Review: BFI London Film Festival 2014

on Monday, October 27, 2014
58th BFI London Film Festival (8-19 Oct '14) // Words: Saam Das

The 58th BFI London Film Festival came to end recently, with its closing gala of David Ayer's WWII drama 'Fury'. While the festival arguably didn't have the big hitters of last year (although matching the combined might of '12 Years A Slave' and 'Gravity' was always going to be a challenge), there were nonetheless several impressive films on offer amid the 200+ film programme.

One of the particular draws of the BFI London Film Festival is its preponderance of premieres - such as the European premiere of Alan Turing biopic 'The Imitation Game', which opened the festival. These premieres (and indeed regular festival screenings) often have the added bonus of having Q+As with their actors and directors, but we were treated to something particularly special at the premiere of music documentary 'Austin To Boston' - various members of the acts involved joining together to deliver a wonderful acoustic version of 'Above The Clouds Of Pompeii'.

The musical strand this year was rich, with stand outs including 'Bjork: Biophilia Live' (a vivid capturing of a spectacular Alexandra Palace gig) and 'The 78 Project' (an altogether more intimate and old-fashioned offering, surrounding the use of a 1930s recorder). Other non-music-focussed films also had rich musical moments - the ever-visionary Xavier Dolan made Celine Dion seem almost cool for a minute in 'Mommy', while Martin Phipps' Mearl delivered two of my favourite soundtracks of the festival via tense period piece 'The Keeping Room' and the emotive 'X +Y'.

'X + Y' was a particular delight, and by far my favourite film of this year's festival. Inspired by a BBC documentary, the film follows maths genius Asa Butterfield as he struggles through his adolescence - his mother, Sally Hawkins, sharing a similar struggle with her son's autism. Director Morgan Matthews manages to elicit a series of beautiful moments across 'X + Y', and the film is an endearing triumph. Look out for its UK cinema release, scheduled for next March.

I was less impressed with some of the festival's big hitters, with 'Foxcatcher' in particular failing to reach the heights of Bennett Miller's previous efforts - 'Moneyball' and 'Capote'. Miller did however engage in a fascinating BAFTA Screentalk event, where he was interviewed by film critic Danny Leigh. In addition to his considered answers, or non-answers in the case of discussing his departed friend and colleague Philip Seymour Hoffmann, we also had the opportunity to hear his thoughts on some clips from his films - a director's commentary of sorts. Certainly, one of the highlights of the festival.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Jean-Luc Godard's 'Goodbye To Language', a 3D experimental arthouse drama that saw several critics leave my screening well before its conclusion. Admittedly, it's hard to fault Godard's ambition. Other directors channelled their ambition more fruitfully, notably Carol Morley with her off-kilter 'The Falling' and newcomer Julius Avery's high-octane 'Son Of A Gun'. Even 'Whiplash', which ultimately didn't resonate with me as I'd initially hoped, had an intensity which marked writer-director Damien Chazelle as another exciting talent to watch.

'Whiplash' also featured one of the most striking performances of the festival, with J.K Simmons as a fearsome musical teacher. It's a role that could lead to awards nominations, and similarly a near-unrecognisable Steve Carrell in 'Foxcatcher' is likely to be similarly lauded. Elsewhere, Gael Garcia Bernal effectively carried Jon Stewart's amusing-yet-somewhat-harrowing 'Rosewater', and Ewan McGregor returned to form with his electric turn in 'Son Of A Gun'.

Surprisingly, the most assured performance I caught all festival came from 'The Falling' youngster Florence Pugh, and I look forward to returning to the festival next year to catch yet more unexpectedly eye-catching efforts.

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