When it gets to the bitter end of winter in Melbourne, movie-lovers at least know they have one saving grace to look forward to. As the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) returns for its 66th outing, taking over the city for 18 days, it’s cinematic Christmas.
Even the most clued-up film buff can get a bit overwhelmed by the size of MIFF, with 350-plus films from almost 70 nations all over the globe on offer, so let The Urban List hep you out with ten of our favourite picks.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer/Top of the Lake: China Girl
Nicole Kidman is queen of the screen right now, what with Lion and The Beguiled on the silver screen and Big Little Lies on the gogglebox. This year’s MIFF sees a double offering from the Australian star.
She once again pairs with The Beguiled co-star Colin Farrell in the latest weird and wonderful offering from The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos, as a married couple whose perfect life in a big, fancy house is brought tumbling down by an encroaching teenager. She also stars alongside Elisabeth Moss, (Mad Men, The handmaid’s Tale) in season two of Jane Campion’s psychological thriller Top of the Lake, with MIFF offering a sneaky first peak at all six episodes.
Comedian and actor Osamah Sami’s real life is a lot more fantastical than most fictional dramas, so adapting even a fragment of his memoir Good Muslim Boy for this Aussie rom com makes for equally hilarious/incredulous viewing. Ali, who is basically Sami, has to fake uni attendance after fibbing about his school results, but that is only the start of his troubles. Falling for an Aussie-born Lebanese girl while sitting in on classes, his first love will not fly with his immigrant Iraqi family, who intend to arrange marriage for him. This sparks an almost Romeo & Juliet-like secret love. Pray for a happier ending…
Call Me By Your Name
Set in the sticky Italian summer of 1983, dashing Armie Hammer puts in a career-best performance as Oliver, a 20-something antiquity student who finds himself drawn inexorably to the 17-year-old son Elio (an also outstanding Timothée Chalamet) of the expat American tutor he’s interning with. Far from a tragic tale of forbidden love, The Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino’s achingly tender adaptation of André Aciman’s much-loved novel is a fluttering heartbeat of a movie.
Scoring the Grand Jury Prize and the Queer Palm at Cannes, writer/director Robin Campillo’s pulsating political protest drama BPM is set in Paris in the 90s during the height of the AIDS crisis. Drawing on his experiences as part of prominent advocacy group Act Up-Paris, pushing the government to act faster to save lives, it’s a stylish, powerful and sexually charged movie that captures the fear and loving of the era.
Packed full of the particular brand of heartfelt, off-the-wall humour Kiwis do so well, this eye-opening doco from Florian Habicht goes inside Spookers in Auckland, a former mental institution turned into a theme park haunted house.
The actors who don impressively gory make-up to become zombies, witches and cannibals are a winning bunch of freaks and geek who have found family together, but Habicht also takes the time to speak to former patients and nurses about what they make of this fun park spin on a troubled place.
The Song Keepers
A brilliant feel-good doco from director Naina Sen, The Song Keepers features the magnificent Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir who sing German Lutheran hymns first brought to the area by missionaries, but in the western Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages, preserving two grand traditions at once. Sen follows the woman as they set out to perform in Germany.
The House of Z
A young Zac Posen’s incredible trajectory in the cutthroat fashion industry is the stuff of legends, rocketing to stardom by dressing Naomi Campbell, wiping out with grand ambitions during the GFC and then bouncing back to carve his own space once more. This snappy, fun debut doco form Sandy Chronopoulos traces the colourful character, both artist and businessman, in his own words and through talking heads including Campbell, Sean Combs and Claire Danes.
Recalling Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Saturday Night Live star Kyle Mooney plays isolated 25-year-old James, trapped in a bunker with his parents (Jane Adams and Star Wars’ Mark Hamill) in this kookily heart-warming comedy. Addicted to VHS of his favourite kids’ TV program, featuring the talking teddy bear of the title, his tiny world and the limited scope it presents are soon turned upside down.
If you like your schedule skewed towards late-night weirdness, look no further than co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, Also starring, they play brothers who, having escaped a UFO death cult suicide pact a decade ago return to the scene to figure out if there’s any truth to the madness. That’s when things take a turn for the truly bizarre in this genre-bending breakout hit.
MIFF has long been a champion of animation that busts out of the cutesy Pixar mould and this striking work from Iranian-born, German-based director Ali Soozandeh is a sterling example. Taking aim at the hypocritical taboos surrounding sex and gender in Iran and the religious and political repression that smothers all through several short stories, this gorgeously rendered film is pretty powerful.
Image credit: Melbourne International Film Festival