Sydney Film Festival - A Talk with Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton

This year at the Town Hall,as part of the Sydney Film Festival, Australian film reviewers and national treasures, Margaret and David talked about films that they felt were under appreciated or underrated. Here are the movies they chose:

Margaret – Running On Empty (1988)
Directed by Sydney Lumet. Starring Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton.
Blurb from IMDB: The eldest son of a fugitive family comes of age and wants to live a life of his own.

David – Storm Center (1956)
irected by Daniel Taradash. Starring Bette Davis, Brian Keith, Kim Hunter
Blurb from IMDB: A small-town librarian is branded as a Communist by local politicians when she refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the library's shelves.

Margaret – In The Cut (2003)
Directed by Jane Campion. Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo.
Blurb from IMDB: New York writing professor, Frannie Avery, has an affair with a police detective who is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman in her neighbourhood.

David – Blessed (2009)
Directed by Ana Kokkinos.  Starring Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness
Blurb from IMDB: Seven lost children wander the night streets while their mothers await their return home.

Margaret – Festen (1998)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (uncredited). Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo.
Blurb from IMDB: At Helge's 60th birthday party, some unpleasant family truths are revealed.

David – Across the Universe (2007)
Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson
Blurb from IMDB: The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

Margaret – All Is Lost (2013)
irected by J.C. Chandor. Starring Robert Redford
Blurb from IMDB: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

David – In The Electric Mist (2009)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.  Starring Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard
Blurb from IMDB: A detective in post-Katrina New Orleans has a series of surreal encounters with a troop of friendly Confederate soldiers while investigating serial killings of local prostitutes, a 1965 lynching, and corrupt local businessmen.

Margaret – 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Directed by John Singleton. Starring Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Cole Hauser
Blurb from IMDB: Brian O'Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce are re-united by the FBI to bring down a Miami drug exporter in exchange for clear records.

David – The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
irected by Mira Nair. Starring Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland
Blurb from IMDB: A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland.


Argo is a well-made tightly wound thriller that is raking in the box office.  It is based on the true story of the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  It stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. 

The old Hollywood star hierarchy is crumbling, the only ‘movie’ stars in this film are Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, and two of them are character actors, and Ben Affleck is the director – not someone who has ‘opened’ a film in a long time.  But the film got made.  Mainly, I think, because Ben Affleck has proven himself as a director with The Town and Gone Baby Gone, and George Clooney is one of the producers.  The film is populated with a number of great actors that are predominantly known for TV roles, such as Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Victor Garbor, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Taylor Schilling, Zeliko Ivanek and Titus Weaver.  In fact, three of the actors were in Season 4 of the Glenn Close/Rose Byrne law drama, Damages, and Zeliko Ivanek won an Emmy for his role in the first season of Damages.  Ben Affleck is obviously a fan of the show. 

Films headlining major movie stars still get made, but are they bringing in the audiences or the money.  It will be interesting to see how Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry and Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise do in comparison.  The economics of the star system aside, the other reason this movie is making money is that it is a great script and it is directed well.  It is like one of those wonderful 1970s political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or All The President’s Men, mainly because it is set in the 70s, but what it most reminds me of is the last movie that I saw that I would classify a medium sized movie made for adults, the 2010 Roman Polankski film, The Ghost Writer.  We get so few movies these days aimed at adults.  Most films are sequels, prequels, super heroes, ‘comedies’ (I put comedies in speech marks as most of them are not funny) or remakes of foreign movies, all precisely aimed at a certain ages by marketing gurus and signed off by focus groups.  The small number of films made for adult audiences are usually from the independent/art house marketing mix.  You can see this in the last couple of Oscar races.  The movies vying for top honours are either a blockbuster or an independent/art house.  The medium sized Hollywood film is few and far between.  The talent that usually made these films have followed the money and the creative opportunity and have moved to TV.  So has the audience. 

Enjoy Argo while you can, because unless Hollywood starts to rethink its structure, this type of movie will not come along once every two years.  It will stop coming along at all.