Django UnchainedAndrew O'Dea
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Unbridled violence is unleashed in this Spaghetti Western, teetering between comedy and gore. The profanity and blood flow in a celebration of excess, belying the film's racial consciousness and intelligent commentary on a dark period in American history. Although undermined by elements of self-indulgence, the director also brings to "Django Unchained" a trademark penchant for witty dialogue, sharp storytelling and sublime style. Unshackled and foolishly fun.
Rare ExportsAndrew O'Dea
In the depths of the Korvatunturi Mountains in Finland, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas.
"Rare Exports" is a clever horror comedy that presents a very dark take on the tradition of Santa Claus. The unique and intelligent premise is what drives the film, and although some may find it slow in parts, the unusual story is strangely entertaining. It has a distinct visual style set against the white and cold of remote Finland, and considering its minimal budget, the perfectly apt CGI puts most big-budget Hollywood fare to shame. Perfectly fine stocking-filler.
Charlie Wilson's WarAnthony Macali
A drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson's covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.
A man hidden from the radar, Charlie Wilson is an amazing character with cause against the Soviets that rivals his passion for women and whiskey. The movie is propelled by the charisma of its lead characters, and all-star cast who delightfully play off one another. There are also many moments in the story that frighteningly resonate with the politics of today. This film is about Charlie's success, America's failures and the causalities along the way.
It's San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, is put on trial.
Real transcripts of an interview with the poet, his epic poem, and his publishers obscenity trial are all threaded together and linked with clever CGI to create "Howl". Censorship and freedom of speech are perennially rich themes but aren't allowed to become pretentious as the work is dissected by lawyers and academics. This is an intellectual and engrossing look at the voice of a discontent generation, and the movie perfectly captures the mood of the time with howls of rage, passion and despair. Uninhibited baying with delight.
Dawn of the Planet of the ApesAndrew O'Dea
In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is darker than its predecessor, replete with themes of politics, trust, betrayal and family. This brilliantly realised science-fiction movie is both smart and exciting in narrative and amazingly splendid in visual effects, with the on-screen simians appearing just as real as their human counterparts. No monkey business here, this film is an intelligent piece of popcorn entertainment. Movie strong. People enjoy.
Five Minutes of HeavenAnne Murphy
The story of former UVF member Alistair Little. Twenty-five years after Little killed Joe Griffen's brother, the media arrange an auspicious meeting between the two.
"Five Minutes of Heaven" looks back at crimes committed as acts of civil war, exploring important themes of hatred and forgiveness. It's an uneven production that stumbles through some very stagy and clumsy scenes, though is fortunately redeemed by a powerful and unexpected climax. This movie is uncomfortable viewing about the lingering impacts of violence and living with indelible memories that prevent healing. Hard to glimpse heaven from hell.
Wake Up SidAmit Jain
A romantic comedy involving a lazy, rich, and unmotivated slacker called Sid and a career-oriented aspiring writer.
"Wake Up Sid" is a fresh new age romance set in the urban jungle of Mumbai. A well directed feel-good movie, it has a wonderful all-star cast with a beautifully subtle soundtrack (not the typical Bollywood dance numbers). A relaxed, cool film that accurately portrays modern Indian youth while exploring events that most of us would have lived through.
American TeenAnthony Macali
A documentary on seniors at a high school in a small Indiana town and their various cliques.
All the stereotypes are covered in this down-to-earth documentary, allowing every audience member to find a teen they can relate to. Our young protagonists are a mature lot, providing good material for the camera. As you could imagine, there is plenty of angst and drama, and while most of it is probably staged, it's still fun to experience vicariously. "American Teen" is ultimately about confronting new chapters in our lives, and is definitely worth a look.
Hope SpringsAnne Murphy
A middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counselling session to repair their relationship.
The calibre of the acting brings authenticity to the predicament of a couple married so long that they're companions rather than woman and husband. Audiences will empathise with experiences of the central couple in their therapist's office. While noted as a comedy, "Hope Springs" is not played for laughs, although it is quite humourous. This is a film about the loss of romance/losing romance, then striving for what you want, and making love. Hope actually bounces right off the screen and into your heart.
The PastAnthony Macali
An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. His wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife's request for a divorce.
"The Past" is a minimalistic drama that firmly holds your attention from beginning to end. Through conversations of the family members, both adults and children alike, a back-story is gently realised that evokes sympathy from the audience. As certain characters are favoured, each new revelation begins to influence judgement, feeding curiosity even further. Unassuming and honest, this film feels like a genuine portrayal of a complicated relationship. Don't look back.
The Special RelationshipTom Jones
A dramatisation that traces former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair's relationships with Bill Clinton.
Blair and Clinton's relationship was like every other relationship. There was the honeymoon stage, sleepovers, late night phone calls, an affair, disagreements and ultimately, a break-up. To enjoy this film a knowledge of history or politics isn't necessary, because anyone who has been in any type of relationship will be able to see truth in the depiction of this couple. Unfortunately, the truthful depictions don't extend to the portrayals of some of these well known figures. It leans more towards telemovie than documentary. But rest assured, there are plenty more poltical icons left in the sea.
Little White LiesAnne Murphy
Despite suffering a traumatic accident, a group of friends go ahead with their annual beach vacation.
"Little White Lies" is an entertaining mix of comedy and drama. The film follows the cracks that appear as little pretences are revealed, straining the relationships among a group of long-time friends. It drifts along with a vacation atmosphere and a song-after-song soundtrack. You will probably wish you were a part of the tight-knit group by the seaside. Deep connections and human foibles are explored and exposed by the extraordinary French ensemble cast. Most enjoyable, and that's no lie.
Rust and BoneAnthony Macali
Put in charge of his young son, Alain leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband. Alain's bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after a horrible accident.
As the stark title suggests, "Rust and Bone" is a confronting drama. The couple at the centre of the story come with a deep past, and their lives of torment provide the unlikeliest of captivation. Through hardship, they continually find themselves turning to each other for support, and watching the development of their rambling relationship brings the greatest satisfaction. Beautifully shot and personal, this engrossing film challenges your emotions through its entirety. Strength in love.
As Luck Would Have ItAnne Murphy
An out-of-work publicist who suffers an accident looks to sell the exclusive interview rights to the highest bidder in an attempt to provide for his family.
A film of today that provides plenty of food for thought. Under the director's scrutiny are the media and their audiences, both hungry for sensational news. "As Luck Would Have It" is an original but grim satirical drama about a life and death story that unfolds under full media attention. How ordinary people respond to the extraordinary and ethical questions about the price of a life holds the audience's attention through to the closing frames. Unlucky for some.
Fruitvale StationAnthony Macali
The purportedly true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on the last day of 2008.
Based on a true story, "Fruitvale Station" is the tragic chronicle of Oscar, and the frightful events of his New Year's celebration. A gritty style and clever mobile phone subtitles document the day with added authenticity, in a recollection where the characters admiringly take precedence over incident. Our protagonists aren't perfect, but their portrayals feel genuine, with a focus on family and relationships that add significant emotional weight, which becomes more apparent with the overwhelming sense of dread that arrives at the last stop. A great injustice.
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he works alongside his computer, GERTY.
"Moon" is no pioneer, but is still a quietly quaint and enjoyable movie. Lacking the grandeur of most space odysseys, this film is all about Sam, and we become immersed in his isolation and apprehension. The atmosphere is boosted by an accomplished score, creating tension in tandem with the computer GERTY, whose indifferent disposition is as discomforting as his voice. It certainly won't rock science fiction, but will definately re-energise the genre.
The DuchessAnthony Macali
A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
"The Duchess" is a window into the intriguing life of Georgiana, a view that overlooks her reputable politics in favour of her more lascivious endeavours. Extravagant romanticism flourishes in 1700's England, a time of manners, costumes and beauty. A significant contrast to the inner turmoil that dwells in the Duke's house, burdens of birthing a male heir exact many sacrifices. Outstanding performances portray the many troubled characters of this film, in a period drama that only suffers from an imbalance of love and politics.
The BeaverAnthony Macali
A troubled husband and executive adopts a hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.
"The Beaver" is really funny and really sad, chipping away at a frenetic pace. The puppet is strangely hypnotic, with an accent and antics that produce most of the laughs in a performance clearly indebted to his master. We're soon reminded the situation is quite serious, and that some outlets often serve as rather unorthodox modes of therapy. While the audience might have the required patience for such, the characters do not. The son wrestles with issues of his own, pressing a sub-plot that doesn't quite work. On the whole though, this outfit is short, shrewd and deeply moving.
Made in DagenhamAnne Murphy
A dramatisation of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against pay discrimination.
A historically important, political story is related in "Made in Dagenham". The birthing of an important precedent comes alive on the screen with archetypal British humour as an uplifting offering. The demarcation lines are drawn, the bad guys mired in their dark plotting as the determination of the good gals to triumph builds. The film is nostalgic and true to the era, delightfully sentimental and humorous. If they can make good in Dagenham, we can make it anywhere.
Seven lost children wander the night streets while their mothers await their return home.
"Blessed" pulls no punches as it explores a day in several corrugated relationships between mothers and their children. Melbourne is the gritty urban setting, effectively underscored by a pulsing soundtrack. For a film so set on portraying realism, it is surprising that some of the intertwined storylines stretch credibility beyond the boundary of believable. This is counterbalanced by a couple of stand-out performances that could wrench a still-beating heart right of your chest. Dead-beat, down-beat, cursed, cursing and blessed.
Declaration of WarAnne Murphy
When their young son is diagnosed with a brain tumor, young parents Roméo and Juliette unite in the fight for his survival.
Despite its heart wrenching content "A Declaration of War" is lively and energetic. The movie is based on the experience of the director and her co-writer; part autobiography, part love story and part challenging medical drama. A story of desperately holding to hope is imbibed with familial love and delivered without pathos, and the result is a very moving account of navigating adversity while giddy with grief for what might happen. War, this is what it's good for.
A look at the life of legendary American pilot Amelia Earhart, who disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to make a flight around the world.
"Amelia" is an adventurer's biopic with a central character who broke stereotypes, records, and hearts, while viewing borders as horizons. This well told story reflects all of that, and will inspire dreams bigger than the sky. The cinematography is fabulous, whether the landscape is seen looking down from a flying altitude or viewed gazing upward from the ground. The movie soars with Amelia in the pilot's seat.
A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
"Drive" is an odd little film about a man, his car, and a story that happens in between. By day, our enigmatic driver is quite reserved, and we watch his encounters with trepidation and a pop soundtrack. By night, the base is turned up, and we're placed in the seat next to him evading the police with great thrill. The middle stint might be slow going, but be warned… the violence revs up, and we have no idea where the story is headed. It's the quiet ones you have to watch.
A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
"Mommy" is an onerous film to watch, and the deliberate and narrow aspect ratio provides little escape from the situation or cast. The characters steal the focus, and their performances are worthy of our attention. We can feel the despair and helplessness of managing the short-tempered Steve, and the terror in knowing he could snap on a whim. It's a long and emotional sitting, with limited moments of unassuming happiness. Family first.
Story of the 1960's Zodiac Killer who committed a series of murders and taunted police.
"Zodiac" is a movie of obsession, set comfortably in the pale inner city of San Francisco. The start is fractured with murders, orchestrated in a fashion that exhibits the killer's sadistic nature. You can sense the frustration of detectives, an emotion shared for the length of this film. The pace livens on the enthusiasm of cartoonist Robert Graysmith, as you share his fixation in finding the right suspect while sacrificing family commitments. This film rewards patience with the final breakthrough providing a fitting conclusion to a well-told story.