London Film Festival shortlists nine titles for top prize

Posted by · 8:04 am · October 7th, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox I mentioned recently that the London Film Festival is upping its profile by adding a couple of new awards to its roster, including a crowning Best Film prize. This, I felt, was a positive development for a festival that becomes a richer, more rewarding cinematic showcase by the year. However, I must admit to being disappointed by the conservative approach they’ve taken to their new premier prize.

Festival director Sandra Hebron yesterday unveiled a shortlist of nine contenders for the inaugural Best Film award, and a mostly familiar bunch of titles it is:

“Balibo” (Robert Connolly)
“Bright Star”
(Jane Campion)
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
(Wes Anderson)
(Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
“Nowhere Boy”
(Sam Taylor-Wood)
“A Prophet”
(Jacques Audiard)
“The Road”
(John Hillcoat)
“A Serious Man”
(Joel and Ethan Coen)
“The White Ribbon”
(Michael Haneke)

The winner will be picked by a handpicked (and really rather excellent) jury headed by Anjelica Huston, including John Akomfrah, Jarvis Cocker, Matthieu Kassovitz, Charlotte Rampling and Iain Softley.

Props for the jury selection, but ho-hum to the shortlist. Some fine films there, no doubt. But from a festival programme boasting over 175 feature films from all walks of cinema, was it too much to ask that they dig a little deeper than merely listing a few of their glossiest gala premieres?

I understand the need for a shortlist. The jury can’t be expected to catch everything, after all — though in the space of a fortnight, I think it’s possible to tax them with a few more than nine films. But why not challenge them with a broader cross-section of the entire programme? Where are the documentaries, for starters? The less obvious world cinema? The experimental work to which the festival devotes an entire sidebar?

In the week or so of advance festival screenings I’ve attended so far, I’ve already seen numerous films more deserving of consideration (not to mention exposure) than, say, “The Road”: “The Portuguese Nun,” “Ajami,” “His & Hers,” and so on. (Not to mention several prestigious selections that I already caught in Venice.) They’ve picked a smart jury — I’m sure they could handle a riskier range of titles.

Ah, never mind. It’s a shortlist clearly designed to draw as much mainstream media attention to the award as possible — in which case, good for them. But I do think that for a festival to boil down such a carefully compiled lineup to such a cautious shortlist is a little self-demeaning.

Happily, the shortlist of titles for the festival’s long-standing Sutherland Trophy (awarded to first-time filmmakers) isn’t quite so by-the-numbers: “Ajami,” “Bunny and the Bull,” “Cold Souls,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “Lebanon,” “Metropia,” “Samson & Delilah,” “Shirley Adams,” “Wah Do Dem,” and “Wolfy.” (Odd that “Nowhere Boy” isn’t included here.)

Meanwhile, the Grierson Award, handed to the best documentary in show, will be awarded to one of the following:  “Defamation,” “45365,” “Have You Heard From Johannesburg: The Bottom Line,” “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” “Mugabe and the White African,” “Osadne,” and “Sergio.”

And finally, the contenders for the inaugural Best British Newcomer award: J. Blakeson (“The Disapperance of Alice Creed”), Leigh Campbell (writer, “Kicks”), Tom Harper (Director, “The Scouting Book for Boys”), Lindy Heymann (director, “Kicks”), Jordan Scott (director, “Cracks”), Jack Thorne (writer, “The Scouting Book for Boys”) and Malcolm Venville (director, “44 Chest”). (Trivia alert: Jordan Scott is the daughter of Sir Ridley.)

The festival kicks off on October 14.

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11 responses so far

  • 1 10-07-2009 at 8:16 am

    red_wine said...

    That’s a rather lame line-up. Can film-makers actually say that they don’t wanna compete for the prize, Guy? I don’t know how these things work but that might have been the case with some other Oscar titles(Precious, Up In the Air, An education) not wanting to compete so early on.

    We can handily cross off 3-4 titles from the list. The contest purely seems to be between the 2 Oscar hopefuls(Bright Star and A serious Man) and the 2 widely celebrated Cannes titles.

  • 2 10-07-2009 at 8:25 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I have no idea what the selection system is — perhaps you’re right. I must say I’m rather amazed that “Precious” isn’t on the list, given the amount of attention it’s attracting elsewhere. I’m taking it as an early sign that the film might not play as well on this side of the Atlantic as it will at home.

    I can’t imagine why any filmmaker would turn down such an innocuous honor, though — especially the more low-profile international names who could use the attention. I just think it’s laziness on the part of the selection panel.

  • 3 10-07-2009 at 8:35 am

    red_wine said...

    Its also the fact that if those 3 were included, that’s half your Oscar line-up right there. 3 months before things heat up, if these titles already go head to head(in front of a jury rather than a 6000 member academy), a film might squander some early advantage to some other film in the race. Especially as they will match off again and again at the PGA, BFCA & Oscars.

    This might all just be hokum but the 2 titles ultimately competing are both gracious, low-key films with uncertain futures in the race while the other 3 are gonna be extremely aggressive in their push.

  • 4 10-07-2009 at 9:12 am

    Me. said...

    I really really really really really really hope Micmacs wins!!! Best film of the toronto film festival!!!

  • 5 10-07-2009 at 9:24 am

    david said...

    Guy…have you seen Micmacs, and if so, what was your opinion of it??

    You would think that the first film by a visonary director like Jeunet would be receiving a bit more attention.

  • 6 10-07-2009 at 9:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Haven’t seen it yet, I’m afraid. Next week.

  • 7 10-07-2009 at 9:27 am

    david said...

    Meant to say the first film Jeunet has directed in a number of years.

  • 8 10-07-2009 at 12:02 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    a prophet or the white ribbon will probly win, but ill hope for the road. if fox wins the animation race is truely, truely on

  • 9 10-07-2009 at 4:13 pm

    André said...

    I’m gonna sound like a broken record for the second day in a row, but… anything that gives “The White Ribbon” a chance to win awards is fine in my book (generally speaking, obviously…)!

  • 10 10-07-2009 at 7:19 pm

    Me. said...

    I saw “Micmacs” at TIFF and let me say, it’s the best film of the year so far!!! It’s a great story with a strong message against arm corporations that makes you laugh hysterically and feel really good at the end. Jeunet’s style is also there, the colors, the excentric characters, the really creative cartoon-esque situations. Nothing short of brilliant! It also recieved a 5 minute standing ovation at TIFF and IMO it deserved the audience award instead of “Precious”.

  • 11 10-09-2009 at 12:05 am

    Glenn said...

    And then they throw in “Balibo”. A fine film for sure, but hardly the sort of film to be on the radar of anyone who isn’t Australian. It’s pretty much the only interesting choice on there.