Taika Waititi is the Herald entertainment team's hero of the year, for smashing it in Hollywood, having a hand in some bloody funny telly, getting people talking and doing things his way.
After coming to Hollywood's attention with a string of local indie hits like Boy and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, his flashy and distinctive direction of 2017's Thor: Ragnarok established him as someone capable of putting their own stamp on a blockbuster.
It earned more than US$850 million ($1.3 billion) at the box office worldwide. That earned him the right — and financial backing — to write, produce, direct and star in this year's Jojo Rabbit.
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To recap, the "anti-hate satire" follows a 10-year-old boy in World War II Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. Waititi's star-studded cast also included Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson.
The movie won the People's Choice Award after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival — arguably more important than Cannes these days — and Waititi was awarded the festival's Ebert Director Award which "recognises and honours a distinguished film-maker for their outstanding contribution to cinema".
The festival's joint chief, Joana Vicente, described Waititi as "one of the most innovative, bold, and exciting film-makers working in the industry right now".
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the industry who wouldn't see a comedy about Nazis as a bit of a risk. Even Waititi.
Talking to the Herald's Karl Puschmann early this year, he acknowledged as much: "I'm always trying to do something that makes me feel more uncomfortable and a bit unsure of the result. [Most of the] things I'm working on, they're all potential career enders."
He pulled it off with minimal backlash and this week Jojo was nominated for two Golden Globes, including best musical or comedy film.
As Siena Yates, our reporter at the premiere, put it: "Waititi won over fans and critics alike in his absurdist portrayal of Hitler, communicating the sheer farce of the dictator's hatred as well as a boy's desperation to see only the best qualities in his idol — even when he knows it's wrong."
There was criticism. Indiewire called it "crass" and "disingenuous" and the UK's Telegraph, gave it one star, calling it a "a dismal dereliction of duty" for presenting Nazism and the Holocaust as "goofy can-you-ever-believe-they-went-for-this-rubbish? one-offs".
But there are those who believe art should prompt debate and challenge opinions.
Waititi told Yates: "There's always gonna be someone saying, 'Oh you're not taking it seriously enough.' Can I remind you that Charlie Chaplin did The Great Dictator in 1939?"
At the premiere, Waititi said Hitler came to power because small changes seeped into society day by day, and the same thing is happening now.
"Small little things … but the more you ignore it and the more you think, 'We're at the height of human civilisation and advancement, that can never happen again,' which is exactly what they said in 1933 [ ... ] — that ignorance and that arrogance that allows us to forget is really the big human flaw."
So to the telly stuff. The TV spinoff series from Waititi and Jemaine Clement's vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows dropped in March, streaming here on Neon. Waititi (and Clement) were among the executive producers. He directed three episodes and made a hugely enjoyable cameo in one episode.
And let's not forget Wellington Paranormal, itself a spinoff from the original What We Do ... film. Waititi's hands-on involvement in this year's second series was limited, but without his (and Clement's) original creation ...
(Disney) Plus he directed an episode of the streaming behemoth's flagship original Star Wars production the Mandalorian, and lent his strong Kiwi vowels to IG-11, the lethal bounty hunting droid in the opening episode, adding another on-screen Kiwi connection to that galaxy far, far away.
Next up he's directing Hollywood royalty Elisabeth Moss and Michael Fassbender in Next Goal Wins, a biopic about the Dutch football coach tasked with turning the American Samoa team into an elite squad. Then it's a writing and directing job on Thor: Love and Thunder.
So Taika. We say thanks for the laughs, for revitalising superheroes and for making people think about hard things.
WE ALSO LOVED ...
19-year-old Stella Bennett - likely known to you as Benee - is a teen pop sensation. After bursting onto the scene with anthem Soaked, she turned in an epic performance at the Laneway festival, got a nomination for the Silver Scroll songwriting awards and picked up four gongs at the New Zealand Music Awards. She's still living at home but the world is taking notice.
Taranaki-born screenwriter Anthony McCarten has already written two Oscar-nominated films about significant real-life figures, The Theory of Everything (Stephen Hawking) and Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill). His latest weighty effort is The Two Popes, about the transition from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce it has four Golden Globe nominations, including best drama film and best screenplay.
Anapela Polata'ivao directed and starred in Wild Dogs Under My Skirts, one of the best theatre pieces of 2019, adapted by playwright Victor Rodger from Tusiata Avia's amazing poetry collection. It's one of three Kiwi shows handpicked for the SoHo Playhouse 2020 showcase in New York in January.
You'll know Ana Scotney from her scene-stealing performance as the jealous ex-girlfriend in 2018 rom-com The Breaker Upperers. But she's fast emerging as a theatre star, thanks, partly, to her show The Contours of Heaven, which tells the real stories of six young people from Northland. It, too, is going to New York for the 2020 SoHo season.
2019 has been huge for comedian Rose Matafeo. Having conquered the stage with last year's win at the Edinburgh Comedy Fest, her attention shifted to screens small and large. She announced Starstruck, a six-part "millennial comedy" for the BBC and HBO Max and an hour-long comedy special for HBO. She also landed a coveted spot in hit British game show Taskmaster, starred in the second season of Tim Minchin's Aussie sitcom Squinters and finished filming her first major movie role in Baby, Done. On top of that she cleaned up at the annual NZ Comedy Guild Awards winning the night's biggest prize, Outstanding Artist Achievement, for the second year in a row. With all her big projects hitting their respective screens next year, you can expect to see her back on this list in 12 months.