Bright StarWendy Slevison
Based on the romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.
There are two 'bright stars' in this exquisite film - the leading lady, with her flawless performance, and the poetry, which will have viewers searching for their high school poetry books seeking to revisit the works of the romantic poets. This beautifully filmed glimpse into lives 190 years ago succeeds due to the stunningly simple way it tells its story of an intense and yet ultimately doomed love. Shakespearian in its tragedy, "Bright Star" is exceptional movie-making... a leading light not to be missed.
A Mayan village is overrun by a vicious tribe, imprisoning the men and sentencing them to be sacrificed.
"Apocalypto" throws you deep into the jungle, welcoming the simple life of hunting to eat, tribal dances and procreation. The editing is fast, setup brilliant and characters superb. You will be gripped and curious and always anticipating the fate of our heroes.
Boston 2002 and a team of journalists investigate decades of sexual abuse by the clergy and its systemic cover-up by the Catholic Church.
The story is familiar, and "Spotlight" hammers home the betrayal of the communities where abuse was perpetrated, often within schools and always by people who were revered and implicitly trusted. The script is excellent, bringing both respect for the victims and damnation for the cover-up. The other point this movie drives is about the value of 'old school' investigative journalism, mostly thanks to an excellent cast and a few notepads (paper ones). Spot on.
Threatened during confession, a good-natured priest must battle dark forces closing in around him.
Bless us Father if this isn't the most bruising story about transgression and redemption ever filmed. Some of the characters cannot forgive themselves for their situations let alone forgive those who have trespassed against them. "Calvary" is a dark exploration of the human condition and our need for vengeance. This movie is exceptional from the startling opening lines, to the heart rending closing scene. Be warned, while there are moments of gentle humour, it's largely a wounding experience. Days of reckoning.
A ProphetAnthony Macali
Set largely within prison walls, the film details the prison career of Malik, sentenced to six years and chosen by Cesar, a feared kingpin of the prisons reigning Corsican gang, to kill a prisoner.
"A Prophet" meticulously blends the worlds of prison and organised crime. An intriguing and unique makeup of many cultures are carefully observed through the eyes of our protagonist, and his story brokers a high level of tension and suspense, as he deals with dangerous people in dangerous places. We are transfixed by his brutal transformation, as he rises to power in an eternal state of illusion. A truly arresting experience, this distinguished crime classic is masterful.
This is a story of a man in free fall, on the road to redemption, darkness lights his way.
An existence where life holds more in memory than it promises in the future is grim, and that's at the essence of "Biutiful". The visual texture of the production is extraordinary, as is the city background as a soundtrack... a gritty combination. The audience is privy to an unflinching view of life where the politics of exploitation and survival play at the edge of society. This film won't be for everybody, but the viewing, while harrowing and demanding, is compelling and ultimately rewarding.
1950s New York, a shy young woman and a sophisticated older woman discover a mutual attraction after an encounter in a department store.
"Carol" proves to be as complicated as it is elegant, with a constrained mood that reflects the conservative social mores of the period. The central romance requires a discretion that is perfectly captured by the director in a series of seductively framed small moments. Every element is exquisite, from the refined costumes to the vintage period set details. The desire and longing between the two women is so palpable you can feel your own heart aching. Adulation.
Kumiko, the Treasure HunterAnne Murphy
A jaded Japanese woman discovers a hidden copy of the movie Fargo (1996) on VHS, believing it to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money.
“Kumiko” is a small miracle, a tale of one woman’s determined and almost mythic quest to realise her dream. The central character is one who inspires legends, an introverted sort of misfit dedicated to her impossible quest. The scenic backdrop is nothing short of breathtaking, thanks to the stunning cinematography. Like any good fable there are many sub-texts and moral messages subtly delivered. And like any good treasure worth digging for, this film is pure gold.
Before MidnightAnne Murphy
We meet Jesse and Celine in Greece, almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on a train bound for Vienna.
The talkies were invented for the couple in this story. "Before Midnight" is a conversation first and foremost, and film is merely the medium it's recorded on. Relationships are complex and involve compromise. It's a pleasure to be privy to an intimate but seemingly everyday sort of dialogue about lives spent together and the future to come. All is achieved with a natural style and there is little feeling that what plays out is being acted out. Magical without pumpkins.
Samson and DelilahWendy Slevison
Samson and Delilah's world is an isolated community in the Central Australian desert. When tragedy strikes, they turn their backs on home and embark on a journey of survival.
"Samson and Delilah" is an exquisite film which offers an uncompromising yet intimate perspective on the complex problems that face our Indigenous population. Beautifully shot, with almost no dialogue, and featuring 14-year-old untrained actors in the lead roles, this is a poignant, raw, and brutally honest portrait of a race of people we judge so harshly and/or choose to ignore. It should be compulsory viewing for all Australians.
Please GiveAnne Murphy
In New York City, a husband and wife butt heads with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives in apartment the couple owns.
Manhattan films about nothing should be a genre of their own. Equal parts smart drama-comedy and introspective reflection on the human condition, "Please Give" is grounded in the angst of reality and near perfect. This is a chick flick populated with grown-ups who are still growing up. The city dwellers dealing with the everyday while struggling with life's big issues like guilt and insecurity are imperfect as well as sharp and funny. Nothing to give just breathe it in.
Broken EmbracesAnne Murphy
Harry Caine, a blind writer, reaches this moment in time when he has to heal his wounds from 14 years back.
A film-maker has made a film where the central character is a film-maker; hence a movie is created within this movie. "Broken Embraces" is a multi-layered exploration of love, passion and deception. A tantalising production, stylish to the point of being stylised, this is truly sophisticated viewing. A elaborate timeline is used to deconstruct the typical sequence of events. Questioning where a tale begins or ends, the editor is empowered to determine the story. Embrace with enthusiasm.
In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job till date.
Boldly ambitious on a universal scale, "Inception" is awe inspiring, bringing to life the imagination of the mind in amazing visual detail. Mastering the idea of dreams within dreams may take some time, but it's this kind of challenge, rarely seen in blockbusters, that keeps you absolutely enthralled. It shoots through its running time at a whole new level, immersing you in the sub-conscious of the characters on screen without any contraptions. Unmistakably mind-blowing.
The Dark HorseJan Di Pietro
A man who searches for the courage to lead finds purpose and hope in passing on his gift to the children in his community.
The truth is never abandoned nor betrayed in this incredible story, as it builds roads from joy to sadness and back again in heartbeats. It deconstructs male identity, belonging, and social values in front of your eyes on the back of an outstanding cast, script, and visual style. "Dark Horse" should be lauded for its bravery, and revered for its execution. Shines bright, this is where heroes are made.
The RevenantAnthony Macali
After an ugly confrontation with a grizzly bear, Hugh Glass is left for dead in the snow by his crew.
"The Revenant" is unrelenting, unflinching and brutal. It's man against the elements, against nature and fellow man. This astounding tale of survival is wrought with sadness, set against great beauty. Gruelling performances combine with breathtaking visuals to create mesmerising cinematography, amongst terrain so harsh that you feel the chill of the snow along with the awe of the immense landscape. Despite the harrowing experience, this amazing production demands expedition. Extraordinary frontier.
Poignant coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution.
It's surprising how touching this black and white animation is. With sharp contours and pale gradients, the film looks astounding, but also portrays a "dark" period of Marjane's life. Her narrative provides earnest accounts of Iran's history, family and moving out of home; growing into an acute perspective of life in these times of revolution. You leave the cinema in a wake of colours, realising the splendour of freedom.
Blue ValentineAnne Murphy
The film centres on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.
"Blue Valentine" is like stepping through a dream door into the spiral of a failing relationship between a husband and wife; you're drawn into the minutiae of love and frustration. The couple's interactions are intensely scrutinised, almost dissected by the camera, over a period stretching a little more than a day. The experience of watching is both compelling, and at the same time, a little like trying to breathe under water, such is its wrenching emotional grip. Valentines don't come any more blue.
Returning from battle Shakespeare's tragic medieval Scots hero, Macbeth, encounters three witches on a barren moor who foretell him becoming Thane of Cawdor and King hereafter.
"Macbeth" transports you to a purgatory of plotting and scheming. This is a brutal and bloody telling of the familiar story about manic ambition set against a hypnotic scenic backdrop. The words are from the original play, but sensibly pared back. The witches for example don't deliver a cackle between them, but their presence is nonetheless haunting. Consistently strong acting performances and inventive cinematography work to create an exceptional and haunting movie. All hail Macbeth.
Two astronauts try to make it back to Earth after an accident leaves them stranded and adrift in space.
This is a triumph in film-making. It's a captivatingly visceral and immersive experience grounded by jaw dropping visual effects and sound design, complementing one of the most engaging stories of survival you will see. So much truth is given to every aspect of the journey, making it feel incredibly authentic and genuinely absorbing. "Gravity" is edge-of-your-seat drama and action that will remain with you long after the credits roll. A modern classic.
Son of SaulAnne Murphy
In Auschwitz in 1944, prisoners made up the Sonderkommando, groups who had to dispose of the bodies of their own people.
Watching "Son of Saul" feels akin to being in hell, such is the honesty of this holocaust drama. The film-making is extraordinary in recreating the full horror of the death camps and delivering an intense cinematic experience while keeping the audience riveted to the screen. There's no looking away as we bear witness to it all through one man's eyes. We observe something more gruelling than any imagined living-torment; the overwhelming horror of an unimaginable hell on earth. Devastating.
The HelpAnthony Macali
An aspiring author decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work.
"The Help" is a remarkable film that tells an important tale without being heavy-handed. It succeeds in reflecting the period effortlessly, but the true brilliance is in the story-telling. All the characters have an interesting experience to share, with a common agenda to highlight the glaringly obvious injustice of the time for both maids and women alike. While it's not without some humour, this movie is essentially heartbreaking and heart-warming stuff. No assistance required to watch this one.
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased software.
Inquisitive, imaginative and intelligent, "Her" is a touching commentary about the modern realities of human connection. At the film's heart is a poignant relationship between a man and his operating system, but this is not a cautionary tale, rather an elegantly crafted and vulnerable story free of cynicism. The movie's charm lies in the way it will emotionally resonate so differently with different people, underpinned by an exquisite direction and brilliant performances. A wistful meditation about love, loss, and relationships in a rapidly advancing and technological world. She's a beauty.
Tehran TaxiAnne Murphy
An Iranian director banned from film-making drives passengers through the streets of Tehran in a taxi with the camera rolling.
An intriguing cast of passengers ride in the taxi, each with their own colourful contribution to this social commentary on life and politics in Iran. The road trip through the city is captivating, and its laid back style is able to present more insight about living in Tehran than any news broadcast. The subtle serendipitous style of the movie allows us to grasp some of the oppressive realities, and to experience a little humour as life goes on. Call me a cab.
Red DogWendy Slevison
Based on the true story of Red Dog, who united an outback community while in search of his master.
Watching this movie feels a bit like sitting around a camp fire listening to your mates tell a darn good yarn. It's a quintessentially Aussie experience with wonderfully personal characterisations and a truly incredible story. The first-class cinematography brings the mining area of Western Australia gloriously to life in a visual feast of red and turquoise. The human actors do a fine job of portraying the mateship that forms in the small mining towns, but of course the dog steals every scene he's in - what a talented boy! A blue ribbon for "Red Dog".
Bilal, a 17 year old Kurdish boy from Iraq sets off to England to see his love who lives there.
"Welcome" is an authentic exploration of a divisive social issue of our time. The device of narrowing the focus from exiles and asylum seekers to one man allows sensitivity to infiltrate the story, and attitudes of caring emerge from unlikely sources. The movie is grounded with a heartbreaking love story at the core. Strong performances hold the production together, keeping it from showing undue concern in a bleeding heart fashion. Always welcome are extraordinary, powerfully emotional, and well directed films about unwelcome immigrants.