• On the Count of Three

    On the Count of Three

    As a film which centres on suicide, On the Count of Three has a tough balancing act to maintain. It has a real sense of humour, but its topics are not light. I think it can be a good thing to tackle things like this with comedy, and to the film's credit it doesn't mock or belittle suicide. The film gets pretty dark at times. There's a sense that things here are relatable, though the film does also go out…

  • Killing Them Softly

    Killing Them Softly

    ★★★½

    Killing Them Softly is a sledgehammer of a movie, cracking skulls to get straight to its point. There is no subtlety whatsoever. This whole film is just a scathing critique of America and its sordid individualism. The voices of politicians play constantly in the background, a reminder of the lies and false hope perpetuated by the powerful. Made in the Obama years, this film is righteously angry at the impact of the recession on ordinary lives and how everyone was…

  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

    ★★★★★

    Kill your heroes. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a film of legacy and history. It is about a man who made history and died as a nobody. Legacy isn't earned, it is forced upon you by myth-makers and charlatans. What makes The Assassination of Jesse James exceptional is that it barely relies on fantasy, stereotypes, or mythmaking. It is about a real man, who just so happened to be a legend. This is a…

  • Othello

    Othello

    ★★★★

    Orson Welles' Othello is a highly visual movie, which becomes clear immediately from the striking shots in the opening scene. Despite being a Shakespeare adaptation the film relies a lot of silence and visual storytelling. It exists more as a cinematic poem that captures the essence of the play without relying so heavily on words. Instead it is atmospheric and shadowy. The production was infamously turbulent, and the final film was shot over many years. In a way that makes…

  • White Building

    White Building

    ★★★½

    White Building is a film of place, lingering on locations and objects. It is built on striking images and strong atmosphere, bolstered by a haunting score that presents the sounds of a world which is slowly leaving us. Set in the famous White Building in Phnom Penh, the film becomes melancholic and intimate. It is about moving on, of having to find new ways of life, as the titular building becomes scheduled for demolition. Young men dance and dream, the…

  • The Heiresses

    The Heiresses

    ★★★★

    The Heiresses is composed and harsh, a work of psychological tension derived from lonely experiences. It centres on two women who have been together for a very long time, their relationship established and stable. Until it suddenly isn't. They are privileged, but running out of money, even though they are too ashamed to admit it. When one is jailed, the film shifts onto the other and her deep loneliness. She must forge a new identity, to become self-sufficient in a…

  • Wadjda

    Wadjda

    ★★★★

    As a film about women and girls in Saudi Arabia, Wadjda shows the repressive laws and rules that govern lives in that country. However the film is not so overtly political, instead telling an ordinary story set within this social context, rather than hammering home the awful inequality on display. There's a more subtle approach taken by Wadjda, one which finds strength and condemnation whilst telling a simple yet very effective story.

    Wadjda is about a girl who wants a…

  • Ilo Ilo

    Ilo Ilo

    ★★★½

    Ilo Ilo is a story driven by economic anxiety. While it is about complacent lives and intimate emotional moments, it mostly plays as a film about how economic anxiety can affect a family and their mental state. Set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a family starts to fall apart. A lot of small accidents and misunderstandings congregate, until larger misfortune manifests. The story centres on a Filipina maid, moving to Singapore to find a better life and earn more…

  • The Hustler

    The Hustler

    ★★★★

    The Hustler is a film about losing. In that sense, it's a film about living. To win usually requires great losses. It is not a film about pool, but a story about people. Hustling is just a profession here, a way to make money. The lead may think it's the centre of his life, but slowly he finds it isn't. He must fulfil himself as a person, not a pool player. In the end his final victory is to surrender,…

  • Winter Sleep

    Winter Sleep

    ★★★★½

    Winter Sleep is a microcosm of social power imbalances. It is about the powerful and the powerless. To examine this it centres on a man with a spiritually corrupt soul. He's intelligent, multilingual, and rich. However he is a destructive person, blind to the misery he causes. He sees himself as a benevolent cultural and economic leader, but is actually hated by all in the community, including his wife. He's steeped in judgements of the poor and powerless, though he…

  • Black Orpheus

    Black Orpheus

    ★★★½

    The carnival as life. Black Orpheus is a colourful celebration of Brazilian culture and tragic love. It is exoticised and gets rather lost in the wonder it is trying to showcase for an unfamiliar audience, but what splendour it splashes across the screen. Black Orpheus takes us to a vibrant, musical world, one bristling with energy and passionate emotion. It's an unashamedly sexy, romantic movie. Yet it is also one chased by death, and the highlight of the film is…

  • Farewell My Concubine

    Farewell My Concubine

    ★★★★½

    Farewell My Concubine is a gorgeous, sweeping epic of change and history. It captures China's ginormous and arduous transformation, from a land of warlords to a nation under communism. However it is not a film just about these difficult years, but instead a personal, emotional epic, of love, jealousy, and betrayal. It is centred on the beauty of Beijing opera, and it blurs characters within fiction and life, as the leads lose their identities to performance. Gender and sexuality unfurl…