The London Film Festival Round Up

The London Film Festival has closed its doors for another year. Critics everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief and start massaging their wrists to stave off the merciless grip of RSI. If you didn’t get to any films this year (for shame!) what did you miss?

Well there was plenty to love as you’re about to see, from the delightful silent brilliance of The Artist to the powerful self-introspectiion of Shame. This year also marked the last year for Sandra Hebron, who retires as Artistic Director after nine years. One of my personal highlights was getting to speak to her about nearly a decade of working on one of the world’s most famous festivals.

There were also one or two disappointments, most notably in Fernando Mereilles’s 360 which caused me to shrug and others to decry. I was personally let down by Let The Bullets Fly which wasn’t nearly as much fun as it looked amd Hut In The Woods which started well only to collapse into implausible cliche. I was also disappointed with Roland Emmerich’s take on Shakespeare in Anonymous although I can’t say that was particularly surprising.

Here are some of my highlights:

1. The Artist

The Artist can be used as a sort of humanity litmus test. If you didn’t come out grinning like an imbecile who’s just discovered kittens, then you’re probably a robot. Or dead. Charming from start to finish, The Artist is a silent movie about silent movies and an absolute must for anyone that has an interest in cinema. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s in black and white or mostly silent, it’s moving, funny and brilliant; an unalloyed joy.

2. Shame

Michael Fassbender teams up with Steve McQueen for a second outing: a poignant meditation on inner-city loneliness, modern day isolation and intimacy. In a career best performance Fassbender plays Brandon, a man addicted to the old in-out in-out and unable to form a meaningful connection to anyone. His meticulous routine enables him to deal with his problem but that’s disrupted by his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Beautifully shot, masterfully acted and thoroughly engaging, Shame is one of this year’s best. Look out for it when it hits mainstream cinema in January (although in the US, it’s NC-17 rating effectively means it’ll never see daylight). Expect a petition a la Blue Valentine last year.

3. Take Shelter

Michael Shannon plays a man who’s worried that he’s losing his mind when he starts to have apocalyptic dreams. He becomes obsessed with building a tornado shelter in his back garden much to his wife’s (Jessica Chastain) consternation. A powerful examination on subjectivism and mental illness, Take Shelter features an intensely twitchy performance from Shannon and some of the most edge-of-your-seat, toe curling moments in this year’s festival.

4. Hara-Kiri: Death Of a Samurai

Takashi Miike’s remake of the Kobayashi classic is a vicious indictment of the inhumanity of the Japanese feudal system. Many former samurai are unemployed and impoverished and seek the approval of noble houses to commit ritual suicide secretly hoping that they’ll be bought off. One such samurai is told the story of the last warrior to request such a fate but he has a story of his own to tell. Delicate and poignant, Miike evokes the peaceful beauty of pastoral Japan contrasting it sharply with the unbending imperialism of the Japanese state. Beautiful and powerful with some memorably disturbing scenes, it’s a triumphant follow up to Miike’s last film 13 Assassins.

5. Snowtown

The story of the ‘body’s in the barrels’ murders which took place in a small town in late 90’s Australia, Snowtown tells the story of Jamie, a 16-year old boy who lives with his mother and two brothers. He finds a father figure in John Bunting, a man who starts to spend increasingly more time with his family but how far will Jamie be willing to go to follow his example. It’s a gruesome psychological examination of violence and peer pressure. If you thought Animal Kingdom was brutal, wait till you see this.

Special mentions

Martha Marcy May Marlene

A film about a woman trying to readjust to life with her sister after spending two years living in an isolated self-sufficient commune in the Catskill mountains, it features a powerful sensitive portrayal of post traumatic stress in emerging new talent Elizabeth Olsen. A lot if left unexplained (perhaps a little too much) but as a performance piece it’s a winner.

The Descendants

George Clooney proves a surprisingly talented physical actor in Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, Election) Descendants. Clooney plays Matt King, a man who is forced to reconnect with his two children after his wife is put in a coma following a motorboat accident. But as he does so, he uncovers some disturbing truths. By turns extremely funny and deeply moving, The Descendants is compelling viewing with Payne’s typical facility to squeeze humour from the darkest of situations.

Tales Of The Night

A gloriously colourful French animated movie, Tales Of The Night sees three friends try on various costumes in an old cinema and act out stories based on what they find. Beautifully animated and visually striking despite its simplicity, there’s plenty to love here – Aesopian fables of love, loss and loyalty told with a twinkle of charm.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a complex portrayal of family life and the nature/nuture debate. We follow Eva (Tilda Swinton) as she tries to come to terms with a terrible crime committed by her son, and flash back to his childhood as she tries to fathom what could have created such a monster. Swinton is absolutely fantastic and pretty much a shoe in for Best Leading Actress at the Oscars this year (although personally, I would like to have it given to Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur). The film won the Best Film award at the LFF this year, so the judges clearly think it’s a winner too.