MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018

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A little later than usual this year but here is my third annual favorite films of the year list. I was fortunate with my freelance work, Karen winning comps and just being in a general a regular cinemagoer to see 58 films either in cinemas, via screeners or released via Netflix. This includes films that were 2018 American releases but reached Australian cinemas early 2019 hence why this list is always a little delayed. I’ve also been part of end of year lists for X-Press Magazine and put together an end of year list for HEAVY magazine which includes disappointments and surprises for the year in cinema.
There were some films I’m sad to say I haven’t got around to seeing yet that I think might have made the list if I had, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could TalkBlacKkKlansman, Cold War, Isle of Dogs and most of all You Were Never Really Here and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? So that tradition continues for another year but this is a list of the ones I did see below. I had a good run of films at the Brisbane International Film Festival this year and some screeners for my work for X-Press magazine turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding films of the year. Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.

 

Finding Your Feet Not Reviewed ***

Last Flag Flying Not Reviewed **1/2

I Feel Pretty Not Reviewed ***

Ellipsis Published at X-Press Magazine 15FEB18 ***

We Don’t Need A Map Published at X-Press Magazine 22FEB18 ***

The Death of Stalin Not Reviewed ***

Deadpool 2 Not Reviewed ***

12 Strong Published at Scenestr Magazine 07MAR18 **1/2

In The Fade Published at X-Press Magazine 08MAR18 ***

Ant-Man and The Wasp Not Reviewed ***

Border Politics Published at X-Press Magazine 18JUL2018 **

The Spy Who Dumped Me Not Reviewed **1/2

Solo Not Reviewed **1/2

The Wife Not Reviewed ***

The Happytime Murders Published at Scenestr Magazine 24AUG18 **

Book Club Not Reviewed **1/2

The Flipside Not Reviewed **1/2

The Predator Not Reviewed *1/2

Loro Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP18 ***

A Simple Favour Not Reviewed ***

Celeste Published at Scenestr Magazine 15OCT18 **1/2

Terra Nullus Not Reviewed 1/2

My Generation Not Reviewed **1/2

Halloween Not Reviewed ***

King of Thieves Not Reviewed **

Bohemian Rhapsody Not Reviewed ***

Loveling Not Reviewed **

Spitfire Published at X-Press Magazine 15NOV18 ***

Colette Published at X-Press Magazine 20DEC18 **1/2

Creed II Not Reviewed **1/2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Not Reviewed **1/2

Aquaman Published 10JAN19 9 Likes – 46 Views ***

Bumblebee Not Reviewed **1/2

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Not Reviewed **1/2

Stan & Ollie Not Reviewed ***

The Mule Not Reviewed ***

On The Basis of Sex Published at Weekend Notes 07FEB19 ***

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

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Mission Impossible: Fallout Not Reviewed ***

It is just as well this list is called My Favourite Films of the Year rather than the Best of. It’s hard to remember the distinction sometimes and to make peace with those that end up in the Top 10 and those that don’t even rate a mention. The Mission Impossible films are style over substance, nothing has quite matched the 1996 original and yet in director/scribe Christopher McQuarrie they have found something new that works. They’re all set up and payoff for mind blowing action but cleverly staged with tongue firmly in cheek. In briefing rooms characters murmur about their past and stare off into the distance but the best performers are those who convey much with little. Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby I’m looking at you. My father once told me the James Bond books by Ian Fleming were light fare but the character of Bond became more whole and nuanced as you read more of them and that is the case with Ethan Hunt and his movies and to a lesser extent his team. McQuarrie plays with the history finally and gets some good results. There was a moment with a sweeping shot of Tom Cruise running across a rooftop with a panoramic view of London and I just thought who the hell else is making movies like this anymore with a movie star. Barring Christopher Nolan, the answer is no one and Nolan doesn’t shoot action like this.

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Tully Published at X-Press Magazine 10MAY18 ***

Tully sank like a stone at the box office but I enjoyed this film, aided in no small part by the work of Charlize Theron. This film deals with the “reality” of being a parent, that sense of losing yourself and your future. It can be gloomy but it taps into a certain feeling that is only part of the parenting experience but it is a part and one that should be acknowledged. “She’s also in that time and place where everybody sees her as a Mum first and foremost including even herself and she’s wondering what the hell happened to me? All except Tully, Tully wants to know who Marlo is and acts like there’s more to her than being a Mum while telling her that is the most amazing thing about her.

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A Quiet Place Published at Scenestr Magazine 05APR18 ***

A Quiet Place may not be the deepest most profound movie made last year but it is cleverly put together and a lot of care taken. First of all it actually creates characters with depth and for extra points it does this with minimal dialogue, it takes its central premise seriously and plays with the sound effects of the film as a result and it leaves an air of mystery for us to fill in the blanks. The best stories are always about something deeper and this one is not about monsters coming for you if you make a sound. This is about the fear that drives parents to protect their children and the bond that creates. We can expect big things from first time director John Krasinski and actress Millicent Simmonds, Emily Blunt remains a talent. “The oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and a teenager. This sets up two great ideas. The first being a young girl who can’t hear, but she is prey to creatures that can hear but not see her. The second is how do you express and work through your emotions as a teenager with your parents in a world where you can’t make a sound for fear of death.

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Black Panther Published at Buzz Magazine 22JUN18 ***

Black Panther was a cultural milestone for a lot of people and I am happy for all that were touched so much by this movie. I cannot share that same level of enthusiasm but I find a lot to recommend. I am often drawn back to my favourite scene where the villain Killmonger is reunited with his father in their apartment in Oakland. The vistas of  heavenly African plains seen outside through the blinds are out of their reach. Their forebears no where to be seen, just a son and the father he lost when he was too young. The depth of what director Ryan Coogler was saying in this moment and how it would resonate with audiences immediately touched me. In Killmonger, Coogler gave one of the most compelling Marvel villains ever by reuniting with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. The finale becomes too much of a CGI fest, other character motivations feel wrong and purely there for plot convenience but there are rich themes here, a fantastic roster of supporting characters, a great action sequence set in Korea and a rousing score. “All of the above characters are effectively sounding boards for T’Challa to hear a different point of view. You can’t help but wonder if an amicable chat couldn’t have solved most of the problems the characters face but then again maybe that’s the point. T’Challa’s character arc is to learn how to be a good leader and he learns this from engaging with his mirror image found in Killmonger.” It’s just too bad they wasted Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and that’s something I can’t forgive.

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Roma Not Reviewed ***

For a while there, Roma was the frontrunner for Best Picture and I would’ve been perfectly happy if it had won. Roma is gorgeous, spiritual, moving and audacious. For the first time in my life I saw a film on my television and I thought it really needed to be seen on the big screen. The fact that it was Netflix release is beyond ironic. Things seem to be happening in the foreground that are missed way too often. I admire the approach of director Alfonso Cuaron demanding that we pay attention, meditate on what is being shown and consider our own lives and what is truly important. There are scenes that I still think about now that exemplify his skills as a master storyteller. The central performance by Yalitza Aparicio is one for the ages. Yet some things, passed me by, some things dragged on too long and some things were hard to take in on the TV. I really wonder if seeing it on the big screen really would’ve rendered a completely different experience?

Vice Published at Scenestr Magazine 19DEC18 ***

Vice is not as entertaining as director Adam McKay’s previous “serious” film The Big Short but it is more ambitious in intent and scope which is saying something. I was disappointed that Christian Bale did not get more acknowledgment for the strength of his performance which is more than just make-up effects. Amy Adams and Steve Carrell are also good, this stirred up a lot of old feelings from my youth and I hope the film resonates and gets us thinking about what type of a world we want to leave our kids. Yet it also feels like a film that will play one way to one audience and another way to the other. The Big Short was more clear cut and an easier story to connect to I believe. “In the end the man famous for his heart problems is seen losing his heart both metaphorically and physically in the quest for prolonged life both politically and literally. Meanwhile the rest of us have to live in the aftermath of his decisions. Is that a criticism of unbridled power or just proof you either have it or you don’t?“.

The Breaker Upperers Published at Scenestr Magazine 27JUL18 ***

The Breaker Upperers highlights the talents of writer/directors and stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami and New Zealand comedy in general. It plays as a broad comedy in the first half and then it swerves into a more testing second half where it surprises with some of the characters choices and dealing with them. I’ll admit I found the second half more troublesome but it still remains one of my favourite films of the year with jokes and performances I continue to revel in. “As directors, the pair balance conflicting emotions in any given scene, one example is a slow-mo sequence that plays up the awkwardness of an enforced striptease while also taking in the realisation of betrayal on someone’s face at the same time. They show a deft hand for portraying how perspectives and truths can be different for each character, reserving judgement of most to allow each cinemagoer to come to their own conclusions“.

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Woman at War Published at Weekend Notes 18OCT18 ***1/2

Woman at War from Iceland has rich themes and is centred around the engaging character of Halla played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, a middle aged choir conductor secretly conducting a one woman war against corporate greed and environmental destruction. The film has something to say but maintains a quirky sense of humour throughout and features some wonderful Icelandic landscape. “The film has a wonderful subtle underline about the way women of a certain age are viewed and the choices they have to navigate. She is in a job that is artistic and nurturing and in her spare time she carries out rebellious and dangerous acts. She appears to have no social group outside of work besides her twin sister. In a telling dichotomy, she releases information to the masses of her actions unseen and hidden and yet shows openly the child she is set to adopt with pride to her small choir. The reactions are telling too.

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Ash Is Purest White Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Ash Is Purest White is a time spanning crime film that showcases the changing prosperity of China by focussing on one character, a female criminal with more integrity than any of the men who surround her on screen. I loved the small details in this film, the way director Jia Zhangke lets moments breathe and observes human behaviour and the extraordinary performance by star Zhao Tao. “It’s a love story first and foremost, but not in a romantic way – it’s about the imprint of a man onto a woman of his strength and value system, even though he seldom proves capable of living up to it himself.

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Green Book Not Reviewed ***1/2

Brushing aside Oscar controversies, the behaviour of Spike Lee who if he was white would have been called a sore loser, I’d ask you to reflect on this film on its own merits. Maybe you will find it lacking and if you do that’s fine and valid. Me? Well I liked it, the audience I saw it with liked it, they laughed and cried in all the right places. Just like they had in Hidden Figures or Darkest Hour or any other number of mainstream history films where filmmakers seek to evoke emotions and play things as broadly as possible. Maybe you wanted something more incendiary or original and I hear you but I liked this movie. I liked the central relationship, I liked how it made me feel and I liked what happened to the characters along the way and how they could be honest about where they started. This was definitely one of the best films I saw last year.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Avengers: Infinity War Published at Buzz Magazine 01JUL18 ***1/2

This definitely feels like the first part of a two part season finale for a TV show. If you’re not watching the show it’s going to play very differently for you than a fan but a fan… I am. Plot delivered on the run, characterisation in singular moments built off the backs of previous films, by any standard metric this film cannot be judged. Yet for what it is, it is wholly satisfying, epic, exciting and moving. We could take for granted what Marvel Studies have pulled off here but we won’t. “Knowledge of previous films certainly helps but you have it to the Russo brothers as directors, they seem to know what to do with these characters. Nordic God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in five minutes here seems to be more consistently and thoughtfully fleshed out here then he was in his three solo movies. The introduction of the bantering mixed bag of space mercenaries, the Guardians of the Galaxy is so in keeping with the tone of their movies that you imagine their director/writer James Gunn was brought into consult but no it seems the Russos just get it.

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9. Arctic Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Much like A Quiet Place, Arctic‘s strengths is knowing what type of film it is and leaning into that rather than looking externally. The central character performed here by the ever effective Mads Mikkelsen remains sparingly outlined, he’s a man lost in the icy wilderness trying to stay alive his actions saying more about him than any dialogue could, how he treats a hill to climb as much a revelation as any mention of his father. There’s hints here and there but the situation and how he navigates it remains the most compelling part of the tale and from it a spiritual musing on the meaning of life and death comes forth. “There are no sweeping vistas either of the landscape – if our hero can’t fly away over the next horizon then neither should the camera, further allowing the audience to share his perspective. There is a spare and matter of fact observance of what is happening which makes everything as a result far more dramatic, including for example a reveal of frostbite. In this film, actions speak louder than words and slowly we understand very clearly what this man is risking and what he will potentially gain.

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8. Annihilation Not Reviewed ***1/2

Annihilation is not a fun movie but it will become a modern sci-fi classic. A mystery at the centre of it is genuinely thought provoking and the film proves unsettling with no real easy answers and horrifying images. The complex characters don’t ask for your sympathy either. This may be the scariest film of the year. The lack of success for the film and its distribution by Netflix worldwide speaks to the changing nature of blockbusters in Hollywood but as long as people like Alex Garland get to tell stories we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

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7. The Endless Published at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2

The Endless is cut from the same cloth as Annihilation, a site of strange going-ons with a central mystery entered by our heroes who have their own complicated histories. Shot on a much more low budget the writer/director/leads Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made a great movie that has a bigger heart and more satisfying resolution than the Natalie Portman star vehicle. See it with as little foreknowledge and expectations as possible. “The Endless works best the less you know about the story, a gradual unfolding of mysteries centered around two brothers who don’t have much more than each other and how that can keep you going but also fill you with resentment. A low budget film that feels very low-key but gradually grows more epic as time goes on. The production values of a B-grade genre film matched with the mindboggling premises of a David Lynch or Alex Garland film.

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6. Lost in Paris Published at X-Press Magazine 24MAY18 ***1/2

Every year there are unexpected gems that come along, I had no expectations for this film but it very quickly grew on me. A light quirky comedy with pathos and romance it makes you fall in love with old slapstick, warm heartedness and yes Paris itself of course. “Yet it is Gordon and Abel so comfortable in their own skin that are a joy to see front and centre in a romantic comedy. Neither looks the conventional idea of a movie star which adds authenticity to their characters and their plight but as the film goes on they become more beautiful to us just for being who they are. At one point Dom is asked “Where is the handsome man?” by Fiona who he is falling in love with. The implication of her question is rife with embarrassment and Dom looks embarrassed. She then looks him in the eye and says “You? No way.” Dom straightens up and says “Yes, way.” Before lighting a cigarette and looking like a cool cat, and I thought how very French and how very charming. Just like the movie.

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5. Ladies in Black Not Reviewed ****

Cracking the Top 5 is Ladies in Black, an Australian film from director Bruce Beresford about a young girl Lisa (Angourie Rice) coming of age in post-war Australia. There were times I thought of my own parents and the households they grew up in and the friendships they made during this movie. It’s true the film is gentle and broad and comforting in a way that it could have chosen not to be but in looking back it is a reminder that change has always been present and always navigated by the young and old. There is a moment when a young couple talk about their past lives while looking out over a mountain range. In the end while they’re honest about the past they choose to not dwell on it but to move forward and it is one of my favourite scenes.

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4. In the Aisles Not Reviewed But Mentioned in Our BIFF 2018 Coverage ****

Seen at BIFF 2018, In The Aisles is a film I hope many others discover in time. Set around a night shift of retail workers it is meticulously constructed and moving. We get to know these people but only gradually outside of the prism of who they are at work. The film understands the landscape of the shelves, the grace of the pallet jacks, the secrets of the back rooms, the tensions of the work parties and the longings created by a staff member not showing up. It is aware that while not all of who we are is what we do at work it is where most of our waking hours are spent and how much purpose and identity the roles and relationships we have there give us. Just a fantastic movie.

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3. The Favourite Being Edited ****

A perfectly rendered period film with a little bit of edge to it. Forget all the talk about historical accuracy, the film is a character piece about three fascinating women and the changing nature of their relationship. The three leads Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revel in the opportunity to sink their teeth into such meaty parts too. There is some very clever choices made visually which harken back to different periods and commentary on gender tropes throughout. “We begin with Queen Anne guided by Lady Churchill almost maternally. Weisz cuts a figure often in men’s clothes, constantly shooting off rifles in the field and meeting the gaze and remarks of the men of parliament as she runs the country. Queen Anne relies on her a great deal for confidence and affection and Lady Churchill never lies to her about anything. Enter the younger impoverished cousin of Sarah Churchill, Abigail Hill. She needs work and patronage and we find out quickly that she is a survivor.

2. A Star Is Born Published 26FEB19 7 Likes 21 Views ****

A Star Is Born will stand the test of time, people will remember this film fondly, they’ll become nostalgic about it as one of the great romantic films of their youth, Cooper will go on to become a powerhouse director and Lady Gaga will now shift between art forms and being alternative and mainstream. Because while this is a star vehicle in the very classic sense it is also a moving portrait of addiction and the kind of pain that feeds it and the kind of love that redeems it. Everything seen and heard has been well thought out to the ninth degree but all in service to authenticity, a wonderful balancing act that has been pulled off to create one of the most moving films of the year. “The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

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1. First Man Published at Scenestr Magazine 11OCT18 ****

I’m an surprised as you are following such out of the box choices with Eye in the Sky in 2016 and In This Corner of the World in 2017, I thought In the Aisles might get it but in the end I keep realising how much I loved this movie. How much its singular focus on one man, one marriage and one family better told the story of the whole space program and all involved. How its visceral action scenes were more exciting than any comic book movie and how poorly overlooked the wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy were. Most importantly of all how much my heart aches looking back and thinking of that scene on the moon. “No great thing is done by one great individual alone. ‘First Man’ reveals this by focusing on one individual achieving something great. What drove him and those around him to do the impossible? Up in the heavens, his home planet the size of his thumb and in quiet solitude, the film offers one possible answer with an action taken by Neil Armstrong. Yet the film also reminds that it is the journey not the destination that matters. This is one of the year’s best.

 

Well that’s it for another year, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings about your favourite films from 2018. I’m also sharing Honest Trailers Oscar 2019 from the team at Screen Junkies or as they are now called Fandom Entertainment.

-Lloyd Marken

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MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2017

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Last year I sought to do a review of every movie I saw in the cinemas. I decided early on for this year I would not repeat that but I will hopefully list all of the films I saw at the movies and then offer some thoughts on what were my favourites.  This list always come a little later then the end of the year when some American 2017 releases and Oscar hopefuls have reached Australian audiences. I contributed to an end of year list for X-Press Magazine which you can find here http://xpressmag.com.au/the-x-press-top-20-films-of-2017/ I was pretty lucky this year, I saw free screenings courtesy of my wife, went to preview screenings as a reviewer for Scenestr Magazine and attended for the first time the Bryon Bay Film Festival and the triumphant return of the Brisbane International Film Festival.  All up it appears I saw 57 films last year on the big screen and reviewed 27 and counting for various publications. It was a thrill to say the least but plenty were missed, The Florida Project stands out to me as an Oscar contender I would have liked to see along with The Post, Molly’s Game and Call Me By Your Name. Plenty of interesting films have slipped past my radar too like Raw, Happy Death Day, It Comes At Night, Okja, and many more. Most indie and foreign which I am really regretful about but I will get to them in due course hopefully. So as always any list from me is subjective, last year I hadn’t seen Nocturnal Animals and 20th Century Women and I guarantee they would’ve been in that Top 10. None the less it’s always fun to look back and do a summation so here goes. Ratings are based on the classic 4 Star scale as per reviews I read growing up by the great film critic Roger Ebert.

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life Not Reviewed **1/2

Kong: Skull Island Published 15MAR17 18 Likes – 72 Views **1/2

The Dancer Not Reviewed **1/2

The Lego Batman Movie Not Reviewed ***

The Fate of the Furious Published at Scenestr Magazine 12APR17 ***

Get Out Not Reviewed ***

Berlin Syndrome Published at HEAVY Magazine 02MAY17 ***1/2

Going in Style Not Reviewed **1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Published at Buzz Magazine 24MAY17 **1/2

Alien: Convenant Published 22MAY17 15 Likes – 46 Views **1/2

The Mummy Not Reviewed *1/2

Baby Driver Not Reviewed **1/2

Despicable Me 3 Not Reviewed **

Atomic Blonde Published at Buzz Magazine 28JUL17 ***

The War for the Planet of the Apes Not Reviewed ***

The Dark Tower Not Reviewed **

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Published at Scenestr Magazine 10AUG17 ***

Fun Mom Dinner Not Reviewed 1/2

The Party Not Reviewed **

Citizen Jane Not Reviewed **1/2

That’s Not Me Not Reviewed **

The Way Station Not Reviewed ***

Paris Can Wait Not Reviewed **1/2

The Mountain Between Us Not Reviewed **1/2

Victoria and Abdul Not Reviewed **1/2

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP17 **1/2

Thor: Ragnarok Published 06NOV17 10 Likes – 40 Views ***

Bad Moms 2 Published at Scenestr Magazine 02NOV17 ***

You’re Killing Me Susana Published at Scenestr Magazine 20NOV17 ***

Murder on the Orient Express Published at HEAVY Magazine 22NOV17 ***

Justice League Published at Buzz Magazine 17JUL18 **1/2

Wonder Wheel Published at Scenestr Magazine 07DEC17 ***

Goodbye Christopher Robin Not Reviewed **1/2

Coco Published 10JAN18 13 Likes – 30 Views ***

IT Not Reviewed ***

Lady Bird Published at Heavy Magazine 25JAN18 ***

The Disaster Artist Not Reviewed ***

 

Honourable Mentions

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The Trip To Spain Not Reviewed ***

In lesser hands this could get terribly tedious, two middle aged men travelling around eating to their hearts content and occasionally bedding women considerably younger than them. The Trip remains perhaps the best, following comic performers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves in a fictional film made to appear like real life as they bickered on a paid trip through a series of eateries in a regional area. My wife who did not care for that movie has thoroughly enjoyed the follow ups that coincidentally or not coincidentally left the Gothic Northern English countryside for the sunnier sea breezes of Italy and now Spain. For me the sequels are variations on the original classic but here with the pair getting ever slightly older the musings on ageing, legacy and regrets bite a little harder and these are themes I’ve always been fascinated with. In a packed preview screening the ending certainly left an impression. I liked it.

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The Last Jedi Published at Buzz Magazine 06FEB18 ***

Far from a perfect film I have a suspicion this will be a pivotal film for the franchise and fans growing up with the series now. There are pacing problems, unfocussed plot lines, and issues with the depiction of Lue Skywalker but overall there were a lot of great moments as well. Here’s hoping we can get a satisfying trilogy capper in two years. “Some fans will cite it as a watershed moment in the franchise; others will hang their heads and never forgive for some of what happens here. The rest of us will probably feel torn, this is not the greatest movie in the series but it may be an important one.

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Australia Day Published at Scenestr Magazine 04SEP17 ***1/2

It could be bias on my part, Australia Day was shot in my home town, I’ve read reviews that did not find it as praiseworthy as I did. Yet I keep thinking back on scenes that drew me in, the way the stories played off each other. Set over one day, yeah that day, and following a variety of characters who differ in race, age and which side of the law they operate on the climax I found deeply satisfying. Touching on themes of community and family and what happens when both break down I still highly recommend this film. “The anchor of the film is the performance of Bryan Brown who is neither a straight forward hero nor a man who can sit idly by as terrible things are done in the world. In a film dealing with the cost of parents who aren’t there, he effectively becomes a guardian to this young girl Lan Chang who, while barely understanding a word of his English, sizes up that this is a good man.

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Darkest Hour Published at Heavy Magazine 15FEB18 ***1/2

Darkest Hour is a good film bolstered by a great performance that encapsulates an extraordinary individual at the height of their powers and responsibilities. Gary Oldman shines with a different yet familiar take on the icon and while one see the strings of manipulation being tugged by the filmmakers this remains a stirring take on a pivotal moment in history. “Director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel delight with some shots whether it is sunlight shining through a window onto Ben Mendelsohn’s King George that make him appear for a second like the real face that adorned all that currency once upon a time. Or the way that a bombed landscape seamlessly transitions into the dead eye of a corpse. The devastation of war rote large in the smallest measure of life lost.

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Wonder Woman Published at Buzz Magazine 13JUN17 ***

If the this was about the ten best characters of last year, Wonder Woman would win hands down. After dicking around with the nobility of Superman for the past decade, Patty Jenkins showed Warner Bros how to tap into what made their DC characters so likeable rather than running away from it. The finale is too CGI heavy, its jarring to see the battlefields of World War One used as a playground for a comic book movie and the villains are underwritten but Wonder Woman is a triumph on many more levels. The first section of the film shows no men (no plus size ladies either but that’s a discussion for another time) and by not trumpeting it-the film makes a very strong point. Yet beyond all the firsts that this film achieved is a great story well told. There’s fantastic chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in an elegant romance and partnership (he’s the not quite as capable but still loyal sidekick), fine comic relief from Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, several tones deftly handled and Gadot not only stepping up to the plate as the awesome Wonder Woman but also underplaying as the straight person in the comic English scenes. Some of the action sequences are first rate too, excitingly shot and well choreographed. These things are so hard to get right and such a joy to see in a blockbuster. Even with the CGI tell me you don’t care when that plane pulls into the sky at the end?”Wonder Woman all our hopes depend on you and the magic that you do” or so the song goes. The Amazonian has not let us down even if her first solo big screen outing is not without flaws. The success of Wonder Woman paves the way for more big budget comic book films with a female protagonist, more blockbusters helmed by female directors and creates anticipation for more DC film adaptations and it does all of this by following one simple rule – make a good movie.

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Paddington 2 Published 12JAN18 11 Likes 30 Views ***1/2

Paddington 2 is like the preceding film, charming in every sense of the meaning of that word. A family film in the classic sense of the word it wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and wins you over with its goodness. Moving, funny and very English the only thing I’d argue is maybe a few more guffaws would’ve been in order. “Maybe I rarely laughed out loud but I smiled. I smiled the kind of smile you only smile when you’ve been absolutely charmed and I was charmed by that film and more importantly by that little Peruvian bear. He always looks CGI but there’s fantastic design work from the animators to make you fall in love with this bear backed up by Ben Whishaw’s voice work and spirit of Michael Bond’s books. Paddington is always polite, always has his heart in the right place and always tries his best and believes in the better nature of people unless they invoke a good hard stare.

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Film Stars Don’t Die In LiverpoolPublished At X-Press Magazine 01MAR18  ***1/2

More than just an observant and honest story about a May-December romance, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool displays a great sense of time and place and how they inform our personal choices and our convictions. It won’t be for everyone, it’s not really a fun film but it is a great film about this particular story that I have often reflected upon in the days since seeing it. “It also has a lot to say about routine and principals and how they guide your decisions. In the film’s most heartbreaking scene, a father tells his son what they’re going to do and you know the only wisdom he is relying on comes from these types of principles. Neither can be sure that it is the right thing to do but it is the “right” thing to do and so they do it.

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The Square Not Reviewed ***1/2

The opening night film at the 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival was the The Square winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund it tells the story of Christian (Claes Bang) the curator of the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, Sweden. On his way to work one day he is pulled into a confrontation with a girl being chased by her partner, rallied by another bystander to stand their ground against him. After a little push and shove the man leaves and then the girl. Christian finds he has been pickpocketed in the exchange. To say more about the plot would take away one of the joys about the film but I will say it has themes linked to the new exhibition Christian is promoting called The Square. “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” The film has a lot to say about ideas of masculinity, art, femininity, classism, race, inflated opinions of art. It has a dark sense of humour, I found it riveting until somewhere close to the finale I did not find the resolution as memorable as the set-up. Yet The Square continues to haunt in a way that few films do. I imagine men of physical courage and carefree attitudes would not find much of interest here but since I’m neither I was fascinated.

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Their Finest Published at Heavy Magazine 25APR17 ***1/2

Their Finest might have slipped under a lot of people’s radar but it is a gem of movie. Meta, moving, funny with a buttoned down performance from the talented Gemma Arterton. I’ve read some dismiss it as clichéd and for the grey haired mob. Allow me to offer a well thought out counter argument – fuck them. “Bombs drop on London, the war threatens to derail the film and the very spirit of resistance these intrepid British storytellers seek to inspire in the local populace starts to shine through within their own actions. Some critics have labelled Their Finest a callback to an older era of films suggesting to take your Gran to see it. It is true it is set during 1940 and has comforting truths long established about love and the human spirit. The kind of truths, that don’t go out of fashion if you have a beating heart.

I, Tonya Published at Scenestr Magazine 24JAN18 ***1/2

Recently watching a documentary on Tonya Harding I noticed a few things the documentary did well that the film did not and vice versa. We don’t get Nancy Kerrigan’s story in I, Tonya and we don’t get friends musing on the possible inner workings of Tonya’s mind. What we do get is one helluva thrill ride jam packed with great performances and a kinetic energy that drives the plot. We are moved by individual scenes several times and fascinated by what is going on screen. But we never know what the truth is, how can we be engaged by these people if we don’t know which depiction of what happened is true. That central conceit of the film creates a distance between the audience and the story and only the work of Margot Robbie, Alison Janney and the under-rated Sebastian Stan shrink that distance. “Tonya Harding became a villain perhaps not without reason, but also out of narrative convenience, and the script by Steven Rogers seems to ask who was Tonya Harding truly and was she really a villain. The film is also not interested in offering a definitive answer, since it is not interested in giving a definitive account of what happened. Rogers noticed differing stories in interviews from Harding and former husband Jeff Gillooly, and decided that contradiction would be part of the film’s storyline.

 

THE TEN

 

 

10. Thee Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Published at Heavy Magazine 08JAN18 ***1/2

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri boasts another great performance from Frances McDormand in a film that fails to play to any conventional outcome. McDormand plays a mother who lost her daughter and is dealing with her grief. A wonderful haunting tale, my only complaint is I never quite buy the motivation of one character’s decision but it proves a major catalyst for the plot that unfolds. It may not be an enjoyable film but it is unforgettable one. “Three Billboards though thinks an awful lot about that daughter and a million others who disappeared or were found dead one morning. Their murderers never discovered, never brought to justice. Their violence acts unanswered, stewing away in those left behind. Not just murders either, throughout the film there is anger displayed for a lot of things whether it be long-term prognosis from a Doctor, a date being embarrassed to be seen with you, or in most cases just the way someone who knows you really well can say something that hurts you and how much you can’t let that go unanswered. This is a film about how violence circles back around, the power of anger, the pain of regret but also about the strength of kindness and the delicacy of tolerance.

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9. Spider-Man: Homecoming Published at Buzz Magazine 28JUL17 ***1/2

How do you make the sixth Spider-Man movie since 2002 interesting? Well instead of telling the story everybody has already seen you tell the story that hasn’t been told before. That of Peter Parker the high schooler. This is a film that has so much going for it, the action escalates in scale but never stops being about real human figures straining and getting hit. There was a wonderful ensemble of side characters who amuse and delight. There’s great comedy and Easter Eggs regarding the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most importantly the comic book action is focussed on themes and plights that everybody can relate to. If I have one complaint is that I would have preferred to have seen Tony Stark trying to be a good mentor. His actions and motivations here are hypocritical obviously in service to not having him take up too much screen time. In light of the comedic and visual delights of Guardians 2 and Thor: Ragnarok, the gravitas of Hugh Jackman’s exit in Logan and the ground breaking joy of Wonder Woman – it’s easy for another Spider-Man movie to get lost in the shuffle but this is a great comic book movie. We’re not always so lucky. “Peter Parker may have been in high school in earlier films but here he is a high schooler and a lot of the story revolves around the challenges you navigate in that environment rather than facing down crooks as a masked crusader. This is John Hughes by way of Marvel and for the most part it proves fresh and engaging as a result. After six films this is Spider-Man as you’ve never seen him before and as you always should have.

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8. The Shape of Water Being Edited ***1/2

The Shape of Water will top many end of year lists. It has rich subtext, is wonderfully constructed in terms of narrative and look, throws in a few surprises and boasts a wonderful cast doing great work. An adult fairytale it delights from start to finish even in the way that it can graphic or dark in humour. I’ve never seen a woman boil on egg on a daily basis either if you know what I mean and I like it. There are a few missteps though for me in terms of filling out back story for maximum effect. The love story is based on ideas, the male romantic lead in a lot of ways remains a mystery and that failed to engage me as much as I hoped the film would. However what it has to say about power dynamics, the boundaries we have to overcome and the power of choices makes this a film to pore over again and again. Not to mention the cinematic beauty of it. “Of course themes and allegories are great but they don’t really matter if you can’t engage the audience. Screenwriters del Toro and Vanessa Taylor craft an interesting romance between two creatures who never speak a word to each other. One of them risks an awful lot faster than expected with very little to motivate them except how the other makes them feel. While that might be difficult to believe completely, the writers have argued is there anything more romantic than that mindset?“.

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7. Phantom Thread Published at Heavy Magazine 25FEB18 ***1/2

A mesmerising film that parodies adult relationships with dark humour and relentless suspense. We don’t know where this is headed but we’re constantly fascinated by these people and their disgraceful behaviour. Where I was excited to see Lady Bird and The Shape of Water to see if they would top this list, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the meticulously constructed film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo to Daniel Day-Lewis on another great performance with his two co-stars Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps delivering just as much. “Artists can be sensitive and emotionally volatile but they’re only allowed to indulge this if they are successful. Into this life comes the latest muse/victim/lover in the form of a young French woman who was working as a waitress. There is not one person in this movie that mainstream audiences will identify as behaving normally or in a way that is healthy for relationships. That is one of the film’s delights, the other is if you think the story is going to play out one way or another-the movie has other ideas.

6. Logan Published at Scenestr Magazine 09MAR17 ***1/2

Logan was a breath of fresh air to a competent but stale genre in the way that Deadpool was the year before but for completely different reasons. A stand alone story with stakes that were final, it took risks in telling a story that was sad and beautiful about the circle of life, the power of family and the struggle of ageing. There was plenty of action but there was also moments that were heartfelt and real. Hugh Jackman struggled 17 years to get Wolverine just right and while I wish we’d gotten films more worthy of his performance we got the one that counted. I’m not sure if the villains could’ve been stronger or that the third act loses some focus but it remains one of the best comic book films I saw this year if not the best. “Anybody who has ever cared for an ailing loved one or reconnected with an absent parent may be surprised to see moments of familiarity in this comic book movie but will be no less moved. ‘Deadpool’ last year appeared like a breath of fresh air with meta humour and an anarchic attitude. 20th Century Fox now releases a different type of superhero movie again on the other end of the emotional scale but no less anarchic, an elegiac moving Western set in the future.

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5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Published at Buzz Magazine 05MAY17 ***1/2

It goes back and forth for me what was the best comic book movie of the past year – Guardians 2 or Logan? Expectations were high for this one following the original, not as clean and slick as that one, this maybe the better film due to a resolve to have more emotional payoffs. A few small things might get missed the first time through which add a lot to character arcs when noticed upon second viewing. Still this universe and characters remain as charming as ever and the pressure is on for the trilogy capper now from director James Gunn. “Sometimes Marvel Studio films are criticized for all having the same look, with their director’s visions compromised to fit within the shared cinematic universe but Gunn’s Guardians films remain unique and true to his sensibilities. They’re funny, occasionally gross and as Cat Steven’s Father and Son plays in a gloriously lit up galaxy far, far away they are moving – oh so moving. This is one of the year’s best.

4. The Go-Betweens: Right Here Published at Scenestr Magazine 10OCT17 ****

The Go-Betweens were musicians’ musicians not rock stars and there is a price to be paid for never quite breaking through. There is a price to be paid in any fellowship but what you achieve hopefully endures. This is wonderful re-telling of the lifetime of a band through a nostalgiac era of music with a romantic notion of this particular type of band. More evocatively it is old friends looking back on the time of their lives with regret, hurt, joy and great poignancy. It was a joy to watch from beginning to end, I look forward to what director Kriv Stenders (Australia Day, Red Dog) does next. “The band ended abruptly, and like its trailer the film does too. Life too can end abruptly and it feels that director Kriv Stenders is articulating this on purpose. Life is fleeting, memory does play tricks, some things don’t need to get dug up and some connections can’t be reforged again. Some things endure because they were real and they meant something and in that sense, The Go-Betweens now have a documentary that reflects the appeal of their music very well.

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3. Dunkirk Published at Heavy Magazine 02AUG17 ****

Christopher Nolan’s war film was not to everybody’s liking, there were things present that usually I would criticise in this film but defend with this one. For most people the most compelling part is the story of Mark Rylance’s character because it is the closest to a fully formed narrative and fleshed out character. To me the themes of courage and choices and how people perceive reality and need stories resonated. As a spectacle I was grateful to see money well spent on creating and using real scale. As an experience I was wrapped up in the moment and excited about the bringing together of three separate narratives. As a message I was touched by Nolan’s celebration of gallantry and acknowledgement of the chaos and fear which gives such heroism its impact. In that way it was an unabashed emotional film despite it’s meticulously put together structure. It is a great film, maybe Nolan’s best. “In the air Tom Hardy plays a RAF fighter pilot providing air cover for the ships against the Luftwaffe’s superior numbers, concerned as much with his fuel gauge as he is with the enemy knowing that one more minute over France could save countless lives. Then there’s Mark Rylance, a simple fisherman who with his young son and another boy has set off to make a difference by crossing the English Channel to pick up as many soldiers as he can in his humble boat. The closer they get to war the more foolhardy his decision seems and the more admirable.

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2. Blade Runner 2049 Published at Buzz Magazine 22JAN18 ****

Blade Runner 2049 is the reason we go to the cinema. Beautiful, epic and all in service to a story with ideas and passion. This is the kind of blockbuster that should be being made and all the more reason to be sad about its box office. However I suspect many will grow to discover it on blu-rays and streaming. I was blown up by the cast which included 4 women at its centre playing a diverse array of characters (Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis & Robin Wright), Harrison Ford playing a man with many regrets and hurt and Ryan Gosling in an understated yet emotional performance. The look and sound of the film expands from the original but stands on its own using new technology. This is a form ultimately about relationships and what we can do to forge real ones despite the advent of technology. “She prompts him to do things, intervenes against others when he is not present and makes her own decisions. Yet all of this comes from coding responding to interactions with him. Does that mean it’s not real or is that any different from the way human are biologically designed? There is a scene later in the film that could provide the answer and it is heartbreaking, Ana De Armas plays so many notes effortlessly and this should prove a break-out role for her.

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1. In This Corner of the World Published at FilmInk Magazine 24NOV17 ****

The Number One Choice has surprised again with a film that I saw earlier in the year, wasn’t widely seen by others and did not get unseated by the Oscar frontrunners. Set in the lead-up to and through out World War II we follow one young woman’s journey through these events from the Japanese home front. An anime with beautiful images, striking sequences and great attention to historical detail. This is a film that reckons with war and the horrors of it but also the strength of people, the hope of peace and the enduring power of family and love. I was deeply moved by this film, it is for me the best film of the year. “Perhaps the greatest courage is shown at the end when survivors slowly go on, day by day. What has been lost can never be regained but those of us who are alive, have to go on living. And maybe in the living, one day there will be a world worth living in, if not for us then for the next generation.

 

Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, like last year I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.

-Lloyd Marken

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2016

In the past 14 months if ticket stubs and memory is to be believed I saw 50 films in a cinema. 7 of them were released in 2015 for that year’s Oscar race even if I came to see them in Australia cinemas in early 2016; they were Youth, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, The Force Awakens, The Big Short, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn. There were a handful films I saw more than once and they were mostly blockbusters Batman Vs. Superman, Rogue One and with far more enthusiasm Deadpool and after seeing The Force Awakens twice in December 2015 I went back for third, fourth and fifth helpings. There’s only one other film I’ve seen five times at the movies and back then I had a lot more diverse social circle. Whatever the flaws of Star War 7 and Deadpool there was real love and affection that drove me back to them to watch rather than waiting months for release on some other platform.

I didn’t see the well-received Australian made Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson whose personal faults have never pushed me away from his work – I look forward to seeing his latest effort but weekend after weekend I shook my head and made a different choice or stayed at home. Hell or High Water is a different story, I wanted to see it but by the time I suspected it must have hit our shores I found out I had missed the boat by a couple of months when I was very busy with work. My best friend has the best tastes in popular culture and has led me to many a great film I would have ignored. He’s pointed out Your Name is one to see and fellow bloggers have also praised it. I hope to find out for myself soon. I am interested too in the collaboration of Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven with the film Elle. I’ve barely seen any foreign films and certainly none of the well regarded ones this year. Like Room from last year I’m interested in Manchester by the Sea but just don’t feel like seeing a movie that will make me more depressed at the moment.

So it seems silly to really sit here and write a list of my Favourite Films for the year. Yet I found it kind of interesting to see I’d written a review on my site of every film I’d seen in the cinema and two that were original content for Netflix. Films I hadn’t seen at the movies but were 2016 releases like Triple 9, Zootopia and The Secret Lives of Pets didn’t encroach on a hypothetical top 10 so why not rank them.

One final disclaimer, these are not the 10 best but my favourite films from the year. Yes I am trying to grade them on artistic merit but films that made me feel more are going to see their stocks rise and how I feel about them is going to link back to what appeals to me personally I’m afraid. In a way it’s easier to pick a Top 5 than a Top 10 because of this.

The 43 films were as follows and I’ll even belatedly throw in a star rating based off Ebert’s 4 Star system.

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The Founder January 18th 18 Likes 393 Views ***

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes 99 Views ****

Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes 96 Views ****

Bad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes 66 Views ***

Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes 61 Views ****

Star Trek: Beyond Published August 20th 14 Likes 56 Views **1/2

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes 56 Views ***

Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes 55 Views ***1/2

Suicide Squad Published August 26th 15 Likes 53 Views **1/2

 

Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes 49 Views ***1/2

The Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes 47 Views ***

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes 47 Views ***

Jackie Published February 10th 12 Likes 46 Views ***1/2

Finding Dory Published August 20th 10 Likes 44 Views ***

Moonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

La La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

Love and Friendship Published August 29th 14 Likes 41 Views ***

Ghostbusters (2016) Published August 20th 10 Likes 41 Views **

 

Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

The Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes 39 Views ***

The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes 39 Views ***

Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes 35 Views ***1/2

Office Christmas Party Published February 17th 10 Likes 34 Views **

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Published September 30th 14 Likes 34 Views ***

Jason Bourne Published August 25th 9 Likes 33 Views **1/2

Central Intelligence Published August 14th 14 Likes 32 Views **1/2

Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes 30 Views ***1/2

 

The Accountant Published February 9th 17 Likes 28 Views ***

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Published January 18th 13 Likes 25 Views **1/2

Alice Through the Looking Glass Published August 10th 12 Likes 24 Views **1/2

Zoolander No. 2 Published March 29th 2 Likes 24 Views **

Blair Witch Published January 18th 9 Likes 22 Views ***

X-Men Apocalypse Published September 29th 11 Likes 21 Views ***

The Boss Published April 22nd 4 Likes 21 Views **1/2

The Huntsman: Winter’s War April 21st 7 Likes 21 Views ***

Doctor Strange Published January 18th 11 Likes 20 Views ***

Sausage Party September 30th 9 Likes 20 Views **1/2

 

Rogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes 18 Views ***

Bridget Jones’s Baby Published January 18th 11 Likes 17 Views **1/2

Kung-Fu Panda 3 Published February 17th 7 Likes 13 Views **1/2

 

Hidden Figures ***1/2 Published at http://scenestr.com.au/news/movies-and-tv/hidden-figures-review-20170223

 

Out of them I’ll go into a bit more details about some that deserve an Honourable Mention and those that are my 10 favourite films of 2016 – for now.

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Image result for bad moms gifsBad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes – 66 Views ***

The best popular mainstream gross out comedy of the year and centred around motherhood no less. After years of watching guys do it, it’s nice to see the girls proving they can be as irresponsible, self-centred and crazy as the boys. “Kunis, Bell and Hahn share a nice chemistry in this film with Kunis holding it all together as the lead, Bell doing some inspired physical comedy and Hahn stealing the show by doing whatever the hell she wants. A late scene where she explains motherhood to Kunis gives the film heart and a message. All the best gross out comedies have these two qualities. There’s been a few comedies released this year, none of them had the audience laughing as much as Bad Moms. Do yourself a favour.

 

Image result for siege at jadotvilleThe Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes – 39 Views ***

A company of Irish soldiers faced an onslaught of a far superior force in war torn Congo in 1961. Their heroics have been made into a film sparing no expense from Netflix. Knowing this really happened and what they received upon their return gives this movie depth and heart. “The Siege at Jadotville is a real throwback to old war movies that your Dad loved to watch on a Sunday. Modern production values are there and a dry Irish sense of humour bleeds through every now and again but the cast are mostly types not people, the soldier with glasses, the sniper (Sam Keeley as Billy Ready), the gruff old Sergeant (Jason O’Mara as Company Sergeant Jack Prendergast). Their emotive faces tell enough and Jamie Dornan acquits himself well as Commandant Pat Quinlan who as a person gets the most rounded out beside the exasperating political figures.

 

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes – 39 Views ***

Eddie the Eagle is cookie cutting filmmaking about sports and underdogs and yet it charms the hell out of you just like its hero. Eddie the Eagle was a very special underdog indeed and Taron Egerton gives a wonderful performance while Hugh Jackman charms as a gruff coach who didn’t exist in real life. “Eddie the Eagle implausibly showed up at the 1988 Winter Olympics as Britain’s sole Ski Jump competitor. His performance was so significantly behind the second last place getter that a new rule was instituted making it more difficult to place in the sport for the Olympics. There are those to this day who were embarrassed that he was there and confounded by his popularity. That’s because they don’t know what it’s like on that factory floor or in that office cubicle. Eddie had dreamed the impossible dream and we like dreamers. We need them, when they achieve something they keep our dreams alive. They make anything possible, thank you Eddie.

 

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes – 56 Views ***

Both this blockbuster and Rogue One were flawed beyond belief but neither was boring and in light of the growing conveyor belt sameness of Marvel’s work and other disappointing blockbusters for the year I can’t help but reflect that the good stuff in these films should be recognised. Zack Snyder has created a dark downbeat nonsensical universe in his DC films which has completely missed the point of Superman as a hero. However Batman and Alfred Pennyworth yet again star on the big screen and play a new variation of their characters and relationship with humour, charm and action. The best fight scene with Batman ever put on screen is in this movie, it just doesn’t feature Superman. The hypocrisy of the ‘heroes’ actions and the comical motivations deflate the film but this is still a vision that is unique and oddly compelling. “Yet when he [Christopher Reeve as Superman] said “I never lie.” you not only believed it but you believed in the possibility and rightness of such a thing. He felt pain being belted into a building and outright desperation whenever Lois was threatened. Yet he was inherently good and awesome as a symbol too. Cavill strutting into the Senate hearing halfway through this film could’ve been an opportunity for Superman to say something but alas…

 

Related imageRogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes – 18 Views ***

Rogue One has a lot of good ideas that shed new light on the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from the original Star Wars. The ideas for all the characters are interesting too but barring the comic relief of Alan Tudyk as K-2SO they never become too emotionally involving. The technical proficiency of the action and special effects though shine throughout and the third act purely on a spectacle level maybe the most epic and satisfying of the year. “We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is a huge misgiving for this type of film.

 

Image result for the girl on the trainThe Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes – 47 Views ***

A sexy thriller (seriously there’s like at least 4 or 5 sex scenes and they’re all sexy), that flirts with gender politics and has a mandatory neat twist. Elevated by the cast, none shines better than Emily Blunt who is on fine form here. “The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister?  The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other.

 

wtf tina fey whiskey tango foxtrot kim barker robert carlockWhiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes – 47 Views ***

I sent an application to the United Nations once saying I wanted to go work in Afghanistan. I never got a reply. Watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reminded me of a time and place I wished I’d found myself a part of even if I should have done a lot more than wish if that’s what I really wanted. When the call came for journalist Kim Barker she answered it and the resulting film about Kim Baker delights as a workplace war comedy starring the talented Tina Fey and allowing Margot Robbie and Christopher Abbott to shine in supporting roles. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells another story from the War on Terror, it invites us to laugh and then maybe to think but mostly the coda for the film is to live your life to the full, embrace the challenges, get through them and then move on and live your life the best you can now. Like in war. Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the 31st December 2014. US Troops remaining in Afghanistan serve as part of the ongoing Operation Sentinel’s Freedom.

 

Image result for jackie movieJackie Published February 10th 12 Likes – 46 Views ***1/2

Natalie Portman’s performance is on key throughout this challenging film which breaks down how a lot of the Kennedy myth was put together but may only truly be enjoyed by those who believe in the power of it for better or worse. A haunting moody piece about grief and how we react to it, the film is also slow paced at times but can’t be faulted for demanding full attention from its audience. “Grief stricken at the loss of a husband who cheated on her, cool and collected at times and at others almost hysterical certain facts long known but never pondered come forward. She held her husbands blasted apart head in her lap all the way to the hospital. What the hell does that do to someone? Less than a week later she marched through Washington with world leaders despite all kinds of security concerns that an assassin could target them again. She took her kids to the coffin and she trained her son to salute it with the whole world watching. Why was ensuring President Kennedy’s legacy so important in helping her grief for an imperfect man that she loved?

 

Related imageMoonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Split into three distinct moments in one young man’s life, Moonlight shows clearly what legacy the action of loved ones can have on a child’s development. Despite the cost of bullying and betrayal that Chiron endures there is hope at the end of this story. Hope for his life is just beginning. “Left to fend for himself, a drug dealer named Juan notices him one day and befriends him. Why he feels compelled to do this is only hinted at but he is played by Mahershala  Ali whose performance looms over the rest of the film. He is the only positive male figure the boy nicknamed Little will ever have teaching him how to swim in one beautiful scene of the boy being cradled in his arms amongst the waves. This is a hard man who shows this boy nothing but gentleness, the most obvious answer to why is he immediately recognised something in Little of himself and wants to protect the innocence he has lost but this man is a criminal and there are limits to what he can do. Perhaps we’re all protective of children and their fragility, there is a scene where Chiron asks what a certain word his mother called him means and it kind of breaks your heart.

 

Image result for lala landLa La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Arguably the best looking film of the year, I wonder how much came from digital enhancement. With two winning lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who share fantastic chemistry the film delights with big musical numbers that make the best use of modern technology. Ambitiously adding subterfuge to his own movie writer/director Damien Chazelle also offers up a film about artistic ambition and the struggles that come with daring to dream. The ending was not expected but is powerful and heartbreaking. Suckers for perfect happy endings beware but hopefully at the very least this encourages Hollywood to make more musicals and one with the modern possibilities engaged here. “The film opens up on the disused freeway ramp where parts of Speed were shot with an impromptu dance number by many stuck in LA traffic with a one take tracking shot over several vehicles and choreographed dancers. It’s kinda awesome but has little to do with what the rest of the film will be about.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes – 30 Views ***1/2

When you’re the big dog, people like to kick you if they smell opportunity and Marvel have become so successful it’s tempting to take for granted what they do except nobody else seems to be doing it nearly as well. There are missed opportunities, there’s no distinct visual style here and we suspect a little too easily that everything is going to be alright no matter what the stakes. Yet these guys always bring it back to the characters and never more so than here. Everything Captain America does here is for a childhood friend who he served together with in war and thought was long dead. Tony Stark well you’ll have to see the film but this plays off eight years of world building throughout the franchise and nobody else is doing that with their franchises. They lack the patience and they lack the heart. Plus that airport scene.”Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.

aliens scifi spaceship arrival9. Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes – 49 Views ***1/2

Arrival is a thoughtful blockbuster about the need for us to communicate better with each other and with the outside world. A film that plays with the concepts of time as it tells a simple universal story of hope, fear, love and loss. Oh yeah there’s aliens in it too. “It feels right and real that contacts with aliens would be set up in a tent city with dimly lit rooms and the lime green shading of a hospital full of tired middle aged bureaucrats questioning each other’s ideas on a regular basis. The aliens themselves are always seen with a sense of wonder (their design is original and interesting too), how to get to them starts off in a simple fashion but is suitably otherworldly and unnerving.

Image result for fences movie8. Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

This is a hard movie to watch at times but it always feels real even if set bound like the stage play it originally was. There are rich themes about mortality, legacy, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, infidelity and the history of race in America. The central character is hard to watch at times, hard to understand, hard to forgive and we share in that challenge as audience members with the characters around him who are part of his life. This is writing and performing of the highest level and Denzel is so good as Troy Maxson but it is Viola Davis in one powerful moment articulating the limits and trials and hopes and dreams of 1950s housewives everywhere that is devastatingly beautiful and painful that makes this film such a must see. “As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.

7. Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes – 35 Views ***1/2

A movie for people who love the movies made by people who love movies too. Set in 1950s America there are parallels to today’s world, call-backs to the type of films old Hollywood produced and that wonderful intelligent witty dialogue that we’ve come to expect from the Coen brothers. Plus look out for Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show and whose star is on the rise. As a film buff I loved it. ” Yet this is not a film that exclusively looks back with rose tinted glasses, the Red menace of the Cold War evokes the same fear that ISIS does now, there is a Latino starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) hoping for the same opportunities afforded her white co-stars, this is the era of McCarthy which may remind us a little that we now tear ourselves apart with political tribalism and humming in the background when Hollywood is in the final bloom of its Golden Age is the advent of stars demanding more and television only a few years away threatening the revenue streams that were taken for granted.

6. The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

What a year for Ryan Gosling, in La La Land he sang and danced and proved Emma Stone and him should make another five films together. Nominated for an Academy Award for La La Land, his best performance this year gone is as a washed up Private Investigator, flawed father and comic relief to tough guy Russell Crowe. He is fearless in this film at being funny and get the word out because we need more movies like this. A tough fun throwback to the period it is set in of 1970s film noir by writer/director Shane Black. “Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in a park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it.

5. Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes – 55 Views ***1/2

Sully has a lean runtime as it is but in search of drama they beefed up the PTSD angle of the flight crew and positioned the crash investigative team as antagonists. It might have been more interesting to go into more detail of his wife’s story or that of the flight attendants relayed in Sullenberger’s memoir but no matter. Whatever its flaws, Clint Eastwood has directed the best action set pieces of 2015 – yeah you fucking heard me. I wept not one tear for Jyn Erso or Batman but when that ferry arrived at the wing I felt my face crack. As someone who has read a lot about the story, the things that he got right honour so many who lived through this on that fateful day. It’s an extraordinary story rendered justice and pathos on the big screen by two of America’s icons. Eastwood and Tom Hanks. “Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chelsey Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.

4. Hidden Figures Published February 24 at Scenestr ***1/2

Hidden Figures is a Hollywood rendering of an important story of bright African American women who broke down career barriers and overcame racial prejudice in a volatile time for America socially. With a rocking soundtrack from producer Pharrell Williams, great humour and pathos there are scenes that may not have played out like this in real life but they’re satisfying and emotionally moving. “Whether it is Costner smashing down a segregated toilet sign, Parsons comically reeling at Henson’s insight or a several female calculators led by Spencer marching into the new computer room to run it. Contrived though it may be, it is uplifting storytelling and aspiring for young girls out there interested in science and maths that have been wrongly told that’s not their strong suit.

3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes – 99 Views ****

Every year there’s always a film that surprises you and comes out of nowhere to become one of your favourites. A story of one boy camping out in the New Zealand wilderness with his ‘uncle’ the film boasts a great sense of humour, wild characters, an involving family unit in flux and the best car chase ever put to film in New Zealand. “His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home.

2. Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes – 61 Views ****

We don’t get great blockbusters as much as we like to think; the superhero genre has been with us for a while now and needed a shake-up. A film like Deadpool made against the odds cannot be celebrated and praised enough no matter how much money it makes. This was hands down the most fun I had at the movies last year, witty and meta in a way I could only have dreamed about in the past with well-made action sequences and characters who had well defined and believable relationships. A gem. “T.J. Miller as Wilson’s best friend Weasel has his moments which are a bit like his comedy. His acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards last year was awesome but the guy just doesn’t always do it for me and that’s true here too. I suppose since this is a review I should probably be more articulate in my opinion of Miller but  I really would rather write about how amazingly hot Jennifer Garner is. I mean seriously those cheekbones, that smile. By the way Jenny there was absolutely nothing wrong with the black one.

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1. Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes – 96 Views ****

It turns out the first great film of 2016 was for me the greatest film of 2016. Released so long ago it never had a shot at the Oscar race the fact remains this is a near perfect film dealing with current discussion points about drone warfare, counter terrorism and the intertwining of the battlefield with politics. It boasts the late great Alan Rickman’s final performance but the film belongs to Helen Mirren as military commander ordering a strike and Aisha Takow playing a little girl selling bread on a street corner in Kenya. “Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.

Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.

-Lloyd Marken