Tuesday, 2 November 2010

London Film Festival : Top 20

I suppose it’s a measure of the quality of the films which played at this year’s London Film Festival that I’m finding it particularly difficult to come up with a top ten, there are simply too many quality pictures jostling for position. Even more so that I’m unable to come up with a worst five, let alone ten, at which to vent my disappointment. Usually come the end of the Festival, and especially after managing to catch 100 features this year, I’m left with some good guesses as to who will feature prominently in the awards nominations in January, but this year I’m a little more reluctant than usual to put my money where my mouth is, with a number of performances equally deserving of a place in the shortlists of five, even if many will go unrecognised due to the xeno-myopic tendencies of the Academy and the like.
Many complain that the LFF represents little more than a ‘greatest hits’ festival, coming as it does late in the year, after many of the films have already premiered at larger, higher-profile events. But unlike the more elitist Cannes, Venice and Toronto, London has always been a festival predominantly for the public, a celebration of cinema as opposed to an opening platform by which a film can live or die. The majority of the audiences, myself included, haven’t had the opportunity to see the films on show at their more prestigious first presentations and there’s still plenty of work on offer (aside from the Galas etc.) that arrives without UK distribution in place, the festival representing perhaps the only chance to see many of them on the big screen, for the foreseeable future anyway.
So until someone decides to offer me accreditation for Cannes or Venice, October remains the month of cinematic discovery I most look forward to, one (for better or worse) bursting with expectation and promise, and the ever-present hope that as the lights dim and the curtain draws back I’ll be reminded of just what cinema can do and why it means so much to me.
Top 20
1.       Blue Valentine
USA – 2010 – 114 mins – Dir : Derek Cianfrance

Career best performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose relationship is breaking apart, intercut with their falling in love many years earlier, it’s a heart-wrenching film of honesty and intensity and my favourite of the festival.  Full review here.

Blue Valentine is currently without UK distribution

2.       Poetry
South Korea – 2010 – 139 mins – Dir : Lee Changdong

The performance of the year from Yun Junghee as the grandmother looking after her teenage grandson implicated in the suicide of a female classmate. Perhaps even better than his previous feature Secret Sunshine (2007), it’s another tour de force from director Lee Changdong, whose work is yet to receive distribution in the UK. A knockout.

Poetry is currently without UK distribution

3.       Meek’s Cutoff
USA – 2010 – 104 mins – Dir : Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt’s latest feature builds on both her wonderful previous features Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), presenting a group of travellers lost on the Oregon Trail in 1845. Beautifully composed, brimming with tension and a stunning sense of space, it’s the first contemporary western I can think of directed by a woman and provides a second outstanding performance from Michelle Williams at the LFF.

Meek’s Cutoff will be released by Soda Pictures in 2011

4.       How I Ended This Summer
Russia – 2010 – 124 mins – Dir : Alexei Popogrebsky

Winner of Best Film at both Chicago and now London, Popogrebsky’s film is a stunning portrait of isolation and self-preservation set in a remote meteorological station within the Arctic Circle. Top notch performances and a visual eye that recalls Carlos Reygadas, it’s also utterly gripping, its use of music and flawless composition extracting both beauty and menace from its unique location. An unexpected but highly deserving recipient of the top prize. Outstanding.

How I Ended This Summer will be released by New Wave Films early in 2011

5.       Another Year
United Kingdom – 2010 – 129 mins – Dir : Mike Leigh

The best work in years from Mike Leigh, and a vast improvement on Happy Go Lucky (2008). Lesley Manville has her BAFTA in the bag. Full review here.

Another Year is released in the UK on November 5th

6.       13 Assassins
Japan – 2010 – 126 mins – Dir : Takashi Miike

Best action film of the year. Takashi Miike delivers a samurai epic as assured as anything by Kurosawa, ending with a 45 minute, non-stop chanbara spectacle of carnage. Terrific. Full review here.

13 Assassins will be released by Artificial Eye  in 2011

7.       The Temptation of St. Tony
Estonia – 2009 – 114 mins – Dir : Veiko Õunpuu

Estonia’s Oscar entry, it’s a deliciously black comedic spin on Dante’s Divine Comedy that recalls Roy Andersson and David Lynch. Sight gags aplenty and a stunning sound design to complement the silvery visuals. A real discovery, hope it gets a release. Full review here.

The Temptation of St Tony is currently without UK distribution, but a Region 1 DVD from Olive Films is available at www.olivefilms.com

8.       Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Thailand – 2010 – 113 mins – Dir : Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Structurally Weerasethakul’s most linear work, dropping the diptych form of previous features, it’s also his most obtuse and may prove to be his most dividing. A haunting exploration of spirituality awash with Buddhist symbolism, this is real marmite cinema, but for those familiar with his previous work it could potentially prove to be his most fulfilling. Perhaps not my favourite (that’s still Tropical Malady), it’s still a wonderful piece of cinema from a truly unique artist unafraid to literalise his thematic interests in reincarnation and Eastern spiritualism, resulting in a two hour film of exquisite beauty I feel as though I dreamt.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives will be released by New Wave Films on November 19th.

9.       Archipelago
United Kingdom – 2010 – 100 mins – Dir : Joanna Hogg

It’s refreshing to see a UK feature not set on a grimy council estate or reaching for broad comedic appeal, but Joanna Hogg’s follow up to her rapturously received previous feature Unrelated (2007) is still brilliantly funny. A study of the tensions at play within a middle class family on holiday in the Scilly Isles, it boasts terrific performances and a wonderfully observant script, complemented by Hogg’s astute eye for composition. One of the best British features I’ve seen for a while, I hope it garners enough recognition to push her into the Andrea Arnold/Lynne Ramsey league that she so clearly deserves.

Archipelago will be released by Artificial Eye in March 2011.

10.   The Mysteries of Lisbon
Portugal – 2010 – 270 mins – Dir : Raul Ruiz

Ruiz’s four and a half hour feature is a thing of real beauty. A novelistic mystery, it’s a beautiful miniature disguised as a sweeping epic and more than justifies its running time. Destined to become a firm Christmas favourite in my house at least, it’s perfect viewing for a rainy day, offering the chance to be enveloped in its brown and golden hues and chiaroscuro lighting and settle into its mischievous gothic intrigues. A class act from a true master.

The Mysteries of Lisbon will be released by New Wave Films in Spring 2011

11.   NEDS
United Kingdom – 2010 – 122 mins – Dir : Peter Mullan

Read the full review here.

NEDS will be released by Entertainment One on January 21st

12.   The Bridge On The River Kwai
United Kingdom – 1957 – 161 mins – Dir : David Lean

The Mayor Of Hell
USA – 1933 – 89 mins – Dir : Archie Mayo

Two breathtaking restorations back where they belong. Full review of Kwai is here, whilst The Mayor Of Hell had its first public screening since 1933. A violent, pre-code Warner Bros. picture dealing with juvenile detention facilities, the print was magnificent and so was my favourite actor James Cagney, doing what he does best.

13.   The Kids Are All Right
USA – 2010 – 106 mins – Dir : Lisa Cholodenko

Smart, funny script aided by note-perfect performances from all concerned, particularly Julianne Moore. A totally engaging picture about the complexities of human sexuality and modern familial relationships. Great stuff.

The Kids Are All Right is on general release now

14.   Black Swan
USA – 2010 – 105 mins – Dir : Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s latest is a visual feast unafraid to swing from the rafters of excess. A psychosexual horror film about a prima ballerina in meltdown, it’s as subtle as a sledgehammer but buckets of fun. Natalie Portman flexes her crazy muscles and carries the picture assuredly to its baroquely heightened resolution. Brilliantly insane. Full review here.

Black Swan will be released by Fox Searchlight on February 18th

15.   The Arbor
United Kingdom – 2010 – 90 mins – Dir : Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard deservedly took home two awards for her ‘verbatim cinema’ docu-drama about the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her family. Often unbearably sad, it’s formally astounding, using actors to lip-synch to pre-recorded interviews with members of Dunbar’s family. Uniquely impressive, it uses its inherent theatricality to great advantage.

The Arbor is on general release now.

16.   Carlos
France/Germany – 2009 – 325 mins – Dir : Olivier Assayas

I’ve seen 90 minute films that felt longer than this. Five and a half hours of gripping action and political manoeuvrings, it recalls The Baader Meinhof Complex in its portrait of international terrorist Carlos ‘The Jackal’. Epic, fearless and psychologically astute, it uses its enormous canvas to maximum effect. Just make sure you see the full cut, not the abbreviated version.

Carlos is on general release now.

17.   Catfish
USA – 2009 – 94 mins – Dir : Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

The other Facebook film. It’s best to go into Catfish knowing as little as possible about it. An excellent documentary that’s both a troubling mystery and a brilliant character study of both of its subjects. Avoid reviews and friends hat have seen it, and you’ll soon see why it was such a hit at Sundance. There’s much to debate here, but I ain’t giving away nuffin.

Catfish is released by Momentum Pictures on December 17th

18.   End of Animal
South Korea – 2010 – 114 mins – Dir : Jo Sung-Hee

Full review here.

End of Animal is (regrettably) without UK distribution

19.   Tabloid
USA – 2010 – 87 mins – Dir : Errol Morris

Morris’ most lighthearted film to date, it’s a documentary about former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKInney who, in love with a Mormon missionary, kidnaps him and chains him to a bed to drive the Mormon out of him. That’s just the tip of the narative iceberg here, it’s a fascinating subject for a film, and Mckinney proves a natural raconteur herself, with Morris displaying his usual formal control in tying all the bizarre plot strands together.

Tabloid is currently without UK distribution

20.   A Screaming Man
Chad – 2010 – 92 mins – Dir : Mahamt-Saleh Haroun

Full review here.

A Screaming Man will be released by Soda Pictures on May 13th 2011

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