There are few who have the gall to launch their own film festival, just as the city’s biggest film festival is in full swing.

Yet right in the middle of MIFF, presumably because a man of his standing does precisely what he wants, David Stratton introduces his Great Britain Retro Film Festival this week. The festival is a survey spanning 80 years of brilliant cinema from Alfred Hitchcock to Danny Boyle, and everything in between. It’s all great, but here are four unmissable picks.

The 39 Steps (1935)
The oldest film in the program is an early Hitchcock about an innocent civilian drawn into an elaborate plot involving shifty spies, stolen military intelligence and a spot of frantic hiking across the Scottish countryside. Here Hitchcock sets up all the toys that blockbuster thrillers are still playing with today, and at 80 years old, it stands up remarkably well.

The Tales of Hoffman (1935)
Stratton has picked out a few films from the prolific partnership of Powell and Pressburger, including The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. This one is, to put it plainly, a weird, camp opera. In a seedy tavern, drunken poet Hoffman relates odd tales of the women he has loved: a clockwork robot, a demonic Venetian courtesan and a sickly, sheltered opera singer. Hoffman may be unlucky in love and a little boozy, but his tales are vibrant, funny and surreal, and the overall effect is mesmerising.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The film that elevated Stanley Kubrick from acclaimed director to revered auteur wasn’t always considered an undeniable triumph. Early reviews were mixed, calling it boring, overlong, pretentious and obscure. And if you squint, it could be seen as all of those things. Unfolding over a leisurely three hours and covering everything from insane artificial intelligence to the unknowability of higher consciousness, Kubrick isn’t holding your hand here. Just go with it.

Don’t Look Now (1973)
This one has a reputation for an almost too-realistic (in fact, it may have been real) sex scene between its leads, but it should have a reputation as a masterpiece of suspense. After the sudden death of their daughter, John and Laura (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) escape to Venice, where a killer stalks the laneways. It’s not until a psychic tells the couple that their daughter’s ghost is still with them, and John begins to see her around every corner, that things get odd. As well as being beautifully shot and acted, it’s also recently been painstakingly restored to pristine glory. That flowing blood has never looked so vividly red.

Films also showing are Peeping Tom, The Red Shoes, Slumdog Millionaire, Lawrence of Arabia, Gosford Park and many more. David Stratton’s Retro British Film Festival runs at Cinema Nova until August 19.

cinemanova.com.au