Sydney Film Festival 2019

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1. Palm Beach (2019)

100 min | Comedy, Drama

Lifelong friends reunite for a party at Sydney's Palm Beach.

Director: Rachel Ward | Stars: Frances Berry, Ryan Bown, Bryan Brown, Matilda Brown

Votes: 194

SFF#01: PALM BEACH. Lifelong friends reunite for a party at Sydney's Palm Beach. In the past, director Rachel Ward has made films centred on confronting and unpleasant subjects. Here, she's finally directed a film with an audience in mind. This senior citizen chamber play is worth watching and a fine choice for Opening Night. And having a chat over a beer at the afterparty with the friendly and approachable Bryan Brown was a real bonus.

2. Journey to a Mother's Room (2018)

90 min | Drama

A daughter leaves home for the first time. Her mother, left behind, doesn't know how to fill the empty nest.

Director: Celia Rico Clavellino | Stars: Lola Dueñas, Anna Castillo, Noemí Hopper, Ana Mena

Votes: 571

SFF#02: JOURNEY TO A MOTHER'S ROOM. A daughter decides it is time to move out of her mother's apartment. Painfully subdued, this Spanish drama really captures the daughter's boredom living with her widowed mother and the mother's emptiness when the daughter leaves.

3. Buddha in Africa (2019)

90 min | Documentary, Biography

A Malawian boy, raised in a Buddhist orphanage, struggles to retain his cultural identity.

Director: Nicole Schafer | Star: Enock Alu

Votes: 11

SFF#03: BUDDHA IN AFRICA. There are Buddhist orphanages across Africa, where tough Chinese instructors teach youths discipline and martial arts. The youths are given opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have but many of them feel they are losing touch with their own culture. This observational documentary shows us the boys facing this struggle, along with spectacular displays of acrobatics and a not-so-spectacular fight with a machete that breaks out between the strict instructors and some defiant students.

4. Bait (I) (2019)

89 min | Drama

84 Metascore

Martin is a fisherman without a boat, his brother Steven having re-purposed it as a tourist tripper. With their childhood home now a get-away for London money, Martin is displaced to the estate above the harbour.

Director: Mark Jenkin | Stars: Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd, Giles King

Votes: 608

SFF#04: BAIT. A British fisherman struggles to make ends meet while we struggle to stay awake. Flickering photography, choppy editing, stilted performances and incomplete sound design all add up to give this the feel of a student film from the 90s. But there will always be critics who call it art.

5. Skin (V) (2018)

R | 118 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

58 Metascore

A destitute young man, raised by racist skinheads and notorious among white supremacists, turns his back on hatred and violence to transform his life, with the help of a black activist and the woman he loves.

Director: Guy Nattiv | Stars: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp

Votes: 10,783

SFF#05: SKIN. Based on a true story, Jamie Bell plays Bryon Widner, a reformed white supremacist skinhead who underwent extensive and painful surgery to remove the racist tattoos that covered his face. But removing himself from his criminal family proved even harder. With a strong supporting cast, including Australians, Daniel Henshall and Danielle Macdonald, this is a bleak journey with a positive outcome.

6. Queen of Hearts (2019)

127 min | Drama

A woman jeopardizes both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences.

Director: May el-Toukhy | Stars: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper, Liv Esmår Dannemann

Votes: 2,293

SFF#06: QUEEN OF HEARTS. Why do actors these days feel the need to prostitute themselves with unsimulated sex scenes? This bold effort at capturing truth is actually an enormous distraction from the plot. And Danish directors are always the culprits! This potent drama tells the story of a woman who works tirelessly to protect abused children, only to have an illicit affair herself, with her teenage stepson. His youthful bravado soon falls away and he becomes an emotional and vulnerable little boy. Overlong and uneven, this is nonetheless a fascinating portrait of a manipulative monster. And it's refreshing to see the growing trend of female Scandinavian directors who completely reject the "all women are victims, all men are perpetrators" narrative that is constantly reinforced in our own culture.

7. Pain & Glory (2019)

R | 113 min | Drama

88 Metascore

A film director reflects on the choices he's made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.

Director: Pedro Almodóvar | Stars: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas

Votes: 14,863

SFF#07: PAIN AND GLORY. Any film by Pedro Almodóvar is met with much anticipation. In his latest, Antonio Banderas plays the director himself, or rather, a surrogate named Salvador. But the lives of great artists aren't necessarily filled with excitement and intrigue, as we soon learn here. This film is plodding and self-indulgent.

8. Judy & Punch (2019)

105 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

Seaside (nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Judy and Punch are trying to resurrect their marionette show in an an anarchic town on the brink of mob rule.

Director: Mirrah Foulkes | Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Eddie Baroo

Votes: 220

SFF#08: JUDY AND PUNCH. A 17th Century puppeteer with a drinking problem tries to kill his wife. This so-called "feminist revenge film" can't decide if it wants to be a drama or a comedy (and yes, I do get all the references to the classic puppet show). One thing's for sure, though, the director of this misguided fantasy has a real problem with men. [Trailer not available but this link seems appropriate]

Misandry From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

9. Suburban Wildlife (2019)

90 min | Drama

Following their recent graduation, 4 friends distract themselves from the looming responsibilities of adulthood. But as the boundaries between real and surreal blur, they are faced with decisions that will define the rest of their lives.

Director: Imogen McCluskey | Stars: Maddy McWilliam, Hannah Lehmann, Priscilla Doueihy, Alex King

Votes: 27

SFF#09: SUBURBAN WILDLIFE. Four friends in their early twenties try to find direction and purpose in their lives. "I think I'm just waiting for something," says one. Made with a budget of only a few thousand dollars, with excellent performances and photography, this Australian film is a real accomplishment.

10. Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (2019)

R | 102 min | Documentary, Music

69 Metascore

An in-depth look at the relationship between the late musician Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Director: Nick Broomfield | Stars: Nick Broomfield, Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohen, Nancy Bacal

Votes: 428 | Gross: $1.00M

SFF#10: MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE. I've been a disciple of Leonard Cohen for the past fifteen years. The depth of his writing, his understanding of what it is to suffer and the profound humility he showed in life all endeared him to millions of people worldwide. This documentary puts a focus on his muse, Marianne Ihlen, and their time living on the Greek island of Hydra. Many of the stories will be familiar to Cohen fans, but there are some surprise revelations as well. Irving Layton's widow has no reservations telling us what she really thought of Suzanne Elrod and Leonard's mother. Judy Collins speaks fondly but misremembers some details. And the director, Nick Broomfield, tells of his own romantic involvement with Marianne. For fans of the great Canadian poet and songwriter, and those wanting to know more about his muse, this is essential viewing.

11. The Public (2018)

PG-13 | 119 min | Drama

47 Metascore

An act of civil disobedience turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold.

Director: Emilio Estevez | Stars: Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Emilio Estevez, Jena Malone

Votes: 1,820 | Gross: $0.57M

SFF#11: THE PUBLIC. I greatly admired Emilio Estevez's previous film, THE WAY. In his next, he plays a librarian in a tough position. Homeless men take over his workplace one evening to avoid having to sleep on the streets, where people are dying in the freezing cold. This film has a great premise and though it drags in places and doesn't ring true in others, it does succeed in provoking thought about a serious social issue.

12. In My Blood It Runs (2019)

90 min | Documentary, Biography, History

An intimate and compassionate observational documentary from the perspective of a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy in Alice Springs, Australia, struggling to balance his traditional Arrernte/Garrwa upbringing with a state education.

Director: Maya Newell | Stars: Carol Turner, Dujuan Turner, Megan Turner

Votes: 19

SFF#12: IN MY BLOOD IT RUNS. A boy living in the Northern Territory fails in the classroom but thrives in the bush. Light on narrative, this is strictly for the patient viewer. [Trailer not available]

13. The Oasis: Ten Years Later (2019)


Where are the lost kids of 2008's documentary, "The Oasis"? This follow-up film revisits the Sydney homeless teens whose chaotic lives shocked the nation.

Director: Sascha Ettinger-Epstein

SFF#13: LIFE AFTER THE OASIS. Years ago, I came across a $1 DVD at a video store. It was the excellent Australian documentary, THE OASIS, that looked at the tireless work Paul and Robbin Moulds did with the Salvation Army to help homeless youth on the streets of Sydney. Ten years on, the filmmakers try to track down these homeless people to see what has become of them. Have they got off the streets? Have they got off the drugs? Are they even still alive? This sobering follow-up film deserves to be seen by everyone.

14. School of Seduction (2019)

95 min | Documentary

In 'School of Seduction' we follow the three Russian women Diana, Lida and Vica, who are on the same mission - they search for security, a higher social status and plain and simple ... See full summary »

Director: Alina Rudnitskaya

Votes: 22

SFF#14: SCHOOL OF SEDUCTION: THREE STORIES FROM RUSSIA. In Russia, men outnumber women. As a result, schools have emerged where women can formally study how to get a husband. One institution, run by a sleazy, middle-aged man, teaches women to cry and act stupid in order to get what they want. This disconcerting documentary follows three women over a period of seven years as they manipulate their way to marriage.

15. Slam (2018)

115 min | Drama

Ricky Nasser is a young Australian whose peaceful suburban life turns into hell when sister Ameena, a Slam poet; disappears without a trace.

Director: Partho Sen-Gupta | Stars: Adam Bakri, Rachael Blake, Rebecca Breeds, Darina Al Joundi

Votes: 35

SFF#15: SLAM. A young Muslim man living in Sydney tries to track down his missing sister. She's a "slam" poet who writes and performs embarrassing, undergraduate-level verses that aim to divide people. Was she abducted or has she fled the country? This arty and contrived melodrama has so many dream sequences, it becomes difficult to determine what is supposed to be real and what is supposed to be imagined. Both seem artificial.

16. It All Started With a Stale Sandwich (2019)

94 min | Documentary

A celebration of the inspirational artworks created for Kaldor Public Art Projects over 50 years.

Director: Samantha Lang

Votes: 5

SFF#16: IT ALL STARTED WITH A STALE SANDWICH. 'Art should challenge you to question your beliefs,' we're told. I love art. But what is art and what is trash? This documentary looks at the public art commissioned over the decades by entrepreneur, John Kaldor. Unfortunately, a prolonged and unnecessary introductory speech from the director, Samantha Lang, delayed the start of the film and I had to leave for the next screening before this interesting documentary was completely finished.

17. Danger Close (2019)

R | 118 min | Action, Drama, War

In August 1966, in a Vietnamese rubber plantation called Long Tan, 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers are fighting for their lives against 2500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

Director: Kriv Stenders | Stars: Travis Fimmel, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey, Alexander England

Votes: 888

SFF#17: DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN. One hundred soldiers against an enemy of two thousand isn't exactly a fair fight. Director Kriv Stenders has done an excellent job recreating this tense and violent battle. He also did an excellent job handling a gentleman who tried to hijack the Q&A after the screening.

18. Parasite (2019)

R | 132 min | Comedy, Drama, Thriller

95 Metascore

All unemployed, Ki-taek's family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.

Director: Bong Joon Ho | Stars: Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi

Votes: 46,492

SFF#18: PARASITE. The most talked-about film of the festival is this year's Palme d'Or winner and with the director in attendance, the lines at the State Theatre were around the block. Members of a family living in poverty in South Korea con their way into the home of a family with wealth. What starts as a clever comedy becomes a bizarre bloodbath and it's not easy to go along with this drastic change of gears.

19. The Leunig Fragments (2019)


A revealing documentary portrait of Michael Leunig: Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher, poet, and playful provocateur.

Director: Kasimir Burgess | Star: Michael Leunig

Votes: 6

SFF#19: THE LEUNIG FRAGMENTS. Michael Leunig's weaponised whimsy has provoked and enthralled Australians for decades. This is a wonderful film about a wonderful artist.

20. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (2019)

91 min | Documentary

54 Metascore

What begins as a documentary following the final tour of a dying magician - "The Amazing Johnathan" - becomes an unexpected and increasingly bizarre journey as the filmmaker struggles to separate truth from illusion.

Director: Benjamin Berman | Stars: The Amazing Johnathan, Eric André, Benjamin Berman, Simon Chinn

Votes: 701

SFF#20: THE AMAZING JONATHAN DOCUMENTARY. Filmmaker Benjamin Berman had spent months of his time shooting a documentary on the terminally-ill Amazing Jonathan, only to learn he had competition from another documentary crew who were also making a film about the crazed magician. And the rival team was much more experienced, with two Academy Awards. What follows is a race to make the better film, in this strange story with unexpected twists.

21. The Dead Don't Die (2019)

R | 104 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

54 Metascore

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Director: Jim Jarmusch | Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny

Votes: 27,330 | Gross: $6.56M

SFF#21: THE DEAD DON'T DIE. Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy has a terrific cast that includes Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Adam Driver and Steve Buscemi. It's just a shame the script is so, well, lifeless.

22. Untouchable (2019)

98 min | Documentary, Biography

A look at the rise and fall of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein featuring interviews with former colleagues and those who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Director: Ursula Macfarlane | Stars: Erika Rosenbaum, Nannette Klatt, Ken Auletta, Ronan Farrow

Votes: 800

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