The BFI London Film Festival has always been more of a showcase festival than a competitive one, though it has long given out specialized awards for rising talent and documentary filmmakers. Two years ago, however, they aimed for a higher international profile by creating an overall Best Film award, with the winner chosen by a jury from a shortlist of the festival's most notable gala selections.
The inaugural award in 2009 went to "A Prophet" -- a wholly deserving choice, though not one that brought the festival itself much attention, given that the London prize looked like mere garnish alongside the film's pile of more high-profile honors. Last year, I thought they served themselves better with more unique choices: with options including "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan," Patricia Clarkson's jury surprised everyone by awarding the two smallest titles on the list, "How I Ended This Summer" and "Archipelago," both of which benefited considerably from the exposure.
Following that, I'd expected this year's Best Film shortlist to lean more heavily on less obvious titles. Instead, all nine films are either from well-known filmmakers or come with ample buzz from previous festivals, ensuring a more prominent winner than last year. Whether this is deliberate or not I can't say, though a few curveballs would have been welcome. As it is, the choice is between:
"The Artist," Michel Hazanavicius
"The Deep Blue Sea," Terrence Davies
"The Descendants," Alexander Payne
"Faust," Aleksandr Sokurov
"The Kid With a Bike," Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
"Shame," Steve McQueen
"360," Fernando Meirelles
"Trishna," Michael Winterbottom
"We Need to Talk About Kevin," Lynne Ramsay
From the two-thirds of the list that I've seen, I'd vote for Ramsay's film in a heartbeat. What inclinations this year's jury -- which includes Gillian Anderson and filmmakers John Madden, Asif Kapadia and Sam Taylor-Wood, among others -- might have is anyone's guess.
Finally, two major figures with films playing at the festival will be honored there with Fellowships from the British Film Institute: David Cronenberg and Ralph Fiennes. They'll be joining an illustrious 67-person list of world cinema's great and good, ranging from Martin Scorsese to Laurence Olivier to Orson Welles to Harvey Weinstein. (Danny Boyle was last year's inductee.)
Cronenberg and Fiennes are both excellent selections, and it's sweetly apt that they should be honored together in London, a decade after they collaborated in the city on "Spider" -- still, for my money, one of the best things either man has done. Here's Cronenberg's statement:
"This is a monumental, in fact overwhelming, honour, and my being the first Canadian to receive it makes it all the sweeter. British cinema has been a potent inspiration for me, and to be associated with this particular group of filmmakers is tremendously exhilarating."
The news, incidentally, landed mere hours after my own interview with Cronenberg, which will feature on the site soon.
In other festival news, organizers have also revealed the shortlist for what used to be the LFF's premier prize, the Sutherland Trophy -- handed to the "most original and audacious" debut feature in the fest. Recent winners have included "You Can Count on Me," "Red Road" and "Persepolis," so it's worth keeping an eye on. This year's contenders are:
"Corpo Celeste," Alice Rohrwacher
"Eternity," Sivaroj Kongsakul
"Here," Braden King
"The House," Zuzana Liova
"Las Acacias," Pablo Giorgelli
"Last Winter," John Shank
"Michael," Markus Schleinzer
"Mourning," Marteza Farshbaf
"She Monkeys," Lisa Aschan
"Snowtown," Justin Kurzel
"The Sun-Beaten Path," Sonthar Gyal
"Without," Mark Jackson
I've only seen four of these, though if anything tops the magnificent "Snowtown," an unshakeably claustrophobic true-crime drama from Australia, the selectors can congratulate themselves on a job well done. (I'm not sure if there's some quirk of eligibility keeping "Martha Marcy May Marlene" off the shortlist -- perhaps the intention was to limit the contest to less visible titles.)
I've seen even fewer of the festival's Best Documentary nominees -- only one, though I'm sure Kris will be pleased to see Werner Herzog's latest in the mix:
"Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey," Leila Doolan
"Better This World," Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75," Goran Hugo Olsson
"Dragonslayer," Tristan Patterson
"Dreams of a Life," Carol Moley
"Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life," Werner Herzog
"Last Days Here," Don Argott and Demian Fenton
"Whores' Glory" Michael Glawogger
The BFI London Film Festival, and our coverage thereof, will kick off next week on October 12.
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