Aftersun - Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio
Aftersun (2022) © BBC Film
Stories & Ideas

Wed 13 Dec 2023

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Your museum of screen culture

Our film buffs pick their small screen and big screen favourites of the year.


Dir. Charlotte Wells

My partner thought that Aftersun was a love story. It was probably because of Paul Mescal (Normal People, general internet boyfriendery), who stars as Callum, a reformed party boy trying to keep his cigs a secret and demons at bay. The reason is Sophie (Frankie Corio), his 11-year-old daughter. When she’s not cataloguing their vacation through a video camera, she’s eavesdropping on older girls and circling older boys, unaware that by collating fragments of her father and awaiting adolescence, she’s coalescing into the person she’ll become. Meanwhile, Callum wrestles with who he was and could have been, swapping techno for tai chi on a path to self-improvement.

Charlotte Wells’ melancholic debut is an intimate and impressionistic study of gender, responsibility, empathy and freedom. It balances the distance of damaged parents with a child’s desire to be both comforted and independent, diffusing a moment into refractions of memory that are only understood long after the person is gone.

By examining the unknown parts of ourselves and the people closest to us, it’s not hard to see Aftersun as a love story after all.

– Matt Millikan, Editor (Interpretation & Research)

Aftersun is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 3 & 11 Jan 2024


Dir. Bradley Cooper

When the New York Philharmonic's guest conductor is struck down by the flu, wunderkind conductor-on-the-rise Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) finds himself urgently subbing into a high-stakes, unrehearsed performance at Carnegie Hall. Instantly propelled to fame, his star's trajectory collides with actor Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) kickstarting a lifelong partnership.

Cooper delivers on all fronts: his performance as Bernstein is excellent, the screenplay smartly favours the personal over the professional and his direction pays beautiful homage to the periods it retraces with stylistic awareness. However, it is Carey Mulligan who will stun audiences with one of the finest performances of the year.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

Maestro is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 4 Jan 2024

May December

Dir. Todd Haynes

May December is a devilish dose of pulp that delves into the implications of a true crime obsessed media landscape and the effects it has on those involved at every level. Todd Haynes weaves together a sharp script, a melodramatic score and a probing camera to lay down a canvas with which his greatest gift as a director can shine, that of the performances he and his collaborators are able to capture.

Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman sink their teeth into some of the thorniest characters they’ve ever played; each a different kind of snake that’s constantly assessing their prey.

Charles Melton is the film’s beating heart though, navigating the murky intentions of the forces bearing down on him. As the wisest yet most emotionally stunted character he’ll Melton your heart in the hope that he’ll come out on top.

Callan Webster, Visitor Services Officer


Dir. Emma Seligman

Bottoms follows high school besties and “untalented gays” PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) as they go to any lengths to woo their crushes, leading the pair to (checks notes) start a feminist fight club. It’s a canon event; we cannot interfere.

Written and directed by Emma Seligman, whose 2020 film Shiva Baby also starred Sennott, Bottoms is an unhinged take on the classic teen rom com with the most charismatic cast of the year.

Feral, exuberant, charming and a joyous celebration of queer mediocrity.

– Ash Easton, P&C Advisor


Dir. Christian Petzold

Summer arrives and two friends, Leon (Thomas Schubert) and Felix (Langston Uibel), embark on a much-needed retreat at a family holiday house to focus on their artistic pursuits. Upon arriving, they discover an unexpected guest in Nadja (Paula Beer) who has arrived early and already taken a lover in local lifesaver Devid (Enno Trebs). With resentments on the rise, wildfires skirt around the periphery, slowly edging closer day by day.

In Undine (2020) we had water, and now director Christian Petzold returns with fire in the second part of his elemental trilogy. Lighter in tone than many of Petzold's films but with disarming emotional depth, Afire might be the perfect summer film – if you don't mind your summers cruel.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

Afire is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 6 Jan 2024


Dir. Christopher Nolan

Go back in time to witness some of history’s most defining moments: the creation of nuclear warheads at the end of WWII, and the staggering destruction they caused. Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer recounts the processes and events that led to the dawn of the nuclear age, while alluding to the human cost of war, especially on its titular character.

Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus, the film follows theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer from his early days as a student, to his directorship of the Manhattan Project, which had him dubbed the “father of the atomic bomb”. 

Nolan and his long-time cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema make the most of IMAX cameras to capture all the dimensions of the historical figures featured in the film and the locations they inhabited; and Nolan’s signature non-linear storytelling gives us tastes of the past and future, before revealing the big picture.

As the famous saying goes, the first casualty of war is truth. Oppenheimer revisits history and by doing so challenges us to revise our collective assumptions around one of humanity’s most noteworthy chapters and the individuals writing it.

– Sanjiv Ravi, Visitor Experience Guide

Oppenheimer is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 2 Jan 2024

Anatomy of a Fall

Dir. Justine Triet

Sandra (Sandra Hüller) becomes suspect number one when her husband’s death is ruled suspicious, and their relationship is put under the microscope.

This year, Justine Triet became the third woman in Cannes Film Festival’s history to win its top prize, the Palme d’Or, for her courtroom drama-thriller, and it’s clear to understand why.

Anatomy of a Fall is an incredibly visceral, emotional portrayal of a marital dispute, peppered with anger and resentment that can only be built up between two people who have spent years together, knowing each other's triggers and faults – a recorded fight between the two is a mini masterclass in filmmaking.

The dialogue is sharp and demanding; with truly phenomenal performances by the entire cast, including Snoop the dog. And you won’t get that steel drum instrumental version of 50 Cent's ‘P.I.M.P’ out of your head for days.

Erin Oliver, Commercial Manager

Anatomy of a Fall is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 16–25 Feb 2024

Asteroid City

Dir. Wes Anderson

Following a playfully layered anthology format, Asteroid City tells the tale of a sci-fi theatre play and the drama behind its production, skilfully jumping from one world to the other. The story narrated in the play is set circa 1955 in a small desert town in the US – a place with a niche tourism industry, site of a meteorite crash and an annual junior space cadet convention, where some strange events unfold.

Wes Anderson’s idiosyncrasies are an unsurprisingly good match with the space-age aesthetics of the 1950s USA, and we get to indulge in some beautifully stylised vignettes and props. In this film, Anderson is tackling some existential questions, but he does that with his usual charm, highlighting the beauty in the unknown and strength in vulnerability. An absolute must-watch even if you are not a Wes Anderson fan.

– Benedetta Martini, Development Coordinator

Talk to Me

Dir. Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou

Talk to Me opens with a tracking shot through a suburban house party that abruptly ends in bloodshed. It’s an assured curtain-raiser from Danny and Michael Philippou, who knowingly channel Martin Scorsese’s Copa-Shot in Goodfellas (1990). From Paul Thomas Anderson to Cary Joji Fukunaga, following in Scorsese’s Steadicam’s steps is a rite of passage for filmmakers.

Drugs and teenagers are similar. Talk to Me revolves around a cursed, embalmed hand that’s graffitied like a bus-stop shelter. And like a puff of pot behind a bus stop, the hand is a gateway – not to hard drugs, but to hell. It’s an unsubtle allegory, but it doesn’t matter. Talk to Me is savagely propulsive, face-splittingly funny and surprisingly deep. It’s also finely performed and crafted. The actors are in full possession of their characters, while the make-up and prosthetics ground the gruesomeness.

In a year when old-guard auteurs like Scorsese (and Fincher, Nolan, Anderson, et al) tried to claw cinema back from streaming and superheroes, two self-taught Aussie YouTubers proved there was still fresh blood in moviemaking.

– Matt Millikan, Editor (Interpretation & Research)

Flora and Son

Dir. John Carney

Another delectable, musical Dublin treat served up by writer-director John Carney (Once, Sing Street), Flora and Son is the perfect summer watch.

A mesmeric Eve Hewson (The Knick, Bad Sisters) navigates her rebellious teenage son (newcomer Orén Kinlan), her arrogant ex-husband (a delightful Jack Reynor) and a quirky online guitar teacher from Los Angeles (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to make sense of her life amongst the modern-day trappings of contemporary Ireland. Funny, poignant and life-affirming; the feel-good film of 2023.

– Benjamin Haller, Audience Engagement Analyst

The Blue Caftan

Dir. Maryam Touzani

A quiet conflict between tradition and modernity plays out in a Moroccan tailor shop. Mina (Lubna Azabal) and her husband Halim (Saleh Bakri) run a small business making and selling bespoke caftans in one of the city’s oldest medinas. Halim is a master of his trade, and Mina a canny saleswoman; though their wares don’t come cheap and traditional dress is falling out of favour.

Woven with exquisite care, Maryam Touzani’s Cannes Un Certain Regard-winning drama reveals a beautiful love triangle in a small Moroccan town. Touzani explores a complex marriage with tenderness and grace in a sincere and superbly performed film that unfolds in unexpected and heartening ways.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

The Blue Caftan is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 8 Jan 2024

Past Lives

Dir. Celine Song

The debut feature by Canadian writer and director Celine Song, Past Lives is a layered and incredibly moving cinematic experience, telling the story of childhood sweethearts Na-Young (Greta Lee) and Hae-Sung (Teo Yoo) as they reconnect across years and continents.

Past Lives explores the potential and possibility of what might have been, through the Korean concept of in-yun: the idea of two people having a relationship in this life as a result of having a relationship in a previous life. It also delves into the first-generation migrant experience, and navigating dueling and differing perceptions of identity. A quiet, beautiful and often heartbreaking tale of love and loss.

– ­Arieh Offman, Producer, Public Programs

Past Lives is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 28 Dec 2023 and 10 Jan 2024


Dir. Charlotte Regan

Georgie is a resourceful and stubborn 12-year-old living alone when her father re-enters her life. The two are forced to forgive in order to rebuild their relationship.

The British staycation version of Aftersun, Scrapper is a surprising, heart-warming feature debut by Charlotte Regan that playfully sneaks up on you and hits you straight in the feels.

Erin Oliver, Commercial Manager


Dir. Noora Niasari

At a time when there are female-led protests in Iran demanding greater freedoms for women, Noora Niasari's assured debut feature film Shayda makes essential viewing. On one hand, the film taps into this zeitgeist, but on the other, the film is a profoundly personal story of a mother and daughter navigating an unfairly dangerous path.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

Shayda is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 15–17 Dec 2023.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Dir. Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, Kemp Powers

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse is truly a singular achievement in animation, pushing the form to greater heights than it has ever reached in their telling of the multiversal adventures of Miles Morales and a slew of other Spider-people.

The action and pacing is frenetic throughout, with a meta-narrative that examines the constructive elements of a character that has been popular for over half a century. A funny, exciting and moving story is paired with boundary-pushing sound and character design that stays true to their comic book roots while also feeling fresh. Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse is not just the best animated film of the year, but a true contender for best film of the year.

– Arieh Offman, Producer, Public Programs

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 6 & 17 Jan 2024

Women Talking

Dir. Sarah Polley

In an insular religious community, after revelations have led all of the men to be arrested for horrific and systematic crimes against their wives, mothers and daughters, it is only the women who remain. On the eve of the men's return, the women are given an ultimatum: forgive the men, or be excommunicated. For the first time, they put it to a vote and discuss their way forward: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

Based on the true story, Sarah Polley's modest yet powerful film focuses less on the men's crimes and more on the women's newfound agency. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Frances McDormand lead an almost all-female cast in this zeitgeisty, award-winning hit, for which Polley received the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

Women Talking is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 9 Jan 2024

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Dir. Daniel Goldhaber

You know from the first guttural drones and pounding snyth of Gavin Brivik’s score for How To Blow Up a Pipeline, that you’re in for a stressful time. I’m using the word stressful in the good sense: that adrenaline-pumping, deliciously anxious sort-of-a-way that only really exists in heist and/or horror movies.  

This taut little second feature from Daniel Goldhaber, about a gaggle of meticulously organised and infuriatingly chic environmental “terrorists”, somehow manages to be an effecting study of grief and fury, a wildly entertaining caper and (as the title more than suggests) a very informative excise in seeking justice. 

Anton De Ionno, ACMI X Community Coordinator

The Fabelmans

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s masterful ode to his childhood wistfully explores his relationship with his conflicted mother (Michelle Williams) and idealistic father (Paul Dano). Equal parts nostalgia and unsentimental reminiscence, The Fablemans tackles the devastating human conundrum of balancing family values and personal aspiration.

Williams’ portrayal of Mitzi is sublime, her saudade both heartbreaking and exasperating. Dano is equally adept as Burt albeit in a more subtle, compassionate manner. This film is one for the “dreamers”, both successful and still believing.

Benjamin Haller, Audience Engagement Analyst

Killers of the Flower Moon

Dir. Martin Scorsese

Lily Gladstone’s Molly Kyle provides the emotional and moral compass in Martin Scorsese’s epic Western crime saga based on journalist David Grann's 2017 book of the same name, where real love crosses paths with unspeakable betrayal.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator (Film & TV)

Killers of the Flower Moon is screening in ACMI Cinemas on 29 Dec 2023 and 15 Jan 2024.

Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party

Dir. Ian White

Mutiny in Heaven documents the rise and demise of Melbourne's early post-punk band The Birthday Party. Formed by Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Phill Calvert, true creatives with self-destructive tendencies, the band became famous for their controversial live performances and ferocious sound.

In a very tumultuous journey through inspiration and excess, Mutiny in Heaven juxtaposes exclusive interviews, archival material and multimedia elements with the same restlessness and brilliance. The exceptional original drawings by graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist and the outstanding footage of Melbourne and London’s music scene in the 70s, are a true delight. Thrilling, often dark, often hilarious, just like their music. My favourite music doco to date; and it will be a hard one to beat.

– Benedetta Martini, Development Coordinator

Of An Age

Dir. Goran Stolevski

Sparks fly in the summer of 1999 when Kol (Elias Anton), a 17-year-old Serbian-born Australian, meets Adam (Thom Green), the older brother of his best friend, Ebony (Hattie Hook). Writer-director Goran Stolevski's second feature Of an Age is a deeply moving Australian romance with a distinctly European aesthetic.

The CinefestOz prize-winning film beautifully captures a fragile intimacy between two men at vastly different life stages. And the performances are pitch perfect.  

– Frances Mariani, Head of Stakeholder & Government Communications

The Pope’s Exorcist

Dir. Julius Avery

Russell Crowe, a cinematic gladiator on a two-wheeled escapade, donned not in armour but a cassock, weaving through the traffic of Rome on a Ferrari-stickered moped. His stoic expression doesn’t waver as the wind tousles the hem of his robe, creating a surreal fusion of holy vestments and rebellious two-wheel chic. Move over Satan; there’s a new demon in town, and it's got Russell Crowe in holy pursuit, navigating the hallowed battlefield with a poise that could make even the most seasoned motorcyclist fall to their knees in religious fervor. It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it…

Travis Geldard, AV Technical Manager

The Best Films of 2023 – as chosen by ACMI Members

We asked our members to choose their favourite films that came out this year. Here are the top 10 selections:

  1. Past Lives
  2. Barbie
  3. Oppenheimer
  4. Killers of The Flower Moon
  5. Tár
  6. AfterSun
  7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
  8. Asteroid City
  9. Shayda
  10. All the Beauty and Bloodshed

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