2016 Berlin Film Fest Preview

This year's Berlin International Film Festival, aka the 66th Berlinale, is poised to kick off this coming Thursday. With around 500,000 admissions each year, Berlin is considered the largest publicly attended festival in the world. It has the massive European Film Market happening in tandem, as well as the Talent Campus for up-and-coming filmmaking and critical stars. And this year's iteration features Meryl Streep as President of the Jury and will showcase hundreds of feature films across its many sidebars, subsections and segments. 

Despite all that, Berlin's profile remains somewhat lower than the glamor-puss Euro festivals of Cannes and Venice, which is refreshing for attendees who rarely have to negotiate awkward Red Carpet traffic systems, and probably won't get turned away from screenings based on footwear. But it can make it feel a little like the dowdy sibling of the family, an impression not ameliorated by this year's lineup boasting fewer big-name auteurs than last year (Malick! Herzog! Wenders!) and having an opener that has already opened (the Coen Brothers' "Hail, Caesar!").

All that said, it pays to remind ourselves that while the program last year was starrier, almost all of the big auteurist films fell some way short of expectations ("Knight of Cups," "Queen Of The Desert," "Every Thing Will Be Fine" respectively) and the true stars emerged elsewhere — in Andrew Haigh's now Oscar-nominated "45 Years," in Jafar Panahi's Golden Bear-winner "Taxi," Pablo Larraín's Grand Prix winner "The Club," and elsewhere. Which means that this year, the anticipation may be a little more muted, but we're willing to bet we're in for as much depth and breadth from the lineup as ever. Here are the 10 films we're most looking forward to right now. 

Midnight Special
"Midnight Special"

"Midnight Special" 
A banner year for fans of Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories," "Mud," "Take Shelter") kicks off soon when the first of two 2016 Nichols features (the other being historical true-life story "Loving," about the landmark interracial-marriage case) bows in Berlin. If anything, we're even more excited for "Midnight Special," with its familial-drama-meets-sci-fi vibe reminiscent of territory he skirted in "Take Shelter" and which reteams him with constant (brilliant) collaborator Michael Shannon. Also starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard, it's the story of a father who will stop at nothing to protect his preternaturally "gifted" son from governmental and religious groups who want to use his powers for their own ends. 

'A Quiet Passion' - 2

"A Quiet Passion"
A master of the kind of reserve that conceals and evokes volcanic feelings beneath, Terence Davies has been unusually prolific in the first half of this decade. "A Quiet Passion" will be his third movie of the 2010s after the gorgeous "The Deep Blue Sea" and last year's "Sunset Song," which we loved. This time out, the always brilliant Jennifer Ehle (who is also in Berlin in Ira Sachs' wonderful Sundance title "Little Men") and a renaissance-ing Cynthia Nixon star in a period biopic of poet Emily Dickinson. Ordinarily, the words "period biopic" give us the mumps, but we have faith that Davies' quiet, intensely felt style will deliver a film that does Dickinson's unconventional life and work some justice. 

Alone In Berlin

"Alone in Berlin"
The story of Hans Fallada's novel, and how it became a phenomenon over 60 years after it was first published when its English translation became a bestseller, is almost good enough for a film in its own right. But as the many of us who have now read it can attest, the story in the book is also peculiarly cinematic, as an ordinary German man and his wife (played by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson, respectively) are motivated to acts of quiet but resolute and extremely dangerous resistance to Nazi power during WWII. Directed by actor/director Vincent Perez, and starring such respected (non-German) actors, it could be so much period-prestige-picture formula, but we hope that Perez, who claims a personal connection to the material, can turn in a film worthy of the novel

L'avenir (Things To Come)
"Things to Come"
"Things To Come" ("L'Avenir")

Hopefully by now you've noticed just what big fans we are of Mia Hansen-Løve's last film, "Eden" which made Jessica and Rodrigo's Best Films of 2015 lists, and was Oli's number 1 film of 2014. The melancholic but wise-beyond-its-years sensitivity of that film means we'd be first in line for whatever she had coming next, even if it didn't star Isabelle Huppert. Also starring "Eden" actor Roman Kolinka, along with Edith Scob ("Eyes Without a Face," "Holy Motors"), "Things to Come" details the later-life crisis of a married philosophy teacher after her husband leaves her and her grown children fly the coop. It also sees Hansen-Løve reunite with "Eden" DP Denis Lenoir, so it's bound to look amazing too. 

Thomas Vinterberg, The Commune

"The Commune" 
There've been bumps along the way, but we've remained fairly steadfast fans of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg ever since "Festen," especially for those films on which he's collaborated with screenwriter Tobias Lindholm. After their last project together, "The Hunt," and following Vinterberg's solid if slightly inessential detour with "Far From The Madding Crowd," we couldn't be more excited for "The Commune." A story that is highly personal to the director, who himself grew up in a collective-living environment, we're certain that the unusual backdrop will prove fertile ground for the kind of ideological, social and interpersonal drama (with lighter moments too) that Vinterberg excels in. Certainly, the trailer suggests as much.