The Sydney Film Festival is upon us this week, kicking off with the opening night salvo of Hanna. Now in its 58th year, the Sydney Film Festival is undoubtedly the event on the Sydney film scene, and the official competition this year has got some incredibly strong names attached to it, including Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, Julia Leigh’s controversial Sleeping Beauty and Ivan Sen’s Toomelah. With 45 movies being watched between the two of us, which will be covered extensively in our daily diaries right here on The Reel Bits, we thought we’d let you in on which of 30-odd films a-piece that we are most keen on seeing.
It was difficult to know where to stop with this year’s festival program, as it seems to have been designed to appeal to a much wider audience. Quite a number of films have already got Australian distributors and might simply provide audiences with a chance to see the film early. Of the 30 films I’ve selected at this year’s Festival, the ones below best represent the neurons firing inside my bearded skull and what I absolutely can’t live without seeing this June.
Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to Wendy and Lucy. Apart from reuniting with her Wendy and Lucy star Michelle Williams, this (along with last year’s True Grit) gives us the hope that the Western will finally be returned some of the legitimacy it has lost as an art form over the last few decades.
The Future – Miranda July has not been seen in these parts since 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, and the artist/filmmaker is bound to have something interesting for us this time out, especially if the recent trailer (narrated by a cat with a busted paw) is anything to go by.
13 Assassins – The chance to see Takashi Miike doing a chanbara flick on the big screen is not one to pass up easily, in this reworking of the 1960s film of the same name. With a career that has been filled with the excesses of Audition and Ichi the Killer through to his ‘Spy Kids for older kids’ takes on Yatterman, Miike is due for an epic bit of swordplay, and we can’t wait.
The Tree of Life – Could we really miss out on this one? Terrence Malick has only made 5 features in almost forty years, although he is getting faster. Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the metaphysical epic with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the film has divided critics and we can’t wait to see it and make our own minds up about the latest work of what might be the world’s most enigmatic director.
Martha Marcy May Marlene – This one comes with a fair bit of buzz about it, and it may be the only film with an Olsen sister worth watching this year. Sean Durkin’s debut feature stars ‘forgotten Olsen’ Elizabeth, and John Hawkes, who excelled in last year’s Winter’s Bone. Cinematography is from Jody Lee Lipes, who also did the fascinating-looking Tiny Furniture, due to screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival next month.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Sleeping Beauty, Hobo with a Shotgun and Norwegian Wood. No festival would be complete without some splatter gore, highly sexualised and controversial art pieces and an adaptation of a Japanese surrealist novelist, right?
An accurate list of my most anticipated films of the Festival would include the 30-odd efforts in my schedule, such is the variety of features and documentaries on offer. Indeed, there truly is something for everyone in the extensive program, or several somethings in fact for both casual and avid cinephiles. However, if I’m being forced to whittle down the selection to the ones I simply must see now, a few stand out as highlights. A cult hit in the making about cults, a long-awaited sophomore effort, a Cannes award recipient, the debut of a highly respected actor, and a hillbilly comedy horror top my 2011 picks of the Festival.
Martha Marcy May Marlene – It’s not often that a feature starring a member of the Olsen family features on a “must-see” list (or even a “see” list, for that matter), however this film has been breaking with tradition across the board. A winner at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the dramatic thriller’s combination of normal, abnormal, elaborate and ambiguous simply whets the appetite, as does the acclaim following Elizabeth Olsen in the lead role.
Beginners – Yes, it happens to star a certain favourite actor of this reviewer, however even with all his allure Ewan McGregor is not the quiet and unassuming film’s only drawcard. The long-awaited second feature from Mark Mills after a six year break since Thumbsucker, the engaging autobiographical story of a unique father and son relationship promises to intrigue, helped by the cast that includes Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent.
Take Shelter – If the thought of Shotgun Stories writer / director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon re-teaming for their second feature after the 2007 festival favourite isn’t enough to pique interest, the films’ recent Cannes Film Festival triumph just might be. Fresh from taking out the Critics week grand prize, the intricate effort promises to delve into obsession and anxiety against and apocalyptic backdrop.
Tyrannosaur – In an on-screen career dating back to 1999, English actor Paddy Considine has proven a formidable talent courtesy of A Room For Romeo Brass, In America, Dead Man’s Shoes, Hot Fuzz and The Red Riding Trilogy. His first stint behind the camera ranks as one of the most anticipated features of the year, with the actor taking on both writing and directing duties to tell a self-destructive tale of rage and violence.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil – The guilty pleasure pick of the program, this 2010 Sundance and SXSW hit finally makes its way to Australian shores. Paying homage to the horror genre whilst offering a transformative and comedic take on standard conventions, the debut feature from Space Cowboys actor Eli Craig features a cast certain to thrill sci-fi fans (Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk and Reaper‘s Tyler Labine) as well as content sure to cause a raucous roar.
Senna, Jane Eyre, Hanna, The Tree Of Life. A quartet of films all coming into general release over the next month, ranging from high-octane to languid. A documentary about one of the greatest drivers of all time, an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s influential novel, a teen assassin action/ thriller scored by The Chemical Brothers, and only the fifth film from Terrence Malick in four decades. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?
The Sydney Film Festival runs from 8 – 19 June 2011 at various venues across the Sydney CBD. For the full program, please visit their website. Tickets are now on sale.