Our 2023 preview of the year to come in New Zealand film

As we move on from a strong 2022 for film in Aotearoa, Dominic Corry looks ahead to what awaits us this year.

2022 offered up more than a couple of notable entries into the NZ film canon, but now we look ahead to the coming year in Kiwi cinema.

2023 is kicking off with a New Zealand film that is in many ways already a classic. The internet has been fizzing over M3GAN ever since the trailer was released, and having been fortunate enough to attend an early screening of the movie, I can enthusiastically confirm that it more than lives up to the memes.

Although convincingly set in the States, the killer doll horror-comedy-thriller was shot in Auckland in late 2021. It’s directed by Kiwi filmmaker Gerard Johnstone, an early winner of the 48 Hour film competition who broke out with the 2014 cult favourite Housebound (currently available to stream on Shudder in NZ) and was also responsible for The Jaquie Brown Diaries, the beloved local comedy considered by many to be one of the funniest half hours ever produced here.

Slightly increasing M3GAN‘s antipodean bonafides is Australia-raised Chinese Malaysian filmmaker/producer (and noted scary doll enthusiast) James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious, Aquaman) who produced the film and conceived the story with Malignant screenwriter Akela Cooper.

It’s not presenting anything specifically New Zealand-y, per se, but M3GAN is stacked with Kiwi talent and builds on the deft melding of laughs and tension Johnstone displayed in Housebound. It’s an absolute hoot.

Also in cinemas the second week of January, also shot in New Zealand, and also not really about us, is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, the latest documentary adaptation of a popular non-fiction book from Kiwi producer Matthew Metcalfe, who also gave us Capital in the 21st Century, not to mention Whina and Dawn Raid.

Mark Manson, author of the curse word-forward self-help book, is front and centre of the adaptation, in which he presents his philosophies and how he came to adopt them amidst fanciful recreations. Auckland’s West Coast gets a look-in and the Parnell Baths feature prominently.

Australia/New Zealand co-production We Are Still Here, comprised of ten interwoven shorts from indigenous filmmakers, has been wowing audiences at the New Zealand, Sydney and Toronto film festivals, and goes on general release here on February 2nd.

Marking the 250th anniversary of the landing of James Cook in our part of the world, the film jumps through time to present a variety of narrative responses to that historical turning point.

Also due in 2023’s first quarter is the awesome-sounding Red, White & Brass, which is based on the true story of some Tongan friends who formed a brass band in order to gain free entry into the 2011 Rugby World Cup to see their country compete.

If the celebratory sea of red and white flags that flood Auckland streets any time Tonga is kicking butt on the world stage is anything to go by, this is gonna be a pile of fist-pumping fun. It seems like just the kind of crowd-pleasing comedy we should be making more of here.

Still fondly recalled as one half of the titular duo in Taika Waititi’s 2007 debut feature Eagle vs Shark, for which she has co-story credit, Loren Taylor recently gave memorable supporting turns in Kiwi comedies This Town and Baby Done

She makes her feature directorial debut with the upcoming (but as yet undated) The Moon is Upside Down, which she also wrote and stars in alongside such top flight local talent as Rachel House, Robbie Magasiva, Elizabeth Hawthorne and the eagle to her shark, Jemaine Clement. The plot concerns three disparate woman who “navigate their way through a wild landscape and the contours of the human heart”. So, a comedy then, I guess? Whatever the case, I’m down.

Producer Tom Hern and his regular creative collaborator, writer/director James Napier Robertson, follow their acclaimed biopic Whina with another true story, this time that of Joy Womack, one of the only American ballet dancers to gain entry to the infamously tough Bolshoi Ballet in Russia. Talia Ryder (Do Revenge) plays Womack in the Poland-shot film titled Joika.

Nigerian-born, formerly New Zealand-based MMA champion Israel Adesanya comes under the spotlight in Stylebender, an upcoming documentary from rising local filmmaker Zoe McIntosh.

But before these titles hit theatres, actor/filmmaker Alice Englert’s feature directorial debut Bad Behaviour will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later in January. The second-generation, technically half-Kiwi, director (Jane Campion’s daughter, Englert was born and raised in Oz) also co-stars in the film as a stunt-performer with a complicated relationship with her mother, a former child actor played by Jennifer Connelly, a former child actor. So there are meta layers in play here before you even mention the term ‘nepo baby’, a description Englert has long exempted herself from with a series of sensitive performances in multiple projects, many not directed by her mum.

As if I wasn’t already completely onboard with Bad Behaviour (which was shot in and around Auckland in the middle of last year), Ben Wishaw co-stars in the film as a spiritual leader. Which seems like good casting. The supporting cast features internationally successful Kiwi performers Ana Scotney, Marlon Williams and Beulah Koale

Koale also features in Taika Waititi’s latest film Next Goal Wins, the comedic adaptation of a documentary about the efforts of an American Samoan soccer team to gain entry to the World Cup. Filmed more than three years ago in Hawaii, the enticing-sounding comedy is due to finally hit theatres in September, following delays caused both by the you-know-what and Will Arnett stepping in to reshoot all of co-star Armie Hammer’s scenes after the latter’s public fall from grace.

In addition to Koale, Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss, the movie features a bevy of Kiwi pacific talent, such as David Fane, Frankie Adams, Oscar Kightley and Young Rock star Uli Latukefu (technically an Aussie, but an honorary Kiwi thanks to The Legend of Baron To’a). And Rhys Darby too.

It all feels right in Waititi’s wheelhouse, and the notion of a pure Taika comedy is very exciting indeed.