Three days into the 2011 Sydney Film Festival and we already have a few frontrunners for ‘Best of the Fest’, as well as two contentious flicks battling it out for the equally sought after title of ‘Oh My God, How Did That Pretentious Rubbish Get Picked? Overrated!’ (It’s a pain to inscribe on the commemorative plaque). So, which of the 161 films playing at this year’s SFF has dominated discussions and claimed the hearts and minds of these film-loving New South Welsians (and one very chilly Perth boy)?

Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty made its Australian debut this evening, following its run in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The picture stars Emily Browning as a detached, somewhat nihilistic young woman who begins working as a prostitute with a very peculiar and highly specific talent. (You can check out my full review here. ) Word on the street is that a media screening for the film back in Perth was met with some boos (way to be French, guys), so I was particularly intrigued as to how the pic would play for the – dare I say it – more vocal film festival goers here in Sydney. I personally found the film to be beautiful, but totally impenetrable (pun not intended – yeesh). Although I didn’t attend the screening, Twitter proved to be a reliable source for immediate reactions … and they were indeed mixed. Really mixed.

@5sprocket: SLEEPING BEAUTY is a staggering film, mesmeric and unpredictable and wholly challenging. Outstanding film. #sydfilmfest 

@acassimaty: SLEEPING BEAUTY was utterly entrancing. Not an easy film to unpack by any means. Gorgeous looking. Browning, ridiculously good. #sydfilmfest

@nicolemockler: Sleeping Beauty. Truly, truly awful. #sydfilmfest#sff

@EleniePoulos: Argh! Sleeping Beauty. Do not know how it could be seen as anything other than misogynistic – thoughts? #sff#sydfilmfest

Sorry Attenberg; your reign as the most talked about flick lasted a mere 24 hours.

Slight detour! Today I interviewed Rachael Blake, who stars in Sleeping Beauty as a mysterious madam, and asked her for her five favourite films. After sharing a couple of Hal Ashby pics and the Three Colours trilogy, she also revealed that Zoolander is up there too. Just like Terrence Malick! The video interview will be up soon, as will my other chat of the day with Joshua Marston, director of The Forgiveness of Blood (his top choice was Blade Runner – the Director’s Cut of course).

Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, which blew audiences away at Sundance, also made its Australian debut at the festival tonight. Easily the best film I’ve seen so far, it stars Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the twins) as the disturbed escapee of a commune/cult led by a chilling John Hawkes. If you thought Winter’s Bone was just a little too chipper, this is the film for you. Jokes aside, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a deeply, deeply unsettling psychological drama about trauma with an ending that seemingly left the entire audience with their heart in their throat.

@alicetynan: Holy s*** I’m reeling from MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE! Such dreamy cinematography, but the story will haunt my nightmares. #SydFilmFest

@scotthenderson: MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE was quite the disturbing revelation, simmering w/ haunted photography & performances. Very impressive. #SydFilmFest

@ianbarr: MARTHA MARCY MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL: scary as hell; such a vivid portrayal of complete and utter lostness. Someone hug me #SydFilmFest

@mattriviera: MARTH MARCY MAY MARLENE: a heartbreaking, quietly subversive film about American youth caught between two horrors. Magnificent. #SydFilmFest

Also viewed this evening: Cyril Tuschi’s documentary Khodorkovsky; about the famed Russian billionaire of the same name whose rivalry with President Putin led to his incarceration. Tuschi throws a lot of information at the audience, and at that volume, only so much sticks. The most interesting aspect of the film is the way in which Tuschi attempts, against the odds, to secure interviews and tell a story that the Russian government doesn’t want told. Much like Josh Fox’s excellent doco Gasland, there a moments that make the picture feel like a ‘hero’s journey’; sadly, there aren’t enough of them. (Weird side note: a large number of the interview subjects carry on with their lives while speaking to Tuschi; hitting on women, feeding hippos, hanging out with friends. It’s like an episode of Law and Order).

The new Morgan Spurlock doco POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold also debuted this evening, and new Quickflix writer Hilary Simmons will deliver her verdict in the next few days.

So, today I finally got to the cinema to watch some films, and it warmed my cockles to see lines of people stretching out of Event Cinemas and onto the footpath not for Pirates of the Caribbean 6, but for a foreign-language documentary and a slowburn thriller about a sex cult. It’s so beautiful I could cry.