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Entries in Best of List (10)

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.

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.

Tuesday
Dec202016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: SIX STUDIO SCORECARDS

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

SIX STUDIO SCORECARDS
They are the big six; the studios that have shaped Hollywood history. Today, the red-&-black ink ledgers that only the likes of Louis B Mayer, the Warner brothers or Lew Wasserman were privy to are open books for all to see. And the marketplace is filled with mini-majors (like Lionsgate) and small, savvy operators (like Megan Ellison’s A24). So, in 2016, which studio heads slept easy at night and who woke every day feeling the burning glare of the stockholders…

(Combined domestic/international, in US$; as of December 18; Source: ShowBuzzDailyBox Office Mojo)

1. DISNEY: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $6.426billion; Market Share – 24.2%
HITS: Captain America: Civil War (#1; $1.153b; pictured, below); Finding Dory (#2; $1.027b); Zootopia (#3; $1.24b); The Jungle Book (#4; $966m); Doctor Strange (#10; $667m); Rogue One A Star Wars Story* (#11; $576m); Moana* (#25; $308m)
MISSES: Alice Through the Looking Glass (#26; $229m); The BFG (#39; $178m); The Finest Hours (#80; $52m) The Light Between Oceans (#102; $23m).
ANALYSIS: The studio’s red inkers (the expensive underperformance of Alice Through the Looking Glass; the non-starters like The BFG and The Finest Hours) have faded from memory in the wake of the combined box office might of the Marvel line-up, a resurgent in-house animation division (Zootopia; Moana) and smart property relaunches (The Jungle Book; Pete’s Dragon, which hit $144m). And there are still the first two weeks of Rogue One grosses to round out the year! The undisputed box office champ of 2016.

2. WARNER BROTHERS: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $4.499billion; Market Share – 17.8%
HITS: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (#6; 873m); Suicide Squad (#7; $746m); Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them* (#9; $740m); The Legend of Tarzan (#19; $357m); The Conjuring 2 (#24; $320m); Sully (#30; $228m); Central Intelligence (#31; $217m); Lights Out (#47; $149m)
MISSES: Collateral Beauty* (#109; $20m; pictured, right); Keanu (#108; $20m); The Nice Guys (#89; $36m**); Barbershop The Next Cut (#79; $54m); War Dogs (#65; $86m)
ANALYSIS: The WB fought off a savaging by critics and fanboy backlash to post big numbers on their DC blockbusters and successfully recaptured that Potter magic to find fantastic returns on JK Rowling’s return. The big profits stemmed from mid-budget horror hits The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out; did well to position the upmarket Eastwood/Hanks pic Sully as both a prestige title and box office performer. Dropped the ball on The Nice Guys (which seemed a pre-elease sure thing); counter-programming the underwhelming (and terribly titled) Collateral Beauty against Rogue One hasn’t work.

3. 20TH CENTURY FOX: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $3.963billion; Market Share – 13.4%
HITS: Deadpool (#7; $783m; pictured, below); X-Men Apocalypse (#12; $544m); The Revenant (#13; $533m); Kung Fu Panda 3 (#14; $520m); Ice Age Collision Course (#17; $407m); Independence Day Resurgence (#18; $390m); Trolls* (#23; $328m)
MISSES: Rules Don’t Apply* (#134; $4m); Morgan (#126; $8m); The Birth of A Nation* (#117; $16m); Keeping Up with The Jones (#94; $29m); Eddie the Eagle (#81; $46m); Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (#70; $77m).
ANALYSIS: The infectious sense of fun that the marketing team clearly had with the release of Deadpool caught on with audiences. Stood by Leo with an all-or-nothing Oscar campaign for The Revenant, though Best Picture loss must have lead to head-scratching. Worked hard to counter negative buzz, pre- and post-release, on X-Men Apocalypse (“Memo from head office: Don’t choke women in your key-art”). Delivered good returns on ready-made family hits (Ice Age and Kung-Fu Panda sequels; Trolls), but couldn’t find mid-level performers. Felt like Beatty’s bomb, Rules Don’t Apply, was marked ‘ Too Hard Basket’ from early in the campaign.

4. UNIVERSAL: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $3.011billion; Market Share – 12%
HITS: The Secret Life of Pets (#5; $875m); Warcraft (#15; $433m); Jason Bourne (#16; $415m); Bridget Jones Baby (#34; $212m); The Girl on The Train (#40; $175m; pictured, below).
MISSES: Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping (#123; $9m); Kevin Hart What Now? (#104; $23m); Hail, Caesar! (#77; $63m); The Boss (#69; $79m); My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (#64; $89m); Neighbours 2 Sorority Rising (#60; $108m)
ANALYSIS: Universal’s one big, ambitious role of the dice, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, was butchered domestically yet rose to the challenge globally; kudos to the international marketing teams, who did what their bosses couldn’t, silencing the critics and convincing the fans. Otherwise, it was a play-it-safe, steady-as-she goes slate – an animated hit, a slew of ok sequels, one surprise hit in lit-adaptation The Girl on The Train (again, despite the baying of critics). Proved with their mirthless raft of ‘funny’ films that, apparently, both dying and comedy can be easy.

5. SONY PICTURES: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $1.789billion; Market Share – 8.2%
HITS: The Angry Birds Movie (#20; $350m); Ghostbusters (#29; $229m); Inferno* (#32; $217m); The Magnificent Seven (#42; $161m); Don’t Breathe (#44; $153m); Sausage Party (#50; $140m); The Shallows (#54; $119m)
MISSES: Pride and Prejudices and Zombies (#115; $16m); The Brothers Grimsby (#97; $25m); Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk* (#96; $26m; pictured, right); Risen (#82; $46m); Money Monster (#63; $93m); The 5th Wave (#57; $110m).
ANALYSIS: It was Angry Birds then daylight for the SPE crowd. Their phone-app property made the leap to bigscreen glory (financially, at least), but the rest of the bunch proved frustratingly blah (Inferno; The Magnificent Seven) or bound by genre (Don’t Breathe; Sausage Party). Must be still shaking their collective head at what they had to overcome to give Ghostbusters a fair go; all things considered, a global gross of $229m was not too shabby. The Shallows seemed primed for bigger things, but couldn’t quite break out. Of the duds, Money Monster must’ve been the biggest letdown, with a Cannes world premiere and old-school star power (Clooney, Roberts, Foster) failing to ignite interest.

6. PARAMOUNT: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $1.338billion; Market Share – 7.7%
HITS: Star Trek Beyond (#21; $343m); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of The Shadows (#28; $246m); Jack Reacher Never Look Back (#43; $160m); Arrival* (#48; $144m); 10 Cloverfield Lane (#59; $108m)
MISSES: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot** (#102; $23m; pictured, right); Florence Foster Jenkins** (#95; $27m); Zoolander 2 (#78; $56m); 13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (#75; $69m)
ANALYSIS: Arrival is making a late run for box office glory, but in every other respect it was a year to forget for Paramount. Was relieved when the choice to let Fast & Furious guru Justin Lin liven up the Star Trek franchise worked out, but other prime properties (TMNT; Cruise’s Jack Reacher) left critics and audiences soured. Like Sony and Fox, the art of pumping up mid-level entrants into box office leaders seems to be a lost one; 10 Cloverfield Lane had buzz and opened big, but fell short of its promise. Terribly missed opportunity with Tina Fey’s terrific Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; coulda been this generation’s M*A*S*H, but turned to mush. Downbeat year had far-reaching consequences; amongst a raft of layoffs by Viacom overlords, long time Australian boss Mike Selwyn and marketing head Kate Smith were walked.

*Still in general release
**Domestic only; International release via distribution partners.

Monday
Dec192016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: SEVEN CARTOON CLASSICS

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

SEVEN CARTOON CLASSICS
“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive,” said Walt Disney. In 2016, the unique minds of many talented men and women conceived some beautifully profound and wonderfully entertaining animated films….

ZOOTOPIA (Dirs: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush; USA, 108 mins).
Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Plot: When Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case, even if that means working with wily fox Nick Wilde.
What the critics said: “In looking humorously — and also sensitively — at the pitfalls of bias and fear-mongering, the terrific script by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston offers a host of essential lessons for our fractious times… It's going to take a lot to beat Zootopia for this year's animated film Oscar.” – Los Angeles Times 

THE RED TURTLE (Dir: Michael Dudok de Wit; France/Belgium, 80 mins)
Production companies: Prima Linea Productions, Why Not Productions, Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch.
Plot: A man marooned on a desert island tries desperately to escape, until one day he encounters a strange turtle that will change his life.
What the critics said: “[This] tiny artistic treasure might as well be the adaptation of a little-known Hans Christian Andersen classic, or else perhaps that of a folk tale brought back from some remote South Pacific island. But no, this captivating archetypal narrative springs from the mind of its director, and the result is the most purely auteurist project to be found at the Cannes Film Festival this year.” – Variety 

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (Dir: Travis Knight; USA, 101 mins)
Production company: Laika Entertainment
Plot: Kubo lives a quiet, normal life in a small shore side village until a spirit from the past re-ignites an age-old vendetta. This causes a maelstrom of havoc, as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armour once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.
What the critics said: “The action is gorgeously fluid, the idiosyncratic 3-D visual conceits (including floating eyeballs undersea) are startling, and the story and its metaphors resolve in unexpected and moving ways.” – The New York Times 

LONG WAY NORTH (Dir: Rémi Chayé; France/Denmark, 81 mins)
Production company: Sacrebleu Productions, Maybe Movies
Plot: 1882, Saint Petersburg. Sasha, a young Russian aristocrat, has always been fascinated by her grandfather's life as a renowned explorer. When he fails to return from an expedition to the North Pole, Sasha must save her family's honour, running away to the Great North on her grandfather's trail in search of his famous ship.
What the critics said: “Chayé’s animation removes the outlines of figures, retaining only the blocky colour fills, in a manner that evokes silk-screen prints. It’s visually striking, even when presenting a storm at sea, a rampaging polar bear or a creepy abandoned lifeboat…It’s a beautiful trip, even if it’s a little chilly and sad when it finally gets to where it’s going.” – Washington Post 

YOUR NAME (Dir: Makoto Shinkai; Japan, 106 mins)
Production company: Komikkusu Wêbu Firumu
Plot: Mitsuha and Taki are two total strangers living different lives. But when Mitsuha makes a wish to leave her mountain town for the bustling city of Tokyo, they become connected; she dreams she is a boy living in Tokyo, while Taki dreams he is a girl from a rural town he's never been to. What does their newfound connection mean? And how will it bring them together?
What the critics said: “As the film swings back and forth between mountain shrines and Shinjuku Station, it eloquently and elegantly expresses not only teen confusion but also the tensions between old and new Japan.” – Sight & Sound 

SEOUL STATION (Dir: Sang-ho Yeon; South Korea, 95 mins)
Production Companies: Finecut, Studio Dadashow)
Plot: A prequel to South Korea’s blockbuster zombie epic Train to Busan; Seoul Station becomes Ground zero for a zombie-like outbreak. Soon, the streets are overrun by the infected and the city of Seoul declares martial law. Meanwhile, a runaway teenager named Hye-sun and her boyfriend Ki-woong try to find each other amidst the chaos.
What the critics said: “The film maintains a nihilistic register throughout, and the twist at the end is surprising specifically for how it falls outside of the purview of the zombie genre, instead emerging from the characters’ interpersonal drama prior to the outbreak.” – The Playlist 

SAUSAGE PARTY (Dirs: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon; USA, 89 mins)
Production company: Point Grey Pictures
Plot: The products at Shopwell Grocery Store believe in a code that helps them live happy lives on the shelf before they leave for ‘The Great Beyond’. But a botched attempt at freedom leaves a sausage named Frank stranded, leading to a journey that uncovers the truth behind their beliefs.
What the critics said: “The film’s greatest strength is its screenplay, penned by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, (Seth) Rogen and Rogen’s frequent collaborator, Evan Goldberg. The quartet instil truly fascinating philosophical and religious subtext into the story, which largely plays as an existential tale about finding the meaning of life.” – Screen Rant