Thank God for the World Cinema Showcase, kicking off this Thursday in Auckland and heading to Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch throughout April.
In addition to being a nice little warm-up for the International Film Festivals that begin a few months down the track, it provides an opportunity for films which may have otherwise gone straight to DVD in this country to screen how they were intended - on the big screen.
In this piece I'm going to highlight some of the films I'm most excited to see in this year's line-up.
I discussed the film I'm most excited about - Whit Stillman's Damsels In Distress, in a previous blog. My enthusiasm for this film remains unfettered.
One of the best aspects of most film festivals is the chance to see a host of new documentaries in a theatre. I find documentaries benefit massively from being viewed on the big screen - they somehow instantly seem more mythic.
I recently got the chance to watch a preview copy of surely one of this year's best: Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, which examines the groundbreaking '90s hip hop group behind such hits as Can I Kick It? and World Tour.
The film has an unlikely director in the form of actor Michael Rapaport, best known for playing a big white doofus in films like True Romance; Mighty Aphrodite and Hitch.
In addition to a rousing celebration of their still-relevant albums, Beats, Rhymes and Life paints a complex picture of the internal problems that plagued A Tribe Called Quest towards the end of their run. And it's all in the group's own words - there is no voiceover. There's enough meat in their story to consider this the hip hop version of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
You don't have to be a hip hop or even an A Tribe Called Quest fan to enjoy this film - it features many universal truths about creativity and collaboration. Also, the music is freaking amazing - Rapaport's song selection is very much on point.
Another noteworthy film playing at the WCS that I've had the opportunity to preview is Margaret, a heady drama starring Anna Paquin which was filmed in 2005 but has been mired in legal disputes over the final edit ever since.
Now the film has finally emerged seven years later and it proves a gripping, manic portrait of post 9/11 unease in New York. Paquin plays a self-invovled high schooler who witnesses a fatal bus crash and struggles with her own culpability in the accident.
The film is pretty long (which was apparently the root of the dispute), but I remain wholly captivated throughout. Paquin's performance is amazing - her character is often reprehensible, but the film remains empathic towards her throughout. Little known actress J-Smith Cameron (the white trash shapeshifting mum in True Blood) is absolutely dazzling as Paquin's stage-actress mother.
Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick and Mark Ruffalo also turn up in the film, which was written and directed by noted playwright Kenneth Lonergan. Lonergan, who turns up in the film in a naturalistic performance as Paquin's father, previously made the Oscar-nominated 2000 film You Can Count on Me.
I wasn't entirely sure what to make of Margaret going in, but I came out exhausted by the intense emotion of it all. In a good way.
The opportunity to see Wolfgang Peterson's legendary 1981 German U-Boat drama Das Boot on the big screen is one I won't let pass me by, especially as the film's composer is introducing the screenings.
When I first read that Woody Allen: A Documentary was screening at the WCS I got very excited. Director Robert B Weide (who has helmed episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm) was allowed unprecedented access to the notoriously private filmmaker. As a lifelong fan of the man, I simply cannot wait to watch this.
And thankfully, the word has come through that the festival will be screening the full unabridged two-part version of the film (instead of a cutdown version as originally planned), which was produced for American public television.
Loveable leading man du jour Paul Rudd (Role Models; I Love You Man) heads an impressive cast as the title character in the low-key comedy Our Idiot Brother, with Zooey Deschenal, Elizabeth Banks and Emily Mortimer as his three sisters.
Anyone who's seen Nine Queens (2000) or The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) knows just how much of a unique presence Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin can be, which makes me interested in Chinese Takeaway, in which he stars as a Buenos Aires shopkeeper who helps a lost Chinese man.
Other films that piqued my interest include The Colour Wheel; Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and Urbanized. Also, how could I not see a film called Hara-Kiri 3D: Death of a Samurai?
Find out more at the official website.
Which films are you most excited to see at the World Cinema Showcase?