So it’s this time of year again – when Sydney Film Festival rolls around and you justify blowing the equivalent of what a black market kidney costs on films you didn’t even know existed. 220 films, the program this year is excellent. From Owen Wilson rom-coms (‘She’s Funny That Way’) to a transgender revenge-love story shot entirely on an iPhone 5 (‘Tangerine’), the well-rounded program this year does not fail to deliver on its spectrum of choice.
“But Anita”, I hear you cry, “how will I know which Swedish arthouse film to pick without risking two hours of my life on something I 100% will not understand but must then bear the burden of pretending I did?” Well, my friend, fortunately for you I took the liberty of sorting through 220 browser tabs to give you (in no particular order) a top ten picks of the 2015 SFF:
1. SLOW WEST
Dir. JOHN MACLEAN
Contracting the lone Silas (Michael Fassbender) to help face the dangers of the Colorado frontier, SLOW WEST follows sixteen year old Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), drifting across the West in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the woman he loves. Also searching for Rose? A band of outlaws following a bounty.
Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, SLOW WEST looks to be worth it alone for a look at the directorial debut of Mclean if not Fassbender’s consistently impeccable performances and what glimpses show to be very promising cinematography.
2. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Dir. ALFONSO GOMEZ-REJON
An apathetic high school senior, Greg (Thomas Mann) and his best friend Earl (R.J. Cyler) make shitty parodies of films they like. As his friendship with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is diagnosed with cancer, develops, he begins the process of making a film for her.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance 2015, ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL looks to be another worthy addition to the genre of great indie modern coming of age films that depart from sickly clichés and, well, don’t suck.
3. THE LOOK OF SILENCE
Dir. JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER
Companion piece to THE ACT OF KILLING, THE LOOK OF SILENCE takes a different perspective from the first, focusing on the victims of the Indonesian communist purge of the 1960s.
If THE ACT OF KILLING is anything to go by, Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE will be arrestingly emotional and devastating fascinating in its exploration of human beings and their moral complexities.
4. A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (Swedish)
Dir. ROY ANDERSSON
A series of vignettes laced with absurdist humour and trademark signs of their director’s stylistic elements, and making up the last third of The Living Trilogy with fifteen years in the making, the hype is real with A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH RELFECTING ON EXISTENCE.
Your token cultural arthouse foreign film of the SFF, Andersson’s film takes in the title of winner of the 71st Venice Film Festival Golden Lion
5. 99 HOMES
Dir. RAMIN BAHRANI
Set during the American housing crisis of 2008, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family are evicted from their home, repossessed by Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Drawn by Carver into the ruthless, near criminal, business of repossessing homes in the promise of his regaining his own repossessed house, Nash is gradually exposed to a lifestyle of excessive wealth and glamour.
A solid director – the late Roger Ebert called Bahrani “director of the decade” – and serious THE WOLF OF WALL STREET-like vibes, 99 HOMES reads like a formula for cinematic success.
6. MR HOLMES
Dir. BILL CONDON
A spin on the many Sherlock Holmes adaptions, MR HOLMES skips past the days of Watson and focuses on Holmes (Ian McKellan) at the age of 93, retired and struggling with a fading memory. Haunted by the unsolved case that pushed him into retirement, Holmes is spurred by the enthusiastic son of his housekeeper to embark on a final attempt to solve the unsolvable case.
Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are not uncommon and are arguable becoming tiresome, but they are plentiful for a reason – one of the greatest literary characters, Holmes will undoubtedly be well served by Ian Mckellan.
7. VINCENT (French)
Dir. THOMAS SALVADOR
Gaining superhuman-like abilities of strength and agility when in contact with water, Vincent (Thomas Salvador) is otherwise a low-key, unassuming individual. Constantly moving toward large bodies of water to test the extent of his abilities, Vincent is forced to flee when there is an accidental public display of his powers.
In the golden age of Marvel films, a minimalistic superhero film is a most welcomed refreshing take on the genre.
8. THE TRIBE
Dir. MIROSLAVE SLABOSHPITSKY
In a boarding school for the deaf run on the back of an intricate student network of organised crime and prostitution, Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) must face the repercussions of falling in love with one of the girls he pimps out.
Winner of over 25 awards at various film festivals and filmed entirely in sign language (no, there are no subtitles), if nothing but this, THE TRIBE makes the list for its sheer scope in making ground-breaking cinematic history.
Dir. JASON LEI HOWDEN
When Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake), two members of the newly formed Deathgasm, a heavy metal band specialising in highschool dropkicks, find a strange piece of film music, they unwittingly summon the supernatural Aeloth. And Aeloth? Well, Aeloth just wants to destroy the human race.
DEATHGASM looks to be this year’s WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, a refreshingly original comedy-horror laced with kiwi accents and a lot of fake blood.
1o. BLACK SOULS (Italian)
Dir. Francesco Munzi
Rounding out the list is BLACK SOULS, the GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS substitute for this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
Turning his back on his family’s vast mafia operation in favour of a simple life with his wife and 20 year old son Leo (Marco Leonardi), Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) is reluctantly faces his past when it Leo becomes drawn into the family trade of narcotics by his charismatic uncles, the heads of the Calabria’s mafia.