Once Upon a Time In … Hollywood
Los Angeles, 1969: cowboy movie-star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is worried about his career, but he’s got a bromance with best buddy and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to lean on. Meanwhile, cult leader Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and his hippyish family (Dakota Fanning, Margaret Qualley, Lena Dunham and others) cast a shadow over Hollywood – and actor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is in their sights.

When I first heard Quentin Tarantino was planning to make a film based on the Manson murders, my instinct was to run in the other direction. His gratuitous and slapstick approach to violence and his dubious approach to women on screen raised more than a few red flags. How would he approach a slew of grisly murders, all in living memory? Yet he navigates a maze of bad taste and somehow pulls it off. This is an unhinged and enjoyable film, with all the wit and postmodern playfulness of Tarantino’s greatest work. DiCaprio and Pitt are at their best, and despite criticisms that she barely gets a word in, Margot Robbie’s performance is the beating heart of the film.

You don’t need to be a cinema expert to find it funny, but it would certainly help if you want to eke out all the in-jokes. Tarantino makes up some credible footnote characters and blends them into real events – or at least, a pretty decent facsimile of real events. Hollywood in 1969 has been thoroughly mythologised by now, and this film is more myth than reality. But this is part of the broader game of playing with the Hollywood meta-myth, which Tarantino has been doing since Pulp Fiction. Old Hollywood is the cinema of his youth and he’s passionate about it, and that shines through. I won’t spoil how he eventually approaches the murders, but it’s just about the most Tarantino thing I’ve ever seen.

Once Upon a Time In … Hollywood is screening at the Astor, Cinema Nova, Lido, Palace Cinemas Balwyn, Kino, Como and Westgarth. Watch the trailer.

Who You Think I Am
Left by her husband and spurned by her much younger lover, university lecturer Claire (Juliette Binoche) starts a Facebook page under the identity of a younger woman and begins catfishing a young man, crafting a fabric of lies that begins to take over her life. IRL she’s a divorcee and a mother; online she’s Clara, and taking a second chance at youth.

There have been several fantastic films recently about middle-aged women defying a society that deems them past their relevance – notably Gloria Bell, starring a charmingly awkward Julianne Moore. Who You Think I Am starts in similar territory before turning into a captivating thriller. Binoche is brilliant here, painting a vivid picture of a woman left behind, building a new life in which she can feel wanted again, entrapping a young man and inadvertently unravelling her own life. Director Safy Nebbou explores the blurred borders between life and online identity with Hitchcockian relish. Never has a film mostly about texting been this tense.

Who You Think I Am is screening at Palace Cinemas Balwyn, Kino, Como and Westgarth, and Cinema Nova. Watch the trailer.

Traumatised by the sudden death of her entire family, university student Dani (Florence Pugh), her inattentive boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his bro-ish mates (William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter) are invited by their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to come to his family’s village and experience a rare pagan festival. It’s quite a bit odder – and more bloodthirsty – than they anticipated.

Writer-director Ari Aster, who made the scariest movie of 2018 with Hereditary, returns with the scariest movie of 2019. A movie about a bunch of good-looking Americans getting picked off by a pagan cult has all the hallmarks of schlocky, pulpy horror. But Midsommar merely lets us glance at predicable and familiar horror tropes before pulling us in several other, wilder directions. As with the best horror films, the scary stuff is inseparable from the context. And oh, what context – namely a strong focus on the completely believable decaying relationship between Dani and Christian, some sidesteps into psychedelia and some achingly beautiful cinematography.

Much like Hereditary, it’s not for the faint of heart, with some truly shocking violence. But the pay-off is unease that lasts long beyond a few jump-scares.

Midsommar is screening at Cinema Nova, Lido, and Village Jam Factory. Watch the trailer.

The Australian Dream
The Adam Goodes story is a well-documented one. An Aboriginal man and an AFL hero speaks out about racism in the game – and cops it. But some footy fans and media don’t want to hear about it and work to cut him down to size. This stunning documentary written by journalist Stan Grant sees Goodes tell his story in parallel with the broader story of racism in sport, and in Australia at large.

Premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival this month, The Australian Dream received a credits-long standing ovation on opening night and immediately became the talk of the festival. With appearances from footy players Michael O’Loughlin, Nicky Winmar and Nathan Buckley, Olympian and politician Nova Peris, a grovelling Eddie McGuire and an unrepentant Andrew Bolt, The Australian Dream is, by a long margin, the best documentary about race in this country I’ve seen.

And it goes beyond sport. Goodes’s story is a way of discussing the ingrained cultural attitudes against Aboriginal people. Even to this footy novice, the footage of Goodes on the field is electrifying, and the way the film explains the basics of footy, race and Australian culture makes it accessible to all. The general release on August 22 can’t come soon enough. This is something that every Australian should see.

The Australian Dream is playing at Hoyts Melbourne Central on Saturday August 17 for MIFF, and will be on general release from August 22. Watch the trailer.

Late Night
Power-plant worker and comedy nerd Molly (Mindy Kaling of The Office and The Mindy Project) lands her dream job as a writer for perennial late-night TV host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), but when she arrives she discovers a workplace in crisis. Her hero Newbury is a tyrant, the show is on the verge of cancellation and she’s disparaged by the all-white male writing staff as a diversity hire. It’s up to her to lift the stale show out of its slump and help make her boss relevant again.

Kaling, who also wrote the film, is one of the freshest comedic voices out right now, and Emma Thompson (Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Baby, Sense and Sensibility) has been comedy royalty since the ’80s. They make a glorious double-act in this laugh-out-loud workplace comedy.

The inner workings of late-night comedy talk shows fascinate a lot of people, so it’s surprising there hasn’t been a film as funny as this about it before. Kaling playing off against the realities of the Ivy Leaguers in her new workplace provides plenty of good material – and reminders of how far the media has to go. Perhaps the biggest stretch of credulity is the notion that a woman made it in the male-dominated field of late-night TV shows more than 20 years ago.

Late Night is screening at Cinema Nova, Lido, Palace Cinemas Balwyn, Kino, Como and Westgarth, and various Hoyts and Village cinemas. Watch the trailer.

The Nightingale
In the penal colony of Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania), Irish convict Clare is brutally raped and witnesses the murder of her husband and child, all at the hands of a gang of soldiers (fronted by Sam Claflin of Snow White and the Huntsman and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay). She employs Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, and pursues her attackers north, through treacherous wilderness to Launceston. On the road, the pair form a bond. They both know what it’s like to have an Englishman take everything they have.

Jennifer Kent, director of The Babadook returns with a very different kind of terror. There’s very little light and shade in The Nightingale, very little kindness and very little respite. Most of the discussion around the film so far has been about its brutality, including audience walkouts during its run at the Sydney Film Festival. No one should enter the theatre to see this film without fair warning that the violence is barbaric, relentless and devastating.

But it would be disingenuous to depict early convict life – and the new reality for Aboriginal people at the time – in any other way. If you can stomach all that, there are moments when sunlight gets in, and the whole tapestry, violence and all, becomes something haunting and unforgettable.

The Nightingale is screening at the Palace Kino on August 18 for MIFF, and will be on general release from August 29. Watch the trailer.