Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right 63 highlights of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival
Tom Hiddleston in film High Rise, sitting in room with his reflection shown against the glass
Photograph: Aidan Monaghan

63 highlights of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival

Film buffs will be chuffed with this year's selection at Sydney Film Festival

By Nick Dent

Pick a number, any number. This year’s Sydney Film Festival has an embarrassment of riches. Here are 63 movies, talks and experiences you can’t resist.

Love and Friendship film still, two ladies holding hands in front of car
Photograph: Bernard Walsh

63. A Jane Austen adaptation to treasure!

US filmmaker Whit Stillman brought an Austenian sensibility (and sense) to indie classics Barcelona, Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. Now with Love and Friendship he adapts Austen’s early novella Lady Susan, starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. It’s the festival’s Closing Night film.
Man in army uniform in the dessert holding a rifle
Photograph: Per Arnesen

62. A Danish Oscar-nominated war drama!

In A War (from the director of A Hijacking), a company commander (Pilou Asbaek) makes a fateful decision in Afghanistan that has a shattering impact on his family.
Woman anxiously looks into the distance from inside

61. A haunted apartment thriller from Iran!

Babk Anvari’s Under the Shadow has drawn comparisons with The Babadook. As a mother and daughter struggle to cope in war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

60. The Jeffrey Weiner sexting scandal dissected!

Weiner is a doco about former congressman Anthony Weiner and the sexting scandals that brought his New York mayoral campaign to an ignominious end. It won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance in January.
two policemen in front of vehicle with badges out

59. The new film from the Irish director of The Guard and Calvary

John Michael McDonagh’s rip-roaring comedy War on Everyone teams Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña as corrupt, drug addled cops. Expect The Guard on steroids.
Amidst green lighting a man wears a virtual reality headset to watch a film

58. A virtual reality movie experience!

Strap on a VR headset to experience one of nine VR movies in Down the Rabbit Hole: Virtual Reality at the Hub, Lower Town Hall. Find yourself in Wonderland with the Cheshire cat or on stage with the Sydney Dance Company, or prowling a haunted asylum. All nine VR sreenings are free on a first-in-best-dressed basis.
a girl standing in front of a blank screen, appears twice

57. A chance to enter the eye of the cyclone!

iCinema, a world leading 360 degree cinematic platform, will take you into Deluge, about the devastating cyclone Yasi. It’s free and on at UNSW.
a young Robert de Niro in boxing ring
United Artists

56. Martin Scorsese’s incredible Raging Bull on the big screen!

A highlight of David Stratton’s retrospective of Scorsese is the 1980 black-and-white saga of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a middleweight boxer undone by his obsessive jealousy over his wife (Cathy Moriarty).
An elderly woman sits at a kitchen table with another woman, whose back faces the camera

55. The final documentary by the great avant-garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman!

Belgium-born Akerman died last year but not before completing a project that weighed on her mind for decades. No Home Movie is a portrait of her relationship with her mother, a holocaust survivor whose chronic anxiety shaped Akerman’s art.
Ants on a Shrimp gourmet food

54. A new Noma documentary, plus dinner at the Bridge Room!

Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo is about René Redzepi’s Tokyo pop-up and search to find a Nordic take on Japanese ingredients. One screening will be followed by a dinner at one of Sydney’s best restaurants, the Bridge Room. Trust us: you’ll be starving.
Jake Gyllenhaal walking down the street with headphones

53. The new film from director of Dallas Buyers Club!

Jake Gyllenhaal is getting some of the best reviews of his career for Demolition, the new comedic drama from Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club). An investment banker (Gyllenhaal) struggles with the tragic loss of his wife by writing lengthy letters of complaint.
Mel Gibson on motobike with young girl film still

52. Mel Gibson vents live on stage – free!

Garry Maddox will interview the great Aussie-trained star and director about his career, his latest directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge, and also his new film as an actor, Blood Father.
Blood Father Sydney Film Festival

51. Mel Gibson in a crime chase thriller

Gibson’s new film, fresh from Cannes, portrays a father and mother on the run from a violent drug cartel in Blood Father, a witty and dark French-American thriller in the tradition on Taken.
Man and woman embrace on a balcony overlooking a crossroads
Photography: EJ

50. An Indonesian movie with terrible subtitles!

In A Copy of My Mind, a movie-loving beautician meets the DVD pirate who ineptly subtitles the monster movies she obsessively watches. Love blossoms – then the film shifts into thriller mode.
Two women stand talking with wine
Photography: Jon Pack

49. Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke in a sparkling New York comedy!

Rebecca Miller’s Maggie's Plan is a complicated love triangle in the best Woody Allen tradition. A career advisor (Gerwig) is about to embark on single motherhood when she finds love with an anthropology professor (Hawke) who happens to be married to a demanding academic (Julianne Moore).
Three men in official uniforms in front of doorway

48. The French answer to Russian Ark (with Nazis!)

Alexander Sokurov created a one-take love letter to the Hermitage in St Petersberg in Russian Ark. His ode to the Louvre, Francofonia, is slightly different: a docu-drama about the curator and the Nazi officer who worked together to protect the museum’s works during the war.
A Girl looking from the outside of a train into the river

47. This year’s Oscar-winning documentary short, about honour killings in Pakistan!

Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who has been announced as a festival guest, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’ is a powerful short documentary about Saba Qaiser, who fell in love, eloped, was hunted down by her father and uncle, shot in the head, stuffed into a bag and tossed into a river. Amazingly, she survived.
Under the Sun Sydney Film Festival

46. A film that caused a diplomatic incident!

Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky agreed to film a scripted ‘documentary’ about life in North Korea under the watchful eyes of officials. The finished product, Under the Sun, instead revealed the state’s laughable fabrications and blatant propaganda. 

Cast of Sing Street strut down street full of attitude

45. The new film from the director of Once!

Musical comedy-drama Sing Street by John Carney is about the struggles of growing up in 1980s Dublin. A boy attending a tough inner-city school sets out to impress a girl by forming a band. There’s music from ’80s bands like Duran Duran and the Cure.
Photograph: Doane Gregory

44. Steven Spielberg directs Roald Dahl’s The BFG!

The festival is previewing Spielberg’s new kids’ movie that adults will love, starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance as the lovable giant. Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader and Jemaine Clement are in it too.  
Adolescent boy and girl in a dance

43. A Canadian coming-of-age charmer!

Coconut Hero’s suicidal protagonist fails at everything, including suicide. Then he learns he has a brain tumour.
Group of boys, one wearing the Australian flag as a cape, stand outside a suburban home
Photograph: Gary Sheppard

42. Cronulla Riots: the movie!

The funny side of racism gets a fearless airing in Down Under, Abe Forsythe’s provocative, daring comedy.

Young male looking out from the driver's seat of his car
Photograph: Van Redin

41. Richard Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused!

Linklater’s Boyhood was the sensation of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival; now the festival gets Everybody Wants Some!!, in which Texas college freshmen enjoy a weekend of partying prior to the start of semester.
Waitress takes a man's order

40. The sensitive side of Martin Scorsese in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore!

David Stratton presents a rare screening of this early (1974) work that earned an Oscar for Ellen Burstyn, playing a widow who sets out with her young son to change her life.
Two men in suits laughing
Photograph: AccuSoft Inc.

39. De Niro as the world’s worst comedian in Scorsese classic The King of Comedy!

A prescient 1982 film has De Niro kidnapping a TV comedian (Jerry Lewis) so that he can perform his act on live TV. It’s an underrated gem, with a superb supporting turn from the hilarious Sandra Bernhard.
Three Girls in 1970s fashion stand in front of a car

38. The new Muriel’s Wedding!

Based on Matthew Whittet’s play, Girl Asleep is a wildly imaginative coming of age story set in the 1970s. A 14-year-old girl (Bethany Whitmore) suffers the birthday party from hell and descends into a rabbit hole of surreal events.
Group of people in period outfits stare at the camera

37. A sort-of successor to Once Were Warriors!

Kiwi director Lee Tamahori reunites with actor Temuera Morrison for Mahana (aka The Patriarch), a melodramatic Maori family saga set in the 1960s.
Tom Hiddleston in film High Rise, sitting in room with his reflection shown against the glass
Photograph: Aidan Monaghan

36. Tom Hiddleston in the futuristic High-Rise!

From the director of Kill List comes an adaptation of JG Ballard’s sci-fi novel concerning an apartment tower which descends into tribal anarchy – an allegory for the class system with echoes of A Clockwork Orange.
Man sits in front of a painting

35. An insight into the surreal, apocalyptic visions of Hieronymus Bosch!

Documentary Jheronimus Bosch: Touched by the Devil follows five Dutch historians around the globe as they unravel the secrets of Bosch (1450-1516), whose blackly funny scenes of heaven, hell and carnality befuddle and amaze to this day.
Three Boys sit on a couch film still

34. The Boys are back in town!

The festival is reviving an Australian classic: the tense 1998 drama loosely based on the 1986 murder of Anita Cobby. It stars Toni Collette, David Wenham, Lynette Curran and John Polson.
Two women and a young child in colourful clothing look into the distance

33. A brand new Almodóvar film!

Julieta screens in competition in Cannes this year and sees the Spanish provocateur in a more serious mode, adapting three stories by Alice Munro into a mystery spanning three decades.
Cast from the 80s Aussie classic Biss look ahead of the camera

32. Controversial Aussie classic Bliss on the big screen again!

It was booed at Cannes in 1985 and shocked audiences with its sex and sheer craziness. But the epic film, directed by Ray Lawrence (Lantana) based on Peter Carey’s novel, is among the most daring and witty in the Australian canon. Stars Barry Otto.
Nick Jonas in a fraternity club ritual as part of the film Goat
Photograph: Brian Douglas

31. A Jonas brother goes gritty!

Fraternity violence is the topic of Goat, in which Nick Jonas plays the brother of a freshman who sees and suffers the worst of college ‘hazing’.
A young smiling male in the NYC ballroom scene

30. The NY gay ballroom scene of Paris is Burning revisited!

Kiki looks again at the thriving vogueing culture for queer black youth in New York, dealing with prejudice, homelessness and illness.
Daniel Radcliffe lies down on mossy ground in Swiss Army Man

29. Daniel Radcliffe in that farting corpse movie!

Cast Away meets Weekend at Bernie’s as a marooned man (Paul Dano) whose solitude is broken when a flatulent drowned man (Radcliffe) is washed up on his island. File Swiss Army Man under ‘love it or hate it’.
Morris From America a film still with two young teenagers

28. A Sundance award-winning teen drama!

Morris from America has an African-American teen adjusting to a new life in Germany where he’s misunderstood at every turn.
cast of Angry Indian Goddesses look into camera

27. India’s answer to Bridesmaids!

Refreshingly frank and real Indian comedy Angry Indian Goddesses has modern women exploring gender, sexism and harassment and is part of the ongoing conversation about women’s rights on the subcontinent.
five Filipino men sit on the street talking in Insiang

26. An amazing Filipino film, fully restored!

Insiang is the 1976 film that screened at Cannes and portrayed a girl who is raped by her mother’s lover and exacts revenge.
Image of a woman's body before and after from the film Embrace

25. Poor body image revealed as a global epidemic!

With interviews wih Mia Freedman, Ricki Lake and more, Embrace by Adelaide’s Taryn Brumfitt explores how women feel about their bodies.
Three dancers from Madonna's Blond Ambition tour strike a pose in the frame

24. The secrets of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour!

In documentary Strike a Pose, seven male dancers on Madge’s landmark 1990 tour speak out 25 years later about being gay and closeted while on the cutting edge of pop culture.
A mermaid-vampire stretches in a bathtub

23. A vampire-mermaid musical from Poland!

The Lure has sibling mermaid bloodsuckers performing as strippers in a seedy burlesque club. Kitschy, kooky and sexy, The Little Mermaid this ain’t.
A group of Afghanian girls standing in a courtyard

22. A rapping child bride from Tehran!

Sonita tells the story of a YouTube sensation who raps against forced marriages even though it’s illegal for women to sing publicly in Iran without government permission.
Papua New Guinean woman holds a child to her chest

21. The film at the centre of a court injunction!

Because of a NSW Supreme Court Injunction, Hollie Fifer can’t show all of her doco on the fight to save a Papua New Guinea community from an Australian five-star hotel development. Actor Sarah Snook will narrate over the redacted sections of The Opposition. Expect lawyers to be in attendance.
Two women stand in front of trophies

20. Indigenous women following in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Doco Destination Arnold shows Sydneysiders Natasha and Kylene pushing their bodies to the limit to compete in the Arnolds, the ultimate bodybuilding awards.
A young Japanese woman and man in conversation

19. One of the best movies of all time, fully restored!

Yasujiro Ozu’s family drama Tokyo Story (1953) is an incredibly sensitive film about an old couple visiting their children and grandchildren in the city, but no one has any time for them.
Bangladeshi policewomen standing in line

18. Muslim women peacekeepers!

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers shows what happened when 160 women from Bangladesh went to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake (their husbands were not happy).
Woman smiling into camera
Photograph: Kathryn Milliss

17. Refugee families in rural Australia!

Constance on the Edge shows African Australians from refugee backgrounds attempting to make their town a friendlier place.
Miss Sharon Jones singing into a microphone with her arm up, showing her strength

16. The female James Brown in focus!

Miss Sharon Jones by documentary legend Barbara Kopple is an inspiring piece about the lead singer of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings as she fights cancer.
Michelle Williams in an open field at dusk

15. The new film from director Kelly Reichardt and star Michelle Williams!

The maker of Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves, and Wendy and Lucy has made an acclaimed three-part film about three women in crisis (Williams, Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart) – Certain Women.
A young Chinese girl inspects evidence in a plastic bag

14. A grim murder mystery from China!

A small town schoolgirl discovering her sexuality gets tangled up in the investigation of a series of killings in What’s in the Darkness, a searing indictment of police incompetence in an authoritarian state.
A woman and a wolf by a body of water

13. An adults-only fairytale!

It’s a case of beauty and the beast(iality) in German film Wild – in which a young woman tries to break free of modern life and in the process builds an unusual relationship with a wolf.
A group of men undressing from their wetsuits on a boat in open sea

12. London Film Festival’s surreal Best Film award winner!

Six wealthy men on a fishing trip kill time when their boat breaks down in Chevalier, the new film from Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg). Their games are hilarious and deeply disturbing.
A quartet with their matching outfits

11. A window on modern-day Havana, Cuba!

Irish director Paddy Breathnach has made Viva Cuba Party, a heartbreaking drama about a troubled drag queen, capturing the beauty of the Cuban capital.
The Childhood of a Leader cast in front of the camera in a classic photograph setting

10.  R-Patz in an uncompromising period drama, with Ser Davos!

The Childhood of a Leader is a grand and ambitious historical fiction about a man’s rise to power at the end of World War I. Cast includes Robert Pattinson and Liam Cunningham.
A young woman at a payphone in front of a petrol station

9. A South African western!

The Endless River is a savage and epic story dealing with violence and racism, post-Apartheid.
Woman working behind a bar holding a beer

8. Nordic backpackers in a rough outback town!

Two Finnish girls on working visas work behind the bar of the Hotel Coolgardie in remote Western Australia, deal with drunkenness, a nasty boss and endless sexual harassment in this doco.
Re-enactment of Nixon and Elvis in a White House office
Photograph: Steve Dietl

7. Elvis Presley meets Richard Nixon!

Michael Shannon is Elvis. Kevin Spacey is Nixon. How can you resist? Elvis & Nixon is a surreal comedy about a real-life meeting between a gruesome twosome indeed.
Rockstar with thick, black-rimmed sunglasses on

6. Jim Jarmusch on the Stooges!

The director of Only Lovers Left Alive and Down by Law has made a documentary about Iggy and his band. Gimme Danger promises to be a meeting of minds so cool, the universe will basically freeze forever.
A woman with an orange feather boa and man in a room with balloons

5. A halal romcom!

Love and lust in Beirut are the subject of Halal Love (And Sex), three intertwined stories that defy stereotypes.
Tom Hiddleston as a country singer in front of the microphone in I Saw the Light
Photograph: Sam Emerson

4. A Hank Williams biopic!

Tom Hiddleston stars as the country music legend in I Saw the Light, a handsome film exploring his legend and troubled life.
A surreal shot of a beheaded woman looking into the distance

3. A rollicking horror movie about three conjoined women!

Three women who are dissected and sewn back together is the Frankenstein premise of a wickedly funny horror movie, Patchwork.
A young girl and boy lie in bed

2. A drug-dealing comedy!

A woman turns to selling drugs to bail out her dealer boyfriend in White Girl, Elizabeth Wood’s debut US feature about terribly bad life choices.
Two men on a fishing boat at nighttime while lightning appears in the distance

1. The global refugee crisis on film!

Documentary Lampedusa in Winter shows what happened when refugees from Africa flooded the island.

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