After a week of premieres, parties, talks and junkets, the BFI London Film Festival is now rolling into its final weekend. And boy have we learned plenty. Here’s ten things you should know:
1. Celebrities are like snails — they come out in the rain and they move very, very slowly along the red carpet.
2. Actors are no longer referred to as ‘stars’ but now seem to prefer the term ‘talent’ (as if everyone else is untalented, presumably).
3. Foxcatcher is the film of the festival so far. It’s a twisted character study set in the weird world of wrestling, which manages to put the 1% in America in a suffocating half-nelson. Steve Carell plays jingoistic anti-Gatsby, John du Pont, saying yesterday that nobody on set would talk to him while he was in character and wearing his creepy old man make-up and prosthetic nose. If he doesn’t win an Oscar next year, we will eat Channing Tatum's jock-strap.
4. Timothy Spall is not a pig. Despite director Mike Leigh’s best efforts to present the actor as an obnoxious snorting swine in his biopic Mr Turner, we can report that in the flesh Spall looks like a normal human being. It does makes us wonder though, whether Oscar Wilde’s maxim is true: “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist.”
5. Everyone loves a bit of war — it just never goes out of fashion. Benedict Cumberbatch was a human calculator in festival-opener The Imitation Game, and Brad Pitt is set to close things on Sunday as a tank commander with a haircut in Fury. Then there’s been Testament of Youth and German film Phoenix, which both offered tortured love stories in the smoking rubble. Although it's the centenary of the First World War most of these are concerned with its bigger-budgeted sequel; we're not sure why.
6. The Asians are coming. Some of the most eye-catching work has come from the East this year, with two spellbinding films from Korea. A Girl At My Door aimed to provoke with its moody tale of a lesbian Lolita. It dared to ask the question: is there such a thing as a benign paedophile? Then there was the near-perfect thriller, A Hard Day, which out-Coened the Coen Brothers by making it seem perfectly logical for its hero to bury a man in his own mother’s coffin (and then dig them both up again). Also rewarding was Black Coal, Thin Ice, providing neo-noir thrills against the deliriously cinematic backdrop of North East China.
7. 2014 was not a vintage year for women. Festival-goers we talked to seemed disappointed by the general lack of good female roles. One notable exception however was Wild, in which Reese Witherspoon gets to go hiking, rip off her toenail, take smack, shag two guys in an alleyway.
8. Hollywood film people say willfully strange things. “People have an essence you can’t transcend on film,” noted one Californian bigwig, very wisely indeed. British eccentrics on the other hand are refreshingly down-to-earth; director Peter Strickland, who brought two wonderfully oddball projects to the festival, described his method for filming Bjork in concert like this: “we sat in a cabin and ate doughnuts.”
9. Film is dying. Everywhere you go, from execs to extras, you hear the same sorry lament. Despite the fact that there were nearly 250 films on show in London this year, it seems getting a project off the ground is now harder than ever. With internet piracy, cagey distributors and a hard-to-motivate audience, it seems that almost everything apart from big event blockbusters will struggle to make a return. Foxcatcher, for example (see 3), failed to find finance for eight years and very nearly didn’t get made.
10. Love is the answer... Looking like a sleek businessman but sounding suspiciously like a hippy, Steven Spielberg’s business partner Jeffrey ‘Shrek’ Katzenberg, gave an industry keynote speech on Tuesday in which he explained the secret of his studio’s success (seventeen hits in a row). Mentoring new talent is crucial, said Katzenberg: “Talent is everything. Talent is the beginning, middle and end.” He added that he loves to take risks, but emphasised the need to balance chancy projects with films that are risk-free (aka sequels). He argued that this is also the diet people want and being either too arty or too commercial was a mistake: “philosophically, denying giving customers what they want, when they want it is not a winning strategy.” He also said his own personal mantra was ‘exceed expectations’ — everyone left the BFI nodding.
11. Always end with a twist.
Tickets are still available for some of the final weekend’s films if you check through the dates on the BFI website.