Ten Must-See Films at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival

Including a lesbian romance set in Nairobi, a compilation of previously censored clips and a stunning Japanese animation.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 04, 2018

Sydney cinephiles, the moment you've been waiting for is here. From June 6 to 17, the Sydney Film Festival will fill the city's cinemas with more than 334 movies. Race-relations comedies straight from Cannes, true crime documentaries about famous cases, behind-the-scenes looks at iconic fashion designers — they're just some of the flicks on offer in what's shaping up to be SFF's mighty busy 65th year.

In fact, if you wanted to see BlacKkKlansman, Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders or McQueen, we have bad news — they've already sold out. We told you that the fest will be busy. Thankfully, there's plenty more where those popular titles came from, which is where we come in.

Fancy watching one of the absolute best films of the year? A compilation of clips excised from other films by the Australian censors? Gorgeous Japanese animation? A documentary about loving boy bands? Of course you do, and they're all on our must-see list. We've selected ten movies to keep you busy over SFF's 12-day run, so prepare to spend a lot of time inside a cinema.


After screening at Cannes in 2017 — and deservedly winning Joaquin Phoenix the festival's best actor award for his gut-wrenching performance — it has taken some time for You Were Never Really Here to make it to our shores. Don't worry, this exceptional film is completely worth the wait. It's also one of the best movies of this or any other year. The highly anticipated latest feature from We Need to Talk About Kevin's Lynne Ramsay, the dark effort follows Phoenix's Joe, an ex-soldier and FBI agent turned hitman who rescues children from sex trafficking rings. Unsurprisingly, it's a tense, bleak dive through the mindset of a man coping with several layers of trauma; however neither Ramsay or Phoenix put a foot wrong in a feature that dials up its intense revenge thrills to astounding levels.


Back in 2010, Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz made a movie that was almost entirely set in a tank. Lebanon became one of the year's and the decade's most talked-about films — and while his next feature, Foxtrot, isn't confined to one setting, it is just as inventive, immersive and absorbing. The military drama kicks into gear with a knock at the door, as a couple are told by officials that their son has been killed in the line of duty. What happens from that point onwards is best discovered by watching, in a feature that astutely explores bureaucracy, grief and the many difficulties of living in a state of perpetual conflict. From playing with the narrative's timeline to inserting both dance sequences and animation into the mix, Maoz never fails to find the most fitting, astonishing and surprising ways to get to the heart of his story.cp-line


Ever wondered just what ends up on the cutting room floor — not during the normal editing process, but when the censors are deciding if a film is fit for public consumption? Or perhaps you fall into the other category, and you've never really thought about whether the version of a movie you're seeing is the same as the one submitted by the filmmakers for classification. Either way, Sari Braithwaite's [CENSORED] is bound to open your eyes, with the documentary made from clips excised from flicks by Australian censors between 1951 and 1978. Expect to be challenged and entertained, and to explore the role of censorship, as you step through a movie compiled from parts of other movies that you really weren't meant to see.



Outside of Studio Ghibli, Mamoru Hosoda is one of the most important names in Japanese animation — and if you've seen Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Wolf Children, you'll know why. The writer-director possesses quite the knack for matching eye-catching visuals with emotionally resonant stories, which could be why his latest, Mirai, became the first Japanese animated film to hold its world premiere at Cannes. Story-wise, it tells of a toddler unhappy about getting a baby sister called Mirai, which all sounds rather routine. If there's one thing that Hosoda's movies have taught audiences, however, it's that there's no such thing as a routine tale. Here, the unhappy four-year-old protagonist not only comes face-to-face with a teenager with the same name as his new sibling, but they're soon stumbling through a magical portal in search of adventure.


One of the greatest films ever made gets a completely different twist in Number 37. This mightn't be the first time someone has been inspired to toy with Alfred Hitchcock's iconic Rear Window — the Shia LaBeouf-starring Disturbia did it (and ended up in court as a result), and so did one of the standout shorts at this year's Berlinale — but this South African feature uses the classic flick as a starting point, then finds its own riff. Written and directed by first-timer Nosipho Dumisa, the feature spends its time with a small-time crook who comes up with a new scam just by looking out of his window. He's stuck peering through his binoculars because he was paralysed in a drug deal gone wrong, and that's just one of the factors complicating this suspenseful narrative.cp-line


In rodeo drama The Rider, real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau plays a version of himself. If you're wondering why writer-director Chloe Zhao opted to stick so close to reality, it's because her subject-turned-actor boasts quite the story. A member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Jandreau was a rising star when the two first met, inspiring Zhao to make a movie about him. Then a tragic riding accident changed his future forever, placing him at a crossroads. Part specific character study, part universal tale of chasing and losing a dream, then trying to come out of the other side, The Rider wouldn't be the same without its star — who acts alongside his real-life family members. Since premiering at Cannes last year, the movie has also been earning Zhao considerable praise for her empathetic modern-day take on the western genre.cp-line


The latest film adapted from a Nick Hornby book, Juliet, Naked sounds more than a little familiar — even if you haven't read the novel. To the surprise of no one acquainted with the author's work, it features a music-obsessed man who isn't too successful with romance, as well as a musician who earns the same description. High Fidelity 2, this isn't, however. Stuck between the two hapless male figures (played by Chris O'Dowd and Ethan Hawke) is the woman who's actually the protagonist of this story, Annie (Rose Byrne). A rom-com about people learning what's really important in life, the end result takes Hornby's usual insights (and his usual love of music, naturally) in a slightly different direction, and pairs them with an excellent cast.



The only Australian film competing for this year's Sydney Film Festival prize, Jirga was actually shot in Afghanistan. In fact, author, paramedic and filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour not only wrote and directed the feature, but shot the entire thing himself. That was the only way he could get his tale made after his initial funding fell through, with Gilmour forging ahead in incredibly difficult circumstances. Relaying the story of an Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a man killed during a raid three years earlier, it's a movie that only explores the impact of war in its narrative, but bears its scars in every frame.



A lesbian romance set in Nairobi, Rafiki blazes several trails. In fact, the response to this Kenyan rarity has been varied to say the least. The film became the nation's first feature to screen at Cannes, which is an incredible feat. Back home, however, the movie's subject matter saw it banned by the Kenyan classification board. Focusing on two young women trying to cast aside society's conservative ideas about their futures, Rafiki follows Kena and Ziki as they fall in love, break free from their families' expectations, fight widespread prejudice and forge their own identities. Along the way, as she tells their fictional tale writer-director Wanuri Kahiu also embraces the vibrancy of Nairobi at street level.


Calling all boy band fans — and pop culture fans in general. Since The Beatles caused hordes of teenage girls to scream in city streets all over the world all those decades ago, boy bands and pop culture really have gone hand in hand. If you're wondering why, or what inspires avid obsessives to devote their time and attention to their favourite group, then Melbourne-based filmmakers Jessica Leski and Rita Walsh might just have the answers courtesy of their documentary I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story. Exploring the stories of four women across three generations, the film also promises an insight into fandom and its joys, thrills and excesses in general.cp-line

Want more recommendations? Given the hefty size of SFF's 2018 program, we have a few other picks. From our list of Australian titles to look out for, catch biker thriller 1% — and from our Sundance rundownKusama: Infinity, Leave No Trace, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, The Guilty and Searching all made the bill. There's more from our Berlinale selections, such as Aga, Daughter of Mine, Transit and An Elephant Sitting Still, while our Cannes standouts include Burning, Climax and Shoplifters.

Published on June 04, 2018 by Sarah Ward
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