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Edinburgh preview
Posted on Sunday June 14, 2009, 14:14 by Damon Wise

Ten films I've seen and recommend (in alphabetical order)...

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, US)
Mottola's coming-of-age story is one of my films of the year, an absolute joy. Jesse Eisenberg plays a college grad whose father's demotion scuppers his European vacation plans, forcing him to take a summer job at a rundown funfair. The comedy is broad and bittersweet in equal measures, and despite the beautifully observed early-80s period setting, its appeal is surprisingly timeless.

Exam (Stuart Hazeldine, UK)
Cube meets The Apprentice in this excellent low-budget debut (pictured) from British writer-director Hazeldine. Some time in the near future, eight candidates apply for a high-powered job, and on entering the exam room find only a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. The stage is set for some venal power-play, and, amazingly, Hazeldine sustains the single-room tension without cheating.

Fear Me Not (Kristian Levring, Denmark)
The remake rights should be snapped up straight away for this very, very gripping Danish thriller, in which a bored, married man (Ulrich Thomsen) becomes a guinea pig for a drug-testing scheme and awakens a strange and dangerous part of his personality in the process. The punchline is a kicker, made all the more powerful by Thomsen's intrepid performance and Levring's taut direction.

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK)
Arnold's follow-up to Red Road, to my mind, beats Ken Loach at his own game. All the things I found missing from Looking For Eric – strong, conflicted characters with real, complex emotions – I found here in this sometimes painful story of a 15-year-old girl from a council estate who falls for her mother's lover. Though it flirts with cliché it never fails to feel true; an amazing achievement.

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, US)
Bigelow's simmering war story finally has a UK release date (August sometime), so if you miss it here you won't wait have too long. The Iraq setting shouldn't put you off; The Hurt Locker is a truly nail-biting, sensory experience, in which we follow the exploits of a US bomb disposal led by a thrill-addicted maverick (Jeremy Renner). Dark, bloody and provocative, it's not to be missed.

Mary And Max
(Adam Eliot, Australia)
Wallace and Gromit will never seem the same after this often moving Claymation, in which a young Australian girl becomes pen-friends with a neurotic, middle-aged New Yorker. The comedy turns very black at times, and often pivots on the very concept of the word 'inappropriate', but for broader minds this is a really rather wonderful story of friendship and, paradoxically, loneliness.

Moon (Duncan Jones, UK)
While you're reading this, America is getting very, very excited by Jones's sci-fi debut in its limited release (it goes wider on Friday), as well they might do! We get it in July, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Sam Rockwell plays a moon miner who has finished his three-year shift and is looking forward to going home, only to find out that his employees haven't been entirely straight with him...

Rudo Y Cursi (Carlos Cuaron, Mexico)
Personally, I hate football, which is perhaps why I enjoyed this rude and rough-edged soccer comedy from Cuaron-Cuaron-Del Toro's Cha-Cha-Cha company. Reteaming Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna from Y Tu Mama Tambien, it's a fantastically daft but surprisingly hard-edged satire on the way the sporting dreams of working-class kids are exploited and dashed by major teams.

Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz, France)
To be honest, Vinyan perhaps wouldn't trouble my top ten of any year on story alone, but, visually, it's an extraordinary film that has stayed in my mind since Venice last year. Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Béart play a couple that go looking for their missing child, who was swept away by a tsunami during a holiday in Thailand. The story is a little tough to swallow but the images are haunting.

White Lightnin' (Dominic Murphy, UK)
For my last choice – le scandale du festival! – it was either this or Antichrist. Antichrist I blogged about recently, so I'll go for White Lightnin', an easier film on the surface but no less difficult to digest. With a fantastic lead turn by Edward Hogg, it's a relentless film that also deals with human desires and frailties, in this case those of a white-trash Appalachian folk dancer who becomes obsessed with the men who killed his father.

Ten films I haven't seen but come highly recommended (in alphabetical order)...

Baraboo (Mary Sweeney, USA)
Mary Sweeney, who edited and produced ex-husband David Lynch's recent astonishing run (Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Dr and INLAND Empire) makes her directing debut with this self-penned feature. From the trailer, this is very much in The Straight Story camp, with a little hint of Twin Peaks, dealing with the daily life of a community in the town of Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Big River Man (John Maringouin, USA)
Empire editor Mark Dinning can't wait to see this doc, for some reason. It's about Martin Strel, an endurance swimmer from Slovenia, who swims rivers – the Mississippi, the Danube, and the Yangtze to date – to highlight pollution in the world. The film follows his bid to swim the Amazon, drinking two bottles of wine every day and dodging those spiny fish that swim up your cock.

Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, USA)
Another film I missed at Sundance, Black Dynamite sparked a lot of interest from UK buyers with its apparently meticulous but affectionate spoofing of the blaxploitation era. Set in 1972, it stars Michael Jai White as a former CIA agent, who is called back into the law game when the Mafia kills his brother, then floods the black community with heroin and really bad malt liquor.

Crying With Laughter (Justin Molotnikov, UK)
I've heard very good things about this movie, making its world premiere in Edinburgh, which is about a stand-up comedian who encounters an old friend after a gig, and finds his life spinning out of his control. Festival director Hannah McGill has this to say about it: “Crying With Laughter is a vibrant and savagely funny film that has been put together with a breezy confidence that bodes well for its makers' futures in the industry. With an absolutely stellar central turn from Stephen McCole... it's a gripping film and one that we are most proud to premiere at EIFF.” So there!

Le Donk (Shane Meadows, UK)
It wouldn't Edinburgh without a new Shane Meadows film, and he's back with an ultra low-budget film shot in just five days without a script. As played by Paddy Considine, Le Donk is an ex-rock drummer and ex-builder turned roadie who has decided to turn fledgeling Nottingham rapper Scorz-Aye-Ze (himself) into a superstar – and this fly-on-the-wall mockumentary charts his progress.

The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Steven Soderbergh's latest falls into his “one-for-me” category, and though I give him big props for spending his own cash doing something arty instead of wasting it on cocaine and hookers, I'm not always wild about the results (Full Frontal 2? No thanks!). This, though, sounds like it might be fun, casting porn star Sasha Gray as a high-class call girl whose life is starting to come unstuck.

The Missing Person (Noah Buschel, USA)
I missed this one in Sundance too, and heard good things about it; it sounds to be a neo-noir in the style of Blood Simple or Bound, with a hard-boiled, Spillane-ish atmosphere. Revolutionary Road star Michael Shannon plays a private eye who is hired by a businessman to tail a mysterious stranger and his travelling companion, but soon founds out that all is not what it seems.

Nollywood Babylon (Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal, Canada)
Another documentary, this one about the chaotic Nigerian film industry. If Not Quite Hollywood, the Ozploitation doc, had you salivating over lost cult treasures, this portrait of the thriving straight-to-DVD trade there should have you combing East London for titles like Stronger Than Pain and films in which sexual deviancy, petty crime and comic dwarf double acts positively flourish.

Stella (France, Sylvie Verheyde)
I want to see this film for one reason only: Benjamin Biolay. I met this French rock star a few months ago, and I'm very interested to see how his Gainsbourg-esque persona translates to the screen. He plays a boozy father (I think), in this 1977-set coming-of age story, in which a Parisian 11-year-old struggles with school, taking a few life-lessons from a barfly in her parent's pub.

Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, Mexico)
There are several intriguing Mexican titles in the EIFF this year, and I'm most looking forward to this one. Part road movie, part gangster film, it tells the interweaving stories of illegal immigrants who meet and bond on their way to start new lives in the USA. It's had nothing but good press since its Sundance debut, and first-timer Fukunaga looks to be a name to watch. 

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1 Scruffybobby
Posted on Saturday June 20, 2009, 00:13
Just saw The Hurt Locker. An excellent film with a top drawer performance from Jeremy Renner. He really ought to be a bigger star than he is. I thought he was great in 28 Weeks Later as well. Hopefully this will rasie his profile a bit. Will be seeing Moon tomorrow - Duncan Jones was interesting in his interview with Mayo and kermode so hopefully he'll be on hand for a bit of Q&A.

2 Acho
Posted on Saturday June 20, 2009, 02:08
Scruffy, I am all sorts of jealous! Moon and The Hurt Locker were the two films I wanted to see the most. I might (only *might*) make it to Edinburgh during next week, so will try to make the second screenings of each work for me (although second Moon is sold out too), but I shall have to live vicariously until then!

3 richCie
Posted on Saturday June 20, 2009, 19:16
wish i was there, hurt locker and moon being my two most looked forward to, Exam, Fear Me Not and Fish Tank are all on my radar as well. any news on Mesrine? trailer looks pretty fun but i was expecting a bit more depth than it appears to have.

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