For film buffs residing in or around the UK’s capital, the back end of October means one thing: the London Film Festival. As always, this year boasts a supreme selection of big films from the world over, even if 2010’s line-up is a bit lacking in international premieres.
Anyway, chances are you haven’t had a recent holiday to Toronto or the French Riviera, so we’ve combed through the consistently astounding programme to bring up 25 films that, if you can get your hands on tickets (no mean feat), you should check out.
Never Let Me Go
The opening night film is the new feature from Mark Romanek, noted music video auteur and director of the 2002 cult thriller, One Hour Photo. This flick is adapted from the gently disturbing novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains Of The Day), and tells of a group of youths (played by Brit stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield) growing up in an idyllic rural boarding school, where all is not what it seems.
The King’s Speech
Those lucky Canadians also got this Tom Hooper-directed (John Adams, The Damned United), period-set drama first, but it’s cooked up a bit of Oscar buzz in the process, as it won the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert (soon to be King George VI), a Royal with a stammer who enlists the help of brusque Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), in order to fulfil his public duties. With a stellar supporting cast (Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon, and Helena Bonham Carter – as Queen Mum-to-be!), The King’s Speech looks mightily regal.
West Is West
This sequel to the 1999 comedy East Is East features mostly the same cast and production team, and comes from the pen of writer Ayub Khan-Din. This time, however, the Khan family leave the inner-city landscape of Salford for the father’s home back in Pakistan. Yes, it screened at Toronto. The Hollywood Reporter praised the always ace Om Puri in the role of George Khan, noting, “It’s truly one of the great comic roles of recent British films.”
Black Swan! The new film from Darren Aronofsky! This looks fantastic. A psycho-thriller based around the pressures and trauma of ballet dancing, influenced by prime-era Roman Polanski? Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder? Sporting a score by Clint Mansell made entirely from remixed elements of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake? Sign us up. The film opened Venice, and was screened at both Telluride and Toronto, receiving mixed reviews all over. Still. Seriously. Sign us up.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Now, here’s something odd. This Finnish flick is a wildly entertaining festive adventure, with mild horror and mysticism thrown in. A Russian-backed corporation starts excavating a mountain in Lapland, much to the chagrin of the local Finnish reindeer farmers. But soon they find something. Something terrible. Could it be the real Santa Claus? The one from Sami folklore? You know, the evil one? Packed with dark humour and mad bits of genius, Rare Exports is totally original, and definitely worth checking out.
Let Me In
Okay, it’s got big boots to fill. Let The Right One In was one of the best films of last year, and this brooding vampire horror-drama was a great shot in the arm for the genre. We must admit we’re apprehensive about Matt Reeves’ (Cloverfield) American remake, but the cast is superb, with the two leading roles filled by Hollywood’s most promising young actors, Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass). It’s also the first production by a re-vamped Hammer Films, so it should probably be supported for that fact as well. And those Torontonians seemed to like it too.
Submarine is the debut feature from comedian/actor Richard Ayoade, adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne, which tells of a teenage boy’s life growing up in early 80s Swansea. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film is chock-full of cringe-y humour and borderline quirkiness. The AV Club likened it to a Wes Anderson flick, both positively and negatively, but concluded that it “gets the painful awkwardness beneath Anderson’s stylization.”
One of our most anticipated films for this season, The American is the second feature film from Anton Corbijn, the photographer-turned-music-video-director who came out with the stunning drama-biopic Control back in 2007. This is a change of pace, being a Clooney vehicle thriller, but the combination of star wattage and visionary nous makes even a seemingly straightforward assassin plot sound promising.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives took home the Palme d’Or from Cannes this year, and it’s certainly an intriguing prospect. Stylistically complex, yet emotionally endearing, this Thai film mixes personal drama and supernatural tones as a dying farmer is visited by the memories and apparitions from throughout his life, including his dead wife, and his son, who has since become a Monkey spirit. Telegraph critic Sukhdev Sandhu called it “barely a film; more a floating world.” For those with artier dispositions, this is a must-see.
The Kids Are All Right
Released in the States back in July to strong reviews, this modestly budgeted comedy-drama from Lisa Cholodenko stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a couple whose children, both birthed by anonymous sperm donor, come of age and ask to find their biological father. Step up Mark Ruffalo, a free-spirited organic farmer, who starts to upset the domestic equilibrium. Frankly, we’re just thrilled to see the two leads together, but the trailer suggests that this is a witty, entertaining film with some tender depth.
For those who prefer their Asian cinema with a bit more bite, here’s the latest offering from the ever prolific, off his rocker filmmaker, Miike Takashi. 13 Assassins sees him put on a more of a straight face than usual, being a period-set samurai film remake where a retired assassin is brought out of retirement, and tasked with assembling a team to rub out a wannabe despot. Comparisons have already been drawn to Seven Samurai, and Lee Marshall at Screen Daily says that, once it gets going, 13 Assassins is “pure pleasure: and it culminates in a magnificent 45-minute showdown that has to be the best final battle sequence in cinema since, oh, Kill Bill at least.” That’s high praise, if you ask us.
Everything Must Go
We’ve already had the ultimate Raymond Carver movie with Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, but Everything Must Go, starring Will Ferrell and adapted/directed by newcomer Dan Rush, might find space for itself. Taking cues from the short story Why Don’t You Dance?, Ferrell plays an alcoholic who, after a string of unfortunate mishaps both at work and at home, holds a yard sale of all his possessions. It premiered at, you guessed it, Toronto.
This year’s LFF has an impressive line-up of music documentaries, but this American portrait of the Motorhead frontman sticks out. Lemmy Kilmister is one-of-a-kind. A superstar in the harder, heavier end of the rock music canon, who somehow has retained his dry wit and deadpan cool over the years. He’s a perfect subject, and the film draws on three years of material. Other music flicks showing at the festival are The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople (all the old dudes), Upside Down: The Creation Records Story (twee indie pop, gorgeous My Bloody Valentine noise, then boozing it up with Oasis) and Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt And The Magnetic Fields (ten years of conceptual pop and moody irony).
127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s first film since scooping up more than an armful of Academy Awards with Slumdog Millionaire, closes this year’s LFF. Like Never Let Me Go, it has already been screened at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, but we’re still keen to see this ‘based on true events’ story, about a hiker, Aron Ralston (James Franco), who becomes trapped under a boulder, miles from civilisation, in Utah’s Blue John canyon. Notices so far have been positive, with the LA Times calling it “spellbinding…truly an action movie in which the hero doesn’t move.”
Le Quattro Volte
This one caused a bit of buzz at Cannes, simply because it’s set-up is so unexpected. This study of life in a small Italian village dotes on images of everyday, rural existence, often to surprising effects. Nick James at Sight & Sound was delighted by it, calling it “genuinely off-beat”, praising Le Quattro Volte for the “unforgettably expressive performances of the non-human members of the cast”, which, it must be said, contains scores of goats.
A Somewhat Gentle Man
A slice of dark comedy, this entry from Norway stars Stellan Skarsgård as a recently-released murderer, who attempts to re-enter society, and in the process works as a mechanic in a garage and rekindles a relationship with his estranged son. The film looks dry and delicious in a very Coens-ish way, with Skarsgård potentially giving the performance of his life.
The Book Of Masters
The first Russian production from Walt Disney Pictures, The Book Of Masters is a family fantasy adventure, taking inspiration from the country’s tradition of folk stories and fairy tales. There’s little to go on, with not much English language coverage, despite the film’s Russian release at the back end of 2009. However, if you speak the language, check out the trailer, which shows off its lavish production values, no doubt helped by a Magic Kingdom-sized budget. We’re getting a Stardust-y, Princess Bride-sy vibe from it. With the freshness that comes from a different culture’s legends and myths, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour and some budgetary spit and polish, this could be a surprising, distinctive little gem.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films are all laden with a pompous sense of self-worth, and Biutiful is no different, calling up mixed reviews since its premiere at Cannes. But we’re keen to see Javier Bardem’s award-winning performance in the lead role, as a man who splits his life between domestic, single fatherhood, and a career as a shady character in the ominous underbelly of Barcelona.
Czech animator Jan Švankmajer has an influence that outweighs his immediate fame, with his hyper-imaginative, surrealist films making a mark on the work of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Henry Selick. Surviving Life is his latest feature, and it explores the landscapes of dream, desire and the subconscious, mixing up live-action sequences with swathes of animation using cut-up collages of still images of the actors.
Maria And I
This touching documentary follows comic artist Miguel Gallardo and his daughter, Maria, as they spend a holiday in Gran Canaria. Maria’s autism, and how the pair deal with the disorder, is the inspiration for Gallardo’s award-winning comic, and here director Félix Fernández de Castro crafts the film from both real-life footage and snippets of the strip. The trailer is filled with such warmth and sincerity that we’re dying to see it.
The Magic Tree
A feature-length follow-up to the International Emmy award-winning children’s television series, Andrzej Maleszja’s The Magic Tree plays with Eastern European folklore, giving it a contemporary twist. When an old tree is cut down, and turned into various items of furniture, each piece is imbued with mystical powers, causing, in equal parts, wonder and havoc.
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story
Another Toronto premiere, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is the new film from collaborators Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar). Here, a 16-year-old boy checks into a mental institution after a failed suicide attempt. When he’s admitted to the adult clinic as opposed to the children’s ward, he meets fellow patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, the chubby, beardy one from The Hangover), who teaches him a few life lessons. This has the potential to be kookily awful, or something quite special. We’re hoping for the latter. And, hey, Broken Social Scene are doing the score. How cool is that?
Mars is an animated, indie sci-fi flick with slacker comedy overtones, about the first manned flight to the red planet. Now, if that collision of genres, tones and style hasn’t got you hooked, you’re hopeless. Starring mumblecore stalwart Mark Duplass, the film uses its own rotoscoping method of animation, which gives it a distinctive look. The star gazing space travel of 2001 meets the dusty drudgery of Moon, with a bit of cheeky, hipster wit? Sounds original, if anything.
Crikey, this looks interesting. Kaboom mixes up a frothy sex comedy with some deviations into a murder-fuelled thriller with sci-fi undertones. The film won the inaugural Queer Palm award at Cannes, and was described by Cinematical as “funny, sexy, and mad”. We recommend you watch the trailer, which tells of Smith, a student who is happily living through four years of “having sex, making stupid mistakes and experiencing stuff”. That is until he starts having weird dreams…
Please note: this trailer is NSFW
Michelle Williams has already had a stand-out performance this year in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, but it is Blue Valentine that’s garnering her some Best Actress Oscar buzz (see also Meek’s Cutoff, also screening at the LFF). She co-stars with Ryan Gosling in this searing drama of a marriage in the process of falling apart, which also screened at Cannes and Sundance. Taking a non-linear approach to their relationship, cutting back and forth between the beginning and the end, critics have noted its intensity, but the actors are the real draw here, with New York Magazine’s Logan Hill stating, “It’s hard to think of a better-cast young couple… it’s a thrill to see them working together.”
For more information on the London Film Festival, visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff/