Film Festivals

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Last Monday, I felt a cold coming on. Well, I thought it was a cold. It was tonsillitis. Not very pleasant. Got some penicillin from the doctor; by this time, the tonsillitis was subsiding. I packed what remained of the first packet out of two for London, and by the time I had run it through, my throat felt pretty much back to normal. It’s what, Thursday today? And the tonsillitis has returned. With a fucking vengeance. I do not intend to sit through nine films shivering like a fucking hobo in Helsinki and convulsing every time I swallow. FML.

The three films I saw yesterday, though all very good, were also all pretty dry, if you know what I mean. Not exactly designed to entertain. The same cannot be said for my first film today, Rigor Mortis. Chinese pop-star-turned-actor Juno Mak has now turned director, for a homage to the classic Chinese horror films of the 1980s. Vampires and ghosts and blah blah blah, you know the kind of film I’m on about, right? Bloody good fun, that’s what I was looking for. And yes sir, that’s what I got.

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Full list of the AFI fest:

SAVING MR. BANKS – The extraordinary, untold story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) proceed to turn her novel into the film MARY POPPINS. DIR John Lee Hancock. SCR Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith. CAST Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak. USA. North American Premiere.
Thursday, November 7, 2013.

Centerpiece Galas

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – In this dramatic comedy with an all-star cast, a crisis reunites the women of an Oklahoma family and reignites their dysfunction. DIR John Wells. SCR Tracy Letts. CAST Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard. USA.
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My stay here in London has so far been comprised of long stretches of business, punctuated by curious moments of inactivity. This morning was one of the latter. Three films today, all squeezed in to a mere few hours, with the first, Robin Campillo’s Eastern Boys, kicking off at 15:15. So, after a generous lie-in, a shower (the hostel showers here are proof against the existence of god, imo) and a chance to peruse the hostel’s suddenly half-decent wifi to publish my Inside Llewyn Davis review, I casually set off for Leicester Square once more, laptop in tow, umbrella not. But hey, the tube’s normally pretty dry.

With two and a half hours to kill, I strolled back to Costa Coffee for a Pepsi Max and an opportunity to sit by my laptop, where I am naturally most comfortable (it’s my only friend, *sob*). Pepsi Max is gross but it’s two calories. I’m a cola addict, and nothing beats Coca-Cola, but Pepsi will do. Diet Coke will not. Coke Zero is fine. Pepsi Max is marginally less heinous than Diet Coke, so I tolerate it when I know I’m likely to eat shit for the rest of today. With both of my first two screenings taking place in Vue Leicester Square (another major British chain), I knew more junk food would be on the menu today. Maybe not nachos. Maybe crisps. When crisps cross the Atlantic they become potato chips, even though they’re still the same things. Kind of like when Mexicans cross the border they become illegal aliens, even though they’re still the same people.

Vue Leicester Square is quite nice inside. Lots of warm orange lighting. Orange is my favourite colour. And chartreuse. And lime green. I like colours which make people retch. They suit my character. There’s wifi here, according to the website, and according to the lady at the till. I ought to go upstairs to the bar to get good signal. A bar! A plush cinema with a bar! The only cinema in Belfast with a bar is the arthouse, QFT, which is actually alright, but it doesn’t have warm orange lighting, and it doesn’t have wifi! Neither does this place though, as it turns out. I approach the barman. He doesn’t know the security key. There’s a more senior employee with a walkie-talkie. He doesn’t know. He radios for help. No response. The general manager then picks up. He doesn’t know. I ask if any of them at least know what the point is in having wifi when no-one can access it. They don’t know that either. They’ll get back to me, apparently. Yeh, they still haven’t. Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ comes on my iPod. Indeed.

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There was a moment, yesterday, as I sat in the back of the taxi, watching the fare rise, imagining the first fifteen minutes of the film I was missing, Borgman, sweating like a priest in a playground, when I thought, “I’ve had enough. I haven’t even lasted two days in London. It can’t be worth this much stress. I might as well go home.” I did not go home. And I’m bloody happy I didn’t.

My hostel is pretty central, though everything in London is as long as you take the tube. It’s in Pimlico, which always makes me smile. I’m there, on the tube, with my Passport to Pimlico! Having a much better time than all the other passengers as a result. Then again, I bet some of them are going to Cockfosters. Lucky bastards.

Two venues today for three films, although both situated in the same locale: Leicester Square, the site of a host of small, ancient theatres owned by major cinema chains. Odeon Manchester has 20 screens, I remember. Odeon West End has two. Leicester Square is a pretty nice place to spend the day, as it turns out, especially if you like eating food (check!) and going to the cinema (check!). Catherine Breillat’s competition entry Abuse of Weakness was screening in OWE’s Screen Two, which is nestled underground, all clandestine like. 20 minutes early, I took the opportunity to do what I always do when I visit an Odeon: eat.

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The reason packing stresses me out is because I know there’ll be things that I’ll need to pack that I’ll also need on the morning I leave. So not everything’s going to make it into the suitcase the night before; I’m relying on keeping a clear head the next morning so I don’t forget anything. And four hours’ sleep + too much lager = anything but a clear head. Among the items I left in Belfast: shaving foam (meh), towel (damn), flip flops (FUUUUCK!!).

One ticket would do me, sure. Two films today, but I’ll just pop back to the hostel for the second one, cos sure it doesn’t start til around nine or something, right?

Shortly before the film, Fred Wiseman’s At Berkeley, I left the BFI Southbank (a nice cinema — clean, spacious, stylishly furnished in bold black and red, a theatrical colour scheme serving to enhance the occasion), which I had been using for its wifi – immeasurably superior to that in my hostel – to get a big bag of chocolate and a bottle of Fanta. This I justify on my diet by eating eff all else most of the time so my calorie count is nice and low! Have I no sense?

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London knew I was coming. They knew I knew how to handle weather like this. And anyway, there’s something about London that suits this kind of weather – the fudge-brown Thames, the greige slate and stone, the reportedly pompous insularity of its inhabitants… actually, I have quite a fondness for Londoners. Less so for the tourists. Says me…

I elected to sleep on my sofa last night, or morning, as it were. One drunken decision among several, including making too much cheese on toast, still there when I woke, to taunt my woozy stomach. I dreaded the ensuing flight, cramped and hungover, but it was at least an opportunity to sleep. And anyway, the journey thereafter was markedly more dreadful: lugging an overweight bag up and down infinite flights of stairs (London has a lot of stairs, for some reason), having my Northern Irish card declined, having my tube ticket declined, going to the wrong platform etc. etc., all in pouring rain with a flimsy umbrella and no pockets! Because I decided today would be the perfect day to wear leggings and plimsoles! Girls, if that sounds like a common problem, consider the following: I’m not a girl.

Just the one screening today – every other day I’m here I’m seeing either two or three. I came this early to make sure I caught this one, as it’s the last showing of Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History at the festival. [Full review] I would have caught something else earlier on, but I didn’t want to book anything in case my flight was delayed (What. A. Daredevil.). If you’ve ever seen a Lav Diaz film in a cinema, you’ll know the feeling of it being light outside when you enter, and dark when you exit. Norte started at 18:00 and ran for a bum-numbing 250 minutes – I use the hackneyed phrase ‘bum-numbing’ because that’s what it was.

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Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Last year, when Life of Pi was shown to the NYFF, no one really knew what to make of it. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, a few of us bloggers were selected by the then publicist, Bumble Ward, to see the film. Some of us sobbed girly tears. I can remember saying to Pete Hammond in the garage on the way out, “going to be tough to beat that.” All that to say, nobody knows anything, but you kind of know when you see something that you know is going to have a major impact. Well, some of us did, anyway. Some of us clearly didn’t. The New York Film festival crowd is rarely to be trusted in terms of sussing out an Oscar contender as there were mixed reviews coming out of the NYFF on both Life of Pi and Hugo, the previous year.

At any rate, Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty screened once again in New York and LA at the same time (AwardsDaily was sadly not invited WAS invited! But it was LOST in my inbox –MY FAULT)— there wasn’t much confidence in the way of any of the bloggers I know except to say “never say never,” as Scott Feinberg writes in his piece for the Hollywood Reporter:

Films of this sort are generally categorized as “fantasy,” which is not the Academy’s favorite genre, and this year’s awards season is tremendously competitive, so I cannot say with any degree of confidence that this film will be nominated for any major Oscars. But, if I had to venture a guess, I think that voters will check it out (if only because Stiller and Wiig possess such likable screen personas) and probably be charmed by it. Will that be enough to bag it a best picture or best actor nom anywhere but at the Golden Globes? We’ll have to see how the rest of the field shakes out, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

I think we can say with a good deal of confidence that Life of Pi it ain’t. I also think there’s a big difference with having someone like Bumble Ward finesse things on the backend.

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NEBRASKA

With Foxcatcher now bumped to 2014. Nebraska and Out of the Furnace are announced as Centerpiece galas when the AFI fest rolls out early November.

Out of the Furnace is described as “A gripping and gritty drama about family, fate, circumstance, and justice. Directed by Scott Cooper, and written by Cooper, Brad Ingelsby, Starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard.”

The opening night gala will be Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Dern’s rich, complex portrait of a man coming-of-old age in Nebraska is one of the most notable of the year in a competitive year. Dern and Robert Redford both enter the race after thirty years working as actors in Hollywood.

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As the festival winds down and my days are counted here at TIFF some movies are starting to stick with me more than others. Today was a quieter day and I had time to finally reflect on some of the stuff I have seen the past 5 days. Two films in particular seem to not be getting out of my head, those films are “12 Years A Slave” and “Prisoners”. Both have been getting Oscar buzz over here and I am actually quite surprised the latter hasn’t been mentioned as much by Sasha. Every person I talk to here says its chances come awards season are high. Directed by Denis Villenueve “Prisoners” is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing children’s case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve recognition for the best work of their careers, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction.

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One of the joys of being in Toronto is bumping into people you really admire so much. Seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor sneaking into a quick afternoon screening and of course bumping into Harvey Weinstein, hiding his nerves, right before the first press screening of “August:Osage County”.

The critics were in town too, I caught a glimpse of the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick quite a few times, Newsweek’s David Ansen lining up for the new Miyazaki and caught up with Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly on what’s been the best of the fest so far – we both agreed “12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity” by a landslide.

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The first day of any major film fest will be a resoundingly exhausting experience. So much to see with so very little time. Albeit there are more than 10 days to The Toronto Film Festival but the sheer amount of quality directors to choose from is limitless.

Trying to focus on one thing is tough here. The kinetic pace leaves you with the need to down espresso shot after espresso shot just to make it through to the very last screening of the day. It doesn’t help that to go from screening to screening you have to go through massive amounts of crowds that are waiting for the next celebrity to walk down the red carpet. This year there are big names coming; Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock just to name a few.

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miss-violence-8-thumb-630xauto-40653

Thanks to Guy Lodge the awards announcements are trickling in. So far:

Golden Lion: Sacro GRA, Gianfranco Rosi
Grand Jury Prize: Stray Dogs, Tsai Ming-liang
Silver Lion, for Best Director: Miss Violence, Alexandros Avranas
Best Actor: Themis Payou, Miss Violence
Screenplay: Philomena
Best Actress: Elena Cotta in A Street in Palermo
Special Jury Prize: The Police Officer’s Wife
Luigi de Laurentiis Lion of the Future: White Shadow
FIPRESCI prize: Tom à la ferme, Xavier Dolan

check out the trailer for Sacro GRA after the cut.

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Telluride has gotten the jump on Toronto, Oscar-wise, lately. But that doesn’t mean the same thing will repeat itself this year. Some movies that did well at Telluride this week might not have the same kind of impact in Toronto, where there are many more viewers.  It will be interesting to see if 12 Years a Slave captures the buzz, as it did in Telluride, for instance.  If Telluride can make you, Toronto can make or break you.

There is a very big movie about to land in the Oscar race that is going to tip it dramatically in a different direction.  It is embargoed until tomorrow when I and others will be posting reviews.  It’s not a film that is headed to Toronto.  But other than that movie, what other films might land with a giant splash into the tidepool the race has become so far for Best Picture? At most, the Academy will select up to nine Best Picture nominees.

From Sundance, the film that made the biggest splash:

Fruitvale Station, one of the defining films for our age, also the discovery of writer/director Ryan Coogler.
Before Midnight, the third installment of the collaboration between Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater.

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(thanks again to Paddy at ScreenOnScreen)

Official Competition

The sophomore Official Competition line-up, recognising inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking, includes the following:

  • Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness
  • Richard Ayoade’s The Double
  • Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida
  • Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s Like Father, Like Son
  • Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox
  • Jahmil X.T Qubeka’s Of Good Report
  • Peter Landesman’s Parkland
  • Ahmad Abdalla’s Rags & Tatters
  • Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant
  • David Mackenzie’s Starred Up
  • Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm
  • John Curran’s Tracks
  • Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Oscar. AFI Fest just announced that Saving Mr. Banks and Foxcatcher will open the AFI Fest.  Inside Llewyn Davis will close the fest.

Your move, New York.

Press release after the cut.

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I had the best night’s sleep of my adult life at a Travel Lodge in Williams, Arizona, which is on East Route 66, exactly half-way from Telluride to Los Angeles. Or so said my good friend Glenn Zoller whose family has a place in Telluride. He told me this while we were watching the Salinger documentary. I’d been to Williams before, Chris Willman is always going on and on about it. It is one of those nearly extinct towns that used to dot Route 66 before they built the interstate.

I left the town of Telluride in the late afternoon, not knowing which route I’d chosen using my iPhone’s navigation. It was rumored to only take 5 hours to get to Williams, which had to mean only 5 hours further to Los Angeles. I almost drove through the night because I miss my teenager that much. But a nice bed for the night was the wiser idea. On my way to Williams I was able to listen to the entirety of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Since it’s in my top five favorite movies of all time I figured it was high time to read the book.

Much of what’s great in the movie is taken directly from the book, all of the good lines especially, “It’ll do ’til the mess gets here.” But one great line was left out: “of all of the things you don’t look like is a bunch of good luck walking around.” Just before he’s killed Lewelyn Moss tells a 15 year-old girl that all we have is the day we just lived through:

I know you dont but let me try it one more time. You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?

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J.-D.-Salinger-Wallpaper

Who hasn’t been captivated at one time or another by J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, one of the greatest American novels ever written. Probably we shouldn’t need to know much about the genius behind the book because, as the genius himself admits, the work should speak for itself. And indeed, Catcher in the Rye has spoken to many for decades, in ways good and bad. Is it Salinger’s fault that so many crazies identify with Holden Caufield’s shunning of the adult world? Or was he merely tapping into the modern American psyche post WWII? Do young, smart, white men feel isolated by what the world has become and do they find an ally in Holden?

The new doc, called simply Salinger, had its premiere at Telluride this morning. Director Shane Salerno had been working on the film for ten years. Keeping close wraps on the information contained in the film (based on the book by David Shields and Salreno http://www.amazon.com/Salinger-David-Shields/dp/1476744831) was of utmost importance but all of that rolled out today. So fresh was much of this news to the audience that Joyce Maynard (here for Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, upon which her novel is based), who attended the screening, had mascara smeared under her eyes from tears she shed. Later, after the screening and in the lobby, Maynard said that over the past twenty years not a day has gone by that she hasn’t thought of Salinger.

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“For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.”
–Yeats

“Can I see the stars, Mommy?” A young boy of around five asked his mother on the gondola ride down from the Coen brothers tribute yesterday here in Telluride. “Maybe,” she said, in a patient voice. “If the sky is clear enough tonight.”

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“See that building with all of the windows down there? That’s my school down there,” he said. His mother kept pulling his feet back from where he was lightly kicking me. “It’s okay,” I said. “Well, yeah, but…” His mother wanted to teach him manners. He closed his eyes tightly as the gondola clanged to a stop, the sliding doors opened and we clambering out.

The night before I’d been one of the lucky ones to catch 12 Years a Slave’s premiere at the Galaxy with Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt in attendance. Pitt is one of the producers on the film as well as a supporting player. It’s the only film I’ve seen this week that received a standing ovation. Like Shame and Hunger, McQueen’s new film clutches at the the heart and mind, imprinting itself somewhere inside you permanently. Its harsh depiction of slavery, the talented cast, and McQueen’s gift for long takes made it a true standout. The buzz around Telluride was that it was the strongest film to hit the festival. 12 Years a Slave marks McQueen’s 3rd Telluride premiere and each of them have received the same kind of ecstatic buzz.

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