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Stockholm Film Festival: 'Imitation Game', 'Mommy' and 'Human Capital' Shoot for Oscar Glory

Glenn has been attending the 25th Stockholm Film Festival as a member of the FIPRESCI jury where he saw a selection of Oscar hopefuls including ‘The Imitation Game’ and foreign language competitors ‘Human Capital’ and ‘Mommy’.

The Imitation Game
One of the curious things about festivals in a city like Stockholm is that, due to delayed distribution methods, films like Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman (the director’s memo about the name change apparently hasn’t crossed oceans) can compete for prizes alongside global curiosities like Pascale Ferran’s Bird People and Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners. They feel unfairly situated alongside arthouse titles from the whole globe.

My fellow jurors were surprised when I informed them that The Imitation Game was an Academy frontrunner. Given that the Oscar Best Picture competition at this stage appears to be quite polarizing and auteur-focused, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyldum’s film about the cracking of the WWII enigma machine cracks its own way into the runaway position. Nor would I be able to be all that angry as it’s really a rather good movie that has been handsomely produced and features several great performances, including Keira Knightley who is, yet again, on film quality-raising duty. While I found its very British respectability somewhat hard to truly embrace, it meant that I was impressed it didn’t always merely go for the easiest of sentimental choices. There are rousing, emotional moments, sure, with plenty of speeches about what's right and just while they wear their primly knitted sweaters and suits, and the end especially will give plenty of viewers less ice-hearted than I a good sniffle even if it's problematic in the way it deals with issues like homosexuality and the British government, but for the majority of the film’s length it holds its cards relatively close to its chest. Of course, perhaps they're too close to the chest, and the film isn't allowed to even explore the character of Alan Turing in any great way other than through his code-cracking brilliant. At least until the final act, where its quivering stiff upper lip gives way entirely. It’s the cup of Earl Grey of the season: reliably, dependably solid. B

More films after the jump...

There’s not all that much more that needs to be said about Xavier Dolan’s fifth film. It feels like everybody who sees it waxes lyrical on its boldness, its vibrancy and its positively electric energy that swoops you up and never lets you loose from its tightening grip. At 140 minutes, it never once feels like a chore to follow the exploits of Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), his mother Die (Anne Dorvel, previously of Dolan’s I Killed My Mother) and their new friend Kyla (Suzanne Clement, the Oscar-worthy star of Dolan’s Laurence Anyways). 

What I appreciated most about Mommy was Dolan’s writing, an element of his filmmaking that he had a tendency to cover up with richly decadent flash and volume, but which took a giant leap forward with Tom at the Farm. Constantly reconfiguring itself and changing gears, it is fascinating to watch the shifting dynamics between the central characters. Each relationship – mother and son, son and friend, friend and mother – has its own unique universe to navigate and it’s so rare to see such diversity within characters. Dolan knows when to lay himself out bare and when to hold back. For instance, a recurring suggestion about Kyla’s home-life is never expanded upon, and yet it gives so much context and insight into her character. The director’s typical bonza soundtrack (Dolan doing god's work bringing French-language Celine Dion back to the masses; Oasis’ “Wonderwall” was made for this moment) and visual splendidness is on display once more, including more of the aspect ratio playfulness that is becoming a trademark. Mommy is a film of big emotions and despite the use of the unconventional 1:1 format, Dolan has made a film that positively explodes off of the screen. Like each film in this Canadian wunderkind’s filmography, this is a work of vital immediacy. A / A- (I need to see it again)

Human Capital

Don’t worry if you don’t know what the term “human capital” means, because after 100-minutes of somewhat involving, but mostly contrived, drama, Paolo Virzi’s film literally gives audiences a text-book definition. It’s a groan-inducing moment in a film that seems made for groan-inducing moments. One of those films about how connected we all are (although the bow isn’t stretched anywhere nearly as wide as, say, Crash) and that we’re all secretly damaged, miserable, agonizing people underneath whatever happy-faced exterior we choose to put forward into the world.

When a cyclist is knocked off of the road and killed, Virzi’s film focuses on several members a two Italian families, one wealthy and the other significantly more working class, as well as an ex-con. Utilising a Rashômon style to unfold the identity of who did it, the movie attempts to make some pretty big statements about class. Admirable as it may be, the director needn’t have been so heavy-handed with the material. The divide between the nation’s upper and working classes is explicitly laid out and the resolution rather bleakly stamps it. The concept that the wealthy are held to a higher standard and can get away with what us mere mortals cannot is hardly revelatory. The standout elements are the film's gorgeous locales and the performance by Valera Bruni Tedeschi, which is truly a blessing, providing poignancy to the role of rich, bored and lonely housewife, very similar to what Sandra Bullock had in the aforementioned Crash. C+

Oscar Chances: The Imitation Game is good to go, but Italy will likely be sitting this year out after winning the 2013 foreign language Oscar for The Great Beauty. Dolan's Mommy may require the executive committee to save it due to its in-your-face style, but I have some faith that it will be hard to ignore. Can we hope for that, please?


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Reader Comments (8)

Is it me or is Kinghtlery this years Helena Bonham Carter,one of those obvious nods from a big film that no one is passionate about but the works solid if unspectecular and nowhere near their best.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

That "big film" starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley cost all of 15 million to produce so it is fairly low budget, along with the fact that it was a passion project for most of the cast, crew, the director and the writer.

I have read many, many passionate comments about the film and audiences seem to love it and most critics seem to think Cumberbatch is at the top of his game.

I am sure it will get award nominations but I have no idea about it's chances of winning but I wouldn't dismiss it as unspectacular.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

I want to see Mommy soooo baaaaaad.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

mark -- hmm. I was totally impressed with Keira's performance myself. she's not just coasting to a nod (if she even gets one)

November 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Agreed. Knightley elevates the material in a way that Helena Bonham Carter didn't quite do.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

You know the type of nod i mean hopefully.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Yes, but it will be hardly to begrudge it given how good and alive she is with the role.

November 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I saw Mommy last night and, God, isn't that a stunning piece of filmmaking!

November 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel B.

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