Damo's 2010 Festival Round-Up

Image for Damo's 2010 Festival Round-Up

Our Damon Wise spends much of his year traipsing the globe, reporting from Film Festivals big and small so that you can get the very first word on the films that are going to rock your world in the months that follow. Damon regularly risks life, limb and liver to watch every film going and talk to all the people involved – so here is his round-up of the Festival scene in 2010 in case you still need to catch up.

This year's festival may well be remembered as one of the strongest in its history. Under new boss John Cooper, the festival opened with some high-profile duds - dreary recession drama The Company Men for starters - but quickly threw up some unexpected treasures.

Annette Bening's awards-season journey started here with The Kids Are All Right, as did Jennifer Lawrence's with the Jury Prize-winning Winter's Bone. Michael Winterbottom's punishing Jim Thompson adaptation The Killer Inside Me made its debut, alongside Rodrigo Cortes's gruelling Buried and the dazzling is-it-a-documentary-or-isn't it Catfish.

Highlights for me were Banksy's brilliant art exposé Exit Through The Gift Shop, the world premiere of Chris Morris's Four Lions and the Duplass brothers' very sweet Cyrus. But this is a festival that keeps on giving: still to come (here) in 2011 are such varied delights as Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, Lucy Walker's terrifically moving Waste Land, Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom and Eli Craig's laugh-out-loud-funny Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, a horror spoof that Sony Pictures must NOT be allowed to squander.

Although it remains one of the world's key festivals, Berlin has been floundering for years, and the 2010 edition did nothing to win over its critics. A few key titles went to Sundance first, and many of the competition entries - particularly Pernille Fischer Christense's moving drama A Family and Thomas Vinterberg's Submarino, a well-played story of troubled siblings - are perhaps too intimate to get distribution here any time soon. Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island aside, the festival was chiefly notable for the world premiere of Roman Polanski's middlebrow political thriller The Ghost Writer, while the director was still under lock and key thanks to the miracle of Swiss policing. Polanski's film, which took the Golden Bear for direction (the first prize went to Turkish entry Bal), was also a surprise winner at the recent European Film Awards, and if its good fortune continues into the new year, it will at least give the festival organisers one thing to brag about.

The 2009 Cannes was so strong - Tarantino! Haneke! Von Trier! - that this year's festival was bound to seem flat.

Though it was lacking in event movies - Terrence Malick's Tree Of Life was the kind of film it desperately needed - there were still some strong movies in the competition, including Mike Leigh's Another Year, Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods And Men and Im Sangsoo's The Housemaid. Hollywood got a look-in with Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Doug Liman's Fair Game, but, cult-wise there were few gems in any of the festival's strands.

Gregg Araki's Kaboom was slight but funny, ditto the Danish oddity Sound Of Noise and the hilarious (well, to me) killer-tyre flick Rubber, while Jorge Michel Grau's cannibal drama We Are What We Are arguably didn't get the exposure it perhaps deserved. One film not wanting for attention, though, was Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. "Thai Joe", as the director is informally known, made his leap from the second-division into the Cannes premier league with this, a film so cryptic that even the (many) critics who liked it couldn't even pretend to understand it.

Needless to say, jury head, Tim Burton, to whom narrative sense is a foreign country anyway, saw a kindred spirit at work and felt moved to give it the Palme D'Or.

The blight that swept most festivals this year - the lack of good, strong movies - especially seemed to affect Edinburgh this year. That and the recession (there were significantly fewer In Person live Q&A events) gave the EIFF even less to work with than usual, so, rather than flam us, the organisers made a bold bid to highlight the scarcity of shoo-in titles with a slogan that asked, "What will you discover?"

Press coverage of the festival was not kind, but that's largely because of the popularity of the EIFF's video library, which encourages journalists to be more removed from the public than usual. Punters were much more intrepid, filling screenings for the flawed but irresistible Soulboy and the charming Skeletons, a surreal, low-budget comic drama that was rather entertainingly described by one reviewer as "Inception on the dole".

Though it hasn't yet been given the credit for it, the EIFF's main claim to fame this year was the UK unveiling of Gareth Edwards' Monsters, which perhaps epitomised everything a smaller festival like this really ought to be about.

Although it's one of the more costly festivals, Venice has recovered swiftly from its annus horribilis of two years ago, which, despite being star-free and 92 per cent rubbish, still managed to launch awards-season favourites The Wrestler and The Hurt Locker.

Its place at the start of the awards slog means that it attracted quite a few heavweights back this year, including Darren Aronofky's Black Swan and Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which, controversially won the Golden Lion from the Quentin Tarantino-headed jury.

It was a good year for American cinema here, with Ben Affleck's The Town and Kelly Reicherdt's Meek's Cutoff representing the alpha and omega of the US films presented (not, however, including Vincent Gallo's extraordinary Promises Written On Water).

Black Swan arguably emerged as the most broadly popular film at the festival, but close second was Francois Ozon's Potiche, a great, camp comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Controversy, meanwhile, came from the homespun gangster yarn Vallanzasca, a great, brutally efficient biopic about the 70s rise and 80s fall of a charismatic Milanese criminal.

Toronto's positioning both in terms of calendar and geography mean that it has almost literally displaced Cannes as Hollywood's festival of choice.

For start, it's not run by the French. But more crucially, it's not a competitive festival, so no film goes home too bloodied, and its audiences are famously soft. This explains the good reviews for the somewhat underwhelming remake of Brighton Rock, which won't get such kid-glove treatment when it comes out here, and, more alarmingly, the inexplicable praise for Clint Eastwood's simply awful afterlife drama Hereafter.

The King's Speech rightly started its march to victory here, followed closely by Danny Boyle's 127 Hours and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. The sheer size of the festival, however, means that many great films were overlooked.

John Cameron Mitchell's tremendous, beautifully restrained Rabbit Hole didn't get much press, despite the presence of Nicole Kidman, and Richard Ayoade's lovely coming-of-age yarn Submarine was perhaps too far away from its comfort zone to really resonate. Kim Jee-Woon's gripping I Saw The Devil also failed to make waves, despite some extreme violence and a towering performance by OldBoy star Choi Min-Sik as a deranged killer.

San Sebastian lucked out last year with the premiere of Argentinian film The Secret In Their Eyes, which went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, displacing the favourite, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon.

This year, there were no such Spanish-language treats, although it's perhaps no coincidence that the winning film, Peter Mullan's NEDS (pictured), struck a chord with local audiences. Starring newcomer Connor McCarron, NEDS (which stands for Non-Educated Delinquents) is a violent tale of self-sabotage and redemption, which, controversially for a Catholic country, climaxes in a stand-up fight with Jesus.

Making up for a largely obvious but certainly respectable selection, the festival provided a fantastic sidebar in the form of a Don Siegel retrospective, with such little-seen delights as the extremely rare Baby Face Nelson (1957) and 1974's lesser-spotted The Black Windmill, a dark kidnap drama starring Michael Caine.

Frightfest has been slowly but surely building its brand these last few years and is fast building a reputation as a great launchpad for genre films of all kinds.

Though raw horror is its stock in trade, and the likes of the recent I Spit On Your Grave remake continue to provide the core attraction for its loyal audience, much more varied and ambitious movies can be found over the five-day event.

This year, these fringe delights included the giallo tribute Amer, Australian western Red Hill and Simon Rumley's bold, nerve-touching Red, White And Blue. But the jewel in Frighfest's selection this year was one that never screened - Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film, a dark, disturbing story of exploitation in a sick, underworld porn scene, which was thwarted by Westminster Council, who refused to allow it be shown unrated, without a heavy series of mandatory, BBFC-ordered cuts.

In its place, Buried was shown, but there were few walkouts, with one punter asking for his money back after a full hour, claiming he'd, er, "fallen asleep". Nice try, mate.

The perception of the LFF as a sort of "greatest hits" package has been somewhat challenged, and although there is a heavy percentage of films from other festivals - opening and closing films Never Let Me Go and 127 Hours both premiered elsewhere - it may well be one of the most audience-friendly and accessible events on the calendar.

And while the galas were as sparkling as ever, it was the smaller movies that made an impression on me. Some personal highlights were Errol Morris's fantastic doc Tabloid (bottom right), which was accompanied by his irrepressible producer Mark Lipson; the Lebanese drama Stray Bullet (bottom left), which came with its modest director Georges Hachem and his amazing DoP Muriel Aboulrouss; and Bent Hamer's touching Home For Christmas, which was followed by a fantastic impromptu Q&A session/one-woman show by actress Nina Andresen Borud in the French Institute's cafe.

British cinema was well served too, with Jamie Thraves' low-budget character piece Treacle Jr attracting a sizeable crowd to the BFI Southbank, followed by a warm, funny chat with its nervous director and his even more attention-shy cast.