This year’s London Film Festival put together the best programme of films I can remember in my ten or so years of attendance. It delivered some brilliant films with huge reputations from festivals earlier in the year, but also a fair few new discoveries for me, and a handful of well-crafted crowd-pleasing films, which are the lifeblood of any festival.
After attending the Cannes Film Festival, I wrote about Blue is the Warmest Colour. It was my favourite film of that festival, and my favourite film of this one. The portrayal of the central character, and the relationship that defines her, remain the ingredients to the most thrilling and devastating film I’ve seen in years.
In the same post, I touched on my second and third favourite films of the LFF, The Past, directed by the great Asghar Farhadi and All is Lost, directed by Margin Call’s JC Chandor, which could bring Robert Redford a first acting Oscar™, come February.
New films by two of my favourite directors, Night Moves by Kelly Reichardt and Ida by the long-lost Pawel Pawlikowski (I assume he was still lost when he made The Woman in the Fifth), were both strong contenders for my personal top ten of the festival. In the end, I favoured the more immediately impressive Ida, a black and white film about a young nun investigating what happened to her family. It’s exquisitely shot, and the central performance, from Agata Trzebuchowska, is an absolute knockout.
The best film I saw the first time, though, was the heartbreaking, brilliant The Selfish Giant. Clio Barnard wowed me a couple of years ago with The Arbor, but this more linear and conventional film is a significant step forward. Coming on like a darker, less playful early Shane Meadows film, it deserves to be a huge breakout hit on its imminent release.
A couple of words, too, for the excellent Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener, and featuring superb work from Julia Louis Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini (in his penultimate film role), both playing gorgeously against type. If there were any justice in the world, this would have received the hype and audience numbers of the far inferior Blue Jasmine. Had Woody Allen turned in a film of this quality, the world might actually have stopped turning, so remarkable would it be.
Festival Top Ten:
1) Blue is the Warmest Colour (released November 22)
2) All is Lost (released December 26)
3) The Past (released early 2014)
4) Inside Llewyn Davis (released Jan 2014)
5) Gravity (released November 8)
6) The Selfish Giant (released October 25)
7) Enough Said (out now)
8) Like Father, Like Son (out now)
9) Captain Phillips (out now)
10) Ida (no date set)
Best Performance: Adele Exarchopolous – Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Honourable mentions: Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa (The Past), Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini (Enough Said), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Redford (All is Lost), Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman)
Although the London Film Festival’s Competition selection was slightly cheapened by the inclusion of dumb JFK assassination drama Parkland (“Nice day for a motorcade!”), the jury ultimately did the right thing by awarding their Best Film prize to Ida. Pawel Pawlikowski’s stunning change of direction after his misguided The Woman in the Fifth takes him back to Poland, where he follows a young nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) as she explores her Jewish heritage in the early 1960s. What immediately catches the eye here is the director’s striking formalist approach to the film. Shooting in black-and-white and 4:3, Pawlikowski and his young cinematographer Lukasz Zal ensure that every shot is brilliantly framed, often using off-kilter compositions to potent effect, and the spellbinding lighting brings out the dark intensity of Trzebuchowska’s eyes. Ida earns comparisons with masters such as Dreyer, Bergman and Bresson not only through its aesthetic qualities but through its serious and questioning examination of faith. If all of that doesn’t make the film sound like much fun, then rest assured, there is much warmth and humour to be found in Ida’s relationship with her hard-drinking aunt (Agata Kulesza), and at 80 minutes, the film never runs the risk of outstaying its welcome. Ida is a small but perfectly formed gem.
2) 12 Years a Slave
3) All Is Lost
4) At Berkeley
5) Inside Llewyn Davis
6) The Long Way Home
7) Eastern Boys
8) Stranger by the Lake
9) The Great Passage
10) Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
The line-up was exceptionally strong this year. I saw a total of 54 LFF films (41 in the press screening/festival period, 13 beforehand, either at San Sebastian or normal press screenings). Of those 54 there were only two that I actively disliked (Don Jon and SX_Tape), so there were several contenders for the top ten.
LFF TOP TEN 2013
1) Like Father, Like Son
2) Inside Llewyn Davis
3) 12 Years A Slave
4) Enough Said
5) Blue Is The Warmest Colour
6) Saving Mr Banks
8) Under The Skin
10) We Are The Best!
em>Honorable mentions (which could be an alternate top ten themselves) include: Starred Up, The Spectacular Now, The Selfish Giant, Gloria, Drinking Buddies, Computer Chess, The Bounceback, All Is Lost, The Zero Theorem and Good Ol’ Freda.
Notable omissions include: The Rocket, All Cheerleaders Die, Vic + Flo Saw A Bear, Stranger By The Lake, 1, Abuse of Weakness, Bad Hair, Felix, Gare du Nord, Grand Central, Milius, The Long Way Home, Mystery Road, The Sarnos: A Life In Dirty Movies and Sarah Prefers To Run, all of which I heard good things about and am looking forward to seeing eventually.