2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Waititi’s most accessible film by some margin is a mock-doc vampire sitcom that is a joy from start to finish thanks to wit, irreverence, and perfectly formed characters. A TV series treading the same ground with a different group of vampire characters is just about to rise for its third season, but while still funny it has yet to hit the nailed-on classic status of its progenitor.
A group of bickering vampires sharing a house invite a documentary crew to film them as they go about their mundane night-to-night activities from chores to blood-sucking and everything in-between. Meet the awkward but affable Viago (Waititi), Vladislav the Poker (Jemaine Clement) and wannabe cool kid Deacon (Jonny Brugh) as they prepare for a rare night out in Wellington, bumping into a rival group of werewolves (“Not swearwolves!”) along the way.
Waititi absolutely adores the humour of the mundane. It almost doesn’t matter that these characters are vampires when every single one of us have had arguments with housemates about bad habits, whose turn it is to do the dishes, and whether to turn your loyal familiar into a full-blown creature of the night. Waititi and Clement’s silly jokes and sharp horror trope-mocking character interplay comes so thick and fast that you’ll be in danger of doing yourself some serious damage.
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1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Waititi’s masterpiece is an ode to lost souls and societal outcasts that perfectly balances heart and humour. Following a sudden tragedy, unloved foster kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) heads off into the wilds of New Zealand alongside his cantankerous foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill) with a fanatical social worker (Rachel House) in hot pursuit.
There are a fair few outcasts in need of love in the Waititi-verse, and Ricky and Hec are two of the very best examples of people who don’t belong in polite society being forced to put up with each other. Ricky has been bounced from home to home and threatened with much worse when he doesn’t toe the line (though it is only natural that he doesn’t conform with a world he wasn’t made to belong in), and Hec is an accomplished bushman and unrefined ex-con who only has an air of respectability by association with his wonderful wife Bella (Rima Te Wiata).
Wilderpeople’s storybook chapter structure and fable themes can make a connection on a profound level. This is a surprising, big-hearted and endlessly quotable (“Faulkner is cauc-asian” – well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white!”) adventure and features the most darkly funny funeral scene ever committed to film (starring, of course, Waititi himself). As Uncle Hec might describe it, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is “pretty majestical”.
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Do you agree with this ranking of Taika Waititi’s directorial filmography? Does his offbeat comic sensibility really connect with you or does it grate? Should Waititi continue his conquest of Hollywood blockbuster, stick to smaller projects in New Zealand, or a bit of both? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for many more varied movie lists.
Updated to include Thor: Love and Thunder 21st July 2022. Originally published 3rd September 2021.