And here it is.

After two and a bit weeks, innumerable hours sitting in the dark and an accumulation of mental and physical defects, we finally arrive at the big number: 60. Turns out I didn’t need the full 17 days to watch and review 60 films. I did it in 16 days and one evening. But hey, who’s counting?

It was a hell of a note to go out on. I’m not referring to my 10 minute “off the record” conversation with David Stratton about Australian films and in particular Face to Face, which I adored, or to the alcohol drenched MIFF closing night party. I’m referring to Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant neo noir thriller Drive, which has shot itself into the history books as an instant classic.

I’ll post more about the festival tomorrow — including highlights and lowlights — but for now, enjoy the last four reviews. I’m ending this year’s MIFF with a screening of the superhero splatter-fest Super tonight. Maybe I’ll write about it. Maybe I won’t. It’ll be nice to have that freedom. TTFN.

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In Kill List (film #57) UK director Ben Wheatley creates a paradoxically astounding achievement: a film that is both one of the most intensely realistic and one of the most intensely surreal assassin thrillers you will ever see, period.

Wheatley’s screenplay asks a now familiar question: what if an assassin/serial killer had a kid, a wife, a best bud and a middle class life? What if giving people the long kiss goodnight was part of the daily grind? I know what you’re thinking and no, this ain’t Dexter.

Wheatley follows at sweaty close proximity two hired killers as they move from job to job in the way we’ve been accustomed to expect. They receive an envelope. A photo. A name. But if you think you know where this story will venture, you’re in for one almighty shock.

Performances from Neil Maskell and Harry Simpson provide a perfect depiction of bickering best buds and prompt the audience to imagine what life would be like as an assassin for hire.

Wheatley spends so long grounding the film in realism, so long plunging us into a believable gritty world, that the final mystifying stretch – a sock of pennies right in the face of audience expectations – is chilling to the bone. Kill List’s ending will not so much get tongue’s wagging; it will get tongues on fire and running for water.

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Not many films can justify replicating the pace at which paint dries, but Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross (film # 58) is one of them. Majewski’s ambitious premise is to take audiences “inside” Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel’s renown 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary to explore not just how it came to be but the lives and society it captures. As close as we’re going to get to a film based between oil and canvas.

Rutger Hauer stars as Brueghel (“hobo in a painting,” as one wag put it) but there are only the slimmest outlines of characters and little to no speculation about their private lives and interpersonal relationships. This results in lots of shots of people walking, carrying things and staring off into the horizon.

The Mill and the Cross was a commendable challenge to take on, but a slow and largely unsatisfying experience for the viewer. If the idea of going inside a painting could be transferred to, say, something a bit more left-of-centre – an Escher picture? a Salvidor Dali? – all cinematic hell could break loose.

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Partly a study of jaded youth and partly a glimpse of a wider disenfranchised society, Wasted Youth (film #59) is an Athens-set story of teen angst and rebellion that follows skateboarder Haris as he mingles with friends and girls and winds up in trouble.

Directors Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel get the tone about right, and rather than pinpointing Greece’s current socioeconomic situation as the cause of disenfranchisement they engender a sense of universality, a sense that the issues they capture in young people’s lives unfold everywhere in the world. Dramatically the story is scattered, the film loosely directed and a concurrent storyline about two police officers is unconvincingly linked. A final attempt at a hard hitting ending leaves a hollow taste, for all the wrong reasons.

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (film #60) , the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlighters as a getaway man, is a white hot neo noir scorcher starring Rylan Gosling as a protag known only as Driver. In true noir fashion, Driver lands himself smack bang in the centre of a gnarly web of crime and murder after a random encounter with a dame. A heist goes bad, a price is put on Driver’s head, and blood splattered mayhem ensues.

Watching this film just two weeks after seeing Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep on the big screen provided a fascinating contrast. Drive is how noir is done these days: gone is the spiffy backchat, the crisp fast-flowing Chandler prose through which much of the “violence” and innuendo spilled. Drive is gruesome and gritty. Not many hard-boiled crime films can get away with an 80s soundtrack and extensive use of pink Brush Script MT but Refn, mastering all the elements, can do no wrong. Drive is immaculately designed and terrifically acted — a slam dunk of cinematic brilliance. It’s one of the best films of the festival and the year. I’ll be writing more about this one closer to its Australian theatrical release in October.