10. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been riding the crest of the Iranian New Wave since winning the Caméra d’Or at Cannes in 1995 for his debut film, The White Balloon.
His last feature was 2006’s Offside, which deservedly won the Silver Bear in Berlin and topped critic’s best of lists the world over, and he’s made the smaller scale offerings, This Is Not a Film, and Closed Curtain. Smaller scale as they were both made in secret as Panahi’s was banned by the Iranian government in 2010 for 20 years from making films.
It’s in this environment and with this type of anticipation that the world greets his latest offering, Taxi, which was filmed with stealth on the streets of Tehran. Panahi cruises the streets picking up friends, family, and an assortment nonprofessionals, each of whom assume characters in the film in what Darren Aronofsky calls a “love letter to cinema,” and one that is “filled with love for his art, his community, his country, and his audience as well.”
Recipient of the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is a ride worth taking, wherever the destination may be, without question.
9. Nina Forever (Ben Blaine & Chris Blaine, UK)
A dark and deranged fairy tale seems to be the results in this British horror comedy debut from brothers Ben and Chris Blaine with Nina Forever.
Our eponymous heroine, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy from the brilliant UK television series Utopia), might be dead, but that doesn’t stop her from haunting her ex, Rob (Cian Barry), much to the chagrin of his new sweetie, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). Holly, is rightly annoyed that her new hottie has a third wheel, of the undead variety, who’s not only a major buzz kill, but her sarcastic rejoinders and retorts offer up a too literal definition of the term “dead pan” on top of it.
A cheeky, charming, S-shaped genre film for the late night crowd, Nina Forever is part of VIFF’s Altered States series of fantastic cinema which always offers up startling and innovative fare with an avant-garde angle that’s hard to resist for the adventurous and unconventional filmgoer.
8. I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham, USA)
For VIFF 2015’s closing gala Marc Abraham’s country music legend biopic I Saw the Light should fill the bill rather finely, to which we excitedly offer up only five choice words: Tom Hiddleston portrays Hank Williams!
7. Brooklyn (John Crowley, USA)
The inaugural movie for the Vancouver International Film Festival’s opening gala comes from John Crowley (Closed Circuit), adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín’s cherished 2009 novel, is the 1950’s historical period piece, Brooklyn. Starring Saoirse Ronan (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Eilis Lacey, a young, dreamy, Irish immigrant adrift in America. Eventually overcoming homesickness in her new home of Brooklyn she soon meets and marries Tony (Emory Cohen) but a cruel and testing fate awaits.
The ensuing melodrama and refreshing female empowerment it encompasses, buoyed by Crowley’s assured direction, the aforementioned Hornby script (who’s previous screenplays, An Education and Wild, were magnificent), lensing from Yves Bélanger (who previously shot Wild, Dallas Buyers Club and Gerry, amongst other visually stunning works), confirms that Brooklyn will be a moving, and memorable motion picture.
6. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
The Naples-born director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, Il Divo) has already firmly authenticated himself as one of cinema’s great modern stylists, and his latest, Youth, is no exception. With a strong cast led by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, as old friends on vacation together at a posh hotel near the Swiss Alps, it’s a fair assumption that Youth will offers viewers a bracing, palatable, and rejuvenative encounter.
A favorite of auteur-adoring critics, Sorrentino’s latest is already drawing comparisons to Fellini’s 8½, and indie music adherents will certainly muster to the film’s soundtrack by Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon fame —Kozelek also appears as himself in the film — confirming another grand accomplishment from a virtuoso at the height of his powers.
5. Aaaaaaaah! (Steve Oram, UK)
Whoa. The directorial debut from Steve Oram (who co-starred and co-wrote Ben Wheatley’s insane serial killer comedy Sightseers), Aaaaaaaah!, promises to be a singular cinematic experience. Set in déclassé British suburbia, society has begun to devolve, communication now a melange of guttural grunts, groans, and archaic and atavistic displays of power and dominance.
Added into the mix and fronting the cast are the likes of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding from the cult comedy troupe The Mighty Boosh, which certainly lends Aaaaaaaah! additional street cred, pretty much cinching the film as authentic objet d’art if nothing else.
The Guardian describes the film “like any cult item worth its salt, it won’t be for everyone, but its oddly complete universe extends to imagining what primate sitcoms and radio might be like, while a rich strain of bathos yields, among other treats, the cinema’s most poignant use of battenberg cake.” Maybe it goes without saying but Aaaaaaaah! looks like an absolute scream.
4. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan)
One of the most exciting offerings in the Vancouver International Film Festival’s always enthralling Dragons & Tigers series, which spotlights the cinema of East Asia, is Taiwan’s The Assassin. Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Flight of the Red Balloon), fresh from his best director win at Cannes, offers cinéastes ample swordplay and martial arts in this visually ravishing tour de force set during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century.
Nie Yinniang, played by Taiwanese actress/model/superstar Shu Qi, is a near peerless trained assassin ordered to end of life of her childhood sweetheart, Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen of such seminal works as Happy Together and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and there our troubles begin. A dazzling new entry in the wuxia genre, The Assassin makes good on the promise of sensational swordplay, overwhelming landscapes, philosophical treatise, and aching cinematic splendor.
3. The Similars (Isaac Ezban, Mexico)
One of VIFF 2014’s riskiest and most rewarding films was the debut from Mexico’s Isaac Ezban, the time-warping, mind-shredding science fiction white knuckler, The Incident. Ezban is back this year with another genre slice that, one assumes, ups the considerable ante from last year’s long shot with The Similars.
Set in 1968, a group of eight strangers converge at an eerie, outlying bus station where a menacing, life-changing experience awaits them. With lush and resonant visuals that recall classic Terry Gilliam (think Brazil) or the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (Delicatessen), Ezban’s high-concept thrillers and visceral, fast-paced and breathless storytelling technique mark him as one of the most exciting filmmakers to make good in some times.
Not only is he a thrill to watch, it’s a joy to be swept up in his kaleidoscopic, and audacious undertakings. Remember the name Isaac Ezban, soon to be synonymous with excitement and zero cool.
2. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)
Nobody who saw Jeremy Saulnier’s low budget yet full on ferocious thriller from 2014, Blue Ruin, has forgotten it. Now, for the first time in Saulnier’s career, he has some recognizable names to go on the marquee with Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart — gleefully cast against type as a Neo-Nazi brute — and Anton Yelchin in the crime thriller cum horror offering, Green Room.
Yelchin fronts a punk band, The Ain’t Rights, who find themselves unwittingly playing at a woefully intolerant white power gig, running afoul the sectarian skinheads, and somehow cornered in the titular green room. The siege scenario that follows is certain to engender anxiety and excitement.
1. High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, UK)
That High-Rise is based off of JG Ballard’s bleak, cynical, societal piss-take novel from 1975, is one reason to madly anticipate this film. Ballard, after all, is the same man of letters who wrote The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash (the basis for David Cronenberg’s controversial film of the same name), both artful and rash novels detailing sex, violence, and morally bankrupt cultural malaise.
Another great reason to lose one’s shit over High-Rise is that it’s coming from UK dissident director Ben Wheatley, who’s recent spate of eye-opening and utterly stunning cinema includes such jaw-droppers as Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field in England. If Wheatley isn’t at the top of your list of best directors currently working in the industry, toss that list in the dust bin and start over.
High-Rise, Wheatley’s first film on a larger scale, provides A-list talent in a tale of sweltering satire and jet black comedy set in an elegant forty-storey tower block. Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, and Sienna Miller are amongst the denizens warped by ostentatious amenities, technological troubles, and class polemic.
Can cannibalistic liturgy, literal dog-eat-dog contempt, delirious orgies, and more result in the apocalyptic perversions perched to supervene? High-Rise is a charcoal colored fable, most assuredly, and from the likes of Wheatley, it’s certain to leave a lasting, and persistent impression, and one brutally marked with social relevancy and macabre comedy.
During the course of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival, join Taste of Cinema as we provide constant coverage on some of the world’s finest films in one of the most beautiful cities on the globe. VIFF is one North America’s largest film festivals, and we’re obliged to engage and measure all that’s made available and share our discoveries with you. Please stay tuned and follow our twitter account for the latest VIFF 2015 coverage. Please contact us if you have the chance to cover other big film festivals around the world
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.