Dec 032016
 

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Happy Summer Australia! Escape the oppressive heat and depressing grind of everyday life, and head to your local, air conditioned cinema! As with every summer, there are plenty of great films to see, with the “awards” crush of films well and truly upon us. From animated adventures in the Pacific, to seventeenth century Japan, there is something here for everyone. Check our picks out after the jump.

December

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The Queen of Katwe – Dec 1

Starring Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and David Oyelowo (Selma) the latest film from Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) depicts the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl living in a slum of Katwe who is taught how to play chess by a missionary (Oyelowo), and eventually becomes a Woman Candidate Master. It sounds like an inspiring and uplifting story and there has been praise for Nair’s sensitive direction and the nuanced performances. [Andy]

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Dec 15

While the buzz around the latest entry in the Star Wars canon is well shy of The Force Awakens, and there have been reports of re-shoots and troubled production, one can’t help but feel anticipation. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star. This is a new story – set before Episode IV – featuring fresh characters (and a great cast led by the always-excellent Felicity Jones) and if the trailers are any indication it is going to look stunning. Shot by Australian DP Greig Fraser (Killing Them Softly and Zero Dark Thirty) this is Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters and Godzilla) third feature. He has proven himself already to be a visionary director so it will be interesting to see how his style works in the Star Wars universe. [Andy]

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 La La Land – Dec 26

Winner of the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and Best Actress for Emma Stone at the Venice Film Festival, the latest film from Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) has already been tipped as an Oscar frontrunner. Academy voters do love films that romanticise old-Hollywood. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Stone) are drawn together by their common desire to do what they love. But as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart. Gosling and Stone do work brilliantly together, and Chazelle’s camera works wonders, but, in an unexpected, and not particularly elegant switch from romantic musical to dramatic romance, this may prove to be a little more divisive than the five-star reviews suggest. Still essential viewing, but temper expectations please. [Andy]

 

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Moana – Dec 26

Hey look, not all princesses need to be white! Moana focuses on the daughter of a Polynesian Chief, who sets off on a quest to set things right with a demigod in order to save her home and its people from a dire fate. Reviews for the film have been largely positive, with many praising the beautiful animation and catchy songs. There’s a stellar cast and crew on board here, with Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda one of the creatives behind the film’s original songs, and New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi the writer of the initial screenplay for the film. This looks to be a fun option for your family visit to the cinema these holidays. [Sam]

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Paterson – Dec 26

In his review of Jim Jarmusch’s Patterson, Mark Kermode calls the film ‘a tone poem’. I haven’t been able to shake that since I heard it, as it’s really the perfect description of this beautifully paced look at the small-town lives of an artistic couple. Adam Drive plays Paterson, a bus driver in the town of Paterson who writes poetry in his lunch break and spare time. His poems are observational, his inspiration the passengers on his bus, objects in his home, occurrences in the street. His wife loves filling their home with colour, and is trying to get a small cupcake business up and running. It’s a film about noticing, appreciating, and drawing inspiration from the small, everyday things in life. The film also contains the best canine performance of the year. Paterson is the perfect antidote to the crazy commercial holiday period. [Sam]

Also releasing in December: The Family Fang, Little Men, Trolls, Underworld: Blood Wars, Up For Love, The Disappointments Room, Office Christmas Party, A United Kingdom, Allied, Red Dog: True Blue, Rosalie Blum, Sing, Why Him?

January

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The Edge of Seventeen – Jan 5

Generated a lot of chatter at TIFF, suggesting that the début feature from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig is one of the year’s best coming-of-age films. Hailee Steinfeld (who is great, but has been given few memorable roles since her breakout in True Grit) is a high school senior who discovers she feels more alone than ever when her all-star older brother starts dating her best friend. But, an unexpected friendship with an awkward, but thoughtful, boy (Hayden Szeto) gives her a glimmer of hope. Also stars Woody Harrelson in an against-type role as Nadine’s history teacher and mentor. [Andy]

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Jackie – Jan 12

Jackie has the most exquisite cinematography. Now, I know that might not be a draw card for some, but there were shots in this film so beautiful, they gave me the chills. Covering a period of no more than 2 weeks since the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, Jackie is a like a scrapbook of events, moments, and recollections of Jackie’s life over that two-week period. Using an interview with a Life Magazine journalist and a conversation with a priest as a way in which to retell the raw events, Jackie is expertly edited to provide an insight into her grief, her love, and her perception of herself. Natalie Portman gives an incredible performance here, as does Peter Sarsgaard who I honestly did not recognise as Bobby Kennedy. [Sam]

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Moonlight – Jan 26

The best-reviewed film out of the United States in 2016 (check out this off-the-charts Metacritic score, one of the highest in the site’s history) looks incredible. It was finally announced to be releasing in Australia this summer just this week. The Jan 26 slot is right in time for the Oscars, which this looks like a pretty sure bet to be featuring prominently. How often do we see stories focused on queer black identity portrayed on screen, and how often are they given this much attention? We’re very excited about this. Barry Jenkins’ film looks absolutely stunning. This is sure to strike a chord with anyone who has struggled with identity. It tells the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality. [Andy]

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Live By Night – Jan 26

Directed by Ben Affleck (Best Picture winner Argo and The Town), adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone – also Affleck – Mystic River, The Drop), edited by William Goldenberg (Oscar-winner for Argo) and photographed by Tarantino regular Robert Richardson (Oscar-winner for Hugo) this has Oscar contender all over it. Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the prodigal son of a Boston police captain. After moving to Ybor City, Tampa, he becomes a bootlegger, rum runner and notorious gangster. The cast is stacked – Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Chris Cooper – and considering what Affleck has turned out so far as director, this has to be hotly anticipated. [Andy]

Also releasing in January: Passengers, Assassins Creed, Ballerina, Collateral Beauty, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, Monster Trucks, Lion, Split, XXX 3, A Monster Calls, Perfect Strangers, Resident Evil 6, Rules Don’t Apply

February

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Toni Erdmann – Feb 2

Did the film – a near three-hour Germany comedy – that generated so much buzz at the Cannes Film Festival live up to the hype? Yes. I don’t know how all this worked so well – it is all just so unusual. Maren Ade’s wonderful film, which inexplicably went home empty-handed (save for the FIPRESCI prize) at Cannes, portrays a sweet, heartfelt, honest and completely engrossing father-daughter relationship, headlined by a pair of wonderful comic performances. Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a now-retired music teacher with an ailing mother and a recently deceased canine companion, is living with the regret of not seeing enough of his busy daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). She is working as a management consultant in Romania, advising a company how they can increase profits by laying off workers. Winfried, seeing right through Ines’ feigned happiness and declared contentedness – he believes she has lost her ‘humour’ – decides to make a surprise visit to Bucharest, intruding into Ines’ life at every opportunity. Sporting a terrible suit, crazy wig and hideous false teeth as his alter-ego, life coach “Toni Erdmann”, he bombards her, and her colleagues and contacts, with a barrage of jokes and strange gags, creating bold and provocative situations to challenge Ines. They key to this film’s success is its sweetness – it loves the characters, and convinces you to love them too – and to tell its hilarious and tremendously moving story by doing whatever it wants. [Andy]

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Manchester by the Sea – Feb 2

The latest film from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret – a dramatic masterpiece, if you haven’t seen this you must immediately) was the big-ticket film at the Sundance Film Festival this year. After the death of his older brother Joe, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked that Joe has made him sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick. Taking leave of his job as a janitor in Boston, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the fishing village where his working-class family has lived for generations. There, he is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and the community where he was born and raised. Praise for Lonergan’s screenplay and Affleck and Williams’ performances will likely result in strong Oscar consideration, but this should be a tremendous family drama from one of America’s great filmmakers. [Andy]

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Fences – Feb 9

Based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play of the same name by August Wilson, Fences sees Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles as Troy and Rose Maxon, for which they both won Tony Awards for acting in 2010. In fact, most of the cast in this film adaptation were in the 2010 Broadway Revival  of the play directed by Scott Rudin. The film is set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, and focuses on a former African American League baseball player who now works as a trash collector. He struggles to make ends meet for his family, and finds it hard to reconcile with how his life has turned out. Bring tissues! [Sam]

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Silence – Feb 16

This near three-hour religious/historical epic from Martin Scorsese will be a genuine Oscar frontrunner. After blowing audiences away with The Wolf of Wall Street, this could not be more of a departure for the 74-year-old maestro. The story is set in the seventeenth century, and follows two young Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge and Adam Driver, Paterson), who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity. It is based on Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name (formerly adapted into Chinmoku in 1971) and will be sneaking into U.S audiences just before Christmas. Australian audiences will have to wait a few more months but we are sure it will be worth the wait. [Andy]

Also releasing in February: Bastards, The Birth of a Nation, Patriots Day, A Few Less Men, Fifty Shades Darker, Paris Can Wait, T2: Trainspotting, Gold, The Great Wall, Hidden Figures, The Space Between Us, A Cure For Wellness, Sleepless, God Particle

Bonus: originally when we put this article together Loving had a February 9 release date. It has since moved to March 9, but we wanted to mention it anyway and make sure you keep an eye out for it.

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LovingMarch 9

Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (played wonderful by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple were jailed and prosecuted for marrying each other in violation of state laws at the time. Their challenge against their prosecution eventually ends up in the US Supreme Court, but that’s not really what the film is concerned with. The film details their relationship, their lives together, and the impact that the fear of arrest, and ongoing court cases had on their lives. It’s a quiet, contemplative film – words are used sparingly, but looks and body language says so much. This is a film I appreciated when I watched it, but has grown on me even more over time. In different hands this film would have been an over-the-top courtroom drama, peppered with scenes of violence and great emotion. In the hands of writer-director Jeff Nichols, it’s a thoughtful portrayal of love in difficult circumstances. I highly recommend this film. [Sam]

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