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Previous Years

2008

POP SKULL

2007: USA | DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard | RUNNING TIME: 86mins
R16 Violence, offensive language, drug use

Welcome to the fevered dream world of Daniel, twenty something and losing the plot. Upset from a relationship ending, plagued by recent murders, Daniel is downing too many pills and starting to trip out big time. Inside Daniel's popping skull we are taken on a creepy subconscious journey inhabited by spontaneous violence, shocking aural hallucinations and murderous ghosts from his past.

Director Adam Wingard has created one of the most dazzling and distinctive American independent films since the heydays of the early 90s, buts its hip sensibility is Lynch before he entered into self-parody. This micro-budgeted flick has turned its fiscal limitations into its strengths. By focusing and empathizing with Daniel's attempt to make a human connection through the mother of all acid freakouts, the audience has no choice but to sit on the edge of their seat, watching this druggy-ghost tale through to its shockingly surreal conclusion. - Ant Timpson

[REC]

2007: USA | DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard | RUNNING TIME: 86mins
R16 Violence, offensive language, drug use

Ever since The Blair Witch Story became a cultural phenomenon, the faux horror documentary resulted in many imitators, culminating with the big-budgeted Cloverfield. Unfortunately all these imitators failed to do the one thing demanded of the new genre, to scare the hell out of us.

We're happy to report that [REC] makes up for prior transgressions by telling the story of perky TV reporter Angela whose show 'While You Sleep', covers the nocturnal activities of Barcelona firemen. When a report a woman screaming in an apartment block comes in, Angela and her crew of two, follow the dedicated team to the emergency.

With a brisk running time, [REC] doesn't waste a moment with its claustrophobic setup, and once things start to go wrong, you'll be on the edge of your seat, as it builds to a kind of hysterically sustained tension rarely seen on the big screen. Festival audiences have been screaming at characters during the last five minutes "PLEASE DON'T GO THERE!". Get ready to poop your pants NZ. - Ant Timpson

TEETH

2007: USA | DIRECTOR: Mitchell Lichenstein | RUNNING TIME: 88mins

Mitchell Lichenstein's fiendish black comedy-horror Teeth updates the ancient myth of "vagina dentata" into a high-concept social satire with a razor-sharp script, outlandish gore and a phenomenal comedic performance by the hypnotic Jess Wexler. As the leader of a school chastity movement called The Promise, virginal Dawn is pushed to go 'all the way' by seemingly nice guy Tobey. Unfortunately they both discover rather messily, that she has another set of chompers between her legs.

As her sexual awakening begins to blossom, the arterial flowering is close behind as Dawn deals with the profound changes in her life. So when Dawn's creepo heavy metaller brother begins to act on his disturbing and lifelong obsession for her, we know that this probably isn't going to end very pretty. Teeth is possibly the worst date movie of all time or the best. It depends on how perverse your dates sense of humour is. - Ant Timpson

THE KING OF KONG

2007: USA | DIRECTOR: Seth Gordon | RUNNING TIME: 80mins

This supremely crowd-pleasing doc has had audiences erupting in cheers at its conclusion. But lets get one thing out of the way first. This look at rivaling video gamers is not about video games. It's possibly the ultimate depiction of good versus evil ever committed to film. On the side of good, we have the unlikeliest of heroes, mild mannered and handsome family man Steve Wiebe, who has had his share woe. On the side of evil is arrogant Billy Mitchell; hot sauce impresario, patriot and reigning world champ (since 1982) of the game Donkey Kong.

Mitchell's empire is rocked when the loveable Wiebe submits a video of himself breaking the record and in a series of unbelievable (but true) twists and turns, The King of Kong transcends its pop culture origins and becomes something truly admirable. A real life Shakespearian tale that manages to topple the bards capacity for devilish intrigue and hilarious portraits of self-importance. Do not miss this hilarious tale of life's nicest man versus the egomaniacal might of a sleazy supergamer who will stop at nothing to remain at the top. - Ant Timpson

FEAR(S) OF THE DARK

2007: France | DIRECTOR: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Perre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire | RUNNING TIME: 78mins

This collection of black-and-white animated shorts from cutting edge French graphic design outfit Prima Linea has enlisted the fevered imaginations of the best-of-the-best from the comics/art world to burrow deep into our primordial phobias of all things dark.

Ragged and rhythmic, Blutch's vignette of a Victorian marquis maliciously siccing his hounds of hell on people reminds us how powerfully savage pencil drawings can be. Marie Caillou nods to manga with her phantasmagoric story of a traumatised Japanese schoolgirl forced to relive her shocking past at the hands of an evil shrink who's enjoying sticking needles into her arm. Lorenzo Mattotti's segment is a beautifully atmospheric tale about the eerie disappearances in a rural village, which may or may not involve a monster lurking in the shadows. Fans of Charles Burns will cream at his so-genius-it-hurts Cronenberg-meets-Twilight Zone episode, a part entymological nightmare/part geek-finally-gets-chick story that reproduces all those feelings of ickiness and dread you get from reading his graphic novels. And if you want some truly creepy, pants-wetting shit, Richard McGuire's stunning, smart-as-hell haunted house yarn is a master class in suggestive monochrome rendering that leaves most contemporary horrors whimpering away in the dark.

SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO

2007: Japan | DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike | RUNNING TIME: 121mins

In a career that's as unpredictable and shape-shifting as Takashi Miike's, it was only a matter of time before the Japanese maverick tackled the Wild West (or East in this case). Made with his usual unmatched off-kilter energy, Sukiyaki Western Django is more inspired insanity from the director who refuses to slow down, a violent, orgasmically gonzo genre mash-up that screws around with Spaghetti Western conventions.

While the title cribs from Sergio Corbucci's Django, the story is pure Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars territory, involving a nameless gunslinger (Hideaki Ito) who gets caught between two warring clans. Imagine El Topo remade by Seijun Suzuki, and you might have something like this East-meets-West, pop art-meets-psych, guns-and-swords fusion that Miike's made weirder by having his Japanese cast speak in phonetically delivered English with subtitles! The icing on the cake? A Tarantino cameo. - Aaron Yap

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD

2008: Australia | DIRECTOR: Mark Hartley | RUNNING TIME: 102mins

After watching Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley's affectionate, much-welcome ode to the wonderful 'Ozploitation' films of the'70s and '80s, it's likely you'll be scouring your video stores for movies by hitherto unsung directors such as Richard Franklin and Brian Trenchard-Smith. Stuffed with film clips that'll rouse your appetite for Ocker-style drive-in sex and violence, Not Quite Hollywood really astounds with its eye-openingly comprehensive line-up of interviews with prominent actors, writers and directors of the period. Naturally, Ozploitation fanatic Tarantino pops up for a word or two.

Essential viewing for genre buffs, this is an entertaining and exceptionally well-researched appreciation of a time in Aussie filmmaking that's gone unnoticed for too long, arguing that for every prestigious classic like Picnic at Hanging Rock, there was an outrageously trashy gem like Turkey Shoot waiting to be discovered. - Aaron Yap

I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW

2008: USA | DIRECTOR: Sean Donnelly | RUNNING TIME: 69mins

An intimate look into the lives of two stalkers of '80s teen pop one-hit-wonder Tiffany, Sean Donnelly's I Think We're Alone Now is absolutely disturbing, wince-inducing trainwreck viewing of the highest order. These are characters are so jaw-droppingly singular no scriptwriter could ever dream them up: Jeff Deane Turner, a middle-aged time travel and radionics enthusiast who believes he can communicate telepathically with Tiffany through a machine he's created, and Kelly McCormick, an intersexed fitness freak who's convinced they are destined to be together no matter what happens ("I love her down to the bone marrow!").

More than a shock sensationalist expose about weirdo stalkers, the doco aims deeper, revealing itself to be an equally poignant and unsettling study of two social misfits grappling with mental illness and loneliness who pose less harm to their object of obsession than themselves. - Aaron Yap

FUNNY GAMES

2007: France/UK | DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke | RUNNING TIME: 108mins

All actors are whores. Especially the good ones. They sometimes do films for the money. But we are the ones who pay to see them. As we suffered watching their efforts, now they must suffer onscreen.

Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as a picture perfect couple on a lakeside vacation with their son. Their idyllic life is shattered when a pair of polite, yet psychopathic houseguests arrive... then the fun and games begin.

Austrian auteur Michel (The Piano Teacher) Haneke literally returns to his old stomping ground in this shot-for-shot remake of his incendiary 1997 classic Funny Games. The home-invasion plot and its attendant brutalisation is used to turn the tables on the viewer, questioning our personal motives for letting on-screen sadism pass as vicarious entertainment. A decade on, the remake is as gruelling to watch as the original, and the message is undiluted. Preying upon middle-class paranoia, Haneke's disintegration of the cinematic fourth wall is both masterful and manipulative.

Funny Games is a real audience divider, a thought provoking love-it-or-hate-it experience, that shoots you in the eye as you squirm in your seat. - Michael Sheils

FRONTIER(S)

2007: France | DIRECTOR: Xavier Gens | RUNNING TIME: 109mins R18 Sadistic violence, sexual themes, offensive language

Paris is burning, after the election of a right-wing Government prompts riots in the streets of the city's slums. Using the chaos as cover, a gang of young thieves takes the opportunity to head for the Luxembourg border, with a suitcase full of loot. En route, the vagabonds take a wrong turn. They check-in to an isolated inn run by a family of inbred Neo Nazis, whose deviance makes Texas Chainsaw's rednecks seem harmless in comparison.

Following in the bloodstained footsteps of similarly themed French shockers such as Sheitan, Haute Tension and The Ordeal, the don't-go-in-the-woods fairytale lurks deep in the Gallic subconscious. On the surface, Frontier(s)' galling viscera makes le Grande Guignol of old seem tame. But director/screenwriter Xavier (Hitman) Gens stitches fine threads of social commentary throughout his survivalist yarn as race, gender, class and the family unit become targets peppered with the shotgun of subtext. - Michael Sheils

GEORGE A ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD

2007: USA | DIRECTOR: George A. Romero | RUNNING TIME: 95mins R16 Violence, offensive language, horror

Gore-hounds rejoice! The Maestro returns with this eponymous instalment in his epic anthology of all things zombie. Eschewing the metaphoric scale of its predecessor Land of the Dead, Romero retains the media critique inherent in the series, and in updating it, retains a vital contemporary resonance.

Set in the present, society is disintegrating as the living dead return to walk the earth. A student film crew documents the ensuing carnage as one by one they fall victim to the undead hordes. Their documentary, entitled The Death of Death is presented to the viewer as the unedited truth, and an antidote to the lies broadcast by the mainstream media.

Into the rich conceit of a film-within-a-film, Romero deconstructs genre cliches, while biting the very hand that feeds him. The satire is spiced with comedy and bathos, but fanboys/girls need never fear. The splatter dips deep into new depths of ooze, and the final shot is a real doozie! - Michael Sheils

KING OF THE HILL

2007: Spain | DIRECTOR: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego | RUNNING TIME: 90mins

A taut thriller set in the backwoods of the Spanish wilderness, King of the Hill is a stylish update of The Most Dangerous Game combined with the grim undertones of Deliverance.

Stopping for gas way out in the wops, Quim (Leonardo Sbaraglia) indulges in a torrid quickie with a sexy stranger in the gas station lavatory. Before he can zip up, both she, and his wallet, have legged it. Following her car, he gets lost. Then, out of the blue, his vehicle comes under gunfire and he is forced off the road. Quim flags down a figure for assistance, but discovers that in this neck of the woods, hunting humans is the name of the game. Thus begins an intense game of cat and mouse across a landscape, which is as hostile as the sniper who rules it.

Blending contemporary fears, atmospheric music and stylish visuals, King of the Hill is a real pulse pounder and the implications unmasked by the hunter's identity are chilling. - Michael Sheils

TIME CRIMES

2007: Spain | DIRECTOR: Nacho Vigelondo | RUNNING TIME: 88mins R16 Violence, offensive language, nudity

The most popular film at Ain't It Cool's Fantastic Fest last year was this unassuming Spanish thriller that has a lot on its fiendishly clever mind. Snapped up for US distribution with a remake bound to follow, this cerebral combo of style, smarts and science fiction is best left for audiences to discover - so stop reading right now and just go buy a ticket.

For those with short term memories, it all begins Hector sitting in a lawn chair outside his country home surveying nearby hills through binoculars when he espies what appears to be a woman, naked, amidst the trees. Setting off to investigate, he is attacked by a mysterious figure. Making his escape to a hilltop lab he briefly hides inside a strange contraption. In the process, he discovers a fundamental paradox of our universe. That it's all too easy to dig yourself into your very own wormhole, especially when doppelgangers start popping up! And that's all we're telling you... it all begins Hector sitting in a lawn chair outside his country home... - Ant Timpson

CARGO 200

2007: Russia | DIRECTOR: Alexei Balabanov | RUNNING TIME: 89mins R18 Violence, sexual violence

Ostensibly a horror flick, this darkly disturbing story is an allegory of the terminal collapse of Soviet society blighted by 1980's perestroika. The bleak backdrop of a grimy industrial town in Khazkhstan forms the crossroads for an unlikely collection of comrades. A Professor of Atheism, a party-hearty young couple, a wannabe entrepreneur with the Party Chief's daughter in hand, all cross paths at an isolated and illegal drinking hole, patrolled by a local police captain- who happens to be a violent sexual psychopath. Then the fun begins.

Director Alexi (Of Freaks and Men) Balabanov elegantly fuses the poetry of Tarkovsky's Stalker with the amoral bleakness of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But black humour drips through every gorgeous frame, soiling all that aspired to be moral, religious and philosophical. Not for the faint hearted, Cargo 200 is a spiritual wakeup that resonates when its shocks subside. - Michael Sheils

DEAR ZACHARY

2008: USA | DIRECTOR: Kurt Kuenne | RUNNING TIME: 95mins

Let me state up front that I pursued this documentary and wanted to share it with as many as possible. The film does not sit comfortably in "Incredibly Strange" and yet it's the one film that resonates with me more than any other in this guide.

Kurt Kuenne's heart-breaking work begins as a loving scrapbook tribute to his dead buddy (and lead actor in their home movies) Andrew Bagby, before careening into a harrowing true-crime drama that has reduced hardened festival patrons to tears. Kuenne deftly wraps the memories of all those who loved Bagby into virtuoso montages inter-cut with bittersweet scenes from their home movies together. Dear Zachary's kicker is a real life third act that is as unpredictable and tragic as any screenwriter could ever conjure.

A devastating doc that takes viewers through an emotional spin cycle, from happiness to sorrow and finally, after they catch their breath - much anger. - Ant Timpson

2004-2007

A Bittersweet Life
A Dirty Carnival
A Hole in My Heart
Aachi & Ssipak
American Cannibal: The Road to Reality
American Hardcore
Audience of One
Bad Santa
Cocaine Cowboys
Death Note + Death Note: The Last Name
Dumplings
Exiled
Fearless
Godzilla Final Wars
Hard Candy
Head
High Tension
Inside Deep Throat
Keane
Kung Fu Hustle
Land of the Dead
Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Mind Game
Monster Road
No More Heroes
Old Boy
One Missed Call
Open Water
Overnight
Primer
Princess
Pulse
Retribution
Severance
Shaun of the Dead
Silmido
Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Tamala : A Punk Cat in Space
Taxidermia
The Host
The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse
The Lost
The Magician
The Ordeal
The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang
The Signal
Them
Three... Extremes
TV Junkie
Twelve and Holding
You're Gonna Miss Me
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession