Summer for cinephiles in Sydney isn’t merely dependent on whatever the AGNSW is programming because a group of open air cinemas open up all around the city. Moonlight Cinema is the longest running of the lot, from December through to March, though the others – the St.George OpenAir Cinema (7 Jan – 21 Feb) and the new Ben & Jerry’s Open Air Cinema (22 Jan – 1 Mar) are also making sure that there’s a plethora of films to see.
We asked out staff which films they are most excited to see or which restrospective screenings they would most recommend.
Conor Bateman: I only recently caught this one and am kicking myself for missing it in cinemas but Luc Besson’s Lucy, which screens on December 12 at Moonlight Cinema, is a fairly spectacular visual feast. My affinity for the film baffles me, I’m not a big Besson fan and the trend of ‘intentionally idiotic’ cinema isn’t always a big drawcard, yet Lucy feels so assured in what is wants to do, that is, a swift and lean thriller that doesn;t take itself particularly seriously. Warning should be given, the film is very silly, what with Morgan Freeman delivering a monologue on using a higher percentage of our brains, the notion that we would gain the equivalent of superpowers if that process was ever kickstarted, but if you’re willing to accept that and treat it essentially akin to a superhero film by way of genre deconstruction and feeaturing some really interesting visual ideas, try to catch this one on a big screen | Tickets
Jess Ellicott: None of the major Australian film festivals got a hold of Clouds of Sils Maria, the latest film from French director Oliver Assayas (Irma Vep), so it’s a major coup for St.George OpenAir Cinema to host its Australian Premiere on February 13 – weeks ahead of its theatrical release. To me it raises their status above being just a pleasant Sydney summertime activity, to being a significant event on the Sydney film calendar. The film was in competition at this year’s Cannes and stars Juliette Binoche as a veteran actress and Kristen Stewart as her personal assistant. It all sounds very meta and All About Eve-esque, and as Assayas is one of the most interesting directors working today, it’s easily my top pick for the open air cinema series. | Details (Tickets on sale Dec 8)
Felix Hubble: It’s been 20 years since Harry and Lloyd last graced our screens (unless you count Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which you shouldn’t); thankfully (hopefully) Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and the Farrelly Brothers have finally reunited to bring us Dumb and Dumber To, which sees an advance screening at Moonlight Cinema on December 18. The film takes place 20 years after the events of Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s seminal hit Dumb and Dumber, with Harry and Lloyd reuniting to embark on a road trip to meet Harry’s long lost daughter (with what will surely be shenanigan-filled and goofy results). This is the sort of film that I could see playing really well in an open air cinema location, it’s light, funny, and won’t be too serious, a winning combination for a perfect outdoor experience. Whether the film lives up to the glory of its predecessor is yet to be seen, but I’m still glad it exists – it looks like it’ll be much more of an homage than a cash-in, more akin to Anchorman 2 than Blues Brothers 2000. | Tickets
Dominic Barlow: Not content with bagging both the most successful animated film of all time and the rabidly-consumed ad campaign for a new Star Wars film, Disney looks set to continue its animation arm’s second Renaissance with Big Hero 6, with an advance screening at Moonlight Cinema on December 20. A Marvel-inspired mashup of superheroics and boy-catering tech adventures, it follows a young robotics genius named Hiro, who bonds with Baymax, a balloon-shaped medic robot left behind by his deceased brother. When a masked villain threatens their fantastical home city of San Fransokyo, he suits Baymax in armour and teams up with four other science enthusiasts to use their wits/fists and save the day. The film reportedly continues Disney Animation’s welcome trend of positively tweaking their own character and story archetypes, while keeping their penchants for wonderful character animation, comedic voice acting and defiant sincerity. Families and animation enthusiasts alike shouldn’t be left wanting | Tickets
Dominic Barlow: Nestled among the Ben & Jerry’s Openair Cinemas lineup is an SBS2-presented screening of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on February 3, a 2004 romantic/comedic sci-fi that is just as breath-taking ten years on. Jim Carrey’s subdued performance as Joel remains a stunning contrast to the gonzo persona he is trotting out again for Dumb and Dumber To, as does Kate Winslet in vice versa as Clementine, the girlfriend he is attempting to wipe from his memory through an unusual procedure. The visuals portraying Joel’s jaunt through his own mind are timelessly crafted by Michel Gondry, while the unmistakable Charlie Kaufman takes scripting duties for the tender and funny conversations between not just Carrey and Winslet but the legendary supporting cast (Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst to name a few). This mix is as pure an alchemy as Joel and Clem’s encounters on the Montauk beach, which should make the Bondi location perfectly suited for an outdoor screening. If you’ve yet to take the trip, now would be a hell of a time | Tickets
Jeremy Elphick: A week before it hits cinemas, St.George OpenAir will be premiering Paul Thomas Anderson’s long awaited adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. Taking a Pynchon novel and throwing it on the big screen is both daunting and overwhelming yet deeply exciting at the same time. Would this be a huge flop that fundamentally misunderstood the point of the novel? Would this be one of his shining achievements? Adaptations of writers that I adore generally fall somewhere in the in between where I’m neither disappointed nor elated. For some reason, I feel like PTA’s Inherent Vice could be one of the few that are able to move beyond that and really impress me. Either way, this is definitely a screening to catch. | Tickets
Brad Mariano: One of the best opportunities these open air cinemas provide is a second chance to see those movies that you missed during their first theatrical run – which unfortunately for a lot of non-mainstream fare rarely exceeds 3 or 4 weeks. One of the best of these in recent memory was Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, about an aspiring drummer (Miles Teller) and his psychotic teacher (JK Simmons), hellbent on bringing out ‘greatness’ from his pupils through methods at odds with the inclusive, OH&S-governed education institutions of today. It’s a thrilling film, tightly paced and with incredible sound-mixing creating a film that might just be the most visceral theatre experience of the year. At the very least, like Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas, the film shows what can happen when you really give a seasoned character actor a chance in the spotlight – after a decade of prominence in the Coens universe, Spiderman and treading water in unchallenging roles like The Closer, JK Simmons steals the film as the tyrannical instructor, with a gusto and passion reminiscent of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. | Tickets
Jake Moody: For my money, the outdoor cinema format lends itself far more easily to screenings of knowingly silly cult flicks than to serious navel-gazing efforts – mixing a riotous comedy with a few friends and a Sydney sunset makes for a pretty heady concoction. Which is why I’m most excited for Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s wild Kiwi vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, screening at Moonlight Cinema on December 16 (soon enough that nobody has an excuse for forgetting). Following a crew of bloodsucking mates in a Wellington flatshare, and featuring the comic talents of Clement, Waititi, and the always-great Rhys Darby, it was a crowd-pleasing closing night pick at this year’s SFF. While the curse of the festival volunteer forced me to miss it there, there are enough quotable lines in the trailer alone to make me confident that its Moonlight screening will go down a treat | Tickets
Ivan Cerecina: Full disclosure: my motivation for seeing Unbroken is driven in large part by the fact that I spent a week dressed up as a WWII prisoner of war acting as an extra in the film. Seeing my slim physique on the big screen should be enough reason for anyone to see this film, but if you need more convincing consider these facts: screenplay by the Coen Brothers, Sydney location-spotting galore (including a major sequence on Cockatoo Island), and an attention to period detail that cleaned out warehouses full of props and costumes from Fox Studios. The action occurs against the backdrop of the fighting in the Pacific between the Allied and Japanese forces, and it’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood blends (yet again) the personal plight of the protagonist against the major calamity of war. Moonlight Cinemas have an advanced screening of it on January 14 | Tickets
Isobel Yeap: When I saw a picture of Birdman, I assumed it was a film about a new type of superhero – this one dressed intimidatingly like a bird. But the film is more than that. It stars Michael Keaton as a ‘washed up comic strip character’ – he is an ageing actor, Riggan Thomson, who misses his heyday, when he was indeed famous for playing a superhero dressed as a bird. The film’s full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The latter part of the title echoes the cadences of literary works, The Importance of Being Earnest or The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It suggests an underlying gravity to the film I would not have guessed from the title Birdman alone. The film revolves around Thomson’s attempt to put on a play in an attempt to revive his career and remind his fans that in his old age he is still worth their attention. It is a film about finding meaning in old age and about one man’s quest to come to terms with his identity as he approaches death. That said, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” is still a confusing phrase to me. What will happen at the end of the film to suggest that ignorance is bliss? Will he realise that he has no talent as a playwright? Will he realise that his daughter is not really his daughter? (That is not a spoiler alert. I was just speculating.) Find out at Moonlight Cinema on January 10 | Tickets