The London Film Festival is over for another year, and while the posters are being taken down in Leicester Square now seems as good a time as any to reflect on what was the festival's best incarnation in years. Here are some of the things Dazed spotted over the past twelve days:
JESSE EISENBERG AND MIA WASIKOWSKA: THE NEW INDIE POWER COUPLE
Every year there seems to be one actor who's in everything at a festival; this year, there were two. Jesse Eisenberg could be seen in Kelly Reichardt's superlative paranoia thriller Night Moves and Richard Ayoade's stylish but empty The Double, while real-life girlfriend and The Double co-star Mia Wasikowska was in John Curran's trek-across-the-outback drama Tracks and Jim Jarmusch's vampire rom-com Only Lovers Left Alive. Where did they find the time to date?
WHEN DID BRITISH MOVIES GET SO INTERESTING?
Britain has been churning out the same kind of gritty realist dramas for years now, so it was nice to see a number of British directors making genuinely bold, unique and exciting films for a change. Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin is probably the best of these, starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seducing and hunting the men of Scotland, while Steve McQueen's immensely powerful 12 Years a Slave and Joanna Hogg's fascinating Exhibition prove Britain is starting to move beyond the kitchen sink.
THE OFFICIAL COMPETITION NEEDS AN ILLUSTRIOUS TITLE
Cannes has the Palme D'Or, Venice has the Golden Lion and London has the Best Film award. Not exactly the most tantalising of honours. This year's competition lineup included Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son and Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant, and I can't help but think a proper award would be a better (and more exciting) way to do these films justice. Golden Pigeon, anyone?
THESE PROGRAMME CATEGORIES ARE PRETTY ARBITRARY
Last year, festival director Clare Stewart introduced nine categories to make the festival programme "much easier to navigate". While this might be true for the most part it has seen a few films pop up in strange places: Asghar Farhadi's domestic thriller The Past, for example, was in the "Love" strand, while Hong Sangsoo's Nobody's Daughter Haewon, a romantic comedy, was inexplicably found in "Journey". Weird.
... BUT IT'S BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR THE CULT STRAND
The Cult strand encompasses horror, sci-fi and anything else too weird for regular categorisation, so it's safe to say it's usually a mixed bag. This year, however, was a vintage one, with Ti West's found footage nightmare The Sacrament, Ari Folman's ambitious live-action/animation hybrid The Congress and Sion Sono's magnificent celebration of cinema Why Don't You Play In Hell? standing out in one of the best LFF programmes in years.
SURVIVAL'S SO HOT RIGHT NOW
For some reason, this year's festival has seen a lot of characters having to survive in extraordinary circumstances: Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips tells the true story of an American freight ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, while Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity and JC Chandor's All is Lost are fictitious accounts of people seemingly lost without hope in space and at sea respectively. Why the sudden cinematic interest in survival? Is it a coincidence? Who knows.
MUMBLECORE IS DEAD - LONG LIVE THE NEW AMERICAN INDIE
It's been a while since anyone cared about mumblecore, so it's nice to see its most tireless practitioners moving onto something new. Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies proves his observational style translates to a larger scale very well, while Andrew Bujalski's bizarre Computer Chess is one of the most interesting American films in years. With these, as well as strong films from fresh talents like Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12)and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), American independent cinema is looking as good as it has in years.
FILM IS DYING, SO LET'S ENJOY IT...
We've all heard that the rise of TV is killing cinema, but rather than mourn the loss a few directors are in the mood to celebrate. Sion Sono's vibrant meta-thriller Why Don't You Play In Hell?, about filmmakers caught in a Yakuza feud, and Lukas Moodysson's We Are The Best!, a funny and charming portrait of three teenage girls in a punk band, both revel in the joy of creating art - be it music or movies - and go a long way to prove there's life in the old girl yet.
... BUT DIGITAL'S GREAT TOO
If there's one positive to take from the death of film it's the rise of digital, with filmmakers having to adapt to a totally different medium to tell their stories. One of the earliest adopters of digital, Jia Zhangke, showed off his new film, A Touch of Sin, at the festival, and although it's too thematically blunt to rank among his finest works, it does feature some of the most striking digital images we've seen so far. Fireworks have never looked so beautiful.
GOOD MOVIES ARE GETTING LONGER
When planning which films to see at a festival it's easy to disregard something due to its runtime, especially when the option to see two great 90 minute films is more tempting than seeing one three hour epic. If you did that this year, however, you'd have missed, among others, Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley, a four-hour study of America's most prestigious public university and Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Colour, the stunning three-hour romantic epic that won the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes.
Follow Matt Mansfield on Twitter here @mattmansfield_
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