15 films to watch out for at the 2012 London Film Festival

News Michael Leader 6 Sep 2012 - 07:40

Argo, Seven Psychopaths, Frankenweenie and more lead the 2012 London Film Festival. Here are our picks...

It’s that time of year again. The London Film Festival is just around the corner. And this year, things are different. Since 2011, there’s been a major shake-up at the BFI, and Clare Stewart has taken hold of the Festival Director reins, promising to make the festival more accessible and inclusive. So, gone are the film programmes of old - the international categories which seemed to ram dozens of French films down your throat at once - and in their place is a new bunch of themed categories with titles like ‘Love’, ‘Debate’, ‘Thrill’, ‘Dare’, ‘Cult’ and ‘Laugh’, each offering an easy-to-understand entry point for curious film fans.

While such a shift in categorisation may suggest a shift in programming, that isn’t entirely the case. The programme, as has been the case in recent years, is made up of a strong foundation of ‘world cinema’ festival regulars and British hopefuls, with a smattering of restorations, shorts, documentaries and mainstream Hollywood films for good measure.

If you’re that way inclined, you’ll be excited by the prospect of seeing the new films by notable auteurs such as (deep breath) Jacques Audiard, Michael Haneke, Carlos Reygadas, Alain Resnais, Cristian Mungiu, Takashi Miike, Mira Nair, Michael Winterbottom, Sally Potter, Alex Gibney and Abbas Kiarostami - many of which, it must be said, most likely debuted at a different festival.

Nevertheless, the programme is stuffed to bursting, with 225 films to trawl through. It’s an overwhelming selection of films, and, from the glitzy Gala screenings to the esoteric gems, there’s plenty to get excited about. Public tickets for the LFF go on sale on the 24th, but so as not to be caught out, it’s good to dig deep and see what they’ve got in store. To get you started, here are fifteen flicks that have caught our eye so far.

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie’s an odd prospect. It’s a Tim Burton film, but there’s no Johnny Depp to be seen. There’s no Helena Bonham Carter, either*. Also, unlike his recent run of flicks, he’s not rebooting or remaking other people’s work. Nope, this time he’s reaching back into his own filmography, and dusting off one of his very first films, the Frankenstein-in-the-suburbs short Frankenweenie. The original was live-action, starring Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall, but this remake is in glorious 3D, with stop-motion animation courtesy of much of the creative team behind The Corpse Bride, and Burton has rifled through his rolodex for the voice cast, reconnecting with old collaborators like Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau. Will this shift in focus help clear the air after Dark Shadows?

(*Don’t worry, though, Depp/Bonham Carter spotters can still see them at the LFF, in Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman doc For No Good Reason and festival closer Great Expectations, respectively.)

Hyde Park On Hudson

This one could go either way, really. On the one hand, you have the ever-watchable presence of Bill Murray, taking one of his first leading roles in years as 32nd President of the USA Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the other, you have a plot that sees FDR welcoming King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth to his country estate in 1939, on the eve of World War II. Director Roger Michell has a good track record (Venus, especially), but even with a stellar cast (Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, and what looks to be a top-form Olivia Colman as the Queen abroad), there’s a worry that this might be a bit too much like The King’s Speech 2: Bertie Goes West. We’ll be watching, though.

Sightseers

We’re big fans of Ben Wheatley here at Den Of Geek, and it’s great to see the British director’s new film taking pride of place as the LFF’s ‘Laugh’ gala. Those who have seen Down Terrace and Kill List might know to expect the unexpected from Wheatley, and black comedy Sightseers is no different: a kind of Bonnie & Clyde in a caravan, which sees a young couple’s romping trip around the UK turn nasty.

Ernest And Celestine

Leading the pack of potentially brilliant animated films at the LFF this year is the second film from A Town Called Panic directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, who have teamed up with co-director Benjamin Renner for this adaptation of Gabrielle Vincent’s children’s books. The traditional, hand-drawn animation and endearing art style look beautiful, and the story - which tells of an orphaned mouse making friends with a bear, breaking apart their little world’s social fabric in the process - no doubt promises to tug on a heart string or two.

Argo

We’ve already said how much we’re looking forward to seeing Argo. Ben Affleck’s quite quietly been building up an impressive directing CV, and this based-on-true-events film, which mixes heist movie thrills with political drama, sees Affleck lead as a CIA agent who is tasked with evacuating the American Embassy during the 1979 Iranian revolution. His plan? To pose as a film producer, and fool the revolutionaries into thinking the diplomats are his crew. Co-starring Alan Arkin and John Goodman, Argo looks like a wildly enjoyable romp that doesn’t forget the gravity of its source story.

Wolf Children

Anime director Mamoru Hosoda’s last two films, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, are easily in the upper echelons of Japanese animation. However, with its tale of lycanthropic family life, his latest, Wolf Children, seems to be moving slightly away from his previous work’s powerful mixture of sci-fi ideas and human drama, into a territory closer to that of Studio Ghibli. At very least, Hosoda has proved to be a master of modern animation, but let’s see if he can pull of fantastical whimsy, too.

Room 237

This film is also getting a limited release at the back end of October, but what better place to indulge in a documentary about The Shining than at a film festival? But Room 237 isn’t just any documentary about The Shining - it’s a catalogue of the various readings and interpretations that Kubrick’s notoriously tricky film has inspired over the years. As a bunch of hyper-analytical fans explain their different theories - it’s a film about the Holocaust, or about the Native American genocide, or about how Kubrick helped fake the Moon landing footage for NASA - this chilling montage doc gets right to the heart of the giddy thrill of being a film fan.

Blood

One of the surprises at last year’s festival was The Awakening, an Edwardian ghost story starring Rebecca Hall as a spooky super-sleuth. First-time feature director Nick Murphy showed a real flair for genre filmmaking - and really impressed us when we had the chance to chat with him - so we’ve got our eye on Blood, his new film, a detective thriller starring Paul Bettany, Mark Strong and Brian Cox. We interviewed Nick Murphy, here.

Doomsday Book

As always, there’s a strong Korean selection at the LFF, including 2012’s film noir hit Nameless Gangster, but pick of the bunch might just have to be Doomsday Book, an apocalyptic sci-fi anthology film in three parts. Directors Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters; The Good, The Bad and The Weird) and Yim Pil-sung (Hansel and Gretel) have made some of the best Asian films of the last decade, and at least one of their story ideas - a Buddhist robot suffering an existential crisis - sounds so bonkers that we can’t possibly miss it.

Seven Psychopaths

Most people are sold on Seven Psychopaths by looking at its credits. Writer and director Martin McDonagh showed in In Bruges that he has a near unrivalled ear for witty, cuss-filled dialogue (a skill matched only, it seems, by his brother John Michael McDonagh, writer-director of The Guard), but Seven Psychopaths has a cast that could stop traffic, featuring the likes of Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. Not sold yet? Watch a trailer or two, and maybe you’ll come around.

A Liar’s Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman

The late Graham Chapman wrote A Liar’s Autobiography, a largely fictionalised account of his life, back in 1980. Now, fourteen animation studios - and the rest of the Monty Python troupe, minus Eric Idle - have come together to create what looks to be a wildly imaginative, unpredictable mixture of documentary and surreal madness, which should go some way toward capturing that particular, chaotic quality that made the Pythons’ reputation.

Robot & Frank

Okay, we’re interested in Robot & Frank - which won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance back in January -  purely for its genre-bending, near-future premise. Frank Langella stars as an old man whose son buys him a robot butler to help him around the house. But he’s not just any old man, he’s an aged jewel thief, who wants to perform one last job to help out a local librarian (Susan Sarandon) - and he has the perfect accomplice for the crime. Now, doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Antiviral

Playing the famous-filmmaker’s-kid game can be tricky, but this debut from Brandon - son of David - Cronenberg sounds suitably dark and twisted, and exhibits a hereditary predilection for body horror. In Antiviral’s off-kilter world, designer diseases are taken from celebrities and sold on to fans - that is until protagonist Syd March infects himself with a potentially fatal illness, and has to find a cure. It might be a little close to home, but we’re willing to see what Cronenberg Jr has up his sleeve.

Song For Marion

Talk about a curveball. Director-writer Paul Andrew Williams has made a name for himself in recent years for his dark comedies and toe-curling horrors such as Cherry Tree Lane, The Children and The Cottage. His new film, Song For Marion, is a domestic comedy-drama, with a top-notch cast featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arteton and Terence Stamp as a grouchy old man who discovers his true calling as a singer.

Crossfire Hurricane / Beware of Mr Baker / Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Each year, the LFF programme features a couple of really intriguing music documentaries. In the past, there’s been everything from bio-docs about bedsit superstars (Lawrence of Belgravia, Strange Powers: Stephin Merrit + The Magnetic Fields) to rock superstars (Lemmy, The Ballad of Mott The Hoople). This year’s lineup is no different, with comprehensive, career-spanning Rolling Stones doc Crossfire Hurricane headlining at the American Express Gala and, if you glance deeper into the programme, there’s both the SXSW Best Documentary Winner Beware of Mr Baker, about Cream drummer Ginger Baker and Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, about the tragically unsuccessful 1970s power pop group.

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