Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan stars as Christine, aka Lady Bird, a 17 year old who wants to escape Californian suburbia as soon as possible and go to college in New York. But before she does she entertains a few failed romances, fractures a few friendships and rails against her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

The past decade has given us dozens of American indie films about smart teenagers outgrowing their adolescences and their hometowns. (Juno, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Boyhood). But Lady Bird is that film in its perfected form. It’s a modest, snappy depiction of suburban ennui, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Lady Bird isn’t the prettiest or the smartest. And she fucks up time and time again. Her strained relationship with her mother, who clearly loves her but doesn’t really like her, will hit home with anyone who has ever had a tense relationship with their parents. Setting it in 2002 – footage of the Iraq war flickering on the family TV is one of the only historical giveaways – is a masterstroke too: it’s recent enough to feel contemporary and distant enough to feel like a small-town outpost of the present day. There are no mobile phones (for this family at least) and no social media. Coincidentally, it makes Lady Bird exactly my age. It got me right in the heart.

Lady Bird is screening at The Ritz and select Hoyts, Event and Palace Cinemas. Watch the trailer.

A Fantastic Woman
Late one night, Marina (Daniela Vega) is woken when her partner Orlando (Francisco Reyes) falls suddenly ill. They arrive at the hospital too late and he passes away. Marina, a transgender woman, is treated with immediate suspicion by the authorities and disdain by Orlando's family, but she persists. And the more she is rejected the more powerful her persistence becomes.

A Fantastic Woman is an unforgettable film, so much so it picked up this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It's a story about a transgender woman navigating an unsympathetic world, which has the potential to be too politically loaded or superficial to work. And maybe that's how it would have turned out if it had been made in Hollywood.

But this is a sumptuous, thoughtful piece from director Sebastián Lelio, who creates a smoldering, rich atmosphere by using Alfred Hitchcock's sense of mystery and Pedro Almodóvar's sense of humanity. There are occasional flourishes of fantasy in there, too, which both of those directors would be proud of.

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Trans actor Daniela Vega gives a melancholic and mysterious leading performance as Marisa; she treads a line between enigmatic and exposed. We never leave her side and we never want to.

A Fantastic Woman is screening at Palace Verona and Event Cinemas Bondi Junction. Watch the trailer.

The Square
A respected art museum in Stockholm is launching The Square, an interactive, provocative art installation intended to draw attention to the lack of empathy and community in our lives. It's literally a square drawn on the ground. "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring," says the artist statement. "Within it we all share equal rights and obligations."

But all it does is highlight how disengaged and out of touch the gallery's staff is -particularly Christian (Claes Bang), who is busy balancing petty revenge after his wallet is stolen with the advances of journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss).

The Square starts as a satire of the art world but quickly builds into something far more; it picks at all of the little aggressions and provocations that cloud our lives.

Director Ruben Östlund previously directed Force Majeure, a brilliant character study about a disagreement snowballing into days-long emotional warfare. Östlund builds on that here: he draws believably grotesque characters into believably grotesque social conflicts that escalate into squirmy, hilarious scenes of restrained chaos. A masterful social satire.

Both this and A Fantastic Woman were nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards (A Fantastic Woman won), and I don't know which I love more.

The Square is screening at Palace Norton Street and the Ritz. Watch the trailer

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
In the 1970s, faded Hollywood star Gloria Grahame had a love affair with a British actor 30 years her junior and spent the final years of her life treading the boards at regional theatres in the UK. This much is true. This adaptation of Peter Turner's memoir recalls the years he spent with Grahame living mostly happily in reduced circumstances.

The biggest worry with a biopic is that it gets lost in trying to retell an entire life while the prosthetics used to age the actors get increasingly absurd. But Film Stars is a small film mostly contained in Liverpool in the early 1980s - about as far from Grahame's heyday as it's possible to get - and we never meet her younger self. It paints a moving picture of a complicated, enigmatic person told through the eyes of a loved one. Annette Bening glows here as Gloria Grahame alongside Jamie Bell as her doting partner Peter.

Budget limitations have had an impact: director Paul McGuigan (The Acid House; some episodes of Sherlock) clearly couldn't afford to shoot many scenes in Los Angeles so we're left with some dubious blue screen to cover the shortfall. But as I said, this small film has a small focus and it's all the better for it.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is screening at the Ritz and selected Hoyts, Event and Palace Cinemas. Watch the trailer.

Once Upon a Time in the West
After undisputed spaghetti western classics such as *A Fistful of Dollars
and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, director Sergio Leone pushed the genre forward with Once Upon a Time in the West in 1970.

It's an epic in every sense. It begins with a 10-minute, almost dialogue-free wait for a train, and then rolls on slowly for a leisurely three hours. But the atmosphere sweeps you up.

Jill (Claudia Cardinale) is travelling to her husband in Flagstone, somewhere in the Old West. When she arrives she finds he's been murdered and becomes embroiled in a land grab that involves a bunch of bandits and hired guns (notably, Henry Fonda and Jason Lombard), and the mysterious Harmonica (James Coburn).

Everything is at a fever pitch: the operatic tone, grandiose music from Ennio Morricone and the sumptuous backdrop of Andalusia, southern Spain.

No one makes a quintessentially American film like a bunch of Italians in the Spanish desert.

Once Upon a Time in the West is showing at Art Gallery NSW on Wednesday 14 March and Sunday 18 March. Watch the trailer.

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