Posted by: themoviecheese | November 29, 2015

Top Ten Films of Leeds International Film Festival 2015

Top 10 Films of Leeds International Film Festival

So the festival is over for another year, and I am once again in dire need of some serious sleep, a long soaking bath, and several hot meals. But before I do all that, I’m going to present you with my opinion of what the top ten films of the entire festival were. Bare in mind, I choose not to include the retrospective/classic films on this list. This year, they screened such classics as The Thing, Leon and Rosemary’s Baby, along with rarely-screened beauties such as the excellent Roar and They Live. So if I were to take those into consideration, it wouldn’t be much of a contest…

10. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker) – Comedy

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Tangerine is just a basic, old-school comedy, but it thrashes conventions and clichés so well that it more than needs to be on this list. It’s an incredibly hard sell because Tangerine follows the everyday lives of a group transgender working girls. The beauty is in the fact that Tangerine knows it’s a hard sell, and it works it to its advantage. It’s determined not to sugar-coat anything, and instead celebrate a zesty yet difficult lifestyle with pure hilarity. This is one funny-ass film, and definitely fast moving, but also deeply moving. The visuals are also just as vibrant and colourful as its protagonists – made even more impressive with the knowledge that the entire film was reportedly shot on an iPhone 5. Rating: 8/10

9. The Open (dir. Marc Lahore) – Post apocalypse drama

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How could a film about tennis possibly make it into my list? But, The Open isn’t really about tennis. It’s about hope, dreams and ultimate survival. It’s as if Rocky Balboa, Tim Henman and Max Rockatansky all had a massive blazing threesome. The Open “opens” up (hehe) with a terrorist attack on Paris (rather poignant considering recent events), and then shifts years into the future where we assume this attack led to a world war that ultimately left most of the planet in ruins. We join three protagonists (actually, three characters in total is all the film has to offer) as they desperately try to invent their own imaginary tennis open tournament. It sounds stupid, and initially you think it is…but then the film sucks you in. I quickly became utterly compelled by the determination and sheer will of these three characters, all in the face of the absurdity of what they were attempting to achieve. There was one scene in particular involving a lost MP3 player that almost had me clapping there and then. Rating: 8/10

8. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley) – Romantic drama

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Brooklyn. It’s set (mostly) in 1950s New York, and follows a young Irish woman attempting to find herself in this new enormous city. She eventually finds love in the form of a handsome young Italian. This is eventually disrupted, however, when her past comes back and she must choose between two countries and the people that live within them. Brooklyn is one of the most realistic romance films I’ve seen in years. It never ever feels mushy or overly written as most romance films do. This is a tale of the desperation that comes from an entire ocean being in between two people who are deeply in love. Brooklyn currently holds an astounding 99% on Rotten Tomatoes (124 positive reviews, 1 negative) and it shows why. Ronan’s performance is brilliant, but its in the script that the film’s true talent lies. Rating: 8/10

7. Chuck Norris vs. Communism (dir. Ilinca Calugareanu) – Documentary

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This film obviously deserves a place in any list based on the title alone. However, don’t set your hopes too high because this isn’t an action film featuring Norris taking on Soviet Russia. No, this is actually a documentary charting the censorship of 1980s Romania. During the 1980s many western films were either heavily cut or outright banned. This led to an underground movement led by a black market racketeer and one incredibly brave translator/voice actress. What follows is a hugely rewarding and heart-warming tale of bravery and discovery. The interviews are the best part, listening to the stories from the various Romanians about how they would sneak into each other’s apartments to watch the latest Van Damme movie is both hilarious and touching. But there is another side to this story – that of the person orchestrating these illegal VHS copies is closer to a conspiracy thriller and is utterly riveting as such. A brilliant watch for anyone interested in film history. Rating: 9/10

6. Nina Forever (dir. Ben Blaine & Chris Blaine) – Horror/Comedy

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After watching Nina Forever, my first tweet went something like “That film was totally my jam!”. Feature debut from a brother directing duo known for shorts, Nina Forever tells the story of a young man who’s girlfriend dies in a car accident. Some time later, he falls in love with one of his co-workers, but when they first make love his dead girlfriend’s bloody and mutilated body resurfaces to mock them. He soon realises that he can’t have sex without his dead girlfriend interrupting. Nina Forever is hilarious, the dialogue is extremely snappy and its also surprisingly sexy, despite most of the film being drenched in the red stuff. The tone and dark humour reminded me a lot of Ginger Snaps, which is admittedly an acquired taste of a film, as is this one. All in all it’s just a great script with (obviously) a very original genre-bending story. Rating: 9/10

5. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper) – Crime thriller

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There are a lot of films out there that claim to be shot in one take (Rope, Running Time, The Silent House, Birdman to name a few), but those films DO actually contain several cuts hidden within dark zooms and fast pans. Victoria, however, is the real fucking deal: a full 2 and a half hour continuous take that apparently only took three tries to nail. I scoured every single frame of Victoria like a hawk and couldn’t find a single hidden transition. Within its 140 minute-runtime, Victoria’s cinematography spans around 25 different locations dips in and out of several vehicles and speeds around the city, contains a couple of kinetic shootouts, several extended and extremely tense chase sequences, and some very well written tender moments of calm. The first hour or so is admittedly slow-moving, but this is intentional to draw us further into the characters. Most of the dialogue is improvised (the script had a mere 12 pages), and so the characters all feel real as a result. It means when the shit hits the fan, you feel like you’ve built up a relationship with these people and you’ve connected with them on a personal level. The “hand held, single shot” aspect helps with this overall, because you feel almost like one of the characters. Victoria is simply exhausting – it’s the kind of film that you enjoy whilst you’re watching it, but you don’t truly appreciate it until the credits start rolling. Once those credits roll, you realise what you’ve just watched – one of the most incredible cinematic achievements of this generation. Oh, and that single 2 and a half hour take? It apparently took only three takes to nail. Holy shit. Rating: 9/10

4. The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers) – Horror

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The Witch ultimately gave me a feeling that I haven’t felt since I watched the original Ringu around 12 years ago – an uncompromising feeling of caution; that I’d just watched something that was just so wrong. The Witch isn’t “bone chillingly frightening” or “filled with jump-out-of-your-seat moments” – let’s just get that out of the way first. The Witch is not “one of the scariest films ever made” as most of the marketing would have you believe. It is, however, one of the absolute darkest and dread-filled films I have ever seen. I really can’t stress that “ever” enough. Robert Eggers has delivered one of the bleakest films of this decade. There is no happiness here, no solace. These are characters almost entirely consumed by darkness and evil. The cinematography is simply impeccable. Perfectly portraying this sense of voyeurism, like we’re hiding behind corners because we’re not sure if we’re allowed to be watching what we’re watching. The script is sublime, taking a queue from the likes of A Field In England and giving the dialogue an air of authenticity that is so rarely found in films of this calibre. This in turn makes the acting that much more impressive, since around 70% of the cast is made up of either children or young teens. Apparently, director Robert Eggers is a huge perfectionist, and that is proven ten fold with The Witch. Simply put, this is the best example of attention to detail I have seen in years. YEARS. There’s no doubt in my mind that The Witch will be a truly polarizing release. Some will despise it’s slow burn aesthetic and it’s almost Shakespearian dialogue, while some will relish it. However, the one thing we can all surely agree on is that Eggers has directed the SHIT out of this film. There were several times where I genuinely felt like I wanted to stop watching – not because I was scared, but because I simply did not want to see what was going to happen next. The Witch is a different kind of horror. Hell, it could almost be a new genre. Rating: 9/10

3. Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) – Horror/Thriller/Black Comedy

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Green Room was my most anticipated film of the whole festival. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, director of last year’s superb revenge film Blue Ruin, Green Room is a premise I couldn’t pass up. It centres on a young punk band who have a very anti-fascism political stance. The get a gig performing at a bar they’ve never been to, only to quickly realise it is a neo-nazi bar…saying anything else would be spoiling. Yes, this is definitely the kind of film that you want to go into as blind as possible. A testament to this is the fact that there isn’t a single promotional trailer online, because none have been made. There is also but one poster, and only one short film clip (that reveals nothing) on YouTube. Once the violence starts (and like Blue Ruin, it is extremely violent), it’s completely relentless in its execution. Like in all Saulnier’s films the biggest ace is the dialogue. Saulnier has such a sublime talent for taking characters that feel real and placing them in extraordinarily cinematic situations. These are scenarios that would only happen in films, and the sequence of events follow a basic cinematic narrative structure. But the genius is in how these characters are written. Patrick Stewart’s main villain for instance could have very easily been written as a cheesy horror caricature, and if this film had been written by almost any other horror writer, his character would have certainly have come across as cartoonish. But Saulnier’s excellent and genuine dialogue coupled with Stewart’s master class in creating an everyday “nip-down-the-pub” character means that we get a villain that feels so much more frightening due to how utterly real he feels. The violence (of which there is a LOT, even more than Blue Ruin I’d say) is also brutally realistic. Make no mistake that Green Room is NOT a “torture porn” film. “Torture porn” implies the film unrealistically spurts blood in our faces as a cheap way of getting a reaction. Green Room doesn’t do that. I wouldn’t even call it “gore” as such, as none of the violence lingers on the detail. That said, however, and despite what I’ve said about the film’s realistic nature, Green Room’s biggest talent lies in its ability to “crowd please”. This is one of the biggest crowd pleasers I’ve seen in ages, and many cheers and the like were had in the packed out audience at the Night of the Dead event. This is helped by the film’s random sprinkles of great black humour. Green Room is almost a total mystery, and it needs to stay that way. Go see it with an empty head, and your ignorance will be well rewarded. Rating: 9/10

2. Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes) – Thriller/Horror

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Victoria wow’d us all for its huge technical achievement, but even that pales in comparison to what Son of Saul places on the screen. It tells the story of a Jewish prisoner of Auschwitz who is forced to burn the bodies of his own people. He is suddenly perplexed to come upon the dead body of a young Jewish boy. He takes the boy for his son, and sets about on a daunting, dangerous and incredibly couragous quest to find a Rabbi and gives the boy a proper burial. The entire film was shot on a single 40mm focal length, which means the film seldom leaves our protagonist’s face. To make the cinematography just that little more claustrophobic, it’s also shot at a 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning we rarely get to see the extent of what’s going on around Saul. We hear all the random gunshots, the crying and screaming, the roar of the furnaces and we can feel the great sense of depression. The point here is that we see it all through Saul’s face, and Geza Rogrig’s performance makes that aspect simply astounding. I’ve placed the film under a “horror” bracket, and this is because it is truly horrifying. No, there aren’t any zombies, and there is very little gore and not a single jump scare to speak of. But there is is an overwhelming feeling of desperation and dread. The film contains very little dialogue, but a mountain of body language that speaks much better than any lines of dialogue ever could. They say we as a people should never forget the Holocaust and what happened, well Son of Saul will make you remember. Rating: 10/10

1. Bone Tomahawk (dir. S. Craig Zahler) – Western/Horror

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I’d been told two things about Bone Tomahawk prior to seeing it – 1. That it is Kurt Russell’s comeback film, and 2. That it is a slow burn with a huge pay-off and to “stick with it”. Both of these things threw me completely off guard. It’s not Kurt’s come back. Well, I guess it kind of is because he’s chuffing superb in it. But it’s also not, because it’s most definitely not a one-man movie. The rest of the cast is just sublime (especially Matthew Fox and Patrick Wilson), and watching them together and their expert chemistry is what eliminated that “slow burn” expectation for me. Avengers and Justice League can go bollocks… THIS is the team up movie of the century for me. The god damn century. Also, whilst it definitely has that promised “huge pay-off”, I didn’t find the first half to be a slow burn at all. I found it to be a perfectly paced and expertly written piece of celluloid that kept me gripped throughout. I cared about these characters; and they weren’t particularly bad ass (apart from Wilson, he was straight up fucking amazing), it was just the way they interacted and the way nothing got in the way of their teamwork or determination. I’m not going to tell you any of the story, because I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say ‘Bone Tomahawk’ takes two favourite genres and blends them together like a delicious soup. It’s the kind of film that was so good that I tried to find a fault – I really freaking tried. Everyone knows that I value character over plot. Films that contain a complex plot, but underwritten basic characters just don’t interest me. This is why I find it so easy to dislike critically-acclaimed films like Interstellar and The Godfather. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ gets this – so much so that it feels like it was taylor made for me. It’s a relatively simple plot (although it certainly becomes a lot more complex by the finish), but it’s true strength lies in its characterisation and just how brilliantly written they are as individuals coupled with the great performances (it even has a great cameo from exploitation legend Sid Haig). It has to be said as well that this film contains one of the most satisfying kills ever. Ever ever ever. Ever. Unquestionably the absolute best film of Leeds Film Festival, but also the best film of 2015 (so far). Rating: 10/10

Other Films Worth Mentioning –
Shrew’s Nest – 7/10
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Black Mass – 7/10
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Lovemilla – 7/10
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Goodnight Mommy – 7/10
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Tales of Halloween – 8/10
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Forbidden Films – 8/10
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Tag – 8/10
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The Assassin – 8/10
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Carol – 8/10
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