MIFF2012: The Return Of The Rumsfeld Preview

Stock up on Vitamin E kids because MIFF is coming and if all goes according to plan it means no sunlight for 17 days as we enter that labyrinth of what is Australia's largest film festival. With over 300 films on the program it's quite a daunting prospect choosing just 5 or 10 (or even 50 for the diehards). Hopefully I can offer a little advice on how to approach such a mammoth festival.
It's always worth being aware of what films are about to receive general cinema releases. Sure it's fun seeing something a few weeks or months before others (hell, I do it myself frequently) but do make sure you take some unknown punts on titles that most likely will never see the light of day outside of the festival. There is a nice list up on Melbourne Gastronome with accompanying release dates. Be wary of missing films that have no set release date. While it's nice to know many films have Australian distributors attached, they will more often than not be released straight to DVD (one of my favorite films of 2011, KILL LIST suffered that fate early this year). 
Having been lucky enough to knock back a bunch of films up in Sydney earlier this year I can definitely point you towards some gold in MIFF's program so I will be splitting this preview up into three section -  much like I did last year - based on the three glorious categories of knowledge laid out by the semantic genius, Donald Rumsfeld.
(These are the films that I have personally seen and can definitely vouch for. If you are only seeing two or three films this festival and really don't want to take a risk with an unknown quantity then I can easily recommend everything in this section. Click film titles to link to my reviews elsewhere.)
HOLY MOTORS and AMOUR are two films that I can highly recommend right off the bat. Both films are set for general cinema release in late August though so - while I can definitively say they are brilliant - you may want to hold off and use your MIFF sessions more wisely (having said that I will be seeing HOLY MOTORS again. It's a genuinely amazing piece of cinema).
As if personally reading my mind, MIFF are featuring HOLY MOTORS director, Leos Carax in a retrospective season. Carax is a magnificent filmmaker who has only made 5 features in a career spanning almost 30 years. I highly recommend you catch one of his earlier films. If you can only catch one I would suggest you see BAD BLOOD, a wonderfully iconoclastic love story with some truly bizarre moments. In order of preference with the Carax retrospective I would go: BAD BLOOD, LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE, BOY MEETS GIRL and finally POLA X (this film is last not because it's bad but it is Carax's most atypical film and not the best entry point into his oeuvre).
Other films with releases reasonably soon are ON THE ROAD and BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. I would advise you to steer clear of ON THE ROAD, not just because of its impending release but also as it's not very good. Sadly Walter Salle's adaptation of the classic novel is plodding, repetitive and incredibly problematic. Losing the spark of the prose it struggles to be anything more than an episodic series of sequences that quickly grow tiresome. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD on the other hand is being hailed as one of the best films of 2012 and it's easy to see why. The film is a tremendous achievement and most audiences are finding it suitably touching. I sadly didn't connect with it at all, finding it alternately trite, vacuous and narratively lazy but regardless of my personal opinion it's still a must-see title.
A major highlight for a brave cinema goer will be the five and a half hour Indian gangster epic, GANGS OF WASSEYPUR. It's a big call to spend most of your day with one film but this is certainly one of those memorable film festival experiences that I can highly recommend to all fans of crime films. Other very, very good titles to watch out for are: super-stylish, Thai crime film, HEADSHOT; the remarkably tense, MISS BALA; and the evocative and challenging, TABU. Do not miss KILLER JOE which is a blast of nasty, redneck fun featuring a game-changing performance by Matthew McConaughey.
Stay away from the dire RAMPART, despite a good performance by Woody Harrelson. Be wary of the slight and quirky, LIBERAL ARTS and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED - your mileage will vary on those films but they aren't anything special.
(These films are my own personal highlights of the festival. I have yet to see any of them but for one reason or another they are of a pedigree that I can comfortably recommend to the curious viewer)
In 2010 MIFF played a film called THE RED CHAPEL which became one of my favorite films of that year so it's undeniably exciting to not only see Mads Brugger's latest film, THE AMBASSADOR on the program but to discover he is a guest of the festival. Another couple of documentary highlights include THE IMPOSTER, a thrilling story that sounds so out of this world you just know it has to be true and ROOM 237, a doco that explores the many conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's films - I've been looking forward to this one for months!
Several of the Cannes pickups should be on any self-respecting filmgoers list. THE HUNT from Thomas Vinterberg starring the great Mads Mikkelsen and Pablo Larrain's NO are two highly anticipated films as well as the epic 150 minute Romanian psychological drama, BEYOND THE HILLS from the director of the traumatic yet brilliant 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS.
On a genre tip I'm personally most excited to see SIGHTSEERS, the latest film from Ben Wheatley who punched us in the face last year with KILL LIST. This one is meant to be a little lighter and a tad more comedic although I'm assured there still is blood. SLEEPLESS NIGHT is a French thriller I have been hearing great things about for several months now - kinda like DIE HARD in a nightclub? V/H/S, a horror anthology from some of the best up and coming genre directors also promises to be a blast. And lest I forget the great Bobcat Goldthwait personally bringing to the festival his latest black comedy, GOD BLESS AMERICA. Can't wait!
(These are the dark horses of the festival. Films so totally off my radar that either the festival write-up is the first I have heard of it or the only reviews are from odd corners of the internet that can't totally be trusted. Only recommend these films to brave cinephiles who want to truly experiment)
Every year it seems MIFF have a totally gonzo film that seems programmed to push audience's boundaries. Last year was the pretentious, hipster, art-house piece of junk, FINISTERRAE and the year before we had one of the worst films ever made, TRASH HUMPERS. This year the dark horse, weirdo film looks to be THE LEGEND OF KASPAR HAUSER and while I would say there is an 80% chance of it being horrible it's still worth taking a punt on if you're brave. Compared in the program notes to EL TOPO and starring Vincent Gallo, it features a soundtrack by Vitalic so at least it will sound good.
Those that endured the Sion Sono COLD FISH/GUILTY OF ROMANCE double last year will be somewhat prepared for his latest feel-bad epic, HIMIZU. I love Sono, so this is a personal highlight for me but be warned, from what I hear it's certainly not his most accessible film.
Other super random films that caught my eye - WE ARE LEGION, a documentary looking at the Anonymous Hacktivist movement; FLICKER, a Swedish comedy described in the program notes as a "bizarrely surreal, acid-drenched version of The Office" - count me in; MINE GAMES, a new thriller from local filmmaker Richard Grey who debuted in 2010 with SUMMER CODA and is following up that film with something so drastically different I simply must see it; and finally NAMELESS GANGSTER: RULES OF THE TIME because it wouldn't be MIFF if I didn't see the latest Korean, crime epic.
Well there you go. Epic and I didn't even touch the sides of what looks from the outside to be one of the better MIFF programs of recent years. There are numerous titles I have been assured by others are worthy films: MONSIEUR LAZHAR, MOONRISE KINGDOM, FAUST, YOUR SISTER'S SISTER, CAESAR MUST DIE, OSLO 31 AUGUST, HAIL, I WISH, the entire Jean Epstein retrospective, STEP UP TO THE PLATE, UNDEFEATED, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, GOD BLESS AMERICA, I could go on and on (although take note of all those titles).
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