David Stratton has spent his life seeking out great films. He had a lengthy career as a festival director and film writer before he took the plunge into TV criticism, where he spent almost 30 years engaging in feisty film criticism with his intellectual sparring partner, Margaret Pomeranz.
As a new film about him enters cinemas, we asked the revered film critic to list his ten favourite films. He came back with a diverse mix of films from around the world.
"I’ve tried to spread them across different languages and cultures," he says.
The Barbarian Invasions
(Denys Arcand, 2003)
David didn’t hesitate in awarding Denys Arcand’s Oscar winner five stars. He called it “wonderfully wise and witty and tremendously moving; it’s a major achievement in every respect”. In reviewing The Barbarian Invasions for The Movie Show, Margaret said, “I think we have to tell the truth about this film, David. You actually shed tears”. “I think many, many people will shed tears,” he responded. David said, “the joy of this magnificent film is that it is rooted in absolute reality. These are real flesh and blood, flawed human beings". “These are people I know. I now people like this. I’m like this! I just adored this film. Every bit of it.”
The White Ribbon
(Michael Haneke, 2010)
Michael Haneke's intriguing allegory of evil doesn't provide easy answers, but the Cannes prize-winner improves with each viewing, according to David. Haneke builds a mesmerising story around the strange goings-on in a small community in pre-WWI Germany, where small acts of mischief escalate into something altogether more sinister.
(David Caesar, 1996)
David gave David Caesar's comedy ★★★★★, calling it "a considerable achievement" and the "most completely successful Australian film since the very different Shine." A pair of jobless slackers (Ben Mendelsohn and Jeremy Sims) living in the western suburbs of Sydney, decide to make money by organising a bank robbery, thinking their exhaustive experience watching them on TV should be sufficient to wing it.
(Paolo Sorrentino, 2009)
Paolo Sorrentino takes you inside the corridors of power in this engrossing story of the man who served as Italy's Prime Minister on three occasions, Giulio Andreotti, whose 'bland bureaucrat' demeanour concealed rumoured links to a vast web of shady deals and unsavoury characters. Toni Servillo is mesmerising as the drab politician, and his performance demonstrates why he and Sorrentino make such a formidable team.
(Pedro Almodovar, 2009)
The Spanish auteur lays bare his love of cinema in this convoluted and engrossing melodrama, which, on the surface tells the story of a blind filmmaker learning of the death of one of his former financiers, and in turn, recalling past betrayals and lost love. David gave the film four stars when he first saw it, and calls it "thoroughly enjoyable".
The Thin Blue Line
(Errol Morris, 1989)
Errol Morris' meticulous account of the investigation into the murder of a police officer set a new standard in documentary filmmaking. David gave it ★★★★★ and called it "one of the finest documentary films I’ve ever seen", when he reviewed it for The Movie Show, and didn't hesitate to give it his five-star seal of approval. Morris elicits incredible candour from the key people of interest, and with creative use of reenactment, and Philip Glass' haunting score, he creates a groundbreaking and unforgettable piece of cinema.
And guess what? Margaret picked it too!
(Vittorio De Sica, 1949)
David regularly cites De Sica's powerful story of dignity and sacrifice as one of his all-time favourite films. And he's not alone. Don't miss the truly moving story of an impoverished man, devastated by the theft of his only means of livelihood, who manages to just keep going for the sake of his beloved son.
(John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
A thrilling dark comedy set on the windswept west coast of Ireland, The Guard won David over for its sharp wit and thrilling performance by Brendan Gleeson. He considers it a "fine character study" of an honest cop with unconventional methods, surrounded by a sea of corruption. "Every character here is well drawn", he says.
A Dangerous Method
(David Cronenberg, 2012)
The origins of psychoanalysis come to life in a raunchy, full-bodied drama fromCanadian auteur, David Cronenberg. A triangular drama about Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and the latter's revelatory patient Sabina (Keira Knightly), A Dangerous Method has "plenty of Cronenbergian touches here, and some really fine performances". For David, the film belongs to Knightley, for her unselfconscious displays of 'hysteria'.
The Band’s Visit
(Erin Kolirin, 2008)
An Egyptian ceremonial band embarks on a prestigious international tour but winds up in a tiny Israeli backwater town, in the deceptively simple fish-out-of-water tale, The Band's Visit. This little charmer makes a few salient points about friendship and tolerance along the way, but director Erin Kolirin cloaks his message in a warm and genuinely funny story. David gave it four and-a-half stars, and says he still loves its beautiful imagery and sharp wit.
Watch David Stratton's reviews from The Movie Show archives
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