Top End Wedding
When loved-up Sydney couple Lauren (Miranda Tapsell, also the film’s screenwriter) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) get engaged, they’re determined to get married immediately. And at Lauren’s behest, they’re going to do it on the other side of the country, with her family in the Top End of the Northern Territory. But when they arrive they discover Lauren’s mother has run away, and the couple have 10 days to get the family back together and get hitched.

This charming and cheerful rom-com adds absolutely nothing new to the genre, but if it’s innovation you wanted, you wouldn’t be buying tickets to a rom-com. The fairytale romance, the supporting cast of wacky friends and family and the tense dash to the aisle are all good examples of the form, but Top End Wedding’s greatest achievement is its fresh and funny Indigenous Australian voice. The rom-com is a very American genre, but with Indigenous director Wayne Blair and star/writer Tapsell (who previously worked together on The Sapphires) giving it a strong sense of identity, this is as uniquely Australian as films come. Tapsell is a proper rom-com star, charmingly awkward, funny and warm.

It can be cheesy at times, but it’s all told with so much love that by the time the story culminates in the Tiwi Islands it’s made it to the upper echelons of Australian rom-coms.

Top End Wedding is screening at Palace Nova East End and Prospect and Mercury Cinema. Watch the trailer.

Gloria Bell
Gloria (Julianne Moore) is an entirely average middle-aged divorcee floating unmoored in a world that doesn’t need her. The kids have moved out and started families of their own, but Gloria is still painfully emotionally dependent on them. She spends her nights in a singles’ bar dancing to disco and meeting mediocre men, and singing adult contemporary alone in the car. Then she starts a relationship with Arnold (John Turturro), who has some dependency issues of his own.

This is another remake about another woman trapped in mundanity. Director Sebastián Lelio has told this story before in his 2013 Chilean-Spanish film Gloria, but if an English-language remake is what it takes for people to see these stories, then so be it.

Gloria Bell is a clear-eyed look at the ordinary life of a woman in her fifties – hardly a forgotten demographic, but just one society at large generally doesn’t care about. Moore plays loneliness superbly in this film, as a slight woman, quiet and often awkward, alone in any crowd. Moore zeroes in on the nuance, veering between cheery and eager-to-please, plainly depressed, and ultimately empowered. But underneath the loneliness, this is a story about ruptured families, and the cycle of need and dependance that anchors us to other people.

Gloria Bell is screening at Palace Nova East End and Prospect. Watch the trailer.

Us
When Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) was a kid, she had a terrifying and surreal encounter with a doppelgänger. Now a mother of two, she’s on a family holiday with her husband Gabe (Jordan Peele) and kids Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) and upsettingly close to the site of her childhood trauma. And her doppelgänger isn’t done with her.

It’s fitting that Us director Jordan Peele is producing and presenting the new version of The Twilight Zone. Us would make a perfect episode: a weird, high-concept happening changes the life of an ordinary person, accompanied by plenty of scary bits, memorably creepy imagery, and an underlying social commentary. But this isn’t a chin-stroking, thinking-person’s horror film – it’s still scary as hell (and laugh out loud funny at times). And while the treatment of class and wealth is as subtle as a hammer to the skull, this is the kind of blunt force needed to reach a mainstream audience. It doesn’t hang together as well as Peele’s last film, the excellent Get Out, but it’s rewarding to see a major film taking a few risks and playing with big ideas.

Us is playing at most Palace Nova East End and Prospect. Watch the trailer

Burning
In Paju, South Korea, aspiring writer and reluctant farmhand Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) reconnects with a schoolmate, the eccentric Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo). He quickly falls in love with her, but before long she’s dating the richer, better-looking and more charismatic Ben (Steven Yeun). Jongso becomes the third wheel. But then one of the wheels disappears.

Loosely based on a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Burning wrong-foots its audience early on. What seems at first to be a love triangle between a rich man, a poor man and a manic pixie dream girl becomes a tense psychological drama. There’s so much rich detail, from Jongsu’s flawed character to the glimpses of the divisions in contemporary Korea. Jongsu’s farm is on the North Korean border, from which he hears the North’s propaganda broadcast every day. And the Gatsby-esque Ben lives in luxury while Haemi’s apartment is about the size of his bathroom. Burning never lets up with dualities and ambiguities, lies and truths, and doesn’t give us easy answers. Film of the month for me.

Burning is screening at Palaca Nova East End. Watch the trailer.

mid90s
In an effort to escape his loving mum (Katherine Waterston) and surly older brother (a wound-up, violent Lucas Hedges), 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) falls in with a gang of skaters with names like Fuckshit and Fourth Grade. With their help he learns to skate, and learns the ins and outs of burgeoning toxic masculinity.

I struggled to work out why mid90s needed to be set in the mid-’90s. Is it a story that can only be told in the golden age of skate culture? Has teenage masculinity changed? Or is it just a nostalgia kick for men of a certain age? While I think it’s mostly the latter, that doesn’t get in the way of a strong coming-of-age film from debut director Jonah Hill. Rechristened as “Sunburn”, Suljic plays an angel-faced kid torn between his new role model Ray (Na-Kel Smith) and the more destructive instincts of other members of his new family. This is a frank portrayal of young men huddled in a pack and slowly tearing each other apart.

While Hill has insisted that his film steers clear of “nostalgia porn”, the soundtrack covers everything from 2Pac, Wu-Tang Clan and Pharcyde to Pixies, Nirvana and Seal’s Kiss From A Rose. For those of us right on the target age, the mid-’90s nostalgia is real, and that’s fine by me.

mid90s is screening at Palace Nova East End. Watch the trailer.

2040
As we hurtle towards climate catastrophe, the messaging has never been more urgent: we need to change our ways or face permanently trashing the planet. Taking the stance that people respond to optimism better than to doom and gloom, Australian documentary filmmaker Damon Gameau trawls the globe imagining a better future from currently-existing technology and asks the question, “What could the world look like in the year 2040 – if we really tried?”

This smart and optimistic documentary blends climate science with special effects to offer us that rare thing: a cinematic vision of the future where we don’t wreck the planet and descend into fascism. Instead we turn to renewable energy, driverless shared vehicles and sustainable farming practices.

There’s a human heart to it as well. Gameau ostensibly addresses the film to his young daughter, showing her the world he wants her to inherit. And it’s a beautiful one. Gameau stands in central Melbourne with traffic din replaced by birdsong, and roads replaced by parkland. As in Gameau’s previous hit That Sugar Film, material that could add up to nothing more than a pious lecture is presented with one eye on everyday life. 2040 is more in tune with the times than the extended PowerPoint presentation of An Inconvenient Truth, and it leaves you with far more hope.

2040 opens nationally on May 23. Watch the trailer.