Films I loved in August 2018

30 August 2018
My Abandonment

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace

One of the most distinctive things about Debra Granik’s masterful drama Leave No Trace is the degree of empathy she has for all her characters even though they are all grappling with circumstances that may put them in opposition to each other. The film concerns a war veteran with PTSD who is attempting to live off the grid with his 13-year-old daughter. Granik gives so much dignity to the many marginalised characters in this film, and the father/daughter bond is powerful and profound.

BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman andJohn David Washington as Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is one of the USA’s most important and distinctive filmmakers, and his latest film, BlacKkKlansman, is one of his best films to date. The based-on-a-true story about an African-American cop and a Jewish cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan deftly manages the bewildering humour offered by the scenario, the police procedural genre elements, and the rage towards the institutionalised racism at the heart of the story. And true to form, Lee ensures the audience is aware of how this story relates to the present.

Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers

The documentary Three Identical Strangers begins as a fun novelty story about a trio of separated-at-birth identical triplets who found each other when they were nineteen, before evolving into something far darker. Often playing out like a mystery film where information is careful withheld then revealed at key moments, and footage is often replayed to be reappraised after new revelations, it becomes a shocking yet undeniably compelling examination of the nature-versus-nurture debate.

Summer 1993

Laia Artigas as Frida in Summer 1993

The naturalistic Spanish drama Summer 1993 provides a gentle insight into the experience of a 6-year-old girl who after the death of her parents has to adjust to a new life living in the country with her aunt, uncle and younger cousin. Free from melodramatics, the film gradually reveals the stages of grief and coping mechanisms that its young protagonist navigates while trying to make sense of the world, culminating in a final scene that is heartbreakingly brilliant in its understated simplicity.

Mirai

Kun (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) and Mirai (voiced by Haru Kuroki) in Mirai

Filmmaker and animator Mamoru Hosoda once again uses fantasy to explores issues of family and childhood in Mirai, an incredibly sweet animated drama about a 4-year-old coming to terms with the arrival of his baby-sister and the changing dynamics between his parents. The sequences that initially suggest an elaborate make-believe world become increasingly metaphysical as time-travel and different planes of reality come into play resulting in a truly remarkable and unexpectedly moving finale.

 

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

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Films I loved in June 2018

29 June 2018
Hereditary

Toni Collette as Annie Graham in Hereditary

Hereditary combines family tragedy, psychological thriller and supernatural horror to generate a mood of dread that is sustained for almost the entire film. The story of a family besieged with grief and trauma, which manifests as something even more sinister, is increasingly unnerving. Hereditary is never clear what direction it is going in or even what character to follow, and it uses this uncertainty to its full advantage.

Disobedience

Rachel Weisz as Ronit Krushka and Rachel McAdams as Esti Kuperman in Disobedience

Sebastián Lelio’s latest film Disobedience is about a love triangle in London’s Orthodox Jewish community. Exploring faith, autonomy, tradition, community, friendship and love, it’s a gently melancholic film punctuated by beautifully crafted moments of passion and sensuality in the scenes between actors Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, playing characters whose paths cross again after years of living completely seperate lives.

Brothers' Nest

Clayton Jacobson as Jeff and Shane Jacobson as Terry in Brothers’ Nest

Brothers’ Nest skilfully moves from black comedy to tragedy to tense thriller as it depicts the events of a single day, where two brothers prepare to murder their stepfather. Despite seeming to have planned the perfect crime, it becomes all too apparent that something will go wrong. As fate, morality and old grudges come into play, the film delightfully plunges the hapless anti-heroes into a hell of their own making.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in May 2018

31 May 2018
Cargo

Martin Freeman as Andy and Simone Landers as Thoomi in Cargo

Cargo is a refreshing, unexpected and innovative zombie-apocalypse film that successful adheres to the expectations that make this genre so popular, by combining genuine horror thrills with heartfelt human drama and a potent political subtext. Most excitingly is how distinctively Australian it is, and the fact that Indigenous Australian culture is incorporated as such a crucial part of the film’s fabric is something of a triumph.

I Kill Giants

Madison Wolfe as Barbara Thorson in I Kill Giants

I’ve been looking forward to I Kill Giants for a while now, having loved the graphic novel source material, and I’m extremely impressed with how well this young adult story of fantasy and grief has been adapted for film. While comparisons to A Monster Calls (which I also loved) are inevitable and reasonable, this still very much holds its own as an imaginative and moving depiction of teenage trauma and resilience.

My Friend Dahmer

Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer

Another graphic novel adaptation, My Friend Dahmer is about American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s teenage years, as recalled by his school friend and cartoonist John ‘Derf’ Backderf. Tantalisingly ambiguous about what influenced Dahmer and what pathologies were already there, the film generates dread, contempt but also empathy for its banal protagonist who would go on to commit unspeakable acts of real-life horror.

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Arnaud Valois as Nathan in BPM (Beats Per Minute)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a compelling dramatisation of some of the activism carried out by the Paris chapter of HIV/AIDS advocacy group ACT UP in the early 1990s. Initially focusing on the complex group dynamics of the organisation and their public protests, it moves into a powerful character drama focusing on two of the group’s members. The result is an energetic and moving film about the personal and the political.

Deadpool 2

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in Deadpool 2

While I mostly enjoyed the original Deadpool from 2016, I really enjoyed Deadpool 2 with its entertaining blend of ultra-violent spectacle driven action and highly self-referential pop culture satire. Oscillating between a sort-of sincere superhero narrative and anarchic breaking-the-fourth wall parody, it feels less self-consciously trying to shock and more at ease with simply delivering big laughs and gloriously crafted carnage.

Solo

Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story

I’m quickly discovering I’m preferring the stand-alone Star Wars films over the new chapters; hence, I really liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s a heist film with a science-fiction facade combined with a dash of allusions to World War I films and nods to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. As much as I admire how some of the other films have expanded the scope of the franchise, I really enjoyed this return to basics.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

 


Films I loved in April 2018

1 May 2018
Isle of Dogs

Rex (voiced by Edward Norton) and Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) in Isle of Dogs

I tend to like and admire Wes Anderson’s films from a distance, but the ones I really like, I adore: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Isle of Dogs, his glorious tribute to canines and Japanese cinema. This stop-motion animation tonally straddles droll humour, absurdism and emotional sincerity within its inventive dystopian world and enjoyably chaotic plot.

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John Krasinski as Lee in A Quiet Place

There is something gloriously old-fashioned about A Quiet Place, which quickly and efficiently establishes its innovative premise and small group of characters, to then deliver a finely crafted horror film that is both terrifying and moving. The characters are a family that the audience are able to quickly care about, the high stakes are always present and the scenario where sound is deadly, is used to its full potential.

Avengers: Infinity War

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Benedict Wong as Wong and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Avengers: Infinity War

I was expecting to like Avengers: Infinity War as directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered two of the best previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, but I was not anticipating just how strong the storytelling and spectacle would be. The action sequences are exhilarating and inventive, the dramatic stakes are high and the huge cast of characters are expertly handled. This is my favourite film in the series to-date.

Gurrumul

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu in Gurrumul

The documentary Gurrumul provides a portrait of recently deceased Indigenous Australian musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. It embraces his spirit, humour and of course, extraordinary talent. It is a moving, revealing and reverential film that serves to chart his career and highlight his cultural significance to his own community and the rest of Australia.

Loveless

Maryana Spivak as Zhenya in Loveless

Loveless is explicitly about a missing child, but it is implicitly about a generation destroying itself and the one after it through bitterness, apathy, self-absorption and a complete lack of empathy. As with his previous films, Andrey Zvyagintsev creates a compelling yet ambiguous drama through his use of visual metaphor, elegant camera movements and beautiful composition.

I Am Not a Witch

Maggie Mulubwa as Shula in I Am Not a Witch

Inspired by real events in Zambia, I Am Not a Witch is a startling film about a young girl accused of being a witch. The film’s general strangeness, deadpan humour and dreamlike tone capture the bewildering events that follow as she goes to live in a witch camp. While on the surface the film overtly highlights the shocking harm of witchcraft accusations, it’s also more broadly about the creation and exploitation of an underclass.

Last Flag Flying

Bryan Cranston as Sal Nealon, Steve Carell as Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd andLaurence Fishburne as Richard Mueller in Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, is similarly a buddy road movie that blends humour, pathos and subversive cynicism about the damage done to men who become soldiers. While not entirely without hope, the prevailing melancholy stems from how a group of veterans broken by one war confronts a new generation of men being broken by another.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

 


Films I loved in March 2018

29 March 2018
Annihilation

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr Ventress and Natalie Portman as Lena in Annihilation

Alex Garland is one of my favourite contemporary writers and directors of science-fiction films, and my admiration for him continues with Annihilation. Atmospheric and with just the right amount of explanation to not remove all mystery, its story of an expedition into the unknown is beautiful, terrifying and uncanny. Released in Australia on Netflix, it is disappointing it can’t be experienced on the big screen.

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Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov and Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan in The Death of Stalin

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as uncomfortable watching a comedy as I did with The Death of Stalin, where master political satirist Armando Iannucci savagely ridicules the Soviet regime while constantly reminding the audience that it was built on torture, sexual violence and murder. However, this uneasiness is part of its strength and it’s a timely reminder of the dangerousness and destructiveness of men who crave power.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in February 2018

26 February 2018
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Saoirse Ronan as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird

With its sensitive blend of humour and pathos, the coming-of-age film Lady Bird is an understated triumph of empathetic cinema. As the mother and daughter at the centre of the story, actors Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan deliver deeply nuanced performances as two people who know how to press each others buttons, but struggle to express just how deeply they love each other.

PHANTOM THREAD

Vicky Krieps as Alma Elson and Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread

Few filmmakers could do anything original or vibrant by making yet another film about a creative yet difficult man (who’s also in a relationship with a younger woman), but that’s what Paul Thomas Anderson does in Phantom Thread. With its blend of gothic romance, melodrama and Oedipal desires, it’s a mysterious, lush and ultimately playful film when it reveals how much it has been one step ahead of the audience.

A Fantastic Woman

Francisco Reyes as Orlando and Daniela Vega as Marina in A Fantastic Woman

For a film containing so much grief and prejudice, A Fantastic Woman is astonishingly sensitive and heartfelt. A lot of this is due to the superb performance by Daniela Vega as Marina, a trans-woman who after the death of her partner must contend with his family trying to exclude her. Marina’s humanity and resilience are beautifully amplified by the film’s delicate cinematography and score.

The Wound 8

Nakhane Touré as Xolani in The Wound

The Wound depicts an eight-day rite-of-passage ritual that Xhosa teenage boys in rural South Africa are expected to endure. While the film doesn’t necessarily critique the ritual itself, it does condemn the destructiveness and violence of the traditional attitudes regarding masculinity that surround it. Confronting and tough viewing at times, The Wound is not without much-needed moments of tenderness and compassion.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in January 2018

30 January 2018
Sweet Country

Natassia Gorey Furber as Lizzie and Hamilton Morris as Sam in Sweet Country

Sweet Country confirms yet again that Warwick Thornton is one of Australia’s most important filmmakers. Steeped in Australia’s brutal colonialist past and evoking other contemporary classics such as The Proposition and The Tracker, Sweet Country continually defies and undermines genre expectations with its masterful command of film style and its confronting tale of racism and injustice.

I, Tonya

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya

I, Tonya touches on many themes – including living in the media spotlight, competitive sport and class in American – but at its core it is film about abuse, resilience and obsession. The filmmakers skilfully manage the shifting tones and the often outrageous details in Tonya Harding’s story; oscillating between dark uncomfortable humour and moments where the tragic human face behind the sensationalism is revealed.

The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s best film in a decade, The Shape of Water is wonderful fantasy-horror-romance film that provides a new variation on one of my favourite tropes: the misunderstood monster. Reminding me of both Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton at their best, this is still distinctively a del Toro film where the horror, grief and beauty of humanity is expressed through a dark fantastic tale of love and desire.

Faces Places

JR and Agnès Varda in Faces Places

Faces Places is one of the end results of a glorious collaboration between iconic French filmmaker Agnès Varda and photographer/muralist JR. Following the pair as they create giant portraits of people they meet by chance in regional France, this sweet, moving, funny and playful film is an exploration of friendship, the artist process, personal identity and embracing the new.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn as Bradley Thomas in Brawl in Cell Block 99

I’m still not sure if Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a nightmarish right wing nationalist fantasy or a brutal condemnation of the nihilism and toxic masculinity sweeping the USA under Trump. Either way, this ultra-violent descent into hell where a brooding self-righteous man fights his way through the prison system to protect his wife and unborn child, is a breath-taking visceral spectacle of shattered bones that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018