TOP PICK: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos made a name for himself with 2015's The Lobster – the spectacularly weird tale of singles forced to couple up or be transformed into animals. It was unflinchingly bizarre, but once you entered the world it made a sort of sense. Lanthimos is back with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, another absurd fable with its own strange system of rules. Colin Farrell plays a surgeon whose pristine family life (his wife is played by Nicole Kidman) is tainted by an odd friendship with a young man (Barry Keoghan).

Lanthimos’s films are deliberately all surface. Everyone inhabits an eerie, tightly wound world of stress and false perfection. He favours stilted, emotionless performances drawing out the absurdities of everyday interactions. In The Lobster that complemented the emotionally flat world. Here, less so, and the rigidly austere performances seem to get more emotional as the film goes on. The tone of the film is not entirely consistent, but it’s memorable and few films this year will unsettle you so profoundly.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is playing at Nova, Palace Cinemas Balwyn, Como and Kino, and Village Rivoli.
Watch the trailer.

Loving Vincent
You’ve most likely heard of this animated film for its main selling point. In tribute to Vincent van Gogh, each and every frame is an oil painting. More than 100 painters worked for two years to create 65,000 of them. It’s an extraordinary technical achievement – but does it work as a film?

Loving Vincent is visually stunning, from the moment we pan down one starry night through billowing clouds past a glowing crescent moon, to its end. But the plot feels like an unambitious detective story, as a postman’s son interviews a series of Van Gogh’s acquaintances, Miss Marple-style, to piece together the circumstances of his death. It’s a shame the story doesn’t engage more with what made Van Gogh special. That said, is it unfair to complain that a film made from 65,000 individual oil paintings isn’t ambitious enough? Possibly.

Only half the film is painted in the Van Gogh style; spending 95-minutes in his swirling, colourful, uneasy world would be headache-inducing. Flashbacks are told in noir-ish black and white, neatly reflecting the notion the world only saw the artist’s perspective after his death. It’s truly a labour of love, and it’s impossible to forget you’re watching something special.

Loving Vincent Loving Vincent is playing at Nova, Lido, and Palace Cinemas Como, Kino, Balwyn and Village Rivoli.
Watch the trailer.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Hot on the heels of the Wonder Woman film comes her spectacular real-life origin story. William Moulton Marston was a busy man; as well as creating Wonder Woman, he was a noted psychologist, Harvard professor and creator of the polygraph lie-detector machine. On top of that he was a utopian feminist, polygamist and bondage enthusiast who used comic books to spread the message “submission can be enjoyable.”

In this romantic and sharp period drama, Marston is played by Luke Evans, and the wonder women in question are his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and lover Olive (Bella Heathcoate). The trio fall in love and suffer through having to hide their love in a conservative society. It’s odd the title subjugates the two women because the film is led by all three. If anything, Elizabeth and Olive are the most interesting of the trio.

The film largely avoids the failings of most biopics, which often feel like a summary of real events rather than films in their own right. Apparently this film has a difficult relationship with the truth; Marston’s family is allegedly not happy with the depiction of the Sapphic love affair. But does the fact the truth is less strange than fiction bother you? Me neither.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is playing at Cinema Nova.
Watch the trailer.

Lucky
“Realism is a thing,” declares old man Lucky at the beginning of the film having encountered the concept while doing his daily crossword. His dictionary fills in the blanks: it’s the attitude of accepting a situation as it is, and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.

When actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away in September aged 91, he left behind an unparalleled film career; he’d worked with everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to David Lynch, appeared in everything from Alien to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is his swansong, an intimate portrait of Lucky, a spindly, frail old man treading the same desert streets day after day, living a life of reassuring routine and endless cigarettes.

At the quiet and simple end of his life, Lucky has time to ruminate on his mortality and talk it over with his friends, including a star turn from his close friend David Lynch mourning the disappearance of his pet tortoise. If it sounds whimsical, that’s because it is.

Lucky has a sentimental core, deservedly so for a film about mortality. Its matter-of-fact slowness recalls last year’s Paterson, with the added absolute certainty of impending death. Stanton is excellent, making every frail movement count.

This film is more than a fitting goodbye for Stanton, it’s a memorable ode to old age. It’s humble, gentle and sensuously shot – the ideal combination for a final wave goodbye.

Lucky Lucky is playing at Cinema Nova.
Watch the trailer.

Brigsby Bear
Nostalgia has dominated the screen in 2017; there’s been an endless parade of sequels and reboots designed to capture some indefinable magic from our childhoods. Brigsby Bear isn’t a nostalgic film – it’s a film about nostalgia. We cling to our childhoods, but at what cost? James (Kyle Mooney, also co-writer) has been raised by eccentric “parents” who don’t allow him out of their isolated, retro bunker. His only comfort is VHS tapes of children’s television show Brigsby Bear, with which he remains obsessed despite being well into his thirties. When he finally makes it out of the bunker and is exposed to the big, cruel outside world, his lifelong fixation becomes his only comfort. The show-within-the-film is a surreal treat in itself.

Saturday Night Live alum The Lonely Island has produced the film, and it’s a surprisingly sweet and thoughtful one from the people who brought us Dick in a Box and I’m On a Boat. This is no absurdist comedy. It’s about an emotionally stunted man coming to terms with his abusive childhood through nostalgia and creativity.

Brigsby Bear is playing at Cinema Nova.
Watch the trailer.

Le Samouraï (1967)
“There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle,” or so says the fictional epigraph at the beginning of this classic drama. The French have made very good morally ambiguous crime films, taking all the soft-focus glamour of Hollywood’s best film noir and giving it a black heart. This is one of their best. When hit man Jef Costello (Alain Delon) botches a hit on a jazz-club manager, he’s hunted by his employers and the police. The brooding, lone assassin stalks rainy Paris, stealing Citroëns and setting up alibis, staying one step ahead of the police.

This was French New Wave director Jean-Pierre Melville’s first colour film, but don’t expect a ’60s riot of tints and tones. The aesthetic is elegant and restrained, and the muted flashes of colour make this feel even more claustrophobic. Our antihero lives in a monochrome apartment where his only company is a bird in a cage. When he ventures out, he cuts an entirely conspicuous figure in his collar-up trenchcoat and broad hat, into a world that’s cool, grimy and tight, all cigarette smoke and cheap cologne. Intoxicating.

Le Samouraï is part of a season of Melville’s films playing at ACMI. Also check out Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic.

Le Samurai is playing at ACMI on December 2. The Jean-Pierre Melville season runs at ACMI until December 5. Details here

Watch the trailer.

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