All good things must come to an end. In the few years that I've been covering this fest this must have been one of the most pleasing ones to date.
Based solely on the audience ballots I've submitted in 10 days only six of 30 films got fair or poor marks from me. This is a sharp contrast to years past when it seemed like half of my slate was full of duds. Not in 2018! Almost half of the films I gave very good or excellent ratings, and they definitely earned it for the way they made me feel about their filmmaking abilities and the characters and stories I was presented with.
I split my slate, unintentionally, right down the middle between English and foreign language features. In other stats I saw 23 narrative features and seven documentaries. With all of these hours sitting in the dark I filled the void with knitting my trusty dishcloths. Knitting in the dark helps me focus on the film and saves me from any potential embarrassment from those hard head nods or jolts awake when I let myself fall asleep.
After 30 films I completed 25½ dishcloths. I ran out of yarn in the very last feature so that's why there's one-half of one in the mix. Only 23½ made it home because two were given out to curious minds during the festival.
This year really was a groundbreaking year for me seeing that I manage to crack 30 films. I've only done just about 20 in each of the last three and 17 in 2014. It was pretty daunting to see up to four films in one day and I didn't give myself a lot of time to really relax in the thick of it. Granted, 30 is a respectable number of films to see. Others are gung-ho and can go from noon to 11 p.m. everyday. I don't know how they do it, but I give them props.
And for all but a very small number of screening delays, this 27th installment went very smoothly from an organization standpoint. The volunteers were all extremely helpful and kind and the theater managers kept turnaround fluid and on-time. The only things that usually killed start times were the introductions by the programmers for each film. Some talked too much about the film and upcoming events and trying to rile up an audience like we were a high school crowd sitting through an 8 a.m. assembly. I know they have some talking points to make about the festival and the film society, but they can speed up the dialogue a bit after having to give the same spiel and with fewer "umms" as filler.
So on that note, let's talk film, shall we?
Sunday was the last day for everyone, and films No. 28, 29 and 30 were all waiting for me in the Ritz East B theater. It can get kind of boring spending consecutive screenings in the same theater, but it is what it is. Hey, it beats having to do the Prince Theater dash.
The comedy "All Square" was a refreshing start to my day. A colleague told me how surprised he was by it so that sounded enticing enough. Michael Kelly ("House of Cards") plays a by-gone baseball hero who resorts to being a bookie for his small Maryland town. He eventually gets interested in betting on youth baseball games and mentoring a teenage boy on how to be a better pitcher. Parents already make youth sports intolerable, but to see them fighting each other about the outcome of their son's game potentially losing them hundreds on a bet is hilariously awful.
Kelly shines bright in his first major leading role since "House of Cards" and he is a pretty gentle man who wants to make a decent living for himself and sick father. He's a good man who happens to do bad things and he is a very dry humorist in dealing with politicians, crazed single mothers and a curiously innocent 12-year-old kid.
I was surprised by how warm and inviting this movie turned out to be; It's about sports betting after all! At the core of "All Square" is that it always pays to do the right thing. Righting a wrong will be more rewarding and ensures that people are all fair with each other. The laughs were really good and the message not preachy or cheesy. It was a good piece of entertainment that I wouldn't mind watching again... and again.
The laughs of betting on youth baseball was abutted by the Palme d'Or-winning "Shoplifters" that followed. A poor family gets by doing some light shoplifting and informally adopt a young abused girl to shelter her from her negligent parents. The film was just OK to me. The acting and wholesome family environment was truly comforting; you felt like these people all really like each other.
Those bonds are shredded apart when shoplifting goes wrong (or right as is suggested) and we get to see the gritty realities of the family we were so invested in up until then. Part of me could never forgive that we were blindsided by such horrific backstories after how much we've seen this family love and struggle together. On the other hand, I saw past that and identified what happens in a lot of fragmented families throughout the world: no matter how broken you may be, it's the unconditional love that can keep a family together.
I was able to see "Shoplifters" because of the festival's continued interest in showing the Palme d'Or winners here. I've see the last six winners at the festival, and I think only one, 2014's "Winter Sleep", didn't get a theatrical run here. The top winners at Venice and Berlin sometimes don't fare much better at the chance for a theatrical run, and it's important to support the Philadelphia Film Festival to make sure cinephiles in the region are able to see such films. I don't know what to think of "Shoplifters," but I know that I'm appreciative to get the chance to see it on the big screen where it belongs.
My last film of the day/festival was Olivier Assayas' "Non-Fiction" and it was hard to imagine ending the the last 10 days of films on a higher note. Assayas' goes for a more deliberate comedic film this time around following the mystery "Personal Shopper" and textured character study of "The Clouds of Sils Maria" as he takes on the publishing industry in the technology age.
"Non-fiction" follows two famous couples through their work and personal troubles as the underlying reliance of online social metrics shapes their every move. For over 100 minutes I was treated to beautiful conversations about the over-reliance of technology in the ever-changing world of content production and how it effects people whose star power hinders on it. The message was clear: social media personalities/bloggers/internet critics are a force to be reckoned with.
Outside of this crystal clear message is a very entertaining film with great laughs about infidelity, film co-star Juliette Binoche (who is the butt of a howler of a joke and comments on reaching out to her), and, of course, politics. It's easy to categorizing this film as commenting on social problems through the bourgeoisie lens, but I felt so enamored with all the four leads because they were so smart about the world around them, and the people in it. Their perceptions were spot-on and easily accessible - conversations about publishing books in hard copy and for e-readers was especially intriguing.
I wanted to hangout with these people for at least another hour to get more information about their thoughts on society and how its changing. Hell, I think I could learn further about how to deal with having an affair and/or my partner having an affair. I really, REALLY liked this movie. It was an excellent sendoff for the 27th Annual Philadelphia Film festival.
Year after year I lament the fact that another festival has ended. This is the only festival I regularly cover and as each turn ends it's on a bittersweet note. It's fun to see a whole bunch of movies for over a week and being drawn into to a bevy of stories and ideas that can mentally stimulate us.
Infinite Football- Good
The Favourite- Good
The Other Side of the Wind- Good
The Guilty- Very Good
The Image Book- Good
Studio 54- Good
A Private War- Good
Burning- Very Good
Monrovia, Indiana- Excellent
The Front Runner- Good
Bathtubs over Broadway- Good
Dogman- Very Good
This One's for The Ladies- Fair
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes- Very Good
Woman at War- Very Good
Treat Me Like Fire- Poor
Can You Ever Forgive Me?- Excellent
The Angel- Good
Chef Flynn- Fair
Cold War- Very Good
Happy as Lazzaro- Very Good
Long Day's Journey Into Night- Very Good
Vox Lux- Excellent
All Square- Excellent