Our 15 picks for VIFF 2016

Check out these films at Vancouver’s biggest film festival (and prepare to eat lots of popcorn)

The 15 days of VIFF offer untold cinematic riches. Indeed, this list could have easily been three times longer and even then, movies I really want to see would have had to be sacrificed for space. Here then is one possible route through the festival: 15 films that I would clear my schedule for, and why.1. Manchester By the SeaKenneth Lonergan’s follow up to the exquisite Margaret (2011) stars Casey Affleck as Lee, a man who returns to his small, New England community in order to sort out his recently deceased brother’s affairs, and finds himself forced to face the reasons he left in the first place.2. Toni ErdmannThe third film from Maren Ade has already been proclaimed a masterpiece. Centred around the relationship between management consultant Ines and her father, a retired music teacher with a penchant for embarrassing pranks, Toni Erdmann promises laughs, tears and an acute commentary on the insidious seep of corporate culture into all our lives.3. MoonlightThe story of Chiron, an African-American man who grew up with drugs and violence never far from his fingers, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight takes on a subject of immediate resonance: what it is to grow up as a black man in today’s America. Newcomer Trevante Rhodes plays the adult Chiron, a man struggling to accept his sexuality, ably supported by Naomie Harris, André Holland and the amazing Janelle Monáe.moonlight4. AquariusBrazilian superstar Sonia Braga is Clara, a widowed music journalist who, when a property developer drops an eviction notice on her beachfront apartment building, refuses to pack up and leave with the other tenants, in a political stance many Vancouverites will empathize with. Braga and director Kleber Mendonça Filho are both being tipped for Oscars, although a political protest by the cast and crew at Cannes may hobble their chances.5. Koneline: our land beautifulNettie Wild’s documentary travels to Northern B.C. to grapple with one of the province’s biggest economic, political and cultural conflicts: the use of land. Firstly, this is a visually stunning film that paints the northern landscape in all its glory. And that’s at the root of the conflict, of course, as the seemingly impossible balance between environment and progress, tradition and modernity, rich and poor is put into stark focus with the prospect of an open-pit gold mine on Tahltan First Nation land. This is must-see for B.C.ers.konelineourlandbeautiful6. A Quiet PassionBritish director Terence Davies turns his cinematic eye onto the life of genius wordsmith Emily Dickinson. Cynthia Nixon’s performance as the reclusive poet has been a revelation for many who only know her for her Sex and the City role, while Davies has proved once again he is a master at building devastating emotion from apparently still lives.7. Paterson + Gimme DangerThere is not one but two Jim Jarmusch films in this year’s VIFF. In Paterson, the director explores the fragile business of an ordinary life enriched and yet complicated by creativity. It stars Adam Driver as Paterson, a bus driver and aspiring poet, who composes stanzas on his breaks. Jarmush’s documentary offering, Gimme Danger, is a profile of his favourite band, Iggy and the Stooges, plundering archive 16mm footage to tell the story of the influential, outrageous punk progenitors.Patersonpaterson8. I, Daniel Blake + Versus: The Life and Films of Ken LoachVeteran British director Ken Loach picked up his second Palme d’Or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake. Written by longtime Loach collaborator, Paul Laverty, the film follows a middle-aged carpenter caught in a gray area of the English benefits system, neither able to work after a heart attack nor qualifying for disability. Prepare for an unflinching, angry and emotional experience, as 79-year-old Loach aims his contempt at Conservative austerity measures. Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach is a fitting companion, stuffed full of clips from Loach’s filmography—including several from his earliest work for the BBC—and interviews with those able to offer insight into the man himself.9. ElleAdmittedly, a black comedy about a rape victim does not sound immediately promising. But when inveterate subversive Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct) gets it right, the results can be provocative, disturbing and exhilarating—something few directors can claim. Starring that doyenne of fierce French acting, Isabelle Huppert, and based on an award-winning novel by Betty Blue writer Philippe Dijan.10. Ten YearsWhen a group of young Hong Kong filmmakers decided to make a portmanteau movie made up of five short films imagining their city in 2025, they had no idea the impact the finished work would have. A huge box office hit in Hong Kong last year, Ten Years explores the city’s fear of a future under the influence of mainland China. It may predate the pro-democracy “umbrella movement” in genesis, but the political affinity is clear.11. Window Horses + The Red Turtle + TowerAnimation is often overlooked, but as these three VIFF picks clearly demonstrate, it’s a form that’s currently punching above its weight. Ann Marie Fleming’s Window Horses (The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming) weaves a tale of a young Vancouver-based poet of Chinese and Persian descent, who undergoes a transformative experience during a visit to an Iranian literary festival. Winning the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year, the first international co-production from famed Japanese Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle, explores the relationship that develops between a man shipwrecked on a desert island and a large, red sea turtle—entirely without dialogue. Keith Maitland’s SXSW-winning documentary Tower uses animation to reconstruct the chilling actions of a lone sniper at the University of Texas in 1966, drawing on the testimony and recollections of those who were there, as well as black and white archival footage.Towertower