With over 300 films screening at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, navigating the programme and narrowing down which films to see is a hard task. Never fear! The team here at An Online Universe – Ben Buckingham, Chris Elena and myself (Sam McCosh), have each picked 5 films we think are must-sees at the festival. To say that is a varied mix of films and genres would be a gross understatement. Check our 15 recommendations out after the jump.
I have long followed the story of Rewind This via their Twitter account as they traveled the world collecting the history and passion of VHS for all to see. There are a lot of great stories to tell. VHS gave cinema an anarchy that caused social, cultural and political upheavals. It has an organic texture that shaped an experience of the world for generations. It is a transformative format, changing the taste and sense of a film. Sometimes this was a negative, sometimes a positive. In this transformation it also personalised in a way that no other format ever had. The obsessively watched VHS became yours in a way that cinema never previously was, and it didn’t matter really if it was cut, washed out or mutated via pirate copying, it was yours and you loved it all the same. I still have the first VHS I ever bought, a sell-through Friday The 13th. I so very rarely see my history represented in documentary, let alone big, bold and beautiful at a film festival, so this will be a definite treat.
For those few who have had the pleasure of viewing Jeremy Saulnier’s barely mentioned yet brilliantly entertaining Murder Party, the arrival of a new film is something to get very excited about. That it was awarded a FIPRESCI prize at Cannes bodes well, and is unsurprising. He demonstrated an exceptional talent with Murder Party, making what is perhaps the only example of a truly ‘hipster’ horror film (and I use this word not to denigrate). Resembling Roger Corman’s classic, A Bucket of Blood, Murder Party has a hapless loner stumble into a Halloween ‘murder party’ hosted by a motley crew of artist wannabes who are greedily eyeing off a possible grant from a rich benefactor. All they have to do is come up with and execute a murder that will stand as an aesthetic statement. Wankers, all of them. Murder Party is wonderfully crafted satire, slapstick comedy, and chilling horror, staring long into the dark abyss of the human soul and arts culture. Blue Ruin, primarily funded through Kickstarter, tells an unusual tale of revenge as a vagrant named Dwight (Macon Blair, who ran rampant as a mutilated werewolf in Murder Party) seeks out a man from his past who has been released from prison. Where the film goes from there is anybody’s guess, but tis sure as hell to be an entertaining ride.
A Field In England
With only three feature films under his belt, Ben Wheatley has already cemented his place in the hearts of many cinephiles. With each new film he explores a deep dark pit of despair with a warmth and humanity that is rare even in films that are not awash with deranged violence. His strangely esoteric films feel steeped in history, yet as bold as a newborn who has mastered walking. Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers have planted themselves firmly within traditional genres, and yet each feels unbound, free of confining boundaries that often choke the life out of genre films. That Wheatley has made a black and white, apparently ‘psychedelic’ period piece that sounds like an English cousin to Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, well, it actually isn’t a surprise. The film has also been the subject of an experimental release in the United Kingdom, going wide across multiple formats. So many reasons to be intrigued and excited.
Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen
I came near to vomiting while watching Gyorgy Palfi’s Taxidermia. It wasn’t the self-evisceration that did it, but the graphically depicted dialogue scenes in which speed eaters casually chat while venting their most recent sporting feast. It is a film that, despite loving, I have yet to revisit. I think I am still recovering. Having heard tell of the extreme and visceral grotesque nature of Taxidermia, I was prepared; however, nothing in his previous film, Hukkle, would have prepared me. Hukkle is a minimalist, picturesque film that comfortably watches the world go by in a Hungarian farming village. If you’re not paying attention you’d think it was almost filler, background images for the weather channel with a sly sense of humour. However, it is actually a murder mystery, and you’ll probably need to watch it twice to even notice. The hidden world here remains hidden and aloof, and the skill with which this film is shaped is testament to Palfi’s remarkable talent. Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen strikes out in another bold and different direction, being something of a found footage film, utilising clips from over 450 classic films to create a film collage that is all about love. Bring it on.
The House With Laughing Windows
I have only seen one film made by Pupi Avati and yet it was enough to tell me I would watch them all. Unfortunately his films have been generally unavailable, and when available they all too quickly fall out of print. To be gifted with a 35mm print of his giallo is a blessing and MIFF deserve high praise for lining this up. Italian genre film-makers shifted across multiple sub-genres depending on what was popular, so for instance Fulci (who is represented in MIFF’s giallo retrospective by Don’t Torture A Duckling, also highly recommended) worked on sex comedies, westerns and giallos before instigating the Italian zombie sub-genre. Argento with his relatively consistent dedication to the giallo (supernatural or not) is something of an oddity, though even he dabbled in the western. Sometimes these shifts worked wonders, bringing a fresh perspective to tired forms, while other times the film-makers clearly didn’t have a feel for it. The sole Avati film I have seen is 1983’s Zeder (aka Revenge of the Dead), which is technically part of the zombie sub-genre, yet bares more resemblance to Michele Soavi’s 1994 feature Dellamorte Dellamore than to Fulci’s 1979 effort, Zombie Flesh Eaters. Avati’s films are more arthouse than exploitation, which probably explains the lack of attention they have received as horror fans looking for titillation are often bored and cineastes don’t bother to consider them. Now is the time to discover a forgotten master of the esoteric and macabre.
All Is Lost
The second feature from J.C Chandor whose last effort, Margin Call was one of the best films of 2011. All is Lost is an almost dialogue-free tale of one man (Robert Redford) and his will to survive during his time as a solo sailor when his yacht collides with a violent storm. It’s the chosen closing night film of the festival, go buy your ticket now. Just go.
My personal favourite from Sydney Film Festival is an imperative watch no matter what, but the sheer magic of seeing it with a large crowd is too great an experience to pass up. Intelligent female characters set against a male dominated world with a strong story that only reminds us that films can be sweet, smart, funny, knowledgeable and endearing to its characters. An anomaly of a film experience.
Tim Winton’s The Turning
An ambitious three hour, multi-narrative Australian epic that could reach the sky or crumble into a million pieces. Even at the event of its ambition failing miserably, it’s still set to be an intriguing, entertaining experience. With seventeen directors and seventeen stories, Tim Winton’s The Turning is the ultimate Australian film showcasing work from the likes of David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska in front of and behind the camera. How could one say no?
Another multi-narrative, multi-director experiment, but on the other end if the spectrum. A sequel to the misguided V/H/S has been said to improve every single aspect of the original film and has been called “horrifying” and “genuinely scary”. With more than a few horror films in the one anthology, a sold out crowd and a late night session time, V/H/S/2 sounds like the perfect horror flick to catch at the festival.
Claire Denis’ (35 Shots Of Rum) latest effort looks equally as dark, involving and heartbreaking, much like her great body of work. Don’t read the synopsis, just take solace in knowing that Denis knows human stories better than most filmmakers working today, and that you may very well see the deepest, darkest depths of what the human soul is capable of. Bastards, no matter it’s execution, needs to be seen purely for the filmmaker and her latest and brave foray into ugliness.
A mix of beautiful animation and live action, The Congress (directed by Ari Foreman, known for Waltz with Bashir) is based on the 1971 novel The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem (most widely known for Solaris). It tells the story of an aging, out of work actress (Robin Wright, playing a character of the same name) who accepts a job that has very specific conditions which have consequences which couldn’t begin to imagine. While the book was written in 1971, the subject matter is scarily relevant in a society often governed by contracts that have clauses regarding image and exclusivity.
Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる)
Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, Like Father, Like Son is the heart-breaking and powerful tale about a father who learns that due to an unfathomable error at birth which saw two children mixed up, the child he raised is not his biological son. In 2011 Japanese writer-director, Hirokazu Kore-eda gave us I Wish, a touching and gentle story of childhood and dreams. I suspect the same delicate and warm touch will be displayed with this family drama. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
The Spectacular Now
James Ponsoldt, director of 2012′s Smashed, is back with a coming-of-age story which impressed critics at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and saw Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley both pick up acting awards. In my opinion Smashed was the most honest portrayal of the often ignored middle class battle with alcoholism. I’m really intrigued to see what he will do with teen angst.
The Stone Roses: Made of Stone
From Shane Medows, the director of This is England, comes the story of English alternative rock band The Stone Roses, who reformed in 2012 after a 15 year hiatus from the band. The film documents the trials and tribulations in the lead-up to their world tour, which culminated with three powerful homecoming performances in Manchester. I’m a sucker for a good music documentary (and MIFF has a couple – Twenty Feet From Stardom, and [to a lesser-extent] Muscle Shoals, which I can recommend), and this one looks to be a cracker. If you can’t see a band live in concert, then seeing them on the big screen, with the big cinema sound is pretty darn great.
Paradise Trilogy (Paradise: Love, Paradise: Faith, Paradise: Hope)
I didn’t make time for this trio of films at Sydney Film Festival, and I really regret that decision, as Sydney Film Festival director, Nasheen Moodley picked it has his personal highlight of the festival. This discussion between The Final Cut’s, Jason Di Rosso and Moodley is a fantastic listen, and should convince you that the films are worth seeing. The films, directed by Austrian filmmaker, Ulrich Seidl focus on three women from one family. One travels to Kenya as a sex tourist, one joins a weight-loss camp and one travels to the outskirts Vienna to attempt to convert immigrants to Catholicism. Potentially tough, but quite likely powerful watching.
It’s a little bit of a cheat, but I also want to recommend the following films, which I have seen and really enjoyed: Wadjda, The Act of Killing, Blackfish, The Rocket (Winner of audience award at Sydney Film Fest), Frances Ha, Mood Indigo (my favourite feature film from Sydney Film Fest),Twenty Feet from Stardom, Dirty Wars (a 5 star film for me!), Blancanieves and Upstream Color.
We hope we have provided you with some inspiration! Happy film festivaling.