After 12 exhilarating and exhaustive days of motion picture madness, the 59th BFI London Film Festival has drawn to a close. Climaxing with Danny Boyle’s eagerly-awaited Steve Jobs last night (Sunday 18th October), the event once again provided critics and audiences alike with a plethora of content from every corner of the universe, and as always, thrills and surprises were not in short supply.
Whilst this writer was unable to see everything (kinda hard to see 240 films in less than a two weeks…), a large percentage of the watch-list has a nice tick. With premieres, previews, screen talks and showcases aplenty, there was tons to see and do across the period and we would like to congratulate Festival Director Clare Stewart and the team at the BFI for yet another wonderful season of cinema.
Now the curtains have called and the reflective mood sets in, we take the time to document the best of the festival, but rather than just telling you the films in which you must consume (and seriously, some of them are unfathomably essential), we’re also going to highlight the finest performances, directing, writing and much more. Consider this a Movie Marker Awards scheme if you will…
Of course this feature is entirely subjective and curated in accordance with what one watched. Please leave us a comment or get in touch via Twitter and Facebook to let us know your favourite films of LFF, as well as the titles you are most excited to see! So without further ado, let’s get this underway…
Nick Hornby – BROOKLYN
Author and script scribe Nick Hornby is a regular at the LFF and has been turning in wonderful, wholesome work for many years. In 2014, he impressed hugely with his efforts on Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild, but with Brooklyn, he forms his most lyrical, poetic and perfectly profound prose. So radiant and alive is his adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel that surely an Academy Award nomination beckons.
Teeming with delicate character development, expertly founded humour and a longing sense of melancholy, the dialogue offered bursts with the utmost humanity; finding sincerity and sentimentality in equal measure. Through deeply expressive shades, his prose infuses the frame with irrevocable identity. This odyssey of love and life which spans the globe is an immeasurable beautiful adventure, and it is brought to the screen so vividly by Hornby’s pen.
Alex Ross Perry – QUEEN OF EARTH
Following his bitingly intelligent satire Listen Up Philip last year the festival, independent supremo Alex Ross Perry returns in 2015 with his inescapably direct and endlessly bitter Queen of Earth. Perhaps inadvertently so, he has crafted the most unsettling horror movie of the year, and managed such a feat in truly breathless fashion. One is yet to discover a finer, more assured original screenplay this year.
Matched with his invasive visuals, the dialogue here is founded with pure acidity. It poses challenging questions in a wholly confrontational manner, and refuses the spectator a simple answer to them. Just like the deepest wounds of emotional turmoil, it offers no quick-fix or easy resolution, instead Ross Perry drip-feeds the psyche with progressive malice. The assurance in which he forms his characters, their scenarios and the environments is of towering magnitude – this is an auteur at the peak of his creative powers and one cannot wait until Queen of Earth gains UK distribution.
Todd Haynes – CAROL
This adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt is quite frankly faultless. Todd Haynes’ ode to the 1950s is a Sirkian symphony; a richly observed, intimately detailed voyage. Carol might be the most intoxicating project of pure cinema to arrive in 2015 – not a single cell is wasted. Founded upon the utmost artistry and intelligence, this creamily sensuous work maintains a trance long after you leave the theatre.
His frame is rendered with staggering authenticity – the cigarettes, the train carriages, the lipstick, the photographs, the cars and the costumes: all entirely steeped in realism. Conjured with ambient, warm 16mm film stock, Haynes delivers visuals so ravishing and entirely in-snyc with the tone and narrative progression, that audiences will be unable to fight the all-consuming aura. Carol is utterly exceptional and a gorgeous rarity in the modern American output.
Fly away Birdman; here’s an auteur who truly understands the wonderful illusion of single-shot filmmaking. Across a mammoth 140min duration, Sebastian Schipper never once allows his roaringly entertaining and totally disarming crime saga Victoria to let up. From the moment we open, the brakes are cut and he sends us downhill with forceable velocity. This is visual cinema so breathtaking, so visceral and so relentless that you’ll be lucky to have any fingernails left once the credits begin to roll.
From drug-fuelled raves to bullet-strewn brawls, Schipper projects an urban fairground; one so vicious and urgent that it fails to ever release the suffocating chokehold. His lens invades and attacks, pulsating through corridors, scaling rooftops and zooming through the streets. With Victoria, he has crafted something destined for study and analysis across future decades: it is a draining but astonishing film that bathes the spectator in every drop of blood, sweat and tears.
Stephen Rennicks – ROOM
As heart-aching and polarising as Brie Larson’s outstanding central performance, Stephen Rennicks’ progressive score utterly enchants and enraptures. Collaborating with director Lenny Abrahamson yet again with Room, here he delivers the most poetic and poignant tracks which expertly render the scene in question.
Tying music so tightly to character and location, the overwhelming emotion of the film is undeniable; lump-in-the-throat viewing across the entirety of the running time. Gentle keys and warbling strings inject something truly powerful into the spectator, enforcing the gravity of what you are experiencing with masterful precision.
The soaring, achingly romantic sounds which populate Todd Haynes’ masterpiece are immeasurable in their grace and wonder. You only have to listen to mere seconds of Carter Burwell’s revelatory score for the hairs to stand on the beck of your neck. A film like Carol is so weighted by the sensory reaction, and the timely music plays into this notion marvellously.
Forever forwarding the narrative and those who populate, Burwell provides something so rich and cherishing that it simply sweeps you from your feet and gathers you in a provocative lullaby. Just like the direction, tone and palette, this is reminiscent of the era the film so wonderfully captures. A sure-fire Oscar contender.
Ralph Fiennes – A BIGGER SPLASH
The performances are the life-blood of Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash; in fact, there are the narrative, but the crowning jewel on offer is Ralph Fiennes. In likely his funniest, sharpest role to date – perhaps even brighter than in The Grand Budapest Hotel – the great British performer is both hilarious and endearing, provocative and repellent; a confused but emotionally sublime hybrid of the very best and worst of the modern man.
Whether he is karaoke-singing, spiritually dancing or just letting his genitalia swing naturally in the wind, Fiennes offers one of the greatest character performers of the entire year. So vibrant and super-charged is he that his presence cranks up the activity in every frame he enters. Even stationed alongside the likes of Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts, this enigmatic and undeniable star beams with the utmost authority.
The real find of John Crowley’s masterpiece. A true diamond in the rough. Emory Cohen – perhaps most recognised for his slight turn in The Place Beyond the Pines – is quite simply glorious in Brooklyn. He forms a sublime character creation that’s full-bodied and endlessly believable. Through his charismatic, human approach, we are instantaneously drawn to his energy.
Standing tall alongside his major co-stars, Cohen brilliantly and beautifully commands the frame, immersing himself in the period and world of the film, as well as projecting his admiration for those involved. It is a quietly radiant, expertly controlled portrayal that will serve his future career immensely.
Saoirse Ronan – BROOKLYN
Maintaining a prosperous career at such a tender age is a difficult thing, but for Saoirse Ronan, it simply feels like child’s play. Occupying nearly every frame of the 104min duration, she is entirely impeccable throughout. This is her most startlingly mature performance to date; one of much complexity but sensational control. So vivid and palpable is her portrayal, that often it feels as though we are really watching the actress’ origins unfold.
Ronan did make the trip from her home comforts of Ireland to the United States at a tender age. She did deny the securities and simplicities of home for the sake of her career and well-being. From the subtleties of her progression as she discovers her confidence and sense of place Stateside, to the depths and density of Ellis’s natural, rural grace, Ronan enthuses her central character’s make-up with layers of unequivocal excellence – both emotionally and artistically. She simply must be nominated.
Cate Blanchett is the queen of this year’s festival – starring in two Gala films (Truth and indeed Carol), as well as attaining the prestigious BFI Fellowship at the festival awards ceremony – but it is Rooney Mara’s utterly flawless performance which heightens this mesmeric achievement. The fragility and nuance of her role is something so unmistakably profound that it demands to be experienced, not watched.
The intricacy of the sociological, political and ethical layerings are rendered with the utmost thoughtfulness: so tender, so virginal, so divine. She is simply exceptional. In a career stacked full of highs, this is her most impressive offering. The hope is that Blanchett’s work in Truth is pushed for Best Leading Actress at the Academy Awards so Mara can qualify for her efforts in Haynes’ entry.
BROOKLYN – Dir: John Crowley. Prod: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey. Scr: Nick Horby. UK-Canada-Ireland 2015. UK Distribution: Lionsgate
“Exhilarating and life-affirming in equal measure…A rich, lyrical and irrevocably beautiful piece of motion picture art. Brooklyn is one of 2015’s most outstanding achievements.”
CAROL – Dir: Todd Haynes. Prod: Elizabeth Karlsen, Christine Vachon, Stephen Woolley. Scr: Phyllis Nagy. USA-UK 2015. UK Distribution: StudioCanal
“…cinema at its most defiant. This is of hallmark quality; a transfixing, enchanting fever-dream that ranks among the great modern American dramas.”
QUEEN OF EARTH – Dir: Alex Ross Perry. Prod: Elisabeth Moss, Alex Ross Perry, Adam Piotrowicz, Joe Swanberg. Scr: Alex Ross Perry. USA 2015. UK Distribution: Pending
“It is a challenging watch, an exceptionally disarming one in fact, but it is also one of the most vividly perfect films all year. Alex Ross Perry is a dynamic talent…”