Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Films of 2009


Matt Riviera compiled a list of Sydney Film Critics: Best of 2009 on his blog, tallying rankings to come up with two lists of Sydney film reviewers' favourite released and unreleased films of 2009- one of my favourite Let the Right One In took out number 1 spot- results and full lists can be found at Last Night with Riviera

Here is my contribution;



1. The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)
2. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
3. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, USA)
4. Balibo (Robert Connolly, Australia)
5. Genova (Michael Winterbottom, UK)
6. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, USA)
7. The French Kissers (Riad Sattouf, France)
8. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, USA)
9. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofski, USA)
10.Bright Star (Jane Campion, Australia)


1. Altiplano (Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth, Belgium)
2. Septembers (Carlos Bosch, Spain)
3. In the Loop (Armando Ionnucci, UK)
4. The Fall (Tarsem Singh, USA / UK / India)
5. Heart of Jenin (Leon Geller, Marcus Vetter, Germany)
6. The Shame (David Planell, Spain)
7. Five Minutes of Heaven (Oliver Hirschbiegel, UK)
8. Missing Water (Khoa Do, Australia)
9. Still Walking (Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Japan)
10.All's Well That Ends Well (NT Live, UK)

In a year that gave us drivel like Transformers 2 and Surrogates, with ever colossal American films dominating the Australian box office, it is lovely to remember we also had Let the Right One In and The Class too. Fantastic foreign-language films fighting back with quality over quantity, with French cinema putting on a particularly good show this year.

Living in Sydney I’m always amazed by the number of film festivals we have. With their clever use of marvellous venues to exhibit films from every corner of the globe, it is this incredible diversity in cinema that has given me some of the best film-going experiences this year.

The standout film of 2009- the hauntingly beautiful and exquisitely sorrowful Altiplano. It is a travesty that so few people will get to see it, but thanks to the Sydney Film Festival at least some of us did

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bright Star

The brilliance of Jane Campion is her ability to not only tell a great story but to also capture the mood of a piece. Told with intoxicating lyricism, Bright Star is glorious in its simplicity and flow, which can only be described as poetic.

Taking her starting point from Andrew Motion’s biography of John Keats, Campion has developed a love story told from the perspective of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish, Somersault, Stop-loss). The objects of desire in this film are both Keats the man, and his poetry. Dying at the tender age of 25 yrs, John Keats (Ben Whishaw Nathan Barley, Perfume) never achieved in his lifetime the acclaim his work now holds. Bright Star gives us an opportunity to consider what inspired his words. Campion, as both director and writer, has pieced together aspects of his life from his letters and poems.

Fanny Brawne met John Keats in 1818 when they became neighbours in Hampstead, she was 18 and he 23. Though Fanny’s significance in the poet’s life is debated by Keats’ academics, in Bright Star the love story plays out with youthful and feverish passion. There is however restrain to their relationship with the constant chaperoning by Fanny’s younger brother, Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Nanny McPhee, Nowhere Boy) and sister, Toots (Edie Martin). Added to this is the disapproval of Mr Brown (Paul Schneider, All the Real Girls, Away We Go), Keats’ friend and fellow poet. Schneider plays Charles Brown with a sort of quiet threatening, a man who is jealous of Fanny and John’s intimacy and possessive of Keats’ creativity.

click here
to read my full review at Trespass

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The French Kissers


Teens are often targeted as an audience, but how honestly are they portrayed in films? Showing the acne, the bad hair, the hormone overdriven lust of the real teenage experience, The French Kissers depicts the drama that is being a normal teenager, with amusing realism. Embracing every awkward, embarrassing moment the teen years bring in negotiating relationships with friends, the opposite sex and parents, the film is painfully funny.

Set in a high school in Brittany, France, The French Kissers centres around 14 yr old Hervé (Vincent Lacoste) and his attempts to get a girl to date him. Geeky Hervé is in an almost permanent state of embarrassment whether it be due to his single mother, his changing body or his failing attempts to improve his social status. The film introduces many of Hervé’s classmates like his best friend and heavy metal loving, Camel (Anthony Sonigo) and the objects of their affections, the pretty girls, Aurore (Alice Tremolieres) and Laura (Julie Scheibling).

Director Riad Sattouf describes the film as being “about the secret world of boys, as I experienced it with my friends”. Choosing to cast the film using mainly non-actors and rejecting any overly good-looking teenagers that the casting agents brought along, Sattouf set out to make a film realistic to life, but without the gritty realism of Kids (Larry Clark) or Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke). Focusing on the humour created by angst-ridden romances and hormone-fuelled behaviour, Sattouf is looking back and superbly capturing the experience of being on the cusp of childhood and adulthood.

click here to read my full review at Trespass

Monday, December 14, 2009


It is not often that a film hits you over the head with an atheist message (The Invention of Lying aside). This documentary follows American comedian, Bill Maher as he travels around America and to parts of Europe and the Middle East, interviewing religious people, trying to spread his message of religious scepticism and doubt.

There is a fundamental flaw that inhibits the success of Maher’s message: the people he interviews. Religulous’ interviews are not battles of theology, armed with comedic timing and wit; Maher is far better at expressing his argument than any of his interviewees. There is very much an imbalance of power in this documentary (outside of just the editing). Maher, a well-known satirist, is obviously very intelligent, his interviewees are mainly nutters the religious establishment want nothing to do with. Added to this is the experience of the man behind the camera, director Larry Charles (of Brüno and Borat fame), who is more than proficient at making people look like idiots. Using subjects like ‘Jesus’ from the theme park Holy Land and an ex Jew for Jesus, is indicative that this documentary is far more about comedy than religious probing.


click here to read my full review at Trespass

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Damned United


Based on the book by David Pearce, The Damned United follows the career of Brian Clough. Believed by many to be one of the greatest managers ever in the English Premier League, Clough, played by the ever so talented Michael Sheen, is a complex character; highly arrogant but also plagued with self-doubt. The Damned United is an illustration of the best of British, bringing together a highly regarded scriptwriter, with a good director and a brilliant cast.

Brian Clough began his career as a professional player before an injury forced an early change to managing. It wasn’t until Clough united with his working partner and assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) that the potential of both men was unlocked. The film flits between two significant times in Clough’s life; his managerial role at Second Division Derby in the late 60s and his time at First Division Champions, Leeds United in the mid 70s (This was pre Premier Division).

click here to read my full review at Trespass

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Childhood Favourites

This week I ask Trespasses to choose their 3 most treasured childhood films. Here are my picks

Labyrinth (1986)

Before I knew who Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars were, David Bowie was the Goblin King from Labyrinth. Directed by Jim Henson and produced by George Lucas, they created a fantasy world which blew my young mind. Following the age old story of the precarious journey between childhood and adulthood; a scene from Labyrinth showing a kiss between Bowie and his 15 yr old co-star Jennifer Connelly was deemed too risqué and deleted from the final cut.

The Goonies (1985)

Goonies never say die. The film that has sparked countless t-shirt designs for twenty-somethings trying to recapture simpler/happier times, is one of the all time greats. A story of adventure, friendship and treasure, The Goonies is pretty much the perfect children’s film. Starring every child actor of the 80s, no matter what they have done since, they can always hold their heads high for having once been a Goonie.

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Bugsy Malone (1976)

Long before High School Musical, there was Bugsy Malone. A musical with a cast of children, pretending to inhabit an adult world, set in 1929 America with gangsters and speakeasies (could Zac Efron achieve those emotional depths?). I absolutely adored this film as a kid. Watched over and over again after being introduced to it by my older sister, I can to this day recite (most of) the songs, including Jodie Foster’s number, My Name is Tallulah.

click here to read the full list at Trespass

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

A film of the beloved 1963 children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are has been in the pipeline for years now, with many different film projects quashed before coming to fruition. How to turn the 10 page, sparsely worded picture book by Maurice Sendak into a feature length film? Director/screenwriter Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has succeeded where many before him have failed and delivered a finished product. His efforts were not without their trials, with changes between studios, leaked footage and rumoured creative disputes. The big question, has it been worth the wait?

Filmed on the shoreline of outer Melbourne, utilising the varied landscapes of charred forest, beach and desert, Where the Wild Things Are is above all things a piece of visual mastery. Jonze has created two separate worlds; Max’s home, wintry suburbia and the wonderfully bizarre land of the Wild Things, with equal attention and care paid to both. The Wild Things have been spectacularly brought to life with the help of the legendary Jim Henson Company, which created enormous costumes that are works of art and feats of structural engineering (with the magic touch of CGI added for facial expressions).

The book with such iconic imagery was always going to provide inspiration for a fantastic visual narrative. The real test was creating a script worthy of the source material and its many fans. Here is where the film may surprise its audience: this is not a children’s film, it’s a film about childhood. Where the Wild Things Are has been made for people who grew up with the book.

click here
to read my full review at Trespass

Saturday, December 5, 2009


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Sometimes a film needs to be judged purely on entertainment value, and Zombieland has that in buckets. Mixing laughs with jumps, the film follows a mismatched group trying to survive the Zombie onslaught, caused by a mutated strain of mad cow disease. Starring Jesse Eisenberg (from the criminally underrated Adventureland and The Squid and the Whale), Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, 2012), Emma Stone (Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine and perhaps the least annoying child actor of her generation) the film has a pleasing mix of commercial and indie actors.

The film introduces the main characters and gives us their back-stories, glimpsing how and why they survived and not others. Columbus (Eisenberg) is a nerdy college student who has developed a list of rules allowing him to dodge becoming Zombie munchies. He meets Tallahassee (Harrelson) who seems to enjoy killing Zombies a little too much. The odd couple of hard man and neurotic geek meet grifter sisters, Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin), and the quartet is complete.

click here to read my full review at Trespass

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Informant!

The Informant! is based on the real-life case of corporate whistleblower, Mark Whitacre, as told by award-winning investigative journalist, Kurt Eichenwald. Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Trilogy, The Girlfriend Experience) has taken a story which was essentially a drama, and retold it as a comedy. With a fantastic script from Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum, An Inconvenient Truth) and the title role filled by long-time Soderbergh collaborator, Matt Damon (The Bourne Trilogy, Ocean’s Trilogy), the end result is a clever, funny and fascinating story of one man and his battle with truth.

You are probably better off going into this film, knowing as little as possible about the case involving Mark Whitacre and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). Simply put, Whitacre is the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in American history for his role in the 1990s FBI case against the agri-business’ price fixing.


In this version of events the filmmakers have chosen to focus on the character and intentions of Whitacre. Using his inner monologues to show him as a fantasist, who believes his life is like a Michael Crichton or John Grisham novel, and his outer platitudes to show the naïve optimist who thinks everything will turn out alright in the end. Damon is brilliant, portraying Whitacre as more than just the butt of the film’s jokes.


click here to read my full review at Trespass

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Invention of Lying


Imagine a world where nobody has any concept of lying. A world where everyone tells the absolute truth, with no prompting. You would tell the parents of an ugly baby that their child was hideous, or your boss that he was rubbish at his job and you hated his guts. Then one day, a very ordinary man, Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), tells a lie. Telling lies makes his life a lot better and makes him powerful. This is the premise of the abysmal new comedy The Invention of Lying.

Lacking the comedic potential to warrant much more than a 15 min sketch, the script for The Invention of Lying has few redeeming qualities and even fewer laughs. Star- packed with the likes of Jennifer Garner, Louis C.K., Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan as well as notable cameos from Jason Bateman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton, you have to wonder did any of these actors actually read the script before signing on?


Children are often told to stay away from people their parents perceive as bad influences; it feels like it might be time to tell Ricky Gervais to steer clear of his unreliable friend, America. Gervais who has two highly successful TV series under his belt (The Office, Extras) - seems to be throwing away all his credibility with filmic endeavours in the States. We thought he might have learnt after Ghost Town, a train-wreck of a comedy, but no he is back and it looks like it is just getting worse.


click here to read my full review at Trespass

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls


A really good documentary reveals something or someone you never really knew before. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls gives an insight into the women behind New Zealand comedy/musical double act, Jools and Linda Topp. Marketed as yodelling lesbians twins with a penchant for country music and dressing up, they don’t sound like your average comedy act, but isn’t it nice to have a little variety.

Using the structure of one of their autobiographical gigs, the documentary follows the Topp Twins’ evolution as comedians and political activists, with older footage and talking head interviews woven into the cinematic fabric. Directed by Leanne Poole the documentary shows how the sisters’ sense of fun as well as sense of justice has developed their comedy.

Labelled as New Zealand’s ‘finest artistic export since lamb cutlets’, the twins have had a strong political role. Actively campaigning for Maori land rights, against nuclear testings, for Gay rights and against the Springboks tour to New Zealand during Apartheid. The sisters have sung about and taken part in protests and rallies for decades

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click here to read my full review at Trespass

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cold Souls


Have you ever felt burdened by your tormented soul? Wished you could de-soul and live a freer life for a while? Ever wanted to try out a fuller soul, from someone more artistic- like a Russian poet? Paul Giamatti has. The star of Sideways and American Splendour plays himself in the engaging satirical comedy, Cold Souls.

A Kaufmanesque story examining existential ponderings, Cold Souls begins with our protagonist, Giamatti feeling weighed down by his role in a Broadway production of Uncle Vanya. Increasingly neurotic (thanks in part to the script being originally written with Woody Allen in mind) Giamatti’s agent suggests he reads an article in the New Yorker about soul storage.

From here our protagonist embarks on a journey of soul discovery. Storing his soul proves to have disastrous consequences for Giamatti’s acting, with hilarious results. Added to the mix of intellectual whining are a Russian soul-mule and the trafficking of souls from the poor to the rich (a commodification not unlike the system already seen in body parts).

click here
to read my full review at Trespass

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


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One man’s horror flick is another man’s chauvinistic exploitation flick. Controversy will always reign when Danish director Lars von Trier is at the helm. His latest film, Antichrist has been enveloped in a media storm since its debut earlier this year at Cannes (where Charlotte Gainsbourg won Best Actress). Made by von Trier after a self-confessed bout of depression, Antichrist is a film which pushes the boundaries of taste. Whatever your feelings on the final product, it is an unforgettable experience with visual images that are hard to erase.


Antichrist is divided into chapters as the film examines loss and all its accompanying emotions. Starring Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, Spiderman), and Charlotte Gainsbourg (My Wife is an Actress, The Science of Sleep) as grieving parents entering into a therapist and patient relationship. Most of the film’s action is set in the couple’s cabin in a deserted wood called ‘Eden’, where with a rather extreme form of therapy Dafoe’s character, simply titled He, attempts to council his ‘atypically’ grieving wife, She (Gainsbourg) after the death of their young son.


The film considers themes of anxiety, despair, guilt and pain. Encompassing wider debates on the relationship between women and Nature, the film takes some pretty disturbing twists as elements from the traditional horror genre start creeping in. And if you were in any doubt as to von Trier’s intentions, the opening scene should prepare any audience that he is not going to shield the viewers’ gaze. Antichrist is a test of how far he can push his vision, his actors and his audience.

click here to read my full review at Trespass

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Serious Man


The Coen brothers never like to make life easy for their protagonists, and with their latest leading man, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), absolutely no exceptions have been made. Set in 1967 Midwest America, the film follows Larry, a physics professor with an increasingly complicated home and working life. Troubled by the lack of cause for his predicament(s), Larry, a self-confessed serious man, turns to a succession of Rabbis to try and understand why he is being tested.

The film begins with an extended Yiddish fable conceived by the Coens. This sets the tone for A Serious Man which seems to be a meditation on being Jewish. Larry’s life begins to fall off kilter when his wife, Judith (Sari Lennick) surprises him with the revelation that she has found a new man, the velvety voiced Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed). This doesn’t seem to faze his teenage children, Danny (Aaron Wolff) who just wants good TV reception and to pay back his pot dealer, and Sarah (Jessica McManus) who is washing her hair for most of the film. Added to Larry’s problems are his socially inept brother Arthur (Richard Kind), his redneck neighbour who is slowly redrawing their houses’ boundary line and a foreign student who is trying to force Larry into changing his failing grade.

click here
to read my full review at Trespass

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Boys are Back

The latest Australian buzz film is The Boys Are Back directed by Scott Hicks (of Shine success). Adapted from the memoirs of Simon Warr, The Boys Are Back follows the trials and tribulations of sole fatherhood, as ex-pat journalist, Joe Warr (Clive Owen) finds himself raising his sons alone after the early death of his Australian wife.

This is not the first film to examine this topic recently, but The Boys Are Back is probably the only one which considers the impact of loss and restructuring on a family’s everyday life. With the death of Katy (Laura Fraser) - Joe’s second wife - dealt with rather quickly and unsentimentally at the beginning of the film, the focus is solely on Joe and his parenting skills.

Left to look after his 6 yrs old son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), Joe is determined to make a connection with the child, rejecting offers of help from his mother-in-law (Julia Blake). But he has no idea of the realities of being a single father, lacking the ability to reassure Artie, a child he has so infrequently parented after years of relegating fatherhood to weekends whilst he pursued his career.

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to read my full review at Onya

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012- Homage to the art of disaster movies

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2012 is the latest film from Roland ‘Independence Day‘ Emmerich. With a budget of $200 million there is a lot more bang for your buck than your average flick. As it is a disaster film, the money has been spent on special effects not script development. Based on some very dubious science and an ancient Mayan predicted date for the end of the World, the disaster in question is the break-up of the Earth’s crust, causing a multitude of natural calamities.

The film is split between the US Government’s response to the impending disasters and a modern family unit’s attempts at surviving the apocalypse. Giving Emmerich the opportunity to embrace every cliché possible, this does leaves the audience with a perplexing question - is he being purposely self-reflexive?

Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson, 2012 is a perfect example of ‘so bad it’s (almost) good’. Go in with low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Click here to read my full review and lessons I've learnt from Hollywood disaster movies at Trespass