The Iris’ 10 best features fiction and documentary films of the Sydney Film Festival 2015


Over the last two weeks, our Sydney Film Festival review team have covered some 40 films at the festival, the reviews of which you can look back at HERE. After much debate and discussion, we’re now counting down our favourite films of the festival:


6. Love & Mercy is a powerful and tragic film about a man who is nothing short of a musical genius; a fact you have no question about when you leave the cinema. The balance between the two periods in his life is masterful, as are the performances from both our leads, alongside the brilliant Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. This is Oscar worthy stuff and a wonderful film. Not to be missed.

5. Mr Holmes: A unique twist on the take of Sherlock Holmes, Ian McKellen portrays a grumbly old frustrated Holmes, annoyed that his mind is failing him as he begins to lose his memory. Spurred on by his housekeeper’s young son to solve one last case that is troubling him, Holmes delves into his memory in an attempt to crack the case. This is a gorgeously shot and wonderful reimagining of the Holmes we’ve seen often portrayed as a younger man in his prime. It’s a realistic and believable depiction of a a great man and mind as they begin to change and fade and McKellen carries it masterfully and perfectly.

4. Dope: Funny, witty, and intelligent, this film about a young black man in his teens, who doesn’t quite fit the expectations of his neighbourhood, and yet is unwittingly dragged into them, is bound for success. Commercial appeal with an indie sensibility, it’d be very hard not to enjoy Dope.

3. Roy Andersson has created yet another masterpiece within A Pigeon Sat on a Branch and Reflected on Existence. The cinematography is perfect, almost like a painting. The use of colours and lighting successfully accentuate the films bizzare and abstract nature, creating a dream-like state that coincides effectively with the narrative and the themes that are elicited. If you haven’t been acquainted with any of Andersson’s work – an issue that you should rectify immediately – then prepare yourself for a film unlike any other. Maybe have a cup of coffee (or five) beforehand, as this is one that you need to concentrate in in order to fully appreciate the content. That being said, if you aren’t a coffee fan or simply want an easy watch, A Pigeon will gladly oblige. It is a poignantly hilarious depiction of how haunting up mankind can be, and provides this in the most aesthetically pleasing of lights.

2. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon shine in 99 Homes, and both are deserving of award nominations for their turns. It’s a gripping film, as much a thriller as it is a drama, full of social commentary (which equates it at times to a horror film knowing these things are actually happening), with a mesmerising score, excellent direction and impressive cinematography. 99 Homes is a film everyone should see.

1. The entire 2+ hour film Victoria is one very long take, but through many twists and pans Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen sustains an incredible and immersive aesthetic that captures the increasingly tense story well. The film’s two main leads have a charming dynamic between them while the marvel of a chance encounter bank robbery and gradual fallout is as good as any adrenaline rush you can get in indie cinema. The film works on every level.


4. How To Change The World sees Bob Hunter’s amazing diaries brought to life in order to tell the story of Greenpeace. This vibrant documentary sees an eccentric bunch of hippies, tree-huggers, nudists, buddhists, vegetarians, musicians, writers and draft-dodgers becoming eco-warriors. It is ultinately an excellent marriage of different elements and ideas.

3. Amy is a beautiful documentary chronicling Amy Winehouse’s phenomenal rise to stardom and her subsequent spiraling out of control personal life that results in an ultimately tragic tale. The music not only provides a soundtrack but timestamps moments in her life and perfectly accompanies the narrative. This is both a touching and relatively objective documentary that regardless of whether you’re a fan of her music or not, you can enjoy watching as it’s a fascinating story that will make you appreciate how talented she really was and what a heartbreaking loss for the music industry her death was.

2. Going Clear is a stunning and at times terrifying documentary, outlining the history of the Church of Scientology. One of three films that prolific director Alex Gibney screened at the festival, it was a one-sided but well argued film that took us from their shady beginnings to their modern day practices – some too bizarre to make up.

1. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a funny documentary about the comedy institution that is the National Lampoon. It chronicles the rise of the magazine, it’s forays into radio and TV (with many of the comedians ending up on Saturday Night Live) and it’s successes and failures in Hollywood. It’s one biting, controversial and fun look at the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of it all…

This article by Larry Heath, Ally Koster, Chris Singh, Natalie Salvo and Carina Nilma.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.