Dec 292017
 

It is hard to believe another year has passed. If you know me you know I am obsessive about organising what I have seen, read and listened to and having a clear idea of how I feel about things. In 2017 the things striving for attention increased dramatically. My wife an I introduced our daughter to the world. I started a new job. Big changes. I had books, music, the NBA (I am a die-hard 76ers fan, somewhat foolishly) all dominating my life for stretches of time, to the point of overshadowing film watching. From a vastly smaller (and I believe significantly weaker) pool of films than recent years I have selected my favourite 25 from 2017. Check them out after the jump.

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Dec 242017
 

So, the following list contains my favourite films of the year. I normally run with 25 favourites but I saw 168 new films this year (62 alone were from film festivals) which is more than my usual so I’ve upped it to 30 (And even then it broke my heart cutting some out of a list that began with 50).

These films embodied an honesty and optimism that were needed in a year like this one. These films reflected social progression and change. These 30 films for me encompassed all of those feelings yet not a single one, no matter when or where it was set, ever ignores the current state of things and how bad they are. They each acknowledge it and then give you something in return.

These films are inclusive, exciting, progressive, challenging, hopeful and they greatly improved my year.

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 Posted by at 10:11
Dec 222017
 

Hello friends.

What a year. For many reasons. 2017 was the year that film took a bit of a backseat for me. I took the year off writing, saw far less films at the cinema, and instead, spent time with my daughter.

That’s not to say I didn’t see anything. I still made it to the cinema a decent number of times, and my viewing total for the year will be around 200, most of which are new releases. VOD and streaming services played an extremely important part in my film consumption, and while I do miss physical stores, online viewing has made it possible for me to stay part of the film community, even in a little way.

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Jun 152017
 

Last Men in Aleppo

Set amidst the rubble of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, this tremendously powerful portrait of White Helmet civilian volunteers was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Though an unfortunate product of the Syrian Civil War atrocities, viewed as a work of vital on-the-ground reporting this is an extraordinary achievement. Not interested in glorifying the heroics, or showering a viewer with all the gruesome images, but in simply in telling it how it is, this film is humane, gripping and heartbreakingly sad.

As the Russian missiles fall across the Aleppo war zone – Syria’s largest city becomes the symbol of Bashar al-Assad’s war against the rebels opposing his government – the physically exhausted, unarmed and poorly equipped troupe of aid volunteers get the call to scour the rubble in search for survivors. It is haunting viewing (emphasised by the score) and director Feras Fayyad, in a collaboration with Danish filmmaker Steed Johannessen and the Aleppo Media Centre, records, via privileged and professionally dangerous access, the traumas and the emotional struggles of these brave everyday heroes. With the distressing coverage of the rubble scouring and the excavation of expired youngsters (mostly) we are offered intimate insight into the psychology of these men as they share dialogue and have rare moments of comfort to balm their stresses – with the next tragedy emerging from the horizon.

Fayyad achieves greatness here, by tempering a pair of dramatic arcs – the stories of White Helmets’ Khaled and Mahmoud – by balancing their desperate rescue efforts with details of their attempts to recreate a sense of normalcy. Khaled is a father torn between fleeing with his children and his duty to the White Helmets. Mahmoud visits a family that he help save from the debris, and at one point is caught up in an attack where his brother is almost killed. This harrowing and depressingly haunting document spotlights the courage and resilience of these men, whose personally-unfathomable optimism of a brighter future for Syria begins to be broken down with each fresh bombing raid, and who admirably maintain a sense of duty to the community and the city they remain proud to call home.

Roller Dreams

It was the year 1984, and on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California, young people of colour were seeking refuge from the turmoil of inner city life. They would flock to the eclectic ocean community to create a brand new phenomenon: roller dancing. The talent and vibrant personality of this multicultural roller ‘family’ transformed the pastime into an art form and drew massive crowds of appreciative spectators. But politics and gentrification would conspire to end the dream. Australian filmmaker Kate Hickey’s energetic documentary turns the lens on this exciting subculture; injecting blast from the past archival footage with a respectful interrogation and colourful stylistic flourishes.

At the centre of the film – and the catalyst for the boom and the unofficial delegate for the eventual dismantling of the art at its height – is Mad, a smooth-moving, physically-perfect icon who took the eager youngsters under his wing, established a reputation of leadership and respect, and forged a culture of integration, collaboration and pride for the art. When the hotspot became a target of racially-charged police crackdowns, Mad was chief rebel.

For a large part of the film Mad remains a silent spectre in the background – there didn’t seem to be many videos of him and I expected that he had passed in the years since (I feared tragically) – as fellow skaters Jimmy, Larry and Sally and others tell their skating origin stories, and share their experiences with the man touted as the ‘Godfather’ of roller dancing. But, eventually, the film directs its focus to Mad – a man who has hung up the skates for good and never looked back. The loss of dancing has continued to pain him all these years, but he has applied his natural charisma and sensible wisdom to every endeavour in his adult life. Reluctant to revisit the past Mad is coerced into returning to Venice Beach to lead one final line with his former proteges. It is a powerful image; to see the man reduced to tears when confronted with the past, considering the life he never led.

Jan 022017
 

I spent a lot of this month catching up on a few 2016 releases I had missed, and making sure I caught all the essential theatrical releases in December. The result was surprising: only a few of these viewings left an impression on me. I remember last year seeing The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol and Spotlight in December. This year Jackie, Your Name and The Edge of Seventeen stood out, but I still have a number of the Oscar candidates to see – Moonlight, Manchester By the Sea, Hidden Figures, Silence, Lion and Fences. At this point last year I had seen all eventual Best Picture nominees save for Room. 

The absolute highlight of this month’s viewing was the tremendous Westworld. I was hooked after one episode, and for me this is a demonstration of the rarely-met potentials of TV. Layers upon layers of interconnected story arcs and thought-provoking ideas that utilise the 10+ hours. The intrigue is never relinquished here – the twists are shocking – and the writing, acting and production values are all exceptional.

2017 goals = unknown. With a baby on the way, I have no idea what kind of time I can dedicate to movies, TV, books and games. I expect I’ll still probably see in the vicinity of 200 films throughout the year, but very few will be at the cinema. Most will likely be on VOD catch-up. I have set a reading goal at 20 novels for 2017. This year I hit 40, so I think this is realistic.

After the jump is a listing of everything I watched in December. I needed 36 films to hit 365 films for the year. I wasn’t trying for this number, it just happened. I didn’t make it anyway, ending with 27.

Oh, and if you missed my 25 Favourite Films of 2016, be sure to check it out.

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Dec 282016
 

I love and loathe end of year list making in equal measure. I love it because there are SO MANY great films and I get to spend many hours reminiscing about all the fantastic art I have seen on-screen over the last 12 months. I loathe it because there are SO MANY great films, and its painful to narrow my favourites down to an arbitrary number. Anyone who says it has been a bad year for film, or the even worse “film is dead”, is just not really trying. This year I went for 20 films with 15 honourable mentions. These 20 stuck above the rest for various reasons – they amused, delighted, shocked, challenged, and wowed me.

My favourite 20: 1 of the films is the only film I saw twice at the cinema this year; 6 are directed by women; 2 are directed by the same director; 2 are animated; 1 is a documentary; Adam Driver, Jeff Bridges, Michael Shannon, Samuel L Jackson, and Joel Edgerton all appear in 2 of the films each; and 7 of the films I saw for the first time at the 2016 Sydney film festival.

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