Located at Fleet Steps, adjacent to the Royal Botanic Garden, the Westpac Openair cinema offers a view that may rival what you’re actually watching on the movie screen. But look, it’s probably worth the risk.

There’s an array of food and beverages on offer at the bar and reserved dining areas clustered around the three-storey high cinema screen. Here are our top picks for the films playing this summer.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could not be Televised) (PG)

Using a wealth of footage shot for a TV special that never happened, this look back at the all but forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in New York’s Marcus Garvey Park won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Festival. It’s easy to see why: making his directorial debut, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson manages to put the concert (which took place over six weekends) in context, both socially and musically, while still providing plenty of footage of the acts themselves. It’s a look at a summer when everything changed – especially the ’60s fashions.

Screening: January 9.

The French Dispatch (M)

Acclaimed for his films’ colourful visuals and stunning artifice, writer-director Wes Anderson’s skill with emotion is often overlooked – and yet it’s the quiet moments that linger in this often over-the-top anthology film. Presenting a series of stories from a fictional US magazine based in France, there’s no shortage of scams, frauds, rioting students, kidnappings, car chases and general criminal behaviour, all presented with Anderson’s trademark whimsy. The all-star cast (including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Benicio del Toro, Jeffrey Wright and Adrien Brody) get into the fun too. But beneath the frantic antics beats a surprisingly sensitive heart.

Screening: January 11 and 19.

Dune (M)

Against a backdrop of galaxy-wide intrigue and scheming, one young man learns that his destiny – if he chooses to accept it – could reshape the lives of billions. Director Denis Villeneuve plays up the sheer scale of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, presenting a series of epic images and scenes as Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) goes from the safety of his noble house to a desperate struggle to survive on the desert planet Dune, where water is more precious than gold and giant sandworms attack anything that moves. It’s a brilliant spectacle, the kind of film that demands to be seen on the big screen – which makes Openair the perfect venue.

Screening: January 14 and 22.

The Power of the Dog (M)

Centred on a chilling performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, Jane Campion’s western is emotionally as brutal as its cattle-country setting. The year is 1925, and two brothers – the domineering Phil (Cumberbatch) and his softer sibling George (Jesse Plemons) – find their uneasy balance knocked adrift when George marries widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and brings her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into their lives. Campion is a master of understatement, vividly presenting the shifting power dynamics and desires between the quartet as their simmering emotions constantly threaten to spiral out of control.

Screening: January 16.

West Side Story (M)

The 1961 film of the hit Broadway musical is rightly seen as a classic, yet Steven Spielberg’s update just might have gone one better. Embracing both the magic of the original and the racial and cultural realities only hinted at a half century ago, it’s the story of Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), who find love despite being entangled in rival New York street gangs (he’s white, she’s Puerto Rican). Both a tender romance and a stunning example of the musical at its height, Spielberg’s cinematic skill and sheer energy makes it a toe-tapping must.

Screening: January 25 and 29.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Westpac Openair. Tickets are on sale now via Ticketmaster. For more details and the full film program, visit here.