Monday, 13 September 2010

The last word on Venice...

This is the last post I imagine I'll post on the 2010 Venice Film Festival. I head off to work as a sub-editor in the festival daily in Cambridge from Thursday, so I'll be keeping very busy - and I'll have a new festival to bang on about here. But in the meantime, I wanted (pretty much for my own amusement) to hand out my own "awards" for the best of the 67th Venice International Film Festival. I more or less did this when discussing the actual awards in my last post here, as well as in a piece on Obsessed with Film, where I suggested my favourites as I looked at those actually rewarded by Tarantino's jury.

These fake awards take on new significance today too (even if only in my own head), as many in the Italian press - and now influential American journalists have joined them - have accused the 'Pulp Fiction' director of favouritism, as many of the awards went to friends of his.

I don't know whether those charges are fair. Of course, Tarantino himself has been keen to insist that he picked the winners based on their merits and not on friendship. But in any case, here are my two cents, and my final word on the festival:

GOLDEN LION for Best Film:
BLACK SWAN - Darren Aronofsky (USA)
No doubt in my mind whatsoever here. Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' was simply perfect. It played on the opening night of the festival and set a really high standard for all that followed. Really intense, it scared me, moved me and excited me. Really amazing. A film that reminded me why I love cinema.

SILVER LION for Best Director to:
13 ASSASSINS - Takeshi Mike (JAP)
Darren Aronofsky was the "best director" in fairness, but this award is traditionally give as a runner-up prize. And in that spirit I have given it my second favourite film, '13 Assassins'. In my review I compared it favourably to Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai', so I could hardly not reward Mike if it is that good. The most fun and exciting film in competition, in terms of action. The battle in the last half hour is as good as any I've ever seen in the cinema. The film also deals with interesting themes, namely the contradictions between and evils of traditionalism and formal beauty in Japanese culture.

NOI CREDEVAMO - Mario Martone (ITA)
I don't really know what this award is for. I suppose it's the award for "we wanted to give this film an award but it really wasn't the best at anything in particular". In that case, I will award it to the Italian nationalism epic, Noi credevamo - directed by Mario Martone. There was no trailer, so watch this clip (in Italian) to get a sense of how "well made" it is. It reminds me a little of 'Barry Lyndon' in terms of the lighting (and obviously the period). One of my favourite films from the festival and a rare three hour plus movie that doesn't feel overlong.

for Best Actor:

BARNEY'S VERSION - Paul Giamatti (USA)
If there was one award I didn't strongly disagree with the other night, it was the decision to give Vincent Gallo the best actor prize for his role in 'Essential Killing' - a damn good thriller with a brilliant central performance. However, I'm just going to be contrarian and go with the equally excellent Paul Giamatti, whose performance in Richard J. Lewis' 'Barney's Version' proved the festival's only real tearjerker. Giamatti's performance in this film, as he plays a man over three decades, is a masterclass. This trailer doesn't really do it justice, but here it is anyway.

for Best Actress:

BLACK SWAN - Natalie Portman (USA)
I don't know if I should gush about 'Black Swan' any more than I already have (at some length). I'll just say that Portman's dedication to this role - which required extensive ballet lessons - is matched by the intensity and emotional depth of her performance. I'll also say here (so I can post another trailer) that Michele Williams excelled in the fairly boring Western, 'Meek's Cutoff'.

for Best Young Actor or Actress:

LA PECORA NERA - Luigi Fedele (ITA)
The 27 year old Mila Kunis won this award the other night, which was a little odd if you ask me. So instead I've plumbed for Luigi Fedele, a newcomer who really shone playing the childhood version of the central character in the charming Italian comedy La pecora nera. He's the kid on the left at the start of the clip below.

OSELLA for Best Cinematography to:
OVSYANKI (SILENT SOULS) - Mikhail Krichman (RUS)
I won't dare go against the grain here. The critics favourite movie here (at least based on aggregate scores taken for the festival's daily trade paper), 'Ovsyanki' is a remarkable Russian drama about an obscure, now forgotten burial ritual, directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko. Mikhail Krichman's cinematography is suburb here, especially in its treatment of bleak, yet beautiful Russian landscapes. Some of the shots in this film blew my mind.

OSELLA for Best Screenplay to:
LA PASSION - Umberto Contarello, Doriana Leondeff, Carlo Mazzacurati, Marco Pettenello (ITA)
This quirky little Italian comedy, about a film-maker who is roped into directing an amateur production of The Passion of Christ after he inadvertently destroys an old fresco, was really funny and took a delightfully irreverent look at Catholicism, film-making and acting. I doubt it'll get much distribution outside of Italy, which is a pitty.

The Chinese film industry
This award was made up by the jury in order to give a statue to Tarantino's mentor, Monte Hellman ('The Road Nowhere'). But I'm giving it to the Chinese film industry, which is giving Hollywood a run for its money. I saw around nine Chinese film's in Venice, ranging from a youth-orientated dance flick ('Showtime'), to martial arts movies ('Di Renjie' (below), 'Reign of Assassins' and 'Legend of the Fist'), to the gritty, realist historical drama 'The Ditch' - as well as one 3D animated short film, 'Space Guy'.

I didn't like all of them, but they were all pretty well made and interesting in their own way. What I reall admire is that there are so many. OK, I understand China is a pretty huge country, but all the same: there were no British films in competition at all. And the only British movies that did play at the festival were small, installation art pieces (like the dreary 'Robinson in Ruins') and not "entertainment" aimed at audiences. The British industry needs to order whatever the Chinese are drinking.

So there you have it! My picks of the best from Venice 2010.

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