The Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009 came to a close yesterday and it marked the end of another great year of films at the world's longest continually running film festival. Although this is only my second year covering the festival, it's nonetheless been fantastic so far and definitely something I'll continue on to do in coming years.
Although I ultimately didn't see as many films as I probably could have, I saw a fair amount that allowed me a broad range of types and genres. Below I have a provided a good, the bad and the ugly analysis of the films I saw; the good are those movies that I loved/liked, the bad are the those which I disliked/thought were okay and the ugly are those which I hated.
Without a doubt the two highlights of the EIFF 2009 were the Canadian zombie film with a twist that is Ponytpool, and the blaxploitation spoof/throwback Black Dynamite. Pontypool is effectively a zombie film, but it turns the horror sub-genre on its head to provide one of the most purely enjoyable movies I've seen in quite some time, and my absolute favourite film of the festival. Black Dynamite was also extremely entertaining, one of the fewest recent spoof movies to get the formula right.
Van Diemen's Land takes the prize for most powerful film of the festival in my books; a raw, visceral, uncompromising look at a gang of escaped convicts' quest for freedom and the struggle to survive by any means necessary (and I mean any means). The slow-burning, intriguing, and well performed detective drama The Missing Person featured an Oscar worthy performance from Michael Shannon. Sam Mendes' charming and loveable Away We Go saw the usually serious and slow-burning style of the once-theatre director take a turn for the sweeter, and he shows it's not a challenge for him to diversify.
Outrage was the only documentary I saw at the EIFF this year, and it's one I'm glad I picked out from the many that were showing. A shocking expose of closeted gay politicians who make the harshest laws against gay people, it's fun yet entertaining and funny yet informative. A really well made documentary that I'd recommend to anyone, even if politics isn't necessarily on your top ten list of areas of interest.
British director Duncan Jones' first film Moon won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film at the festival. I really liked it, but wasn't as blown away by it as a lot of people were. It's an interesting film with big ideas (that feel a little too big for the confines of its small scale), and a fantastic central performance (or rather, performances) from Sam Rockwell.
The heart-pounding war flick The Hurt Locker was a heck of a lot fun while still maintaining the seriousness of the subject matter of the wars that are going on in the Middle East. A lot of the film is a bit on the contrived side – a lot of the time it feels like everything was just set-up to have a tense, "against the clock" moment. But nonetheless powerful stuff. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee was one of those "on the fence" kind of movies for me, but I ultimately fell on the "liked it" side because of the great performances and stellar cast. A bit meandering and too long, but worth a watch.
Members of the Funeral is a Korean film dealing with such things as death and human connectivity. This was a disappointing film for me, sluggish and kind of boring with a pace that drags it's knuckles. There's some good performances and the issues it deals with are obviously important, but it just didn't work for me.
Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience was one I so desperately wanted to like to, but walking out of it I quickly realized I didn't have an enjoyable or rewarding experience watching it. Adult film star Sasha Grey makes her feature film début and she's quite brilliant here(especially for a first-timer). But Soderbergh's choppy storytelling and cold tone kept me at such a distance from the events taking place on-screen that any emotionality there may have been was lost on me.
Luckily there were only two films I flat-out hated at this year's EIFF; the controversial Antichrist and the super low-budget zombie film Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead. Lars Von Trier's Antichrist played at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and it received a love it, hate it or really bloody hate it reception from audiences. I fall on into the "hated it" camp, finding it a vile and pretentious piece of nonsense. Disgusting and totally pointless in my eyes, with only some beautiful cinematography and amazing performances to give it any worth.
Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead was undoubtedly the worst film I saw at the festival. It's an extremely low-budget horror-comedy that mixes Shakespeare's classic tale of love with the horror zombie sub-genre. There was virtually nothing enjoyable about this hokey, painfully unfunny and un-enjoyable movie that at 80-plus minutes totally outstays it's welcome.
For the most part, the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009 was an absolute pleasure to attend, with only a couple of films soiling the experience. It's an extremely well put together and organized film festival, celebrating a wide variety of motion pictures from it's home city right around the rest of the world. Even if it's unlikely because of the small scale of them, I really hope to see as many of these kinds of films as possible make their way to as many cinema screens as possible. If not, at least around these neck of the woods we'll have the EIFF to supply us each and every year!