The Best Films of the 2014 London Film Festival

The Duke of Burgundy - D'Anna, Knudsen12 days. 50 cinemas. 248 movies and documentaries and 148 shorts from 70 countries. Over 700 guests. Over 160,000 audience turn-out.

But, there can be only one Electric Shadows London Film Festival 2014 Top 10.

Before we get to the all-important list there were some films that may have made the cut if we’d been able to catch them. So, in the spirit of full disclosure we were unable to check out amongst others German Concentration Camp Factual Survey, The Tribe, It Follows, White God, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Wild.

But, if those films rival what is on the below list, we have some fine viewing ahead of us.

So, without further ado and in reverse order, we have:

An unbelievable true story is brought to the screen with sensitivity and storytelling bravura by director Peter (The Warlords) Chan. When a dad’s young son is snatched while he’s caring for him, it begins an obsession spanning years to find the missing boy. But, a promising lead sets off a bizarre chain of circumstances that would be preposterous were this not based on actual events. Huang Bo is excellent as the stricken father, matched by Hao Lei as his accusatory ex-wife and Zhao Wei as a woman enters the film midway and shifts the focus entirely. Delving deep into a world of missing children support groups, cold government institutions and casual prejudice against rural communities, Dearest is compelling, moving and illuminating.
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9. X+Y
From China to Taiwan, where Asa Butterfield’s autistic maths prodigy Nathan is competing to be part of the UK team at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Those lost without a calculator (we’re one of you) fear not; X+Y is not a film that requires A Levels to enjoy it. A touching story of growing pains and teen romance, it is well-scripted by James Graham and sensitively played in its depiction of autism. And, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Rafe Spall’s multiple sclerosis afflicted maths coach in particular an hilarious mixture of deadpan wit, defensive sarcasm and warmth. Sally Hawkins completes her rehabilitation back to good actress after the horror of Happy Go-Lucky with a beautifully controlled performance as Nathan’s frayed nerves mum, still grieving the loss of her husband and Nathan’s dad.
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A film that bore a coincidental similarity to X+Y was Festival opener, The Imitation Game. Both focused on maths prodigies, socially awkward and thrown into high pressure situations. Very high pressure in the case of The Imitation Game’s central character Alan Turing, who was responsible for cracking the Nazi’s Enigma machine, which was sending coded messages to U-boats that were then having a devastating impact on Allied convoy fleets. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a performance of pathos and intelligence as the genius mathematician and cryptanalyst, hiding a damaging secret of his own. Expect a strong showing at 2015’s BAFTAs, while Oscar interest is highly likely.
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If the names Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus evoke nostalgic memories guzzling down bad action movies, Electric Boogaloo is for you. If a warts n’ all look at the unbelievable ride of Hollywood’s last true hustlers gets you excited, Electric Boogaloo is for you. If you want the behind the scenes skinny on such great bad movies as Invasion USA, Breakin’, Enter the Ninja III: Domination, Over The Top and Superman IV, then Electric Boogaloo is for you. You’ll never look at Clyde the Orangutan the same way again…
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We at Electric Shadows were very excited by the trailer for Brad Pitt’s WW2 tank movie. But, mixed reviews and director David Ayer’s previous film being the Schwarzenegger dud Sabotage suggested this could be a case of “Tanks, but no thanks”. We are happy to report then that Fury lives up to that initial promise, depicting the last just war as a hellish landscape of body parts and impossible moral quandaries. War’s brutalising effects, the atrocities the Nazi regime inflicted upon its own people and heart-in-throat battle sequences are depicted with raw immediacy putting you inside the eponymous Sherman as the shells fly.
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Winner of Best Film at the 2014 London Film Festival, Palme D’Or nominated and winner of Best Screenplay at Cannes 2014, and an 8.0 rating on the IMdb to date, there is a reason why Leviathan has so much love. A hugely impressive tale about a lowly mechanic’s attempt to take on the might of municipal government to keep the house he built, Leviathan has the power of great literature and the same emotional heft. Aleksey Serebryakov is superlative as a man battling both the government and his own sense of self-worth as his world takes on a particularly dark hue. What threatens to be a chore is actually a movie packed with vitality, gallows humour and heartbreaking emotion.
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Ichi the Killer with a transfusion of West Side Story is one way to describe Tokyo Tribe. The most dazzling teen movie since Scott Pilgrim is another. The latest film from Japanese provocateur Sion Sono is cinematic MDMA and almost as dangerous. The plot: rival gang war, organised crime and sentimental bromance is standard stuff. The rush comes in the telling, a narcotic blast of hip-hopera, kung-fu, nudie exploitation, yakuza silliness and bizarro horror. Addiction is mandatory.
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Peter Strickland follows the five star head rush of Berberian Sound Studio with another daring, intoxicating homage to 70s Euro cinema. Here it’s the work of eroticists such as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin feeding the charged story of two women in a very particular relationship. Uninhibited sexuality, genuine romance and gorgeous style combine to create a breathlessly provocative movie.
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Ferocious American Civil War horror that appeared almost from nowhere to terrify its way into a position just one place away from the top spot. Director Daniel Barber takes a major step up from his debut Harry Brown with a film pitched somewhere between Straw Dogs and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld are Southern sisters besieged by two Yankee soldiers, including a dead-eyed Sam Worthington. Grim Southern Gothic, laden with atmosphere and dread, and graced by performances as intense as the subject matter this comes highly recommended.
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When Damien Chazelle’s stunning film crashes to a close, you’ll feel the meaning of its title. A student/teacher film about J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical music instructor pushing promising drummer Miles Teller to impossible extremes, this is an anti-inspirational mentor movie and all the more astounding for it. Music classes filmed with the violence and intensity of boxing matches, Whiplash never lets the tempo drop, while Teller and Simmons devour roles that come along maybe once a career. Our best film of 2014’s London Film Festival, expect to see a lot more of it as awards season hots up.
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Rob Daniel