The 61st Melbourne International Film Festival kicked off last night, and while we are stranded in our home town of Sydney, our various viewings and travels have allowed us to recommend a number of titles for people over the coming weeks.
Here is a brief guide to films you must see, talk about or narrowly avoid. Happy festival-ling and we’ll join you all in Melbourne next week for various soirées and maybe the odd movie or ten.
★★★★★ – Certified Bitstastic
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Few debut films manage to be saddled with the term “masterpiece” on their first pass, and this singular take on the coming of age story gets almost everything right from the start. The most human of all possible stories is a startlingly original film that will remain a classic for years to come.
Harold and Maude – This one goes without saying, but we did anyway. Hal Ashby’s 1971 classic is playing as part of MIFF’s retrospective program, and this is a terrific chance to catch it on the big screen and spot all the moments that Wes Anderson has a lot to answer for.
Holy Motors – As we say on the film’s official Australian poster, Leos Carax’s art fantasy is one of the most original films of the century. Equal parts magic and insanity, and a reminder of all the things that cinema has to offer.Carax leads us into uncharted territory we might readily call “post film”.
★★★★ – Highly Recommended
Alps - Winner of the Sydney Film Festival Official Competition prize, along with a plethora of other awards, Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to Dogtooth is unlikely to find two audience members in complete agreement. Coupled with absurdity, including an electro-pop remix of the 1960s hit “Popcorn”, Lanthimos may simply be pointing out the craziness of the world we live in. But are you ready for pop?
The Angels’ Share – Ken Loach made a feel-good film. It happened. Winner of the Prix du Jury win at Cannes this year, Loach’s latest collaboration with lawyer/screenwriter Paul Laverty has yielded another lost soul on his last chance, finding hope in bottles of whisky and an unconventional heist. We feel like a drink.
Awesome I Fuckin’ Shot That – After the tragic death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch this year from cancer, this MIFF tribute to the one and only MCA will also see several other long-form shorts screened, and is a rare chance to see this crowd-sourced picture in a large format.
Bully - Bullying comes in all forms, and at all stages in life, and Lee Hirsch’s documentary about Bullying in the US school system is a must-see for parents, students, teachers and anybody with a pulse.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai – Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike has no less than three films at this year’s MIFF, as this plays along with For Love’s Sake and Ace Attorney. Here he continues to put his own stamp on the jidaigeki genre, switching his penchant for bloodbaths to a serene examination of samurai honour.
Killer Joe – William Friedkin returns with a vengeance in this southern-fried tale of hillbilly murder, rampage and good old-fashioned insanity. Inspired by the excesses of Letts’ script, adapting his own screenplay, Killer Joe might be violent and vile, but it is also sharp, engaging and outright hilarious at all times. Proof positive that Matthew McConaughey belongs in every movie.
Moonrise Kingdom – Like most of Wes Anderson’s films, it exist in a bubble of the past that never actually existed except in memory and dreamscapes. Apart from recalling Rushmore, just as directly as the bespectacled clone Gilman does, Anderson is giving us an early signal that his film is about so much more than teenage love. Visually stunning, Moonrise Kingdom is an open love letter to youth of all ages.
Safety Not Guaranteed - We were lucky enough to catch this one at Sundance London. Charming and funny, this pseudo time-travel dramedy is a delightful and heartfelt retro throwback to a bygone era of filmmaking, drawing inspiration from the Spielberg and Zemeckis films of the 1980s. Based loosely on an Internet meme, the fantastical idea of a man with no education building a time machine in his garage is about as American as it gets.
Side By Side – Keanu Reeves fronts Chris Kenneally‘s insightful and candid investigation into the film versus digital debate, one with no clear winners but a lots of strong opinions from industry heavyweights. Side By Side doesn’t come to any startling conclusions, but it offers up a series of arguments.
Tabu – A fable mixed with nostalgic surrealism, this fills that unknown void between Out of Africa and The Artist. Another film that has divided audiences straight down the middle, be swept away in the magic of cinema. Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and the Alfred Bauer Award at Berlin.
Take the Money and Run – One of Woody Allen’s earliest funny ones, this 1968 spoof on the crime film is a farce of the highest order. If for no other reason, it is worth watching for Woody’s attempts to join a marching band while playing the cello.
Your Sister’s Sister – Lynn Shelton continues to prove that Mark Duplass is king of the indies, as he is joined by Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt for an intimate film that brings a quiet dignity to the romance genre.
★★★½ – Better Than Average Bear
Liberal Arts – Another one we caught at Sundance London, the continuation of a strong storytelling voice in Josh Radnor, who hopefully focus more on this kind of filmmaking when his television children eventually find out how he met their mother. Smart, funny and sincere, with fine performances from Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen, this is a film that you should let wash over you.
Miss Bala – The stark and fast-paced Mexican action film heralds a new voice in Gerardo Naranjo for this Hollywood-inspired look inside the drug cartels of Mexico. Naranjo’s world is relentless, one in which corruption exists at all levels, and it is this bleak outlook that immediately separates Miss Bala from its cousins north of the border.
★★★ – Worth A Look
Undefeated – The Oscar-winning documentary about the ‘little football team that could’ is sure to have its fans, but part of us still feels that a love of American football might aid in the enjoyment of this popular piece of sports cinema. While a big-screen viewing isn’t essential, this might be one of your only chances.
★★½ – Wait For the DVD/Blu-ray
Monsieur Lazhar - An audience favourite wherever it goes, we have a singular opinion on this one. Mohamed Saïd Fellag delivers a solid performance, balancing his own dark past against the weight of nurturing young lives, but the signposts are too obvious to truly feel anything but a sense of inevitability. A charming if familiar tale of teacher knows best, so much so that it almost charms itself out of existence.
On the Road – Are we there yet? Much of the public attention will be focused on Kristen Stewart’s performance, building on her non-Twilight roles such as The Runaways, and her frequent nudity will keep Google in business for some years to come. A classic American novel that takes just as long to get going as it has getting to the screen.
★★ – Rental For Sure
Rampart - A character portrait of a dirty cop in Los Angeles is a case of arrested development, as a terrific cast meander about on an endless beat. The hard-working cast are merely covering the cracks of a script that loses its way at the mid-point and never fully regains its way by the time Overman finds his ambiguous conclusion.
What Else We Are Seeing
Wild Bill, Mine Games, Teddy Bear, For Love’s Sake, No, Maniac, Paranorman, Like Someone In Love, Sound of My Voice, Himizu, 11/25: The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap and The Hunt