two-and-a-half glorious weeks from July 18. The festival launched their 2013 programme recently, and after spending more time than I care to admit obsessively studying the line-up and preparing my schedule, I have broken down the selection into some easily digestible categories that should help you make sense of it all. As an additional measure to ease the decision-making process, you can also find below my list of 25 must-see films at NZIFF 2013. Be sure to check back for reviews and coverage throughout the festival, and as always keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for more frequent updates.


Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas shines as Liberace in opening night film Behind the Candelabra

The 2013 NZIFF will curiously open with Behind the Candelabra, a rare HBO film to screen in competition at the prestigious festival that is also noteworthy for its celebrated comeback performance from Michael Douglas as Liberace, as well as being Steven Soderbergh’s farewell to cinema (for now, let’s hope). Proceedings will officially close with Jim Jarmusch’s feverishly-anticipated vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive, which stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston and looks to be at once a fascinating new direction and strong return to form for the quirky auteur. In-between we will be treated to a promising collection of in-competition films and winners, including Paolo Sorrentino’s stunning-looking return to Italian cinema, The Great Beauty; the French-language follow-up to A Separation from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, The Past (Best Actress: Bérénice Bejo); Jia Zhang-ke’s Chinese crime saga, A Touch of Sin (Best Screenplay); Hirokazu Kore-era follows up last year’s heartwarming I Wish with another family drama, Like Father, Like Son (Jury Prize); Amat Escalante’s divisive and challenging Mexican crime drama, Heli (Best Director); and a long-awaited, oft-debated 2012 winner whose inclusion should please many — Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux (Best Director). Several exciting films from the Un Certain Regard section are also featured, including Sofia Coppola’s based-on-a-true-Hollywood-story, The Bling Ring; Cambodian Khmer Rouge documentary The Missing Picture (Un Certain Regard Prize); Alain Guirandie’s intriguing French mystery/gay love story, Stranger by the Lake (Best Director); and Philippine slow-cinema epic Norte, the End of History, which clocks in at over four hours. The Director’s Fortnight section can always be relied upon for some leftfield highlights (last year’s NoSightseers and Room 237), and this year’s selection features the return of avant-garde hero Alejandro Jodorowsky with The Dance of Reality, Clio Barnard’s well-received British drama The Selfish Giant, and Anthony Chen’s Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo — the first Singaporean feature to win an award at Cannes.

Note: The Steven Spielberg-headed jury awarded the Palme d’Or to Abdellatif Kechiche’s sexually explicit lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color, but unfortunately that film is not ready for international circuits due to an apparent recut. Other in-competition films missing from the programme include the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, James Gray’s The Immigrant and Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman.


Outrage Beyond

Japanese maestro Takeshi Kitano returns to violent yakuza territory with Outrage Beyond

On top of the aforementioned directing talent from Cannes, this year’s programme is bursting at the seems with big name directors, several of whom are making a comeback. The most remarkable of these is the return of fiercely independent Primer filmmaker Shane Carruth, who had a long and painstaking journey to bring another film to the screen and delivers magnificently with Upstream Color. After dabbling with experimental works unsuccessfully for the better part of the past decade, Takeshi Kitano returned to the yakuza underworld in 2010 with Outrage — his strongest film since Zatoichi — and he follows that up now with the even-better-received Outrage Beyond. Following a disappointing venture into Hollywood filmmaking, eccentric French director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine…) returned home to make Mood Indigo with the always-appealing duo of Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. Swimming Pool director François Ozon looks to be back in fine form with the witty drama In the House; Sally Potter (Orlando) gets a star-making performance out of Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa; Spanish trailblazer Pedro Almodóvar (Volver) returns to his roots for the sex comedy I’m So Excited; Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy) relocates once more, this time heading to Tokyo for Like Someone In Love; Brooklyn writer/director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg) collaborates with his leading lady Greta Gerwig on the much-anticipated Frances Ha; rising Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) crafts a unique adventure story starring 2012 MVP Matthew McConaughey in Mud; and reclusive nature-enthusiast Terrence Malick pulls off the quickest turn-around of his career with the beautiful The Tree of Life follow-up, To the Wonder.


Dirty Wars

Journalist Jeremy Scahill in Afghanistan, filming Rick Rowley’s Dirty Wars

A cursory glance at this programme is enough to realise that we are living in the golden era of documentary filmmaking, with seemingly more quality docs being produced each year than the previous one, and — if the growing success of the Documentary Edge Festival is any proof — audiences are responding enthusiastically to this. With Edward Snowden and the N.S.A. still dominating international headlines, it’s rather apt that many of this year’s documentaries are concerned with secrets. Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers features unprecedented interviews with all surviving former heads of the Israeli secret service agency Shin Bet; Richard Rowley’s vital doco-thriller Dirty Wars investigates America’s expanding, shadowy covert wars under the Obama administration; Sarah Polley’s wonderful and personal Stories We Tell uncovers some surprising family revelations; and preeminent American political stirrer Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Client 9) proves increasingly prolific with two offerings this year — the first, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, offers an expose of the Catholic church’s shocking record of covering up child abuse scandals, while the second, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, is a very relevant look at the rise and evolution of WikiLeaks and online espionage. It’s not all cloak and dagger though, as music lovers can look forward to Twenty Feet From Stardom — a joyous celebration of backup singer featuring Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen — as well as Tom Berninger’s subjective behind-the-scenes look at his brother’s band, The National, in Mistaken for Strangers, and Simon Ogston’s portrait of underground Kiwi rock act Skeptics in Sheen of Gold. Joshua Oppenheimer occupies the heart of darkness spot usually reserved for Executive Producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris with his Indonesian atrocities reenactment, The Act of Killing, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s acclaimed Leviathan promises to take us on an immersive and unnerving journey into the North Atlantic on board a commercial fishing ship.



Pablo Berger’s silent cinema homage Blancanieves reimagines Snow White as a 1920s matador

One of the best things about the NZ International Film Festival is stumbling upon a great under-the-radar foreign film that you won’t have the opportunity to see elsewhere. A number of exciting world cinema films have already been mentioned in the Cannes and Director sections above, but this is a chance to consider some less obvious options: prolific Korean filmmaker Sang-soo Hong follows-up last year’s In Another Country with Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, detailing the secret relationship between a student and teacher; from Saudi Arabia, where cinema is illegal, Haifaa Al Mansour has made the country’s first film, Wadjda; Isreali filmmaker Rama Burshtein has been impressing critics with her confident debut, Fill the Void, set in the strict Orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv; Margarethe von Trotta enlists legendary German actress Barbara Sukowa to portray the titular writer-philosopher icon of Hannah Arendt; Australian documentarian Kim Mordaunt makes her feature debut with the Laos-set drama The Rocket, which is already being touted as a Best Foreign Film Oscar contender; Tobias Lindholm’s fictional account of a Danish cargo ship ambushed by Somali pirates, A Hijacking, has been hailed as vastly superior to its Hollywood counterparts; and Pablo Berger’s lavish Blancanieves, a silent, black-and-white take on the Snow White fable — as a matador in 1920s Spain — has the potential to be this year’s The Artist.


The East

Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgård co-star in Zal Batmanglij’s eco-thriller The East

Representing the best of independent cinema this year are a bevy of Sundance Film Festival favourites, including David Gordon Green’s (Undertow) overdue return to indie filmmaking with Prince Avalanche, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch; Andrew Bujalski’s much-buzzed, retro-styled nerd drama Computer Chess; James Ponsoldt’s (Smashed) warmly received The Spectacular Now, which was awarded the 2013 Special Jury Prize (Dramatic); Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice) is back with eco-thriller The East, once again collaborating with talented writer/actress Brit Marling; and comedian Mike Birbiglia’s autobiographical 2012 breakout Sleepwalk With Me finally finds its way to NZ screens. From the Toronto International Film Festival we have Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s promising adaptation of What Maisie Knew; and Joss Whedon follows up one of the biggest films of all time (The Avengers) with a small-scale, black-and-white production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.


Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier’s revenge thriller Blue Ruin screened at the 2013 Cannes Director’s Fortnight

Incredibly Strange programmer Ant Timpson once again provides an eclectic sampling of bizarre and disturbing cult cinema from across the globe, including Adam Wingard’s slasher flick You’re Next, which was a favourite at Fantastic Fest and may be this year’s answer to The Cabin in the Woods; Sebastián Silva directs a very creepy Michael Cera and terrified Juno Temple in Chilean thriller Magic Magic; Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino’s A Band Called Death looks to be a fascinating account of the first black punk band, Death; Japan’s relentlessly prolific Takashi Miike’s is back yet again with a ridiculous-looking classroom thriller, Lesson of the Evil; Jeremy Saulnier promises a unique riff on the revenge genre with Blue Ruin; director Franck Khalfoun (P2) and writer Alexandre Aja (High Tension) remake the gory, voyeuristic ’80s horror Maniac, with Elijah Wood as the titular psycho; and British cult hero Ben Wheatley (Kill List) returns with A Field in England, a psychedelic folk horror set during the English Civil War.


Dial M for Murder 3D

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Dial M for Murder returns in rarely-seen 3D

Alfred Hitchcock fans can look forward to experiencing two classics from the Master of Suspense on the big screen this year, as 4K restorations of 1959’s remarkable North by Northwest and 1954’s Dial M for Murder head our way — the latter in its rarely-seen original 3D format. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s venerable NZIFF collaboration continues this year with Buster Keaton’s last great film, 1928’s The Cameraman, which will be preceded by his 1922 short Cops. King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece The Crowd will be accompanied by a new score from Johannes Contag, performed by Wellington’s SMP Ensemble; Satyajit Ray’s 1964 landmark of Indian cinema, Charulata, has received a brand new digital restoration; New Zealand classic Utu has been given a Redux cut for its 30th anniversary by director Geoff Murphy; and last, but certainly not least, Italian prog-rockers Goblin will appear for one night only at the Civic to perform their iconic score to Dario Argento’s definitive giallo horror film, Suspiria.


Ernest & Celestine

French-Belgian animation Ernest & Celestine screened at the 2012 Cannes Director’s Fortnight

Unfortunately the animation selection is decidedly thin this year — anime fans will have to hang out until Madman’s Reel Anime mini-event returns in November — but we will be treated to one great-looking feature in the form of French-Belgian co-production Ernest & Célestine, which looks to be a lovingly-crafted hand-drawn story about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse from director Benjamin Renner and A Town Called Panic filmmakers Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar.

NZIFF 2013


Listed below are my top picks of the 2013 NZIFF programme, including a few films that I have already seen but the majority of which I am eagerly anticipating. Believe it or not, it was actually rather difficult to narrow down these recommendations to only 25, which is either a testament to how strong the selection is this year or damning proof of my spiraling OCD (I prefer to think of it as the former). Check out the trailers for each below and head to the NZIFF website for all other details.


25. Goblin plays SUSPIRIA (Dir. Dario Argento)

As a rule I usually keep classic films out of such lists, but I had to make an exception in this case — Italian prog-rock heroes Goblin performing their iconic score to 1977’s Suspiria live at the mighty Civic is not something you should miss! New Zealand audiences are rarely afforded such opportunities, and you can be sure that this will be a night to remember. Anyone still on the fence can check out the original trailer below, or listen to the timeless theme song here.

The Dance of Reality

24. THE DANCE OF REALITY (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Chilean-French cult hero Alejandro Jodorowsky (El TopoThe Holy Mountain) has been M.I.A. from the filmmaking world for over 20 years, struggling to obtain financing for any projects during this time. His luck has finally changed for the better though, and this year Cannes saw a Jodorowsky double bill — a documentary on his abortive attempt to adapt Dune in the ’70s (Jodorowsky’s Dune), and a new feature from the man himself, The Dance of Reality. The autobiographical film blends Jodorowsky’s own life story with metaphor, mythology and poetry, and it certainly looks to be an ambitious and intriguing return from the former master of surrealism.

The Bling Ring

23. THE BLING RING (Dir. Sofia Coppola)

Sofia Coppola changes pace somewhat from her usual melancholic fare (2003’s career highpoint Lost in Translation, 2010’s underwhelming Somewhere) with a light examination of celebrity culture in The Bling Ring. Inspired by a fascinating true story, the film stars Emma Watson — in what could be a breakout lead performance — as the leader of a group of fame-obsessed L.A. teens who track celebrities’ whereabouts online and then rob their homes. Coppola obviously understands this world well, and I’m hoping this marks a return to form for the talented filmmaker — at the very least it sounds like an ideal companion piece to Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers!

I'm So Excited

22. I’M SO EXCITED (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

After delivering the darkest film of his career with 2011’s provocative thriller The Skin I Live In, Spanish legend Pedro Almodóvar returns to his comedic roots with I’m So Excited, a raunchy romp set on board a doomed airplane. Once the plane gets into trouble, the camp stewards — including Javier Cámara (Talk to Her) — decide the best course of action is to drug the economy class passengers and entertain first class! Only Almodóvar could satirise disaster films and Spain’s dire economy while exuberantly celebrating gay sexuality, and this outrageous film looks like a whole lot of fun.

Stranger by the Lake

21. STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Dir. Alain Guiraudie)

French filmmaker Alan Guiraudie was awarded Best Director at Cannes this year for Stranger by the Lake, an erotic drama meets murder mystery set on a secluded gay beach [He also picked up the independently awarded ‘Queer Palm’ for Best Film with an LGBT focus]. Perhaps best described by The Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang as a “highly polished film detailing how easily morality can become unmoored, Lord of the Flies-style, in an enclosed society that refers only to itself” — who also compared it to François Ozon’s sunny noir Swimming Pool — this promises to be a unique film for those unperturbed by graphic sexual content.

What Maisie Knew

20. WHAT MAISIE KNEW (Dir. David Siegel, Scott McGehee)

Filmmakers David Siegel and Scott McGehee have loosely adapted Henry James’ short novel What Maisie Knew into an acclaimed feature, updating the setting to modern day Manhattan. With a great cast that includes Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård, Joanna Vanderham and young Onata Aprile — who is earning rave notices for her performance here — the film follows the story of a young girl caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter custody battle, and has been hailed as “intimate, unnerving and entirely addictive” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon).

Much Ado About Nothing

19. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Dir. Joss Whedon)

How does one follow-up something as astronomically successful as The Avengers? If you’re Joss Whedon, you get all your friends together and shoot a no-budget, black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing at your house over 12 days. With Whedon regulars Amy Acker (Dollhouse, Angel), Clark Gregg (The Avengers), Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods), Alexis Denisof (BuffyAngel), Reed Diamond (Dollhouse) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly) filling out the cast, this will undoubtedly be lapped up by the Whedonites out there, but it should also prove irresistible fun for the rest of us.

Like Father Like Son

18. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Japanese maestro Hirokazu Kore-eda essentially does one thing — family drama — and he does it exceptionally well. As he proved yet again with I Wish at last year’s festival, no one is better at writing children characters or getting incredible performances out of child actors. His latest effort is Like Father, Like Son, which tells the heartwrenching story of a father (Masaharu Fukuyama) who learns that the son he has raised for six years is not his own due to a clerical error at the hospital. Those who are familiar with Kore-eda will already be sold on his reputation alone; everyone else should do themselves a huge favour and find a copy of Still Walking now.

In the House

17. IN THE HOUSE (Dir. François Ozon)

In the House is one of two promising new films released this year by celebrated French filmmaker François Ozon (8 FemmesSwimming Pool) — the other being Cannes entry Young & Beautiful (Jeune et Jolie) starring Marine Vacth and Charlotte Rampling. Based on Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy in the Last Row, this black comedy centres on a 16-year-old boy (Ernst Umhauer) who insinuates himself into the house of a fellow student and writes about it in essays for his jaded French teacher (Fabrice Luchini), who finds himself vicariously captivated. Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner also star in what looks to be Ozon’s best effort in years.

Like Someone In Love

16. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami)

After leaving his homeland for the picturesque streets of Tuscany in 2010’s impeccable Certified Copy, Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami once again relocates for his latest effort, Like Someone in Love. This time he finds himself at home in Tokyo, detailing the unexpected relationship between a young prostitute (Rin Takanashi) and a widower (Tadashi Okuno) over the course of two days. I’m eager to see what Kiarostami’s singular vision of Japan’s immense metropolis looks like — if the alluring trailer is any indication, it will be just beautiful.

A Hijacking

15. A HIJACKING (Dir. Tobias Lindholm)

Tobias Lindholm is one of Denmark’s most prominent rising talents, making a name for himself as a writer on the excellent political TV drama Borgen and Thomas Vinterberg’s devastating 2012 film The Hunt. Now he is impressing critics and festival audiences worldwide with his sophomore directorial effort, A Hijacking, a tense thriller which finds a Danish cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates — seemingly beating Paul Greengrass’ upcoming Captain Phillips to the punch. Starring Borgen regulars Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling and Dar Salim, this near-universally acclaimed film has been on my most-anticipated list since late last year and I can’t wait to finally see what all the fuss is about.

Computer Chess

14. COMPUTER CHESS (Dir. Andrew Bujalski)

Mumblecore fixture Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha) has been steadily earning buzz for his latest effort, Computer Chess, an awkward period comedy which won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance (an award given to a film that focusses on science). Set over the course of a weekend in the early ’80s, the film centres on a group of software programmers at a computer-chess tournament as they lay the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it. Bujalski gives the film an admirably retro, lo-fi aesthetic to capture the period, essentially one-upping Pablo Larraín’s No by shooting with even more antiquated cameras (Sony 1968 AVC-3260) in 1.33 black-and-white.

To the Wonder

13. TO THE WONDER (Dir. Terrence Malick)

Influential auteur Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) seems to be uncharacteristically inspired lately, delivering a follow-up to his massive 2011 undertaking, The Tree of Life, less than two years later and then leaping into back-to-back productions (Knight of CupsUntitled). Said follow-up is To the Wonder, a highly personal and gorgeously-shot evocation of love. The film stars Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams in a love triangle of sorts — inspired by Malick’s own experiences — and Javier Bardem as a conflicted priest, although trying to describe the narrative is a fruitless endeavour as there is significantly less plot or dialogue to be found here than in any of the filmmaker’s previous work. As Affleck put it, To the Wonder “makes Tree of Life look like Transformers,” and this challenging lack of narrative will no doubt frustrate many viewers. However, if you are willing to surrender yourself to the hypnotic score, impressionistic editing and Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning imagery, you will likely find yourself enraptured by this utterly unique film.


12. LEVIATHAN (Dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel)

Documentarian Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab have collaborated on an intriguing project, Leviathan, which aims to immerse audiences in the world of North American commercial fishing. Shot on board a New England ship in the North Atlantic — the very waters that inspired Moby Dick — the filmmakers placed a dozen waterproof cameras on the decks, in the hands of the fisherman, and in the raging sea itself to create a visceral experience like no other.


11. POST TENEBRAS LUX (Dir. Carlos Reygadas)

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas offers what will perhaps be the most divisive film of this year’s festival with the beguiling Post Tenebras Lux, for which he was awarded Best Director at 2012 Cannes. Set in the Mexican countryside, the film promises a mesmerising and impressionistic psychological portrait of a family and their place within the unforgiving natural world. Alternately hailed as a “perverse, dreamlike masterpiece” (Salon) and scorned as “the sort of smug pretentiousness that gives art-cinema a bad name” (THR), this will likely be the most heavily debated entry in the 2013 programme.

Stories We Tell

10. STORIES WE TELL (Dir. Sarah Polley)

Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley (Away From Her) digs up her family’s past in order to uncover an elusive truth in her wonderful documentary debut, Stories We Tell. Rounding up her siblings, father and family friends, Polley sets out to clarify the mysterious and complicated legacy of her late mother. In the process she explores the nature of memory and storytelling, crafting one of the finest and most compelling documentaries in recent memory — one that holds its own with the best features I have seen this year.

A Touch of Sin

9. A TOUCH OF SIN (Dir. Zhang-ke Jia)

Prominent Chinese filmmaker Zhang-ke Jia (Still Life) makes a departure from his usual stately fare into genre territory with the violent crime saga A Touch of Sin. Awarded Best Screenplay at Cannes, the four-part drama explores the corrosive effects of violence in contemporary China through the eyes of a disgruntled miner, a migrant worker, an assaulted receptionist, and a frustrated factory worker — all inspired by actual violent stories from newspapers. Jia promises a bold, pessimistic commentary on modern China with the body count of an R-rated action film here, which sounds like essential viewing to me.


8. THE PAST (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)

Following back-to-back knockouts with 2009’s breakout About Elly and 2011’s Oscar-winning A Separation, Iran’s Asghar Farhadi has rightly been recognised as a master filmmaker. His latest relationship drama, The Past, finds him leaving his motherland for France to tell another powerful story of family separation. An Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France to sign the divorce papers sent by his wife (The Artist‘s Bérénice Bejo), who now lives with her new boyfriend (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim), but things quickly become complicated. The performances look uniformly terrific here — Bejo picked up Best Actress at Cannes — and this film is likely to confirm Farhadi’s reputation as Iran’s foremost filmmaking voice.


7. MUD (Dir. Jeff Nichols)

Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols is fast becoming one of America’s must-watch talents, after impressing with his 2007 debut Shotgun Stories and earning ecstatic reviews for 2011’s powerful Take Shelter. In his third feature, Mud, he teams up with a revitalised Matthew McConaughey — on a hot streak following last year’s electric performances in Magic Mike, Bernie and Killer Joe — who stars as a fugitive hiding out on an island in the Mississippi. When he is discovered by two teenage boys (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland), they form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and reunite with his true love (Reece Witherspoon). This Twainian adventure sounds like a great time, and I can’t wait to see how well Nichols and McConaughey work together.


6. THE ACT OF KILLING  (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

Following a failed coup in September 1965, Indonesia descended into a year of brutality during which over half a million people are estimated to have been killed, including communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals. The death squads were lead by gangsters such as Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, who proudly reenact their memories of the horrific events as their favourite cinematic genre in Joshua Oppenheimer’s audacious documentary, The Act of Killing. Master filmmaker Werner Herzog said of the film, “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade… it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.” High praise indeed.


5. A FIELD IN ENGLAND (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

Ben Wheatley has quickly and effectively established himself as the most essential new voice in English cinema over the past four years, delivering cult hit after hit with the darkly comic Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers. The great news for his growing fanbase is that the prolific filmmaker is showing no signs of slowing down, and his latest project looks to be his most adventurous yet — the psychedelic folk horror A Field in England. Set during the English Civil War in 1648, a small group of deserters (including Julian Barratt and Reece Shearsmith) flee from a raging battle only to be captured by a sinister alchemist (Michael Smiley) searching for hidden treasure. After eating mushrooms discovered in a vast field, the group descends into a chaos of arguments and paranoia as they question what treasure lies within the malignant field. Boasting glorious monochromatic compositions and perhaps the most surreal premise of the programme, you just know this is going to be a trip worth taking.


4. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Indie auteur favourite Jim Jarmusch returned to Cannes this year with an atypical offering, Only Lovers Left Alive, which details the centuries-old romance between two vampires. With Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston starring as the aforementioned pair — and Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright and Anton Yelchin rounding out the supporting cast — we appear to have a strong contender for the coolest film of the year here. Following the disappointment of 2009’s The Limits of Control, I’m hoping that Jarmusch’s latest can stand proudly alongside such classics as Dead Man and Down by Law.


3. FRANCES HA (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

Filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) and actress Greta Gerwig first met and worked together on 2010’s underrated Greenberg. The two have since become an adorable couple and collaborated on the screenplay for Frances Ha, which follows an optimistic New York woman (Gerwig) who aspires to be a dancer despite New York City’s harsh indifference to her dreams — think Manhattan meets Girls. The reception to this black-and-white indie has been the most overwhelmingly positive of Baumbach and Gerwig’s respective careers, and it has been sitting towards the top of my most anticipated films of 2013 for quite some time now.


2. THE GREAT BEAUTY (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Celebrated Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of LoveIl Divo) looks to be back in masterful form with The Great Beauty, following last year’s English-language misfire This Must Be the Place. Already drawing favourable comparisons to Fellini, Antonioni and Rossellini, the film tells the story of a writer (Toni Servillo) who bitterly recollects his passionate, lost youth following a nostalgic encounter at his 65th birthday party. The trailer, stills and reviews available so far promise a cinematic experience more sumptuous and intoxicating than any we have had in a long time, and I am letting my hopes soar.

Upstream Color

1. UPSTREAM COLOR (Dir. Shane Carruth)

Shane Carruth came out of nowhere in 2003 with his dense, cerebral and dizzying DIY masterpiece Primer, which spawned a legion of obsessive fans that have long been awaiting his follow-up. A full decade (and one abortive project) later, he returns with Upstream Color. Favouring a more abstract approach to narrative, the film details the story of a man (Carruth) and a woman (Amy Seimetz) who are inexplicably drawn together and entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Technically brilliant, meticulously crafted and wholly unique, Upstream Color is easily the best film I have seen this year and I’m hanging out to experience it in all its weird glory on the giant Civic screen.

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  1. [CAPSULE REVIEW] Pleasantly surprising Saudi film WADJDA is the best discovery of NZIFF 2013 » A FISTFUL OF CULTURE

    […] much of the pleasure of a festival like NZIFF derives from seeing a bunch of highly-anticipated films, there really is nothing better than discovering an under-hyped gem that would have otherwise […]

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