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 Dendy Newtown; Event Bondi Junction; Palace Cinemas Central, Norton Street and Verona; and the Randwick Ritz.

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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 to look at, 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 is playing at Dendy Newtown and Opera Quays, Palace Central, Norton Street and Verona, and Event Cinemas Bondi Junction.

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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 is showing at Dendy Newtown.

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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 is playing at the Palace Chauvel.

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
What starts as your run-of-the-mill, everyday bank robbery fails in every conceivable way and becomes a siege that spills onto the streets of Brooklyn and becomes a city-wide media circus. This is ’70s American cinema at its best.

In one of his most accomplished performances, Al Pacino plays bank robber Sonny with vibrancy and nervous energy, assisted by the excellent John Cazale as his simple offsider, Sal. Sonny’s quick ascent to working-class hero is entirely believable. Director Sidney Lumet has a knack for taking what could descend into comic farce and keeping it real and steady.

Dog Day Afternoon is screening as part of Art Gallery NSW’s Lost New York film season, alongside its Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition. You can also catch Lumet’s *Serpico, ’80s hip-hop jam Wild Style and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

Dog Day Afternoon is playing at Art Gallery NSW on December 13 and 17.

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