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The Guide: Sydney Film Festival highlights

The Sydney Film Festival runs from 8-19 June and it’s director, Nashen Moodley, has packed it with vignettes of intrigue, black comedy and narrative play. He dangles an Indie carrot with a nonchalant breed of Hollywood stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore and Greta Gerwig starring in new release films, whilst auteur directors Laurie Anderson, Chantal Akerman, Terrence Davies, Werner Herzog, Richard Linklater, Alexander Sukharov and Jean-Marc Vallée provide world cinema gravitas. The Office Space brings you the top 10 highlights:

  • Jake Gyllenhaal is raking in the accolades for Demolition, the new comedic drama from Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club). Structurally, the story constantly defies expectations, veering off course in directions you could never anticipate. An investment banker (Gyllenhaal) struggles to come to terms with the tragic loss of his wife by writing lengthy complaint letters to a vending machine company. Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper co-star.
  • A Girl in the Rover: The Price of Forgiveness was this year’s Oscar-winning documentary short about honour killings in Pakistan. Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, it’s about Saba Qaiser, who fell in love, eloped, was hunted down by her father and uncle, shot in the head, stuffed into a bag and tossed into a river. Miraculously, she survived.
  • Weiner, from first-time filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, is a documentary about former congressman Anthony Weiner and the sexting scandals that brought his New York mayoral campaign to an ignominious end. It won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance in January.
  • Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan is a comedy set in New York akin to those complicated love triangles in Woody Allen’s best offerings. A career advisor (Gerwig) on the cusp of single motherhood suddenly falls for an anthropology professor (Hawke) who happens to be married to a demanding French academic (Moore).
  • In one mind-boggling take, Sebastian Schipper captures the hurly-burley of Berlin in Victoria. As a new breed of heist film, it’s a snap shot of the city’s party life, yet absurdly, it’s about a bank robbery.
  • Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin reimagines the acclaimed 2003 stage play. Rex (Michael Caton) is a taxi driver from Broken Hill, and a real loner. After receiving a terminal diagnosis, he sets out on a road trip across the vast outback.
  • Everybody Wants Some!! is Richard Linklater’s (Boyhood, Before Sunrise) “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. Texas college freshmen enjoy a weekend of partying prior to the start of semester. Full of thumping ’80s music, it’s a heart-warming comedy about friendship, bonding and growing up.
  • Francofonia, from Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov (acclaimed for his single-shot masterpiece Russian Ark), is a love letter of sorts to The Louvre. The film eloquently captures how critical art is to humanity, and to civilisation.
  • Tobias Lindholm’s A War recounts the moral dilemma of a Danish commander (Pilou Asbaek) stationed in Afghanistan and a decision that has grave consequences, not least for the wife and three children waiting at home for him. It was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • In Captain Fantastic Viggo Mortensen doesn’t quite get to to play a superhero, but rather, a super-dad determined to raise his kids on his terms. He’s the surviving half of a counter-culture couple who decided to shrug off capitalism (they ignore Christmas, but celebrate “Noam Chomsky Day”), quit the big city and raise their six kids in a stretch of Washington forest far from ‘civilised’ American society. Eventually, a tragedy requires them to reintegrate into wider society. Writer/director Matt Ross’s film is a fresh take on the family comedy-drama, offering a critique of contemporary America.

Full program and tickets available from the Sydney Film Festival.

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