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Promising to push, fire up, freak out, kiss and tickle you, this year’s Sydney Film Festival isn’t skimpy on variety. Here’s a short-list of our favourites.

Disgrace

Friday 5 Jun 6.30pm State Theatre

Sat 6 Jun 10.00am State Theatre

This is the hot ticket this festival. Based on the Nobel Prize-winning novel by South African born, Adelaide-dwelling author J.M. Coetzee, it stars John Malkovich as David Lurie, a caustic, mixed-up intellectual who flees a sordid school scandal, only to face more upheaval following a violent attack at his daughter’s rural farm. This is a taut, emotionally and politically nuanced film that is sure to be a frontrunner in the SFF Official Competition.

Blind Loves

Sat 7 Jun 12.30pm Dendy Opera Quays

Fri 12 Jun 4.00pm Dendy Opera Quays

Is love blind, as they say? This delightful mix of documentary and fiction from the Slovak Republic follows four people seeking happiness. The director, Juraj Lehotský, says, “Their world might be lacking sight, but it can be richer in spirituality…” After meeting whimsical teenager Zuzana, pining for her dream guy; Miro and Monika, whose parents disapprove not of Miro’s blindness but his Romany roots; and Peter and Iveta, who are active in their imaginations, if not their real-life; you will be inclined to agree.

Van Diemen’s Land

Fri 5 Jun 8.40pm Greater Union George St

Sun 7 Jun 6.10pm Greater Union George St

With a tagline that quips, “Hunger is a strange silence,” you know you’re not in for a laugh-a-minute.  Telling the ‘true’ tale of Australia’s most notorious convict, Alexander Pearce, this is a nightmarish decampment down south and through time that’s one part John Boorman’s Deliverance, another part Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Director Jonathan auf der Heide is tipped as a talent to watch.

Black Dynamite

Sun 7 Jun 8.35pm Greater Union George St

Tue 9 Jun 8.30pm Greater Union George St

Who said film festivals are all arty shots and serious homages to little-known French directors? Legendary bad-boy Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is here to set the record straight, with a whole heap of fros, hos and kung-fu kicks thrown on top. The plot is irrelevant- although it apparently involves ‘The Man’, a murdered brother and a ‘Honky House’ – it’s the irreverent take on blaxpoitation that we’re looking forward to.

The Limits of Control

Thu 11 Jun 9.15pm Dendy Opera Quays

Sat 13 Jun 8.00pm Dendy Opera Quays

Jim Jarmusch is a love him or loathe him kind of director. He is responsible for Johnny Depp’s most weird dabble with face paint (Dead Man), Iggy Pop and Tom Waits chewing the fat (Coffee and Cigarettes), Winona Ryder as a disgruntled taxi driver (Night on Earth) and Forest Whitaker a black, blubby ninja (Ghost Dog), amongst many other walks on the weird side. Now ‘anti-thriller’ The Limits of Control apparently finds him at his slippery and seductive best, with Tilda Swinton in an icy white wig, John Hurt out of hiding and Gael Garcia Bernal as smoking as always.

500 Days of Summer

Sat 6 Jun 9.20pm State Theatre

Sun 7 Jun 6.10 Greater Union George St

Is Zooey Deschanel ever in a movie in which her character isn’t prefaced by “kooky”? This rom-com promising to reinvigorate the genre is no exception. For one, the leading lady doesn’t believe in love, while the hapless himbo (babyfaced Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a die-hard romantic – he even writes the greeting-cards to prove it! Non-linear, and visually snappy, this could well be the little indie flick that could.

The Strength of Water

Sun 7 Jun 6.15pm Dendy Opera Quays

Mon 8 Jun 2.00pm Dendy Opera Quays

From across the trough comes this beautiful debut by Armagan Ballantyne, set against the wild northern coast of New Zealand. It studies – with a stirring gentleness – the ripples of grief caused by an unexpected tragedy upon a local family’s life. The water-laden landscape, the heavy grey skies and even the stranded jellyfish become poetical stand-ins for this process from loss to love.

$9.99

Sat 6 Jun 7.00pm Dendy Opera Quays

Ensemble voice casts may seem like a dime a dozen these days. But rarely do they feature so many Aussies, with Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Barry Otto, Ben Mendelsohn, Claudia Karvan and more reading like a who’s who of antipodean acting greats. Plus this is hailed by Rush as being a “claymation of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts“,  and also “unlike anything else in this, or any, film festival” according to the program – worth a few dollars and a look-in in our books.