June 29, 2012

New Zealand International Film Festival: My Picks (Wellington edition)

It's really getting into winter now which can mean only one thing for film-lovers: the annual New Zealand International Film Festival is once again on its way around the country.

Which of course means there are previews upon previews for upcoming films. And with the launch of the Wellington programme last night, I would be remiss if I didn't also offer my picks for 2012. Where possible, I've included links to trailers.

Hold onto your butts, and here. We. Go.

The opening night film is Beasts of the Southern Wild. I first heard of this coming out of Sundance and, aside from watching the magical trailer, I have avoided reading too much about it. It's one of those films I want to be a surprise.

Other films I've heard about but not read about to preserve as much of the discovery as possible, include the weird Cannes hit Holy Motors, the new film from Ben Wheatley Sightseers, the horror anthology V/H/S and Brit Marling (whose Another Earth I really, really didn't like) and her other low budget sci-fi Sound of my Voice. And, of course, the film rescued 
by Ant Timpson and the Festival from a direct to DVD release, Cabin in the Woods. One film I have seen but think everyone should see (everyone. I mean it), and with as little knowledge beforehand, is Klown. There's only the one showing in Wellington so make sure you get your tickets in early. 

The Festival is also chock full of great documentaries, with ten feature-length New Zealand docos this year! There's mad maestro Werner Herzog with a basket-full of films interviewing death-row prisoners (Into the Abyss and various Portrait of... films), the Keanu Reeves produced investigation of film vs. digital Side by Side and Bully which will no doubt be an emotionally traumatic (but rewarding) experience.

The classic films lined up for this year are a truly delicious bunch. I'll be seeing, for the first time ever and on the big screen, Stanley Kubrick's horror classic The Shining. I'm going to be falling in love with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell all over again in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and I'm sure to fall for Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse. And the Live Cinema event this year is the Clara Bow starring Mantrap.

This year the Festival has done something slightly different, when it comes to their selection of New Zealand shorts. In previous years there have been collections under the banner Homegrown. This year, in association with Madman Entertainment (who's logo I'll be seeing a lot of at the Festival) they're holding their first ever competition: New Zealand's Best. Other Kiwi films I'm looking forward to checking out are the two Wellington features Existence and How to Meet Girls from a Distance; a post-apocalyptic dystopia sci-fi and a twisted romantic-comedy respectively. Costa Botes makes his return with The Last Dogs of Winter,  his documentary exploring the endangered native Eskimo dog the Qimmiq. There's also a number of other great looking documentaries and a selection of Maori and Pasifika short films.

And then there's all those other films that I've been hearing about for the best part of a year, coming out of other film festivals or having small, limited runs overseas. Films starring big-time Hollywoood actors in dark roles, like Rampart with Woody Harrelson as a violent, intolerant LA cop or Killer Joe with Matthew McConaughey as a killer for hire or Bernie with Jack Black as a suspected murderer with the creepy moustache to prove it. I was honestly not expecting Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom to be in the Festival as I'm sure it already has a general release secured. But hell, I'm certainly not complaining about getting to see it early!

Looking over my scribbled notes, lists and spreadsheet I could quite easily keep writing about the great films on offer. The new Studio Ghibli film Up on Poppy Hill, the delightfully charming looking I Wish, the bizarre and amazing looking double feature Far Out Far East (featuring body horror and time travelling), the Joel Edgerton and Antony Starr, um, starring Wish You Were Here. I've been a fan of Mads Mikkelsen since Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and his performance in The Hunt earned him Best Actor at Cannes. Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion about the French response to an uprising in New Caledonia should be intriguing and visceral. How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor directs Martha Marcy May Marlene's Elizabeth Olson in Liberal Arts, which should at least be funny and sweet. Sean Penn goes super intriguingly weird in This Must be the Place and Gael Garcia Bernal features in No as an ad man attempting to defeat Pinochet in Chile's referendum and The Loneliest Planet as an adventure tourist travelling with his girlfriend through the Caucasus mountains. Ken Loach has the sweary Scottish comedy The Angel's Share, Micahel Haneke ponders love and death with the Palme d'Or winning Amour and... see? I've just gone on and on and on. I was supposed to be wrapping it up in this paragraph.

Ok. So, I've given some of my picks but one of the true joys of the Festival is discovering cinematic gems yourself. Do yourself a favour: pick up a programme, flick through a few times and just pick some films. Pick something that you might otherwise never get the chance to see; don't just go to the big nights. Get along to the documentaries, the small indie charmers and shockers. Surprise yourself.

So, what are your picks so far?

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