The Edinburgh International Film Festival is upon us once again. Let's not dwell on last year's debacle, a complete farrago management-wise that still managed to provide some excellent movies thanks to its ever-vigilant and tasteful creative team. We can accept that the EIFF has never been the richest festival on the block, but last year's ridiculously drastic austerity measures simply went too far. Happily, the programming under the fantastic new festival director Chris Fujiwara shows the pendulum swinging back the other way, not towards lavish parties and A-list guests but towards a firm commitment to emerging talent, cult movies and other leftfield discoveries.
As a result, this year's roster is incredibly audacious; there are next to no budget-gobbling megastars, and a surprising amount isn't even in the English language, making Fujiwara's festival an exciting, new and very European-feeling addition to a crowded calendar. The festival starts tonight, and there'll be bulletins on this blog from myself (tweeting from @yo_damo) and Stephen Carty (@GoldenPun). In the meantime, here are ten picks from the EIFF's very eclectic catalogue, all seen and very recommended...
Killer Joe William Friedkin's jet-black comedy (pictured) is a very bold decision for opening night. Matthew McConaughey – who is simply on fire lately – stars as the title character in this adaptation of Tracy Letts's play, a hired assassin brought in by a small-time crook (Emile Hirsch) to kill his two-timing mother for her insurance money. A delicious mood of unpleasantness prevails; not only is Joe unhealthily interested in his employer's underage sister, there's a whole world of internecine agendas here, leading in a climax that's absurdly funny, shocking and ultraviolent in equal measure.
Grabbers Jon Wright's monster movie stands up well in the wake of Prometheus, dealing as it does with a race of slobbery tentacled space creatures that set up camp in a sleepy Irish coastal town and proceed to rip the heads off the inhabitants. Though it is nominally a comedy – the locals have to get paralytically drunk to combat the alien threat – there's still a surprising scariness that, together with terrific lead performances from Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley (plus a very effective and atmospheric score) make Grabbers much more than just a pastiche spoof.
Pusher Richard Coyle gets his own double bill, starring here in a well-presented remake of Nicolas Winding Refn's 1996 Pusher movie, relocated to London. Though it follows the original film beat for beat, Luis Prieto's version is its own beast, and Coyle certainly creates his own Frank, a low-level drug dealer whose goodtime lifestyle falls apart when a major transaction goes wrong. Little-known fact: you can't see it (thank God), but I'm in the club scene at the beginning, just after the fight.
Dragon This screened in Cannes last year under its original title, Wu Xia, and, while it never quite achieves true greatness, there's definitely a lot to enjoy here. It's part Crouching Tiger but more Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie edition), with Takeshi Kaneshiro as the forensic detective brought in to investigate what seems to be a simple case of self-defence when a simple shopkeeper kills two robbers. Like Robert Downey's meticulous sleuth, this is a man with a very visceral imagination, and there's a lot of fun to be had from the mental “reconstructions” that point to a whole other story.
God Bless America And God bless Bobcat Goldthwait, director of this delirious satire of the American Idol era. The most fully realised of Bobcat's films since Shakes The Clown, this stars Joel Murray as a middle-aged office worker who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, embarks on a killing spree with a teenage girl he meets along the way. Forget the plot and simply enjoy the savage one-liners that pepper the film like machine-gun fire. As does, incidentally, actual machine-gun fire.
The Imposter Bart Layton's film is one of those crafty modern documentaries that seems to play its hand up front, when in fact it is simply an overture to a far more creepy and unsettling story. It starts with the discovery of a boy in Spain, who claims to be a missing American teenager. He's visibly older, speaks with a French accent and dyes his hair blond, yet Frédéric Bourdin is embraced by his long-lost “family” in San Antonio. Why? That would be telling. Watch and shudder...
Shadow Dancer James Marsh has yet to make a bad film, although he's certainly made some unpopular ones, and Shadow Dancer is perhaps his most thoughtful and elegant. It's also nail-bitingly tense, with Andrea Riseborough as a young Northern Irish girl being forced to make some difficult decisions in the early days of the peace process. Clive Owen plays her MI5 handler in a film that owes more to the electric slow burn of Animal Kingdom than the fusty espionage world of Tinker Tailor.
Wrong If you liked Rubber, and most people didn't, Quentin Dupieux's latest is more of the same. But if you did like Rubber, hooray for us – Quentin Dupieux's latest is more of the same! With a tiny bit more of a story this time, it stars Jack Plotnick as Dolph Springer, a man who loses his beloved dog Paul. What follows is a masterclass in surrealism, with a dreamlike placidity that makes such nonsenses as indoor rain, a fir tree that turns into a rubber plant and William Fichtner with a slight Chinese accent seem not only normal but somehow even strangely moving.
The Ambassador The Danes have a way of pushing buttons, and this documentary is no exception, with director Mads Brügger coming on like an extraordinary cross between Ali G and Michael Moore as he explores the shamelessly corruptible political landscape of Africa. Can I put it better than LA Weekly's Karina Longworth, who says that Brügger “is sort of the VICE magazine version of Sasha Baron Cohen, as financed by Lars Von Trier”? No I can't.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man It's been around since 1989 but, like all good vintage cyberpunk fantasies, Shinya Tsukamoto's seminal, (almost literally) David Cronenberg-goes-heavy metal has yet to date, with its grim, Ballardian images of flesh and wire. Restored from the original negative by Tsukamoto himself – who will not only be attending the festival but the subject of a cool three-film retrospective – the film will be accompanied by its even more out-there 1992 sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.
5Word_Ryan Posted on Thursday June 21, 2012, 00:38
I'm gutted that Wrong has been pulled; I was really looking forward to it. Killer Joe, Grabbers and Pusher are all cracking films, and I quite liked Rent-a-Cat as well. Is it just me, or are there a lot more niche films now than when Hannah McGill ran the fest?
Acho Posted on Friday June 22, 2012, 12:58
Very glad to have your rundown of what to look out for! Actually in Edinburgh full time in time for the whole festival for once, so will be seeking out some of the above.
Scruffybobby Posted on Sunday June 24, 2012, 01:39
I picked out six out of of ten of these (have already seen Killer Joe, Pusher and Dragon - all of which were very much enjoyed) Will be seeing The Ambassador and Grabbers Monday night and God Bless America on Saturday. Hoping that the ones I've still to see won't dissapoint