British Rule in North America
Toronto International Film Festival 2010
Four days into the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one thing is very clear: British movies are on a roll. Old stalwarts Mike Leigh (Another Year), Ken Loach (Route Irish) and Stephen Frears (Tamara Drewe) all presented their films at Cannes in May, but this was the first time North Americans got the chance to see them, and so far the response has been unreservedly positive (with the Loach still to come).
Reviews were more mixed for Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (scripted by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald), but there were plenty of tears at the screening I saw, and everyone is raving about the performances from Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. A strange kind of sci-fi story – but unlike any sci-fi movie you can picture – this unfolds in an imaginary past, from the mid 1970s through to the early twenty first century. It looks like the Britain we all remember, but it is a radically different society due to a scientific breakthrough that Romanek keeps teasingly mysterious for quite some time. More on this when it opens in January, but it will be an upset if Mulligan isn’t in the running for another Academy Award nomination.
You will also have to wait til January (or at least, the London Film Festival) to see 127 Hours, the new film by Garland and Macdonald’s old partner, Danny Boyle – but believe me, it’s a film you’re going to be hearing a lot about. Two years ago Boyle presented Slumdance Millionaire to a rapturous reception at TIFF, and the momentum propelled the film to a surprise box office bonanza and more Oscars than we can remember. Well, Danny has surpassed himself this time round. 127 Hours takes the true story of Aron Ralson, a rock climber and mountain biker who suffered a tragic, freak accident out in the middle of nowhere, and turns it into a blisteringly intense, thrilling and imaginative movie. It’s what the Americans would call a “triumph of the human spirit” picture, except they probably wouldn’t include the scene when Aron (brilliantly played by James Franco) tries to offset dehydration by drinking his own urine in that definition. (“It’s no slurpee,” he admits.)
I’ve been a Boyle fan since Shallow Grave, but this one seems to me his best movie since Trainspotting. It’s elemental in scope, but as contemporary and plugged in as anything he’s done, and despite the grisly subject matter, it’s as exhilarating as Slumdog. (Many of the same crew worked on this one, including Bollywood composer AR Rahman and dp Antony Dod Mantle.)
I haven’t managed to catch Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech yet, but the consensus here is that Colin Firth is a shoo-in for a second Oscar nomination for his portrait of King George VI.
I don’t see any impending Oscars for Rowan Joffe’s remake of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, but Roland’s boy has pulled it off, it’s a terrifically entertaining gangster story, smartly updated to the Mods vs Rockers era of 1964. Sam Riley’s sociopathic Pinky rides a Vespa (which he’s nicked), and Helen Mirren’s motherly red-head Ida cautions her none-too-sophisticated employee Rose (Andrea Riseborough) to get on the pill if she intends to stay married to a murderer.
Greene wrote a damn good story and Joffe has seized on the colourful gallery of supporting characters (the cast includes John Hurt and Andy Serkis) and isn’t afraid to play up the melodrama. I wouldn’t want him to try his hand at The Third Man next, but I’d be happy to see his stab at Our Man In Havana, or maybe The Heart Of The Matter.
And if Joffe does decide to tackle Greeneland again one day, perhaps he could find a role in it for poor Steve Coogan. Is he the frustrated clown who wants to play Hamlet, or a canny actor only playing a frustrated clown? That’s the question you find yourself wondering about watching Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, in which Coogan plays Coogan to Rob Bryden’s Rob Bryden, as the two friendly/competitive comics tour half a dozen Northern hotel-restaurants for an Observer article.
Presented at TIFF as a feature film mock documentary, but destined to be screened in three parts on the BBC later this year, The Trip is very simple but absolutely hilarious, and surprisingly poignant in places. The mileage these two guys can get out of their Michael Caine impressions is hard to believe. It blows Casey Affleck’s painful and shambolic Joaquin Phoenix mock?-doc? I’m Still Here right out of the water. At last Coogan has found a good movie role – how ironic it’s playing himself on TV.
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