7 Contributions by: Lee Adams

Staff & contributors

This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.

Light-hearted and compassionate, Raining Stones is one of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films. It’s also one of his funniest, telling the story of an unemployed chancer trying to raise enough money to buy his daughter her first Communion dress. Desperate for the cash, he falls foul of ruthless loan sharks.

As ever, Ken Loach is keenly attuned to the concerns of the working class, as he finds humour even in the most depressing of circumstances. The dialogue is natural, funny, and yes, profane. He also gets excellent performances from the non-professional actors in the cast, with club comedian Bruce Jones superb in the lead.

A cracking cast including Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton elevate this dark and gripping Australian crime drama, which was received with glowing reviews from critics but was sadly forgotten with time.

Breakout star James Frecheville plays J, a teenager who goes to live with his grandmother, the head of a Melbourne crime organization. As the heat closes in and things go awry, J finds himself caught between his family and a detective who wants to save him.

Jacki Weaver is outstanding as the conniving grandma and the film put Ben Mendelsohn on the road to Hollywood stardom. Animal Kingdom is a superior crime saga with plenty of emotional depth to match the tense drama.

Peter Jackson made the transition from splattery gross-out movies like Braindead to more respectable fare with Heavenly Creatures, the true story of an intense relationship between two teenage girls that culminates in the murder of one of their mothers.

As the girls’ friendship becomes unhealthier, they invent a secret world for themselves, amusingly including a heart-throb Orson Welles. This gives Jackson the opportunity to indulge in his love of fantasy, creating some dazzling hallucinatory sequences.

The fantasy element contrasts beautifully with the humdrum setting of ‘50s New Zealand, and the final tragedy is heart-breaking. The film also provided an auspicious debut for Kate Winslet, who is terrific as one of the misguided fantasists.

It’s virtually impossible to capture the complexity of a person’s life in just a few short hours, which is why many biopics are so unsatisfying. François Girard avoids this problem by ditching the usual format altogether, creating a rich tapestry of evocative vignettes that gives us a real sense of who the famous concert pianist actually was. 

The short films never show Gould playing the piano, although we do have one short sequence filmed inside the instrument during a concert, and another eccentric moment of him shot in X-ray while in full flow. These internal moments give us the sense that music was part of his very being. 

Colm Feore delivers a generous performance, playing Gould as a verbose eccentric who is constantly amused by the normal rhythms of human life while being forever detached from it by his genius.

Arch-provocateur Paul Verhoeven received widespread acclaim for his assured and darkly funny adaptation of Philippe Dijan’s award-winning novel, his first film in the French language. 

It’s a controversial revenge thriller about a domineering businesswoman who is raped in her home by a masked man. Refusing to let the attack affect her life, she refuses to report the incident and tracks down the assailant herself.

Verhoeven directs the material with confidence and a troubling lightness of touch, while fearless Isabelle Huppert gives one of the best performances of her long and illustrious career. Some people found Elle empowering while others felt it perpetuated misogynistic attitudes. Either way, it makes for a passionate post-viewing discussion.

From early footage of country-folk threshing their crops to blissed-out clubbers at a rave, there is a mesmerizing, insistent sense of rhythm and motion to Arcadia. Director Paul Wright has curated an astonishing array of archive material for this feature-length video montage examining the British and their sometimes uneasy relationship with the land.

Cut together in loosely chronological order, the footage is enigmatic, seductive, and disturbing, set to a haunting soundtrack from Adrian Utley of Portishead and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp. Watching Arcadia is hypnotic, like wading into the uncertain waters of time with a head full of shrooms. And that’s definitely a good thing.