MIFF 2011: My Infamous Wrap-Up

As another amazing MIFF slips into the brain banks we inevitably look back, make lists of favourites, sum up the experience with glib statements and begin the process of reframing our memories into a lovely nostalgic haze eliminating the hard edges of sleep deprivation, malnutrition and nodding off during films that a long festival will always deliver.
Out of a planned 54 films I only ended up seeing 40 in the end. The number of dropped films was entirely indicative of the amount of socialising I partook in this year. It was truly wonderful finally meeting a lot of faces that I previously had only known via the impersonal virtual world. Many a late night film chat was had and many hangovers were endured. Hopefully some new friends were made and I deeply thank all who I met with, drank with and argued with. You contributed to me having one of the best film festivals I ever experienced.
In regards to the actual films, MIFF put on a very solid program, easily better than last years. Having seen 26 films at the Sydney Film Festival a month prior I can comfortably say that if you include the top 5 I saw in Sydney - which also screened at MIFF - in my list here, one can conclude that 2011 is shaping up to be a very strong year in cinema (for the record those films are MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, 13 ASSASSINS, SHUT UP LITTLE MAN, PROJECT NIM & KILL LIST).
My personal cinematic highlights of MIFF are numerous. So here we go...
  • I finally loved a Lars Von Trier film. After almost 15 years of spectacularly hating everything this man has done I sat down to watch MELANCHOLIA with nervous hope. I consider myself open to any given film despite preconceived attitudes to a filmmaker's earlier work and I'll be totally upfront with you: I patted myself on the back for enjoying MELANCHOLIA. If you knew how much I hated his prior work you would understand. Thankfully Lars has avoided all his usual weaknesses and made the best film about depression I have ever seen. Devastatingly brilliant.
  • The Sion Sono double bill in the festival was another highlight. COLD FISH & GUILTY OF ROMANCE were brilliant companion pieces filled with a general sense of punk rock misanthropy that I loved. COLD FISH was easily the stronger film of the two but GUILTY OF ROMANCE still glowed with all the endearing flaws I have come to enjoy from Sono's films. To general audiences not familiar with Sono I would only really recommend COLD FISH though.
  • My mid-festival Korean double feature offered one highlight and one lowlight. THE UNJUST proved to be a true mess of a film leaving me perplexed and frustrated but THE YELLOW SEA immediately afterwards reminded me of why I fell in love with Korean film in the first place. A truly brilliant film from the most promising new filmmaker to come out of the region in years. Highly recommended (but very stabby).
  • SENNA easily lived up to the ridiculous hype that it had been generating. It's not only a masterful piece of film editing (constructed entirely from stock footage) but also a magnificent human drama contrived to perfection and I can recommend it to everyone (even those with an aversion to F1 racing) without hesitation. A must-see film for 2011 without a doubt.
  • One of my favourite Scorsese films, KING OF COMEDY, kicked off the festival and it was a joy to finally watch with a large audience. Hearing the cinema erupt in laughter on those truly black comedic beats re-affirmed my contention that - along with AFTER HOURS - Scorsese was a true pioneer of modern black comedy.
  • Closing night film, DRIVE was also a huge highlight. A full review of that film will come soon but rest assured that DRIVE is the coolest, sleekest noir I have seen in 15 years (my hesitancy to use the phrase neo-noir comes from a wanky stubbornness that sees the term misused almost constantly. I'm sure my full review will rant on about this). After the PUSHER trilogy (a must-see for those who enjoyed DRIVE), BRONSON & VALHALLA RISING, Nicolas Winding Refn just may be one of my favourite directors working today. DRIVE is a masterful piece of genre cinema, transcending its numerous reference points in much the same way BLACK SWAN did. This is simply one of my favourite films of 2011.
  • Second viewings of KILL LIST, THE FUTURE & TABLOID all immeasurably raised my opinion of them. KILL LIST in particular worked fantastically on a repeat watch. The degree of foreshadowing and detail in the first act specifically was enormously satisfying. All of these three films are strong contenders for my end of year top ten list (As I originally saw them in Sydney they won't be on my best of the fest list below).
  • FIRE IN BABYLON & EL BULLI also deserve a mention as examples of top documentary filmmaking although the latter film has a defiantly limited appeal. Its verite style will easily come across as boring for those not already interested in the subject matter.
  • TOMBOY was film way off many people's radars until it topped the Sydney Film Festival Critics poll simply due to the two critics' who saw it both giving it 5 stars. Upon catching it here in Melbourne I can say it is an utter delight of a film that examines some incredibly complex gender identity issues in the most tender way possible.
  • MAGIC TRIP was a classic example of misguided nostalgia porn. Boring, clumsily structured, with a lazy conclusion that would've been trite 20 years ago let alone in 2011. Doubly embarrassing due to director Alex Gibney's attendance. If I only knew of him from this film then I would consider him hosting a documentary master-class a joke. Luckily his other film in the festival, CLIENT 9 was stronger (but neither were a match for some of his past work).
  • Another documentary lowlight (and my dud of the festival) was THINK GLOBAL ACT RURAL. I'm not going to waste any more time detailing my hatred for this inept piece of cinema. If you want to read a swear heavy review click here.
  • Other than those two films there wasn't much that was truly terrible this festival (thank you twitter for warning me away from several that seemed dubious). There were a few disappointments that while intrinsically were OK films, they didn't live up to my expectations for one reason or another. SUBMARINE was enjoyable but way too derivative to be of real value. THE INNKEEPERS was another Ti West film that left me underwhelmed . SUPER was great fun but suffered from a late viewing so a rewatch will be necessary in the future. BEGINNERS was nice but frustratingly conventional in many aspects reminding me that I never really liked Mike Mills' first film THUMBSUCKER either. POLISSE was essentially a French episode of Law & Order: SVU that has been mystifyingly elevated to the level of profundity through Cannes exposure. ANOTHER EARTH may have played better for me if I wasn't viewing it so late in the festival but as it stands it felt underdeveloped ending on a note that suggested a much more interesting film (all this despite the presence of Ethan from LOST).
  • My biggest disappointment was Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN. It is a strong film, made with notable intention and effect but it has some wild tonal issues that just didn't work for me. Word from the US described the film as 'upsetting', 'nauseating', 'overwhelming' and 'visceral'. Frankly the film is none of those things. It is simply a very good, satirical, blackly comic examination of the human/animal opposition and how the facade of civilisation is used to justify horrific behaviour. Again I state that it's a very good film but not one that should be marketed as 'full on' and 'confronting'.
  • I'm not going to flog a dead horse and rant on here about the most significant lowlight of MIFF, the frequent technical issues. Many other writers have spent many words outlining the numerous projection issues that plagued MIFF. It was a bad year. Probably the worst in the 12 years I have been coming to MIFF. Hopefully it will be addressed and rectified. That is all I want to say on the matter.
  • The other non-film related lowlight of MIFF were - shock horror - the audiences! Film Festivals have always been a respite from the torment of rude and selfish multiplex crowds but this year it seems either some people have become lazy or there were plenty of patrons broadening their horizons with a first time film festival visit. Two sessions personally for me rank amongst the most infuriating festival experiences ever. One session - SHE MONKEYS (which was not very good at all) - contained a bunch of immature tools laughing throughout the whole film as if they were 8 years old (yes, two girls kissing is hilarious). Another session - JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI - contained a horrific couple who audibly mmmmd and ahhhhhd over every shot of food while discussing how they had tasted everything in the film. To those groups of people I kindly say 'Go to Hell!!'. I wish I was a shoosher. Add also to my shitlist everyone who ever decided eating chips in a cinema was a good idea. You are a fucking idiot and I wish to curse you with some form of Tell-tale Heart scenario where in every quiet moment for the rest of your life you hear someone crunching and crunching and crunching. You will eventually go crazy and stab yourself in the throat while I enjoy a cinema filled with respectful, intelligent, considerate patrons.
Below I am only listing 36 films in order of preference as I will leave out those I had already seen either up in Sydney or which were retrospective screenings. Check the critics poll for a bigger ratings drop from me as it will be including all the films I saw at both festivals which takes the number well above 60. Films that are not hyper linked to a review will hopefully be soon. Got some catch up to do as you can see.
27: X