With the full program of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) finally released to hungry cinema lovers, we took time out with festival director Nashen Moodley to grab his top ten must see movies at the Sydney Film Festival this year.
Indigenous auteur Ivan Sen wowed audiences with outback noir Mystery Road when it opened SFF in 2013. Three years later he’s back with the sequel, Goldstone. The dashing Aaron Pedersen returns as stoic detective Jay Swan, tracing a missing person in the small town of the title. He’s forced into an uneasy alliance with local cop Josh (Alex Russell) who busts him for drink driving. The stellar cast includes Jacki Weaver, David Wenham and David Gulpilil.
“Ivan’s such an astonishing filmmaker who writes, directs, shoots, edits and even composes the score,” Moodley says. “He’s made a really tight, impressive thriller with great action sequences that at the same time makes for a very profound social commentary.”
Straight from competition at the Cannes Film Festival, adored Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In, All About My Mother) returns with Julieta, an adaptation of an Alice Munro short detailing the relationship of a mother (Adriana Ugarte) and her estranged daughter, played across the decades by Ariadna Matin, Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Pares.
“It’s such a treat,” Moodley says. “Within the first few seconds you know you’re watching an Almodóvar film, there’s this incredible emotion and colour. He’s returning to a women-centric story that’s wonderfully emotional and I was very moved by it.”
It’s Only The End of The World
French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan may be a super-powered robot, given the alarming rate he pumps out incredibly provocative and insightful movies. His latest Cannes competition contender, It’s Only The End of The World, assembles an insanely strong ensemble in French heavyweights Marion Cottilard, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Gaspard Ulliel and Vincent Cassel for a family homecoming that does not run smoothly.
“Xavier Dolan is one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today,” Moodley says. “He’s really a master chronicler of relationships, whether romantic or familial. This is a beautiful story with a tremendous cast acting their hearts off and he uses these extreme close ups that are almost uncomfortable. It’s an immersive experience, I can’t wait to share with people.”
Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt is one of American cinema’s quiet achievers and her latest, Certain Women, once again impresses as the lives of three small-town women intersect in an emotional triptych starring Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern.
“Kelly is one of the most wonderful filmmakers working today who makes such incredible use of atmosphere, stillness and sound,” Moodley says. “It’s very quiet in a way, but it really draws you into these three separate but slightly connected stories of women trying to understand and shape their worlds.”
Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo
Food lovers will get a kick out of Maurice Dekkers inside look at superstar chef owner René Redzepi’s World leading restaurant Noma as it ups sticks and relocates his kitchen to the basement of Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, where he challenges his team to create a menu inspired by local produce.
“It’s a great film about real passion for discovering new ways of doing things and I think people will be very hungry at the end, so that’s why we’ve paired it with a meal inspired by the film at one of Sydney’s finest restaurants in The Bridge Room.”
With an election looming, Moodley reckons SFF audiences will be rewarded by wildcard documentary Weiner. Directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, it follows, with incredible access, the collapse of infamous sexting scandal Anthony Weiner’s ill-fated 2013 New York mayor electoral campaign and the personal toll on both him and wife Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s most influential aides.
“It’s a fascinating portrait, not just of this particular politician, but of the nature of modern politics,” Moodley says. “It tells a story that’s quite sensational but also pretty moving, when you see the destruction of this very smart politician who does really dumb things.”
Everybody Wants Some
Boyhood writer/director Richard Linklater follows on from that coming of age movie, which scooped a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Patricia Arquette, with a spiritual sequel of sorts to his earlier hit Dazed and Confused.
“Whereas Dazed and Confused was set at the end of the 70s with people graduating from high school, this opens at the start of the 80s and looks at those first few days in college,” Moodley says. “It’s about a young guy who joins the baseball team and his entry into adulthood. It’s really funny and, like all of Linklater’s films, there’s something very poignant about it as well.”
Barakah Meets Barakah
Only the second ever Saudi Arabian film to screen at SFF, Mahmoud Sabbagh’s Barakah Meets Barakah, starring Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi, is a romantic comedy with a difference.
“This looks at the challenges of finding love in a very conservative society Moodley notes. “Two people met meet and are instantly attracted to each other, but what do you do when the morality police are on the prowl? It’s very sweet but it’s also making a subtle political statement.”
Writer director Abe Forsythe tackles one of the most infamous incidents in recent Australian history with Down Under, a dark comedy set in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots that Moodley predicts will be one of the festival’s provocative screenings.
“The director has said he always sees comedy and tragedy as very closely interlinked and he makes use of both to make a very clever film that I hope makes everyone think. It will certainly offend some people while making a lot of others laugh. We’re excited to have the world premier and it’ll be an interesting night, whichever way it goes.”
Love & Friendship
Closing out the festival, Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny team up on one of Jane Austen’s lesser known novellas, Lady Jane, in this fun adaptation by indie filmmaker Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress), better known for contemporary mumblecore films starring the likes of Greta Gerwig.
“Surprisingly, it’s a remarkable fit,” Moodley says, “It’s incredibly funny, with wonderful performances, by Kate Beckinsale in particular, and it’s a complete delight that had me in stitches. There are many films tackling very serious issues in the festival so I think it’s nice to end on this light and bright note.”
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Image credit: Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo