Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top 10: BFI London Film Festival 2014

As the BFI London Film Festival winds down and normality slowly returns to my daily routine, the time has come to reflect on the past days and pick my favourite films. I actually enjoyed most of the movies I saw in London, thus compiling this list wasn't easy. I did not take films that were featured in the equivalent article from Deauville (Whiplash, It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) or which I had seen already (Winter's Sleep, Mr. Turner) into consideration. There still was plenty to chose from and honourable mentions go to (in no particular order): The Wonders, Casa Grande, Wild, Mr. Kaplan, The President, X+Y, Madame Bovary, The Duke of Burgundy, Timbuktu, QPR 2-3 Liverpool FC and Margarita, with a Straw.   

10. Foxcatcher by Bennett Miller

Bennett Miller has sneakily established himself as one of  Hollywood's most capable directors. After Capote and Moneyball, he brings us a creepy character study of a spoiled rich man and an underprivileged wrestler. Foxcatcher will be billed as a sports movie, but it is anything but. The performances from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are fantastic, but it is very much Steve Carell's movie.

9. The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) by Daniel Ribeiro

An unconventional love triangle is at the centre of this Brazilian coming of age-film. Blind teenager Leonardo discovers his (homo)sexuality, while rebelling against his caring parents and going through a rough patch with his best friend Giovana. Daniel Ribeiro brings a lot of tenderness to this film and explores desire without being able to fall back on the sexual gaze.

8. '71 by Yann Demange

Who could you trust in the streets of Belfast in the midst of the Troubles? There is no clear-cut answer to this question during this time of double-agents, traitors and ulterior motives. When a young British soldier finds himself isolated in the middle of this mess, he has to go to the limit in order to survive. '71 is a terrific, action-packed, violent debut feature, which further establishes Jack O'Connell as a star. 

7. Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt bogom) by Aleksey German

The inclusion of this film in my top 10 surprises even myself. It was my first LFF press-screening of this year's edition and I still don't know what to make of this three hour epic about human decadence. I have however been unable to shake it from my thoughts throughout the festival, which has to be a good thing. I tried to put the experience of watching Hard to be a God into words in my full review.

6. White God (Fehér Isten) by Kornél Mundruczó

A barking mad genre experiment from Hungary, which takes The Incredible Journey and adds Bourne-style chase sequences and plenty of gore. Meanwhile the film attempts to make an ambitious statement about racial discrimination, while also introducing a character study about growing up. And somehow it works. Read my full review here.

5. Leviathan by Andrey Zvyagintsev

If you try to do a drink-along viewing of this film, chances are, that you are either going to run out of vodka or die. Leviathan paints a grim picture of the current Russian regime through the example of a corrupt major in a small town in the north of the country. He will stop at nothing in his pursuit of a mechanic's estate. A gripping, human drama.

4. Phoenix by Christian Petzold

The central conceit of Phoenix is absurd (a husband doesn't recognize his wife after her return from Auschwitz), but Petzold somehow manages to pull it off by creating an almost surreal atmosphere, where anything seems possible. Nina Hoss carries the film with a brilliant performance. In the terrific finale, she rises like a phoenix from the ash. 

3. Far From Men (Loin des Hommes) by David Oelhoffen

According to the director, this is a film about the challenges of political commitment. Viggo Mortensen on the other hand describes it as a study of male friendship. Both are right, as the two ideas are combined intelligently in this slow-burn western. The stunning North African landscape and the gorgeous soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are like characters in the film.

2. Song of the Sea by Tomm Moore

Cartoon Saloon continues its success story after The Secret of Kells with the similarly brilliant Song of the Sea. Think Studio Ghibli, but from Ireland and with Brendan Gleeson's soothing voice. It's a refreshing work of art about magic, music and the acceptance of being ordinary. Probably the year's best animated movie. More praise for Song of the Sea can be found here.

1. Still the Water (Futatsume no mado) by Naomi Kawase

The inhabitants of Amami-Oshima, a small subtropical island south of the Japanese mainland, worship nature as if it were a god. This spiritual idea, that humans are always subordinated to the powers of Earth, is ubiquitous in Still the Water. At the heart of the film is an incredibly touching story about growing up and coming to terms with mortality. As Kyoko's mother is about to die, she finds her first love in the quiet boy Kaito. Kawase has made a slow, tender film, which is simultaneously moving and thought-provoking. Keep your eyes peeled for Still the Water. 

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