The 63rd Berlinale kicks off tomorrow with Wong Kar-wai’s action flick The Grandmaster, and soon the masses will be huddling around Potsdamer Platz, clamoring for tickets while feasting on wurst and downing bottles of Jever in the bone-chilling weather. Luckily, they’re spoiled for choice: This year’s international mix includes works by both emerging directors and beloved auteurs; a sampling of Greek movies centered on the economic collapse; three new films showcasing the grande dames of Gallic cinema (Deneuve, Binoche, Huppert); and, of course, the varied assortment of highbrow queer films. Oh yeah, and then there’s the premiere of the totally incongruous DreamWorks cavepeople comedy, The Croods (which is around, we assume, to populate the red carpet with the likes of Nic Cage, Emma Stone, and Jeffrey Katzenberg). Below, ten films—all, with the exception of Little 13, having their world premieres here—we think are worth standing outside in the cold for.
James Franco’s already kicked up plenty of fuss this year—no one at Sundance would shut up about his man-on-man BDSM featurette Interior. Leather. Bar.—but we still needed another addition to the James Franco’s-Reflections-on-James Franco genre. This fictional rumination on the multi-hyphenate artist, in which he plays a mentally ill actor named (surprise) James, reunites him with his mononymic pal Carter—director of the 2009 quasi-meta-documentary Erased James Franco.
MY WAY TO OLYMPIA
Dir. Niko von Glasow
In the wrong hands, a film about disabled athletes setting their hopes on the Paralympics could turn into a syrupy, life-affirming mess, but we can trust “short-armed” German director von Glasow (whose own physical condition resulted from his mother’s use of thalidomide). His darkly comedic, beautifully photographed 2010 doc NoBody’s Perfect,which profiled a group of charismatic adults with malformed limbs, elevated both the discussion and documentation of disfigurement—and we assume this one will, as well.
A SINGLE SHOT
Dir. David M. Rosenthal
In this backwater thriller from Rosenthal (Janie Jones), Sam Rockwell plays a thick-bearded yokel who accidentally guns down a pretty teen girl while deerhunting and gets himself into a whole mess of trouble. Bonus: The film also stars the likes of William H. Macy and Melissa Leo, just the types you’d expect to see hanging around a sinister small town.
Dir. Christian Klandt
German Cinema – LOLA@Berlinale
Klandt’s understated 2009 drama Weltstadt, about a day in the life of a bunch of pissed-off small-town youth that ends with two boys peeing on a snoozing bum and setting him on fire, revealed a sharp eye for detail; it also made the most of the director’s former GDR hometown (decaying Soviet-era housing blocks, a medieval wall where the kids meet to get fucked up). Here he takes on the tale of a pair of wayward East German teen girls, all mixed up about sex and love.
VIC+FLO SAW A BEAR
Dir. Denis Côté
Côté’s doc Bestiaire was a strange little meditation on our preoccupation with creatures great and small; his latest is a meditation on human misfits living deep in the Canadian woods. We’re hoping he’ll be able to preserve that otherworldly weirdness with his latest foray into fiction filmmaking.
PARDÉ (CLOSED CURTAIN)
Dirs. Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi
Though he’s still under house arrest and only a few years into his 20-year filmmaking ban, Iranian New Wave luminary Panahi has managed to direct another feature (2011’sThis is Not a Film, which dealt directly with the issue of his arrest, was smuggled out of the country on a flash drive stuffed into a cake). No one’s certain how he’s managed to pull off another one, but we’re continuously in awe of his risk-taking and dedication to his art.
TPB AFK: THE PIRATE BAY AWAY FROM KEYBOARD
Dir. Simon Klose
This portrait of the Swedish creators behind the super-controversial BitTorrent index, who were all slapped with prison sentences and multi-million-kroner fines, is getting released under a Creative Commons license on Pirate Bay and other sites at 5pm on February 8—the exact moment the film makes its theatrical premiere in the physical world, adding a gimmicky yet satisfying non-diegetic layer to the story.
ON MY WAY
Dir. Emmanuelle Bercot
The Berlinale is always a solid showcase for female talent, and this year is no exception: Bercot tailor-made a role for Deneuve, who plays sixtysomething woman who runs out of cigarettes, then ditches her home and her job in pursuit of another pack of smokes.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER
Dir. Danis Tanović
Bosnian powerhouse Tanović won the 2001 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with his scathing war critique No Man’s Land, and we’re interested to see how his multifaceted approach translates to this hibernal, atmospheric drama—based on the actual lives of the non-professional cast—about a Roma family’s struggle in his homeland.
CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915
Dir. Bruno Dumont
Dumont’s ultra-stylized Hors Satan recently had its U.S. premiere at Anthology Film Archives, but his particular brand of slow-burn provocation didn’t always translate. Still, it’s usually a good thing when a transgressive director takes on the life of a very transgressive artist, and to that end we’re excited about Dumont’s vision of the French sculptor’s life in a mental ward—especially since it’s helmed by Juliette Binoche and populated with non-professional actors playing various versions of themselves.