I hope you managed to catch something because it’s all over for another year. 240 films from 72 countries have finally all played at the 59th London Film Festival. Hoardings are down and red carpets rolled up as normal life returns to Leicester Square.
It seems a long time ago since it all kicked off. Suffragette opened proceedings with a fitting premiere protest and Michael Fassbender as Apple kingpin Steve Jobs closed the affair. In-between there’s been everything from weepy period drama, to psychological thrillers, absurdist comedy, gruesome horror and film obsessed documentaries. You name it and it probably played somewhere in the programme.There were even a few awards handed out on Saturday night to help wrap up the action. Aside from a BFI Fellowship for Cate Blanchett, a decision no right-minded person could possibly disagree with, awards were handed out in the Official Competition, First Feature, Documentary and Short Film categories.
The Official Competition contained a number of extremely good films and a few duds we’ll speak no more of. The award went to Greek film Chevalier from Athina Rachel Tsangari. An amusing dissection of male egos, it sees six men launch into an ever more bizarre series of contests to allow one of them to be crowned the best in everything. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it clearly found a number of supporters on the competition panel headed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Over in First Feature territory, the Sutherland Award went to Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Puritan horror is the place to be as a family banished from their plantation are left to contend with evil spirits when a daughter goes missing. Steeped in paranoia turning into hysteria, it certainly won over (and terrified) a fair few people.With Shai Heredia and Shumona Goel taking Best Short for An Old Dog’s Diary, it’s to real life we go to round off the awards, Sherpa scooping the documentary prize. A window into mountaineering on the Himalayas where brave Sherpas have propped up the western tourist industry since day one, Jennifer Peedom’s project started just as a deadly avalanche claimed the lives of several Sherpas. There are plenty of films about the glory of mountaineering. Here’s a valuable examination of its darker side.
Enough of these award winning films though. What you really want to know is what James and I thought of it all. After close to two weeks of painstaking viewing, and general agreement that it wasn’t a classic year, we’ve each drawn up a top five for the festival. With no overlapping (Tangerine would have made it into both otherwise), and no space for films seen previously in the year (sorry Son of Saul), here’s what we arrived at.
Stephen’s Top Five
5. ChevalierIt won the top prize so it must be ok. Athina Rachel Tsangari’s witty send-up of machismo at its most pointless is packed full of wonderfully bizarre moments. It’s hard to tell which one would even top the list. How do you choose between an erection measuring contest in which the only arousal is erotic literature read by a rival, or an attempt to become blood brothers like you’ve never seen before? In an extremely idiosyncratic way, there’s a lot to like here.
4. Bone TomahawkThe polar opposite of Chevalier in flamboyance, S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is gruesomely in your face from the start. It shares a wicked streak of humour though as an unlikely band of pioneers set out into barren wasteland to save some of their number from cannibalistic troglodytes. It headed the Cult section at LFF, and with good reason.
3. RoomThere was a lot of buzz around Room after it won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, and I’m happy to say it’s deserved. Director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue, adapting her own novel about a young woman and her son locked for years in a single room, could have messed this up in two ways. Either they go full on bleak or aim for a schmaltzy feeling. With brilliant performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, it’s pitched perfectly.
2. BrooklynSometimes an unashamedly emotional period drama is all you need. Saoirse Ronan, in one of the performances of the year, plays a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York due to the lack of opportunities at home. Romance creeps in along the way, but John Crowley’s film, adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, is really about what it’s like to pack up and make a new home far, far away. It mines emotion beautifully, pushing the limits of melodrama without overstepping the line.
1. Listen to Me MarlonA dreamy dream of a documentary, my favourite film of the festival came out of nowhere. After wandering in for want of anything better to do, Stevan Riley’s film bowled me over. Using Marlon Brando’s own words to get inside the head of the legendary actor and renowned troublemaker, it allows Brando to brutally assess himself with fascinating results. Add in woozy visuals and a great score and you have one hell of a film.
James’ Top Five
5. FrancofoniaA tender testament to the timeless significance of art and a pointed poetic parable of Europe’s history, director Aleksandr Sokurov’s magnificently meditative experience takes you to the heart of the Louvre museum in Paris, exploring its history with incredible sentiment and passion.
4. CarolTodd Haynes’ tale of two females who find companionship with each other in 50s America is an immaculately coutured classic straight out of the David Lean school of love. It’s a story of forbidden ecstasy that grows between two lost souls. Sumptuously acted and visually spellbinding, Haynes’ film leaves you emotionally drained and utterly devastated.
3. Green RoomProving that Blue Ruin was no accident, Jeremy Saulnier has followed his freshman film with a sophomore effort that is, if anything, even nastier. Green Room is similarly infused with an immediate intensity, and a gleefully grotesque violent edge. Permeating the palpable atmosphere is a celebratory air towards the exploitive B-movies of the 70s and 80s; this is definitive proof that no one currently does jagged thrillers better than Saulnier.
2. RatterRatter is something of a misnomer; it falls into the stale found-footage subgenre, but it’s both utterly unique and unquestionably urgent. A contemporary tale of cyber-stalking that retains a pulse-pounding intensity, and builds to a chilling coda, this film is a timely and terrifying technological triumph.
1. TangerineIt wasn’t a vintage selection at the London Film Festival this year, but there were a couple of masterpieces, and Sean Baker’s Tangerine was one of them. Shot entirely using iPhone 5s, this bruising, but blissfully brilliant bitch slap of a film told the tale of two transsexuals tearing through Tinseltown on Xmas eve. Punchy performances and a pounding soundtrack helped augment the film’s astonishing attitude, while its willingness to give trans street culture a voice also makes it instrumentally important filmmaking. Put bluntly, watching Tangerine is like Christmas come early… bitch!
So now you know what to keep an eye out for in coming months. We’re off for some sleep at last but we’ll see you in the same place next year.