I generally miss the films that won prizes for the best features in the fest como casi siempre by the secret jury I don't think people even realize are part of the festival. That has always been a bone of contention for me considering we don't know who the jury is. What can be said is that they've seen all of the films and give them prizes even before all of them have played during the festival.
Anyway, on Friday (closing night) the winners were announced in five competition berths, with the four-hour long film "An Elephant Standing Still" winning the best narrative prize and "Diamantino" claiming the runner-up slot. "Shirkers" and "The Devil We Know" were the top documentary winners and with "Dead Pigs" claiming the Archie Award for Best First Feature. The top three films in the feature categories were all Asian productions and I missed them all.
At the local level, "The Price of Everything" claimed the Pinkenson Award for Best Local Feature. The Student Audience Choice winner was "Yomeddine."
It is important to note that not all films that play in the festival are considered in the various award races. For instance, only seven films competed for best narrative feature yet five of the seven documentaries competed for best documentary. Alors, it is what it is.
With the closing night done it was now time to finish the final weekend strong, but, for me, it started off in limbo.
Because I had run out of yarn Friday night I needed to stop at the AC Moore right next to the Prince Theater (Philadelphia Film Center) before the first feature of the day. It was a miserable day as the rain was spitting and the winds were howling something fierce making it a dismal experience to get around downtown. The weather caused my train to be late by 20 minutes which was not leaving me a comfortable window to run in and get my yarn before the feature. Have you ever seen the lines of a crafts store on a weekend? They can be LONG, and I was expecting to miss the start of the film.
Alas, I was in and out of the store with five minutes to spare before "Long Day's Journey Into Night", universally acclaimed Chinese film with no connection to the Eugene O'Neill play. Given the depth and pace of this film I would not have stayed awake without my knitting.
The festival's artistic director Michael Lerman called the film "pure cinema" and it's easy to see why. The film is a slow, dream-like portrait of a man trying to find a woman he once loved and his various trips and encounters to find her through a maze of neon-kissed markets. The second half of the film is an one-hour long single take shot in 3D that takes us back to a love story of the protagonist and it could stand on its own with the 70 minutes of plot that came before it.
What was shocking about the film playing here was the 3D aspect of it. Not since the disastrous "Love" screening in 2015 has a 3D feature played at the festival. I'm glad they brought at least one feature back this year featuring the technology and without any technical difficulties or 80-minute start time delays.
"Long Day's Journey Into Night" is a very artsy film filled with top notch technical qualities and a story that is comfortingly complex to sink into. At times I didn't know if what we were experiencing with the main character was our shared reality, or his dream. This is what movies should be; a visceral experience where one lends themselves to be taken away so completely that when the theater lights come up we can begin start evaluating the intellectually-stimulating effects of the art.
Unfortunately, I couldn't dwell too much on the film as I had to make the made dash over to the Ritz on the subway. I got in about 10 minutes late into "Prospect" and I would have been fine missing the whole thing. This is a sci-fi film about a father and daughter who mine rare minerals on an alien planet. Greed and competition kills the father leaving the daughter to navigate the land with a rogue miner name Ezra. "Prospect" was such a silly film filled with dumb characters who never took the opportunity to kill their enemies when they had the chance. It was forgetful and not the least bit interesting because we've seen such a story dozens of times.
I headed over to the festival lounge to kill an hour before the 5:20 showing of "Vox Lux". Keith, the bartender, said he liked the story I wrote about the seventh day of the festival when I mentioned our friendly banter. I was surprised he read it because I don't think anyone reads my film festival coverage or any film reviews. I thanked him for his feedback.
So I had to make the Prince Theater dash for "Vox Lux" and I can't even begin to describe the scene some older badge holders were making. I got there about 10 minutes before showtime and there were only three other badge holders waiting to get in, but long ticket lines. Badge holders go in first up to 15 minutes before the show starts at which point ticket holders get access. Any stagnant badge holders, like myself in this case, wait until everyone else gets in before they do.
With that said I was waiting with them as the sea of ticket holders entered the theater. The older man in front of me was not having it. He was making a big hoopla saying badge holders go in first, he and others spent thousands on badges to get priority seating and a whole bunch of other elitist nonsense. The theater manager and festival volunteers tried to tell him that because they arrived "late", meaning less than 15 minutes before showtime, they had to wait until the ticket holders went in.
I felt bad for the staffers who had to deal with this asshole. Like I said before if I'm late for a screening it is through my own fault and I will be as respectful as possible to the other patrons who were on time by not bothering them. I told the theater manager that it was his/our fault for being late and we have to deal with it.
Finally getting my seat the screening started off on a very somber note. Philadelphia Film Society Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt the most recent mass shooting that occurred earlier in the day. It was worth mentioning because the opening of "Vox Lux" features a graphic school shooting. Greenblatt said given the art-imitating-life moment that was about to unfold, refunds would be offered to patrons if they were uncomfortable by the opening sequence.
Taking the emotional impact of the opening out with a disclaimer, the whole of the film was still spectacular. It follows the career of shooting victim-turned-singer Celeste through her developing teenage years up to the present as a crumbling pop star (portrayed by Natalie Portman). Portman devours the screen in her best performance as a Lady Gage-esque songstress who has to balance the price of fame, a deteriorating family structure and the impact her music has on a terrorist group.
I was enthralled by this film for its unflinching look at a singer who has to deal with legit problems that aren't rooted in a gripping substance abuse disorder. Portman is almost campy as the focal point of the film that tackles the obsession with pop culture and the new reality of a trigger-happy world. It balances the line between satire and camp going further into the latter direction with a 10-minute concert sequence at the end that has some of the cheesiest pop songs and horrible dancing I've witnessed in a film. I loved all of this glorious mess.
Ratings (to date):
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