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