I've never been inside a building more conducive to generating movie-watching pleasure - the interior spaces of The Civic ensure anybody present is as open to being carried away by a movie as they can possibly be.
Here are 10 films from the festival that I am particularly excited about. They're not all showing in The Civic, but you can't have everything.
If I could implore you to see any film on faith at this festival, it's this French wonder. The true story of a nun who attempted to teach a deaf and blind girl how to communicate in the late 19th century, it's not the most commercial of propositions, and all too easily dismissed as a French Helen Keller. Let go of all that and trust me - it's absolutely phenomenal. I watched it last year for a French Film junket, and it completely floored me. It's direct, devastatingly heartfelt cinema - you won't regret making the effort.
As noted by some learned soul in the festival guide entry for this film, this French coming-of-age tale has more to say directly to a New Zealand audience than most movies. It centres on an aspect of French society all too often ignored by French cinema, or at least the French movies that get released here. The understated authenticity goes a long way, and the specificity gives way to universal truths. Don't miss it.
Any genre film that incites comparisons to the work of Austrian miserabalist Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Hidden) is going to demand my attention. That said, the term 'extreme cinema' is used in the festival guide entry for this film, and I am something of a nancy when it comes to hardcore violence. Oh well, too late to back out now.
Every year the Incredibly Strange section of the festival offers up a documentary that defies description - past notables include Winnebago Man and Kung Fu Elliot. This year it's Finders Keepers, and even though I watched it at the programme launch, I still don't think I could boil it down to a sentence or two. It's somehow reassuring that these kinds of docos keep coming, it speaks to the enduring weirdness of the world.
Tale of Tales
I first became aware of the existence of this amazing-looking film when I wrote a blog about the state of fantasy cinema earlier this year. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since then, and the disturbing, intoxicating, visceral trailer has only enhanced my anticipation. This will undoubtedly be a sight to see on the big screen.
While We're Young
The highlight of director Noah Baumbach's last collaboration with Ben Stiller - the underrated 2010 film Greenberg - is a scene in which Stiller's titular aging musician attends a teenage party and clumsily attempts to be "down with the kids". That dynamic appears to be the inspiration for their new film in which Stiller and Naomi Watts play New Yorkers who make young friends with a hipster couple played by Adam Driver (Darth Boyfriend from Girls) and Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2).
Ever since It Follows dazzled audiences at last year's film festival, the possibilities of indie horror have felt especially boundless. Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer's Body) still hasn't fully atoned for her downright shameful movie adaptation of Aeon Flux, but she comes across as super awesome on Trailers From Hell, so I'm ready to blame the studio and not her for the 2005 Charlize Theron turkey. The deep blue film nerdery she displays in her TFH commentaries seems well-suited to a modern take on evergreen 'Nefarious Revelations at a Secluded Dinner party' trope.
Out of the Mist
Any attempt to encapsulate New Zealand cinema should be applauded, given the relative size of our 'canon'. This documentary written and directed by Tim Wong (founding editor of The Lumiere Reader) aims to provide an alternative history of New Zealand film. There's plenty of romance to be mined in the rebellious thinking that drove many of our less commercial cinematic achievements, and I'm really excited to see and hear (via Eleanor Catton's narration) how Wong contextualises these movies. We're about due for a new definitive assessment of New Zealand cinema.
54: The Director's Cut
I remember reading about the existence of a fabled longer cut when this soapy fantasy was first released in 1998 (alongside Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, a far superior rumination on Studio 54). I specifically recall predicting that I would never, ever get to see it. Yet here we are. And it's screening in the freaking Civic! Truly, this festival film has me more excited than any other this year.
I've been going on about this film in this blog for almost two years, so you best believe I'm excited to see it. With this, Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year playing, it's great to see the film festival stepping up to provide a venue for notable release-worthy films that otherwise would've gone straight to home entertainment formats without seeing the inside of a theatre.
• What are you excited to see at this year's festival? Comment below!