The London Film Festival is moving into its last few days; the Surprise Movie is now behind us (it turned out to be the new Brighton Rock: I’d say “I told you so” if everyone else hadn’t guessed it too); and now I have that familiar end-of-festival feeling that the grass must have been greener in Screen 5. Hannah Rothschild, whose candid documentary Mandelson: the Real PM? was programmed ahead of its television debut next month, correctly describes the festival experience as being “a bit like looking through the window of a very delicious restaurant”. Not that the kitchens have closed yet: at the time of writing, there are still tickets available for screenings including Somewhere, another film-star-hiding-out-in-a-hotel movie from Sofia “Lost in Translation” Coppola; Gregg Araki’s riotous Kaboom; the Indian coming-of-age drama Udaan; and Rothschild’s film, which offers, among other things, the spectacle of Peter Mandelson in his underwear (rumours that the BBFC is demanding more cuts than the coalition government remain as yet unfounded).
Many of the movies screened –– including Never Let Me Go, Another Year, Let Me In and 127 Days –– will be discussed at greater length in the NS in the coming weeks and months. For now, here are some of my highlights and lowlights from this year’s LFF.
Film of the festival
I’ve already praised on this site the Argentinean documentary The Peddler, about an avuncular 67-year-old director who travels from town to town, making a new amateur epic wherever he stops. A month after seeing it, I’m still smiling at its affectionate evocation of that incurable condition known as movie love.
Star of the Festival
No contest –– it has to be the hypnotic newcomer Conor McCarron in Peter Mullan’s Neds, a punchy if sometimes undisciplined 1970s-set story of Glaswegian gangs. McCarron plays the aggressively intelligent teenager John McGill, who goes from class swot to rampaging tough-nut in a matter of years. The young actor has a gift for stillness and for playing introspection without making his emotions inaccessible; he also has a great, Cagney-esque baby face and a chin like a boxing glove.
It would be unfortunate enough to find yourself sitting through It’s Kind of a Funny Story under any circumstances. That this soft-pedalling, self-consciously zany comedy about a teenager’s week on an adult psychiatric ward should be written and directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden only lends the experience an air of tragedy. Going from the heights of Half Nelson and Sugar to what is essentially a big-screen episode of Scrubs feels nothing like a funny story to me. And I don’t have much time for the school of thought, found at IFC.com, which argues that “we . . . shouldn’t hold [the directors] to a standard higher than they held themselves to.” That sounds suspiciously like: “They never intended to make a great movie, so let’s not pillory them because they settled for mediocre.”
Most surprising soundtrack
There is no shortage of unexpected treats in Love Like Poison, a delicately played drama of sexual awakening, and I’ll delve more deeply into those when the film opens next year. But its folk-oriented soundtrack deserves a special mention for making it possible to hear “Greensleeves” as if for the first time and for incorporating the stunning choral version of Radiohead’s “Creep”, last heard on the trailer for The Social Network.
The “Close but no Lurpak” award for least persuasive sex scene
What Last Tango in Paris did for butter, the rather earnest French partner-swapping drama Happy Few fails completely to do for a giant bag of flour. Whey-faced and grabbing hungrily at one another’s limbs, the actors resemble nothing so much as the undead in a George A Romero zombie flick.