Our contributors post-mortem the hell out of this year’s festival after the jump.
Sometimes, a truly great festival can feel like there is a theme or an undercurrent dragging it together. This year felt, more than ever, like a festival committed to gender equality. It was obviously a key reason for choosing the underwhelming Suffragette as the Opening Night Gala, and behind lots of the events that supplemented the festival this year. It was great to see that ambition carried over into great films with eye-catching performances from female actors and at least one truly great film from a female filmmaker.
Chevalier was a deserving winner of the festival’s Best Film award. Written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, it’s an astonishingly funny and unpredictable film. Tsangari’s first feature Attenberg was a minor critical success, and she produced Dogtooth (which remains one of the best films of the past ten years) and Before Midnight, as well as Petting Zoo, which played to good notices in this year’s LFF. It would serve any audience very well to go in knowing as little about it as possible, so I’ll just say that this is the best Greek film since Dogtooth, and I thought it better than either of Yorgos Lanthimos’ (excellent) subsequent films.
I mentioned how great a festival it had been for women in front of the camera, and I wanted to highlight some performances that I expect to go on and get some awards consideration – firstly a stunning piece of work by Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. The film is gorgeous, a film about love, regret, moving on and moving away. It’s anchored by Ronan (and, in fairness her co-stars Emory Cohen, who I hated in The Place Beyond the Pines and Domhnall Gleeson) who plays a young girl leaving her family home in rural Ireland to move to the titular New York borough. The film’s out very soon, it’s the sort of film that it would be easy to miss, I urge you not to.
You may have heard slightly more about both Room and Carol, of course, and both were worthy of their receptions. The performances by Brie Larsen and Joan Allen in Room are extraordinary, heightened by the differences they find between them. Finally, Carol is beautiful to look at, but as always with director Todd Haynes, the film’s heart and soul has to come from the performances, and neither Cate Blanchett nor Rooney Mara miss a single beat. Mara, in particular, is glorious. Maybe my favourite performance, of the festival, though, came from Odessa Young in The Daughter, as a young girl whose life is changed by the arrival back in town of her father’s former best friend. It’s an outstanding debut from Simon Stone, and Young’s performance is a revelation.
Ron’s top ten:
- Steve Jobs
- In Jackson Heights
- Our Little Sister
- The Daughter
- Cemetery of Splendour
- Bone Tomahawk
“All the way through the festival, I was thinking, ‘Well, it’s a good festival, but not a great one’, as it felt like I’d seen lots of very good films (I saw 60 in total), but hardly anything that really blew me away. My top four were my four favourite films – everything else (including some of the Special Mentions) could be in any order after that. But then, looking at that list, that’s a lot of very, *very* good films, some of which will almost certainly end up on either my 2015 or 2016 Best of Year lists. So maybe it was an excellent festival after all.
Other highlights for me included: a very rowdy Q&A for Les Cowboys, in which angry audience members shouted at the director and accused the film of being horribly racist and sexist (incorrectly, in my opinion), attending the Silent Film Gala of Shooting Stars, complete with orchestra accompaniment; narrowly scraping into the Surprise Film (Anomalisa), after an agonising wait in the returns queue; interviewing Elisabeth Moss for High-Rise and getting a great answer to the obligatory Mad Men question; gate-crashing the after-party for Youth (random attendees: Kim Cattrall and Maryam d’Abo) and, rather shamelessly, catching up with Tom Hiddleston for five minutes at the party for High-Rise.
After much agonising, my LFF Top Ten is as follows:
- The Invitation
- A Bigger Splash
- The Daughter
At the risk of sounding churlish, I’d echo some of what Matthew says about the absence of a really special moment. This isn’t because I didn’t see many excellent films – although I didn’t see as many as Matthew, but because there’s a slight sense now that everyone already knows which the good films are before the red carpet even goes down for the opening night in Leicester Square. London’s position in the calendar after all of the year’s big festivals means that any big hitters from the big arthouse names will already have played Cannes or Venice, and anything commercial with year-end awards aspirations will have just been at Toronto.
This is particularly regrettable when it comes to British films – I missed the sense of occasion that would have accompanied the world premiere of High-Rise, say, or Sufragette. As it was, we knew going in that neither film had particularly changed anyone’s life in their previous festival appearances.
This also means that the awards, which have become more central to the festival in recent years, become either a rubber stamp of the judgments of other juries or a badge of contrarianism. Given the choice, I’m happier with the latter option, and if the LFF best film award helps Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier pick up distribution in key territories,that’s all to the good, even if it isn’t a biopic about Jemaine Clement’s character from Gentleman Broncos (which it should be).
But as a digest of the best of the year’s festivals, London does an amazing job – and its unique mix of audiences really adds to the experience, with thousands of people seeing films they wouldn’t normally go within a mile of, even if that occasionally makes for an awkward post-film Q&A.
I won’t do a top 10, especially as I missed some of the most-loved films this time around, like Todd Haynes’ Carol,but I will say that I was surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed Danny Boyle’s barnstorming Steve Jobs, was glad to see that Son of Saul lived up to the Cannes hype, had enormous fun with the party-crashing outsider Der Nachtmahr, and, although I saw it outside the festival in the end, was not disappointed at all by The Lobster, which was, like my Star Wars for 2015.
Let’s do it all again in 2016.
Like Indy, I don’t feel I’ve seen enough this year to warrant a top 10, especially as I missed big hitters such as Anomalisa, The Lobster and Steve Jobs – as well as Chevalier, which I have to admit passed me by completely. I remember finding the description in the LFF brochure off-putting. Clearly I was wrong. Of the 25 or so films I did see, I’d bang the drum loudest for Jafar Panahi’s cheeky, funny Taxi Tehran – he does cock a magnificent snook at authority – Room and Hirokazu Koreeda’s gorgeous, tender but not saccharine Our Little Sister. Trumbo, Carol and High-Rise all have great lead performances and superb production design – and don’t need my voice added to the hymns of praise they will receive.
The “big” Italian films of the festival were two English-language productions by Italian directors: A Bigger Splash and Youth. Both have their pleasures: the rip-snorting performance of Ralph Fiennes in the former; I guess the Caine-Keitel double act in the latter. Neither film added up to too much for me. For my money, though, the best Italian film at the LFF was L’attesa, the Sutherland award-nominated debut of Piero Messina.
This is a compelling, unsettling and even occasionally funny drama with Juliette Binoche playing a grieving mother who cannot bring herself to tell her son’s girlfriend – just arrived for the Easter holiday – that the young man has died. As the two women get to know each other (conveniently, both are French and so can have uncomfortable dinner-table conversations in two languages) the possibilities for their relationship expand, while all the time Binoche’s grief is written across her face in enormous close-up. Of course, life after death is an important theme here and – let the saints be praised – this is that rare Sicily-set film in which a religious procession, though strange and troubling, is actually central to the story rather than a bit of gratuitous peasant porn (like, say, the one in A Bigger Splash). I hope Binoche’s name and the awards it won in Venice help L’attesa to get a decent UK release.
A couple of other LFF thoughts. This was the year it became clear that even film festival goers will whip out their phones during a film and start texting/tweeting/IMDBing. I hate this. Nothing is more likely to drive me out of cinemas than people who act like they’re watching at home. Maybe it’s time for phone on and phone off screenings – or maybe I’ll just have to see everything at 1pm on a Monday.
This was also the year I saw not one but two films in which a racist dog tears a character’s throat out. Jonas Cuaron’s Desierto I can recommend – it certainly got my blood pumping; Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room I didn’t make it to the end of – aforementioned hell hound mauling was too much two nights in a row – though I have to admit I am curious which of the teens survived. One of you must’ve seen it – come on, what happened next?
I ended my London Film Festival one film early this year. I had a ticket for a screening on Sunday evening, but having just seen EA Dupont’s sensational circus-based melodrama Variety I decided that was a pretty good note to end my festival on. The camerawork and artistry on display in this 1925 production was as thrilling to behold as any of the 2015 films I saw during the festival, so why risk letting something mediocre dilute my Karl Freund-induced high? Such moments of true cinematic bliss are few and far between when you watch 50-odd films in three weeks, and when they occur you have to make the most of them. Occasionally, these moments are provided by the festival’s bigger titles – Todd Haynes’ delicately constructed Carol, for example was a rare film that managed to live up to an extraordinary wave of advance hype – but usually you have to look beyond the attention-monopolising red carpet events to find the real gems.
My official Top 10 from the festival is below, and the way my heart swelled as the end credits rolled on Sunset Song is a memory that I will certainly cherish, but I’d like to highlight a few experiences from outside the main strands too. One particular revelation was a restoration of Marcel Ophüls’ magnificent 1976 film The Memory of Justice, which explores the the complicity, judgement and moral grey areas of war crimes from Nuremberg to Vietnam, and stands as one of the most compelling documentaries I’ve ever seen. Ophüls was also on fine form in the Q&A, telling us how he was originally fired from the project by the BBC, and not missing any opportunity to take a dig at David Puttnam. Another archive documentary treat was Les Blank’s gloriously enjoyable A Poem is a Naked Person which contained, amongst other things, a snake eating a chicken, a man eating glass, a wedding, some fishing, some painting and lots of hippies. The music is pretty good too.
I also discovered some gems among the festival’s selection of shorts. Peter Tscherkassky’s dazzling erotic fever dream The Exquisite Corpus was the standout, but I also loved the darkly funny animation Edmond by Nina Gantz and Maïmouna Doucouré’s superb Maman(s), which delivered some of the most heart-stopping tension of the festival. It was a wonderful experience to see the Brothers Quay presenting three of their films at the festival for a couple of reasons: (a) it was rather adorable to see how humbled and fanboy-ish Christopher Nolan was in their presence; and (b) the films were all presented on brand-new 35mm prints. The LFF had earlier given Nolan a platform to discuss the importance of preserving 35mm, but where is this sense of importance when Nolan is not around? Even Son of Saul, which László Nemes has explicitly requested to be shown on 35mm, had one of its two showings on DCP (prompting a public complaint from the director). A couple 35mm treats in the Treasures strand would be better than nothing – it’s great to have the BFI repeatedly telling us that film is important, but I’d rather just see it.
LFF 2015 Best
1. Sunset Song
2. Cemetery of Splendour
3. Son of Saul
4. The Forbidden Room
6. Taxi Tehran
8. The Lobster
10. The Pearl Button
1. Don’t Grow Up
2. Beeba Boys
3. Danny Says
4. 11 Minutes