We get the experts to share the best silver screen selections for the year.
1. FRANK (NC16)
There are coming-of-age stories in which a young person grows up suddenly one summer after falling in love with the wrong girl or guy.
Then there is the comedy Frank.
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) falls in love with a rock band, becoming its keyboard player, and finds nihilism, the obsessiveness quest for artistic perfection and a couple of suicides. Did we mention this is a comedy?
Michael Fassbender as band leader Frank wears a doll head that he never removes. It is an audacious trick to pull on the audience, but the film earns the right to play it by staying sweetly sincere, delivering humour without sarcasm or ironic distance. Lenny Abrahamson, from Ireland, is a real actor’s director, working with screenwriter Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare At Goats, 2009) in this funny, moving record of what it means to be consumed by music and the pain that comes with it.
2. THE MARTIAN (PG13)
In a season of disappointing big- budget sci-fi flicks, many of them incoherent (Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jurassic World, Fantastic Four), dull (Tomorrowland) or plain dumb (Pixels), two blockbusters stood out: Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian.
The Martian was the more original and daring because it was not a franchise movie and neither can there ever be a sequel, unless astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is extremely unlucky. Also, it relies very little on computer effects and not at all on heroes in spandex.
Director Ridley Scott takes on the story of a rescue of a man stranded on Mars and makes it the best of this year’s crop of summer blockbusters, without sacrificing the realism that made Andy Weir’s science-fiction novel so powerful.
3. CAROL (R21)
“Lesbian romance” or “period drama” might be used to classify this movie, but those labels fall short of describing the emotional depths that director Todd Haynes wrings out of the screenplay.
As in all repression romances, in this story of two women who fall in love in Eisenhower-era America, there are the stares of longing and coded speech. Rooney Mara as shopgirl Therese and Cate Blanchett as the socialite of the movie’s title do plenty of that.
But in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price Of Salt, Haynes envelopes the women in a world that feels just a little faceless and out of sync. The effect is subtle, but powerful, and makes the women feel like the only real humans in a land of make-believe. It is a quality that lifts this work above Oscar-bait standards.
4. EX MACHINA
Novelist Alex Garland of The Beach (1996) fame makes an auspicious directing debut with this cool, stylish and deeply unsettling sci-fi drama.
Programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is tasked by his mercurial boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to probe the thin line between human and artificial intelligence, and artificial intelligence just happens to come in the shapely android form of Ava (breakout Swedish actress Alicia Vikander).
The questions come fast and furious: Why was Caleb chosen? What is Nathan hiding? Are deception and seduction uniquely human traits? The disturbing ending is just perfect.
While only Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar, he and Felicity Jones gave two of the year’s best performances in this warm, honest biopic of famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking directed by James Marsh.
Redmayne’s Hawking was a layered one – cheekily charming, prey to doubts and frustrations and someone capable of falling in and out of love. Jones was just as compelling as the fiercely supportive first wife who was very much his equal.
Film-maker Eva Tang’s documentary about the Singapore music movement known as xinyao is both heartfelt and meticulously researched. It is ambitious in scope as it traces the roots of today’s glittery Mandopop to the music written by students in the last days of Nanyang University before it merged with the University of Singapore in 1980.
Besides interviews with key musicians such as Billy Koh and Liang Wern Fook, there is also rich use of archival material from televised performances and newspaper articles.
John Lui and Boon Chan, The Straits Times, December 27, 2015