Flipping through the Melbourne International Film Festival’s program of 357 films can be intimidating at the best of times. It’s worse realising you accidentally forgot to book tickets.

But there’s no reason to wait out in the Melbourne cold hoping the film you’ve been dying to see will suddenly go off “standby”. There are still tickets available for some of the festival highlights, including international award winners, local gems, and acclaimed classics. Here are our top picks.

FROM THE WORLD STAGE

On Body and Soul

Winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival’s biggest prize, one of the highest accolades in world film, On Body and Soul has been an 18-year work in progress for acclaimed Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi. It’s a beguiling blend of fantasy, romance and quirky humour but nonetheless features challenging depictions of violence that will get audiences talking. A flurry of charming oddities and whimsy with captivating dream sequences, this is a deeply original work.

A Prayer Before Dawn

A boy from Liverpool, England, finds himself thrown into a notoriously hostile Bangkok prison in this arresting (pun intended), no-holds-barred adaptation of a true-life memoir. MIFF screenings of A Prayer Before Dawn are among the first in the world after the global premiere at Cannes. Cossar describes this latest as “a midnight film. It has a real genre pulpiness to it, a real sense of almost overwhelming menace to it … a thunderous blast of masculinity.”

Loving Pia – No further sessions

Drama and documentary blur together in this tenderly told story of an elderly mother and her intellectually disabled daughter who live alone on a windswept island off the coast of Denmark. Director Daniel Borgman has been at MIFF before with The Weight of Elephants. MIFF artistic director Michelle Carey calls his latest a “very warm-hearted” story about a woman’s search for love and independence.

Bloodlands - No further sessions

MIFF programmer Al Cossar describes Bloodlands as possibly “the first Albanian horror film” – this is a can’t miss for genre fans. Especially those who were gripped by Australian director Steven Kastrissios’ last film, the brutal and terrifying The Horseman, which played at MIFF way back in 2008. Based around a blood feud that is propelled by dark supernatural forces, it boasts both Aussie and Eastern European influences and blends them into something strange and powerful.

A DOSE OF DOCUMENTARY

Faces Places

This documentary road trip proves 89-year-old French filmmaker Agnes Varda is as vital as ever. She “does whimsy like no other and this film is even more poignant than her last few,” says Carey. The documentary pairs Varda with a famous street artist named JR as they tour France meeting locals, understanding their homeland, and giving bringing art to the world. It’s pure joy.

Dina

This is the story of Dina and Scott, engaged to be married yet battling issues arising from autism, depression, anxiety and more. “A beautiful character portrait” is how Cossar describes the documentary, which doesn’t shy away from showing the depths we reach in moments of darkness. “You know it’s not going to be a standard romance when she gives him a copy of The Joys of Sex during a mini-golf date,” Cossar warns.

Roller Dreams – No further sessions

Australian director Kate Hickey worked as an editor on Girls and Ben Affleck’s The Town. In Roller Dreams she tells the story of the phenomenon of roller dancing that took over Venice Beach in California in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The film interviews with the faces of the movement – those who rode the wave of disco and early hip-hop as crowds flocked to watch them groove. Roller Dreams slowly reveals the poignant tragedies behind the half-shirts and short shorts. An important reminder to embrace what we love doing when we can do it.

MUSICAL DELIGHTS

Patti Cake$

Australian actress Danielle Macdonald has been labelled one of 2017’s breakout stars thanks to her role in this American film about a wannabe rap star named Patti Cake$. Audiences around the world have been going nuts for this exuberant, affectionate and funny musical. Cossar hails it as a “Saturday night blast”, adding that it’s “such an energising movie you will walk out of the cinema humming … or badly rapping.”

The Tango Lesson

Carey cites Orlando, the Tilda Swinton gender-bending adaptation of a Virginia Woolf novel, as one of the highlight’s of MIFF’s superb Sally Potter retrospective. But if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, try Potter’s The Tango Lesson, in which the brilliant British auteur also stars. Filmed predominantly in Paris in dreamy black and white with occasional bold splashes of colour, this is an intoxicating drama about the eroticism of dance and the dynamics of male and female relationships.

Starstruck – No further sessions

This classic Aussie new-wave musical from director Gillian Armstrong (My Beautiful Career) returns to the big screen in restored glory. It’s featured as a part of MIFF 2017’s focus on local women filmmakers from the ’80s and ’90s. Colourful and fun, you’ll be tapping your feet to the addictive soundtrack by Split Enz’s Phil Judd and marvelling at the out-of-this-world costumes. A 1982 gem.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs August 3–20. This article was updated on August 11.

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