We're still brushing the snow off our metaphorical evening wear from the Sundance Film Festival, which feels like it ended only yesterday, and yet tomorrow sees the second stop of The Playlist's 2013 festival roadshow getting underway with the opening night of the Berlin Film Festival. The earliest in the year of the Big Three European festivals (alongside Cannes and Venice), the Berlinale, founded in the German capital in 1951, is traditionally one of the most prestigious events in the movie calendar.
In recent years, the Oscar-obsession of the movie calendar has seen it dip in profile (the early February date means most U.S. prestige films have either been released in much of the world, or are far from completion), but by not having to chase starry world premieres, it's often led to more interesting and eclectic line-ups, with critical favorites like "A Separation" and "Tabu" being uncovered there in recent years. And 2013 sees it getting one of its biggest coups in years, thanks to the international premiere of the new film by one of the most acclaimed directors around. Our coverage, courtesy of our roving reporter Jessica Kiang, will kick off tomorrow, but to get you warmed up, below you'll find our picks for the five most anticipated films of the festival this year. Let us know what you're anticipating in the comments section.
Synopsis: The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
What You Need To Know: A notoriously slow and deliberate filmmaker and editor, who tends to write his films as he is shooting them (must be nice), Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai is one of the most world-renowned international directors, but not exactly Captain Punctual, with "The Grandmaster" having been in various stages of production for about four years. But it's finally done, already in release in China, and getting its international premiere in Berlin (where the director will also head up the jury). Starring longtime collaborator Tony Leung (“In The Mood For Love”), Song Hye-kyo, Chang Chen and Chinese star Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), the picture is the filmmaker’s first action-oriented movie since 1994’s “Ashes of Time” (which Leung also co-starred in). And the word from the East is strong, with James Marsh of Twitch saying the film is "light on narrative, but oozing Wong's trademark elegance, the film weaves the director's familiar themes of love, loss and the corrosive nature of time around some of the most gorgeous martial arts sequences ever filmed." Hopefully the fifteen minutes cut for its international release won't have a noticeable impact.
When? Opens the festival tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled for our review. Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures have the North American rights, but no deal with a U.S. distributor has been struck yet. Hopefully we won't be waiting too long.
Synopsis: Two strangers both on the run from Iranian authorities — one who owns a dog deemed "unclean" by Islamic law, the other a woman who took part in an illegal party — hide out in a secluded villa together.
What You Need To Know: Despite being under house arrest, and saddled with a 20-year ban from filmmaking by the regime, Iranian director Jafar Panahi is proving to be more prolific than directors with all the freedoms in the world. Less than two years after his "This Is Not A Film" (which was on more than one of our writers' top 10s of last year) premiered at Cannes, Panahi's back with a new movie co-directed by Kambozia Partovi, who co-wrote Panahi's "The Circle," and directed "Border Cafe." The film is once again set in the limited confines of a home, features Panahi front and center, and is a direct comment on his situation, but otherwise, not a lot is known about it at present. That said, given the filmmaking skill and colossal bravery on show in "This Is Not A Film," this is pretty much atop our list of stuff to see in Berlin.
When? First screens in Berlin on February 12th. No distribution deal yet for the U.S.
"A Single Shot"
Synopsis: A poacher accidentally kills a teenage girl, and discovers a large sum of money, only to be targeted by the killers it belonged to.
What You Need To Know: The latest from former documentarian David M. Rosenthal ("Janie Jones") has been in the works for quite a while, going through various cast permutations over the years (Michael Fassbender and Alessandro Nivola were both set for the lead at various points), but finally made it before cameras in 2012. And there's at least one reason to be excited about the film; it features one of the best actors alive, Sam Rockwell, in the lead role. Rockwell is scientifically proven to make everything he's in about 25% better, but when he has a lead role, as he does here, you generally know that you have a treat in store, and the dark, weighty subject matter suggests it could provide him one of his best showcases. And he's far from the only great actor involved with Jeffrey Wright, William H Macy, Melissa Leo, Kelly Reilly, Jason Isaacs and Ophelia Lovibond all cropping up too. While we haven't been wowed by Rosenthal's work to date, these guys don't sign on to just anything, and this sounds like it could be the kind of complex, dark morality tale we don't see enough of these days.
When: First screening is on February 9th. No distributor is lined up yet.
Synopsis: In the 1960s, a schizophrenic actor, his mentally detached sister, and his cross-dressing best friend all share a house together.
What You Need To Know: Another film festival, another James Franco movie. Between his acting appearances for the likes of Harmony Korine, his directorial projects, and his weird documentaries/art projects, the "Oz The Great & Powerful" star seems to be everywhere at once. And he arrives in Berlin with three films, joining Sundance entrants "Lovelace" and "Interior. Leather Bar" is "Maladies." The film, shot two years ago by enigmatic artist Carter (yup, just Carter), is notable as the end-point to Franco's recurring role on soap "General Hospital," which came about as a means of researching his role in this, playing a 1960s TV soap star (called, yup, James) who's retired from his job due to his possible schizophrenia. Co-starring Catherine Keener as his cross-dressing friend, newcomer Fallon Goodson (who'll also appear in Franco's adaptation of "Child of God"), David Strathairn and Alan Cumming (Claire Danes was due to appear, but seemingly dropped out), it's described as "a sensitive exploration of perception" with a "bold narrative structure," it's certainly unlikely to be multiplex fodder. But with this cast, and a potentially interesting subject matter, we're hopeful it'll be more than just another in the string of movies about how interesting it is to be James Franco.
When: Screens February 10th, and you guessed it, no U.S. distro yet.
"Camille Claudel, 1915"
Synopsis: The sculptor Camille Claudel, confined to an asylum by her family, awaits a visit from her brother.
What You Need To Know: With a reputation as one of the most "difficult" European auteurs out there, Bruno Dumont on the surface appears to have gone a little more mainstream for his latest film by working with a major star for the first time, Juliette Binoche, and taking on that most formulaic of genres, the biopic. Dumont's picture will tell the story of Camille Claudel, a sculptor who was institutionalized with schizophrenia in her 40s, where she stayed for over thirty years, never to sculpt again. Of course, when you think about the subject matter — and the particular approach that Dumont tends to take — we're sure this'll be anything but a traditional biographical take. We're sure it won't be much fun to watch, but the combination of Binoche and the director is an enormously exciting one, particularly given the potency of the role.
Release Date: Screens February 12th, and take a wild guess if it has U.S. distribution yet or not.
Check out new images below from from the documentary "Act Of Killing," "I Used To Be Darker" and River Phoenix's final film, "Dark Blood." And on the next page are more snapes from "A Single Shot," "Maladies," "The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman," "The Grandmaster" and "Camille Claudel."