Thursday, 23 October 2014

BEST OF LFF 2014


To wrap up my coverage of the 2014 BFI London Film Festival, here's my list of the best of the fest. Only one win per film, so some have had to make do with runner-up citations in lieu of officially placing first more than once.

Best Film
From What Is Before (Lav Diaz)
Lav Diaz does it again with yet another extraordinary rumination on the human condition. What a cliche that might be to say, but his films are just that profound and that monumental. I saw many great films at LFF this year, but none even came close to beating From What Is Before.
Last year's winner: Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)

Special Mention
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed)
This gutting documentary is perhaps the most emotionally shattering film I've seen, and not just at LFF this year. It's brilliantly, beautifully cinematic, but as much a vital humanitarian document as an artistic one. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait will be a documentary for the ages.
Last year's winner: 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)

Competition for these top awards came from Aleksey German's Hard to Be a God, primarily. Deserving winners would also have included The Duke of Burgundy, Foxcatcher, The Furthest End Awaits, Jauja and The Tribethough, truthfully, they didn't stand a chance.

Best Directing
Aleksey German (Hard to Be a God)
And he's dead! Completed by his widow Svetlana Karmalita, and his son, fellow filmmaker Aleksey German Jr., Hard to Be a God is the maverick Russian director's final film. It took roughly six years to even get off the ground, and just about that long to actually make thereafter, but the immensely long and complex production was wholly worth it. German's inimitable style is pushed to its extreme in this bewilderingly detailed stew of sense, nonsense and a wealth of unidentifiable shit (literally) in between. An obvious choice.
Runners-up: Chiang Hsiu Chiung (The Furthest End Awaits), Lav Diaz (From What Is Before)
Last year's winners: Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani (The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears)

Best Female Actor
Li Yi Qing (Dearest)
Peter Chan's Dearest is, unquestionably, the weakest film to win in any of these seven categories, but it's far from the least deserving winner when one considers why it's done so. I've seen few films so packed with great, truly great, performances as this one: child actors such as Zhou Pin Rui and Zhu Dong Xu, and adult performers like Huang Bo, Hao Lei and Zhao Wei, the latter two of whom would have been worthy winners in this category. But it's the very young Li Yi Qing who was my favourite, in a very small role as a young girl left in an orphanage when her mother is sent to prison. In just a few scenes, she'll completely and utterly break your heart.
Runners-up: Evelyn Vargas (From What Is Before), Zhao Wei (Dearest)
Last year's winner: Isabelle Huppert (Abuse of Weakness)

Best Male Actor
Body / Luke (White God)
The rules state that there may be no tied wins, but I had to make an exception in this case. You see, I couldn't tell the difference between Body and Luke, the two leads playing the same role, Hagen, in Mundruczo Kornel's gripping thriller White God. What's so remarkable about their win is that neither Body nor Luke is a human being - they're dogs! But the intensity and the spontaneity of their performances, and the incredible range of emotions both was fully capable of expressing with their whole bodies, made them the clear frontrunners for this win.
Runners-up: Zhu Dong Xu (Dearest), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Last year's winner: Elyes Aguis (The Past)

Best Screenplay
Lisandro Alonso and Fabian Casas (Jauja)
Lisandro Alonso's superb western, relocated to colonial Patagonia, is awesomely well-considered, considering Alonso's sparing style of scripting. The concept and the themes behind it craft an innately intriguing drama, with a series of subtle but remarkable shifts in style and setting that will boggle the brain to brilliant effect. It's a wondrous film, and wonderfully written.
Runners-up: Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed (Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait), Lav Diaz (From What Is Before)
Last year's winners: Christophe Bataille and Panh Rithy (The Missing Picture)

Artistic or Technical Achievement
Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira (The Duke of Burgundy) - music
A beguiling, 1970s-inflected score from duo Cat's Eyes for Peter Strickland's film that might be described exactly as such. The music for The Duke of Burgundy slithers through chords and cadences into more chords and cadences, a semi-entrancing soundtrack of brief cuts drawn as much from the pop music sphere as from the classical. Not only a perfect compliment to the film's thematic, narrative and stylistic complexity, but an essential component of it too, and a marvellous standalone work.
Runners-up: Timo Salminen (Jauja) - cinematography, Sergey Kokovin, Georgy Kropachev and Elena Zhukova (Hard to Be a God) - production design
Last year's winner: Heidi Chan (Rigor Mortis) - makeup design