picture of julianne moore and natalie portman in MAY DECEMBER
Photograph: Francois Duhamel | Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in ‘May December’

The ten best films to see at MIFF this year

As Melbourne’s favourite movie showcase returns for the 71st time, we look at the hottest hits from home and away

Stephen A Russell
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It's lights, camera and action for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and a stonking 267 films from 70 countries around the world awaits.

Should you find yourself caught in a frenzied panic by the gargantuan program, we're here to steer you through the sea of films on offer (and that's not even getting started on the shorts, talks and virtual reality gems).

Consider yourself a cinephile? Check out the best cinemas in Melbourne.

The ten best films to see at MIFF this year

Kicking off almost three weeks of fantastic films, Iranian-Australian filmmaker Noora Niasari’s opening night movie traces the harrowing story of an Iranian mum (Holy Spider star Zar Amir Ebrahimi) hunkering down in a Melbourne woman’s shelter in the mid-'90s.

Comedian and Ali’s Wedding lead Osamah Sami plays against type as her abusive estranged husband, with The Drover’s Wife star Leah Purcell also popping up as a social worker. The Cate Blanchett-produced film is debuting at Sundance and is also up for MIFF’s Bright Horizons award for best first or second feature.

Music lovers will want to bag tickets for this glowing tribute to the man who forged an indelible reputation thanks to his unwavering passion for connecting gig-goers to the greatest stars of our time, including Kylie Minogue, Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran and Jimmy Barnes.

Memorably arranging a mighty post-lockdown Foo Fighters concert in Geelong, Gudinski tragically did not live to see it. Directed by music video maestro Paul Goldman, expect superstar contributions and archival gold in this gala screening doco, including insights from the legend himself.

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What could be better than a melodramatic scenery chew-off between Boogie Nights star Julianne Moore and Black Swan lead Natalie Portman? Said fearsomely fabulous face-to-face being directed by Carol director Todd Haynes, that’s what.

Moore plays a cake-baking Southern belle married to the much younger man (Riverdale star Charles Melton) she went to prison for picking up back when he was still a high schooler. Portman is a mercenary actor looking to play her, embedding in their family for inspiration and causing more emotional chaos. Wicked fun.

Read Time Out's review here

Causing hearts to flutter from Sundance to Berlinale, this beautiful ode to what coulda been is the shimmering debut feature from Canadian-Korean director Celine Song. It features Russian Doll actor Greta Lee as a woman who, much like Song, moved from Seoul to Toronto as a kid and is now married in New York to a fellow writer played by John Magaro (First Cow).

Told in three parts with 12-year leaps between them, this sublime musing on destiny confronts her with a childhood crush all grown up (Teo Yoo, Decision to Leave) and thoroughly discombobulates all three, and us.

Read Time Out's review here

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Winning the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes crowned director Justine Triet as only the third woman to take home the festival’s top prize. And what a corker it is.

Playing out more like a nail-biting thriller centred on a collapsing marriage than a traditional courtroom drama, it stars Toni Erdmann lead Sandra Hüller as a novelist who may or may not have pushed her frustrated writer husband to his death from the balcony of their picture-postcard snowbound chalet. What does their blind son know? You’ll be debating the details in the foyer afterwards, guaranteed.

Read Time Out's review here

Blue Valentine star Michelle Williams re-teams with one of America’s finest filmmakers, Certain Women director Kelly Reichardt, for a fourth time on this Portland-set artwork of delicate human connection in which she plays a sculptor.

Together, they have forged remarkable films about the interior strength of women, including in period western Meek’s Cutoff and lilting homelessness drama Wendy and Lucy, and this latest offering about what it takes to lead a creative life looks just as lush to us.

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Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is a hero for the cause of cinema. He has continued producing remarkable metatextual movies that get to the root of complicated humanity even as he’s endured home arrest and imprisonment.

Playing a version of himself here, he’s trying to shoot a movie in Turkey while wrestling with a shonky internet connection in a rural village just over the border in the home country he cannot leave. But the meaning of truth itself is on the line when his celebrity status accidentally whips up a moral panic amongst the locals.

Read Time Out's review here

Horror lovers were treated when Clueless star Alicia Silverstone popped up in snowbound cabin drama The Lodge way back in MIFF 2019. Now they can shriek along with the reborn scream queen once more in this gorefest from dedicated shlocker Jennifer Reeder.

Silverstone appears as the (possibly) witchy aunt who takes in her high school-age larrikin niece (Kiah McKirnan, Mare of Easttown) just as a serial killer gets a-slashing. Pitched somewhere between Heathers and Crimes of the Future, expect mangled faces, queer eroticism, buckets of blood and cheerleading crime gangs.

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Selling you on a film in which a cleaner of very few words pootles around Tokyo in his van cleaning public toilets might sound like a tough ask, even if the toilets in question are architecturally super-cool. But trust us, Kôji Yakusho’s gently unfurling company is exactly what your soul needs right now, and it’s why he won Best Actor at Cannes for this beauty helmed by German auteur Wim Winders. Glorious.

Read Time Out's review here

Last but certainly not least, if you’re still suffering from PTSD flashbacks to the election of Donald Trump as the president of America, the apocalyptic unleashing of a global pandemic and a spot of insurrection when he was eventually toppled, then go the electroshock therapy route.

This sparkily hilarious movie mash-up from art punk Australian filmmakers Soda Jerk stitches together newsreel from these hellscape times with movies like Wayne’s World, American Beauty, Sausage Party and The Phantom of the Opera to ask exactly WTF just happened. Riotously good in a wrongtown way.

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