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VIFF 2011: The Award-Winning & Buzz Films at This Year's Festival


With 275 feature films and more than 100 'shorts' from 75 countries across the globe from which to choose, how does the avid VIFF festival attendee know which films to choose for an optimal Festival-going experience?

Of course, each individual festival-goer attending this year's 30th annual Vancouver International Film Festival establish criteria for determining their personal Festival programme, be it Asian film, U.S. independents, European cinema, films from the Middle East, films with a focus on musical artists, or hard-hitting documentaries. Quite simply, there's a panoply of films from which to choose. How do you programme your own Festival attendance?

To provide assistance in the 'chore of choosing' VanRamblings will provide links, and external reviews, to the 35 or so buzz films arriving at VIFF30, from the award-winning films to the films which have enraptured the critics at other Festivals. Here we go with Part One. Hang on to your hats!

LE HAVRE, one of the buzz films at VIFF 2011

  • Alps: Loved by some (not to mention Xan Brooks' glowing Guardian review, or Adam Nayman's 9/10 review in the Toronto Star's Grid magazine, when it played TIFF), but not so much by others, if you loved last year's Best Foreign Film nominee Dogtooth, then this one's for you. Winner of the Best Screenplay award at the 2011 Venice Film Festival.

  • Las acacias: One of retired Village Voice film critic Amy Taubin's favourite films at this year's Cannes Festival, as is the case with Screen Daily's Allan Hunter and Variety magazine's Leslie Felperin (never easy to please), Las Acacias won the prestigious Camera d'Or at Cannes 2011, so you may want to place this one on your must-see VIFF list.

  • Back To Stay: Winner of the Golden Leopard Best Actress award for Maria Canale at this year's Locarno Film Festival, Back To Stay, whose original Spanish-language title is the rather more alluring Abre puertas y ventanas ("Open doors and windows"), also won the International Critics award, writes Neil Young in his rapturous, yet pithy THR review.

    BLACK BREAD, Spain's Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee

  • Black Bread: Here's another film which presents a conundrum. Where Variety critic Jonathan Holland loved it when it played at San Sebastian earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter's (THR) Neil Young found the film to be "stodgy, starchy and not particularly nutritious." Slant magazine's Fernando F. Croce largely agrees with Young, while this review praises the film (somewhat). Even so, Black Bread won Best Film, Best Director, and seven other 2011 Spanish Goya Awards. Update: As of Wednesday morning, Black Bread became Spain's Oscar nominee. Here's another, much more positive review of the film.

  • Bullhead: Variety magazine's Boyd van Hoeij was kind of over the moon about Bullhead, writing "Flemish scribe-helmer Michael R. Roskam certainly has cojones; his feature Bullhead (offers) a crossbreed of hormone-mafia thriller and intense character study, unusually ambitious for a first film ... a career-defining, powerfully physical lead perf by Matthias Schoenaerts and ace lensing by local widescreen wiz Nicolas Karakatsanis." THR's Natasha Senjanovic writes, "Michael R. Roskam's feature début is an emotionally driven tale of revenge, redemption and fate, and finds a gem in Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who leads a strong cast." Winner, Best First Feature, Montreal Fantasia 2011. Also won a Best Picture 'New Wave' award at Fantastic Fest (last evening).

  • Cairo 678: Débuting at Dubai Film Festival on the heels of the Egyptian spring earlier this year, both Variety's Jay Weissberg, who writes, "Rarely do issue films make audiences think as well as feel ... scripter-helmer Mohamed Diab tackles Egypt's hush-hush problem of sexual harassment with directness and nuance. Cairo 678 deftly connects three women from different social backgrounds, throwing in a terrifically dry-witted investigator, while forcing viewers to question assumptions and prejudices, refusing to offer up easy answers ..." and The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck who praises this timely, "superbly acted" winner of Best Actor & Actress prizes at Dubai 2011.

  • Circumstance: From the A- review by Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly, to this 5 out of 5 review and the this 4 out of 4 review in the San Francisco Chronicle — not to mention that Nikohl Boosheri, one of the stars of the film, grew up in Vancouver, and the film was the Audience award winner at Sundance this year, is there any doubt that you'll catch a screening of Circumstance at VIFF 2011?

  • Dragonslayer: John DeFore in THR writes, "sympathetic but unglamorous doc shows the back side of life as a low-level pro skateboarder. Dispiriting overall, inspiring little affection from viewers, but feels authentic and fair," while Variety's Robert Koehler chimes in with "A professional skateboarder's akimbo life is expressively translated into cinematic terms in Dragonslayer, filmmaker Tristan Patterson's poetic and astringent debut documentary." Sounds like the perfect film for Vancouver Park Board Commissioner / skateboarding enthusiast, Sarah Blyth. Winner, Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, South by Southwest (SXSW) 2011; Best International Feature, Hot Docs '11.

  • Elena: Languid is generally code for a film you want to stay away from, equated to something along the lines of "watching paint dry." IndieWire's Eric Kohn writes of Elena, the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize winner at Cannes this year, that the film's story is related with a glacial pace, while Variety's Justin Chang uses words and phrasing like "a wise and impeccably controlled drama ... astute visual sense ... the literate, acerbic screenplay manages to foreground moral viewpoints without turning didactic or compromising its realist texture," averring that the Un Certain Regard accolade "should parlay certain critical acclaim into a robust arthouse following abroad." Even given the above, VanRamblings still plans to give it a go.

  • The Front Line: As programmer Tony Rayns writes in the VIFF programme guide, "Jang Hun hits the première rank of Korean directors. No surprise that The Front Line is Korea's nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar." Meanwhile, THR's Maggie Lee is just as enthusiastic, writing, "One of Korea's biggest blockbusters this year depicts the bitter struggle between North and South to gain foothold of a hill at the tail-end of the 1950s civil war. Jang Hun's even-handed direction and Park Sang-yeon's traditional but finely-tuned screenplay instills the right measure of humanist anti-war sentiment and personal heroism, turning the fates of a small company of men confined to one hellish location into an exposé of how impersonal military operations literally makes mountains out of molehills."

  • Give Up Tomorrow: Variety's Ronnie Scheib calls the film explosive, while Gregg Kilday in THR writes about the standing ovation the film received at its première, while Simon Miraudo writes, "A stunning, unforgiving indictment of the corrupt justice system of the Philippines, GUT is as powerful as its acronym implies — it's a gut punch." Winner, Audience Award, Tribeca 2011; Audience Award, Sheffield 2011.

  • Goodbye: In his Cannes Festival review, IndieWire's Eric Kohn writes, "With his fifth feature, Goodbye, jailed Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof delivers a suspenseful and moving portrait of modern censorship in the country that has currently placed him in its governmental crosshairs." THR's Deborah Young writes, "This dark tale focuses on a young woman lawyer and openly attacks the blind repression of Iranian civil society." Alissa Simon provides some background to the production of the film, and the filmmakers, in her Variety review. Winner, Best Director, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2011.

  • In Darkness: THR's Todd McCarthy writes, "A robust, arduous, grueling drama. In the realm of Holocaust survival tales, Agnieszka Holland's story of suffering and almost inadvertent humanitarianism is harrowing, engrossing, claustrophobic and sometimes literally hard to watch," while Rick Groen in the Globe and Mail calls the film, "a suspenseful tale of jeopardy and a study in situation ethics" in his three star review. Martin Morrow in Grid Toronto give the film a 7/10. Poland's submission for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar.

  • Jess + Moss: The Festival programme says of the film, "Clay Jeter's visually arresting and achingly melancholic tone poem follows two cousins as they while away the final days of summer on a picturesque Kentucky tobacco farm. Evocative scenes unfold like fragments of faded memories in this unforgettable début." Tone poem. VanRamblings is there. Oh yeah, did we mention that it's a Sundance film. Variety's Robert Koehler writes, "Mark Stoeckinger's sound work is astonishing and densely structured, with a repeated use of the Debbie Reynolds' tune 'Tammy's in Love' as a weird kind of anthem." By the way, Tammy's in Love evokes for us the old Grandview Cinema at First and Commercial, where we caught a screening in 1957, and taps into the most romantic and nostalgic side of our nature! Our entire conception of romantic love is based on the film Tammy and the Bachelor, and Debbie Reynolds' melancholic but hopeful nature. We'll cry in the dark, for sure. Oh, we're so there! Winner, Best Narrative Feature, Dallas 2011.

  • Like Crazy: Last week, the Hamptons International Film Festival announced Sundance buzz film Like Crazy as their centerpiece film. Reviews? THR's John DeFore writes "Bruisingly bittersweet and made with the kind of tenderness that suggests a deep personal significance, this deeply felt first-love tale offers convincing performances and a fine-tuned storytelling sensibility." Variety's Andrew Barker gushes, "An exquisite, beautifully acted gem of a film, one that should serve as a prelude to bigger things for stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, as well as director Drake Doremus, the film deftly limns several years in a difficult transcontinental relationship, while managing an impressive balance between big-hearted romance and gimlet-eyed wisdom."

  • Martha Marcy May Marlene: The only film to generate as much buzz at Sundance this year as Like Crazy, with a breakout star generating as much heat (and Oscar buzz) as Felicity Jones, Martha's 22-year-old Elizabeth Olsen (yes, younger sister of 'those' Olsen twins) has impressed many with her performance in the Sundance hit turned Oscar prospect. Stuart Henderson writes in PopMatters, "An exquisite, terrifying, and marvelously vertiginous film, Martha is my favourite movie of the Festival, and may stand up as my favourite picture of the year." THR's David Rooney is equally enthusiastic as he writes, "A star-making turn from the Olsen twins' baby sis that will put her on the map, in writer-director Sean Durkin's mesmerizing feature début."

Well, that's it for Part One of our 'Awards and Buzz' Film Festival preview feature, where we've poured out our heart and attempted to provide you with insight into what you might wish to see at VIFF 2011. C'mon back on Wednesday for Part Two of our preview feature. See you here then.

(Click here for Part Two of our Festival 'introduction' buzz column)

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Full VR daily coverage of the Vancouver Film Festival may be found here.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 27, 2011 10:24 AM in VIFF 2011


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