Everyone who’s been to the Fantasia Film Festival here in Montreal knows two things: one, it’s awesome; two, there are an insane, perhaps even impossible, number of features to choose from. Inevitably, some movies will live up to or even exceed the hype, while others fizzle out upon actual viewing. Every year I make a list of movies that, based on various factors of my own choosing, are as close to “safe bets” as you’re likely to find at a festival this varied and wild. Here’s what made the cut this year:
13 Assassins (Director’s Cut)
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Takahi Miike’s samurai epic has received glowing reviews the world ’round, and it’s finally come to Montreal a couple months after its limited US run. Said to be both doggedly old-fashioned and replete with the sort of hyper-stylized violence Miike made his name on, it’s the more adult option between the two Miike films at this year’s fest. (Not that Ninja Kids!!! doesn’t look adorable.)
A Lonely Place to Die
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Two years of mountainside training prepped writer-director Julian Gilbey and his crew for this promising UK thriller, in which a small group of mountaineers (including Melissa George, who’s in my eternal good graces for her work on In Treatment) wind up hunted by baddies after rescuing a young captive in an unforgiving stretch of mountain. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a truly impressive survival thriller, and Lonely Place carries with it excellent word-of-mouth.
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A multiple prize-winner at Sundance, Mike Cahill’s first feature weds high-concept sci-fi and indie-drama sentimentality in a manner that seems unlikely to hold together, but seems to have struck a nerve with critics and audiences so far. Star Brit Marling also co-wrote the film, which revolves around the spontaneous appearance of, yes, another Earth, complete with another iteration of every human being.
Attack the Block
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Already a cult phenom in the UK, Attack the Block might provide the pre-adolescent sci-fi thrills that some (like me) felt Super 8 lacked. Written and directed by Pegg/Frost ally Joe Cornish, the film revolves around a gang of young toughs on a council estate (the UK equivalent of a housing project) who put aside their criminal behavior when an invasion of bright-fanged creatures threatens to wipe out the neighborhood. The fast, funny trailer hopefully points to a solidly entertaining flick, and it’s been praised right in these here pages.
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Another film-festival darling, writer/director/star Evan Glodell’s first feature is an ambitious-looking mix of coming-of-age romance and pre-apocalyptic dread. Possibly featuring more footage of fire-based weaponry than any film in history, Bellflower has earned astonished raves from reliable sources, and its apparent blend of the innocent and insane should make it utterly distinct from everything else in this year’s lineup.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
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Now here’s something in a class all its own. Music-video director Panos Cosmatos has fashioned a retro-futuristic sci-fi head-trip that’s impressive enough to have earned unqualified raves from unlikely circles, and is probably both the fest’s most promising Canadian feature and its most likely to either infuriate or utterly blow minds. Either way, you’ll want to be there. (It doesn’t hurt that the old-school synthesizer score featured in the trailer sounds awesome.)
Clown: the Movie
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Derived from the Danish TV series of the same name, Clown is a rarity at Fantasia: an unadulterated comedy. Likened to the “comedy of embarrassment” that’s been increasingly prominent since the original Office aired, albeit with a singularly Danish slant, it seems unlikely that any other film at the fest this year will provoke as many (intentional) belly laughs. (Sorry, no English subs on the trailer.)
The Legend is Born: Ip Man
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This one comes with a qualification: if you have no interest in martial arts, stay away. The previous two Ip Man features were not built to showcase dialogue, developed characters, or sophisticated narrative ideas. They were merely quasi-historical excuses to showcase Donnie Yen and his ability to kick ass while remaining unassuming. In this prequel, he’s replaced by the remarkably similar Dennis To as the titular master, here shown developing his unique style of Wing Chun in his younger years. Oh, and Sammo Hung is back. Even if it’s not quite up to the previous two, it’s likely to be a satisfying no-brainer.
Last Days Here
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Looking very much like a cousin to 2010’s excellent Anvil, Don Argott and Damien Fenton’s doc stars Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling as he attempts to free himself from a crippling drug addiction with the help of a devoted fan. The ending seems unavoidably upbeat – the band released their comeback record Last Rites earlier this year, to great reviews – but the film seems to offer an unusually intimate portrait of loss and redemption.
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Another festival darling, this soft-porn musical has perhaps unexpectedly charmed adventurous audiences everywhere. Lensed by legendary DP Christopher Doyle and set to the music of Stereo Total, this unlikely crowd-pleaser quotes this very publication in its giddy trailer, so I’d be remiss not to include it in any list of this year’s essential fare.