In recent years, February, usually one of the s-l-o-w-e-s-t months of the year, has surprisingly become a time that I eagerly look forward to. This shift in attitude can be attributed to one thing, the Glasgow Film Festival. Now in its 12th year, the festival spans 12 days in February and showcases some of the most exciting new films, hidden gems and old classics to an eager cinemagoing public. This year there were 308 separate events and screenings and 174 films, which makes it one of the largest programmes the festival has fielded and people responded by turning out in record numbers, with over 42,000 tickets sold.
The festival has set the bar high with opening night films, with The Grand Budapest Hotel and Noah Baumbach's While We're Young kicking off proceedings at the last two iterations, and the high standard was maintained with the UK premiere of the Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar! Highlights of the opening week included Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise, which appears to be one of the most divisive films in recent memory, with the number of people who love it almost matched by those who hate it, which in my book makes it a must-see.
The Palme d'Or winning Dheepan screened as part of the CineMasters strand, ahead of its UK release later this month and Lucile Hadžihalilović's atmospheric Evolution called to mind peak-David Cronenberg, and made me feel queasy in a similar way to the Canadian master's best work. People wondering what all the fuss is about with Jeremy Saulnier's brutal, wince-inducing Green Room got to see it almost three months ahead of release, and Jean Marc Vallee's (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal screened well ahead of its late-April release.
Disney's witty and sharp Zootropolis was the big family offering and gave a sneak peak into what's likely to be a big draw this Easter. It's not just new films either, one of the greatest of all sci-fi films, Aliens, got the IMAX treatment and Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Silence Of The Lambs were both screened at the beautiful Kelvingrove Museum.
The closing weekend is dominated by Frightfest, but for those who don't have the constitution for the best in genre-horror, there's still plenty to look out for. Suburra is a slick, violent crime drama for anyone who's a fan of television's Gomorrah, One Floor Below is an understated Romanian drama (some might say too understated), with a magnetic lead performance from Teodor Corban and Marguerite is the French version of the Florence Foster Jenkins story. It's a sumptuous, classy comedy-drama and gives the British version, starring Meryl Streep, a high benchmark to aim for when it's released in May.
After the success of its introduction last year, the festival brought back the audience award and the winning film was my highlight of the festival. Mustang is a Turkish drama about a group of free-spirited orphan sisters, who incur the wrath of their overbearing Uncle, and defy the efforts of the village in which they live to indoctrinate them into a strictly patriarchal society. It's beautiful, energising and vital and is set to be one of the highlights of 2016 when it's released by Curzon Artificial Eye in April.
This year's closing night film was the UK premiere of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's inspired animation, Anomalisa. Recalling little else I've ever seen before, except perhaps, Kaufman's earlier work, David Thewlis voices Michael, a married customer service mentor who falls for another woman while staying at a hotel for a conference. It's ingenious, disquieting and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
It capped a festival that continues to go from strength to strength. It may lack the glamour of other European festivals, but you'll struggle to find a more welcoming one. The general atmosphere of fun and enthusiasm for film that pervades everything the festival does is infectious and the witty film introductions from co-director Allison Gardner are almost worth the price of admission alone. If February is a month that fills you with dread, next year take a trip up to Glasgow.