Lynden Barber closes the curtain on another year with his very own brand of festival prizes.
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16 Jun 2010 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 12:30 PM

As the 2010 Sydney Film Festival prepared to wind up with Lisa Cholodenko's comedy-drama The Kids Are All Right, new chairman Chris Freeland announced that attendances had been 20% greater than last year's.

This was no surprise to anyone who witnessed consistently packed cinemas at evenings and weekends – even in the hard-to-fill 2000-seater the State Theatre. The results also made sense in the light of the festival's duration being back up to 13 days from last year's unusually short (due to GFC pressures) week-long event.

A few months ago I recall reading a festival official's proclamation that this would again be again be a short event but clearly this did not eventuate. This was wise. For many busy folks it takes about a week to register the festival's on and get around to booking tickets. An event that ends too soon misses out on their participation.

Anyway, no complaints from me about The Kids Are All Right, which hit all the right Closing Night buttons in being an accessible, well-made film that had the audience rocking with laughter. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple with teenage kids whose lives are rocked when the children seek out their sperm donor father – a kind of neo-hippy playboy (Mark Ruffalo). This was casting perfection, and I'm not forgetting Australia's Mia Wasikowska, impressive as the couple's 18-year-old daughter.

This year saw the successful launch of a new SFF venue, the renovated Playhouse at Sydney Opera House, now fitted out with projection booth. The music-and-film session I attended was a great success: documentary Rocksteady: the Roots of Reggae (a warmly nostalgic and enjoyable film though lacking the narrative shaping to make it truly memorable) followed by an energetic live performance by reggae/ska band King Tide.

Over at the State Theatre Four Lions, a black comedy about a cell of bumbling Islamist UK terrorist wannabes from British comedian Chris Morris, was consistently amusing. Still, subtitles might have helped, given thick accents and a less than clear soundtrack. Less daring than it sounded on paper, the film struck this viewer as too televisual in both visual and storytelling to justify its competition slot, its comedy larded with slapstick and broad overstatement.

As reported elsewhere on this site, the official competition prize went to one of the two Xavier Dolan-directed films on the program, Heartbeats (Canada) but please allow me the indulgence of my own awards:

Best Q&A: Haitian director Raul Peck (Moloch Tropical) – an unusually smart, articulate guest whose CV includes a spell as his nation's Minister for Culture.

Most glamorous guest: Ewan McGregor, spruiking Roman Polanski's Ghost Writer – a thriller full of standard plot contrivances transcended by the unhurried smartness of its direction (including the most haunting final shot of any film you're likely to see this year).

Rudest guest: Four Lions' writer/director Chris Morris responding to a question from festival director Clare Stewart he felt he'd already answered with a sarcasm so dipped in vitriol it made him look like a dick.

Most bold, courageous and cutting edge film somehow not included in the official competition set up to reward boldness, courage and cutting edge-ness: Symbol (Pictured. Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan). Sure, this film was bonkers. But in a good way.

Most “yeeuch” inducing sex scene: Stellan Skarsgard's ex-crim desultorily bonking his greasy landlady in Hans Petter Moland's hilariously deadpan A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway).

Australian film distributor with the most titles screening: Madman with 15.

Biggest “What-the…?” moment: the appearance of an actor in a wookie suit in Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)

Most illogical example of film criticism overheard in foyer: man saying he disliked like New Zealand comedy Boy because the coming of age theme was “too universal, we've all been there”, before adding that this one was Maori, meaning there was nothing to relate to. OK, so which one is it? You can't have it both ways, if I may say so, sir.