Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Hirokazu Koreeda is one of my favourite filmmakers. Somehow, he manages to consistently craft films that portray both life and death in such a gentle, humanist way. His films tend to feel more like dreams – never rushing the viewer through scenes, but letting small, intangible moments wash over you, quietly and patiently. His newest film, Our Little Sister, is his first adaptation, based on the manga series, “Umimachi Diary”, which is perfect source material for Koreeda’s meditative style and penchant towards family relationships. While the narrative isn’t quite as strong as his other films, it still has wonderful, heartbreaking performances and exudes that same grace and lullaby-like pacing that permeates through his filmography. It makes me miss Japan.
Directed by James Ponsoldt
It’s difficult for me to talk about this film without being overly sentimental. I’m not even totally sure why I feel so sentimental about it and how it moved me. Was I already predisposed to loving this film due to the people who were involved? Probably. Because of it’s unconventional structure, themes and subject matter? Most likely. But I guess it’s maybe because it met all of my expectations and delivered above and beyond that I can’t help but gush. The film was utterly refreshing on all levels, with tour-de-force performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, beautiful dialogue and wonderfully subtle direction. The last scene in David Foster Wallace’s house is my favourite scene of the year so far. It makes me overjoyed to see a film released in 2015 to be so simple, yet explore pain, loneliness and ego on such a complex level. I’m glad these kinds of films are still being made. I wish I made it.
Directed by Jafar Panahi
So for those who don’t know, five years ago Iranian director Jafar Panahi was banned by the Iranian government from making films for the next 20 years, also prohibiting him from leaving the country. That’s a disturbing reality, which makes this third “not-a-film” Panahi has made since the ban both a compelling experience, and also a massive success in the case for freedom of expression. Under these rules placed down on Panahi by law, he’s exerted extreme creativity in circumventing around these restrictions, blending fiction and reality together to provide a humanist and soulful ride around present-day Tehran, examining the living conditions, social politics and difficulties the Iranian people are experiencing during the day-to-day. To make a film is difficult enough already, but to make a film this good and still being able to legally call it not a film is something else entirely.
Directed by Josh Mond
James White is, for lack of a better word, devastating. But in the absolute best of ways. A highly personal debut feature from Josh Mond, James White stays up close with the eponymous lead protagonist – phenomenally performed by Christopher Abbott – as we become familiar with his pain, anger, and inner conflicts at every moment. Christopher Abbott carries the film effortlessly, which is incredible considering what’s required of him. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with Cynthia Nixon giving perhaps the most brave performance of her career. Unflinching, raw and sometimes plain horrifying, James White escapes sentimentality for truth and realism, and it made me want to call my parents immediately. A brilliant film (with a brilliant soundtrack).
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Peering into the life of Seymour Bernstein, an extraordinarily talented New York concert pianist, Seymour: An Introduction serves as a honorary tribute to a man that decided to carve his own path. Citing extreme anxiety, Bernstein embraced his reclusive nature despite his talents, holing up in a small New York apartment to become a piano teacher. Instead of the typical rags-to-riches or mental downfall stories which are synonymous with these kinds of documentaries, we are instead treated to a story of a man that made absolutely sure that he could continue doing what he loved, who places his love for music above fame and above money. You may not be enthralled to see someone who has simply found happiness in their life, but by god is it refreshing.
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
I saw The Assassin at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and it was a strange experience on a few levels. Prior to this, The Assassin won Hou Hsiao-Hsien the Best Director prize at Cannes, so naturally the session I went to was packed out to the brim. Interestingly however, no other session I went to at MIFF had as many walkouts as this one. People were constantly trickling out of the door for the first half of the film. The projector in the cinema was certainly out of focus, but still – who’s to blame for the disparity? The film or the audience? The film plays out in 4:3 aspect ratio, and contains a certain stillness that one would assume Western audiences maintain an aversion towards to this very day. What do most audiences want when they pay their money to see a film? Do they want to be challenged, to be opened up to different cultures, or simply distracted from their own lives for two hours? Who knows. Regardless, The Assassin is by all means a different experience: one that pays tribute to an ancient history and tradition, with a stoic style and form that is as uncommon as you’ll find in today’s contemporary cinema. It may not deliver at an electrifying pace, but it’ll become a film that lingers inside the soul, with every frame filled to the brim with beauty.
Directed by Pablo Larraín
How do we attach our sympathies? Do we simply assert them onto those less fortunate than ourselves? How much do we need to understand about someone to deem them deserving of sympathy? Pablo Larraín has to be one of the gutsiest filmmakers working today, as The Club – his follow-up from the incredible and political film, No – proves with a quiet, but viciously acidic story of Catholic hypocrisies and sins. This is one of those films in which discussing the narrative would be a massive disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it. One of it’s major strengths is how it plays the audience – or at least it played me like a fiddle – by withholding and giving information at very select moments, which made me constantly see each of the characters in different lights, going from sympathising with them, to hating, back to sympathising… on and on. This is a powerful film which explores the darkness lurking inside.
Directed by Christian Petzold
Phoenix is a testament to small-scale filmmaking with big ambitions. The ability to make a post-WWII period-piece on a budget of $4 million is borderline phenomenal, and Phoenix uses every last dollar to impressive effect in it’s production design and lighting. Phoenix plays out like an inverted Vertigo, with themes of identity, deception and manipulation at the forefront. Strong performances and a controlled sense of time and space grounds the film, as we feel our way through the haze with our characters, struggling to reconnect with what was lost in post-WWII Berlin.