Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016: 10 essential films to see

Christopher Lambert stars in Highlander. Picture: The Kobal Collection

Christopher Lambert stars in Highlander. Picture: The Kobal Collection

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The Edinburgh International Film Festival brings the best of world cinema to the capital this week, along with a few homegrown offerings. Alistair Harkness selects ten films to look out for

Highlander (18 June) & Trainspotting (19 June)

ET

ET

Scottish films don’t get much more cult than Highlander and Trainspotting and, like the Edinburgh International Film Festival itself, both are celebrating significant birthdays this year. Highlander was one of the loopier fantasy films to emerge from the 1980s. Thirty years on, its idiosyncratic casting choices, MTV-aesthetic and mega-selling Queen soundtrack only add to its enduring and endearingly weird appeal. As does Clancy Brown, who played chief villain “the Kurgan” and who’ll be in Edinburgh to celebrate the world premiere of this newly restored print. As for Trainspotting, little new needs to be said about Danny Boyle’s landmark adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s heroin-themed pop-culture sensation, largely because it still feels as fresh as it did 20 years ago. At the time of writing, attending guests were still to be confirmed, but given Boyle, Ewan McGregor and the rest of the cast are shooting the sequel in Edinburgh right now, hopefully they’ll make some kind of appearance.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (16 & 25 June)

New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi is currently in pre-production on the next Thor movie for Marvel, but those who sampled his wry, sly sense of humour in Boy or What We Do in the Shadows should already be excited about this latest effort. Hunt for the Wilderpeople teams relative newcomer Julian Dennison with Sam Neill for a mismatched buddy comedy about a troubled foster kid who heads into the bush with his new guardian’s curmudgeonly partner in order to avoid being sent to a juvenile detention centre. Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Derby co-stars as a crazy hermit living off the grid.

Finding Dory (18 June)

Trainspotting

Trainspotting

The instant classic status of Pixar’s first wave of hits has ensured they’ve never been out of circulation, so the 13 years between Finding Nemo and this sequel feels like a drop in the ocean. Smartly zeroing in on the memory-impaired Blue Tang fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres first time round, the new film is set a year later and follows Dory’s efforts to find her family. Returning director Andrew Stanton has said he’s used a flash-backing structure to replicate the way Dory’s scatterbrain works, which makes this sound like an adorable riff on Memento.

The Childhood of a Leader (18 & 19 June)

US actor Brady Corbet has crafted a fascinating career, eschewing mainstream blockbuster fare as a teenager to work with the likes of Michael Haneke, and going on to form a close allegiance with the New York-based Borderline Films collective in his early 20s (he starred in both Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer, co-conceiving the latter). Now 27, he’s moved behind the camera with this ambitious period film, a study in megalomania that chronicles the early years of a future dictator in the aftermath of the First World War. Starring Robert Pattinson, Liam Cunningham and Bérénice Bejo, the film won the Corbet best debut and best director prizes at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

Maggie’s Plan (18 & 19 June)

Maggie's Plan

Maggie's Plan

“She reminds me of Julie Delpy in a lot of ways,” says Ethan Hawke of Greta Gerwig, his co-star in Maggie’s Plan. Don’t look for too many comparisons with Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy, however. Hawke may once again play a writer rescued from an unhappy marriage by another woman, but this is a much lighter look at the complicated romantic entanglements that ensue when people go after what they think they want from life. As it happens, that tonal switch was exactly what Hawke liked about the film, which revolves around the efforts of Gerwig’s life-plan-obsessed Maggie to get Hawke’s novelist back together with his formidable ex-wife, played with a comically severe Danish accent by Julianne Moore. “I’ve never been offered the chance to be in a movie that’s more of a screwball comedy,” Hawke says. “And it was wonderful to get to work in a breezy way with Greta and Julianne.”

ET the Extra-Terrestrial with live score by the RSNO (25 June)

Steven Spielberg’s ongoing collaboration with composer John Williams began with The Sugarland Express and was cemented by Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it reached its zenith with Williams’s eerie, emotive and transcendent score for ET, so much so that the music on its own still has the power to reduce grown adults to blubbering wrecks. The film itself is Spielberg’s most definitive work, a beautiful and wondrous evocation of childhood, friendship, family and loss. Seeing it with that score performed live by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra should be special indeed.

Little Men (22 & 23 June)

With recent films such as Love is Strange and Keep the Lights On, filmmaker Ira Sachs has quietly established himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways contemporary life and relationships can be strained, undercut and defined by economics. His latest continues that theme with a story about a fast friendship between two kids in Brooklyn that’s challenged by their respective parents falling out over property in their newly gentrified neighbourhood. Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle co-star.

Black (16 & 18 June)

This gritty urban riff on Romeo and Juliet – about a 15-year-old girl (newcomer Martha Canga Antonio) who falls for a kid in a rival gang – is set the notorious Molenbeek area of Brussels and promises to be timely and relevant look at gang culture among the disenfranchised children of Europe’s immigrant populations. It has already drawn favourable comparisons with the excellent Girlhood and won its up-and-coming Belgian co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah the Discovery Award at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Whisky Galore! (26 June)

“I would have been terrified about remaking it, but I think Gillies McKinnon has made a really good job of it.” So James Cosmo told me last year, shortly after filming wrapped on this long-gestating remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s beloved 1949 film about a group of Scottish islanders attempting to plunder a boatload of whisky during the Second World War. Cast as the local minister, Cosmo had nothing but praise for his fellow actors, singling out Gregor Fisher and Eddie Izzard in particular, and promising a fresh spin on Compton Mackenzie’s original story (the first film was based on his 1947 novel) to make it appeal to a new generation. If they’ve pulled it off, expect this to bring the 70th edition of the EIFF to a close in delightful fashion.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival runs from 15-26 June, www.edfilmfest.org.uk

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