Best films of the Dubai International Film Festival

25 films you need to see at Dubai's star-studded movie festival


Film fans, hold on to your popcorn! The 11th Dubai International Film Festival starts on Wednesday December 10, bringing into town 120 films from around the world. Expect big names from Hollywood, home-grown Emirati filmmakers and movies for junior film buffs too. The seven-day event will delight viewers with a variety of genres and a diverse line-up of pictures that will enlighten, entertain, bring tears to eyes and – like all good cinema – result in a great evening out and plenty to discuss afterwards. Many of the films screening during the film festival are likely shoo-ins for the Oscars and you’ll have the privilege of seeing them here before the Hollywood hype-machine kicks in. With so many movies to choose from, we’ve whittled the list down to 25 must-sees.

The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
Director:: James Marsh
You don’t need a degree in astrophysics to get to grips with this film about one of the world’s smartest men, Stephen Hawking. The biographical drama enlightens audiences on the early life of the famous scientist and his time at university, and depicts the inspirational and painful journey he and his wife took to battle motor neurone disease. Redmayne is remarkable, as is Jones – who gives the less showy of the two roles genuine layers.
Wednesday December 10, 8pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.

A Most Violent Year

Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo
Director:: J. C. Chandor
Set in New York City, with a backdrop of crime and underworld gangs, this movie tells the human story of immigrants striving to achieve the American dream in 1981 – statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history. Starring Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Oscar Isaac, the film focuses on the life of Abel Morales and his family, who are trying to expand their business and capitalise on the opportunities that the city’s tide of violence, crime and corruption wash in.
Saturday December 13, 2pm. Public screening. Madinat Arena.

Dearest (Qin ai de)
Wei Zhao, Bo Huang, Dawei Tong
Director:: Peter Chan
A touching Chinese drama about a family coming to terms with the disappearance of their son, Dearest is even more heartrending as it’s based on a true story. Within the social backdrop of China’s one-child policy, where couples are forbidden to have another baby without a death certificate, the film looks at the family’s panic, fear, anguish and anger as they search for their missing boy.
Thursday December 11, 10pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.

Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Director:: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Michael Keaton stars as a washed-up actor who is struggling to cope with his former glories and the voices in his head. Having once played an iconic superhero ‘Birdman’ he attempts to reinvent himself as a Director: and tries to stage a play in New York, with wonderfully disastrous consequences. A brilliant comedy, shot seemingly in just one single take by its genius director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros), this is – according to our gushing editor – ‘The Film Of The Year’, and comes packed with Oscar potential.
Sunday December 14, 10pm. Public screening. Madinat Area.
Tuesday December 16, 6pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard, Debra Winger
Director:: François Girard
Expect melodious music and wonderful storytelling in this film about a poor boy from Texas who, despite his dysfunctional family and neglectful mother, has the voice of an angel. A hopeful music teacher sees his potential and tries to help him see it too.
Friday December 12, 5.30pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.

Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Felix de Givry
Director:: Mia Hansen-Løve
If you are one of the many people who threw shapes to ‘Get Lucky’ this year, or hot-stepped to ‘Around the World’ back in 2007, then you owe it to yourself to check out this film, which tells the story of the rise of French electronic music duo, Daft Punk. The enigmatic pair have backed the project and given permission for their music to be used.
Sunday December 14, 9pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Tuesday December 16, 5.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Escobar: Paradise Lost

Josh Hutcherson, Benicio Del Toro, Brady Corbet
Director:: Andrea Di Stefano
A young Canadian surfer takes a trip to Colombia to visit his brother and falls in love, only to discover that the uncle of his new love is Colombian gangster Pablo Escobar. Uh oh, etc. Benicio Del Toro plays the legendary brooding kingpin who runs his business and his family with threatening control. Fans of Scarface start queuing now.
Saturday December 13, 6pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.
Wednesday December 17, 3pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins
Director:: Morgan Matthews
In this uplifting film, an autistic teenage maths genius, Nathan (Asa Butterfield), prefers numbers to people. Mentored by his unconventional and radical teacher, Mr Humphreys (Spall), Nathan lands a spot on the British team at the International Mathematics Olympiad and discovers a new confidence and friendships.
Tuesday December 16, 7.30pm. Public screening. The Beach, JBR.
Wed December 17, 6.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

From A to B

Starring: Fahad Albutairi, Shadi Alfons, Fadi Rifaai
Director: Ali F. Mostafa
A home-grown comedy from Emirati Director Ali Mostafa, who also directed the 2009 drama City of Life, A to B follows three friends who embark up a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in memory of their lost friend. A catalogue of capers and misdemeanours occur as they journey through the emirates and on to Lebanon in a trip that could drive them crazy or closer together.
Thursday December 11, 10pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Saturday December 13, 6.30pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Maree Alhalyan, Khalid Ameen, Reem Erhama, Ibrahim Al Mansoori
Director: Waleed Al Shehhi
Emirati director Waleed Al Shehhi secured funding from DIFF’s post-production fund Enjaaz in cooperation with Watani and Filmi before going on to win the IWC Filmmaker Award during the 2013 edition of the Festival. Dolphins follows the intricately intertwined stories of three people within a 24-hour period. Set in his home emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the film features the character Saud, an only child who struggles to come to terms with his parents’ separation. The film follows Saud as he sets off on an unusual adventure with an extraordinary outcome.
Friday December 11, 9pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.
Sunday December 14, 6.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

: Dave LaMattina
This feature-length documentary will appeal to kids and grown-ups for whom Big Bird and Sesame Street were an integral part of their youth. The film introduces the world to the man under the suit, Caroll Spinney, who has played Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969. Now 80, he’s in no rush to hang up his puppets. The documentary draws on Spinney’s home video footage taken in the ’50s and shows how the character became adored in part to due to Henson’s imagination but also Spinney’s magnetic persona.
Thursday December 11, 7.30pm. Public screening. The Beach, JBR.
Saturday December 13, 3pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Director:: Jean-Marc Vallée
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who gave us the Oscar winning Dallas Buyers Club, this film has Oscar buzz all over it. The inspirational drama brings author Cheryl Strayed’s adventures to the silver screen. After the end of her marriage, and a life plagued by addiction, depression and lack of direction, Strayed (played with plenty of heart by Reese Witherspoon) packs her bag and her memories on a thousand mile solo hike of self-rediscovery and healing along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Wednesday December 17, 4pm. Public screening. Madinat Arena.

Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément
Director:: Xaviar Dolan
A Belgian drama that won the Jury prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this is a hard-hitting film about the power of a mother’s love for her son. Written and directed by 25-year-old Xavier Dolan, who’s already garnered an enfant terrible reputation, Mommy is the Canadian filmmaker’s second feature film after the provocative Tom at the Farm. Diane Després (Anne Dorval) has been widowed for three years and is struggling to make ends meet, but will do anything to keep herself and her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) going. When ADHD suffering Steve gets kicked out of yet another school for destructive behaviour, Diane decides to home-school him and their journey together takes on a new direction.
Monday December 15, 9pm. Public screening. Madinat Theatre.
Wednesday December 17, 2.45pm. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Red Army
Starring: Scotty Bowman, Mark Deakins, Vyacheslav Fetisov
Director:: Gabe Polsky
This feature documentary takes viewers into the world of the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army ice hockey team. Mixing sports with politics and propaganda, the film examines how sport can mirror and affect a nation’s mood and actions, told from the point of view of the team’s captain, Slava Fetisov, as he transforms from national hero to enemy of the state.
Fri December 12, 5.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Mon December 15, 7.30pm. Public screening. The Beach, JBR.

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, Bruce Altman
Director:: Paul Bettany
English actor Paul Bettany makes his Director:ial debut with this gritty drama. Bettany, who also wrote the screenplay, has produced a remarkable film about an addict and an illegal immigrant who falls in love while homeless on the streets of New York. Bettany’s wife, Jennifer Connelly, plays the despairing Hannah, who has a troubled past and not much in the way of a future.
Fri December 11, 8.15pm. Public screening. Madinat Theatre.
Sun December 14, 3pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)
Starring: Liliana Ackerman, Luis Manuel Altamirano García, Alejandro Angelini
Director:: Damián Szifrón
Being compared to Quentin Tarantino while making your mark on the international film scene isn’t always a bad thing. Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) makes good use of an episodic, Pulp Fiction-esque, technique to bring to life six different independent stories that are woven together by a sense of losing control. Each of the stories is independent and from with a mix of genres from black comedy to drama to spaghetti western.
Mon December 14, Gala screening. Madinat Arena.
Wed December 17, 6.30pm. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.


Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Director:: Bennett Miller
Fresh from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Director: Bennett Miller took home the Best Director: award, this is a film brimming with Oscar buzz. The biographical drama tells the story of two champion wrestlers, brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), and their eccentric millionaire coach John du Pont (Steve Carell). Showing the underside of fierce competition, the film shows Carell in a whole new light that has got the Academy talking.
Saturday December 13, 7pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Wednesday December 17, 3pm. Public screening Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Starring: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim
Director:: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
This French-language film is set in Paris, centres on the issues of immigration in France and has a touching love story at its heart. Directed by the pair who created the highly acclaimed The Intouchables, Samba is a romantic comedy where an immigrant from Senegal and an overworked executive meet in a twist of fate that changes their lives and perceptions of each other’s worlds.
Sunday December 14, 6pm. Public screening. Madinat Area.
Tuesday December 16, 9pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

St. Vincent

Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher
Director:: Ted Melfi
A film with an excellent cast of comedic actors, St. Vincent offers not just jokes but genuine moments of tenderness. Murray plays Vincent, a Vietnam War veteran with a hedonistic lifestyle and a general disdain for other people, but when teenage Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and his recently divorced mum move into his street, weedy Oliver and cranky Vincent find things in each other they didn’t know they needed.
Tuesday December 16, 10pm. Public screening. Madinat Theatre.
Wednesday December 10, 8pm. Public Screening. The Beach, JBR.

The Good Lie

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany
Director:: Philippe Falardeau
Warning – viewers of this film will require copious packs of tissues. This heartrending tearjerker is based on real events and focuses on the story of three young Sudanese refugees who were given the chance to escape the violent atrocities that were taking place in their country. Resettling in Kansas, an employment agency counsellor (Reese Witherspoon) changes all their lives. Although Witherspoon is the big name, the outstanding performances come from the three emerging actors. It’s a major weepy – you’ve been warned.
Monday December 15, 2.45pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Saturday December 13. 9pm. Public screening. Madinat Arena.

What We Do in the Shadows

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Director:: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Three vampires walk into a bar… it might sound like a joke but this film is a smart, twisted comedy about three flatmates, Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), who have to deal with the banality of modern life such as paying rent, as well as avoiding sunlight and silver. This is an off-the-wall mockumentary directed and written by Flight of the Conchords creator Jermaine Clement.
Friday December 11, 9pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.
Saturday December 13, 10.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

Cairo Time (Betawqeet El Qahira)
Nour El-Sherif, Mervat Amin, Sherif Ramzy
Director:: Ruba Nadda
This film is making its world premier at DIFF and its star actor Nour El-Sherif is also being honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Directed by Amir Rameses Cairo Time follows three disparate stories, and six characters reaching decision points in their lives on the same day in Cairo.
Monday December 15, 9.45pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.
Wednesday December 17, 6pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

The Imitation Game
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Director:: Morten Tyldum
If the Oscar hype is to be believed then this could scoop a flurry of awards for its cast and Director: Morten Tyldum. Based on the real-life story of legendary cryptanalyst Alan Turing, a man as enigmatic as his work, the film is engrossing and immersive in its portrayal of the protagonist and his team of codebreakers at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park during World War II. Cumberbatch knocks it out of the park.
Tuesday December 16, 6pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.
Wednesday December 17, 6.15pm. Public screening. Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates.

The Water Diviner
Starring: Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Russell Crowe
Director:: Russell Crowe
Taking the directorial credits as well as lead role, Crowe plays a father who journeys to Turkey after the Battle for Gallipoli in 1916 to find his three missing sons. There’s action, tension and sprawling Australian scenery. We’re expecting big things from the big man.
Thursday December 11, 6.30pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.

Into The Woods

Starring: Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, James Corden, and Meryl Streep
Director:: Rob Marshall
Based on Stephen Sondheim’s classic inversion of fairytale tropes, this big-budget musical promises a similarly smart take on fantasy. Characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack (of Beanstalk fame) face off against a Wicked Witch (Streep) and Big Bad Wolf (Depp). Directed by Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), this has family smash written all over it.
Wednesday December 17, 8pm. Gala screening. Madinat Arena.

Sponsored: Hendrick’s DXB Cucumber Day is fast approaching

This week’s episode of the Time Out Dubai podcast rolls up its sleeves

The al fresco theme park will be opening its gates with a new show

The critically acclaimed Shakespeare play will be performed in January

The beachside dining spot is celebrating international coffee day at its brand-new branch

Feeling the pinch? Fear not. We've got 16 weekend feasts for under Dhs300 for you


Follow us