Ten Screen critics select their hidden film gems of the year.
Fionnuala Halligan, chief film critic
A Date For Mad Mary
Dir Darren Thornton
This big-hearted Irish romcom, which shared the top prize at Galway this summer, has all the smarts to hit with younger audiences should it get the chance. Just released from prison, surly, boozy Mary pines for her bridezilla BFF who has moved on. Now she needs a date for the wedding and rarely has someone looked for love with less interest. Thornton directs a scuzzily radiant Seana Kerslake as the miserably mad Mary, wildly unpredictable and widely misunderstood, in a film that feels like the love child of Weekend and Once.
CONTACT Mongrel International email@example.com
Tim Grierson, Senior US critic
Dir Kirill Serebrennikov
The dangers of religious fervor overwhelming reason is the cauldron into which The Student drops its audience, taking us to a Russian high school where a Bible-quoting loner (Petr Skvortsov) begins confronting his biology teacher (Victoria Isakova) over whether her lesson plans are an affront to God. A darkly comic battle of wills escalates into a chilling illustration of how regressive, narrow-minded thinking can pollute our most sacred institutions.
CONTACT Wide firstname.lastname@example.org
Dir Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Papadimitropoulos’ third feature is as confident as it is unflinching, detailing the mother of all midlife crises as fascinatingly as a slow-motion car crash. Sad-sack fortysomething doctor Kostis (Efthymis Papadimitriou) arrives on a resort island in the damp dead of winter, hauling a lifetime of disappointment along with his luggage. But the summer brings a hedonistic crowd of party people, among them 21-year-old Anna (Elli Tringou) who briefly permits Kostis entry into the in-crowd. Papadimitropoulos eloquently uses repetition — subsequent evenings in the same flesh-pit nightclubs are thrillingly decadent or repulsively crass depending on Kostis’ fragile state of mind.
CONTACT Visit Films email@example.com
The Sociologist And The Bear Cub
Dirs Etienne Chaillou, Mathias Théry
Partly recounted through creative layers of silliness, this serious documentary covers the vehement French protests against legalising same-sex marriage, using stuffed animals and adorable puppets to mouth the statements of pundits and the co-director’s own mother, noted sociologist Irene Théry. There’s a touching jauntiness that makes what the puppets say seem important instead of frivolous — you wouldn’t think it’s an effect that can be sustained for long but, in these film-makers’ hands, it works brilliantly.
CONTACT Quark Productions firstname.lastname@example.org
El Futuro Perfecto
Dir Nele Wohlatz
A smart, undemonstrative but deeply joyful Argentinian first feature by German-born director Wohlatz, about a young Chinese woman (Zhang Xiaobin) newly arrived in Buenos Aires and her attempts to learn Spanish. Formally economical, rich in insights about language, culture and the self, and deliciously comic with it.
CONTACT Murillo Cine email@example.com
Katie Says Goodbye
Dir Wayne Roberts
Olivia Cooke gives a star-making performance in Katie Says Goodbye, the debut feature from writer/director Roberts. Her naive small-town waitress struggles to make the grim realities of her life match up to the sweet, boundless possibilities of her big dreams. A luminous Cooke brings alive all the facets of a vulnerable character and reminds you of the raw emotion and promise in the early performances of Jessica Lange. Add a supporting cast that includes Mary Steenburgen and Christopher Abbott, and it is hard to understand why this surefooted, discreetly handled tale has not attracted more attention.
CONTACT Cercamon World Sales firstname.lastname@example.org
A Dragon Arrives
Dir Mani Haghighi
This weird and rather wonderful Iranian curio feels like a cross between Inherent Vice and a Persian folk tale. It’s not exactly undiscovered — it was in competition at Berlin — but it risks being largely unseen outside of festivals as distributors don’t seem to know what to do with it. A vintage orange Chevy Impala and a rusting hulk of a ship in the desert are two of the visual anchors of a film that mixes up a mid-1960s investigation by the Shah’s secret police with the origins of Iranian New Wave cinema. You suspect you’re missing most of the subtext, but somehow it doesn’t matter.
CONTACT The Match Factory email@example.com
Dir Ceyda Torun
More than just another example of cute kittens on camera, Kedi bubbles over with charm and insight that millions of YouTube videos can’t match. As first-time helmer Torun wanders the streets of Istanbul, she turns scampering, climbing and sleeping cats into more than just a source of heart-warming entertainment. The role the animals play in the city is pivotal, but so are their personalities and pursuits. Indeed, the crisply shot effort offers a slice of life on several fronts, saying plenty about the microcosm it explores, and just as much about humanity’s fascination with felines.
CONTACT Termite Films firstname.lastname@example.org
The Young Offenders
Dir Peter Foott
While TV director Foott’s big-screen debut was a €1m word-of-mouth box-office smash in Ireland, this charmingly ramshackle comedy of male idiocy remains a gem little known beyond its native shores. Inspired by the true story of Ireland’s biggest ever drugs seizure (off the coast of western Cork in 2007), The Young Offenders offers a fictional scenario: what if two Cork teenage ne’er-do-wells cycled off on stolen bicycles, hoping to track down a missing bale of cocaine worth €7m, pursued by a jobsworth cop? Genial turns by Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, both making their screen debut, add ample portions of endearment and amusement.
CONTACT Carnaby International email@example.com
Dir William Oldroyd
Nothing to do with Shakespeare, rather this is furious Russian passion chilled down into an austere, scrupulously directed 19th-century British tragedy. Every frame, every set and every look painted on the faces of the actors is carefully shaped by a master hand. As Katherine, lead performer Florence Pugh’s transition from innocent Victorian bride to ruthless murderer is unique.
CONTACT Protagonist Pictures firstname.lastname@example.org