Film

2019: My year in film

A list of 2019 releases seen this year across the U.S., Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air. As a result, there are some late 2018 releases, and it’s a week late so I could get to the late 2019 releases I missed.

Initial tweet-reactions to the higher rated films included. In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

1917
To execute with such precision at its monumental scale is a high stakes, technical magic trick that made me feel like I’m experiencing something entirely new in cinema. Would watch an 8-part series on the making-of.

Ash is Purest White
A sweeping look at how China is modernising over the last 20 years, with the one constant being a commanding, captivating Zhao Tao, and her journey through it all. The kind of film you’re happy to let wash over you.

Avengers: Endgame
Unprecedented in scope in what it attempts to cap off. Does so in utterly satisfying fashion time and time again, while not being afraid to look back. Big character moments, laughs, and comic book fan service. Bravo, Marvel.

Capernaum
Veritably despairing and pointed. An astonishing set of performances, the young lead in particular. Don’t quite know how the director managed to conjure it up.

The Chambermaid
A beguiling, methodical Gabriela Cartol puts you through the wringer in a mighty performance that carries this coldly-observed portrait.

For Sama
A crushing decoction of human emotion from the ground in Aleppo, captured with a fearlessness and purpose that is unimaginable. By far the most essential film of the year.

Honeyland
All that you can ask for and more in capturing the human existence, and our relationship to nature. The beekeeper is the best of us.

There’s a scene where she looks on with the joy of a proud mother, as a kid enjoys a piece of honeycomb she extracted, and then it cuts to a gluttonous family feast that’s been bought with basically ruining nature. It’s perfect.

Honey Boy
LaBeouf uniquely bares his soul and the trauma of his life. Noah Jupe is nothing short of astonishing.

Joker
A dangerous film, practically devoid of light. Joaquin is peerless, and this is a performance for the ages, finely attuned on many a level. The movement of the camera and score are excellent in building the mood too. Loved the homage at the end.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Boisterous and brimming with confidence right from the get-go, casting a golden gaze on the city; not so much the current inhabitants. Top notch musical choices.

Little Women
The warmth, loving, laughter, and sense of family that comes with these characters streams out of the screen and gives you a hug. Timmy is a dream, the costume designs are a treat.

Long Day’s Journey into Night
A film lover’s dream, playing with the visual building blocks of cinema in spectacular ways. There are shots of water and glass that are godly. Oh, and then let’s throw in a one-hour single take.

Luce
A scintillating screenplay about race and White guilt in America, paired with a wickedly-good Kelvin Harrison Jr! Kept me afraid and uneasy until the very end. Glad to see Naomi Watts back to her best, and lord is there a lot of reading to do now to process it all.

Monos
The most striking opening to a film in recent memory. Cinematic in the truest sense, exploding with rawness. The Q&A after illuminated how carefully put together it actually was.

Parasite
A non-stop rollercoaster of entertainment, empathy, and incisive class commentary, morphing wildly in tone. Executed with consummate confidence. Can’t get over how well it evokes and uses smell to say so much.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A heart-swelling crescendo that is all art.

Shadow
Elegant, ingenious, purposeful. How often can you associate that with an action film? Sublime set design, framing, and use of slow-motion as well.

Toy Story 4
Has no right to be the best of the bunch, but here we are. The adults were laughing way more than the kids. Large parts of it are plain dark and odd (in a good way). The animation is mind-bogglingly gorgeous!

Wild Rose
Gets exponentially better as it goes along, culminating in ALL the heartstrings being tugged. Grounded in reality, and makes the small moments matter. Jessie Buckley is the real deal.

Uncut Gems
A symphony of screaming and raucous energy, orchestrated by two maestros in the Safdies, propelled by Adam Sandler at his very best. It’s also the greatest NBA film of all time.

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Film

2018: My year in film

A list of 2018 releases seen this year across the U.S., Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air. As a result, there are some late 2017 releases, and it’s missing late 2018 U.S. ones.

Initial tweet-reactions to the higher rated films included. In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

Blindspotting
If it takes jabs at gentrification, it unloads a gun of seething, stylistic anger at race and identity. The climax alone is worth the price of admission.

Burning
Wickedly mysterious in its writing and pacing, with some of the best character interplay of the year that left me wanting way more than 148min. Steven Yeun is a charming devil!

Cold War
The soft, ravishing camera and framing is sheer bliss to take in, supporting the cyclical romance dealing mostly in extremes. Its musical core is felt throughout, with the choreographed numbers and songs adding plenty to the mood.

First Man
Directed by the steadiest of shaky-cam hands, this is perfect, immersive storytelling for me, utilising all cinema has to offer. The music is SO SO good.

Minding the Gap
Comprehending the scope of what this young filmmaker is pulling off as it grows in importance and courage by the minute gave me chills. I’m so glad Bing Liu got to tell his story, and it has me hopeful for other storytellers out there. A must-see.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Seeing Cruise, a 56 year old man, push the limits of practical action sequences in film with every new outing is a wholly unique thrill. The plane jump, the motorcycle, hell, even him just god damn running!

Phantom Thread
A PTA-constructed game is one I’m always willing to play and relish, no matter the rules. Adorned with Greenwood’s score and DDL to complete the holy trifecta.

Roma
A miracle of a movie, and certainly one I didn’t think would come from Cuaron. He’s taken his beautiful eye for cinema and movement, marrying it with the richest of milieus, and the actress of the year.

Shoplifters
Another multi-generational, humanist gem of the highest grade from Kore-eda. More pointed than I can recall his other work, particularly with the ending and its structure.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
A masterpiece in animation. In awe of how it was conceived and put together. Luckily it doesn’t stop there. Plenty of heart, action, humour, and hope, like the best of the comics.

Summer 1993
It’s as close as I’ve come to understanding and realising the complex emotions of a child. Deeply attuned writing and direction. The highs and lows all revel in nuance.

The Rider
The kind of pure, human cinema and story that is astonishing to think about when the credits roll. Easily 2018’s best to date. Hooray for Chloe Zhao. There’s so much to unpack in those taming scenes, but you know it’s special in the moment.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor
“Paddington 2 is so wholesome.” Mr Rogers: HOLD MY MARMALADE. The theatre was in danger of flooding by the end due to all the tears. Truly bittersweet given mass media today.

You Were Never Really Here
If it’s not mindless violence, is it mindful violence? Distinctive and considered in its vision by Ramsay. Joaquin is carnal and caring.

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Film

2017: My year in film

A list of 2017 releases seen this year across the U.S., Sydney, Bangalore, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

If I had to pick a favourite, it’d be a tie between Call Me By Your Name and Toni Erdmann.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included. In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

A Ghost Story
How Lowery makes you consider time and evokes sorrow is nothing short of genius. A profound gem, despite that misstep of a monologue.

All These Sleepless Nights
Misplaced, simple, reckless youth in all its glory, one beat/high to the next.

Call Me By Your Name
Hopelessly romantic on so many levels that it made me forget 2017. Love the way the music teases, love *that* monologue I’d heard lots about.

Columbus
Lu Richardson’s character and the writing of it is so brilliantly realised and resonant. How can this be your debut, Kogonada? Also loved the sound editing, and of course, the subject of Architecture doesn’t hurt.

Good Time
A bravura, alternate reality Coen Brothers-esque, moody adventure. The writing and Pattinson are top notch.

I Am Not Your Negro
Apathy and ignorance. This is the world. This is especially America. Baldwin’s truths eviscerate.

Icarus
An astonishing story. Makes you wonder if the truth is really worth it, given the consequences and broader powers at play.

Lucky
Surprise of the year? A remarkable performance that I can’t see anyone else giving. Lovely, affecting writing.

Nocturama
From the near-wordless, precision first 40 min, to that merciless ending, and all the moments of individual madness in between, this is going to stay with me a while.

The Florida Project
Ends as it begins; a perspective from Sean Baker that’s childhood at its best.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Lanthimos has perfected cold and off-kilter. The way he twists and twists after that is trauma for the mind.

The Lost City of Z
Epic to behold, in the old-school cinema sense of the word. Surely a labour of careful love. The cinematography is right now my favourite of the year. Hunnam and Pattinson make a damn good adventurous couple.

The Square
Ostlund delightfully and scathingly provokes, especially exploring where we draw the line on inaction as society. Art and masculinity are on the chopping board too. A film for this year.

Thelma
Haunting and evocative, right from that genius of an opening! All the little details come full circle and pay off rewardingly.

Toni Erdmann
An astounding balancing-act in tone. Fearless performances make it the relationship of the year.

War for the Planet of the Apes
We don’t deserve Matt Reeves’ quality & care in predominantly mediocre tentpole times. The score being the clearest example of how it doesn’t settle.

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Film

2016: My year in film

A list seen this year across the U.S. and Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

In a slight change from years past, I can safely say I have a definitive favourite! Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. It felt like the ending this year needed, and I wouldn’t be mad if it swept every category at the Oscars. Truly an incredible achievement that left me in a state of euphoria for a good day and a half.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included. In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

American Honey
Youthful exuberance in middling, middle America. A joy. The performances and music make it. Andrea Arnold does it again.

Arrival
My mind and heart are racing. Villeneuve nails melancholy, thanks in large to Adams.

La La Land
Pure happiness, magic and romance by a wizard named Chazelle! Music and acting are second to none. The cure for 2016.

Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck absolutely delivers in conveying, and likely elevating Lonergan’s complex, grief-filled story.

Moonlight
Touching and beautiful, fantastically acted. No on-screen meal has made me happier. That entire diner scene, really.

Old Stone
The transportive class struggles and human drama of Farhadi dialled up in ferocious style by Ma. Perfection.

One More Time with Feeling
Nick Cave has a power over me. Dominik’s eye and the subject matter heighten it to new levels. Floored. The link between emotion and creation, his honest articulation, the beautiful, beautiful B&W shots + direction. And of course, the songs.

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Sufjan Stevens

What a difference a year makes.

I saw Sufjan Stevens live for the first time last June, when he toured with Carrie & Lowell. It was a somber, moving experience, a concert of two halves. He came out in a t-shirt,  alone, played the first five or six tracks of the album without interacting with the audience, beginning in darkness, a single spotlight on him, and then more of the screen behind him playing through a slideshow of family photos and coastal backdrops.

Processed with VSCO

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2015: My year in film

A list seen this year in San Francisco, London, LA, DC, Istanbul, Barbados, Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included.

In alphabetical order, by star rating…

 

5 star

A Most Violent Year
Once again, Oscar Isaac becomes one of my favourite characters in forever. J.C. Chandor is a supremely talented dude.

Amy
What a magnificent pure voice, lyricist and individual. Utterly destroyed by the media, betrayed by many close to her.

Cartel Land
Harrowing, and fills you with misery considering there’s no end in sight. No idea how Hieneman got the access he did.

Creed
The first fight and its continuous take. Emotion and montages in spades. A tribute and fresh take that Coogler crushes.

Leviathan
That majestic yet decaying landscape is a perfect companion to what enfolds. Grand on every front. LOVE that slow-moving camera.

Love & Mercy
The best music you’ll hear in a film this year. Paul Dano doing his finest work. A welcome addition to the musical biopic.

Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller and team have set a new standard for the summer blockbuster. Impeccable, exhilarating filmmaking.

Mommy
The energy and emotions overwhelm. Two extraordinary performances that give themselves completely to Xavier Dolan’s direction.

Seymour: An Introduction
Joyous, uplifting, poignant. It just made me happy. Mr. Bernstein, keep on teaching.

Sicario
That first extraction scene has to be one of the best of the year. del Toro really is like a wolf, personified. Jóhannsson’s score was quite the marriage.

Song of the Sea
Every image is magic, realised. Can’t express how evocative and well-crafted it is! The emotions kick in strong too.

Steve Jobs
The best ensemble in forever. Sorkin’s screenplay sizzles. I was ready to stand up and clap and then realised 2/3rds was left.

The Assassin
The camera never hurries. Exquisite in every sense. Directed by a man in complete control and command of his craft.

The Babadook
Excels in foreboding, delivers on earned scares. Ends with a most excellent parable on managing your personal demons.

The Tribe
A clinical display in cold, brutal filmmaking. The absence of words left me even more isolated and uncomfortable.

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Screenshots

I was doing some research on earphones and found a pair I liked on a site. I started copying the URL, then paused, wondering whether to add a new note in Keep, save the page to Pocket, bookmark the page in Chrome, or worry about the tab disappearing eventually from my Recents.

I ended up taking a screenshot, because it was frankly the easiest way to not forget it.

Opening my “photo” gallery, I realised it had become more than a collection of photos I’d taken aesthetic or emotional purposes. There are many that were sent through messaging apps related to conversations that I probably wouldn’t have taken myself otherwise. Let’s not forget the hours of video I’ve shared on Snapchat that really believes in the moment, disappearing instantly. Venues or books or posters that fall into the remember-this category. And of course screenshots. Whether it’s referencing an Instagram photo (because who actually tries to find a “URL” and share that?) or song I’m listening to (can’t share it from Rdio to friends who use Play Music or Spotify anyway), or now, as a note-taking mechanism.

It says something about how hard it is to actually share things these days, across a myriad of apps. You have to worry about the compatibility of what you’re sharing if it’s done through the service itself. Sometimes, a screenshot is easier.

Maybe one day an OS-wide service will recognise each image and serve up relevant actions like opening the original one in Instagram or playing that album in a music service you have running.

UPDATE
And then Benedict Evans sums it up:

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The Babadook

SPOILERS AHEAD

From the first time I saw the trailer (at the cinemas, before watching ‘The Guest’) to re-watching it on YouTube, skimming Rotten Tomatoes and looking at all the poster art, the only thing I prepared for with ‘The Babadook’ was to be terrified.

I am absolutely appalling in coping with horror films, hence my first reaction at the end being “I thought it’d be even scarier.” To be clear, I spent more than half the film fidgeting, rising and sinking in my seat, raising my eyes above my glasses so that I could blur the terror out. This was the mindset I’d been in for months, and why I’d avoided watching it for so long.

Then I got home. After quickly turning on all the lights and opening cupboards and doors, I started thinking about ‘The Babadook’. Reading about it, it dawned on me how damn brilliant this film actually is. It’s as good a take on depression, grief and honest parenting dilemmas as I’ve seen. All these real-world horrors in the guise of an entertaining scare-fest is one of its best magic tricks.

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2014: My year in film

A list seen this year in San Francisco, London, New York, Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included. Note to self: read a thesaurus.

In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

20,000 Days on Earth
The mind of Nick Cave brought to us in spectacular, hybrid fashion. Haven’t enjoyed a film as much this year!

Boyhood
“Straight up, nothing fancy” Hawke’s character says at one point. It’s true. It’s also a near-perfect, natural time capsule of moments growing up.

Citizenfour
A most essential and terrifyingly timely film that needs to be seen. Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras are heroes.

Finding Vivian Maier
I’m filled with sadness that Ms. Maier didn’t get to see how the world has embraced her work. A lost talent and complex personality packaged up to be narratively and emotionally as strong as anything this year.

Foxcatcher
An unforgiving tragedy helmed by a master storyteller in Bennett Miller. Tatum and Carell are unrecognisably good.

Ida
Frame after frame of black & white beauty that’s soft, still and restrained. I marvel at Pawlikowski’s confidence and vision.

Interstellar
Unparalleled as pure spectacle and wonder. Nolan’s ambition overshadows any faults. McConaughey’s acting, the sound design, and editing made it even richer as a cinematic experience on second viewing.

Hoyte van Hoytema must have watched 2001 many a time! Even Zimmer’s score had some welcome unfamiliarity to it.

Life Itself
A touching tribute to a great man and all he loved. Thank you, Steve James. And thank YOU, Roger. The entire theatre laughed and cried in unison. Two thumbs up.

Nightcrawler
Maniacal, desperate, living the American Dream by way of network television. Gyllenhaal continues his incredible run. The city of L.A., score, humour and editing all stand out.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Simply oozes style and wickedness. The soundtrack will have no equal this year. An instant all-time favourite.

The Double
Offbeat brilliance from Richard Ayoade. Jesse Eisenberg better get an Oscar nom. A fantastic double act.

The Square
There won’t be a braver, more important film this year.

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard gives *the* performance of the year. Completely transformative. A masterwork in realism.

Under the Skin
Singular, seductive, striking sci-fi. Wow to the score, cinematography and Johansson’s all-consuming presence.

Whiplash
Phenomenal! J.K. Simmons is terrifying. Miles Teller’s energy and intensity is out of this world. What a star! The only thing to do at the end is stay sunken in your seat and clap. That rhythm is playing in my head and I can’t stop it.

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The Last of Us

My last console was the original PlayStation. I’ve been a PC gamer since then, up until moving last year and leaving my desktop behind. Playing ‘The Last of Us’ on a PS3 tonight for the first time was a cinematic experience.

The storytelling. The sound design. The camera direction. The score. The use of vibration in the controller to convey certain things. The “cut scenes” are perfectly blended into gameplay, and I got that same feeling I did when playing ‘Bioshock’ for the first time, where I was watching the opening video and then nothing happens for a while. Then I realised the game had kicked in. The opening to ‘The Last of Us’ is that on steroids.

The emotion I felt was very real. The tenseness is on par with any film or TV show, and moreso because you’re in control of a character and the camera. I hesitantly approached each window or door, turning the camera at times so I wasn’t facing the window, avoiding the potential crash of glass. I was projecting my own fear and heightening the suspense due to my paranoid direction.

Even the gameplay tutorial is done in the most minimal, intuitive way possible.

I had to stop playing to write this down. From what I’ve read, I’m guessing my mind will continue to be blown.

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