Now that the 34th annual Vancouver International Film Festival (which ran from September 24th to October 9th, 2015) has drawn to a close, Taste of Cinema offers up our choice favorites from what was a prodigious and impressive festival.
While there were many excellent and outstanding non-fiction films – Su Rynard’s The Messenger, Mia Shum’s Ninth Floor, Oni Timoner’s Brand: A Second Coming, and Thomas Wirthensohn’s Homme Less, amongst them – the following list opts to pulls focus on the fictional offerings that VIFF presented only. With such impressive offerings including some 370 films from 70 countries we already had our work cut out for us.
It’s also worth noting that many of these films will be getting a larger or a limited theatrical release in the months ahead, particularly in North America, and they’re each worth seeing on the majesty of the big screen at your favorite theater. A few listed here you’ll certainly have to hunt for as they are destined for arthouse and repertory cinemas only, but at the very least these films each deserve to be substantial bleeps on your movie-seeking radars.
Until next year VIFF, see you in the queue!
Zach Weintraub’s (Bummer Summer) audacious arthouse alternative, Slackjaw, delights in awkward social arrangements, and eccentric slice-of-life naturalism. Functioning as an off-kilter comedy of the “funny strange” variety, Slackjaw edges ever so unsteadily towards a kind of mating between John Cassavetes and Napoleon Dynamite.
The outlaw attitude at its crux, its character derived jokiness, and unconventional half-moon trajectory will resonate with niche audiences, guaranteeing cult status. (Full Review)
14. The Similars
Mexican auteur Isaac Ezban’s speedy follow-up to last year’s sci-fi success, The Incident, is the stylish, strange, and atmospheric Twilight Zone tribute, The Similars. Rich in ambience and anxiety, this is a film that plays and taunts the viewer like a loose tooth.
Set in an eerie, out-of-the-way bus station in 1968, the film is fuelled and fed by an economical understanding of shots, cuts, reveals, and a well-massed narrative dossier. The tale may take some flighty forks that presses plausibility, but it’s a genre film with genuflections as wildly varied as Orson Welles, the Evil Dead, Hitchcock, and Delicatessen. Fans of mannerist, self-reflexive, and adventurous cinema, hone in on Ezban, he’s got the goods. (Full Review)
There is heart in almost every frame of this tender and elegiac picture from Iceland. Writer/director Grímur Hákonarson (Summerland) is in full command of his considerable cinematic skills in this story of estranged brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). They’ve spent the last 40 odd years at odds with one another until a scabie outbreak threatens their competing prized flocks of sheep.
It may seem a thin premise to hang a tragicomic parable upon, but Rams is a story of great humanity, of brotherhood and of altruism that reveals a sad profundity. (Full Review)
12. Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Chloé Zhao’s piercingly sad yet stunningly beautiful debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me offers an authentic and elegiac portrait of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Told from the perspective of 11-year-old Jashawn Winters (Jashaun St. John, brilliant), and a few of her foolhardy older brothers,
Zhao’s film is poetic and indebted somewhat to the tradition of neorealism. The intensity of caprice and character, and thematic dactylic resonance make for a beautiful and sustained melancholy. That’s not to say it’s a downer, not at all. It’s rare that marginalized characters such as these get their own film, let alone one that’s such a shimmering prize. (Full Review)
Telling the surreal yet straight-faced journey of a diminutive adventurer (Daniel Tadesse), whose beloved, Birdy (Selam Tesfaye), lives in a relinquished bowling alley, he must find an autocratic Santa Claus and ask him to put them aboard a spaceship.
Armed only with a toy sword – still in it’s original packaging – and a vinyl copy of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous to barter with, and dogged by a pop culture trinket-adoring Nazi nutjob, Crumbs is the crazy directorial debut from Ethiopian filmmaker Miguel Llansó. Part post-apocalyptic melodrama, part peculiar pop culture collateral as objet d’art obiter dictum, Crumbs is a bedtime story for children of the far future. (Full Review)
New Zealand writer/director Jason Lei Howden’s hilariously resurrects the splatter comedy with Deathgasm. If combining the crude fanboy nobility of Bill and Ted with the stomach-churning carnage of Dead Alive sounds delectable, then this indelicate and scatological midnight movie masterpiece is a sweet course.
Brodie (Milo Cawthorne), a serious heavy metal fan, along with bad-boy bff Zakk (James Blake) front a band, the titular Deathgasm, who up their street cred and Satanic celebrity by incorporating demonic lyrics from an ancient text into their music. It turns out that doing so summons an assortment of teeth-gnashing nasties that only they can stand up to.
Deathgasm’s hyperbolic, fluid-spewing violence is a morbid revelry – what other film offers up a slo mo assault on demons with an ebony dildo and a string of anal beads? – and with rapid-fire quotable quips and put-downs that are laugh-out-loud funny, this is a film meant for repeat group viewings. (Full Review)
9. Nina Forever
Written and directed by Brit brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, Nina Forever is an occasionally romantic, often amusing, and outright macabre debut that showcases pronounced visual savvy and at least one breakout performance from Abigail Hardingham.
Whenever new couple Rob (Cian Barry) and Holly (Hardingham) get it on, Rob’s ex, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), deceased, makes a blood-spattered forced entrance of cockblocking impropriety.
The Blaine brothers get full marks for audacious innovation, and Hardingham’s unruly boldness and brave promise is a great foil for O’Shaughnessy’s very literal deadpan. Not only does the film delve into ideas of grieving and recovery, but of first love, coming of age, acceptance, and desire. There may be recognizable genre tropes, but the movie is first and foremost a horror film, though there’s a delicate and tenderhearted love story at its core, making Nina Forever as intellectually edifying as it is carnally seductive. (Full Review)