Well didn’t 248 films really fly past. In only 12 days the great and good of mainstream and indie cinema swung by the capital to be met by record crowds. The only downside was the constant rain, but who really minds a drop of water when they’re snug and secure in a cinema seat?
We hope you managed to catch as much as possible at the 58th London Film Festival, but for all those otherwise occupied, Culturefly did what it could to bring the festival to you. Between us, we managed 43 reviews and have a series of interviews that have either landed already or will accompany theatrical releases over the coming months.
So what shone this year? Compared to past iterations, it didn’t feel like a classic edition. There were plenty of good films but less exceptional offerings than previous years. British period drama fared well with the likes of The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner and Testament of Youth all headlining successfully. As usual, the Americans were well represented including two of the most talked about films; Foxcatcher complete with Steve Carrell’s prosthetic nose and musical prodigy Whiplash.
The joy really comes from further afield though, and the festival awards did a good job in recognising stand outs. Best film in the Official Competition category went to Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s tale of Russian corruption. An even more daring entry, The Tribe, walked away with the Sutherland Award for Best First Feature. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s film, set in the brutal world of a school for the deaf, features only sign language with no subtitles. I unfortunately missed both, but as you will see below (spoiler alert) my colleague James loved them.
Elsewhere, the Grierson Award for Best Documentary went to Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait and Sameena Jabeen Ahmed scooped the Best British Newcomer award for her performance in Catch Me Daddy. And we already knew he was getting it beforehand, but a much deserved BFI Fellowship was awarded to Stephen Frears who’s directed many outstanding films over the course of his career and had a close relationship with the London Film Festival. His last film, Philomena was one of the standouts last year while Mrs Henderson Presents was the much anticipated surprise film in 2005. Just in case you were wondering, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu’s black comedy with Michael Keaton at the head of an all-star cast was this year’s mystery film.
I guess we’re now left to return to the mundane real world and await the start of the 59th edition. Just before you do though, here’s each of our top 5 films to tide you over.
James’ 2014 London Film Festival Top 5
A worthy holder of my top spot, Whiplash defied already high expectations to deliver a ferocious punch that knocked me back 10 yards. Director Damien Chazelle led from the front with ear-shattering authority, conducting a breathless symphony of passion and obsession that was played out with fiery performances from J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller.
As you can guess from the title, Leviathan is about monsters, but not ones from the sea, these are ones who lurk on the land. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s muted masterpiece, which picked up the prize for best film in the Festival’s Official Competition, carefully combined a number of themes with a dash of political satire and raw visual supremacy. The results were spellbinding.
3: The Tribe
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy was awarded The Sutherland Award for best first-feature this year, and rightfully so. His audacious debut sought to defy cinematic convention by telling its story using sign language, but without subtitles to aid the audience. Challenging our innate perceptions of those who are deaf, Slaboshpytskiy compounded punchy violence with intense sexual intimacy, and in the process broke the boundaries of the medium and made more noise than any other film shown this year.
4: The Imitation Game
Morten Tyldum’s Opening Night Gala wasn’t just a great film it was an important one. This stirring account of how Alan Turing (a magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch) and a team of cryptanalysts worked together to break the enigma code was thunderously exciting at times, utterly heartbreaking at others, and as well constructed as the mathematician’s own code-breaking machine.
5: Chasing Berlusconi
No, it’s not a documentary following Silvio as he engages in rampant ‘bunga bunga’. This curious Norwegian comedy about bet-rigging and low-level criminal activity was a riotous delight from beginning to end, mashing together a smorgasbord of ideas and bathing them all in a Coenesque glow!
Stephen’s 2014 London Film Festival Top 5
What on earth do you say after walking out of Damien Chazelle’s film that’s topped both of our lists? Is it even possible to say anything? Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons excel as the drumming prodigy ruthlessly pursuing fame and glory, and the teacher pushing him far beyond breaking point. This really is unmissable cinema. In the Gala screening it received a standing ovation, and in my screening barely anyone left until the credits had stopped rolling. There’s nothing I could ask from a festival favourite that Whiplash doesn’t deliver.
2: Song of the Sea
Tomm Moore had already given notice of his remarkable talents with The Secret of Kells in 2009. Now he’s gone and outdone himself with this spellbinding animation that mixes family grief with classic Irish folklore. The animation is out of this world, setting the tone for a melancholic and deeply moving tale. There’s magic in this film as Moore proves nothing beats a good story from a master storyteller.
3: Winter Sleep
Don’t let the running time put you off. Yes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner stretches comfortably past the three hour mark but there’s a reason it won the main prize at Cannes this year. Set out on the Anatolian steppes, Ceylan uses a small hotel run by a retired actor, his young wife, and divorced sister to explore themes ranging from isolation, self-deception and the divides between rich and poor in modern Turkey. Fireside chats play out in their entirety while Ceylan’s cinematography is a stunning as ever. It might not be for everyone, but it really should be.
4: Son of a Gun
Complex contemplative cinema is brilliant (when you get it right), but sometimes you just want to have some fun. Julius Avery’s debut feature delivered just that as he sent Brenton Thwaite’s young offender on a whirlwind adventure with Ewan McGregor’s hardened armed robber. With prison breaks, gold heists, gripping action and a fascinatingly dysfunctional father/son relationship developing between the two leads, it marks the emergence of a real talent.
5: Mr. Turner
Two and a half hours watching Timothy Spall grunt and growl his way through the latter years of J.M.W. Turner’s life might not sound enticing but don’t be put off. Spall is astounding, giving arguably the finest performance of an already fine career in the title role. Communicating mainly in grunts and growls, he brilliantly brings Turner to life. Mike Leigh’s film also succeeds in capturing the world as Turner himself saw it. A rare biopic that transcends the conventions of the genre, Turner’s transformation of painting into performance art is worth the ticket price alone.