Michael Stone, an author on customer service, checks into a hotel and goes in search for some excitement to introduce to his relatively dull life.
"Anomalisa" is a curious observation of the mundanity of life, and the effect its simple premise will have on you is fascinating. It's a mesmerising stop-motion animation, and despite an unusual choice of visuals, it remains a deeply human story that deftly explores the beauty of romance in a largely uneventful day. In its search for meaning, there are many droll moments, but also scenes of personal insight that offer a profoundly relatable experience. A beautiful mystery.
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.
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.
The Danish GirlAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, the marriage of artist Einar Wegener comes into question when his penchant for women's clothing prompts a transformation into the female persona Lili Elbe in the 1920s.
"The Danish Girl" is a delicate film, chronicling the extraordinary life of its protagonist in a very intimate way. With art as an ongoing theme, beautiful cinematography surround the intriguing character arcs. Striking, well grounded performances capture the volatility of the central relationship, exploring the ever-confused couple in their great distress. Perhaps falling short in its emotional impact, the story does successfully highlight an absence of social progression. The entangled artist.
A retired composer and his longtime film director friend reflect on their lives at a Swiss Spa.
"Youth" is a film that demonstrates how growing old can change your perception on life, and once seen through the quirky gaze of its main characters, the world opens up. A luxury resort is the perfect setting to host a gathering of eccentric characters, and their odd and seemingly inconsequential behaviour consumes a large portion of the running time. Touching performances are sometimes lost as we attempt to grasp the context of the narrative, which only becomes apparent towards the finale, when the commentary becomes a little more forthright. Mature and weird.
London 1912, an important chapter of the feminist movement is being played out as women protest for the right to vote.
There is a sombre tone to "Suffragette", as it outlines a significant struggle in our all too recent history. The advocates for change were seen as troublesome activists to be quashed, and this convincing film shows that change was not won without a hard fight. Having one woman at the centre of the story serves to highlight the extent of personal sacrifice made. All in all, this is a grim and earnest tale, and one well worth seeing. Radical, militant women.
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.
A young jazz drummer, inspired by the tutelage of his psychotic teacher, does whatever it takes to be the best.
"Whiplash" is exceptional... with all its encompassing blood, sweat and tears. No musical background is required, as this brilliantly determined film will completely absorb you with commanding performances, enchanting rhythm and rapid editing. The story is a strong is a character piece, with the spotlight shining on the obsessive culture and lengths some of the orchestra members go to better their skills, expertly captured in the films contained and manic style. Just the right tempo.
99 HomesAnthony Macali
After being evicted from his home, a father starts working for the very real estate broker who facilitated his dispossession.
"99 Homes" is an emotionally charged story about the economic fallout of the US financial crisis, with a particular focus on the families who lose their homes. The intimate and close-up style, bolstered by the desperate and compelling performances, create a heartfelt and personal story, which is deeply empathetic. From the first eviction, the dramatic tension never lets up, and raises questions of morality at every turn. One good film.
Mistress AmericaAnne Murphy
A young woman attending college in New York has her life invigorated when she meets her step-sister to be.
Witty dialogue and a tumbling pace combine to make "Mistress America" a beguiling film. The paradox of wondering what will come of us when we grow up and inevitably age is deftly explored. Characters have a sense of self awareness and introspection, but every thought is blurted out in a comic extroverted way. Perhaps this is what life would be like if we tweeted face to face, a curious mix of self-consciousness and vibrancy. Don't Miss(tress) America.
The LobsterAnthony Macali
A man checks into a hotel and has 45 days to find a partner, or be transformed into an animal of his choosing.
The quirky premise of "The Lobster" certainly captures your attention, and for the first half at least, plays out with weirdly dark and terrific humour. The film is laden with allegory, especially in its almost cynical commentary on relationships and the brutal punishment for those who don't conform. Beautifully shot with a formidable supporting cast, it's a shame curiosity wavers towards the end of the story, as our apathy for the characters falters with the plot. The one that got away.
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.
Last Cab to DarwinAnne Murphy
A taxi driver with a terminal condition embarks on a long drive to Darwin in order to die with dignity.
"Last Cab to Darwin" is unmistakably an Australian film. You could change the towns and the countryside but the characters are true-blue types not found anywhere else in the world. The cinematography is stunning, with the road trip crossing a magnificent sunburnt country. In addition to the characters and scenery we are rewarded further by the unsentimental exploration of vexing social issues. The movie personalises ordeals, and then tackles them with heart just as any archetypal taxi driver might do. Dinky die.
A Walk in the WoodsAnne Murphy
The writer, Bill Bryson, sets out to walk all 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail with a friend from years ago.
There's plenty to laugh at as this unlikely pair of hikers set out on an extraordinary journey, tackling the unpredictable and unforgiving terrain of the wild. "A Walk in the Woods" is essentially a buddy movie exploring the pleasures of friendship. If there is something to take away from this enjoyable tale, it is the well-known life lesson that the joy is in the journey rather than the destination. Old men walking.
Holding the ManAnne Murphy
The attraction between John and Tim started in High School in the 70s their relationship lasted for over 15 years until John's death due to HIV/AIDS.
The only not quite believable piece in this poignant and earnest story of star-crossed lovers is watching the central actors playing high school boys. They’re adults dressed as boys, and sadly they look it. Apart from this misstep the love story is compelling for the way the relationship endures, especially against the odds. Tissues are recommended, as this powerful movie will have a lasting impact on any beating heart. Never let go.
Irrational ManAnne Murphy
A philosophy professor is enduring a deep and hopeless melancholy which lifts after he engineers a murder.
The existential themes from the writer/director are familiar, as is the struggle between right and wrong, which the film's protagonist faces. The material might look a little tired, but the lead actors invigorate the story and bring it to life with strong performances, despite seeing them all losing their moral bearings. "An Irrational Man" holds attention as it plays out thanks in part to the dialogue, which is engaging banter with an intellectual edge. Irrational but sound.
City of GoldAnthony Macali
A documentary about famous LA food critic Johnathon Gold.
"City of Gold" is an admirable documentary about a wonderful writer, whose commentary on food transcends boundaries in multiple ways. Apart from his utterly brilliant style, and encyclopedic knowledge and passion for his hometown, he is famous for shining the spotlight on some of the smaller restaurants. Not one to discriminate, Mr. Gold values cooking as a service to a community, and provides a telling insight into multicultural society, where food can bring people together. This guy really likes tacos.
The WolfpackAnthony Macali
Not permitted outside of their apartment, the Angulo brothers only escape is their film collection.
"The Wolfpack" is an intimate look at a large family sadly confined to the boundaries of their apartment. Home-schooled by their devoid mother, the children's only view of the outside world is through the skewed reality of cinema, which could only contribute to their weird behaviour. It's hard to watch, especially as the young brothers gradually realise the misery of their imprisoned existence. Even more heartbreaking is their tethered creative talents, limited to charming re-enactments of famous movies. An agonising insight into social suppression.
The Diary of a Teenage GirlAnne Murphy
It's the 1970s and the city is San Francisco, and teenage Minnie starts an affair with the handsomest man in the world, her mother's boyfriend
The situation is morally alarming, and the characters are authentic, so it is a relief the story is delivered without preaching or judging. We get to watch an engrossing depiction of discovering one's womanhood. It is a delight to see a story related by a young woman protagonist, especially a tale so daring and honest. We share her joy of embracing all parts of herself, including her angst and self-doubts. Remember your own teenage years?
A disenfranchised teenager who lives in a housing estate in Paris befriends three young women.
The director has employed realism in following one woman's day-to-day life. The central character is marginalised by virtue of her gender, colour, age and impoverished existence. Joining a gang provides belonging. While the filmmaking approach is bold, it's also uncomfortably raw, relying on incidental dialogue and minimal narrative structure. The cost to the audience is coherency. There are a couple of standout scenes but insufficient to save the viewing time from seeming interminable. Girl without a cause.
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.
Rules of the GameAnne Murphy
An employment agency in the North of France mentors young people through their job search efforts.
We follow three marginalised young people in their efforts to prepare for job interviews. It's easy to snicker at the disenfranchised youth for now knowing how to pitch their experience and skills to prospective employers. The filmmaker's fly-on-the-wall approach is even handed in that it appears non-judgemental. On the surface the struggles and responses of the kids look a bit funny, and it might have been easy to mock them, but the underlying societal issues are no laughing matter.
Deep WebAnthony Macali
A documentary about the 96 per cent of the internet that goes unindexed by search engines.
"Deep Web" is a highly informative and educational insight into the little known and hidden portion of the World Wide Web. The less you know beforehand, the more you will be astounded at 'Silk Road', the illicit drug marketplace at the centre of this investigation, and its equally fascinating libertine founder and administrator. Ultimately the film raises a discussion about privacy in a digital world, and neatly highlights the gaps in today’s Internet freedom. Can the good guys hack the bad guys?
1001 GramsAnne Murphy
A scientist works with weights, carefully calibrated and stored, much like her own emotions.
"1001 Grams" has a simple minimalist style, and its glimpse into the world of people who dedicate their careers to validating weights is quite interesting. The director's artistry is most evident visually, with the camera capturing the landscape with geometric precision and to stunning effect. Some audiences might find it difficult to warm to this movie though as the characters persist as annoyingly impenetrable. Interpersonal interactions are so measured that the overall tone is melancholic even in the lighter scenes. Underweight.
Heaven Knows WhatStefan Bugryn
Two junkies share their on-again, off-again relationship with a chaotic love triangle for heroin.
In an attempt to stay as real as possible, this film falls comfortably short of providing any enjoyment from its visceral experience. It doesn't go further than providing lots of close up shots with an obnoxious accompanied by unsatisfying electronic score. Yes, we are meant to feel like it's authentic, with the actors playing the parts were actually previous junkies themselves, but nothing good comes from the messy narrative. It had much potential from the start, and ends up disappointing us again and again as the story progresses. Heaven knows this isn't good.