The 58th London Film Festival – So Far…

LFF So Far - DearestFollowing a stellar year will always be tough and 2013’s London Film Festival was one of the best. 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr Banks and Philomena. Could 2014 compete?

So far the answer is yes. This year may be absent the big name big hitters (although lots of love is waiting for The Imitation Game, Mr Turner and The Wild come awards season) and certain movies are notable by their non-appearance: Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything and Birdman, where art thou? But there’s been a rich diversity of cinema to enjoy.

The power of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, about Sharia Law descending upon an African village, was astonishing, with a football sequence that is a perfect depiction of rebellion in the face of absurdity. This modest film actually kicked the more high profile though ultimately lightweight Rosewater into the shade. Expect a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination next January.

LFF So Far - LeviathanWhere it will most likely be in competition with the Russian Leviathan. Winner of best screenplay at this year’s Cannes, this dark, funny and humane portrayal of one man against the system has the power of great literature and its cumulative effect is devastating.

And while talking about future Oscar contenders, we’ll be surprised if China does not submit Dearest for consideration. Based on real life events about child abduction in the city of Shenzen, it recalls the similarly themed Korean masterwork Secret Sunshine and delves deep into the emotional turbulence of the characters. Then takes a breathtaking midway story shift which makes it resonate even more.

But, it hasn’t just been big bowls of cinematic greens, as nourishing as they can be. Two Japanese official selections proved themselves the movie equivalent of MDMA and almost as dangerous.

Tokyo Tribe is Ichi the Killer, West Side Story, A Clockwork Orange, Moulin Rouge, The Warriors and The Last Dragon (look it up) all in one non-stop 2 hour hit. The World of Kanako was another missing child movie, but its distance from Dearest was like comparing the Sun to Neptune. Tetsuya Nakashima’s follow-up to 2010’s Confessions, Kanako is as violent as its warped protagonist, an ex-cop realising his missing daughter may not be the angel he thought she was.

Okay, films for those no keen on subtitles?

Festival opener The Imitation Game is a must-see. And the British teen movie X+Y may be this year’s most moving delight. Both films deal with math prodigies who have difficulty operating in everyday society, and coincidentally both feature child actor Alex Lawther in roles supporting the main character.

X+Y is a story about autism, and multiple sclerosis, and first love, parental anxiety, friendship, adulthood and much more, with fantastic performances from Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan.

Alan Turing, the focus of The Imitation Game, lived in a time before autism was recognised, so we will never know if he would have appeared on the spectrum and the filmmaker’s resist that label.

But, both films are proof positive that our legacy of class based social dramas (which we were pilloried for making during the 1980s) is alive and well and producing rewarding movies.

LFF So Far - Mr TurnerAlso fitting into this bracket is Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner. Whereas Leigh’s past films seem to have been made with only himself and his circle of friends in mind, he delivers here a funny, warm and stirring account of the renowned artist, memorably realised by Timothy Spall. Again, come awards season, expect Leigh and Spall to be treading the red carpet.

Stunning movies of a totally different kind were those produced by Cannon Films. The 1980s mini-studio was the bete-noire of polite Hollywood society, unleashing on the world a torrent of retrograde, right-wing Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson films and keeping Michael Winner in work and women.

But, these films were also unpretentious great nights in with a video, celebrated in the essential, hilarious documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

The “sit back and relax with a good old yarn” award thus far goes to The Salvation. Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green head-up this old-fashioned Western, battling Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s bad guy after his brother murders Mikkelsen’s family. It’s the kind of thing Eastwood was doing 40 years ago and Anthony Mann 20 years before that, but it’s well-played, gorgeously shot and as comfortable as a sunset smoke on the porch.

Crime drama gets a solid outing with The Drop, starring James Gandolfini in his final screen performance and a strong turn from Tom Hardy.

So, what’s the film of the festival with six days to go? We couldn’t get a ticket to German Concentration Camp Factual Survey, but the slew of five star reviews suggest this is compulsory, if harrowing, viewing.

The Keeping Room - Brit Marling, Muna Otaru, Hailee SteinfeldThus far, our number one film of this year’s London Film Festival is The Keeping Room. Arriving with little fanfare it is a shocking, unusual treatise on the dehumanising effects of war and a feminist reworking of Straw Dogs. Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru excel as two Southern society ladies and their slave living dirt poor after their men go to war, who draw the unwanted attention of two psychotic Yankee soldiers, including Sam Worthington.

Still to come is Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Cannes Palme D’or winner Winter Sleep, The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, When Animals Dream and Fury.

Meaning the best may not yet have arrived.

Rob Daniel