For those in Auckland, the New Zealand International Film Festival opens next week, bringing with it a vast number of extraordinary titles. Think back to the festival of 2014, with critical heavyweights such as, Boyhood, Leviathan, and Under the Skin, shining bright. Naturally, with such a selection, it’s difficult to temper your excitement and to only highlight a certain few, but here’s my attempt:
Clouds of Sils Maria
Dir: Olivier Assayas
Opens: Jul 23 – 10:30am
With a talented cast consisting of Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz, Clouds of Sils Maria looks to be one of the standout films among this year’s programme. The film follows veteran actress Binoche, who accepts a role in a revival of the play that first launched her career 20 years earlier. Billed as meta-fiction, with lines blurring between reality and rehearsal, the film shares strong similarities to recent Academy Award winner, Birdman. It also brings to mind another Binoche film, Certified Copy - widely recognised as one of the best films of the decade.
For those sceptical of Stewart’s inclusion, note she recently became the first American actress to ever win a César Award – the French equivalent to the Academy Award. In accompaniment, Binoche, as always, is said to give another peerless performance. For fans of intelligent, complex dramas, this is a must-see.
Dir: Alex Garland
Opens: Jul 22 – 3:45pm
For those after a thought provoking thriller, Ex Machina could well be the film of the festival. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, the film follows Gleeson, a programmer chosen by his employer to administer the Turing test to an android with artificial intelligence. Unfortunately never released in New Zealand, it impressed critics and public alike in the USA, being referred to as a sleek, smart, and ultimately engaging, science-fiction thriller.
Garland’s directorial debut, after writing a number of successful screenplays including those for 28 Days Later, and Never Let Me Go; the film looks a genuine treat, and highly recommended for both cinephile and general viewer. Isaac is an actor of immense talent, and the stunning Vikander – a possible Oscar nominee for her upcoming role in the Tom Hooper helmed, The Danish Girl - looks alluring in her tough-to-perfect role.
Dir: Sebastian Schipper
Opens: Jul 21 – 3:15pm
Though many could mistake Birdman for being shot in a single take – separate takes were stitched together to give that appearance – German drama Victoria, literally, was shot in one, 134-minute take. In this time, our heroine, Victoria, travels across 22 locations, beginning the night in the clubs of Berlin, before finding herself caught up in the wrong-doings of the four young men she chanced upon whilst partying in town.
Having recently won six German Film Awards, Victoria is clearly far more than just a stunt. An ambitious project that demands respect, this is a festival must-see. Also, pay attention to the German Film Award winning score by Nils Frahm, a modern composer of masterful skill.
Dir: Gaspar Noé
Opens: Jul 30 – 1:30pm
The irrepressible Gaspar Noé is an incredibly divisive director, his past two films - Irréversible and Enter the Void - explored the boundaries of sex and violence on screen. Noé finds himself along a small number of other directors actually trying to accomplish something new, something groundbreaking, in their work. Cue in Love, a 135-minute pornographic film that has been described as his most explicit, but least offensive, picture to date.
An erotic thriller, filmed in 3D – use your imagination – that should stand as one of the festival’s most unique experiences. If the cinema represents an experience that cannot be found in the comfort of your own home, Love is the climax (apologies) of the festival. For fans of extreme cinema, it truly is not to be missed.
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Opens: Jul 24 – 1:15pm
Paul Thomas Anderson is undoubtedly one of the greatest American filmmakers of our generation. Though it could be said his earlier works were still drawn on influences from his predecessors, with his most recent films, Anderson is truly finding his own voice. His epic drama, There Will Be Blood, is universally regarded as one of the most important films of the 21st century. 2012’s The Master, was a complex and difficult film, polarising the audience and a great majority of critics – yet, it is now widely regarded as possibly the most complete film of the new decade.
He returns with a comedy-noir; starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, and Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice follows Phoenix, a stoner hippie and PI, as he investigates the disappearance of a former lover. As always with his films, pay attention to his technical skill, to those extended long-takes, and listen to another terrific Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) score.
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Opens: Jul 16 – 7:15pm
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the English-language debut by the Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos, is set for the opening night of the festival. Known primarily for his bizarre but compellingly unique Dogtooth – another regarded as one of the decade’s best films – Lanthimos has a flair for the surreal and eccentric, and his latest appears no different on paper.
The narrative reads; in an unconventional love story, one must find a partner within 45 days or find themselves transformed into animals and released into the wild. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, expect The Lobster to garner quite the bit of attention.
The Look of Silence
Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
Opens: Jul 22 – 4:15pm
Joshua Oppenheimer’s prior documentary, The Act of Killing, was named by Sight & Sound as the Top Film of 2013. It isn’t often that a documentary can lay claim to such a feat, thus highlighting the impact it had on viewers worldwide. The film focused of the 1965-66 Indonesian killings, and served as something otherworldly, yet also far too real and believable.
The Look of Silence is a companion piece to the above, and is essential viewing for any fans of documentary.
A Most Violent Year
Dir: J.C. Chandor
Opens: Jul 25 – 8:45pm
J.C. Chandor is a relative newcomer to the director’s circuit, with only three titles to his name. Margin Call, a well written, well-acted, and above all, smart, drama was an assured debut, garnering him an Academy Award nomination. This was bettered by his ambitious survival drama, All is Lost, held together by a tour de force that is Robert Redford, in a largely dialogue-free role.
His latest, starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, follows the tale of an ambitious fuel supplier attempting to play it straight in a town filled with corruption and violence. Chandor could be one of the most confident new filmmakers around, and that alone makes A Most Violent Year one to note down.
Dir: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Opens: Jul 23 – 2:15pm
Classified as a romantic-horror, Spring stands out not for its promises of shocks or scares, but for its general air of mystery and aesthetic wonder. Generally, for any horror flick, the less you know, the better – this is no exception, so to describe the film simply; the story follows a young man on his sudden trip to Italy, as he meets and becomes involved with an enticing student.
Spring has been loosely compared to Before Sunrise for its premise and insightful themes, and honestly, that is the only comparison I need to be interested in a romance film of any nature.
When Marnie Was There
Dir: Yonebayashi Hiromasa
Opens: Jul 18 – 11:15am
Studio Ghibli films need little introduction; over the course of three decades, the Japanese animation film studio have consistently forged some of the most affecting and gorgeous animated films of all time. From the powerful Grave of the Fireflies, to the timeless classic, Spirited Away, it’s saddening to think that this could possibly be the studio’s final film – following the retirement of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, and the subsequent hiatus soon after.
Screening in both its Dubbed and Subtitled versions, When Marnie Was There tells the tale of a young girl, recently relocated, befriending a mysterious blonde girl. Highly recommended for fans of animated films.
The Taiwanese Cannes Best Director winning The Assassin, 26 year-old French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, the silent-but-not-subtitled Ukrainian powerhouse The Tribe, the absurd documentary The Wolfpack, and the unnerving Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy.