MIFF2010: The Epic Overview
It's always strange looking back upon the 18 days of MIFF. There is a hyper-real quality to my memories (most likely related to sleep deprivation and the Atkins sanctioned MIFF diet) that almost feels like it is set in an alternate dimension. It's similar to our reality but everything is slightly different, kinda like the start of those episodes of Sliders where everything is the same as their world except instead of cash their currency is bubble gum balls (the fact that I'm making a Sliders reference in the first paragraph of this post doesn't bode well).
An Arab stands on the street arguing with anti-israel protesters, he says, "I agree with your cause but dammit you are protesting the wrong target and spreading misinformation", they reply "But all Israelis are corrupt, 100% of them", the Arab sighs and turns to go see a jihadi slapstick comedy.
A film critic takes notes during a film using his phone because, "I forgot to bring a pen and paper,". He gets argumentative when told to stop and by the time a second patron arcs up at him a pen and paper magically appear from his bag.
A woman has a seizure during a scene where Jessica Alba gets her face beaten to a pulp. Her boyfriend takes her outside, puts her in a cab and returns to watch the rest of the film.
At this point Quinn appears with the Professor and tells me that we must slide now! 18 days, 44 films and probably as many burgers later, I say a bittersweet farewell to this dimension and disappear through a wall of endearing early 90s SFX.
There was an immense degree of traversing the spectrum at this years MIFF. I saw some really great things but also saw some of the worst films I have ever seen at a film festival. It became a personal challenge to get through this festival without walking out on a film. I succeeded though I'm not entirely sure that is something to be proud of. Let's get into it shall we.
Similar to Sydney Film Festival this year, the documentaries were very strong. A couple of very very strong films I saw in Sydney were not present at MIFF sadly (Restrepo and Mugabe & The White African) but then again MIFF had two brilliant aces up their own sleeve. The Red Chapel and Catfish both blew me away. Great stuff. On a slightly lesser but equally strong note The Invention of Dr Nakamats was stylish and incredibly fun while Soderbergh's Spalding Grey documentary And Everything Is Going Fine is the definitive tribute to Grey and vital viewing for those unfamiliar with his work.
Other documentaries that were enjoyable on some level were Machete Maidens Unleashed (fun despite being more of the same from Not Quite Hollywood director Mark Hartley); Garbo: The Spy (a fun, true spy tale that I was unaware of); The Genius and The Boys (discussion raising doco that may piss you off with a subjective turn in the last 20 minutes); Bill Cunningham New York (an overrated and superficial but ultimately fun look at a sweet man); Collapse (a decent summation of many of the major issues the world is facing, amusingly apocalyptic); When You're Strange (does exactly what it sets out to do, tell the story of The Doors, for better or worse)
Not all was fine in the world of documentary though. I was subjected to quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen at a film festival. Villalobos was spectacularly awful and amateurish. Consisting of long youtube style shots of Villalobos djing, I became fascinated with how anyone could find value in this film. Not only did one of the MIFF programmers personally recommend it but a Melbourne critic I somewhat respect, Jake Wilson, named it one of the best films in the festival. Maybe it was simply exciting enough for some viewers to stand behind the decks and look out onto a crowd with a well-respected DJ. I personally DJ a little myself so there was nothing special in this to me. I will argue to the death how bad this one was.
Sweetgrass also was a failure in my opinion. While attempting to be a poetic paean to the American west, it was way too over-long to have any effect other than a slight headache from all the sheep bleating. The Cities On Speed programs were immensely disappointing, missing their opportunities to examine some interesting mega-cities by being either patronising, boring or simply irrelevant. Do I even call The Juche Idea a documentary? Whatever it is it's a bad film. I feel like scolding it and sending it to bed without dinner. Juche Idea, you are grounded for a month. Don't come out until you are a better, more watchable movie!
While I would love to develop some unifying theme from all the films I saw this year (too long, too misanthropic, too political etc), I simply can't. In the list of my favorite films there is just about every kind of work imaginable, short, long, light, heavy, western, European, Asian. So while I still feel that 2010 is turning out to be a middling year for cinema I still saw some very, very good things this year. A few of these will definitely appear in my end of year Top Ten.
I've been able to narrow it down to 8 favourites. Enter The Void blew me away. It was an endurance test like no other. Visionary, innovative, excruciating, boring, it encompassed so many different emotions that one cannot simply write it off easily. It also has permanently taken residence in the back of my brain. Squatters rights, can't move it on.
The Killer Inside Me and Four Lions were two I missed in Sydney and was wary as they received very mixed reports up there. Nothing to worry about though, they are both brilliant films. The Killer Inside Me is the jet-black 50s noir I have been waiting years for and Four Lions is a comedy about inept Muslim jihadis that is simply a miracle of tonal tightrope walking. As well as Four Lions, I will say that Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is the funniest thing I have seen all year. The perfect ADHD tonic to finish the festival with and it joins Four Lions as the top comedies of the year for me.
On the international front it was a mixed year but there were some definite highlights. Air Doll charmed my socks off, despite a few missteps in its closing scenes. While some found it twee and cloying, I found it to be genuinely sweet and quietly insightful. A Somewhat Gentle Man crept up on me and left a major smile on my face. It's a uniquely Norwegian film that is best described as a Scandinavian Coen Brothers film with a heap more humanity and heart.
I loved Rubber too. I feel like I'm in a slight minority but I felt it ran the perfect length, never overstayed it's welcome and was the perfect, most pointless film I have ever seen. A film about a killer tyre should not be this good.
Monsters was also a late highlight. Gareth Edwards' low-budget miracle of a film can easily be destroyed with too much hype. It is essentially a low-key relationship drama set against a District 9 style back drop of alien creatures and government quarantine zones.
So onto my dislikes then. Trash Humpers. In hindsight I don't know why I bothered. I have never liked anything Harmony Korine has ever done so who knows why I would start liking him with this one. The trailer fascinated me but I was unprepared for the bile that the film would arise in me. I left the cinema a bigger misanthrope that I was going in. Cheers Harmony.
Between Two Worlds may have come at the wrong time in the festival for me but it didn't work at all. The kind of pretentious art-house filmmaking that gives film festivals that wanky stereotype. Also it was sad to see Bill Bennett's Uninhabited play such a bland generic story in bland generic terms. He shot on a beautiful island and had a decent crew, shame the actors and the script were so poor. You won't hear much more about this one sadly.
Wild Target is one I kept overhearing people name as their favorite film of the festival (seriously, at least four people were overheard saying that in queues over the last week). Far be it from me to make swift value judgments of people's taste but anyone I overheard saying that immediately dropped to a kindergarten level of cinema opinions to me. Wild Target was "zany" in the worst, most try-hard sense of the word, ignoring all logic for cheap humour and an even cheaper looking aesthetic. It made Richard Curtis' recent failure The Boat That Rocked look like a stylistic achievement. Only Bill Nighy saved it with his brilliant presence.
And that's it for 2010. It's been a couple of years since I've had the honour of doing a full festival (travel and other things kept me to a mini-pass). I had a great time, made some new Twitter friends, saw some gold, saw some crap, ran around in the rain, and became sensitive to sunlight.
Same time next year? It's a date!
Top Ten films at MIFF2010
(In no particular order)
The Worst Seven Films at MIFF2010
(In a very particular order)