“Here’s Looking at You, Kid.”

The New Zealand International Film Festival starts tonight.  It is two weeks of worth of love, lust, violence, laughter, redemption, and personal growth in over 20 languages.  I can’t wait.  Neither can T.  This is my second festival, and his 10th or so.

We have a ritual (if twice can be enough to establish a ritual) for picking films.  It starts with T perusing the glossy magazine-style festival brochure and marking a “T” next to the films that interest him.  Then I get my turn and I mark a “J” next to mine.  Then the negotiating starts.  Inevitably, we each pick more movies than we can possibly see or pay for and we have to whittle down the list.  We try to find common ground and see as many films as we can together, but there are some that he won’t see and neither will I.  But for the most part, our gentle negotiation goes something like this:

T: “How about this one.”

Me:  “Um, no.  I’ll take a pass of the Crimean War documentary.”

T:  (He tsks)  “Movies aren’t always about fun!  They inform.  Enrich.  Invigorate the mind and the senses!”

Me:  “Somehow, the Crimean War conjures up none of those scenarios for me.”

T:  “Look who’s talking!  You can sniff out a Rom-Com at fifty paces in any language!”

Me:  “So?  I like funny movies where people end up happy together.  What’s wrong with that?”

And on it goes.  Eventually, he agrees to two more Rom-Coms and I agree to a documentary about cricket.

This year, I’m seeing 15 films for the festival (though I did just try to sneak in a Chinese martial arts film that is supposed to be *AMAZING*).  Some of those will stick with me and I’ll continue to turn over their meaning and their stories in my mind for months to come.  Others I will forget almost immediately.  That’s the way it goes with movies.  But I suppose that applies to just about everything in life, whether it be a book, a song, or sometimes, even the people we pass in the street.

When I think back to last year, three of the eighteen films I saw continue to stick with me.  They were each extraordinary in their own ways.  If you haven’t seen these, I commend you to.


1.     Exit Through the Giftshop:  Ostensibly, this is a movie about a documentary maker trying to make a movie about Banksy, the elusive street artist.  What it is in fact, we’ll never know.  Is it an elaborate hoax?  Is the hapless documentary maker (who’s made to look a fool in this) in on the joke?  Is it a meta-narrative on the fleeting value of ‘art’ and the idea that cost often has nothing to do with intrinsic value?  Who knows.  But what I do know is that it was a thoroughly engaging film full of humanity and hysterically dry humor.  As an added bonus, it’s a great primer on what street art is, why it exists, and what it looks like.

2.     In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?:  I love stop-motion animation.  It reminds me of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas specials from when I was a kid.  This Czech Republic film is a trillion times better, both in terms of the animation and the story.  The premise of the film is an enclave of old toys living their days in an attic.  Every day Buttercup, a pretty blond doll, bakes a cake for a teddy bear, a marionette knight, and a silly-putty man, who roll a special birthday die for the daily honor. Yet, danger lurks in the far reaches of the attic when Buttercup gets lost and is captured by an evil dictator (an old marble bust).  Her friends battle the odds to save her and their way of life.  The film deals with serious political issues, including authoritarian regimes, revolution, and the bonds of friendship and family.  What I love about animation is that it so thoroughly suspends disbelief into the realm of whimsy and fantasy, that these difficult and bleak topics can be grappled with in a manageable way.  This was billed as a children’s movie, and it was, but it was so much more than that.


3.     The Killer Inside Me: A fabulous American film with Casey Affleck giving an amazing performance as a sociopathic killer.  The film was sleek, elegant, and a great throw-back to the film noir of the 40s.  There weren’t any huge plot twists—you knew what was coming after the initial “reveal”—and that was fine.  The movie depended on riveting performances, and boy, did it deliver.  If you liked Dial M for Murder or Vertigo or Rear Window, this is the movie for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to peruse the 2011 program again.  Just to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything!