Films I loved in November 2016

30 November 2016
the-arrival

Amy Adams as Dr Louise Banks in Arrival

I’ve admired the French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve for some time now, even when I haven’t completely embraced all aspects of some of his films, so I approached Arrival with cautious anticipation. It has turned out to be one of my favourite films this year. Arrival belongs to the long tradition of science-fiction that provides a potent political allegory, in this case it is one of the less common alien-themed films that argues for social cohesion rather than promoting fear of outsiders. It also belongs to the hard science-fiction traditional of seriously exploring its premise, in this case the implications and practicality behind communicating with aliens. It also belongs to the more philosophical tradition where its premise is used to explore more abstract concepts such as language, communication, memory and time. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s a very emotional and personal story driven by the film’s protagonist, linguistics professor Dr Louise Banks played by Amy Adams in one or two outstanding performances from her in a film released this month.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals

The other film this month featuring Amy Adams at the top of her game is Nocturnal Animals, the second feature film by the multi-talented Tom Ford. The story-within-a-story structure and ambiguous ending demands that the audience ask themselves how the fictional neo-western revenge story being read by Adam’s character, art gallery owner Susan Morrow, relates to her own stylish neo-noir story of lost love and bitterness. I was captivated by all aspects of the film and I’m still wrestling with its themes of revenge, catharsis, suffering and finding meaning through art (or perhaps more troubling, the inability of art to do anything more than symbolise and reflect).

i-daniel-blake-still-4

Hayley Squires as Katie Morgan and Dave Johns as Daniel Blake in I, Daniel Blake

In I, Daniel Blake director Ken Loach along with long-term collaborator screenwriter Paul Laverty do what they do best by delivering a moving and angry film about inequality, poverty and social injustice. The Kafkaesque scenario of a man being made to look for work to maintain his benefits despite being told he is unfit for work will only seem implausible or exaggerated to those who have never fallen on hard times. This is one of Loach’s best films and the scene in the food bank is one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in a film this year.

american-honey

Sasha Lane as Star and Shia LaBeouf as Jake in American Honey

American Honey showcases everything Andrea Arnold excels at: seamlessly combining professional and non-professional actors, creating visual intimacy and naturalism, and underscoring the energetic ‘in the moment’ feel of the film with class and social commentary. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a revelation as the 18-year-old Star who joins up with a group of young travelling salespeople who like to party and express their pursuit of the American Dream through motivation business rhetoric and hiphop lyrics.

Joe Alwyn

Joe Alwyn as Billy Lynn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk projected at 120 frames per second or in 3D, but I still got the sense through its use of sound, editing and camera positioning of how this off-kilter film was experimenting with a new style of heightened character subjectivity. The way Lee collapses the disorientating spectacle of soldiers being used as stage decoration during a football halftime show with Lynn’s (newcomer Joe Alwyn) intruding memories of battle is captivating and disturbing, providing a powerful critique of the treatment and exploitation of young men sent off to war.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I more or less enjoyed the Harry Potter films, but by no means would I consider myself a fan. So I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of a new prequel franchise directed by David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films. The beautifully realised 1930s New York setting and inventive action sequences certain helped to win me over, but this is a strong character driven film with timely themes about persecution and the folly of making sweeping generalisations about groups of people (or creatures).

ella

Ella Havelka in Ella

Douglas Watkin’s Australian documentary Ella, about dancer Ella Havelka, is a warm and and inspiring film that through its story of personal accomplishments explores issues of cultural and personal identity. Havelka is a compelling and likeable subject with a fascinating background as a young girl from the country town of Dubbo, whose passion for dance lead her to learn ballet, but also to train with the acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre, before becoming the first Indigenous dancer to join the Australian Ballet.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016

MIFF 2009 wrap up

12 August 2009
Antichrist

Antichrist

The 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival finished last Sunday and I was pleased to end the festival on a high note by seeing Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009), a wonderfully ironic and clever examination of guilt and  culpability in the guise of a whodunit. Before that I caught Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009) a good social-realist film with a terrific central performance from its young lead, newcomer Katie Jarvis.

The day before was a mixed blessing that began with the very enjoyable $9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008), a sort of animated metaphysical Short Cuts that will inevitably be compared to the superior Mary and Max. Unfortunately the much anticiapted closing night film at MIFF was the very cringe-worthy Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009). While containing many strong performances, Ernie Dingo especially, and certainly having its heart in the right place, it is just far too twee. What may have once worked on stage — and Bran Nue Dae does feel like community theatre — hasn’t translated onto screen and it was my biggest disappointment of the festival. Fortunately I skipped the Closing Night party to see Antichrist (2009), the startling new film by Lars von Trier. With its dreamlike combination of hauntingly beautiful and uncanny imagery, and power to actually make me physically recoil for most of the final part of the film, Antichrist was one of my festival highlights along with Love Exposure and the opening night film Balibo.

Otherwise, during the festival I also caught the appropriate titled documentary Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009), which draws much needed attention to the gross hypocrisy of closeted gay and lesbian politicians who actively legislate and campaign against the homosexual community. I also saw Henry Selick’s wonderful 3D stop motion Coraline (2009) , the quirky but forgettable comedy Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009) and An Education (2009), a highly enjoyable and unconventional coming-of-age film by Danish director Lone Scherfig. Overall, I was very pleased with the films I picked this year.

I didn’t go to any of the retrospective screenings but MIFF did screen both Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986), one of my all time favourite Australian films, and Alphaville (1965), one of my favourite films by Jean-Luc Godard.

Of the many films that I didn’t get around to seeing, I am still kicking myself the hardest for missing Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008). But, I guess you can’t get to see everything!

My 2009 MIFF summary

✭✭✭✭✭
Balibo
(Robert Connolly, 2009)

✭✭✭✭✩
Love Exposure
(Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

✭✭✭✭
35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)
Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German Ml., 2008)
Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
Che: Part One (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Red Riding: 1980 (James Marsh, 2009)
Red Riding: 1974 (Julian Jarrold, 2009)
The 10 Conditions of Love (Jeff Daniels, 2009)
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)
Red Riding: 1983 (Anand Tucker, 2009)

✭✭✭✩
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Michael Haneke, 2009)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
Che: Part Two (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009)
Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)
Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2008)
$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008)
The Burrowers (J.T. Petty, 2008)
Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo, Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

✭✭✭
The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora, Mamoru Oshii, 2008)
The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009)

✭✭✩
Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn (Josh Whiteman, 2009)
Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku, Uros Stojanovic, 2008)
Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew, 2008)

✭✭
Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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