Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 Sydney Film Festival Round-Up

After a highly successful and wonderfully entertaining week and a half, the 61st Sydney Film Festival wrapped up in perfect style. The awards have been announced and the film fanatics finally have a chance to sleep and once again eat a home cooked meal. The Closing Night Gala provided the perfect ending the festival with the final film being the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows and a Q & A session unlike any other with Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and Jonathan Brugh.
Closing Night also saw the announcing of the winners of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It was Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night which took out the coveted Official Competition Award and 35 Letters which won the Documentary Australian Foundation Award for Australian Documentary. It was announced earlier today that the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner, Winter Sleep was the winner of the Audience Award and Love Marriage in Kabul the winner of the Documentary Audience Award.
Here at Movie Critical we were lucky enough to catch 26 films at this year's Sydney Film Festival. This included 19 feature films and 7 documentaries. We played witness to 9 out of the 12 films featured in the Official Competition and 2 of the 10 Australian documentaries. We had the privilege of seeing a true classic restored on the big screen, and in the space of a week and a half travelled via film to the United States, China, Iran, Bosnia, Ireland, Austria, France, England, Japan, Poland, Sweden, New Zealand and Turkey. It was such a hard job deciding which of these incredible films were our favourites of the festival, as there were so many that were enjoyable and entertaining. We have put together a one paragraph review of each of the films we saw and our top 5 films of the festival to follow.  Please note that the films which will be receiving a theatrical release in Australia will also receive closer to their release date.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June
Directed by Chapman Way, Maclain Way
In 1973, Bonanza actor and father of Kurt, Bing Russell bought the struggling Portland Mavericks baseball team, which became the only independent team in the USA and extremely successful during the 1970's. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a highly enjoyable and often very funny documentary, which is also quite inspirational. The stories of the Mavericks players remind everyone to stay true to their dreams, and that true love of the game is greater than the love of the dollar. There is also a good amount of Hollywood and baseball history thrown into the mix here with some fascinating footage of the past. Definitely one for baseball fans.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 11th and 12th June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Diao Yinan
The winner of the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale, Black Coal, Thin Ice is an extremely atmospheric thriller set in contemporary northern China. Police officer Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) is injured on the job during an investigation into a grisly murder and retires to live a quieter, but more self-destructive life. When murders start happening which are very much like the one which he was working on all those years ago, he is propelled back into the world he has tried so hard to escape. Although there are elements of Black Coal, Thin Ice which are similar to many other films of it's genre, it presents it's audience with a fresh take on these elements. There is a period towards the middle of the film which is really quite slow, but even in this lapse the film is still captivating due to the power of it's visuals.The film is beautifully shot in the snow and the cinematography exquisite.
The Case Against 8 (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 14th of June.
Directed by Ben Cotner, Ryan White
When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, there was reason for many to celebrate. Yet when Proposition 8 was passed in California, there was devastation for many in the gay and lesbian community who were planning to get married or were already married and were then informed that their marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of the law. The Case Against 8 follows the court case against Proposition 8 and in particular focuses on the two couples, Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff who are propelled into the spotlight as part of the case. Although the documentary starts off slow and does give the impression that it is being staged rather than being filmed as actual events are happening, it soon kicks into gear and becomes a captivating and often suspenseful journey. It is also a beautiful story of two couples who are deeply in love which each other and the film is a great deal more personal and emotional than what a typical political courtroom documentary can be.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 7th of June.
Directed by Jasmila Zbanic
When Kym (Kym Vercoe) travels to Bosnia and to the seemingly idyllic town of Visegrad, she is struck by the beauty of the place but experiences an overwhelming sense of dread and unease when staying at the Vilina Vlas Spa Resort. When she returns to Australia, she finds out that her hotel was the site of unspeakable horrors against women during the Bosnian War and decides to return to Bosnia to find out why this was hidden from her. The subject matter of For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is extremely interesting, but the film does not deliver the emotional punch that such a subject should give it's audience. It is the cinematography and the haunting musical score which give the film an eerie edge, but the thirst for an emotional attachment is left unmet.
Frank (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 10th of June
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When struggling and uninspired musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is called up to replace the keyboard player in an avant-garde band led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), he believes he knows what it will take to make this band popular and more accessible to the public. Frank is a deep, but sweet film which explores how people learn to live with a mental illness and the realisation that what is best for you isn't necessarily what is best for everyone else. Although this film may be a little too quirky for some, it is entertaining, enjoyable and often very funny. Michael Fassbender gives an incredible performance which is not at all limited by the fact that he is wearing a giant paper-mache head the whole film.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 8th of June.
Directed by Johannes Holzhausen
The Great Museum is a documentary about the world inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It explores how items are chosen to put on exhibit, how they are put on exhibit and how they are maintained, as well as how the museum operates day to day. This documentary is an absolute must for any art history fan and is made in a rather unique fashion. There are no curators who speak directly to the camera, but rather the viewer finds out what they need to know about the museum by playing witness to conversations between museum workers and also by watching them go about their work. The museum is an absolutely beautiful institute in itself, but the cinematography enhances it's beauty and does the Kunsthistorisches complete justice.
Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 13th of June
Directed by John Ridley
Jimi: All Is By My Side is John Ridley's tribute to legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The film chronicles Hendrix's (Andre Benjamin) life from when he was discovered by Keith Richards' girlfriend, Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) through to the beginning of his worldwide fame. Andre Benjamin does well as Hendrix, as does Poots as Keith and Hayley Atwell as his girlfriend, Kathy, and the soundtrack is also memorable. However, the film tries to do a little too much and believes it is amazing, and it is never a good thing when you can tell that this. There are too many elements of a documentary thrown into this biopic, such as captions informing the audience who is who and real photos thrown in when the character is talking about a particular event. Many of the creative choices of this film bring a film that could have been so much more down.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 5th and 6th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux
In 2011, the author Michele Houellebecq did not turn up for his book tour and seemingly disappeared. His disappearance made a lot of people speculate as to where he could be, and this film is a fantasied answer to those questions which people have had. Houellebecq (who plays himself in this film) has experienced a kidnapping like no other where his every needs are attended to and he befriends his captors. The Kidnapping of Michele Houellebecq is an odd film with no real direction to it. It is quite funny at times and there is an interesting underlying theme of celebrity obsession, as Houellebecq's kidnappers are clearly impressed by his star status. However, the film doesn't seem to make a huge amount of sense and is not overly interesting for those who are not familiar with Houellebecq.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by David Zellner
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a retelling by the Zellner brothers of the Fargo legend. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a painfully shy, Japanese girl who travels from Tokyo to Minnesota in the belief that the Coen brothers film, Fargo is real and that there really is a treasure buried in the snow there. It is a wonderful retelling of the myth with some glorious images, particularly those in the Minnesota winter. There are some brilliant underlying themes of cinema obsession and the need for adventure and self-importance. Rinko Kikuchi does wonderfully to portray a character which is completely introverted, but there is a thirst to know why Kumiko is the way she is which isn't fulfilled.
Please see out exclusive interview with director, David Zellner here
The Last Impresario (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 11th of June.
Directed by Gracie Otto
The Last Impresario is a documentary on the "most famous person you have never heard of",  Michael White. Gracie Otto's film explores the life of the extraordinary man who was known for defying the norm and breaking out to produce such controversial stage productions as Oh! Calcutta! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. White has an impressive group of friends, many of who are featured in the film, including Kate Moss, John Cleese and Yoko Ono. The film is a load of fun and the party atmosphere which White's personality projects is felt throughout the film by the audience. It is an intriguing look at a man who has had an incredible life.
Locke (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 9th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Steven Knight
Locke is a film like no other. For the film's entirety, the lead character, Ivan Locke (Tom Handy) is in his car by himself and is faced with a number of challenges during his car trip. There is no physical appearance of any other characters, yet we hear them all during Ivan's phone calls. Locke is a minimalist film, but it demonstrates how much you can do with so little. The cinematography is quite beautiful and the way the lighting is used brings so much to the film. The story is unpredictable and the way which Ivan is trying so hard not to be the way someone was to him, that he becomes like that person in the areas of his life that he has taken the focus off. It is a theme which many can relate to. Tom Hardy gives an intriguing and wonderful performance as a man who is trying to hold it together in the most stressful of situations.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th of June.
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Rebel Without A Cause is a classic which had been beautifully restored for the Sydney Film Festival. Nicholas Ray's film was completely ground-breaking when it was released in 1955 for the way which is portrayed rebellious teenagers. The film has survived the test of time for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons it is so memorable is because of it's three ill-fated and talented young stars. James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo are all completely flawless in their roles and it is so saddening to see the three of them in the same shot in the scene at the mansion. Dean did not live to see the release of the film and his performance as Jim Stark reminds you of the talent and years of brilliance that was lost. Wood is also very good, but Mineo is an absolute scene stealer and his character, Plato had so many layers and was incredibly complex.
(As this was a restored classic, it has not been included in out top 5 of the festival)
Screened at Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 8th June and was part of the Official Compeition.
Directed by David Michod
The Rover is the long anticipated follow up to David Michod's highly successful Animal Kingdom. Set 10 years after the collapse in Australia, Eric (Guy Pearce) has his car stolen by three men and sets out to avenge the men who took it. He encounters Ray (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the men along the way and together the two men travel through the outback in search of the car thieves. The Rover is an angry, but completely subtle film which is highly character driven and enjoyably so. Pearce and Pattinson are a wonderful onscreen duo and both give wonderful performances. The cinematography is also outstanding and musical score wonderfully haunting.
Snowpiercer (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th of June
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Snowpiercer was one film which had completely divided the opinions of festival goers. Bong Joon-ho's film takes place in the future when the world has frozen over and the only survivors are on a train that runs continuously around the world. The train, like society, is class divided and during the film, the back carriages rebel and try to take over the front carriages. Snowpiercer is very dark and violent with a quirky sense of humour which could be read as being a terrible script or an acquired taste script. It is incredibly unpredictable and suspenseful, as nobody is safe on the train. The production design of the train and it's numerous carriages are very well done and visually intriguing. It is a very odd film which gives a twist on the action genre and is definitely not a film which will be enjoyed by everyone.
Tim's Vermeer (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 4th and 14th of June.
Directed by Teller
Tim's Vermeer is an astonishing and intriguing documentary which is driven by passion and the search for the truth. Tim Jenison, a Texas based inventor, believes that 17th century painter, Johannes Vermeer used an optical apparatus in order to create such lifelike pieces of art, such as The Girl With The Pearl Earring. In order to prove this theory, Tim sets out on a highly ambitious project to paint his own Vermeer painting. It is a project which is a great deal more consuming than he, or anyone else could have ever imagined. This documentary plays out like a video diary of Tim's incredibly ambitious project and is completely intriguing and captivating. There is some incredible and beautiful pieces of art involved, but it is the beauty of this man's passion in his work which is just as entrancing.
Two Days, One Night (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of June.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Winner of the Sydney Film Festival, Two Days, One Night is a small film, but an incredibly effective one. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a call informing her that she will lose her job, unless she can convince her co-workers to give up on their bonus for the year. Over the weekend, Sandra visits each of her co-workers individually and asks them if they will consider saving her by giving up their bonus. Two Days, One Night is suspenseful in an extremely subtle and unusual fashion, as it is unclear what is going to happen at the end and how Sandra, who is already a fragile person, will react to either situation. It is really quite an emotional film, and Marion Cotillard does brilliantly in a role which makes the audience feel a great deal of sympathy and care for her.
We Are The Best! (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 15th of June.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Swedish film, We Are The Best! is an ode to growing up and the time when adult ideas first start to enter the mind of a child. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are two 13 year old girls who decide to start a punk rock band without any musical experience of their own. It is when they convince Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne) to join the band, that they finally find their feet as a band. We Are The Best! is a fun and sweet film about a group of girls who start to see the world differently than they did as a child, and believe there is more to this world than what the other girls who are their age believe. Yet, it is still wonderful to see these girls at an age where they are starting to see things differently, but still hang on to the fun parts of their childhood such a running around laughing and throwing food at each other.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival Closing Night on the 15th June.
Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
The hilarious What We Do In The Shadows was the perfect end to the festival. This vampire mockumentary follows four vampire flatmates in Wellington as they explain how they live in a modern world and the obstacles they face being an immortal beast, including their werewolf rivals and how they seek out victims and clean up after them. What We Do In The Shadows is universally funny and extremely creative. It is a new take on vampires living in the modern world and does well at interlacing history (both fact and fiction) into the film. All of the actors, especially Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement and Jonathan Brugh do wonderfully well as their undead characters.
Winter Sleep (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th June.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The Palme d'Or winner, Winter Sleep takes place in the Cappadocia region where Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) runs a hotel with his sister, Necla (Demet Akbag) and his younger wife, Nihal (Melissa Sozen). The film focuses greatly on Aydin's relationships with the two women in his life and how in this beautiful land they live in, nobody is truly content. Watching the unravelling of these relationships can be draining and quite upsetting at times, but watching the film take place in this gorgeous region where the houses and the hotel are carved out of rock is so delightful. The cinematography is truly exquisite and absolutely breathtaking. However, at over three hours the film does feel rather dragged out and at many times rather slow and uneventful.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 14th and 15th of June.
Directed by Zach Braff
Zach Braff fans have been waiting a long time for his directorial follow up to Garden State, and he does not disappoint with Wish I Was Here. Braff stars as Aidan, a family man who cannot give up his dream of being an actor while his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) works in a mundane office job. When Aidan's father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) falls ill, he can no longer pay for his grandchildren's tuition at their Jewish school and Aidan decides to home-school his son and daughter. Wish I Was Here is an incredibly sweet and funny film, which feels more like Scrubs than Garden State. It can fall into the trap of being oversentimental at times, but it is a welcome oversentimental in a harsh world. The soundtrack is enjoyable and there are some wonderful acting performances, particularly by Joey King and Josh Gad.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 6th and 7th of June.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a charming film told by the unique and magical storytelling of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 10 year old child genius, T.S (Kyle Catlett) lives in an unhappy world where he feels like he is a constant disappointment to his family, despite his incredible achievements. He decides to leave behind his home on the prairie and travel to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, which is where his genius is recognised and exploited. This film is a sweet and often surrealistic film which can sometimes leave you pondering what is actually really happening and what is not. The cinematography and production design is exquisite and so intriguing to see on the screen. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a rather emotional and often heartbreaking journey.
 Movie Critical's Top Five Films of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival
5. Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th and 14th June.
Directed by Frank Pavich
Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about the film that never was. Back in the 1970's, eccentric filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky started work on the extremely ambitious adaption of Frank Herbert's "Dune'. The film was to have an impressive cast including Orson Welles and Salvador Dali and had some wonderfully talented designers behind the scenes. However, it was never to be and became legend. This documentary is absolutely brilliant. Jodorowsky is such a passionate man and so full of energy that his love for the film radiates off the screen. After seeing Jodorowsky's Dune, you really do feel as though you did see Jodorowsky's Dune, even though it was a film which was never made. The depth of information of the pre-production of the lost film in this film is perfect and the whole documentary has the atmosphere of a science fiction film, just like it's subject matter. After watching the film, you are devastated that Jodorowsky's Dune never got off the ground, but still in high spirits after experiencing something so fun and passionate.
4. Once My Mother (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 8th of June.
Directed by Sophia Turkiewicz
Once My Mother is the incredible story of director, Sophia Turkiewicz's mother, Helen. Turkiewicz was placed in an orphanage by Helen when she was seven years old and even though she came back for her when she married, she never got over the abandonment she felt. However, as Turkiewicz got older she found out the reasons behind her mother's decision to leave her there and with the knowledge she gathers finds peace and forgiveness. Helen's story is incredibly powerful and unbelievable. The way which Turkiewicz tells her mother's story is as though the film is a present of love for her, and this love is felt in an overwhelming way as the film progresses. The film is not just about Helen's amazing life, but also about the relationship between mother and daughter and how when daughter's become mother's, they see their mother in a whole new light. There is also a wonderful mix of history with this deeply personal story, which is supported with powerful video footage and photographs.
3. Fish & Cat (2013)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 12th and 13th of June and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Shahram Mokri
Fish & Cat is a truly remarkable film. What it does with the art form of film is spectacular. Shahram Mokri's film is a single shot film and what it does with one single shot is pure brilliance. Set on a lake in rural Iran, a group of university students are camping out while taking part in a night of kite flying. Little do they know that there are two very dangerous men nearby who have something else on their mind. Fish & Cat may not be to everyone's liking as it is very quirky and unless you are 100% committed to the film, it can be very confusing. However, the ways which the film avoids continuity problems that would arise from it being a single shot film is incredible and so well done. It truly challenges the rules of film making and is highly entertaining and atmospheric while doing it.

2. Dinosaur 13 (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 7th and 15th of June.
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Dinosaur 13 does exactly what a documentary should do. It informs, entertains, inspires and rises emotions of the viewer. In 1990, the most complete and largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil was found and was moved by palaeontologist Peter Larson and his crew to Black Hills, a small town where they wanted to keep and display the dinosaur known as Sue. The FBI and National Guard turned up soon after and seized the dinosaur skeleton and a court case followed with an outcome which no one believed would have even happened one that happy day when Sue was first discovered. The amount of emotion which this film provokes is surprising considering one would not believe this subject matter would be so. Yet, it makes you happy, sad and angry. The way the people saw Sue was not as though she was just a group of bones, but as though she was still a living breathing dinosaur and it is a beautiful love the palaeontologists and the town of Black Hills had for her. It is an incredibly interesting subject and ultimately is a story of love against money.

1. Boyhood (2014)
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on the 6th, 7th and 15th of July and was part of the Official Competition.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a beautiful and ground-breaking piece of cinema that's power lies in the subtlety of life's most meaningful moments. Twelve years in the making, Linklater's masterpiece is the true definition of a coming of age film and is revolutionary in it's production. Boyhood is made with a huge amount of love for life and for the process of growing up without any use of exaggeration. Mason is more than a character in a film, he is a boy you form an attachment to and cherish the opportunity to watch grow up.

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