The 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival wrapped up this weekend, after ten days of much better movie-going than the programme had suggested. Everyone was very proud of the 800+ army of volunteers, who manned the downtown streets and lurked in groups around every corner of the Regal 6, asking what movie we were going to see and in one case, simply whether or not I was there to see a movie. And the film-maker’s lounge was a default destination, in part for the unimaginable quantities of free Stella and Jamesons they handed out throughout the festival’s ten days.
Awards were announced promptly. I saw no shorts or music videos, and almost no documentary; Blind Date and The Wind Is Blowing On My Street won the audience and best short awards respectively, I Am A Girl! was voted best documentary short and The Eagleman Stag nabbed best short animation.
Full-length awards went to Wish Me Away, a documentary about lesbian country singer Chely Wright; Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (documentary: audience); and Senna, about the dead Grand Prix driver, a fascinating-sounding assemblage of archival footage took the International Feature award, as voted for by audiences across the whole board of full-length films, fact and fiction.
The Audience Award for best feature went to south London hoodies vs aliens flick Attack the Block, from the stable of Edgar Wright and helmed by Joe Cornish, a familiar comedy name on British TV. The big winner, one could say, is the recipient of the Narrative Feature prize, and that was Familiar Ground, from Québéc . I thought it pretty good, with a fine consistent tone but a weak ending and ultimately a little on the slight side. I did not see many of other competition films, but heard good things of Chilean bad little girl movie Bad Intentions, hugely enjoyed the Echo Park-set Mamitas, and despised How To Cheat. The only serious contender for the award that I caught was mid-western, Cassavetes-inspired, bar-crawl movie Sawdust City – for all that it had some obvious moments, it took flight far more frequently and thrillingly than Familiar Ground, and featured a wonderfully unexpected and successful homage to the young Dennis Hopper in one of its secondary characters.
Québéc was well represented otherwise by The Salesman and Curling. The first was deceptively powerful and the second, although not perfect, was stunning – my top film of the festival. Both played out of competition with a number of other interesting features: Christopher Munch’s Letters From The Big Man was a bit wonky in executing its weird premise – girl befriends supernatural sasquatch – but ultimately rather beautiful; Alain Corneau’s corporate noir swansong Love Crime revealed itself to be sadly quotidian following the departure of Kristen Scott Thomas’s deliciously malevolent character; and Come Rain, Come Shine from Korea conjured a remarkably gripping mood out of a very slender divorce story, all set indoors on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, the big opening gala starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, was described as a modern noir and seemed to go down universally well.
My favourite festival nation, Argentina, was represented only by Sidewalls, which was delightfully inventive and funny, but ended up adding up to not a great deal. It was nonetheless impressive, just as Tomboy, from France, was impressive for its simplicity, and for a striking central performance by a 10 year-old. Another respectable British debut, from actor Paddy Considine, was Tyrannosaur featuring first-rate performances (the great Peter Mullen and TV’s Olivia Coleman, who’s almost better), but its substance was underplayed and it seemed overly bent on brutality in a particularly generic way. Apart from How To Cheat, the only other LA-based indie I could bring myself to watch was Entrance, and that was ghastly too.
Of the revivals, none were essential, but Burt Reynolds in Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966) was amusing enough. He leaps and rolls a lot, and the smirk threatens but never breaks out; greatly aided by a good Morricone score (and guess where Tarantino got the forehead carving from?) Mr Nobody (2009) and Paper Soldier (2008) were recent films that got away: the former cost an inordinate amount of money for Jaco von Dormael to weave a head-spinning tale of alternate realities around Jared Leto; though highly impressive and frequently funny, it was too rarely moving and too likely to cause headaches. The same is largely true of Alexey German Jr’s film, set to a backdrop of the first manned space flight and deploring the human cost in post-Stalin Russia, in a dizzying, Felliniesque whirl of characters constantly moving and talking in medium and close-up near-monochrome. On gets the sense, however, that its full power is revealed only if you a) see it again and b) are Russian.
Read more about the winners here.