Over the past two-plus weeks, we’ve had a new review for each movie we saw at the 2014 AFI Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in Hollywood. Over a span of six days, ten films were seen, a full 13.3% of the features screened at the festival. AFI produced their own awards, but only two of their winners crossed our path. With three titles almost guaranteed to make my personal Top Ten for the year, I figured I’d hand out some awards for the films I’d seen. They’re far less prestigious and won’t ever be placed on a trailer or poster advertising the film in question, but they’re “real to me, dammit.”
Piece of Wardrobe I Most Covet
WINNER: The leather jacket worn by Lee Sun-kyun in “A Hard Day.”
It was lust at first sight. If I thought director Kim Seong-hoon knew the answer, I would have asked him what the label was during his Q&A afterward. I hunted down an iPhone app called ASAP54 which uses facial recognition software for clothes, in attempt to procure one for myself. No dice. I scoured eBay to find an equivalent and ended up with something that certainly isn’t the same and I know I’ll be disappointed with. While everyone is still clamoring about Ryan Gosling’s white satin scorpion bomber from “Drive,” I’ll be lamenting the loss of Lee’s outerwear.
Best Sports-Related Documentary
Like the eternal Most Valuable Player award debate, I wondered about the true definition of this category. Unfortunately, I created it and I still had difficultly coming up with what it is I wanted to award. The AFI Fest showed very few documentary features during the festival and I happened to see two of them, both related to sports in some way. Therefore, they needed to be pitted against each other. I gave both the same Nest-rating. It just comes down to what you want from a sports documentary, as they excel in different aspects. “Red Army” is the better movie about sports. “Happy Valley” is the better made documentary about its subject. Both are quality films.
WINNER: Kim Seong-hoon, “A Hard Day”
The way Kim’s action-thriller weaves together the combination of comedy and tension is masterful. It provided the biggest laughs of both relief and anxiety of the festival, all while it roars back to make sure you start scooting up toward the edge of your seat again in the next scene. The infusion of humor was a welcome addition to the familiar Korean flawed cop drama, making it stand out against its brethren. Kim’s script manipulates the audience like a marionette, but unlike Pinocchio, you’re happy to be bound by strings.
WINNER: Shahram Mokri, “Fish & Cat”
After reading the review, you’d probably think this was a Cobainer – I mean, a no-brainer – and you’d be right. The preparation and risk of the one-shot technique Mokri uses to dazzle viewers in his mind-bending take on a subdued slasher film is jaw-dropping. I mean that in the literal sense. My jaw tends to fall down in times of awe and this reflexive action occurred multiple times throughout the screening. Aplomb is not as significant a word for how Mokri succeeds in his experiment, but yet it seems as perfectly fitting as his work behind the camera on “Fish & Cat.”
WINNER: The dialogue-free, subtitle-less, all sign-language “The Tribe”
While I wanted to avoid the “everyone gets a trophy disease” of these awards, I created this as a special shout-out to “The Tribe.” Mokri would rightfully win if he didn’t even more deservedly win my “Best Director” category. It’s why I put “Best Experiment” below it, so you’d have no doubt which was more significant and impactful. These are essentially my first words on “The Tribe” since my review was in pictures in honor of the film’s concept and it should be stated outright that writer-director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has crafted an excellent film around a beautiful idea. You are never bored and never lost while never knowing exactly what is being said between the characters on-screen. It proves that the context of the conversation is paramount to the details. It’s the first film of the emoji age.
Best Male Performance
WINNER: Leland Orser, “Faults”
Out of ten films, I believe the only time I mentioned being truly taken with a performance was in the one movie from the festival I truly hated. Perhaps it was in search of trying to find something to praise, but Orser’s turn as a washed-up and broken down cult deprogrammer is certainly meritorious. His voice is reminiscent of Edward Norton’s and he uses it to elevate the material to the degree of almost making it watchable. After just bit parts in bigger movies, Orser’s time as a star should prove beneficial for his future. Casting directors just need to make it through “Faults” in order to hire him.
Best Female Performance
WINNER: Yana Novikova, “The Tribe”
Even if I hadn’t chosen to use pictures for my review of “The Tribe,” I don’t believe Novikova’s performance was really hanging around in my mind immediately after the film. I originally figured this spot would belong to Orser’s “Faults” co-star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but when contemplating the deaf actress’ performance again, it shined just a little bit more than Winstead’s. All the actors in “The Tribe” have a difficult job to do by conveying wordless emotion, but Novikova has the largest arc and most dramatics to relay, as her character befalls the greatest tragedy. The emotions she’s able to express with her hands, sometimes with a forceful snap and slapping of flesh against flesh, is altogether heartbreaking and enthralling. Though the creative premise will draw eyes to the film, it’s Novikova who keeps them there.
Director Whose Next Movie I’m Most Anticipating
WINNER: Damian Szifron, “Wild Tales”
Alongside “A Hard Day” and “Fish & Cat,” “Wild Tales” is the other AFI Fest film which will probably make its way onto my 2014 Top Ten list. What earmarks Szifron as this category’s champion is a little bit of the unknown. Whereas “A Hard Day” is Kim Seong-hun’s first feature, I have a feeling what he provides in the movie is probably the same kind of effort he’ll continue to bring. The film is expertly crafted, but not wholly unique. Mokri’s “Fish & Cat” is downright astounding, but even though I hinted I’m looking forward to his next movie in my review, it’s similar to expecting David Simon to top “The Wire” with “Treme.” It’s just too daunting. Szifron only hints at his potential prowess with “Wild Tales” because it’s not one full feature-length story. However, his gift is on full display with each six of the film’s segments. If he somehow traverses the same path as the debut of other Latin American filmmakers, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu or Fernando Meirelles, to whom I’d compared him, we’ll be in for a treat.
Blu-ray I Can’t Wait to Own
WINNER: “A Hard Day”
This is my de facto “Best Picture” category. There were no two hours in the darkness during AFI Fest that I relished like the time spent with “A Hard Day.” I believe it can serve as the gateway drug for people to watch more Korean films and I hope my disc gets passed around and borrowed as much as a good non-Kindle book. In fact, I already pre-ordered it from YesAsia.com. International shipping can’t be fast enough.
Movie I Most Want People to See
WINNER: “Fish & Cat”
This is the film which proves film festivals can be eminently rewarding. While I probably would have seen my other two favorite films from the Fest at some point, due to a “Wild Tales” recommendation (albeit from a previous festival) and “A Hard Day” being the type of Korean film I actively seek out, I’m guessing there’s no way I would have ever known “Fish & Cat” even exists. It was such a total surprise to me that when I had to leave to go to the bathroom early on, I debated as to whether I should go back into the theater. This is the type of movie that requires word-of-mouth, not the latest Marvel release based on an unsung property. While “A Hard Day” is the movie I can’t wait to own on blu-ray, “Fish & Cat” is the one I hope even gets a release. It’ll take a boutique label with the heft of Criterion to make sure the movie receives the number of eyeballs it deserves. Until then, I’ll pound the podium like Dennis Green to ensure its ass is properly crowned.
Can’t wait for 2015.