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Friday
Dec152017

SCREEN-SPACE’S BEST (& WORST) FILMS OF 2017

Not a list, per se, and certainly not anything more than one cranky, old, cross-eyed critic’s rambling opinion. But one can’t begrudge the editorial team here at Screen-Space (i.e., me) the opportunity to put into some perspective a year of relentless movie going. Check out these stats – at time of writing, 475 movies for a total of 810.6 hours at an average 9.5 movies a week (thanks, Letterboxd). So, with the Best of The Best broken into genres, let’s launch into the annual rummage through my increasingly foggy memory and muster our ‘Best Films of 2017’ parade….

BEST ACTION: Josh and Ben Safdie’s Good Time, starring Best Actor Oscar material Robert Pattinson, was more thriller than action, but it got the heart racing like few 2017 films. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver seemed to have the top spot sewn up, until Charlize Theron’s brutal, brilliant ATOMIC BLONDE from director David Leitch upped the ante. The stairwell brawl is the best bout of bone-crunching action all year. Also in the mix were Doug Liman’s American Made and Peter Berg’s Patriot Day.

BEST HORROR: No horror film was as universally acclaimed as Jordan Peele’s GET OUT. Shaping as an unlikely but very real award season contender, it was scary as hell, but also smart, funny, stylish and perfectly timed to rattle Trump’s America. Quality horror was abundant in 2017 – consider Andy Muschietti’s blockbuster It; M Night Shyamalan’s triumphant comeback Split; Coralie Fargeat’s blood-soaked French shocker Revenge; Tyler MacIntyre’s high-school murder romp Tragedy Girls; and, David Lowery’s divisive but stunning A Ghost Story. And for the record, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother is…brilliant!

BEST TRUE STORY: Bending the rules a bit here, as Steven Spielberg's THE POST, with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep doesn’t drop in Australia until early January. But we got an early peek, and it is Spielberg at his most assured and fluent, a soaring drama that reinforces the crucial role a free press plays in a vibrant democracy (topical, much?!) Apologies to James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, robbed of our Best True Story crown. Also high amongst the recreation pics are James Gray’s majestic The Lost City of Z and, oddly enough, two tennis stories – Janus Metz’s Borg vs. McEnroe and Emma Stone and Steve Carell in Battle of The Sexes, from directing duo Johnathon Dayton and Valerie Faris.

BEST SUPER HERO FILM: James Mangold’s Logan was Hugh Jackman’s Hamlet, and he should be all over the Best Actor categories, but isn’t. The biggest game changer of the year, and the best super hero film in ages, was Patty Jenkins’ thrilling and emotional WONDER WOMAN, starring the year’s biggest new star Gal Gadot. Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok and James Gunn’s Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 kept the genre buoyant; biggest surprise was Dean Israelite’s smarter-than-expected Power Rangers (Ed: our guilty pleasure of 2017).

BEST COMEDY: Hard to believe, but there’s not a single contender to challenge Michael Winterbottom’s A TRIP TO SPAIN for the Best Comedy crown. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reprise their roles as thinly veiled versions of themselves, this time going a little darker as the realities of ageing set in. Kudos to Audrey Plaza, who made the most of the flawed but occasionally funny Ingrid Goes West and The Little Hours. If only to fill a bit more space in this category, we’ll admit to not hating Dax Shephard’s Chips as much as everyone else did.

BEST DRAMA: Nicole Kidman had arguably her best year ever, on screens both small (Big Little Lies; China Girl Top of The Lake) and big, first with Garth Davis’ breakout smash Lion and then with Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled (one of 2017’s great underrated works). Harry Dean Stanton’s final film, John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, was the perfect farewell; the best teen film of the year was Ry Russo-Young’s existential mystery/coming-of-age drama, Before I Fall, starring a wonderful Zoey Deutch. We can’t split the year’s best drama vote, so it’s a tie – Sean Baker’s study of a family living on the fringe of American compassion, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, and Luca Guadagnino’s profoundly lovely and compassionate CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.

BEST AUSTRALIAN FILM: The kids are all right, at least as far as the local film sector is concerned. Best Australian film of the year was Jeffery Walker’s DANCE ACADEMY, a classic overcoming-the-odds drama that promised and delivered (not a boast many Aussie films can make in 2017). Other thoroughly energised, teen-themed winners included Neil Triffet’s Emo The Musical and Gregory Erdstein’s That’s Not Me (both of which will find appreciative audiences on home vid). The next wave of genre talents emerged in the form of Tristan Barr and Michael Godsen (the nerve-shredding, single-take illusion, Watch the Sunset) and Addison Heath (the bleak, beautiful The Viper’s Hex, co-directed by Jasmine Jakupi).

BEST NETFLIX FILM: If the most influential new production entity in the world is powerful enough to secure a slot at Cannes, it’s big enough to be given consideration on Screen-Space. It’s impossible to ignore such challenging works as Marti Noxon’s To The Bone, Dee Rees Mudbound, Chris Smith’s Jim & Andy, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (also Cannes endorsed), Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch and Joon-ho Bong’s Okja. The new network's greatest triumph was Laurent Bouzereau’s FIVE CAME BACK, a 3 episode/180 minute documentary series in which present-day Hollywood visionaries Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Greengrass and Francis Ford Coppola (with Meryl Streep providing narration) honour the wartime contributions of their industry forefathers, John Huston, John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler and George Stevens.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: No factual film came close to Nick Broomfield’s tragic profile WHITNEY CAN I BE ME for emotional impact, but Brad Abrahams’ alien abductee oddity Love and Saucers, Jedd and Todd Wilder’s heartbreaking mystery God Knows Where I Am and Roger Donaldson’s Formula 1 biopic McLaren were standout performers in limited/festival release. The weirdest, most wonderful insight into unique creativity was Mike Brook’s Something Quite Peculiar: The Life and Times of Steve Kilbey, a bittersweet profile of the enigmatic frontman of cult band The Church.

BEST FESTIVAL FILM: Of the many wonderful films that were afforded one, maybe two festival sessions before disappearing back into the sales market ether, Kamili Andini’s Bali-set study in grief and fantasy THE SEEN AND UNSEEN proved cinematic perfection. Other mini-masterpieces that need further screen exposure were Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s dash-cam marvel The Road Movie and Joshua J Provost’s study in art-form co-dependence, Coalesce: A City Composed.

BEST REWATCH: The bigscreen session of Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND post-4K digital restoration was a bucket list event, though it was only one of the great retro-sessions in 2017. A 70mm screening of Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff and co-hosting a Romero tribute double feature of Night of The Living Dead and Creepshow, both at the iconic Randwick Ritz in Sydney’s east, were rare privileges. Old favourites that still delighted and enthralled included Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Michael Apted’s Coalminer’s Daughter and Steve Barron’s Electric Dreams, a film that now seems 20 years ahead of its time.

And THE WORST FILM OF 2017: Look at this miserable, misguided parade of objectionable duds - The Dark Tower, Planetarium, Three Summers, The Cure For Wellness, Baywatch, The Circle, Snatched and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. That said, none of them really challenged the indecipherable serial killer snorefest THE SNOWMAN for sheer incompetence. Tomas Alfredson’s all-star, all-shite cast, including Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, JK Simmons and (oh dear) Val Kilmer, stare at each other in the hope somebody in frame will save the scene/film. Not even the likes of DOP Dion Beebe, editor Thelma Schoonmaker or EP Martin Scorsese…MARTIN SCORSESE!!...could polish this cinematic turd.

Monday
Nov272017

MONSTER FEST FETES FIERCE FEMMES AT CLOSING NIGHT KUDOS

The closing night awards ceremony at Monster Fest 2017 became a celebration of girl power in genre cinema, with all four feature film prize winners centred by fearless lead actress performances. The 2017 festival jury, comprised of screening platform OzFlix boss Ron Brown, Events Cinemas programmer Jon Nilsen and Screen-Space’s own Simon Foster, noted the roster of quality films to feature strong female characters in this years line-up, which wrapped a sell-out season at Melbourne’s Lido Cinema last night.

The festival’s top honour, The Golden Monster, was awarded to Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Cold Hell (Die Hölle), a German/Austrian co-production starring Violetta Schurawlow (pictured, above) as a witness to a brutal murder who finds herself being stalked by the killer. The Monster Fest trophy continues the high-energy thriller’s award momentum; the director accepted the Best European Film silverware at Lisbon’s MOTELx Festival Internacional de Cinema de Terror, while Schurawlow collected the Best Actress honour at the prestigious Fantasia Film Festival.

The festival’s closing night selection, Coralie Fargeat’s directorial debut Revenge, a brutal, blood-splattered survival epic starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (pictured, right) as a vengeful rape victim and Kevin Janssens as her toxic male tormenter, collected the Best International Film prize. The judge’s decision came on the back of some spirited debate, with both Rainer Sanert’s monochromatic arthouse-horror oddity November, starring Rea Lest, and Adam MacDonald’s slow-burn black-magic thriller Pyewacket, with Nicole Munoz, in the mix until the final decision was handed down.

Best Australian Film went to the crowdpleasing horror-comedy Tarnation, featuring Daisy Masterman, a raucous riff on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead pics from Monster Fest favourite Daniel Armstrong (MurderDrome, 2013; From Parts Unknown, 2015; Sheborg Massacre, 2016). Turkish director Can Evrenol, who burst onto the horror scene in 2015 with the cult shocker Baskin, took out the Best Director award for his follow-up film Housewife, an typically disturbing ‘end-of-days’ vision that melds Rosemary Baby-type paranoia with Lovecraftian imagery with a game lead turn by Clémentine Poidatz.

Beyond the allotted categories, the Monster Fest jury also feted Gary Doust’s Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare with a Jury’s   Special Mention. The fly-on-a-wall account of the traumatic process director Craig Anderson went through to make his passion project, the low-budget splatterfest Red Christmas, was deemed to have captured the filmmaking spirit that drives so many of those who submit similar works to Monster Fest annually.

The extensive contribution of the short filmmaking community to the Monster Fest program was also acknowledged with plaudits going to Alberto Viavattene’s Birthday (Best Overall Short Film); Mia’kate Russell’s Liz Drives (Best Australian Short); Seamus Murphy’s Reunion (Best Victorian Short Film); and, Remi Weekes’ Tickle Monster (Best International Short Film).

 

Friday
Nov242017

GEORGIA ON EVERYONE'S MIND AFTER APSA TRIUMPH

Warwick Thornton’s brutal Aussie western Sweet Country kept up its award season momentum by taking out Best Film honours at tonight’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. But it was filmmaking minnow Georgia that won over the hearts and minds of the jurors and gathered attendees at the 11th annual celebration of filmmaking from region that this year comprised 42 nominated works from 25 countries.

Servicing a population of roughly 5 million occupying a mere 70,000 square kilometres, the Georgian film community stood proud, taking three of the event’s most prestigious prizes. The drama Dede (pictured, below), a tradition-defying love triangle set in the Caucasus Mountains from director Mariam Khachvani (pictured, above: centre), was chosen to represent the Asia Pacific film community before UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee as recipient of APSA Cultural Diversity Award; a special screening of the film will be held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on December 12. The young director, who shot her film in the UNESCO World Heritage province of Svaneti in her homeland, was clearly moved when she took to the stage; similar displays of genuine humility and unbridled glee were indicative of all the Georgian honorees.

The Best Actress trophy went to Nato Murvanidze (above, right) for her role in Scary Mother, the riveting first feature from 27 year-old auteur Ana Urushadze (above, left). The debutant director also received acknowledgement for her assured work with an APSA Jury Grand Prize, an honour that will sit alongside 2017 statuettes earned from Locarno, Mumbai and Sarajevo film festivals. A fourth in-development Georgian project, Vladimer Katcharav’s Nene, was selected to receive a US$25,000.00 grant as part of the 2017 Motion Picture Association (MPA) APSA Film Fund.

Read SCARY MOTHER: THE ANA URUSHADZE / NATO MURVANIDZE INTERVEW here. 

The mighty Russian film sector was the other award frontrunner, also nabbing three APSA trophies. These were Achievement in Directing, bestowed upon Andrey Zvyagintsev (an APSA favourite, with wins under his belt Leviathan and Elena) for his missing child drama, Loveless; the Cinematography honour, awarded to the duo Pyotr Duhovskoy and Timofey Lobov for Rustam Khamdamov’s monochromatic dreamscape The Bottomless Bag; and, a second Jury Grand Prize for actor Aleksandr Yatsenko’s performance in Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia.

Read our review of ARRHYTHMIA here.

Thornton’s Best Picture triumph establishes an APSA milestone, with the indigenous filmmaker the first director to have had two films take the top honour; his breakthrough hit Samson and Delilah won in 2009. The only other Antipodean work honoured was Annie Goldson’s New Zealand documentary Kim Dotcom: Caught in The Web, which earned a Special Mention in the Feature Documentary section; Feras Fayyad’s Last Men in Aleppo was deemed the front runner in that category.

India celebrated wins in two major categories, both for Amit Masurkar’s polling-booth black comedy Newton; leading man Rajkummar Rao won Best Actor, while Masurkar and co-writer Mayank Tewari took Best Screenplay honours. Other winners included Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen (Indonesia) for Best Youth Feature; Anne Marie Fleming’s Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Iran, Canada) for Best Animated Feature. Iranian actor Navid Mohammadzadeh gave an entertaining acceptance speech in his native Fasi when called onstage to claim his Special Mention honour for his lead role in Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature.

Read WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW here.

The two honorary awards were amongst the highlights of the slickly-staged show, hosted by Australian television identity Lee Lin Chin and actor David Wenham. The FIAPF Outstanding Achievement in the Asia Pacific honour was awarded to Filipino producer Bianca Balbuena (Beast, 2015; Singing in Graveyards, 2016), whose rousing speech was the best of the night (“May we never get tired of being storytellers because the world needs us now”). The APSA Young Cinema Award, a recognition of emerging Asia Pacific talent, went to Azerbaijani filmmaker Ilgar Najaf’s Pomegranate Orchard.

 

Monday
Nov062017

MARRIAGE DRAMA, SPACE RACE EPICS TAKE TOP HONOURS AT RUSSIAN FILM FEST

Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia was named The SCREEN-SPACE Best New Russian Film at the closing night of the 2017 Russian Resurrection Film Festival in Sydney last night. Also honoured with special jury mentions were Klim Shipenko’s Salyut 7 and Dimitry Kiselyov’s Spacewalkers (pictured, below), two audience favourites that revisited the glory days of the Soviet space program in grand filmmaking style.

Read our review of Arrhythmia here.

A contemporary take on the drifting commitment and strained emotions of a young Moscow couple, Arrhythmia (pictured, below) earned its leading man Aleksandr Yatsenko the Best Actor trophy at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and recognition from events in Sochi, Sakhalin and Haifa ahead of its Australian festival run. Khlebnikov’s assured and moving film was the unanimous victor as judged by Limelight magazine’s Lynden Barber, Managing Editor of SBS Movies, Fiona Williams, and Screen-Space editor Simon Foster.   

High amongst the finalists vying for the top festival honour were two Holocaust-themed dramas, Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise and Pavel Chukhray’s Cold Tango; Karen Shakhnazarov’s highbrow literary adaptation Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story; and Valery Todorovsky’s The Bolshoi, the lavish dance drama that opened the 14th annual celebration of Russian cinema on October 26.

In choosing to break with tradition and give jury nods to the space epics, the judges cited a vast and ambitious scale rarely seen in international cinema, due largely to the costs of realising such immense visions. In praising Salyut 7 and Spacewalkers, the judges spoke of both films in the same breath as the American space race classics, The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, and deemed the quality of the work reflected the strong production and post-production infrastructure of the Russian industry.

The 14th annual Russian Resurrection Film Festival drew to a close after an eleven day run at the Event Cinema's George Street site, during which attendance levels were amongst the highest in the festival's history. The highly anticipated Closing Night film was a digitally restored print of Yakov Protazanov’s rarely-seen 1924 silent science-fiction classic Aelita, accompanied by a live score by the renowned Volotinsky Quartet.

Friday
Aug042017

THE ULTIMATE READY PLAYER ONE EASTER EGG COMPILATION

It became the sensation of the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con; the daring and dazzling mosaic of iconic 80s and 90s properties in Warner Bros 123-second trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One the stuff of comic geek fantasy and nostalgist dream. The Greatest Living Director’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s VR tech-epic doesn’t drop until March 30 2018, but the challenge to spot all the ‘easter egg’ nuggets of pop culture gold became the convention’s favourite past time. So here they all are…

“I live here, in Columbus Ohio”
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) navigates ‘The Stacks’ (trailer homes piled on top of each other) on his way to his VR den, home to such pop culture touchstones as a Nintendo ‘Zapper’, iPod, Commodore 64 joystick and He-Man lunchbox, as well as iconic 80s ephemera from The Garbage Pail Kids, Gremlins, Watchmen, Q-Bert and Tim Burton’s Batman;

“It’s the only place I feel like I mean anything.”
When Watts (as his virtual avatar Parzival) enters the VR universe known as Oasis, characters adopted by the global online population are gathered. He is greeted by Harley Quinn and Deadshot (pictured, above); in the crowded room, Hagar the Horrible and Conan the Barbarian can be seen. To the strains of a reworked version of ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (a nod to the narrative similarities between Cline’s book and Raold Dahl’s family classic), Gandalf dances high above the din;

“A world where the limits of reality are your own imagination.”
The Iron Giant (pictured, above) from Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic plays a major role in helping Parzival and his egg-hunter offsiders Daito and Shoto hunt for the virtual prize that will give them control of the Oasis. The brown structure to the right of frame is The Temple of Syrinx, a reference to the 1976 album 2112 by Canadian band, Rush, the epic track forming the basis for one player’s quest in the novel. The soft-metal group’s discography is a source of inspiration for OASIS creator, the late James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance);

In his guise as ‘Napoleon’, Parzival rides a mecha-scorpion (perhaps a reference to a similar creature in the vid-game, Ultrabots) while fighting a battalion of warrior ostriches, lifted from the 1982 Atari arcade classic, Joust (pictured, above);

Wade’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), reimagined in Spielberg’s film as a Rings-like Orc warrior, comes under fire from Duke Nuk’em as he lays waste to Mortal Kombat’s Kitana and Nightmare on Elm Street’s villain Freddy Krueger (whose demise frees up an inventory of weapons from the game Borderland, including Sledge’s Shotgun and Krieg’s Buzz Axe). Aech’s weapon of choice is the MA5 assault rifle from Halo;

“A modern day warrior / Mean, mean stride / Today’s Tom Sawyer / Mean, mean pride”
Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer’ pulsates as we are introduced to a VR army of ‘Sixers’ (so named because their avatar numbers begin with 6, visible on the uniforms and car roofs). Gathered for a mammoth road race are the 1966 Batmobile, Mad Max’s modified Ford Falcon Interceptor, the Red F1 car from the Pole Position vidgame (the blue car is glimpsed later); right of frame, Lara Croft leans on the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Stephen King’s Christine, talking to Dizzy Wallin from Gears of War in front of the van from The A-Team (also in the mix is Ryu, the key protagonist from the Streetfighter franchise);

Legendary offroader Bigfoot, the first of the great monster cars since it debuted in 1979, lays to waste some sixer vehicles, including one with a QR code on its bonnet that, when scanned, leads to http://www.jointhequest.io, the Innovative Online Industries recruitment site;

“No, his mind is not for rent / To any God or government”
As the road carnage unfolds on what is revealed to be a Hot Wheels track writ large, Kaneda’s light-cycle from the anime classic Akira emerges, driven by Parzival’s online ally Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and adorned with stickers for Hello Kitty, Atari, SEGA and Taito (original manufacturers of Space Invaders).

The ‘Parzival’ number plate confirms our hero is driving Doc Brown’s time machine from Back to The Future, which appears to have been modified with the in-car AI known as K.I.T.T, from Knight Rider. Inside the Delorean, the dashboard reads ‘Feb 11 1945’ – the day Wade/Parzival finds the copper key in the novel – as well as key dates from the B.T.T.F. trilogy;

The final and ultimate ‘easter egg’ is the Ready Player One logo itself. It is a maze, with the goal being an egg inside the ‘O’ of the word ‘One’. A masterful piece of marketing, the design reflects the essence of Cline’s plot and Spielberg’s adaptation.

Screen-Space acknowledges The Nerdist, Geekritique, VR Scout and Collider as sources in compiling this article.