‘Pan’s Labyrinth’

An intense collage of fantasy, history, horror, adventure and sexual awakening, Pan’s Labyrinth is a lyrical yet brutal unfold of a narrative, an early feature from multi-award winning director, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley).

Set in 1944 Spain and Franco’s fascist repression of the republican movement, a young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero – Gelo, Another Me) finds solace in her books as she leaves the city to live in an army camp run by her stepfather, the sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi López – A Perfect Day, El Niño). With her mother (Ariadna Gil – Alatriste, Belle Epoque) pregnant and the camp threatened by armed insurgents, Ofelia loses herself in her own fairytale fantasies of being the reborn princess of the underworld.

A multi-layered metaphor of a narrative, Pan’s Labyrinth is a sublime piece of visual and aural storytelling.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2007 including best foreign language film, original script, won 3 for art direction, cinematography & makeup.

Rating: 77%

‘Los Olvidados’

An early social realism classic, Los Olvidados tracks a life of poverty with that of crime in the violent slums of Mexico City.

Director Luis Buñuel (Belle de jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) follows a young Pedro (Alfonso Mejía) as he becomes more and more corrupted by streetwise El Jaibo (Roberto Cobo). Having himself escaped from reform school, the cocky leader of these juvenile delinquents and street urchins looks to exact revenge on the snitch who saw him caught by the authorities. But El Jaibo is no fool – and sees Pedro as the perfect foil.

Set in the barrio of poverty, shot in a pulsating black and white, Bunuel tells his narrative plainly and without glamorising his subjects. The boys live on the streets, taking what they need, when they need. They are as much victims as perpetrators of the violent life they live – and Bunuel marshalls his mostly non-professional cast with tragic truth. It’s a simple tale oft seen – but this is one of the first in Latin American cinema.

Rating: 72%


More than 10 years old but surprisingly relevant as director Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant, Birdman) weaves together three separate but interlinked stories across three continents.

As two shepherd boys shoot at a tourist bus in the remote Moroccan Atlas mountains, two young American children are left alone in the Yuma Desert on the Mexican border. As news of the perceived terrorist shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett – Carol, Blue Jasmine) hits world news, the deaf and dumb Rinko Kikuchi (Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Brothers Bloom) is coming to terms with her mother’s suicide in their luxury Tokyo apartment.

Babel is a stunningly shot (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto – Brokeback Mountain, Argo) forceful character study as individuals become lost in places they do not understand. Whether it’s Brad Pitt (Moneyball, Ad Astra) supporting his injured wife or Adriana Barraza (Cake, Thor) panicked at losing the kids in her care, grief, fear, prejudice, human frailty all come to the fore.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2007 (including best film, directing, original screenplay, supporting actress – both Rinko Kikuchi & Adriana Barraza), won 1 for best original score – Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain, The Motorcycle Diaries.

Rating: 80%

Best of Year (2018 – Film)

The final list of the year – the top 10 films, and, to my mind, it’s something of a stunner, with non-English language films dominant. And just failing to make the top 10 were a number of much praised indie films – including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, The Florida Project and Lean on Pete. Last year’s Oscar winner for best film, The Shape of Water, just missed out on the top 10, as did my only animation for the year, Isle of Dogs.

My top 10 films of the year:
10: The Rider
9: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
8: Loveless
7: 1945
6: The Favourite
5: Roma
4: Custody
3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2: Shoplifters
1: Foxtrot

The final film I saw at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival slipped into 10th spot – an intense indie film of bravura performances beautifully controlled by director Chloe Zhao.

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (essentially the runner up for the Palme d’Or), BPM is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level than its ACT UP AIDS awareness setting.

In Loveless, director Andrey Zvyagintsev continues to comment on contemporary Russian society as a Leningrad couple look to divorce. Their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears in the stark yet rivetingly sincere feature from the director who is responsible for the equally devastating Leviathan.

In seventh spot, a film that was completely under the radar and barely received commercial distribution. But this black and white story of two Jews returning to a small Hungarian village days after the end of World War II is a picaresque narrative of startling beauty and powerful commentary.

One of the favourites in the current Oscar race, The Favourite is a ribald delight as the English court of Queen Anne is the setting for the locking of horns by three women in an attempt to win the royal favour.

Another Oscar favourite (and odds-on to win the foreign language film nod) is another black and white beauty. Roma by Alfonso Cuarón is the gorgeously shot year in the life of Cleo, a maid to a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s.

Devastating and disturbing, debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

The runner-up for best film of the year is Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a deft, emotionally delicate feature from socially conscious filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda.

But my favourite film of 2018 is the Israeli film, Foxtrot, a sublime mix of intense drama interspersed with flashes of surreal brilliance. It’s bold, it’s imaginative, it’s powerful – an appropriate follow-up from director Samuel Maoz and his visceral debut feature film, Lebanon.


In limited commercial release, Netflix’s Golden Lion winner at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, Roma, is a delectable (black and white) year in the  life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s – with the focus firmly centred on the maid, newcomer Yalitza Aparicio.

Engagingly episodic, the restraint shown by writer/director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men) results is an achingly beautiful film that unfolds in seemingly real-time. Roma is an evocation of nostalgia and time past – a memoire of (mostly) minor events as adults and children live their everyday.

Already in receipt of numerous awards and nominations for the Golden Globes, Roma is also likely to feature in numerous Oscar categories.

Nominated for 10 Oscars in 2019 including best film, actress, original screenplay and won 3 for best foreign language film, director and cinematography.

Rating: 87%