‘The Look of Silence’

An extraordinarily confronting documentary, director Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) continues his exploration of the 1965 Indonesian massacres and those responsible.

In a bold mise-en-scène, through optometrist Avi who lost a brother, murdered in the culling of ‘communists’, Oppenheimer interviews numerous men who ordered or carried out the mass killings. As Avi attempts to find out how a brother he never knew died, so current politicians and men of responsibility justify their actions. More than a million people were murdered: along with jokes, not one ounce of remorse or regret is present in the interviews.

As the horrors of reality and the acts of men are unveiled, a quietly restrained Avi gently probes and questions, looking for a flicker, a momentary realisation to no avail. Pauses, silences, reflection maybe but no regret – even to the brother of a murdered victim.

Nominated for the 2016 best documentary Oscar.

Rating: 63%


Regarded as one of the best films of 2021, Flee is a harrowing tale humanely told through its richly animated visualisation as Afghani refugee Amin unburdens his past.

Having been granted Danish asylum as a teenage boy on the basis of having lost all his family fleeing Kabul, Amin has never revealed the full truth. Having fled the Afghan capital, he and his family initially settled in Moscow. Overstaying their visa, they lived in fear and isolation. With the help of a considerably older brother already living in Stockholm, many attempts to leave failed. Eventually, an alone Amin was able to find a way out. It’s this Amin needs, on the eve of his marriage to Kaspar, to reveal.

Making history in becoming the first film to be nominated for best documentary, best foreign language film and best animation,Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is powerful yet poetic, visceral yet matter-of-fact.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2022.

Rating: 79%

‘Winter Brothers’

Isolation and boredom leads to confrontation in a desolate, almost exclusively male, Danish limestone mining community.

Lonely and eccentric, Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove – Weak Days, TV’s The Bridge) lives with his brother, Johan (Simon Sears – Northern Lights, Baby Fever) and makes moonshine on the side. When a co-worker falls sick, Emil’s illicit alcohol is blamed with violence and ostracisation the result.

Director Hlynur Pálmason (Godland, A White White Day) lingers on the grunge of a mining lifestyle (supported by the industrial percussive soundtrack from Toke Brorson Odin) in creating a convincing backdrop to a less convicing narrative. In the study of masculinity at its rawest, Winter Brothers misses the visceral heart as it looks to the oddness of Emil and his coping of being alone among many.

Rating: 44%

‘Babette’s Feast’

A dour Danish religious community becomes the home of a French refugee in the late 1800s. Babette Hersant, wanting little, volunteers to become the servant to the ageing daughters of the village’s late pastor.

Fleeing Paris and the ravages of the Franco-Prussian War, Babette (Stéphane Audran – The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Les biches) takes refuge in coastal Denmark and the home of Filippa and Martine. Both sisters had the opportunity of escaping the drudgery of denial and poverty, but each remained to support their father. Years after his death, Babette arrives – and remains. On the 100th anniversary of the pastor’s birth, Babette offers a meal, the likes of which have never been seen in the remote village.

A bleak meander of a narrative centred around worship and faith slowly builds to a delightful gastronomic blow-out from director Gabriel Axel (Den røde kappe, Christian), adapted from a short story by Karen Blixen. It takes it’s time, but once the few guests begin to arrive at the tiny cottage, Babette’s Feast and its celebration of creativity is a joy.

Winner of the 1988 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 71%

‘The Hunt’

Intense in its exploration of accusations of child sexual abuse, The Hunt sees the camaraderie and lives of a group of friends shattered by an innocent lie.

Coming to terms with divorce, loss of custody of his teenage son and with the local school having recently closed, former teacher Lucas (an extraordinary Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round, A Royal Affair) finds himself working at the kindergarten. A young, impressionable Klara accuses Lucas of abuse. A close-knit friendship group (Klara is the daughter of best friend Thomas Bo Larsen – Another Round, Festen) implodes and the town is swift in its condemnation.

A deep psychological thriller, Lucas fights to clear his name. It’s an almost impossible task – Klara herself tries to admit her lie but her parents refuse to accept a change in the story. With the innocence of Lucas known to the audience, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt is a devastatingly hard watch. But the townsfolk with their vigilante-like attitude are not party to that knowledge….

Nominated for the best foreign language Oscar in 2014.

Rating: 91%

‘Another Round’

An experiment with blood alcohol levels in their everyday has massive repercussions for four middle-aged male friends.

In a rut at home and at school as a history teacher, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt, Doctor Strange) bands together with three long-term friends to see how daily consumption of a controlled amount of alcohol affects their social and professional lives. Recognising an immediate effect, the controlled amount is increased – and increased again, and again with devastating results.

Isolation and loneliness, repitition and limits of achievement, the four men are each at a stage of desperation and midlife crisis, married with children, divorced with no children, single. To cope, alcohol is seen as the answer.

In focussing on four separate friends, director Thomas Vinterberg (Kursk, The Hunt) makes no moral judgement: each man responds differently, with different results. Anchored by a superb Mikkelsen, Another Round is a wry, deeply sad social commentary as much about friendship as it is about alcoholism.

Won the 2021 best foreign language film Oscar with Thomas Vinterberg also nominated for best director.

Rating: 74%

‘Queen of Hearts’

With formidable and ever-growing tension, writer/director May el-Toukhy (Long Story Short, TV’s The Legacy) reveals the hypocrisy and manipulation within the homelife of a comfortable Danish family.

An idyllic home surrounded by woodland, happily married with twin daughters to Peter (Magnus Krepper – A Cure For Wellness, The Girl Who Played With Fire) and success as a lawyer specialising in domestic abuse. Anne (an extraordinarily nuanced and award-winning performance from Trine Dyrholm – The Commune, In a Better World) seems to have the perfect life. But the arrival of troubled 16 year-old stepson Gustav (Gustav Lindh – Riders of Justice, Orca) and the bond the two unexpectedly form threatens the stability of family.

Shot almost exclusively in the stark, contemporary home, Queen of Hearts is a slow, controlled unfolding, moment by moment of entitlement and abuse of power and position as Anne and Gustav find themselves on a path of no return and a way forward that will have devastating consequences.

Rating: 71%


An oddball confusion of a feature as director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Melancholia), in (predominantly) stark black and white presents a murky post-Second World War Germany of politics, corruption and greed.

Visually stylised (a singular character of soft colour picked out in a crowded station platform; collaged images; model buildings and trains), Europa sees Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr – The Big Blue, Lovers) travel from the States and take a job on the German railways, helped by his overly-efficious uncle. Privately-owned by the Hartmann family, Zentropa Rail traverses the country where Kessler finds himself used and at the centre of too much political attention for his liking.

A noir tale, Europa is more pseud than profound, obscure rather than engaging, a Kafka-esque take that looks stunning but where even the seduction of Kessler by the Hartmann daughter (Barbara Sukowa – Hannah Arendt, Lola) is pure artifice.

Rating: 41%

Best of Year (2019 – Male Performance)

Another strong year for male performances even in a year that was less than memorable in terms of quality films (with a couple of notable exceptions). There was a whole bevy of excellent supporting roles – Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in The Irishman, Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Anthony Hopkins and The Two Popes, both Syun-kyun Lee and Song Hang Ho in Korean sensation, Parasite: add child star Zain al-Rafeea in Capernaum and all of these could have featured in the top five performances for the year (as well as Taron Egerton for Rocketman and Adam Driver with Marriage Story).

But in the end, my top five male performances for 2019 are:
5: Jakob Cedergren, The Guilty
4: Robert De Niro, The Irishman
3: Marcello Fonte, Dogman
2: Timothee Chalamet, The King
1: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

The fact he held the screen for virtually the film’s entire 85 minutes is indicative of the power of Jakob Cedergren’s performance in the Danish film, The Guilty.

A surprise omission from this year’s best actor nominations, Robert De Niro is a powerhouse in Scoresese’s magnum opus to the gangster flick, The Irishman – my choice for the best film of 2019.

Something of an unheralded film outside its native Italy (except on the arthouse film festival circuit), Dogman was a dour drama set in a poor neighbourhood of the Naples urban sprawl. Yet as a timid dog handler and part time cocaine dealer, Marcello Fonte is superb – and Marcello Fonte collected, among other awards, best actor at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and the 2018 European Film Awards.

The fourth major Netflix streaming film of the year was The King, but it was overshadowed by The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. It did pick up some love in Australia – as an Australian/Uk co-production, the film garnered 13 nominations in the AACTA awards, winning four. But Timothee Chalamet has been overlooked in what is one of most impressive performances to date.

But there’s no denying Joaquin Phoenix gave the year’s best performance – an extraordinary bravura performance plumbing emotional depth and physicality. Winner of the Golden Globe a couple of weeks ago, Phoenix should comfortably pick up the Oscar for which he was nominated just two days ago.

Best of Year (2019 – Film)

As I’m heading off for the holiday period until early January and heading for a place where the nearest cinema is a 90 minute drive (and likely to be showing multiple screenings of the latest Star Wars), I can safely list my top 10 films of the year.

2019 was not a vintage year from my perspective – and, with missing the Melbourne International Film Festival, my screenings count was down on previous years. But there were a few crackers in the list – it was simply a lot easier than previous years to whittle the list down to 10.

My top films for 2019 seen as the cinema:

10: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
9: Marriage Story
8: The Favourite
7: Cold War
6: The King
5: Capernaum
4: The Guilty
3: Joker
2: Parasite
1: The Irishman

It’s loud, bombastic, funny, gruesome and enormously entertaining. In other words, a true Quentin Tarantino  – that’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and number 10 on my list. It’s overlong and gets lost in its narrative but Brad Pitt is magnificent in a supporting role to Leonardo DiCaprio.

At number nine is one of three Netflix originals that, thankfully, were screened exclusively by independent cinema house Lido Cinemas. Marriage Story is not an easy watch – the breakdown of a marriage but its a film that celebrates the art of film making, with both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver superb in delivering Noah Baumbach’s incisive dialogue.

One of last year’s Oscar winners came next with The Favourite and Olivia Colman unexpectedly winning the best actress award. It’s a deliciously ribald entertainment of power struggles at the 18th century English court of Queen Anne.

One of my first films of the year – and one of the best. Shot in bleak black and white, Cold War  is an impossible tragic love story from Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski.

Sixth on the list (and another Netflix film) is The King, a UK/Australian co-production which inexplicably lost out to the far inferior The Nightingale at the recent Australian Film Awards. Stirring and commanding with a powering central performance by Timothee Chalamet, The King is a magisterial telling of Henry V,  loosely based on Shakespeare’s history plays.

And so to the top five for the year. A compassionate tour-de-force set in post-Civil War Lebanon, Capernaum is a narrative of lost hope, poverty and sorrow.

A tense, riveting claustrophobia of a narrative restricted entirely to one night in a Danish emergency call centre and built around the headset of one operative, Jakob Cedergren. That’s The Guilty – reminiscent of Locke and Tom Hardy from a few years back.

Number three is one of the few big studio productions – Joaquin Phoenix, whose extraordinary bravura performance plumbing emotional depth and physicality, made Joker a tour-de-force, with a limited palette tonality and brooding score from Hildur Guðnadóttir adding to the impact.

Oscar favourite for best foreign language film (and a few other possible nods) is the Korean Palme d’Or winning Parasite , a splendidly anarchic dark comedy about social divides and love of money. It was my number one film for many a month – until one of the film events of the year….

Another exclusive release screening within Melbourne by Lido Cinemas, Scorsese’s magnificent The Irishman saw sell out screenings (highlighting the importance of seeing such a film on the big screen). And it became my number one film of the year.