Eight films that lead from the front at this year’s festival. By ALEXANDER BISLEY.

I’M NOT touching Antichrist with a ten-foot taiaha! I can’t curb my enthusiasm for A Christmas Tale, 35 Shots of Rum and Tyson. Five further stellar films make up my festival forward pack for 2009.

Still Walking is an unqualified masterpiece from Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows, Distance). Family life: hilarious, tragic, beautiful, completely involving. Still Walking has a sublimity that invites comparison with Ozu, Kurosawa and Kitano at their finest. I hope Aotearoa audiences will get a chance to see Koreeda’s Hana and, particularly, Air Doll soon.

It’s a notable year for Australian cinema; Samson and Delilah is mighty and transcendent. Warwick Thornton’s subjects are two runaway Aboriginal teenagers, Samson and Delilah. Superb visual style and sound design, astonishing verbally minimalist performances, abundant compassion and intuitive direction. My friend looked like a broken man after watching it, I was inspired.

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee’s richly complicated work about the Rainbow Nation and academia, is one of the greatest novels ever written. Steve Jacobs does it justice in this atmospheric adaptation. John Malkovich is terrific as disgraced English Professor David Lurie.

Bustin’ outta the slow cinema ghetto, Wendy and Lucy was exemplary humanist cinema I didn’t find slow at all. Michelle Williams portrays tremulous, touching Wendy. Heading to Alaska hoping for work, she breaks down in smalltown Oregon and loses her companion, Lucy the dog. Understatedly evoking our contemporary economic troubles, Wendy and Lucy is humble, direct and true.

Too much low-budget work involves narcissists ploddingly indulging themselves. However Daytime Drinking, about South Korean blokes and their booze, is a terribly convivial, very amusing flick. Wittily written, acted with heart, and imaginatively composed, I raise a big glass to it. Tying for number eight, Mother builds from a potent script and absorbing characters. Kim Hye-ja compels as an obsessed Korean mother, who can’t accept her convicted son is guilty of murder. The Host’s Bong Joon-ho directs this weighty whodunnit with brio and effortless pacing.

All the good films overwhelmed the duds. Bright Star, a turgid, shoddily scripted story about a great poet. Too much passion was corseted out of this Keats film. Not asinine like In the Cut, but more disappointing. The September Issue, a drab, dreary promo video for Vogue’s September issue. The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, an execrable, painfully unfunny French family movie. Cliched and meretricious, it has the charm of masticated sofa baguette.

See also:
» Post-Festival Report 2009 (Part 1): Poetry and Poetics
» Mid-Festival Report 2009: Politics and other Predicaments