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Wednesday
May042016

CANNES 2016: WOODY'S FRENCH FESTIVAL LOVE STORY

On May 11, Woody Allen will make history when his latest work, Café Society, has its World Premiere as the Opening Night film of the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It will be the third feature from the revered director to debut in the prestigious slot – the first time that a filmmaker has earned that honour. For the 80 year-old New Yorker, it is the latest declaration of respect and admiration from the event that has feted his work for over three decades…

MANHATTAN debuts in 1979
Like the rest of the cinema-going world, French cinephiles warmed to Allen as a true auteur in the wake of his blockbuster hit, Annie Hall. His early comedies Sleeper and Love and Death had played well to Euro audiences, but it was the 1977 Best Picture Oscar winner that put him on the map; a huge French hit, it would be nominated for the Foreign Film Cesar. When it was announced his follow-up would be a cinematic love letter to The Big Apple, interest from the Cannes Film Festival organisers was piqued. Manhattan opened in the US on April 25 to positive reviews and audience favour; a fortnight later, it had its international premiere Out of Competition at the 32nd Cannes Film Festival. Despite the reclusive Allen’s decision not to attend the screening (actress Mariel Hemingway represented), it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Cannes and Woody. The Cesar voting body said thank you by honouring Manhattan with the Best Foreign Film trophy. (Pictured, right; Mariel Hemingway in Cannes, 1979)

(Above: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose)

Allen’s 80’s Americana – BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, RADIO DAYS and NEW YORK STORIES.
Allen’s cinematic fortune ebbed and flowed in the following years. Stardust Memories (1980) divided critics; A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy (1982) was considered a trifle; Zelig (1983) restored his critical lustre but only posted arthouse numbers. The resurgent career impetus that Allen would enjoy for the remainder of the 1980’s began when the 1984 Cannes Film Festival programmed out-of-competition the Oscar-nominated Broadway Danny Rose (the slot resonated with Allen, as it put him in the company of his film idol, Ingmar Bergman, who was presenting After the Rehearsal). Featuring a brilliant comic turn by then-wife Mia Farrow, Broadway Danny Rose was the first on Allen’s ‘Americana’ films, works that embraced the melancholy of show business’ early days, and the Cannes crowd loved them. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) would win the coveted FIPRESCI Prize at the 1985 event; Radio Days (1987) screened Out of Competition in 1987. Allen’s first taste of Opening Night prestige was 1989’s New York Stories, an omnibus film that featured Allen’s ‘Oedipus Wrecks’ short alongside contributions by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola; the film garnered a mixed reaction and would be the last of Woody Allen’s film on the Croisette for over a decade.  

HOLLYWOOD ENDING opens the 2002 Cannes Films Festival.
Cannes gave Woody some breathing space throughout the 1990’s, a decade that featured some of his most revered works (Husbands and Wives, 1992; Bullets Over Broadway, 1994; Mighty Aphrodite, 1995; Sweet and Lowdown, 1999). It would not be until 2002 that Cannes rekindled the love affair when they afforded his contemporary LA-set comedy, Hollywood Ending, his first solo Opening Night red-carpet rollout. In hindsight, the film seems an odd choice; it is not regarded as one of Allen’s best and represents, alongside 2003’s Anything Else, what many consider a low point in the filmmaker’s output. But the coverage provided in the world’s press, trumpeting the appearance of Allen in Cannes for the first time in his long career, was pure showbiz and entirely in line with the A-list event glamour one expects from the Cannes Film Festival. (Pictured, right; Co-stars Tiffani Thiessen and Debra Messing accompany Allen and wife Soon-Yi at the Cannes 2002 premiere of Hollywood Ending).

The European Films of the 00’s – MATCH POINT, VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.
The director sensed that true creative freedom and an enriched appreciation of his work were best explored in Europe (much of his funding had been sourced from continental backers in recent years). Despite the occasional sojourn to his homeland (the underappreciated Melinda and Melinda, 2004; Whatever Works, 2009), the 2000s brought a re-energised Allen back to the critical and commercial forefront with three European-lensed films that played to adoring Cannes audiences. In 2005, his potent London-set thriller Match Point played Out of Competition, the ecstatic response paving the way for his best box-office performer in 20 years; in 2008, the erotically-charged Vicky Christina Barcelona set the Croisette ablaze, premiering at Cannes ahead of a US$100million worldwide gross and a Supporting Actress Oscar for Penelope Cruz; and, in 2010, Allen returned to London, this time with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, for the whimsical drama, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, premiering Out of Competition. It was a prolific period of production that saw the director at the height of his craft, offering a run of films that culminated in Allen’s second Opening Night honour…

(Above: Allen at the You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger press conference, Cannes 2010)

The Triumph of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.
Cannes organisers knew Allen’s 41st film was something special when they secured it for the 64th edition’s May 11 Opening Night slot in 2011. The Festival broke with tradition and opened the event to both industry types and the general public. It was a coup for Allen’s French distributor, who put the film into day-and-date national release, ensuring massive media coverage. The director jumped on board the promotional juggernaut, bringing to the Croisette his stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody and local starlet Lea Seydoux. And critics were unanimous; Midnight in Paris was Woody Allen’s best work in years, the time-hopping romantic fantasy ultimately earning Allen the Best Original Screenplay Oscar (from the pic’s four nomination). Robert Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary would follow in 2012, and the director himself would return in 2015 with his Emma Stone/Joaquin Phoenix starrer, Irrational Man, but the rapturous Midnight in Paris soiree remains the night to remember from the Cannes Film Festival’s long and affectionate romance with Woody Allen. (Pictured, right; Allen with his Midnight in Paris cast, Cannes 2011).

The 69th Festival International du Film de Cannes will launch with a screening of Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, on Wednesday 11 May in the Palais des Festivals’s Grand Théâtre Lumière as an Official Selection Out of Competition title.

Wednesday
Apr202016

CANNES 2016: DIRECTOR'S FORTNIGHT LINE-UP ANNOUNCED 

CANNES, April 19: Artistic director Edouard Waintrop (pictured, below) set a solemn tone at the press conference to announce the line-up for the 2016 Director’s Fortnight sidebar. In an emotion-filled speech, he paid tribute to the late Israeli actor/director Ronit Elkabetz, who had succumbed to cancer only hours before after a long and determined fight.

In 2014, Waintrop had programmed Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, the 51 year-old auteur’s most acclaimed work. Elkabetz, a mother of four year-old twins to husband Avner Yashar, had served the Cannes Film Festival with honour in 2015 as Jury President at the Critic’s Week sidebar.

Following his kind words, Waintrop proceeded to the order of the day and the unveiling of the 2016 Director’s Fortnight selection. Slightly down in number from the traditional 20 films to a tighter 18, the selection skews heavily to European productions. Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams, starring Berenice Bejo, snared the Opening Night slot and is one of three films from the country to feature in the sidebar (alongside Paolo Virzi’s Like Crazy and Claudio Giovannesi’s Fiore). The region’s strong showing should go some way to silencing dissent that arose when no Italian works were for Official Competition. (Pictured, right; director Marco Bellocchio)

Homegrown fare features strongly, with French cinema accounting for seven titles in the mix. They are Sebastien Lifshitz’s Les Vies de Therese; Rachid Djaidani’s volatile racial drama, Tour de France; Claude Barras’ stop-motion drama My Life as a Courgette; Sacha Wolff’s Mercenaire; Joachim Lafosse’s L’econimique du couple, a co-production with Belgium; the late Solveig Anspach’s L’effet aquatique; and, Uda Benyamina’s Divines.

Other continental entrants include Denmark’s Wolf and Sheep, from Afghani director Shahrbanoo Sadat; Neruda, the Gael Garcia Bernal thriller from Pablo Larrain that sourced production funds from France, Spain, Chile and Argentina (pictured, left); and, the legendary Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry, a co-production between France, Chile and Japan. 

Tough-guy American auteur Paul Schrader closes the sidebar with his noir-ish crime melodrama Dog Eat Dog, starring Nicholas Cage (reteaming with the director after the trouble-plagued Dying of The Light) and Willem Dafoe. Other North American entrants include Laura Poitras’ Risk, a study of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange; and, Two Lovers and a Bear, the highly anticipated follow-up to War Witch from director Kim Nguyen.

Asian cinema’s sole representative is Psycho Raman, a serial killer thriller from India directed by Gang’s of Wasseypur helmer Anurag Kashyup. The cinema of the United Kingdom was shut out, as was representation from New Zealand or Australia (despite the readiness of Cannes favourite Cate Shortland's latest, Berlin Syndrome).

The Director's Fortnight/Quinzaine des Realisateurs sidebar, overseen by the French Director's Guild, runs May 12-22 as part of the 2016 Festival de Cannes.

Sunday
Feb282016

SENTIMENTAL FAVES TO DOMINATE OSCAR 2016

The ‘sentimental narrative’ is being bandied about with shameless abandon in most prognostications over the 2016 Academy Awards. Key categories are not being discussed on merit, but more so as if nominees are nearing death; those “Oh, it’s his time,” and “Wouldn’t it be fitting if…” kind of comments. SCREEN-SPACE can play that game as well as the best of them so, just over 24 hours out from host Chris Rock’s highly-anticipated opening monologue, here are our winners and why…

BEST PICTURE
Bridge of Spies is the best film amongst the eight nominees, but Spielberg was bumped from the director category and its Cold War setting (and, yes, Tom Hanks’ casting) makes it feel like a throwback to a bygone Hollywood era. Room will earn kudos elsewhere; The Martian and Brooklyn will have been shutout across the board by this time of the night. With no nomination in the script categories, it would go against the grain for The Revenant to pick up the trophy, but that is likely to happen. The upside is that the absence of Innaritu and co-writer Mark L Smith from the writing honours list means Spotlight and The Big Short won’t go home empty-handed. But could Mad Max Fury Road steal the Best Picture spotlight….?
Who will win: THE REVENANT.
Who should win: INSIDE OUT.

BEST DIRECTOR
…No, but the sentimental narrative will help its director George Miller to a surprise Best Director trophy. If the Academy rank-&-file are in a ‘body of work’ mindset, no one would be more deserving than the Aussie filmmaker; he has one trophy already, for Best Animated Film winner Happy Feet, and is high on the AMPAS membership radar after Babe (7 noms), The Witches of Eastwick (2 noms) and Lorenzo’s Oil (2 noms). Industry types know that the journey he undertook on the action franchise reboot was every bit as fraught with hardship as anything Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his team undertook on The Revenant. Adam McKay’s giddy, fresh vision for The Big Short could be the bolter; Tom McCarthy’s work on Spotlight was solid; Lenny Abrahamson for Room is this category’s ‘reward enough to be nominated’ guy.
Who will win: GEORGE MILLER for MAD MAX FURY ROAD (pictured, above; on-set with star Tom Hardy)
Who should win: GEORGE MILLER for MAD MAX FURY ROAD

BEST ACTRESS
45 Years star Charlotte Rampling had the sentimentalists on her side until she laid into the Academy over the diversity issue. Jennifer Lawrence’s industry pull and not her performance in Joy got her a spot on the ballot, but she’s doing no campaigning for the prize. It’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for Saoirse Ronan, but the current is running against her for Brooklyn. And the frontrunner a few months back, Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes’ lesbian romantic drama Carol, has found no awards season favour come trophy time (Ed: fine with that, it’s a hammy performance). When the terrific Ms Larson is cradling the little gold guy back stage, will any of the pap gallery have the verve to call out, “Hey Brie, say ‘cheese’?”
Who will win: BRIE LARSON for ROOM.
Who should win: CHARLIZE THERON for MAD MAX FURY ROAD

BEST ACTOR
Just how the sentimental narrative surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio’s bare Oscar cabinet emerged is a mystery. He’s been “snubbed for this” and “denied for that” over the years, according to page after page of fawning editorial (in all fairness, he perhaps should have won for The Aviator…or Revolutionary Road…or The Wolf of Wolf Street). But his cause quickly became the catchcry of the modern American film industry, the shrill shrieking reminiscent of Oscar matriarch Shirley Maclaine’s “Give my daughter the stuff!” meltdown in Terms of Endearment. Fassbender is fantastic as Steve Jobs; the buzz on Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl was hotter than the technically proficient but chilly performance that finally emerged; Trumbo was undersen, so Cranston remained an outsider. Damon’s space dude from The Martian? Puh-leeze.
Who will win: LEONARDO DICAPRIO from THE REVENANT.
Who should win:  GEZA ROHRIG from SON OF SAUL.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
No one begrudges Rachel McAdams’ nod for her fine work in Spotlight but she didn’t have the big showy moment that usually gets noticed amongst support players. Rooney Mara is the warm heart and soul in the otherwise overpraised Carol, but it’s a lead performance, surely? Winslet has a Lead Actress statue (and 6 other noms), which should be enough to discount her in a close race. If the 2016 Oscars fully commit to the sentimental, industry veteran Jennifer Jason Leigh could win for The Hateful Eight. Likely, though, that Alicia Vikander will top off a breakthrough year with the crown for The Danish Girl (also essentially a lead performance). If the male winners seem steeped in gooey sentimentality, the actress categories seem to be looking to the future of the industry.
Who will win: ALICIA VIKANDER for THE DANISH GIRL (pictured, above)
Who should win: KRISTEN STEWART for CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
No category pulses soloudly with a sentimental heartbeat as the Supporting Actor contest. Mark’s Ruffalo and Rylance (for Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, respectively) can feel hard done by; in any other year they would have been duking it out (pardon the boxing analogy, but it’s fitting). Christian Bale is in peak form at present; his role in The Big Short represents an actor mature enough to back his instincts and deliver. Tom Hardy had a great year and bad guys, such as the creep he played in The Revenant, often win this category. But does the potential for overflowing goodwill and a minutes-long standing ovation (if the broadcaster allows it) exist anywhere else in the Oscar schedule than with the feting of Sylvester Stallone? No, it doesn’t and he will win and win big.
Who will win: SYLVESTER STALLONE for CREED
Who should win: Well, take your pick – JACOB TREMBLAY for ROOM; PAUL DANO for LOVE & MERCY; MICHAEL SHANNON for 99 ROOMS.

OF THE REST…
As stated, Adapted Screenplay honours will go to Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short, while Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer will win Original Screenplay honours for Spotlight (both earned WGA gongs); Emmanuel Lubezki will win for lensing The Revenant, though John Seale could take this slot if the night turns in Fury Road’s favour; Mad Max will sweep the tech categories, including Editing, Makeup/Hair Styling, Production Design and the Sound categories; Inside Out is a cert for Animated Film; harrowing Holocaust drama Son of Saul for Foreign Film; the sentimental favourite for Original Score will be the legendary Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight, earning him his first Oscar; box office dominance will be rewarded with a VFX win for Star Wars The Force Awakens; doco honours for Amy; costuming to Sandy Powell for Cinderella; remarkably, the years forgotten hit Fifty Shades of Grey will earn Oscar bragging rights with a  Best Song win, for ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd.

Sunday
Feb212016

IN BOB WE TRUST: DEFENDING DE NIRO

As wave after wave of universally awful reviews for Dirty Grandpa emerged, one key theme ran through most of them – what the hell has happened to Robert De Niro? One school of thought says he’s losing his mind, agreeing to grace such dreck. Well, school’s out! SCREEN-SPACE engages in a dialogue with itself (a bit weird, but go with it) as to why Robert De Niro is still Hollywood’s ace-in-the-hole…

All this hatin’ is because of Rocky & Bullwinkle, isn’t it?

True, the tide turned in 2000 when he signed on as ‘ Fearless Leader’ in Des McAnuff’s live action/animation mash-up of Jay Ward’s iconic ‘60s cartoon series. But consider that The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle was greenlit at a time when goofy big-screen riffs on old TV properties were booming; Brendan Fraser’s career spanned the idiotic hits George of The Jungle (1997) and Dudley Do-Right (1999), while Matthew Broderick fronted the inane blockbuster, Inspector Gadget (1999). A wildly imaginative, meta-rich Rocky & Bullwinkle seemed a no-brainer, especially considering the talent that was lining up to take Universal’s money (the budget – a whopping US$76million). The script was credited to one of America’s most respected playwrights, Kenneth Lonergan, an Oscar nominee for You Can Count On Me (2000), and hot off De Niro’s hit comedy Analyze This; the cast included then-bankable Rene Russo as Natasha, and the breakout star of TV’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, as Boris. The studio was so confident it had a hit, a mid-summer slot taking on the latest from Mel Gibson (Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot) and George Clooney (Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm) was booked. Yet press zeroed in on De Niro’s wildly eccentric villain as symbolic of a lot of bad decisions on the film’s road to flop-dom…

And rightly so, I reckon. Maybe a buffoonish Nazi was not the best idea in a kid’s movie...

Well, it is certainly a way out-there bad guy part, the likes of which we all loved when Christopher Lloyd did similar in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis’ landmark toon epic was clearly on everyone’s mind when TAoR&B was okayed). But within the context of the insane plotting and high pitch for which the entire film reached, De Niro’s leather-clad, thickly-accented – dare I say, cartoonish – nemesis seems about right.

Mmm…that’s a maybe. Regardless, he seems to have shrugged it off and ‘fearlessly’ taken on other ill-judged roles, like 2001’s 15 Minutes with Edward Burns or 2002’s Showtime opposite Eddie Murphy…

Yep, minor works that weren’t ready to go before the cameras; totally agree. But Robert De Niro has always lived by the acting creed, ‘Just keep working.’ In the 30 years between the Scorsese classic Raging Bull (1980) and the hit sequel Little Fockers (2010), he featured in an incredible 58 films. He took flak for some (Neil Jordan’s We’re No Angels, opposite Sean Penn; Tony Scott’s thriller, The Fan; Kenneth Branagh’s expensive dud Frankenstein), but it was an incredibly diverse period that also yielded The King of Comedy, Casino, The Mission, Midnight Run, Goodfellas, Awakenings, This Boy’s Life, his directorial debut A Bronx Tale, Heat, Cape Fear, Copland, Wag The Dog, Ronin and Jackie Brown. Not to mention memorable bit parts in Brazil, The Untouchables, Angel Heart, Mad Dog and Glory and Sleepers, great roles in little-seen indies like Jacknife, Guilty by Suspicion and Flawless and sweet ‘everyman’ leads in Falling in Love (opposite Meryl Streep) and Stanley and Iris (opposite Jane Fonda). Which of his peers from his true heyday, the American cinema of the 1970’s, can boast of career longevity like that?

I think it’s the reputation from that last truly classic film era that has proved to be a heavy burden for Bobby. Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets, both ’73; The Godfather, Part II, ’74; Taxi Driver and 1900, both ’76; The Deer Hunter, ’78 (pictured; below)…

An extraordinary period for studio films in general, and De Niro in particular; no doubt about it. But he had also dealt with the commercial bomb The Last Tycoon in 1976 and critical dud New York New York in 1977; both were ambitious visions that didn’t quite gel, like several of the films that have come up short in his long career. Studios just aren’t making those ambitious, actor-friendly American films anymore. And if they did, who would match a young De Niro’s intensity? Di Caprio? Damon? I don’t think so…

And those ‘peers’ from 70’s…?

Sadly, the likes of McQueen, Newman, Heston, Bronson have all departed us. Big box office draws of the day like James Caan and Burt Reynolds maintain a Hollywood profile but aren’t ‘acting’ very much; Robert Redford has had a resurgence of late (All is Lost; Walk in The Woods), but favours behind-the-scenes mentoring and Sundance-aligned endeavours ahead of acting gigs; Michael Caine plays the occasional lead (Youth, 2015, opposite another ‘70s figure in Harvey Keitel) but prefers high-paying support slots. Hackman, Connery and Nicholson have all settled into retirement. Dustin Hoffman works steadily; Travolta and Duvall, too, though less so. Clint Eastwood has redefined his A-list status, happier behind the camera. Of the actresses, Meryl Streep is the only bankable ‘70s actress still at the top of her game; perhaps Diane Keaton, too, but not in lead parts. Only De Niro and his one true equal, Al Pacino, are regularly before the cameras.

Pacino!?! What’s he done lately?

Whereas De Niro will happily take a few days work for a good cheque or slip into a memorable support role, Pacino has focussed on offbeat ‘arty’ projects that no one sees but which still challenge his talent. Since banking the studio dollars opposite Adam Sandler in 2011’s Jack and Jill, he’s made films with Alan Arkin and Christopher Walken (Stand Up Guys, 2012), director Barry Levinson (The Humbling, 2014) and indie sector auteur David Gordon Green (Manglehorn, 2014). Just this year, he scored a Golden Globe nomination for Dan Fogelman’s terrific character piece, Danny Collins. Not to mention the TV roles, in Angels in America and playing Phil Spector and Dr Kervorkian…

Ironic then that perhaps the worst movie either of them has made, they played opposite each other!

Yeah, I’ll yield on that one. Righteous Kill was terrible.

So why make it! Surely some of the stuff that De Niro attaches to can’t be the best scripts that his agents are fielding? It’s Robert f***ing De Niro, for goodness sake!

There you go, still judging him above other actors on his reputation alone! Yes, much of the criticism levelled at De Niro when he turns up in genre B-pics like Godsend (2004), Hide and Seek (2005), Killer Elite (2011) or Red Lights (2012), or questionable comedies like the Focker sequels and Dirty Grandpa, largely consists of “Why would ‘The Greatest Living Actor’ take such a role?” But very few detractors will mention that, between the occasionally minor works or critical misfires, this 72 year-old (!!) is still scoring Oscar nominations (most recently for David O’Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook); is bankable enough to ensure quality mature-age films like Everybody’s Fine (2009), Last Vegas, The Family and Grudge Match (all 2013) are getting made and seen; and, is the go-to guy when today’s hot young leads (Bradley Cooper in Limitless, 2011; Anne Hathaway in The Intern, 2015; Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, 2015; Zac Efron in Dirty Grandpa, 2016) need the on-screen boost an industry pro like De Niro provides.

He could disprove all the naysayers who cry that he’s only in it for the money by committing to more directing gigs, surely?

I agree. A Bronx Tale was a beautifully handled film. His only other feature, The Good Shepherd, was a flop despite solid reviews and a starry cast. He did step behind the camera last year, for the short film Ellis, about the role of the American migrant in the country’s history and the entry point for many in the middle of New York harbour. And, you’re right, his heart was clearly in it.

So we should trust that, even during ‘that scene’ in Dirty Grandpa with the porn and lube, he knows exactly what he’s doing, has nothing to prove anymore and perhaps throwing shade his way is not the coolest thing…

No, it’s not, thank you. Ok, next - Nicholas Cage. 

What the…! 

Wednesday
Dec302015

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART 3: OUR TEN FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2015

With only hours left until we welcome in a fresh new year of cinema-going, here’s the final Best of… list you’ll have to endure. Chosen from the 545 films I’ve watched this year (it’s true; check out star ratings of every one we’ve seen via our Letterboxd page), here they are - The SCREEN-SPACE Ten Favourite Films of 2015…

10. YOUTH
In the ironically titled Youth, Paolo Sorrentino explores the notion of wisdom, artistry and friendship; familiar ground for Italian director, the themes central to his 2013 stunner, The Great Beauty. If the auteur’s occasionally artful narrative proves testing, one can always bask in the stunning visuals; Youth is arguably the most beautifully lensed film of the year.
Best bits: Jane Fonda’s acerbic cameo; Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel get giddy while sharing a spa with a naked Miss Universe (the majestic Madalina Ghenea).

9. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Like Sorrentino’s moody drama, Olivier Assayas’ finest work in years brings a bracing Euro-sensibility and vivid visual style to an exploration of how memory and melancholy work to redefine one’s later life. As the actress revisiting the seminal project of her career, a larger-than-life Juliette Binoche is warm and compelling; that Kirsten Stewart (pictured, right), as her insightful PA, matches her beat-for-beat is the film’s true revelation (earning the Twilight starlet serious new cred and a Supporting Actress Cesar).
Best bits: Stewart takes command of a line reading for Binoche’s struggling diva; the clouds, snaking through the alpine valleys.  

8. EX MACHINA
The directorial debut of writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later; The Beach; Sunshine) melds moody chamber-piece/single-setting character drama with near-future AI super-tech. The result is a chilling, low-key, high-voltage cyber thriller that pulsates with dark humour and sexual tension; as the dream-girl android Ava, Alicia Wikander earned her ‘2016 It-Girl’ status with an iconic genre performance.
Best bits: Oscar Isaac’s disco moves alongside Sonoya Mizuno; Ava’s breakout.

7. 99 HOMES
Capturing that moment during the 2008 housing market crash when a ruthless adherence to capitalism took hold, writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s Faustian morality tale pits compromised everyman Andrew Garfield against the soulless might of financial sector hyena Michael Shannon. As the middle-class evaporates and suburbs become ghost towns, the dark heart of the crumbling American empire is exposed with a fierce clarity in this Wall Street for the new millennium.
Best bits: That first eviction; “America doesn’t bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners.”
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Ramin Bahrani here.

6. THE AGE OF ADALINE
“Krieger’s vivid, melancholic melodrama emerges as a major work in the tough-to-pull-off ‘romantic fantasy’ genre subset…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of The Age of Adaline here.

5. WILD
As real-life recovering addict and author Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon gives a career-best performance in Jean-Marc Vallee’s adaptation of the autobiographical bestseller, Wild. Every emotionally enriching, soul baring consequence of the 1,100 mile trek Strayed made along the Pacific Crest Trail is captured in Witherspoon’s interpretation; Vallee’s fluent non-linear narrative builds to a deeply moving denouement.
Best bits: The fox; losing the boot; Laura Dern.

4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION
Tom Cruise’s fifth spin as super-agent Ethan Hunt gets the nod as 2015’s best action pic over Mad Max Fury Road, by a whisker (don’t worry, we rave about George Miller’s action epic here). Fury Road was pure kinetic energy and a technical marvel, but it was slight on story; Christopher McQuarrie’s slick, thrilling old-school spy adventure offered a dozen nail-biting moments and delirious B-movie plotting that both supported and drove the action. With Bond dropping the ball badly this year, Cruise’s M:I operative is cinema’s reigning superspy.
Best bits: Rebecca Ferguson; that plane stunt, of course; the virtuoso ‘opera house’ sequence.

3. IT FOLLOWS
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s first foray into horror riffed on every slasher pic trope in the book– the villain exists to punish the amorous; the ‘final girl’ archetype; absent and/or ineffectual adults; the final face-off. But It Follows was a study in deconstruction, and worked as a truly invigorating (and terrifying) new vision of those old standards. In Maika Monroe, horror has a fresh new muse; in the ever-walking force that stalks her, a classic new malevolence.
Best bits: The kitchen encounter; the old, naked guy on the roof; checking out every background extra to see if they are ‘it’.

2. LOVE & MERCY
“In succinct and sublime tones, Love & Mercy convinces that God only knows where American music would be without Brian Wilson…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of Love & Mercy here.

1. INSIDE OUT
That Pixar offered up another superb piece of smart, funny animated entertainment is not that surprising. It is a true family classic, the studio’s best film since Up, but something had to be. Inside Out is the year’s best film not because of its beautiful design elements or wonderful character rendering; instead, Pete Doctor’s and Ronnie Del Carmen’s vision soars as a profound study in teen anxiety, alienation, emotional upheaval and depression. Few films have ever conveyed the complexities of mental health with the clarity and devastating emotion achieved by this masterwork.
Best bits: Riley runs away; the mixing of the spheres; “Congratulations San Francisco, you've ruined pizza!”

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Bridge of Spies, Shaun the Sheep, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter Ascending, The Visit, Everest.

Read The Year in Review, Part 1: The Ten Best Festival Sessions of 2015 here.
Read The Year in Review, Part 2: Australian Cinema in 2015 here

…AND THE WORST OF 2015:
2015 was a dire year for retread cinema, aka ‘The Reboot’ (Mad Max Fury Road being the exception that proves the rule). Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four got all the bad press, but it was a better film than the woefully ill-conceived Terminator: Genysis, the already-forgotten Poltergeist and the worthless new spin on Vacation. Worst of the bunch was JURASSIC WORLD, Universal’s wildly successful but grotesquely mounted bludgeoning of all that was enjoyable about the dino-trilogy to date. The box office suggested it worked for a new generation, but die-hard fans weren’t conned; like the genetic creation at the heart of its barely-there plotting, Jurassic World was borne of the same DNA as its ancestors but morphed into something both hideous and ridiculous.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS: Now Add Honey, Train Wreck, Chappie, Ride, The Walk, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), Get Hard.