#Cannes review: National Gallery

National Gallery (dir. Frederick Wiseman, 2014) 

National Gallery

Painting has only “the speed of light to tell its story,” explains one tour guide in veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, a study of the Trafalgar Square institution. Wiseman’s film is nearly three hours in length (still an hour shorter than his previous effort, 2013′s At Berkeley), but every frame seems to illuminate some distinctive element of the ethereal nature of the place, and even at the speed of light his portrait of an institution in motion has questions that ruminate afterwards. In his signature style, without talking heads, narration or explanatory context, Wiseman takes us straight into the London gallery itself and the inhabitants inside – both human and paint-form.

Read the rest of the review on CineVue here.

London Film Festival: Me Top 10 Picks

Many called the programme for this year’s London Film Festival the best line-up in years, and with many of the hot tips from this year’s Cannes, Venice and Toronto, I’m not likely to disagree.

I’ve been in student-land for the past four years (I think the last film I saw at the festival was Juno in 2007), so it’s the first time in ages I’ve been able to whet my appetite for what looks a smorgasbord of kitchen sink Brit-flicks, space dramas, vampire love stories and more.

The fest is bookended by two Tom Hanks films – Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips and Walt Disney bio Saving Mr Banks - with the actor promising to be in attendance for both. Alongside there’s mouth-watering UK premieres for the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davies, Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut directorial effort Don John.

Fresh from Venice, I’d give hearty recommendations to Under The SkinWe Are The Best, Philomena, Tom at the Farm, and Locke, but here’s my top tips of what I’m looking forward to sight unseen:

1. 12 Years A Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

12 Years a Slave (Photo: Film4)

Steve McQueen’s slavery epic is a lock on Toronto’s People’s Choice Award, with rave reviews suggesting an plumped-up Oscar winner in waiting. Based on black freeman Solomon Northrup’s true-life tale of his own kidnapping, when he was sold in slavery, its cast includes Benedict Cumberbund, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and a rare starring role for Chiwetel Ejiofor. McQueen has a astute visual sense, and his past two – Hunger and Shame - were two of the best films of their respective years. This looks like the film I desperately wanted Django Unchained to be.

2. Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle Chapitre 1 et 2(dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

Blue is the Warmest Colour

The stars of this year’s Palme d’Or winner stoked up some controversy last week when they revealed they’d never work withdirector Abdellatif Kechiche again, such was the intensity of filming. The story of one girl’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) sexual experience over several years, Blue is both intimate and epic, three hours long and featuring extended and ground-breaking scenes of lesbian sex, alongside knockout performances by its two leads (the other being Léa Seydoux), who both won special Palme d’Ors alongside the film’s director.

3. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Gravity was rapturously received in Venice and Toronto, but perhaps the biggest draw of this 3D space drama is the return of Alfonso Cuarón, whose last film, 2006′s Children of Men, turned out to be one of the films of the decade. Oh, and James Cameron’s calling this the best space film ever made.

4. The Double (dir. Richard Ayoade)

Richard Ayoade’s Submarine was a quirky coming of age tale and heralded a potential future star director. For his second film, the IT Crowd actor expands his talents with this Dostoevsky adaptation with hints of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Jesse Eisenberg gives twin performances as Simon, a long-suffering office clerk, and his cooler, charismatic doppelganger James.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch returns with a gothic vampire romance that happily runs in the “cult” strand at the LFF, with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddlestone along for the ride.

6. Starred Up (dir. David McKenzie)

Starred Up (Photo: Film4)

Named for when young offenders are transferred to adult prison after violent behaviour, David McKenzie’s film promises a raw new take on the British prison movie in a tradition that goes back to Alan Clarke’s Scum. Jack O’Connell of This is England and Skins fame plays the lead, ending up in the same jail as his father, with able support from the always dependable Ben Mendelsohn.

7. Heli (dir. Amat Escalante)

Heli

The story of one family torn apart by Mexican drug wars, Amat Escalante’s latest barrel of laughs won the best director prize in Cannes. Heli‘s ultra-violent adventures include decapitations, hangings, and apparently a scene with flaming testicles. Not one for the faint-hearted – or indeed one for males by the sounds of things.

8. At Berkeley (dir. Frederick Wiseman)

At Berkeley

A 4 hour documentary on American university education, you say? Well, Frederick Wiseman’s study of one college’s (the University of California, Berkeley) struggle with funding cuts stands as a state-of-the-nation piece that raises questions about the price of schooling, and the notion of tertiary education that echoes with debates here in the UK.

9. Ukraine is not a Brothel (dir. Kitty Green)

Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Australian director Kitty Green immersed herself in Ukraine’s controversial Femen movement for much of the past four years, documenting a fledgling feminist movement fighting authoritarianism and for its own identity.

10. The Epic of Everest (dir. John Noel)

Epic of Everest

The festival’s archive gala is the extraordinary original film record of the third attempt of Everest in 1924. The expedition ended with the deaths of two of its climbers, sparking fierce debate about whether the climbers reached the summit or not. Filmed in some of the planet’s harshest environments, and with some of the earliest documented footage of Tibetan life, it looks a towering achievement of early filmmaking.

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