Well, folks, it’s over: another year, another week-long cavalcade of awesome at Fantastic Fest. This year’s lineup included some big name movies (Melancholia, Take Shelter), some smaller ones (You’re Next, Extraterrestrial), and some complete unknowns (Zombie Ass, A Boy and His Samurai), as well as some truly amazing, non-screening events. Who won awards at this year’s Fantastic Fest, and what were the highlights of the week? Find out after the jump, folks.
When I moved to Austin, I did with the express purpose of being closer to the insanely cool film scene that’s sprung up in this city over the past decade or two. Up in Dallas, the best cinematic experience one could hope for would involve going to the Cinemark IMAX on I-635 and not getting stabbed (and/or raped) in the parking lot, or maybe attending the AFI Film Festival. To give you an idea of how fun that is, allow me to share the following: a couple years ago, the AFI Film Festival took place inside one of Dallas’ sprawling malls.
I submit to you that holding a film festival inside a mall is simply not how one throws a successful film festival.
One throws a successful film festival by giving film fanatics the sort of events, screenings, and celebrity encounters they actually want, and I can’t imagine a film festival doing it better than Tim League’s Fantastic Fest. Whereas other film festivals might seem stodgy and a little over-produced (*coughCannescough*) or ultra-exclusive (*coughSundancecough*), Fantastic Fest has always seemed like the sort of place that’d welcome anybody, encouraging film geeks to let their freak flags fly and to get completely shit-hammered in the process. I think that Austin’s SXSW Film Festival is a close second in terms of sheer entertainment value, but Fantastic Fest still comes out on top thanks to its many non-screening events.
Y’know, like the Fantastic Debates (which we wrote about in a previous “Fantastic Diary”), or the Fantastic Feuds (which were held just last night), or the annual “Trip to a Shooting Range”, where Tim League and company take a group of filmmakers, journalists, and other VIP’s out to the middle of nowhere to shoot enormous weapons (Collider.com writer Bill Graham attended that trip this year, and I’m sure he’ll report on it eventually). These are one-of-a-kind events that no other film festival could possibly reproduce. But even when Fantastic Fest is doing something that every other film festival does, it does it better.
Take, for instance, the Fantastic Fest Awards ceremony, which was as beer-soaked as you would expect it to be. At just about every Fantastic Fest screening, the fest’s organizers hand out ballot cards to audience members and allow them to vote on the films they just saw. Once those votes are tabulated, awards are given out (a team of critics also votes on features, shorts, animated shorts, and other categories, but giving the audience a say really adds a nice personal touch to the whole deal), and—judging from the list below—it appears that the critics and audiences at this year’s Fantastic Fest did a damn fine job of selecting the best of the best.
Here’s that list, with my thoughts after each category (where applicable):
THE AUDIENCE AWARD:
“A Boy And His Samurai” (Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Runners-Up: “You’re Next,” “Juan Of The Dead”
My Thoughts: I didn’t manage to see A Boy and His Samurai—based on the description, it didn’t seem like my kinda thing, so I didn’t bother scheduling it—but I’ve heard from a large number of people that it was one of the festival’s best…if not the best. I’m bummed that I missed out on this one, but will trust the audience’s judgement and catch it as soon as the film hits theaters/blu-ray. As for the runners-up, I can attest that the audience speaks the truth: You’re Next is my favorite film of the festival, and it’s good to see that, even if it didn’t win, it came very close.
AMD & DELL “Next Wave” SPOTLIGHT COMPETITION
Best Picture – “Bullhead”
Best Director – Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”)
Best Actor – Matthias Schoenaerts (“Bullhead”)
Best Actress – Jessica Cole (“Aardvark”)
Special Jury Award For Boldness Of Vision: “Beyond The Black Rainbow”
My Thoughts: I missed Beyond The Black Rainbow, and based on what I heard about the film, I missed out. Keep your eyes peeled for this one when it hits DVD/Blu-ray: it promises to be something truly special—bizarre, hallucinogenic, compelling. As for Bullhead, The Corridor, and Aardvark: didn’t catch any of these, and didn’t hear anything during the Festival that would’ve inspired me to change my schedule in order to catch ‘em.
Best Picture – “You’re Next”
Best Director – Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”)
Best Screenplay – Simon Barrett (“You’re Next”)
Best Actor – Sean Harris (“A Lonely Place To Die”)
Best Actress – Sharni Vinson (“You’re Next”)
My Thoughts: They got these almost completely right, but I really would’ve liked to seen A.J. Bowen take “Best Actor” for his work in You’re Next, as well. Sharni Vinson, Simon Barrett, and Adam Wingard all deserve their awards here—and Simon Barrett also proved himself quite adept at consuming large quantities of Shiner beer at the ceremony, enough so that another award might be in order—and Harris did a fine job in A Lonely Place to Die, as well. But Bowen was a vital ingredient in You’re Next, and his epic monologue towards the end of that film should’ve earned him this award immediately. Oh, well: it swept every other category here, so let’s not dwell on the negative.
Best Picture – “Milocrorze: A Love Story”
Best Director – Noboru Iguchi (“Karate Robo Zaborgar”)
Best Screenplay – Olafur Egilsson, Grimur Haonarson (“Summerland”)
Best Actor – Julian Villagran (“Extraterrestrial”)
Best Actress – Sawa Masaki (“Underwater Love”)
My Thoughts: I’ll allow it.
Best Picture – “Clown”
Best Director – Steffen Haars, Flip Van Der Kuil (“New Kids Turbo”)
Best Screenplay – Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam (“Clown”)
My Thoughts: I’ve heard that Clown was very solid, but I have much love for France’s Borderline, the Breaking Bad-like dark comedy from director Alexandre Coffre. I wonder if it was the runner-up on this one?
SHORT FUSE: HORROR SHORTS
Winner: “How To Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You” (Nadia Litz)
Runner-Up: “The Unliving” (Hugo Lilj)
Special Jury Award For Outstanding Achievement In Special Effects and General Badassery: “Brutal Reflex” (David Munoz, Rafa Dengra, Adrian Cardona)
My Thoughts: I caught The Unliving at Short Fuse, and it was absolutely fantastic, the kind of short that you could imagine being turned into a feature-length film with very little difficulty. The short told the story of a world several decades after a zombie apocalypse. The living have begun using the unloving for menial tasks and entertainment (zombies carry groceries, perform at opera houses, and so on), and there’s some debate amongst survivors as to whether or not this is morally reprehensible. The short packs an emotional punch and looks like it cost a small fortune, but I’d bet that the expensive look is just Hugo Lilj working shrewdly. If you get a chance to see The Unliving, take it.
Best Fantastic Short: “Decapoda Shock” (Javier Chillon)
Runner-Up: “All Men Are Called Robert” (Marc-Henri Boulier)
Special Jury Mention For Acting: Robert Picardo (“The Candidate”)
My Thoughts: All Men Are Called Robert might be one of the best shorts I’ve ever seen, and the audience I saw the short with (before—if I’m recalling correctly—You’re Next) went apeshit for it. Short begins with a very naked man running through the forest (there’s a lot of swinging wang in this one), being hunted by a pair of merciless hunters. From somewhere nearby, a ghostly voice calls out what we think is the man’s name, “Robert”. This short has an amazing punchline, and when it finally became clear what we were actually seeing, there was much hooting and hollering from the crowd. Loved this one, and would love to see it getting even more attention. Someone submit this for Academy consideration, stat.
Best Animated Short: “Last Norwegian Troll” (Pjotr Sapegin)
Runner-Up: “Lazarov” (Nietov)
My Thoughts: Didn’t see either, so I got nothin’ for ya.
When I attended Fantastic Fest last year, I had just moved to Austin, and knew virtually no one. Navigating the festival (my first film festival, at that) without someone to tackle all the lines, downtime, and screenings with was kind of a bummer, similar to waking up on Christmas morning to open all your presents…in a house by yourself. This year, things were different: I’ve buddied up with a bunch of the other online writers living in Austin, and I saw more than a few friendly faces in the crowd that I’d met at other film festivals. I was also more in-tune with the entire festival-going process, so I didn’t feel like I was Forrest Gump-ing my way through the whole thing this year. These were good times, my friends.
I also ran into more celebrities this year than I did last year, roughly the same number of “random encounters” (to borrow a phrase from Craig’s List) that I had at this year’s SXSW: I met James Quinn McDonagh—star of the bareknuckle boxing doc Knuckle—in the parking lot on the morning he was slated to fight (read: beat into a coma) Tim League; I ran into Elijah Wood, sitting outside the Drafthouse talking to AICN’s Harry Knowles; I smoked a couple cigarettes with Tom Six and Laurence Harvey (who headlines Six’s Human Centipede 2), which is also how I met You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die’s A.J. Bowen. I met Olly Moss and Rick Baker, as well, and had both of them sign my American Werewolf in London print. I also attended screenings with a bunch of online writers whose work I’ve followed over the years: Sam Zimmerman, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Eric Snider, Scott Weinberg, and many more. All of these people were friendly, gracious, and happy to shoot the sh-t about whatever they’d just seen (whenever I had the nerve to approach, that is: being the new guy on the block is intimidating, especially amongst these guys), and it often left me feeling drunk on movies (rather than vodka, which is my normal state).
Another highlight from Fantastic Fest: collecting an absurd number of new Mondo prints, something I’ve been doing for some time now. Mondo’s Justin Ishmael had told me—prior to the Festival—that Mondo would be releasing a half dozen or so new prints during Fantastic Fest, and I picked up every last one. This year, I snagged the official Fantastic Fest print, as well as prints for Zombie, The Beyond, An American Werewolf in London, The Innkeepers, House By The Cemetery, and The Mummy, and each of them are gorgeous. If you’ve got the cash and are a fan, Fantastic Fest might be the best way to build your Mondo collection. The downstairs in my house is now wall-to-wall Mondo stuff, which means that I’m going to have to start building onto the house if I want more wallspace (putting ‘em upstairs seems like such a shame).
We should also take a moment to bow our heads and pray for all the livers that were damaged during the festival this year: gallons upon gallons of Shiner were ingested (and, uh, un-ingested from time to time), whole lakes’ worth of liquor consumed. These livers fought a brave fight, but in the end, their owners simply overwhelmed them. They will be mourned.
When the lineup for this year’s Fantastic Fest was announced, I heard a small amount of grumbling from people who thought that the lineup was slightly weaker than last year’s. I confess that I felt this way for a time, as well, but once the Festival got started and after taking in some of the films that I knew nothing about, I ended the Festival feeling that this year’s lineup was even stronger than last year’s: I saw a ton of stuff this year, but there’s still a number of things I wanted to see but didn’t get to. That didn’t happen in 2010. Despite what the awards up top say, I’d like to point out that the best films I saw at Fantastic Fest 2011 were Melancholia (which is also my pick for best film of 2011), Borderline, You’re Next, and Take Shelter.
Overall, this was a great, exhausting, incredibly fun week, and I can’t wait to see what shenanigans Tim League, the Drafthouse team, and everyone else who works on putting Fantastic Fest together comes up with for 2012. If you’ve got the scratch, the wherewithal, and the time, I can’t recommend attending this film festival enough: you will get far more than your money’s worth.