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Sunday
Dec252016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS:...AND A LIST FIT FOR 2016

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
For the TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS, SCREEN-SPACE gave to thee…

(to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’)

TWELVE VIRGIN VIEWINGS
ELEVEN NEW STARS RISING
TEN SOARING SPIRITS
NINE SORRY SEQUELS
EIGHT WONDROUS ONE-SHEETS
SEVEN CARTOON CLASSICS
SIX STUDIO SCORECARDS
FIVE T’RIFFIC TRAILERS
FOUR FLEDGLING FESTIVALS
THREE TARNISHED IDOLS
TWO PERFECT PARTNERSHIPS… 

…AND A LIST FIT FOR 2016

Finally, the obligatory end-of-year indulgence we film types preposterously call ‘The Best of… List.’ Smart film critics have taken to calling them ‘My Favourite Films’ or ‘Standout Pics We Loved’ or something like that, because to assume that one’s personal picks are inarguably better than anyone else’s personal picks is a bit dickish.

Thanks for reading Cine-Mas, my 12-part, 18,000-ish word review of the year in film. With 4 likes, 3 shares and 2 comments via Facebook, it clearly tapped the zeitgeist. I’m joking, of course. Thank you for the support and kind comments about Screen-Space, this soon-to-be-5 lark that you’ve come to know and disregard. I love you all, except those who commented on my review of The Red Pill, you fucking psychos. Appreciate the traffic numbers, of course, but the whole bigotry and misogyny thing…not cool.

So, in a year that saw me suit up for my first Cannes Film Festival, discover the (now-defunct) delights of the Hanoi Cinematheque and spend 40 minutes chatting movies with Ted Kotcheff, I’ve chosen a bunch of films that lingered longest in my increasingly bewildered mind. Some I saw in general release, when I was forced to sit with the phone-checking Neanderthals; others, in the rarefied palaces of the festival circuit or at press screenings (also, Neanderthals). I grant you the respectfully-titled “Screen-Space’s Indisputably Perfect 10 Best Films of 2016”… (no particular order, although we all know which is clearly the best, right?)

THE NEON DEMON: Nicholas Winding Refn paints a lurid, dazzling nightmare-scape of the LA fashion scene, in which competition is cutthroat and the ambition of unwary ingénues is consumed like mince. It is all perfectly shallow, magnetic to the gaze and wrapped in the execution of the most thrilling, divisive director working today. Left me stunned and giddy, but expect it to surface on a few ‘Worst of…’ rants as well; its Cannes premiere was raucous, and distributors have shied away from it in droves.

SING STREET: John Carney (Once; Begin Again) takes as his starting point the hoary old ‘Let’s start a band’ premise and proceeds to make a work that soars beyond that simple premise into something truly extraordinary. The feel-good, toe-tapping vibe hits a crescendo at the start of Act 3; how the film plays out is daring and utterly beautiful. Gets everything about '80s teen culture wonderfully right; the music, the fashion, the belief in romance is beat perfect.

LA LA LAND: Damien Chazelle does for dreamy LA romantics in La La Land what he did angry drummers in Whiplash. That is, paint a richly realised fantasy existence, where heartbreak, longing and struggle is every bit as crucial to the creative process as the journey of falling in love. The dance sequences exhibit old-school expertise and genre understanding; the all-in freeway opener is grand Hollywood, while the purely fantastic planetarium showstopper reveals a Euro influence. Emma Stone’s emotionally resonant spin on the ‘pixie dream girl’ archetype is the role she was born to play.  

YOUR NAME: 2016 was a stunning year for animation (see the names I’ve regretfully bumped to ‘The Next 20’ pile below). Makoto Shinkai’s romantic fantasy, which weaves the story of a dream-state connection between two teens separated by time, place and an impending act of God, struck a chord with Japanese audiences; a country healing from a run of natural tragedies found strength in this spirited, special fairytale love story. International audiences are responding to the deeply emotional, profoundly lovely ‘Romeo & Juliet’-like journey; if Shinkai’s story takes a hold of you, like it did your cynical critic, expect to be reduced to a sobbing mess.

THE WAILING: A schlubby cop and his slightly goofy precinct offsiders are drawn into a murder-mystery that runs the gamut from ‘random act ugliness’ to ‘serial killer intent’ to something otherworldly entirely. Hong-jin Na’s slow-burn horror classic wasn’t the breakout hit of his South Korean peer Sang-ho Yeon’s zombie rush Train to Busan, but in hindsight that level of audience acceptance seemed unlikely; few films in recent memory have kept doubling-down of the unblinking moments of inspired terror like The Wailing. Not for the first time in film history, Asian filmmakers offered the year’s most truly revelatory genre works.

THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS: In collating and cutting together photos, footage and audio that spanned the great band’s vast, superb and turbulent history, Ron Howard (yes, that Ron Howard) has crafted both a vivid account of the scope of Beatlemania and an intimate insight into the dynamic of the greatest songwriting unit in the history of pop music. Some of the content will feel warmly familiar, but so much seems new and fresh and purely ecstatic; Howard captures the raw energy and unique personalities that brought the band together and the price they paid for attaining idolatry.   

ROGUE ONE: “A Hollywood franchise entrant that harkens back to an era before those words carried ugly loading.” Read our full review here.

RAW: “Raw is above all else a gut twisting work of classic body horror.” Read the full review here.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: “A superbly crafted, white-knuckle chamber piece.” Read the full review here.

PERSONAL SHOPPER: “A moody, occasionally frustrating, often brilliant study in isolation, grief and disenfranchisement.” Read the full review here.

THE NEXT 20: THE FINEST HOURS; TONI ERDMANN; WAR ON EVERYONE; SULLY; FUKUSHIMA MON AMOUR; BLOOD FATHER; THE WITCH; DEADPOOL; PETE’S DRAGON; HELL OR HIGH WATER; SWISS ARMY MAN; GARY NUMAN: ANDROID IN LA LA LAND; THE SHALLOWS; DON’T BREATHE; KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS; ZOOTOPIA; FREE FIRE; THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE; ARRIVAL; TONIGHT SHE COMES.

Saturday
Dec242016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: TWO PERFECT PARTNERSHIPS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

TWO PERFECT PARTNERSHIPS
Imagine the last 100 years of cinema without the like of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Hepburn & Tracy, Bogey & Bacall, Hope & Crosby, Newman & Redford, Bergman & von Sydow, Cassavetes & Rowlands, Scorsese & De Niro, Almodovar & Banderas, R2-D2 & C-3PO, Raimi & Campbell. Perfect film pairings have provided magical moments, driven collaborative genius, challenged artistry to break new ground. In 2016, two unlikely pairs came together and inspired new and unique reserves of strength and creativity in each other…

ISABELLE HUPPERT, STAR & PAUL VERHOEVEN, DIRECTOR, of ELLE
A headline-grabbing ‘hot button’ issue at Cannes 2016 was how star Isabelle Huppert and director Paul Verhoeven portrayed the central character’s rape and PTSD-based reaction in their engrossing, disturbing, often blackly funny collaboration, Elle. The attack, shot from different perspectives and revisited on several occasions (in real time, in flashback, from her point-of-view, then his) demanded that the actress and her director be in a place of unflinching trust and unified vision. In calling the film “a masterpiece of suave perversity”, The New York Times critic A.O. Scott hailed the work as “a duet for director and star.” The drama, which confronts gender roles, sexualised violence and accepted rape psychology, is a throwback for the director, who started his career with such boundary-pushers as Diary of a Hooker (1971), Turkish Delight (1973) and The 4th Man (1983). He told Variety that Huppert’s fearlessness in the role was an inspiration. “Several times during the shoot she became explosive and did things that were not in the script because she was so deep in character,” he said. “In normal times, I would have said ‘cut’ but her performance was so powerful I couldn’t stop her.” At a Q&A after its New York Film Festival debut, Huppert acknowledged the trust and respect her director afforded her. “Paul said that he was interested with what I was doing, because since I was a woman, by definition I would know more than him, what I was supposed to do,” she said. The mutual admiration and affection extended beyond the shoot; when asked about deflecting criticism from the world press, Huppert cited the strength of her friendship with the director. “When I’ve travelled with Elle, Paul has been there,” she told Collider. “If I was just by myself maybe I would be nervous but I think we protect each other.”

BLAKE LIVELY, STAR & THE GREAT WHITE SHARK, CO-STAR, of THE SHALLOWS. 
Yes, one half of this cinematic pairing is a CGI monster of the deep. But so compelling a villain was director’s Jaume Collet-Serra’s underwater killer, it drew a performance of powerful physicality and raw instinct from star Blake Lively as only the best supporting actor parts can. The non-speaking, even non-human counterpoint is not without precedent, of course. Consider the big-screen impact of the relentless semi-trailer in Steven Spielberg’s Duel and the frenzied panic it inspired in leading man Dennis Weaver; the mind games that astronaut Keir Dullea had to conjure to beat renegade computer, Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey; and, perhaps most appropriately, the stand-off between Dee Wallace and a rabid St Bernard in Cujo. Like all good actresses, Lively tried to understand the motivation of her screen partner, stating “Sharks are trying to survive the damage to their environment and habitat just as Nancy is trying to survive in the water. I went from having that standard primal fear that people have of sharks to really appreciating, understanding and respecting them.” Diving with great whites off the South African coast gave the actress a respectful perspective. “I was always terrified of great white sharks, but being in the water with them, being within their habitat, they don’t look like big, monstrous creatures,” she told The Lifestyle Report, adding “they’re beautiful, peaceful and serene.” What emerged on screen was a thrilling game of predator vs prey, a primal struggle that transcended its B-movie premise and provided its lead players with some of the most terrifying movie moments of 2016.

Friday
Dec232016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: THREE TARNISHED IDOLS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

THREE TARNISHED IDOLS
When the dust settled on the greatest decade in Hollywood history, it was these three men who were at the forefront. They emerged from the 1970s with classic films to their names, works that defined and altered the ways movies were made and watched; they remained figgureheads of the American industry for four decades, delivering critical and/or commercial hits again and again. But something happened in 2016 that their legion of fans could not quite comprehend – they were proven to be fallible…

STEVEN SPIELBERG
History says…: The most successful director in cinema history, Oscar nominated in every decade for the last 40 years. His astonishing back catalogue includes Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of The Sun, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich; as a producer, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to The Future, Men in Black and True Grit.  
And in 2016?: Cannes rolled out the red carpet for the World Premiere of The BFG…and no one cared. Spielberg spoke of his affinity for Roald Dahl’s source material, the beloved book he read nightly to his children; of how he has neared shoot dates on the project for decades (at one point, Robin Williams attached), but effects technology failed to match his vision; of his ‘bromance’ with Bridge of Spies star Mark Rylance, whose face peers out from behind the mo-cap/CGI titular character. But critics were divided (the post-screening mood in Cannes was chilly) and audiences couldn’t be wooed; it stumbled out of the gate in the midst of the US summer and crawled to an anaemic US$55million domestically, an underwhelming US$122million globally (against a budget of US$140million).
Can he bounce back…?; There have been some stumbles along the way – namely 1941, Hook and War Horse - but his natural storytelling prowess and commercial instincts tend to rebound strongly. He followed 1941 with Raiders of The Lost Ark; Hook with Jurassic Park; War Horse with Lincoln. He is deep into production on the adaptation of the pop-culture sci-fi phenomenon Ready Player One (due 2018), a seemingly perfect fit which see’s him back in Minority Report/A.I. territory.


WOODY ALLEN
History says…: After a series of timeless comedies (Take the Money and Run; Sleeper; Love and Death), he emerged as the quintessential ‘New York filmmaker’ of the 70s when he wrote and directed the Oscar-winning rom-com, Annie Hall. AMPAS is always looking to reward the prolific, often brilliant auteur; he has 19 nominations and four Oscars (most recently, for his Midnight in Paris screenplay in 2012). European cinephiles cite his period of Bergman-esque introspection (Interiors, 1978; September, 1987; Another Woman, 1988) as works of genius.
And in 2016…?: Was afforded Opening Night honours at the Cannes Film Festival for Café Society, his melancholy look at Hollywood’s golden years. General consensus was that it was Woody on auto-pilot; he had done this rose-coloured, bittersweet nostalgia trip before and better, most notably with Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway (Editor’s note: we liked it); it did US$11million in the U.S., bringing out the die-hard Allen fans but few others. A bad year turned worse when salacious accusations regarding his private life were dragged out again, this time by Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan. Attention turned to the premiere of his Amazon TV series, A Crisis in Six Parts, in which he co-starred opposite Miley Cyrus and comedy legend Elaine May. By the time Variety listed it as the 5th worst television show of the year (“It’s mind-boggling that anyone thought this was a good idea”), 2016 proved to be Allen’s annus horribilis.
Can he bounce back….?: He has an ‘Untitled Woody Allen Project’ due in 2017, with stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake and Juno Temple. Allen has stumbled before, including a period at the turn of the century in which his U.S. films had become so disposable, he fled to Europe (and really bounced back, with the superb Match Point and Oscar winning Vicki Christina Barcelona). At 81, time may be a factor, but his work ethic and on-set energy is faultless.


MARTIN SCORSESE
History says…: One of the greatest filmmakers ever to step behind a camera. Along with peers like Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola and Lucas, Scorsese was one of the original ‘Movie Brat’ directors, emerging in the 70s with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film history and a seemingly effortless talent for pulsating narratives. His classics include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Departed (for which he scored his first Best Director Oscar) and The Wolf of Wall Street. 
And in 2016…?: Not included amongst those ‘classics’ is 1993’s The Age of Innocence, his bloated, self-important Oscar-bait period piece which sank under its own pretension despite some superb ensemble acting (Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer). To wit, Silence, Scorsese’s latest over-produced, history-lesson bore, in which an earnest, sobby Andrew Garfield plays a Jesuit missionary, searching for Liam Neeson’s turncoat padre while preaching what was a forbidden religion in 17th century Japan. A former seminary student, Scorsese had been obsessed with Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel for decades, only now having the cache to pull together the eight different independent financiers needed to cover costs. Not even Scorsese could wring studio backing for the production; sensing award season potential, a moribund Paramount finally picked it up for distribution. Critics will love it because ‘A Scorsese passion-project’ makes good copy, but audiences, even the burgeoning faith-based demo, will find it a turgid slog. Add to the mix the critical slaying and cancellation of his HBO production Vinyl, and 2016 has been a year to forget for the great director.
Can he bounce back….?: Already happening, with the buzzed-about casting of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in his next picture, The Irishman.

Thursday
Dec222016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: FOUR FLEDGLING FESTIVALS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

FOUR FLEDGLING FESTIVALS
There can be fewer more arduous undertakings than staging a start-up film festival. In 2016, four rookie events surfaced in Australia that proved that determination, free-thinking and a willingness to place faith in an equally passionate support network meant that the uphill slog that is launching a film festival is not only possible, but can yield results of a global standard…

WINDA FILM FESTIVAL, November 10-13; various venues, Sydney, New South Wales. OFFICIAL WEBSITE
‘Winda’ means ‘star’ in Gumbaynggirr, one of the indigenous languages of Australia’s north-eastern seaboard. It proved a particularly ideal name for this new film event, a celebration of native cultures from across the globe that unites the aims of The Wurhu Daruy Foundation, New Horizon Films and Screen Australia with that of the imagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, the world’s largest presenter of indigenous screen content. “These films shine a light on our shared celebrations, struggles and stories, siving us insight and connection to the universal storylines of indigenous nations,” said Pauline Clague, WINDA Artistic Director. Opening with Lee Tamahori’s New Zealand hit, Mahana, the program embraced narratives from such nations as Russia (Dmitry Davidov’s Bonfire); Finland (Suvi West’s Spaarrooabban); Canada (Adam Gernet Jones’ Fire Song); Australia (Ivan Sen’s Goldstone) and Western Samoa (Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa’s Three Wise Cousins). New tech enriched ancient storytelling with the Virtual Reality sidebar, which featured Lynette Wallworth’s Martu tribe story, Collisions, and Ben Smith’s Yolngu culture celebration, Welcome to Garma.

MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL, July 9-11, Howler Art Space, Brunswick, Victoria. OFFICIAL WEBSITE
When SCREEN-SPACE spoke to Festival Director Lynden Stone in June, he spoke of the very clear direction he had for his new venture. “We want to present a socially liberal film festival comprised of a diverse and challenging slate that supports and promotes women, Aboriginal, Asian and LGBTI documentaries,” he said. Which is not to suggest this was some hand-wringing, issues-based sobfest. “Whilst I love ‘showcase’ documentary film festivals, I find their schedules and programming to be incredibly serious,” Stone said. “We wanted to look at creating a fun and exciting documentary film festival that was playful with documentary genre.” Hence such crowdpleasers as Jeff Hann’s Coffee Man, Gavin Bond’s Todd Who? and Robin Vogel’s Churchroad. The vast list of competitive honours featured Aaron Beibart’s A Billion Lives, Em Baker’s Spoke, Marketa Tomanova’s Andre Villers – A Lifetime in Images and Giovanni Coda’s Bullied to Death.

WOLLONGONG FILM FESTIVAL, Saturday October 29; Project Contemporary Art Space, Keira St. Wollongong, New South Wales. OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
Festival director Gia Frino (pictured, right) launched the Wollongong Film Festival with a focus on the contributions of women to the art of filmmaking. Submissions were only accepted if women were credited with one of the six key roles during production. “I am a pretty staunch feminist,” she told the local press as part of the event’s launch, “(and) every year I try to empower women in some shape or form.” The festival donated all proceeds to the One Girl initiative, a movement that is bringing education and hope to impoverished African women. “It’s not about ‘here have some money’,” said Frino, who serves as an ambassador for the charity, “it’s actually about giving the girls the power to change their lives.” The international film community responded, with submissions from as far afield as Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Phillippines and New Zealand, as well as homegrown talent. Honours went to Lena Kralikova Hashimoto for her student short, Atomka Genpatsu (Japan); Samain Husseinpour for the short film, Fish (Iran); Adnan Zandi for Butterflies (Iran), in the Most Empowering Feature category; Freyja Benjamin, producer and star of the Australian short Strangers in The Night, as Most Empowering Female; and, Jon Bling’s locally made Never Forget, for Best Feature. 

NOOSA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, November 3-6; various venues, Noosa, Queensland. OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
Organisers decided make a bold statement with the Noosa International Film Festival, launching the kind of ambitious, extensive program one rarely sees at a start-up event. As the festival guide proudly declares, ’140 Films 4 Days 4 Towns 5 Venues.’ Festival director and President of the Noosa Chamber of Commerce, Peter Chenoweth, stated that the beach resort town was ideal for a celebration of global film culture. “We’re blessed in that Noosa is a melting pot of skillsets, from financial wizards to film buffs to people with PR and promotional skills,” he told local media. “Add to that the encouragement and help we’re receiving from a whole raft of people within the film industry, and we already have the makings of a very successful and prestigious event.” The big ticket items were ‘Inside Cinema’, a presentation on the art and craft of cinematography by Australian great John Seale; the Opening Night screening of Bernard Bellefroid’s Melody, starring Rachel Blake; and, a rare showing of the German Expressionism silent masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The short film competitive strand and the day-long ‘Ecoflicks’ environmental-themed sessions ensured local talent and issues were also addressed.

 

Wednesday
Dec212016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: FIVE T'RIFFIC TRAILERS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

FIVE T’RIFFIC TRAILERS
It’s best if you don’t look at trailers like advertisements, because advertisers lie. Instead, consider trailers as perfect, beautiful little short films that create in you a longing for what you hope the long-form film will become. Sometimes the film delivers on that promise (Rogue One, most recently) and sometimes it doesn’t (Suicide Squad, anyone?), but it’s impossible not to be impressed by the artful, exhilarating skill on display in these five of 2016’s best…

SUICIDE SQUAD
The trailer was rousing, funny, positively pulsated with a good time vibe. The film? Not so much. In commercial terms, it did the job; the target demo had been so primed by this perfect mash-up of music and imagery, US$300million had been banked before any of us realised we'd been duped.

CAMERAPERSON
Kirsten Johnson's magnificent account of humanity is such a glorious, meta-rich celebration of the power of the movie camera, it was inevitable that it cut together as one of the trailers of the year. Set the tone for a work that delievers in spades; Johnson's 'truth in storytelling' approach to cinema is honoured accordingly.

FREE FIRE
Ben Wheatley's rat-a-tat, good time crime caper is shrink-wrapped into this giddy primer. It oddly gives a lot of time to Arnie Hammer, not the safest bet after The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but he is a scene-stealer in a film that also stars Oscar-winner Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley (hilarious) and Cillian Murphy, all having the time of their lives.

ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING
The monochromatic lens of director Andrew Dominik (Chopper; The Assasination of Jesse James...) captured the underground icon Nick Cave at a moment of personal torment. The singer/songwriter was struggling with the creative process while dealing with the grief of losing a child. With admirable subtlety and restrained elegance, the trailer hints at the emotional turmoil that Dominik captures in his remarkable film.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Not everyone favours the modern trailer maker's propensity for appropriating old songs and building mood around their manipulation. But when it's done well, as it is here for the JJ Abrams production that gave Mary Elisabeth Winstead the lead she has long deserved and John Goodman a legit shot at Oscar glory, it makes for a memorable pitch.

 

Special Mentions:

VICEROY’S HOUSE: Captures the grandeur and emotion of a shift in a nation’s rule; a little Oscar-baity, but rousing.

GET OUT: An incendiary premise is given full flight in this slow-burn mastercut of tension; not what we expected from director, comedian Jordan Peele.

THE NEON DEMON: Detractors of Nicholas Windig Refn’s fashion sector shocker screamed, “Style over substance!” The thrilling, disorienting trailer takes that to the nth degree.

THINGS TO COME: In what was The Year of Isabelle Huppert, this sweet, funny, edgy glimpse of Mia Hansen-Love’s drama just edges out the ad for Paul Verhoeven’s Elle as the best evocation of the great French actress at her finest.

SPLIT: James McAvoy goes full crazy as the split personality bad guy in M Night Shyamalan’s latest chiller.

THE WITCH: A 2015 film, but it rolled out internationally in 2016; the trailer to Robert Egger’s Sundance sensation captures the visual chilliness and desperately anxious ambience perfectly.