Now in its 35th year, the 2016 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 29th – October 14th, 2016) looks to be the brightest, most eclectic and engaging yet. Among the five largest film festivals in North America with screenings from 70 countries, VIFF promises to have something intriguing and exciting for everyone from genre fans to arthouse enthusiasts, documentary lovers, and more.
Sure the lengthy queue can be intimidating, at least from the periphery, and with so many diverse offerings to choose from, knowing what to prioritize can be a chore all its own, so please, once again, allow Taste of Cinema to suggest our 25 top selections for can’t miss cinema at VIFF 2016. Let’s do this!
25. The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium, France)
The latest neorealist dramatic tale from Belgian brother duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (L’Enfant, Two Days, One Night) stars Adèle Haenel as a young doctor wracked with guilt after the body of a young woman whom she turned away from her clinic is found nearby the next day.
Poignant and powerful, The Unknown Girl promises parable-like posturing, narrative sensitivity, and powerful revelations of societal imbalance. Always a festival favorite, the Dardenne’s are an accomplished, insightful, articulate, and emotionally intelligent pair.
Pro-Tip: Bringing a wealth of tissues to Dardenne brothers’ screenings is always a good idea. I love a weepie.
24. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, UK, France, Belgium)
Beloved socialist English filmmaker Ken Loach (Kes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley), now 79, alleges that this is his final film, and that alone makes I, Daniel Blake a must-see film at VIFF, and that it won the Palme d’Or earlier this year is another.
A foreseeably severe and bittersweet spiel, Loach’s farewell involves the eponymous Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a middle-class carpenter struck ill by heart disease who now must struggle with red tape and bureaucracy to obtain medical aid.
Added to the mix is a three-legged dog named Shea and the requisite quiet delicacy we’ve come to expect from Loach, all guaranteeing that I, Daniel Blake will go down as an unforgettable cinematic event of considerable sweep.
23. The Girl with All the Gifts (Colm McCarthy, UK)
Paddy Considine in a zombie movie is all that I need to know to line up for this one but for everyone else it’s worth noting that, while the zombie genre has been done to death––wretched pun, I apologize––this post-apocalyptic horror drama from director Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders) and adapted from comic book scribe M.R. Carey’s 2014 novel, promises to deliver new twists and turns to the familiar flesh-eating cycle.
With a relentlessly cool Goblin inspired soundtrack courtesy of Cristobal Tapia de Veer and stellar lensing from cinematographer Simon Dennis, also of Peaky Blinders fame, this looks like a distillation of 28 Days Later and Children of Men. In a word, this one looks deadly.
22. In a Valley of Violence (Ti West, USA)
After scaring up some frightfully good genre fare––The House of the Devil (2009), The Sacrament (2013)––American writer/director Ti West visits the Western genre with this gleefully OTT Sergio Leone meets Sam Peckinpah pastiche, In a Valley of Violence. With a rock solid cast including Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, and a scenery-chompin’ John Travolta with a wooden leg.
En route to the Mexican border a mysterious drifter (Hawke), and his faithful dog detour through the town of Denton, and there their troubles begin. This spirited Wild West revival has already been well received at SXSW where Variety quipped: “[In a Valley of Violence] has plenty of incidental pleasures to offer: a few chuckles, some typically Westian explosions of violence, a deliriously fun score, and a pair of perfectly solid performances from Hawke and Travolta.” Giddy up!
21. Voyage of Time (Terrence Malick, France, Germany, USA)
Acclaimed visionary American director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Tree of Life) embraces the IMAX format for this mighty science/nature marvel that spans from the universe’s origins with the Big Bang to the age of dinosaurs through to the present. Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt narrate this epic cavalcade of awe-inspiring imagery and immersive adventures.
Filmed by cinematographer Paul Atkins (Master and Commander), and several years in the making, Voyage of Time was filmed all over the globe, from Chile, Hawaii, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and beyond, this celebration of the universe is certain to leave audiences rapt and reeling.
20. The Complexity of Happiness (Gianni Zanasi, Italy)
This decidedly dark comedy from Italy’s Gianni Zanasi (Non Pensarci) may well prove to be his breakthrough motion picture. Starring an amicable cast led by Valerio Mastandrea (The First Beautiful Thing) and Giuseppe Battiston (Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot).
Enrico Giusti (Mastandrea) is a single and somewhat cynical businessman, a “fixer” who soon befriends a vulnerable Israeli teenage exchange student (Hadas Yaron) and a beautiful, mystery woman named Achrinoam (Fill the Void’s Hadas Yaron). Soon Enrico’s due for an awakening after being named co-director of a family-run company and wouldn’t you know it, altruism seems to suit the once cynical cad. The Complexity of Happiness looks to be meraviglioso!
19. Another Evil (Carson Mell, USA)
This horror comedy from Carson Mell (who directed the hilarious short film Bobby Bird: The Devil in Denim) looks like a blast as a disturbed couple, Dan (Steve Zissis) and Mary (Jennifer Irwin) have a few ghostly encounters in their vacation home. Sooner than you can say “we need an old priest and a young priest” the desperate duo hire an unruly exorcist named Os (Mark Proksch) to kick the unruly evil spirits to the curb.
What could go wrong? A lot, by the looks of it, in what Os details as an “EFD” entity, being “Evil Fully Determined!” This looks to be another solid offering from VIFF’s Altered States series, always a delight for genre hounds and fright fans.
18. Weirdos (Bruce McDonald, Canada)
Canadian iconoclast Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, Pontypool) is back with another offbeat offering in this 1970s-set comical period piece road movie from playwright Daniel MacIvor.
We were sold at the words “Bruce McDonald” and “road movie” but toss in an eccentric Cape Breton setting, amorous old hand Molly Parker, a pair of teenage runaways (Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone) and a Gordon Lightfoot heavy soundtrack and we’re already in the queue for this one, eh?