Made it to around 20 films this year at the Sydney Film Fest. Would have loved to see the Australian opening night film Ten Canoes but the $45 ticket price turned me off.
I'll just comment on the better films - with maybe one or two exceptions.
I didn't walk out on any films this year - though I did have to wake a patron who snored through one of the more tiresome documentaries!
The first four films especially get my full support.
* Little Miss Sunshine. Won the audience award for most popular feature during the festival. Indie-comedy. Lots of fun. A family celebrating the joy of losing in a culture obsessed with winning. Toni Colette is mother to a family of quirky loser types who go on a road trip to get their daughter to a horrid 'Little Miss Sunshine' beauty contest that she's always dreamed of winning. Has a hilarious feel-good ending. Total winner.
* United 93. Intensely realistic retelling of the fate of the 4th plane hi-jacked on 9/11, which eventually went down in a field. Cade came along to this one with me and he left the cinema quite traumatised. Terrifying at times, but made with impressive integrity. The terrorists are recognisable human beings, and the passengers' attempts to do something about their situation come across as heroic and perfectly believable. It left me with admiration verging on awe for everyone involved in making it.
* An Inconvenient Truth. Won the audience award for Best Documentary. Al Gore discusses why we should all be concerned - or more like totally wetting our pants - about global warming. Americans probably won't like being lectured to by one of their liberal politicians, but they should listen, because he's great at getting all the basic issues across. Australians need to see this too as we're far too lazy about what we're doing to this world's future - we were against the Kyoto protocols, have been slow to invest in renewable energy, and have a government bizarrely insisting on increasing the birth rate (there are 6 BILLION of us already!). Nobody should NOT see this film.
* Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story. Startling documentary regarding North Korea's old habit of kidnapping civilians off Japanese beaches and taking them back to Korea to teach them about Japanese language and culture. Sounds like a paranoid fantasy at first but it's all true, and it appears likely that some of the abductees are still being held captive. I'd heard the basics of this story before. The great thing about this documentary is that it spends a lot of time with the families of the abductees, so we can see what it is really like to be a victim to world politics. It's shocking to see these otherwise ordinary people continuing to suffer such a perverse fate.
* C.R.A.Z.Y. Canadian comedy/drama. The main character is a gay teenager, but really it's about his whole family - a family with 5 sons. I never had any brothers, but this family felt very real to me. There are a number of great little scenes revolving around what music means to them. Charles Aznavor & Patsy Cline for Dad. David Bowie & the Rolling Stones for the son. Ground Control to Major Tom...
* God on my Side. Andrew Denton made this documentary for ABC tv, spending a number of days talking to folks at a convention for religious broadcasters in the USA. It's funny & scary, but frustrating because he's there as an observer and therefore only gently challenges what they have to say. Almost everyone is white, and everyone supports George Bush Jnr simply because he professes to be humble before god (Denton was on stage after the film was shown and said that EVERY person they spoke to there supported crazy old George).
* Friends With Money. American comedy/drama involving 4 female californian friends - 3 of them wealthy, 1 doing it tough (Jennifer Aniston) and having to resort to being a cleaner (oh the horror!). Interesting & amusing movie, well-acted even by Jen, but then it just ends. Possibly one of the most useless endings ever (though at least it makes more sense than the ending of Mulholland Drive!).
* The Sun. Unbelievably slow russian art-house film on Emperor Hirohito's experiences at the end of WWII. For the first half hour all I noticed was how slow it was, but then it started to become mesmerising. Everything is dark, foreheads are sweaty, mouths twitch (Hirohito did this in real life), and odd sounds creak. Definitely better to see this in a cinema, where you can ease into the moodiness of it. Some great little scenes - my favourite being the emperor's dream of a Japanese city in flames as bombs are dropped from flying american catfish.
* Perhaps Love. Okay, this is one film I didn't like. A chinese musical made by people who obviously watched Moulin Rouge too many times without taking enough notes. The songs are HORRIBLE! Well, to be more exact, a couple of the songs range from okay to iffy, but the others are plain painful. The musical numbers are badly directed too , which doesn't help. Things aren't so bad when they stop singing. The story is about two actors in the middle of filming a musical, which is a very unoriginal plot but actually quite good WHEN THEY DON'T SING. The two stars are great to look at (the male lead is the adorable Takeshi Kaneshiro - the pretty-boy lead from The House of Flying Daggers).
* The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema. Slavoj Zizek is an 'acclaimed philosopher and psychologist' who likes to talk on and on about the 'fantasy' and 'reality' of famous scenes from famous films. This was sometimes enlightening and fun, but more often just pretentious waffling. This is the film where I had to prod a guy near me who fell asleep and started loudly snoring in the middle of it. That guy knew knew what he was doing.
* Girl Shy (1924 silent) The audience laughed and laughed at this silent Harold Lloyd comedy, featuring an absolutely smashing chase scene. This was a good reminder that silent films were never meant to be silent - an audience's 'oohs' and 'aahs' and laughter, as well as a final cheer at the end, being part of the experience.
* L'Armee Des Ombres (aka Army of Shadows; 1969) Based on the real experiences of people involved in the French Resistance during WWII. Damn good, with strange and memorable scenes that make you wonder what you'd be capable of doing in similar circumstances. This film should be better known than it is.