I am here to tell you: resist temptation. Seek the hidden gems. The Soderbergh will come back. The Jarmusch will come back. (I can't speak to your friend's film.) These almost definitely won't. And while I haven't seen any of them, I've got a pretty good feeling, which means I can guarantee at least seven of them will be great. (Sorry, can't guarantee which seven. Just playing the odds.)
A BAND CALLED DEATH: remember that SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN film that everybody loved? Now imagine if a. Sugarman was a 4-piece black band from the 70s in Detroit that were playing punk rock before punk rock was even a term that existed and b. it was based around a family story. Okay, that's a terrible analogy. What I'm trying to say is that this music doco might be overlooked by those that would most love it, hidden away in the Incredibly Strange section (along with another music doco, the very different-looking but highly intriguing THE SOURCE FAMILY), but it's winning the hearts of everyone who takes a chance on it, regardless of their music taste. That it fucking rocks is only a bonus.
ERNEST AND CELESTINE: I would have thought with only one animated tale this year, this watercolor-styled story of the friendship between a bear and a mouse would be a massive hit, but it seems to be one of the few Bridgeway sessions that hasn't sold out, which makes me think it's been ignored somehow. To be fair, it is playing against both NORTH BY NORTHWEST and CHARLUATA in said session, which gave me pause when making the tough decisions, and forced me to break my "no trailer" rule to confirm that I wanted to see it. 20 seconds later, my smile was already in danger of being permanently affixed to my face. And did I mention that the directors of previous NZIFF hit A TOWN CALLED PANIC are involved? Because they are.
LEVIATHAN: I thought everybody knew this was essential viewing, but word of mouth makes me fear that the guide is scaring people off with its allusions to potential nausea. So maybe sit in the back, but do show up to see this. It will be unlike anything you've ever seen on the screen: the use of small GoPro cameras around a trawler captures the sea and the act of commercial fishing in intensely visceral, abstract, horrific and beautiful ways. I've watched the same clip online, like, twenty times, and it never loses its magic. I can't wait to see it at scale on a cinema screen, and if I could only see one film this year, there's a damn good chance it would be this one.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE: let me get the disclaimer out of the way first: apparently it has reasonably explicit gay sex, so if that bothers or offends you, you know what not to do. That notwithstanding, this was one of the sleeper hits of Cannes: virtually everybody who saw this unconventional suspense thriller raved about it, and while director Alain Giuraudie is an NZIFF newcomer, the one film I've seen of his before (NO REST FOR THE BRAVE) is a fascinatingly unconventional piece of filmmaking. Guessing this is going to end up high on my list of fest favorites.
BLUE RUIN: another word-of-mouth Cannes hit, also tucked away in the Incredibly Strange section. Whilst there's no shortage of bloody crowd-pleasers in this section this year (including the incredibly enjoyable YOU'RE NEXT, which I've seen, as well as V/H/S 2, LESSON OF THE EVIL, CHEAP THRILLS, and MANIAC), this one seems perched much closer to the arthouse; the clips I watched brought to mind the Dardennes brothers slightly in their observational quality. It's just a feeling, but I'm pegging this as the sleeper hit of the Incredibly Strange section this year.
THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT: okay, this one is probably only for the more arthouse-tolerant, but at least two trusted Twitter arthouse fans are calling this the film of the year, full stop. I did watch the trailer because of a painful conflict, which gives away nothing as near as I can tell; it's confounding and captivating all at once, and I think I'm going to have to beg to leave work early to check this one out. (My Hong Sang-Soo completism being what it is has caused some scheduling problems, as usual.)
THE MISSING PICTURE: So there's two documentaries this year about mass killings in Southeast Asia. Most of the press has been around Joshua Oppenheimer's THE ACT OF KILLING, which to be sure sounds absolutely deserving (it comes with stamps of approval from Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, for starters) and this tale of Indonesian death-squad members re-enacting their crimes should be a must-see for you. But less heralded, perhaps because it just debuted at Cannes (where it won an award), is this documentary about the Cambodian genocide, which tells its tale in part using wood-carved figurines. The curious blend of form and content has me just as intrigued to see this as THE ACT OF KILLING.
ORACLE DRIVE: FANTAIL, GISELLE, THE WEIGHT OF ELEPHANTS, and THE DEADLY PONIES CLUB seem to have the local heat this year, but I'm entranced by this unheralded North Shore absurdist essay film. At least, I think that's what it is. I watched a little bit from their PledgeMe page and it looks completely unconventional. In a country known for its rolling hills and lush coastlines, to see a filmmaker making a place-based film about the back of billboards amuses me to no end.
NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY: How do I convince you that a four-hour film is worth taking a chance on? It's great value for money? It will undoubtedly never come back? It's a rather short piece by the filmmaker's standards (he often works with seven to nine hour runtimes)? I'm reasonably sure none of this will work, and I can't quantify quite why I'm excited about it (I've never seen another Lav Diaz film). But his use of long takes appeals to me, especially after just having survived a blockbuster that shall will remain nameless that never saw a shot it was willing to sustain for more than 3 seconds.
EVERYDAY OBJECTS: This German film is the only international film that I'm seeing that I've heard literally nothing about. Over the years, some of my favorite NZIFF films (LONGING and 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST leap immediately to mind) have been completely unheralded, selected solely to fill a slot, and so I try to see one or two a year that fit that bill for that very reason; in a fest where there are many films that I have already been anticipating and therefore know a bit about, it's great to see something that's undigested, a complete surprise (and hopefully a pleasant one). Key words that struck me from the description and got me excited: "Concise", "coolly formal", "intelligent and seductive".
Plus, also, too, maybe you might, if you can: MUSEUM HOURS (by Jem Cohen, and sponsored by the discerning souls at The Lumiere Reader), LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (new Kiarostami; his last film CERTIFIED COPY is still my favorite film of the decade), COMPUTER CHESS (this thing looks INSANE, which I mean as a compliment; read Jacob Powell's interview with Andrew Bujalski to get excited), A FIELD IN ENGLAND (Ben Wheatley of KILL LIST and SIGHTSEERS creates a black and white drug trip), NOBODYS DAUGHTER HAEWON (I am endlessly fond of Hong Sang-Soo films), and CHARLES BRADLEY: SOUL OF AMERICA (which, I mean: just watch this and tell me you don't want to know that guy's story; need I mention that he put out his debut album at 62?).
And, oh hey, while I'm here: five films you can't miss on the Civic screen: UPSTREAM COLOR (! = the followup to PRIMER, you guys, this will look amazing), THE GREAT BEAUTY (!! = the new film by Paolo "Only The Best Director of Cinematic Motion Alive" Sorrentino), THE HUMAN SCALE (which: read Alexander Bisley's excellent interview and you'll probably get excited as I did), THE DANCE OF REALITY (new Jodorowsky, this will be amazing to argue about after it's done, come hang out with me in front of the Civic and we'll shoot the shit until the wee hours), and of course GOBLIN PLAYS SUSPIRIA, the single most exciting festival announcement of the 10 years I've lived in New Zealand.