Now that I've had a proper chance to sit down and go through the programme for this year's Auckland International Film Festival, the intimidating depth and breadth of the films on offer is truly becoming apparent.
The 2014 selection of New Zealand features paints a picture of a robust local film industry, from the viewer's perspective at least. The doom and gloom we often hear about making films in New Zealand is negated by the variety and class of the local features screening, especially coming in the wake of the local box office success of What We Do In The Shadows. And like that film, they haven't all necessarily taken the traditional paths to production, which only makes them more exciting.
I've already talked about Housebound and REALTi, two of the more genre-leaning films screening. They are well-complemented by two strong drama offerings, the first being opening night premiere The Dark Horse, which stars Cliff Curtis (10,000 BC) as real life chess hero Genesis Potini and Boy's James Rolleston as his troubled nephew.
And the second being Paolo Rotondo's Orphans & Kingdoms, which has the potential to be the best Kiwi film to take place on Waiheke Island since Death Warmed Up. Or Never Say Die. Or The Red House. The point is, it looks very good. See for yourself in the brand new trailer, available to view here.
I'm also very intrigued by Gavin Hipkins' Erewhon - any film that elicits the description 'visual essay' will get my attention. I recently watched this visual essay, and it blew my mind.
Anyone who is sick of me going on and on about genre won't be surprised by how excited I was to see a section named 'Thrill' in this year's festival programme. I'm pretty sure that's never happened before. It speaks to how genre elements are creeping further and further into "legitimate" cinema.
As I've often said, I've love nothing more than a genre film gussied-up with artfulness, and every offering in this section has the potential to excel in this regard. I had the chance to see one of them recently - David Michôd's The Rover - and it was a searing and propulsive experience.
Hans Petter Moland's snow-laden murder movie In Order of Disappeance has definitely piqued my interest, and it's nice to see prior festival-stalwart David Gordon Green (George Washington; All The Real Girls; Undertow) back in this realm after taking a break from indie movies to direct the studio likes of Your Highness and The Sitter. His new indie Joe is screening at the festival, and has generated Nicolas Cage's best reviews in a very long time. As a die-hard Cage-apologist, I can't wait to jump on that bandwagon.
There's are a couple of notable pairings in this year's programme - that is, two films linked by something that could make them suitable for an informal double feature of sorts.
The first pairing is kind of obvious - the Jesse Eisenberg-starring The Double and the Jake Gylleenhaal-starring Enemy (which is of course based on a book called The Double). Both of these films are about a young man who encounters a doppelgänger of himself, and they both look awesomely weird.
Two other films that I'd see back-to-back if I could are David Cronenberg's Map To The Stars and Abel Ferrara's Welcome To New York. The former won Julianne Moore the Best Actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and concerns Hollywood phonies. The latter is a fictionalised account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal starring Gerard Depardieu as an analogue for the disgraced politician.
Cronenberg and Ferrara are two of cinema's finest purveyours of elegant sleaze, and the prospect of seeing them delve into the films' respective subject matters - both of which positively ooze contemporary excess - is highly enticing. Drinking it all up in the Civic is gonna be a real treat.
The one actual appropriate double feature that I can spot is of course thanks to Ant Timpson's reliably messed-up Incredibly Strange section: American indie horror It Follows then buzzy Dutch home invasion nightmare Borgman on the afternoon/evening of Thursday July 31st. I'm gonna have fun dreams that night.
A lot of people saw music video (Radiohead; Massive Attack) director Jonathan Glazer's debut film Sexy Beast, a festival breakout from the year 2000. Far fewer people saw his second film, the 2006 Nicole Kidman drama Birth, and many of those that did expressed profound befuddlement.
I'm not sure I "got" Birth, but I defintely loved watching it - it's every bit as much of a sensual delight as Sexy Beast, it just happens to focus on a colder aesthetic which perfectly suited Kidman's generally chilly vibe.
Anyway, Glazer's third film Under the Skin is debuting at this year's festival, and although I have no doubt it will be just as unique as Sexy Beast and Birth, it's definitely the most commercial-sounding premise the director has ever worked with: Scarlett Johansson plays a beautiful young woman who may or may not be an alien who skulks around Scotland seducing lonely men. So yeah, basically McSpecies. If it was any other director, that is. Glazer is one of a kind, and his Malick-ian pace (only three movies in fourteen years) has never seemed unjustified.
Were it not for Housebound, I think Under the Skin would my most anticipated film this year. That said, there is NO WAY I am missing Jodorowsky's Dune. It's a very good year for nerds like me.
* Looking forward to any of these films? What else? Comment below!