High Concept Films

Josip Knezevic 

Consider this: to help reduce overpopulation, you’re given the option to shrink yourself to five inches tall and join others like you. In return, you’ll live in a miniature society that can accommodate your every want and need… would you take the plunge?

This is the premise for upcoming Boxing Day film Downsizing starring Matt Damon, and it makes me wonder; what other obscure film concepts are out there for us to consume? Here’s a list of high concept films for your to contemplate and enjoy.

The Lobster (2015)

For anyone who’s single right now, this might not be the film for you… unless you’re really into animals. In the world of The Lobster, if you’re not married or in a committed relationship, then you’ve got 45 days to find a faithful partner who loves you completely, otherwise you’ll be turned into an animal. But hey, at least you get to choose what you turn into.

It’s a disturbing yet incredibly well-written film from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos who also brought us this year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Featuring a powerful lead performance from Colin Farrell, The Lobster is a film that takes a unique concept and extrapolates a range of horrifying outcomes, but by golly is it ever interesting to watch.

But ending up an animal wouldn’t be so bad… would it?

High Concept The Lobster December 2017


Circle (2015)

Let’s move to something simpler.

Here’s how things go down in Circle: you wake up in a room with a bunch of people you’ve never met before, and every few minutes someone dies. Now, what do you do…?

Circle comes from the minds of Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, who terrorise 50 strangers for 90 minutes. Watching a whole film play out in a single room never becomes dull, thanks to the interactions between the 50 different characters. Think 12 Angry Men, but on a much larger scale.

While never boring, Circle is not without its flaws. Given its small budget, some of the performances are a little lacking, and the overall concept does have some plot holes, but if you’re open to an above average B-movie, look no further. It’s still better than a lot of the fodder Hollywood is churning out these days.

High Concept Circle December 2017


The Matrix (1999)

You can’t talk about high concept films without mentioning The Matrix. While it’s probably the most well-known film on the list, let’s dive in anyway.

What if I told you everything about your life is a lie? Your friends, family and all your memories are a complete lie. A computer coded lie – to be exact, because you’re in the matrix: a highly sophisticated, simulation model that uses individuals as fuel sources for a race of machines that have enslaved most of humanity. Shit just went to 100 real quick.

The Matrix is the Wachowski brother’s masterpiece and it changed the game of cinema. From extreme slow motion action scenes, to sci-fi dystopian concepts that have been replicated and referenced in countless films to date, The Matrix is an absolute watch for anyone.

high Concept The Matrix December 2017


The Truman Show (1998)

Speaking of game changing films, The Truman Show revolutionised TV through its scarily accurate prediction of the future. If you hate the reality show Big Brother, you have this film to thank for its conception.

Imagine waking up, having breakfast, going to work, enjoying your hobbies in the evening, then capping it off with a late-night movie before sleep. Basically, living a normal life, right? Except, throw in a thousand different cameras watching your every movement on a 24/7 live broadcast to the entire world.

Andrew Niccol’s genius (that is, before he made horrible pieces of crap like The Host and In Time), takes you into a world that’s filled with a cast of extras pretending to be everyday people you know and love, while everything built around you is a fabricated lie.

Although it contains similar themes to The Matrix, The Truman Show is far more light-hearted, offering Jim Carey a great opportunity to showcase his brand of humour. It’s far better than any Big Brother episode. Check it out if you haven’t already.

High Concept The Truman Show December 2017


Exam (2009)

Exam may be the silliest film on this list.

You’ve been selected to attend a job interview for a powerful company. You enter a room with five others and sit down at a table with only a blank piece of paper and pen. An instructor comes in and says there’s only one question to answer. You must only write on your piece of paper and you mustn’t ruin it in any way by tearing it to pieces or folding. Any questions?

And that’s it. That’s how simple Exam is, but it leaves the characters wondering… what are they supposed to write? Was there something they missed? There’s five other people in the same boat as them, but how far will they go to figure it out before the others do? This is where Exam shines; it relies heavily on the dialogue between this small group of characters. It’s a far from perfect, low-budget movie, and the ending may leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth, but it’s definitely worth seeing and talking about.

High Concept Exam December 2017


Enemy (2013)

Last, but not least, from the mind of the man who brought us Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, comes Enemy. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Jake Gyllenhaal in yet another fantastic performance, Enemy follows a man who discovers his doppelganger while watching a movie. Overcome with curiosity, he begins to follow his lookalike, only to find out more about himself than he ever bargained for.

Without giving too much away, this thought-provoking, psychological thriller takes the basic concept of a doppelganger and turns it into something so much more. You’ll probably need to view it a couple of times to get your head around it, as it’s one of those films that will leave you questioning its meaning at every turn.

High Concept Enemy December 2017


Images courtesy of Sony Pictures, Netflix Inc., Roadshow Films, United International Pictures/Paramount Home Entertainment, 21st Century Pictures and Madman Entertainment. 

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Movie Review – The Man Who Invented Christmas

A stocking stuffed with quite a lot of wrapping paper, The Man Who Invented Christmas struggles to get through its own excess.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The thing about The Man Who Invented Christmas (TMWIC) is that you’ve seen most of it before. A respectable chunk of the film is a straight adaptation of A Christmas Carol – the same story you’ve been hearing since you were a child. It’s nice, it’s heart-warming, it’s a classic, and it’s been adapted dozens of times, sometimes with more panache than on this occasion (A Muppet Christmas Carol remains a personal favourite). So the first knock against TMWIC is simply that its version of A Christmas Carol isn’t all that special. The second knock is that the other story it’s telling – how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) came to write A Christmas Carol – is both overstuffed and dull. Not exactly a winning combination.

TMWIC opens to Dickens coming off the high of a tour of America. Cut to a year and two flops later: Dickens is broke and needs a hit to get through Christmas. His publishers laugh at him when he suggests a Christmas story. “It’s October, you haven’t written anything yet, and nobody cares about Christmas!” They say, being the savvy business people they are. Dickens stubbornly ignores them and decides to risk everything to self-publish the novel. In the process, characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) come alive through Dickens’ thoughts and begin tormenting him. To triumph, Dickens is forced to wrestle not only with his characters, but also the inner demons they represent.

Dan Stevens does solid work here. His Dickens is energetic and conflicted – pushed and pulled by both outer and inner forces, he is perpetually bouncing between problems – and Stevens does admirable work keeping everything centred. Likewise, Plummer is a reliable source of amusement and is devilishly delicious as Scrooge. Avoiding the temptation of passivity, Plummer keeps his Scrooge engaged in the act of torturing his creator. Plummer’s dynamic with Stevens is perhaps the film’s saving grace and is certainly its most well-developed aspect. If only the filmmakers had focused in on that, we might’ve had something recommendable.

Instead, we get an abundance of subplots that dull the film, like running a knife across a rock. Some of them – like William Makepeace Thackeray – just need snappier editing to liven things up. Others – like Dickens’ nephew, the inspiration for Tiny Tim – should be jokes instead of entire scenes. These would be minor quibbles if there weren’t so damn many of them. There are at least three different subplots that desperately need trimming, and one that needs to be deleted entirely. Those stories come at the expense of the main one, killing its momentum and making you wish the film would go back to the mediocre version of A Christmas Carol.

You can praise TMWIC’s production design (it’s quite lavish), and performances (universally solid), but you’ll find it hard to praise the film they’re in service of. Quite simply it doesn’t serve them back. Charles Dickens’ life should make for an entertaining film, but unfortunately, this Christmas story isn’t it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is available in Australian Cinemas November 30

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution.

Dreaming in a Single Take

Michael Philp

*Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead*

After recently seeing Watch The Sunset at the Revelation Film Festival, I found myself fascinated by the way it and other one take films (Victoria and Russian Ark) come across as dreamscapes. This is mostly because of their format, as their material couldn’t be more disparate – Ark is a 2002 Russian historical art-house film, Victoria is a 2015 German drama, and Sunset is a 2017 Australian drug-drama – and yet the single-take format gives them all a certain hazy, dream-like quality that unites them.

To be fair, there’s an entire school of film theory that sees movies as dream substitutes, but certain characteristics of single-take films exacerbate that comparison. Some of them are superficial – the constant movement of the camera can be used to hypnotic effect, and often mimics human vision – but others offer insight into cinema in general. If it’s true, for instance, that audiences tend to blink in time with scene breaks to minimise information loss, then it stands to reason that during a single-take film they will be blinking less. In other words, information overload is inherent in the format because there are no clear, predictable breaks.

Because of that reality, it’s easy to get lost in the films. Every moment flows into the next until it’s all just a blur and you’ve forgotten the steps it took to arrive at the destination. That’s particularly important for Victoria, where the main character falls in love, snorts cocaine, helps rob a bank, steals a baby, and watches all of her new friends either die or get arrested, all in the space of two real-time hours. When you write it out like that, the film undoubtedly reads closer to a dream than real life. I’ve omitted connective tissue, but only because it’s so unimportant that it was mostly left up to the actors to improvise. Sunset’s production echoes that sentiment, with the creators stating during a recent Q&A that it too was mostly improvised. This approach produces films that steadily move between set-pieces and rarely stop to look back.

Ark is a perfect example of that concept. Filmed in an enormous museum, it uses rooms as scenes to showcase particular time periods and ideas. Its narrator is implied to be a ghost and its characters whisper and float between conversations and visions, all of which results in a hypnotic drone of a movie. I don’t think any other film works this well at putting you to sleep, and I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s just the way the film is. The sum of Ark’s parts is so quietly rhythmic and relaxing that I admire anyone who doesn’t feel sleepy while watching it. For Victoria, only its vibrant dialogue – and the bank robbery – save it from that trap.

But that statement doesn’t really do Victoria justice. It implies that the film has no higher ambition than simply telling a good story, and that just isn’t true. Director Sebastian Schipper seeks more than just dialogue followed by a bank robbery; he wants to make a comment on youth and recklessness and to do that he needs to insert himself into a film whose ethos is passive observation. That might seem contradictory, but his decision to do it anyway, and the manner in which he does it, is what hammers home that these films are dreamscapes rather than dramas with a gimmick.

Which begs the question – couldn’t they have just filmed these movies  normally? That would’ve been easier, less dangerous, and given them more opportunity for creative license. Those arguments aren’t wrong, but they ignore the benefits of the format. When you film in a single-take, you produce a swirling vacuum of a movie, drawing your audience in. Victoria’s climax is devastating because the film locks the audience in its world for two straight hours and by the end of the movie, you feel just as disoriented as the title character. That’s the power of a single-take film – you forget that you’re watching a film in the same way you forget you’re dreaming, and that means the narrative can go to incredible places.

There is depth to the single-take format, but it takes a skilled director and crew to bring it out, more so than most film styles. The difficulties associated with its production are too great to make it more commonly used, but that just means the few films that have achieved the feat are gems. I highly recommend seeking out all three of the films I’ve mentioned, they are, for the most part, rewarding experiences, and together form a fascinating genre that I look forward to other filmmakers exploring in unique ways.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

The Formidable Woman of the Screen

Zachary Cruz-Tan

I don’t remember a time when women didn’t play a big part in the movies for me. Even as I was growing up and cinemas everywhere were filled with The Matrix (1999), Trinity always seemed the most dangerous. She kicked the most butt, slipped into some of the most ridiculously fetishistic costumes since Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and always appeared to be in control. She was never a puppet of the plot, always its impetus (until, of course, she fell in love with Neo and the writers decided to turn her into the Lois Lane of the franchise…).

Now we live in an age of constant social and political scrutiny, thanks to the handy availability and widespread reach of the Internet. African-Americans are having their say about race and brutality. The LGBT community continues to be vocal, maybe even more so. There has never been a greater push for gender equality, which I think is essential, but in the movie world, this can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, more female actors are leading films in roles of great stature. On the other, studios are succumbing to pressure to turn every male-centric box office success into an oestrogen-fuelled copycat. We’ve already had Ghostbusters (2016). Still to come: Ocean’s Eight (because apparently Ocean’s Eleven would require more actresses than Hollywood can spare).

There is a difference between respecting the female character and tossing her around like a football. Remakes like Ghostbusters do nothing for the cause, because they are about nothing and could just as easily star men, while films like Hidden Figures (2016) desire to do more for women by understanding their strengths and playing to them. Consider the power of the scene in Hidden Figures where Janelle Monáe fights for the right to study in a segregated college in 1960s Virginia. And then turn to Melissa McCarthy bouncing around like a balloon trying to subdue a proton rifle. Yes, one is historical drama and the other is physical comedy, but respect is universal. And respect is, after all, what all this is about.

But is this current female enlightenment such a big deal? Have we forgotten Beatrix Kiddo, or Ellen Ripley, or Dorothy Gale? Or the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, like Notorious (1946) or Psycho (1960), that seem to be about men, but are told through a feminine lens? Perhaps not. We are all aware of the great women of the past, how they practiced their craft – sometimes in harsh company – and inevitably shaped the present by opening doors once thought to be sealed. But Hollywood believes in repeating a winning idea until it has been done to death, and then repeats it some more. So it has boarded the feminism wagon because it thinks it must, and fails to find the balance between respect and farce.

2017 has already seen its fair share of female-centric releases, with Their Finest and Ghost in the Shell. The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain (perhaps Hollywood’s most prominent crusader) is currently in cinemas, and Alien: Covenant opens this week. Yet to arrive is the much-anticipated Wonder Woman, which will see the iconic comic book character receive her first solo treatment on the big screen.

What excites me about these films is that they seem organic. They are not ideas that pander or condescend, or that are daft in their conception. Many people will enjoy the silliness of Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight, but to gaze up and come away from a movie feeling truly inspired and entertained by a formidable female performance is perhaps worth that much more.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Life

Is this the unofficial prequel to Venom?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

You only need to catch the trailer for new sci-fi Life to see how much it borrows from classic space horrors like Alien and Doom. It begs the question as to why this film was ever even made, but thankfully it does pack a couple of surprises that make it somewhat refreshing.

In Life, a crew on board the International Space Station find evidence of extra-terrestrial life. A soil sample taken from a Mars space probe begins growing into a multi-celled organism and soon our A-list crew members – Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal – must work together to survive and protect human kind.

Where Life excels is in its first half. The dramatic opening scene connects you with the characters while perfectly setting up the introduction of the new alien species. From there the story keeps you invested as the scientific discoveries unfold and you learn about the organism along with the crew. You get the sense that this is exactly how this scenario would play out if it ever happened in real life.

But from there everything begins to fall apart. Life quickly becomes the film that’s been done many times before, with mindless action scene after action scene. It becomes painfully predictable and leaves you to question the logistics of its action sequences as well as the motivations of its characters.

Overall, the film is a decent enough entertainment piece. There are some genuine gross-out horror moments backed by fantastic sound design and the alien creatures are relatively unique. If you’re a die hard sci-fi fan, then Life is definitely for you, but if you haven’t seen the classics, you’re better off staying at home and looking them up on Netflix instead.

Life is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

 

Movie Review – The Boss Baby

An extremely energetic film with not much substance.  Bring the kids, but be ready to browse your phone.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook

Imaginative only child, Tim Templeton (Miles Christopher Bakshi), has his life thrown into chaos when his new baby brother (Alec Baldwin) is dispatched. Not born – dispatched. He investigates the decreasing love for babies in this modern age; a deceptively real issue nowadays, and one which could have been handled more genuinely if the baby wasn’t, you know, wearing a suit!

When talking about any movie, it’s important to know that the audience is easily grasping its message.  The Boss Baby’s message is simply “love is important”.  A passable moral, at least when paired with an engaging story, but the problem is that the concept of love is never explored here.

We’re constantly made to feel stressed about our two protagonists stopping the villain (Steve Buscemi) from making people love puppies more than babies, but it’s unclear as to what exactly is going to happen if they fail to stop him. And if they succeed, all they’ve done is prevent the villain’s plan to catalyse the problem. Not cause it. So, even when they win, the issue still exists.

The Boss Baby’s length and pacing is fine and, while never terribly confusing, Tim and the baby’s actions to achieve their goals are just as vague as the goals themselves. Astral projecting pacifiers, immortality milk and a team of Elvis impersonators all progress the story in appropriately comical ways, like all comedies should, but almost all the tension is constantly sapped from the story when you can assume they’ll have a magical gadget to fix any problem, and that includes literally using Tim’s imagination to beat someone in a sword fight.

Alongside the hysterical image of a baby having Alec Baldwin’s voice, the worlds Tim creates is the highlight of The Boss Baby, easily rivalling the colourful energy of Inside Out and The Lego Movie.  In fact, after seeing all the film’s bizarre events mesh seamlessly with the vibrant imagery in Tim’s head, I assumed The Boss Baby would have a reveal similar to The Lego Movie, where the plot was simply the active imagination of an innocent child who, in his own way, learns how to handle having a baby brother. But, no. There was a rocket ship filled with puppies, a skateboarding bodyguard in a dress and babies come from a factory in the sky.  These things all happened. That is reality. Accept it.

For better and worse, The Boss Baby is just plain silly.  Its lively animation and humour make it a fine movie for children and maybe even young teenagers, made even better with the terrific chemistry and voice acting between Bakshi and Baldwin. Older viewers, however, will find the message and overall plot less than substantive.

The Boss Baby is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Crazy Star Wars Theories

Cody Fullbrook

Whether it’s Boba Fett surviving the Sarlac Pitt, Han Solo having a wife or the last member of a skinny robot quartet hacking into the second Death Star, Star Wars has an ocean of stories buried in the expanded universe.  Since many of these stories have been wiped clean and stored in the legends category, it has given the universe a degree of narrative flexibility, opening the floodgates for many fan theories.  Here’s several of my favourites.

What If…Jar Jar Binks Was A Sith Lord?

“You know, I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little odd.”

It took a surprisingly long time for the idea Darth Jar Jar Binks to even appear.  The prequels were well over a decade old before Star Wars fans toyed with the concept of the bumbling gungan covertly manipulating the minds of those around him, covering his malicious intentions with his infamously silly persona.

The “evidence” of this are key moments in Episodes I and II, mostly involving subtle lip and hand movements, alluding to Jedi Mind Tricks.  These are easily boiled down to casual gestures and character designs that coincide with his general alien goofiness, but also consider that it was him who convinced the senate to provide Chancellor Palpatine with Emergency Powers, allowing the construction of the army sleeper agent clones.  Combining all the pieces together paints a very malevolent picture of the floppy eared klutz.

What If…Obi-Wan And Padme Were Secretly Dating?

“She seems to be on top of things.”

Attack Of The Clones is a mixed bag for many Star Wars fans.  I’m sure I’m not the only kid who watched Obi-Wan’s investigative adventure while fast-forwarding Anakin and Padme’s romantic scenes.  Remember; nothing wins a woman’s heart like pretending to get trampled to death, mass murder and casually advocating for a dictatorship.

Although not even slightly hinted at, viewing the prequels as if Obi-Wan and Padme are in a secret relationship adds immediate depth to their actions, most effective of which is Padme’s realisation that the two men she loves are going to kill each other and it’s all her fault.

What If…Luke’s Second Lightsaber Was Qui-Gon Jinn’s?

“Ah, yes.  A Jedi’s weapon, much like your father’s.”

Many find it confusing that The Force Awakens revealed Maz Kanata possessing Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, but what I find stranger is why so much focus is on one lightsaber when Luke used two?  One was lost with his hand and a green one was then used throughout Episode VI.

A deleted scene from Return Of The Jedi shows Luke finishing his construction of this second lightsaber, but since that footage didn’t make it to the film, a new theory emerged which, I feel, adds a depth to the films that connects them in a quick, simple and beautiful way.

We never get to see what happened to Qui-Gon’s lightsaber after he was jabbed by Darth Maul, and even though it’s a shame Anakin’s lightsaber was sliced away from Luke so soon, given its lineage, this theory repairs that.  Since Obi-Wan died in Episode IV, Luke was never made aware of any other trinkets inside that box at Kenobi’s home on Tatooine, so maybe after returning there to warm up a bit after Hoth, Luke comes across another lightsaber.  A green one.

What If…Mace Windu Survived?

“The oppression of the Sith will never return.  You have lost.”

One of the most prevalent theories within Star Wars is the loser of a battle intentionally failing for a secretly higher purpose.  Mace Windu’s survival of a seemingly fatal fall can only live on in the expanded universe.

Considering the theory of Mace Windu avoiding a messy splattering onto Coruscant’s chrome street floor, he joins characters like Grievous, Dooku and Asajj Ventress, who can do little but play within the cracks of the movie saga, resulting in stories that must be intrinsically less interesting than the films, lest they accidentally overshadow them.

Windu’s story has the potential of being extremely solemn, serving as a fly-on-the-wall perspective, with a lone Jedi observing Order 66 and forcing him to hide away from it all without hope.  He would live a short, nomadic life and die a quiet, unceremonious death.  Honestly, it’d make a gritty comic book.

The timeline of Star Wars covers thousands of years and there are stories covering every nanosecond of it. Star Wars may never truly end as much as it’ll simply re-invent itself, allowing interesting theories to rise and fall.  For now, let’s just keep wondering who Snoke is. Face it. You’re probably all wrong.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

9 Films To Look Out For This Oscar Season

Rhys Graeme-Drury 

Ah, awards season – the time of year when everyone becomes an expert on red carpet dresses and pretends to know the difference between sound mixing and sound design.

All kidding aside, the latter quarter of 2016 and early 2017 promise to enthral us with some particularly juicy cinematic gems, and to help demonstrate I’ve picked nine movies that you should keep your eyes peeled for over the next few months.

Hackshaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving
Genre: Drama
Release: November 2016

oscars-hackshaw-ridge
Mel Gibson
’s 2016 renaissance continues with his return to the director’s chair in Hacksaw Ridge. A gritty WWII drama that recalls the extraordinary true story of an American field medic (Andrew Garfield) who saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot, Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s first directorial effort in over a decade and could signal his return to the elusive awards season winners circle.

Filmed right here in Australia, Gibson’s film received a standing ovation at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and is filled with a host of talented Aussies like Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths and Sam Worthington. Buoyed by positive reviews, could Hacksaw Ridge follow in the footsteps of award-winning war films like Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers to scoop a handful of Oscar nominations?


Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve 
Starring:
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker 
Genre:
Sci-Fi
Release:
 November 2016

oscars-arrival
Making its debut at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews, this acclaimed sci-fi is set to send French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve stratospheric. The movie follows Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is drafted by the US military following the arrival of a fleet of monolithic alien spaceships.

Villeneuve has been overlooked by the Academy thus far (2015’s Sicario being a notable snub) but Arrival has been generating a lot of buzz on the film festival circuit, particularly concerning Adams’ central performance and Villeneuve’s work behind the camera. Expect this one to pop up in a lot of the technical categories.


La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons
Genre:
Musical
Release: December 2016

oscars-la-la-land
Pop quiz – what’s the one thing that Hollywood loves more than sequels and ringing cash tills? If you guessed ‘prestige pictures about the film industry’, you’re right!

Hollywood goes loopy for films about films; I mean, just look at recent Best Picture winners like The Artist, Argo and Birdman. It should come as no surprise then that Damien Chazelle‘s new movie La La Land is getting rave reviews from all corners of the web and is hotly tipped to scoop up all sorts of statuettes come Oscar night.

La La Land sees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone partner up once more for a smooth, sweeping romance set against the backdrop of studio-era Hollywood. Stone has already won the Best Actress Award at Venice and the film scooped the People’s Choice Award in Toronto. This one could have the legs to go all the way to a Best Picture win.


Loving
Director: Jeff Nichols 
Starring:
Joel Edgerton, Ruth Neggs, Will Dalton 
Genre:
Drama
Release:
January 2017

oscars-loving

Jeff Nichols already blew our minds earlier in the year with soaring sci-fi road movie Midnight Special; now he returns with an all-together more heartfelt and personal love story in Loving.

Starring Australia’s Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the film follows Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who’re sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence in 1950’s Virginia following their outlawed marriage to each other.

However, rather than following the Supreme Court case in minute detail, writer-director Nichols has endeavoured to showcase a more imitate side of the story by focusing on how discrimination and prosecution affected the day-to-day lives of Richard and Mildred. Reviews have thrown around superlatives such as ‘gentle’, ‘stirring’ and ‘understated’, making this something of a quiet underdog in an already chock-a-block awards season.


The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker 
Starring:
Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller 
Genre: Drama
Release: February 2017

oscars-birth-of-a-nation
One of the most talked about films this awards season is The Birth of a Nation – and not for all the right reasons either. After emerging as the talk of the town at Sundance, this drama about a 19th Century slave revolt, which is co-written, co-produced, directed by and starring Nate Parker, has since been overshadowed by rape allegations from 1999 against Parker.

The subsequent handling of said allegations hasn’t done the film any favours, but if we attempt to separate the art from the artist, The Birth of a Nation can be considered a timely and poignant examination of America’s past that could still factor into awards season this year. Whether Oscar voters see it that way is another story entirely…


Silence
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Starring:
Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver 
Genre:
Drama 
Release: 
February 2017

oscars-silence
Set in 17th Century Japan, Silence follows two Portuguese priests facing persecution and violence whilst searching for their mentor and propagating Christianity. If that sounds like a drag, consider this – it stars Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. Still not convinced? What if I told you that Martin Scorsese directed it?

Okay, now you’re listening. Truth is, we don’t know much else about Silence. Aside from being a passion project of Scorsese’s for the last 20 years, the whole production has been kind of quiet (pun intended), and even though it’s slated for release in February next year, we still haven’t seen a trailer! Plus, the film hasn’t been touring the festival circuit.

Nevertheless, I’ve included it on this list because, y’know – Scorsese. Hopefully we’ll learn a little bit more about the movie in the coming weeks.


Jackie
Director: Pablo Larraín  
Starring:
 Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Greta Gerwig
Genre: Biopic
Release: TBA

oscars-jackie

After stepping away from the limelight for a few years, Natalie Portman is now eyeing up her second Best Actress statuette with her starring role in Pablo Larraín’s heartrending biopic about Jackie Kennedy.

The Academy sure does love a good biopic (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and The King’s Speech are recent examples that spring to mind), so Jackie shouldn’t face a lot of opposition when it comes to racking up those sweet, sweet nominations. Not only that – Jackie Kennedy is a tragic icon of American history and by all accounts Portman brings her to life with aplomb, cutting a strikingly forlorn figure on the screen. The supporting cast pulls in the likes of John Hurt, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Carroll Lynch and Richard E. Grant.


Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris
Genre: Drama
Release: TBA

oscars-moonlighrt

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is an ambitious film that follows an African-American man who is struggling with staying true to himself, as well as the challenges of coming out to his family, across three periods of his life.

Starring the likes of Trevante Rhodes (who plays adult Chiron), André Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, Moonlight has been garnering praise as it tours the northern autumn festival circuit, screening at Telluride, Toronto, New York and London.

Billed as “a timeless story of human connection and self-discovery” this could be one indie gem that has enough momentum to chug all the way to the centre stage of the Dolby Theatre. Although it doesn’t currently have an Australian release date, the first quarter of 2017 would be a safe bet.


Fences
Director: Denzel Washington 
Starring:
Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson
Genre: Drama
Release: TBA

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Denzel Washington has made the move back behind the camera for his third directorial effort in Fences. Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, the film follows a retired baseball player (also played by Washington) who now works as a garbage man and is struggling to provide for his family.

Adapted from an acclaimed stage production, the film focuses heavily on race relations and the evolving African-American experience in 50’s America. Both Washington and co-star Viola Davis starred in a 2010 revival of the play, making their familiarity with the material an encouraging sign. Davis even took home a Tony Award for her work on the project. Put all this together and you’ve got an early lock on both Best Actor and Best Actress nominations, possibly even a shot at the Best Director category for Washington.


Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadshow Films, eOne Films, 20th Century Fox, Transmission Films, A24, 

4 Films That’ll Make You Shed A Tear… Or Twenty

Josip Knezevic


Do you feel like you need to take a moment, let it all go and bawl your eyes out? Well, you’ve come to the right place! These four films are guaranteed to delve deep into your human side and touch your emotions like they’ve never been touched before. And with that melancholic introduction out of the way, let’s get on with the list. In no particular order…

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

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Dear Zachary takes the cake as one of the most powerful yet underappreciated films. Written and directed by Kurt Kuenne, this is the saddest film I have ever seen. I don’t want to mention anything else and risk giving it all away, but running at only 90 minutes, this movie will truly take you on an emotional rollercoaster. The fact that it only took $20,000 at the box office is an injustice to the film community. Thankfully, it’s on Netflix now so you have no reason not to see this film – that is unless you don’t want to die a little bit on the inside. A tremendous film and one of those rare 10/10’s. Go see it.


Her (2013)

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There’s a reason why Her won the academy award for best original screenplay; it’s a film that is well ahead of its time. Centred around the life of a lonely, introverted man (Joaquín Phoenix), Her explores his new love with the world’s first artificial intelligence operating system. Anyone who refers to this film as the one about the guy who falls in love with his computer, is simply downgrading it to a level that is unworthy of the greatness of writer/director Spike Jonze. It deals with relationships from every aspect, and you’ll feel like you’ve experienced the full highs and lows of one by the end of it. I love everything about this movie from its futuristic landscapes to its way of making you feel the present.  Another 10/10 film.


Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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Grave of the Fireflies by writer and director Isao Takahata comes from one of the best production companies in the world, Studio Ghibli. Although almost 30 years old, Grave of the Fireflies still holds up as a serious tear jerker. The premise is based on the lives of two children in the final months of the Second World War in Japan. Yet again, set at only 90 minutes long, this film doesn’t stray away from its dark subject matter for a moment, and whilst seemingly appearing as a children’s film, it is far from it. That’s all I’m going to say about it to avoid spoiling it further.


Mommy (2014)

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Written and directed by promising Canadian filmmaker, Xavier Dolan, Mommy tells the story of a mother struggling to control her delinquent teenage son. Shot with a handheld camera, in a 1:1 aspect ratio, the film represents a completely unique experience; one that doesn’t serve as a pretentious work of art striving to stand out. The reason behind Dolan’s choice to shoot in such a ratio becomes depressingly clear throughout the film. It’s a very smart choice, in fact, everything in this film feels smart and fully realised to the point where you almost wish it wasn’t because the outcome is brutal to watch. Even if you think you can see something coming, the next second you’ll be proven wrong. A beautiful film with powerful performances from its three central actors. 


Images courtesy of Sony Pictures, Sharmill Films, Madman Entertainment & Oscilloscope  

Can Netflix beat the Hollywood studios at their own game?

Netflix and Amazon are drastically changing the film distribution system. Could it spell disaster for the old guard?

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Something seismic occurred at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year; for the first time, the biggest players with the deepest pockets weren’t the usual studios like Fox and Weinstein. No, this year it was streaming services like Netflix and Amazon that made headlines by forking out tens of millions for a raft of independent films, outbidding the traditional powerhouses and firmly announcing their arrival onto scene.

No longer satisfied with outclassing most TV networks with high-quality shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Narcos, Netflix and their US-based rival Amazon Prime now have their sights set on beating the major film studios at their own game, threatening to turn the industry on its head in the process.

At the festival, Amazon outbid Fox and Universal by forking out a whopping $10 million for Manchester By the Sea, a drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams that is already tipped to be a strong contender come the Oscars. Meanwhile, Netflix bid $20 million for Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. They lost out in the end to Fox, but the fact that they got involved in the bidding war didn’t go unnoticed; Fox’s winning bid was the largest in Sundance history.

At the moment, most films (like Birth of a Nation) will still choose to go the route of a traditional theatrical release, but Netflix and Amazon’s increasing eagerness to muscle in on awards season does beg the question of how this will impact the industry five to ten years down the track.

The upside is that independent filmmakers are finding it easier to get their movie in front of global audiences. Properties like The Fundamentals of Caring (which stars Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts) and Tallulah (Ellen Page, Allison Janney), which were scooped up at Sundance this January, have already been available on Netflix for months. Furthermore, access to these new release movies isn’t hidden behind a premium paywall; they’re all included in a standard Netflix subscription.

Beaming directly into millions of homes across the world, these independent films find themselves in a win-win situation. They scored a deal that recouped their production costs and are available to be streamed at any time, anywhere by umpteen subscribers. Score one for the little guy, right?

However, how does this trend impact more mainstream cinema? Probably not a great deal at this stage, but it certainly raises the question – at what point are we going to see blockbuster films make their debut on a major streaming service? How long is it going to be before a tentpole film, like a Jurassic World or a Jason Bourne, forgoes the theatre entirely and seeks a larger audience at home on Netflix?

Bear with me here, because that might seem like quite a leap – but think about it. We’re at the stage now where a major studio film opens every fortnight, sometimes two or three in the same week. Naturally, some of these are going to bomb – and hard. This year alone we’ve had Warcraft, Ghostbusters, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence and Alice Through the Looking Glass (amongst others) all flunk at the box office, struggling to find an audience amongst crowded multiplexes. Could these movies have fared better if they’d steered towards streaming, or even split the difference by going both routes?

Be honest, what sounds more appealing – a cosy night on sofa with your significant other or a costly jaunt to the local movie theatre? One is filled with blankets, candles and all the comforts of home; the other sees you standing in queues for ages, forking out for tickets and snacks and, worst of all, being forced to deal with the general public. Who wants that?

Even if it seems unlikely right now, this hypothetical future is a worryingly real proposition that could spell doom for cinema owners and the major studios. That being said, cinema chains aren’t going quietly into the night. The increasing prevalence of VMAX (or Cinemax) screens with Dolby ATMOS surround sound and Gold Class theatres are their answer to this quandary; bigger screens, a more immersive experience and an inviting domestic setting is striving to make the movies a more attractive option for film fans.

Bringing this back to my original point, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before Netflix, Amazon or even their Aussie equivalent Stan are going to be producing blockbuster movies that are unmissable and eagerly anticipated.

Cast your mind back to where they were five years ago; an exclusive political drama starring Kevin Spacey seemed like a quaint novelty at the time, but now Netflix and Amazon’s original programming rivals HBO, AMC and FX. If they can challenge those guys, who says they can’t take on Hollywood at it’s own game too?

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc.