Thursday 17 December 2015

Defending Cinephilia (6) - Serious young cinephile Shaun Heenan gathers up the threads

There are more than five reasons why I continued to love the cinema in 2015, so I have decided to cheat somewhat, and organize my favourite moments into five general categories.

This year I attended sessions at four different film festivals: two in Sydney and two on the Mid-North Coast. The Sydney Film Festival is an obvious highlight of each filmgoing year with its wide selection of exciting films and the opportunity to discuss them with likeminded folks. I saw approximately fifty films at SFF this year, and I liked around thirty-five of them. You can’t do much better than that. The highlight of that festival remains my #1 film of the year, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy.

I’ve already covered my other Sydney festival of 2015 on this blog, when I wrote about seeing Suffragette (Sarah Gavron, 2015), 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015), Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog, 2015) and the marvelous Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015) at the BBC First British Film Festival. Once again, three out of four is a pretty good strike rate for quality cinema.

The other two festivals took place in Port Macquarie and Nambucca Heads, and combined they gave me hope for the state of the cinema up here in my new home. The Travelling Film Festival made its way to both locations, with a good selection of films shown earlier at SFF. Both Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014) and 99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani, 2015) really impressed me, and I was glad to catch them up north after missing them in Sydney.

The other local festival was perhaps less successful, but I appreciated the concept. Majestic Cinemas ran an Australian Film Festival, where I saw Women He’s Undressed (Gillian Armstrong, 2015) and about nine-tenths of Ruben Guthrie (Brendan Cowell, 2015). Near the end of that film, the power went out, and we were all sent home. I caught the end of that film at home later on, which leads us to the next category.

Between Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, iTunes, Presto, Quickflix, Stan, Mubi, Fandor, AACTA TV, Crackle, CinemaNow, Microsoft Movies, Playstation Movies, Amazon Streaming and good old fashioned YouTube, there has never been a better time to watch movies on the comfort of your couch, away from the chatter and phone usage of the general cinema audience. These services legally offer access to just about any film you care to name, from new release indies to previously-rare classic cinema. I spent a lot of time watching movies this way in 2015, and I can only see myself doing it more in the future.

The best new films I saw on streaming services this year included The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt, 2015), Tu dors Nicole (St├ęphane Lafleur, 2014), Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015), Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel, 2015) and The Falling (Carol Morley, 2015). Even if one had no cinema access at all, it would now be possible to keep up with current releases at home with only a short delay. I keep a ranked list of the year’s new releases, and at the moment, of my top twenty-five 2015 films, seventeen are currently available for rental online. Most of those missing are festival films which haven’t opened in local cinemas, either.

My Nephew
A few years ago, I sat my nephew down and made him watch the kaleidoscope sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968). I’m sure I got more out of that exchange than he did. He’s nine years old now, and our cinema trips have become mutually rewarding. The boy still likes his cartoons, so we still go to films like the unbearable Minions (Kyle Balda, 2015), which is populated almost entirely by gibbering, yellow, tic-tac-shaped creatures prone to shrieking, but I’ve started taking him to ‘real films’, too.

I now have to think about how age-appropriate a film will be for him, and occasionally I make the wrong decision on that front. Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015) and The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (Wes Ball, 2015) weren’t even remotely appropriate, and had him hiding his face and jumping out of his seat. Comic book movies are mostly okay, with Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015) and Fantastic Four (Josh Trank, 2015) proving more enjoyable to him than to me. The year’s real highlight, however, was taking a gamble on The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015). I did my research on the content before seeing the film, and decided nothing in it sounded unreasonable for a child. This study proved sound, and we found a movie we could both fall in love with. Earlier this week I sent that kid home with copies of the original three Star Wars films, and I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of them.

I say ‘conversation’, but it all really comes back to Twitter. I started tweeting back and forth with a film fan in Melbourne I’d met on a now-defunct film website. Before I knew it, the conversation had grown to include his friends, and their friends, and theirs. My Twitter feed is now mostly dominated by an ongoing 24/7 discussion on film with cinema lovers in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane, as well as several members from abroad. This led to a moment of recognition at the box-office one day. “Wait, are you…?”

At this year’s Sydney Film Festival, I met most of these people in person for the first time, and I ended up staying with some of them during a trip to Sydney later in the year. These conversations have led to me innumerable wonderful films, and to a greater understanding of those I’ve seen. It’s been a really major part of my life in cinema this year, and surely only more so in the future.


While I do my best to keep up with the flood of new release films, I get an equal amount of enjoyment from delving into cinema’s rich history. I’m only twenty-eight, so I was born with almost a hundred years’ worth of films to catch up on. I’ve adopted a number of lists as a starting point, and am actively working my way through the various versions of Peter Stanley’s ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ (628/1127) as well as several years’ combined versions of the top 1000 seen at the website ‘They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’ (514/1435). I’m approaching the end of the Best Picture Oscar winners (84/88) while despairing at the impossibility of locating everything ever nominated for the Palme d’Or (202/1167). I am never, ever, ever going to run out of great films to watch, and that’s why I’ll never stop.

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