Hardened film festivalgoers will already be neck deep in a well-thumbed NZIFF guide, cross-referenced Excel timetable spreadsheets and holiday leave applications as they meticulously prep to maximise their viewing at this year's film festival.

But, with more than150 movies on offer, there's just no way to see everything. For casual cinephiles it's daunting to even know where to start. So let us take care of that for you.

Here are 10 picks we think well worth your time.

Leave No Trace
What's it about? The story of a teenager who has lived peacefully with her father in an environment completely divorced from society since she was a kid - a way of life that's abruptly ended by the intrusion of social workers.

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Why should you see it? Director Debra Granik gave Jennifer Lawrence her big-screen break in wintry classic Winter's Bone. Here, Granik is working with Kiwi actress Thomasin Harcourt-Mackenzie in a role that's drawing parallels to that earlier film. Not only will you be there first, you'll also get a tense and powerful experience from one of America's most intriguing film-makers.

Beirut
What's it about? An ex-diplomat heads back into the Beirut war zone to negotiate the safe return of his mate from a terrorist group in this hostage thriller. So yeah, good luck with that ...


Why should you see it? Reviews have been solid, it's been compared favourably to spy fiction maestro John le Carre's work but the main reason is because it stars Jon Hamm, moving out of comedy mode as the negotiator, and teams him up with Rosamund Pike as an undercover operative.

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
What's it about? We're not entirely sure to be honest ... but it has something to do with unhappy marriages and a mysterious man performing a peculiar live show in a small town ...


Why should you see it? Because word on the street has it that this is a future cult classic and also because it stars deadpan greats Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement. Enough said.


Stray
What's it about?? This self-funded Kiwi feature focuses on two lonely, damaged souls trying to escape their past who bond in the barren landscape of the rural South Island.


Why should you see it? After an exceedingly lengthy process to finally get to the big-screen, which included a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign, Kiwi film-maker Dustin Feneley's sparse arthouse drama is remarkably shot, quietly powerful and totally uncompromising in its vision.

The Rider
What's it about? A rodeo cowboy who experiences a near-fatal head injury must grapple with the dramatically altered circumstances of his way of life when he learns he can no longer ride horses.


Why should you see it? One of the best-reviewed films of the year, Chinese film-maker Chloe Zhao's glimpse at the harsh beauty of life on the American outskirts looks to be a startlingly original, powerful re-examination of that most classic of American stereotypes: the cowboy.

Bludgeon
What's it about? New Zealand's highly competitive "medieval knight" scene. And yes, that is a real scene because this is a documentary.

Why should you see it? These sort of docos about people and their unusual hobbies are always entertaining and have a strange habit of leaving your heart warmed. Besides, when else will you ever see your fellow countrymen dressed as knights and swinging swords at each other?

First Reformed
What's it about? A grief-stricken priest struggling with his faith is drawn into a terrorist plot through one of his parishioners.

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Why should you see it? The mastermind behind Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader, is one of modern cinema's great chroniclers of society's moral decay. Here he channels classic European cinema with what is reportedly an all-time brilliant performance by the wonderful Ethan Hawke.

Burning
What's it about? A young writer forms a jealous crush on a mysterious young woman in his orbit who suddenly takes up with a handsome, wealthy companion.


Why should you see it? One of the big sensations out of Cannes this year, meticulous film-maker Lee Chang-dong's latest is adapted from a Haruki Murakami short and stars The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun. Sure to be one of the most-talked-about films of 2018.

Shoplifters
What's it about? A family in Tokyo who rely on shoplifting to survive a life of abject poverty take in a homeless street kid.


Why should you see it? The winner of this year's Palme d'Or, the highest honour bestowed at the Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is arguably the apex of the career of Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose quiet, unassuming films have been both underpraised and extremely affecting with remarkable consistency. Bring the tissues, as this one is sure to be weepy.

You Were Never Really Here
What's it about? A dishevelled hitman is hired to rescue the daughter of a wealthy New York senator from sex traffickers.


Why should you see it? Joaquin Phoenix stars in this short, sharp, shocking hitman story whose violence is matched only by its visual and directorial brilliance. For those who like their hardboiled thrillers with a side of arthouse. Festivalgoers, in other words ...