Final thoughts on the 2007 London Film Festival courtesy of Suzanne Vega Fanclub, The Belated Birthday Girl and yours truly. Plus, Lesley pops in to point out a couple we missed.
The Belated Birthday Girl
1. With Your Permission
2. No Country for Old Men (Surprise film)
3. I Just Didn't Do It
4. Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go
5. I Always Wanted to be a Gangster
Best of the rest (in viewing order): Interview, No Mercy for the Rude, The Secret of the Grain, Jimmy the Gent, Persepolis
Looking back over previous wrap parties, this is the first year since 2001 that an Asian film hasn't been my Best of the Fest, although to be honest, the top 5 there were all pretty good, and I Just Didn't Do It was certainly up there as a contender. But With Your Permission just took me completely by surprise. I had no big reason for choosing it (I think it was Spank's idea, for reasons which may become clearer at a later date), could barely even remember what it was whenever I saw it in my schedule, but it just turned out to be one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in a long while: a wonderful and original script, unpredictable, funny and moving, with excellent performances. And talking of surprises, I so wanted No Country for Old Men to be the Surprise film, and so I was very pleased that it was. There was a risk of disappointment, as I had very high expectations, from the trailer. But all my expectations were met, and it was the finest Coens' for a long time, and I fully expect it to be at or near the top of the Best of 2008 list.
There weren't really any exactly bad films in what I saw this year, but I really didn't like The Matsugane Potshot Affair one bit. I couldn't get past some of its very dodgy choices of subjects for humour, and I didn't think it was anywhere near as funny and quirky as it was trying to be. And I'm afraid Brand Upon the Brain! just bored me. After about half an hour of faux silent film, absurdist plot and OTT narrated captions, I felt I'd got it. Maybe it would have made an amusing short, or a graduation piece for a film student. But it didn't work for me. Obviously, I'm in a minority around these parts, though. I don't think I'll be rushing out to see the next Guy Maddin, but at least I can say I've seen one.
Other than that, One Hundred Nails and Heartbeat Detector were just a bit too self-important for my taste - though both looked good and were well made - and I'd hoped for more from Substitute and Far North. Anything not mentioned was at least pretty good - but I can't mention everything. And our late night screenings of EXTE and Planet Terror were both a hoot, with EXTE having the fewer flaws.
All in all, a pretty good year, I'd say.
Suzanne Vega Fanclub
Another London Film Festival draws to a close and so without further ado, a big thank you to Spank and The Belated Birthday Girl for getting me the tickets (apparently no thanks to the postal unions). Also thanks again to Spank for giving me this platform to rant and ramble on. So with all that thanking out of the way, I believe I have the floor.
Well it's the usual complaint, from someone who only catches ten films out of the one hundred and eighty odd on offer, namely can you get a true flavour of a festival on such a small sample, and could one have chosen better? I will leave you the reader, and my evil employer, to answer these searching questions. However one thing that has struck me this year, far more than on previous occasions, is how close some of the films featured were to their actual UK release (in some cases whilst the Festival itself was still going). So whereas I could gripe about this or that film that I missed, it appears I need look no further than any number of London multiplexes to catch many of them next week.
So what else can I moan about then? Okay, well I didn't do very well with the post film Q&A's, which in the event only added up to three out of the ten films I attended. Also there was an annoying trend in my first batch of films to be smothered by voiceover narrations (one of which killed the film Summer Rain stone dead all by itself). And another thing (I am off and running now), is it just me or is The Times a totally crap newspaper? Here's hoping next year's festival is sponsored by Metro or London Lite (no hang on a minute, why can't it be sponsored by Revels or Magnum ice cream). Finally I was seated too far away from Sandra Hebron's boots at the surprise film to see them in all their glory.
Positives this year were: most of the films started within five minutes of when they should, no queuing problems getting into the Odeon West End, meeting the FU people who I always assumed were really Spank's imaginary friends, and seeing last year's trailer all over again (the Pizza delivery one is........?)
So basically I will say that among my choices it was not a vintage year, and that I don't rate my best three as highly as last year's best three, but here goes.
DON'T GO THERE AT ALL CATEGORY
I'm Not There
GO THERE AND BE VERY DISAPPOINTED CATEGORY
No Country For Old Men
GO THERE IF IT'S RAINING OUTSIDE AND YOU'RE IN A REASONABLE MOOD CATEGORY
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
GO THERE AND ENJOY CATEGORY
In The Shadow of the Moon
Brand Upon The Brain!
However if you really want to push me for Best Film and all that, it would have to be Brand Upon The Brain! for sheer originality. Also for the fact that I started the film clock watching due to a pre-film pint going through me far too quickly, and yet had completely forgotten about my distress by the end of it.
This time next year then?
Two films I saw and would definitely advise you to watch out for:
The Banishment - by the guy who did The Return. I thought at the time not as good - but it really does linger in the mind. Talk about a tragedy of human folly and ignorance, and beautifully cast. A couple of dodgy technical moments.
In Memory Of Myself (subsequently released in the UK as In Memory Of Me) - gripping. Who makes it and who doesn't as Jesuit novice priests. I'd have loved to have compared notes with any of my Catholic upbrung friends.
Both totally absorbing.
Spank The Monkey
Taking my top five for 2007 in the order I saw them:
Brand Upon The Brain! My first Guy Maddin, and I suspect it won't be my last. It's obviously caused strong reactions across the board on the Spank review team for this year, but I'm firmly down on the positive side: ripely overheated melodrama, with a huge sense of fun and an incredibly inventive visual style.
I Just Didn't Do It. Courtroom drama's such a cliche, it's true. Nevertheless, Masayuki Suo's tirade against the injustice within the Japanese justice system is fascinating to watch, combining lots of hard data with an engaging story and carefully drawn characters. It could just have ended up as tiresome polemic, but he's been careful to craft a piece of genuine entertainment out of all this. Still, next time I travel on the Tokyo metro, I'm keeping my hands up in the air the whole time.
With Your Permission. I was expecting dark comedy, given the involvement of Anders Thomas Jensen in the script: I wasn't expecting it to be this flat-out funny. Add to that the cunning way in which your sympathies with the characters are messed with during the course of the story, and it's easy to see why this was The BBG's favourite. We can talk about those reasons why we went to see it in a month or two.
No Country For Old Men. A dream of a Surprise Film, which presumably means that next year's one is going to be bloody terrible. It's amusing to see that the things Suze objected to - primarily that by the end most of the characters can barely remember why they're running away or killing people, and that so little gets resolved as a result - are probably the main reasons why I enjoyed it so much.
Last but by absolutely no means least, The Edge Of Heaven, which stomps all over my theory that very little of consequence gets shown in the final four days of the festival. In fact, I think that it may well be my favourite film of this year - though at the time, I could only really muster a couple of paragraphs along the lines of "it's dead good, see it". Having let it stew for a week or so, it's the structure that's made the most impression on me: partly the clever use of chapter headings and the way they set up expectations for what's to follow, partly the already-noted use of repeated scenes with different characters. None of which would matter a damn if these characters weren't so beautifully acted: the excellent work of Hanna Schygulla deserves a mention here, starting out as a stereotypical overbearing mother but becoming much more complex as time goes on. There's a lot to take in over the course of this film - its glorious final shot is as much a period of meditation for the audience as it is for the character in the frame. The good people at Artificial Eye should have The Edge Of Heaven in UK cinemas around Valentine's Day 2008, not that there's any significance in that.
As usual, in whittling the list down to five favourites, there are at least five others that just missed out on the honours by a hair: Valzer, I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster, Hold Me Tight Let Me Go (easily the best documentary), Persepolis and The Secret Of The Grain. I suspect the last of those would have been in my top five if I hadn't nodded off part way through. A special mention also for El Baño Del Papa, which has introduced the phrase 'full service' into the pantheon of catchphrases at Spank Towers, used whenever one of us needs to let the other know that they're going for a shit.
This year's duffers? As usual, these are more disappointments than actually being hatefully bad. But I'd say that Let's Finish!, Zoo, Planet Terror and Savage Grace all failed to deliver what they were aiming for. And to celebrate the first appearance of film installations at the Festival, I'll include Now Wait For Last Year in there as well.
So, to finish off, the usual list of thanks. To Sandra Hebron and the London Film Festival team for organising it all: to The Belated Birthday Girl, Suzanne Vega Fanclub and Lesley for contributing reviews: to the other Pals on the sidelines, including The Cineaste and David: to all my imaginary friends in FU: and to you for sticking with all this for yet another year. We should, hopefully, be back again same time next year, when - assuming they stick to the usual timetable - we should be into our final year of the current LFF trailer. And if you're planning to complain about not knowing where the Pizza Hut scene comes from, I'd suggest that there's no need to be such a div about it. Being a monkey, and all.