Time Out Sydney

This year's instalment delivers a dozen days and nights of movie magic

She's looking good for an old dame, and she's more popular than ever. For 62 years running, the Sydney Film Festival has enticed movie lovers with some of the most provocative, critically acclaimed celluloid features of their time – and this year is set to be no different.

Expect around 200 films from more than 50 countries to be screened at the State Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW, Event Cinemas George Street, Dendy Opera Quays, the Festival Hub at Sydney Town Hall and the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne... along with new venues expected to be announced soon. Many of the titles will be Australian premieres, as well as pickups from the most recent Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and Berlinale film festivals.

A first-round line-up of films at this year's big event includes the following highlights:

Ruben Guthrie This year's opening night film marks the directorial debut of Brendan Cowell, and stars Offspring's Patrick Brammall (pictured above) as the titular Sydney ad man, whose attempts at getting his booze-addled life back in order are met with resistance at every turn. 

Slow West The classic Western gets a modern makeover with this Sundance winner starring Michael Fassbender along with Australians Ben Mendelsohn and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Mr Holmes Legendary crime solver Sherlock Holmes tackles one final mystery in the latest film from director Bill Condon, reunited for the first time with Ian McKellen (in the title role) since their sparkling teamwork on 1998's Gods and Monsters.

Strangerland Nicole Kidman makes her return to indie Australian cinema in this directorial debut from Kim Farrant. It's about a couple in the outback who learn their children have disappeared just ahead of a giant dust storm's anticipated arrival. Hugo Weaving and Joseph Fiennes co-star.

Love & Mercy A biographical look at the mental breakdown that befell influential Beach Boy member Brian Wilson stars Paul Dano and John Cusack. The actors share the role, playing Wilson during his younger years and as an older man.

Phoenix The director and cast of acclaimed German drama Barbara reunite for a new movie about a concentration camp survivor who, unrecognisable after surgery for her disfigured face, heads to Berline to find her husband and learn if he double-crossed her to the Nazis.

Sunrise A heavy psychological drama directed by Newtown-based Partho Sen-Gupta and stars Life of Pi's Adil Hussain as a father looking for his missing daughter.

The Look of Silence The follow-up to 2013's highly acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing reverses perspective as it again returns to the Communist purges in 1960s Indonesia – but this time takes on the point of view of the victims.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Alex Gibney uses rare archival footage and Lawrence Wright's landmark 2013 book of the same name to offer audiences an unprecedented look at the controversial religion and its enigmatic leaders.

And among this year's retro film offerings are 54: The Director's Cut, a version of the maligned 1998 film about the heyday of Studio 54 that restores an extra 30 minutes to the run time. Director Mark Christopher spent the past 17 years reassembling the movie. Esteemed film critic David Stratton has also curated a ten-film retrospective encompassing the works of director Ingmar Bergman. Highlights include: The Seventh Seal (1957), Cries and Whispers (1972), Fanny and Alexander (1982) and his final film, 2003's Saraband.  

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