Those folks over at the Sydney Film Festival sure do have great taste. Since the festival official competition launched in 2008, they’ve honoured nothing but the best, awarding their top plaudit – the Sydney Film Prize – to some of the true masterpieces of the last decade.
But, you may ask, of the nine films to ever scoop up the gong, which are the finest – the cream, so to speak, of an already creamy crop? Good question. And here, in response, are our four favourite flicks that have picked up the coveted prize.
Bronson, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Some have already grown tired of Nicolas Winding Refn, dropping the Danish auteur into the pen occupied by his similarly rabble-rousing cinematic counterpart, Lars von Trier. But Refn doesn’t deserve to be written off yet. Sure, he loves his showboating, and his film bro antics do sometimes feel a little tiresome, but a director who has made such a consistently impressive string of masterpieces doesn’t deserve to be dumped quite yet.
Watch the trailer for Sydney Film Festival winner Bronson here:
Case in point: Bronson, Refn’s Kenneth Anger-indebted magnum opus. Ostensibly a film about Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Michael Peterson (AKA Charles Bronson), the flimsy, fist-fight filled plot is really an excuse for Refn to go through his considerable bag of tricks. Bronson (an electric Tom Hardy) tells the story of the film directly to the audience, dressed as a clown; long fight sequences are stretched to the point of becoming almost balletic; and Ophuls-inspired tracking shots pan over layers of literal human shit. It’s a perfect mix of high and lowbrow culture – a crimesploitation film shot as though it were an opera.
Alps, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Greek surrealist Yorgos Lanthimos is beating a strange path to something approaching mainstream success – his film The Lobster, a romantic comedy as written by Kafka, was bursting with Hollywood darlings, and his next cinematic antic is set to be led by Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman.
Alps is a cockeyed look at loss and bereavement.
But those needing to be reminded of Lanthimos’ strange, lopsided roots would do well to return to one of his first features, the bonkers Alps. Unfairly overlooked by those who get swept up with his admittedly excellent third film, Dogtooth, Alps is a cockeyed look at loss and bereavement.
Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Seems like Sydney Film Festival can’t get enough of Refn. Just four short years after they honoured Bronson with the top gong, they gave the same stamp of approval to Only God Forgives, the director’s dreamlike homage to Thai cinema and culture.
Watch the trailer for Sydney Film Festival winner Only God Forgives here:
Even more oblique and unusual than Bronson, if such a thing is able to be imagined, Only God Forgives takes the myth of the lone ranger and pushes it to its natural endpoint. Julian (Ryan Gosling, his eyes fire and his body taught as a wire) is ostensibly avenging his murdered brother Billy, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about morality or penance either way. He is a stoic, silent marauder, berated by his mother (a vicious Kristin Scott Thomas), and about as emotive as a stone pillar, making him the perfect Refn hero – a cipher for the audience to messily project upon.
Two Days, One Night, directed by the Dardenne brothers
The Dardenne brothers are masters of mundanity, deeply humanist filmmakers who specialise in gently devastating mood pieces about the most vulnerable members of society – young mothers; illegal immigrants; alcoholics. They are also well-known for making films with non-actors, so their decision to cast French star Marion Cotillard as the lead of Two Days, One Night, was at first greeted with some surprise.
The Dardenne brothers are masters of mundanity.
Those shocked should have had more faith. Cotillard is perfect as the gentle-hearted, devastated Sandra Bya, a factory-worker forced to make the case for her continued employment to her colleagues when they are given the power to fire her. The moral epicentre of a troubling, beautiful film, Cotillard has never been better, and the whole of Two Days trembles with the great warmth and feeling her performance exudes.
Sydney Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday June 6. For Sydney Film Festival multipasses, head here. For more Sydney Film Festival content, read our interview with Holiday director Isabella Eklöf here.