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London Film Fest: ‘Fury’ Closes; ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Leviathan’ Are Big Winners

London Film Fest: ‘Fury’ Closes; ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Leviathan’ Are Big Winners

The film’s stars — Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs
and Ayers – walked the red carpet in Leicester Square but skipped out on the
after-party at a nearby club in Bloomsbury. Before the film began, BFI CEO
Amanda Nevill and LFF artistic director Clare Stewart appeared on stage to
introduce the “Fury” gang and declare the latest edition of the festival a resounding
success, citing the fact that attendance figures reached their highest mark
ever: 163,300, an increase of 7.5% from 2013.

Stewart,
in particular, has reason to feel proud of this year’s festival. She set about revamping
the LFF when she joined in 2012 from the Sydney Film Festival, shortening the
length from an unwieldy 16 to 12 days; widening the reach to new venues across
London; introducing competition strands; and dividing the program into themed
categories, including Love, Dare, Thrill, Laugh and Cult. Now that her changes have
had time to bed in, they can be deemed a success, giving the
festival a fresher, more vibrant feel and attracting bigger audiences.

As a
public festival not unduly focused on wrangling world premieres, Stewart’s Gala
selections, for the most part, had already debuted at other festivals: Bennet
Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy,” Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep” all played
Cannes, while Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater,” Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women &
Children” and Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Wild” arrived from Telluride and/or Toronto.

Opening-night film “The Imitation Game was a smart choice with its crowd-pleasing
subject matter (amazing Brit breaks fiendish Nazi code) and stars Benedict
Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley gracing the red carpet. But the reception from
most British critics was a bit sniffy. The Telegraph’s Tim Robey called it “too
calculated” and lamented a grating “lack of risk,” while The Guardian’s
Catherine Shoard expressed her opinion that “the script may prevent this hitting
the Oscars jackpot.”

I’m in their corner. And like Robey and Indiewire’s own Peter Knegt, I also believe the film lets Turing down, particularly after reading an earlier version of the screenplay that dealt far more openly
and honestly with his sexuality and betrayal by the British
establishment. But the film played well for London audiences, as it did in Toronto, and the LFF reviews are unlikely to put too much of a dampener
on its (or Cumberbatch’s) awards-season chances– so long as it turns into a hit.

“Whiplash”
was the festival’s word-of-mouth buzz title
, earning a standing ovation after
its premiere at the 1600-seat Odeon Leicester Square; it was the film that people adored or wished they had seen. “Mommy” and Damian Szifron’s “Wild
Tales” (another Cannes arrival) also played like gangbusters in front of enthusiastic
LFF audiences, while “Testament Of Youth” (review here) was the new British title
receiving the biggest boost, alongside “The Falling.” The latter — Carol Morley’s psychodrama
about a fainting epidemic at a British girl’s school in the 1960s —
received five-star raves from The Times and The Guardian (but a more muted
reaction in other quarters). It won’t be released in the UK until
spring 2015 and thus won’t be vying for awards this year, but “Testament Of
Youth” could garner some BAFTA heat with a decent campaign and
box office. It’s due for UK release in January.

The
biggest boost from the LFF’s own awards went to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s
Leviathan,”
which further cemented its position as a frontrunner for the Best
Foreign-Language Film Oscar by taking
Best Film in the competition strand. When veteran film producer Jeremy Thomas, president of the official competition jury, announced the award, he praised the jury’s unanimous choice: “Its grandeur and themes moved all of us in the same way.” It’s an idiosyncratic award in that only 12
titles from the LFF’s 270-strong line-up are even selected to compete, and it’s
a rather random selection, ostensibly geared toward more adventurous films. Other films in Competition this year included Mauritania Oscar submission “Timbuktu,” “The Falling” and “The
Duke Of Burgundy,” Peter Strickland’s elegantly perverse S&M drama which
ended up one of my favorite films at this year’s LFF (along with previously viewed “Whiplash” and “Mommy”). 

Conspicuous
by its absence, even as the festival’s Surprise Film as many had expected (that honor went to “Birdman”), was James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking
biopic “The Theory Of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. It’s been heavily screened and is being touted as a challenger to “The Imitation Game” in
the awards-season long game (thanks to its similar focus on a peculiar British maths’
genius), but it could be that Working Title honchos Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and/or
Universal decided to bypass the LFF altogether rather than take up an offer to
follow their opening-night rival. In the long run, it may turn out to
be a wise move.

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