If the summer movie season usually gets me down about the kind of movies being made at present, then there’s absolutely nothing like the London Film Festival (October 4th to 15th) to get me excited about the future of film. Last year the festival included early screenings of Arrival, Nocturnal Animals, The Handmaiden, Free Fire, and literally hundreds of others.
In addition to seeing big movies ahead of the their release dates, the LFF is also a chance to see obscure foreign films that might not have general releases at all! There’s also a short film contest, some film talks by key figures in the industry and some screenings of new TV shows. This ensures there is a great mix of things to experience at the festival.
As a member of the British Film Institute I was invited to attend the programme launch for this year’s festival. This involved seeing new trailers and some exclusive clips for many of the films that are to be screened. Here are some of my findings!
The opening gala is to be Breathe. This is the directorial debut of Andy Serkis, and documents the story of Robin Cavendish (played Redmayne-ily by Andrew Garfield) a man with Polio who became an important figure for the rights of disabled people. This seems to be fairly safe Oscar fair, but it’s always good to see disability rights in the mainstream.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the closing night gala, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misssouri, directed by Martin McDonagh (of In Bruges fame). This film follows foul mouthed Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand in a phenomenal looking role) as she attempts to put pressure on the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) to find her daughters killer by erecting three huge billboards on the road into town. This movie looks to be a gripping and hilarious dark comedy with fantastic performances from the like of Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage. I’ve already applied for a ticket!
The American Express Gala (this festival has a lot of sponsors) this year will be Battle of the Sexes. This movie is due for a US release on September 22nd so will be old news to some, but the UK isn’t expected to get it until the 24th of November, so it’ll be a treat for us. The movie details the build up to the 1973 tennis match between feminist Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and the apparently misogynistic Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrel). The movie does the brilliant thing that Frost/Nixon and The Program did before it: convince me that a historical event I’ve never heard of is actually the most important thing in the world. From the trailer alone I am so invested in Emma Stone’s brilliant portrayal of King that I just need her to win. Steve Carrel seems to also be putting in a powerful performance. It’s also a chance to bask in some lovingly recreated 70s period detail.
What should you expect in the Mayor of London’s Gala when the mayor is now one of the loveliest we’ve ever had. Well how about a big, sumptuous, homo-erotic drama from the director of A Bigger Splash? The film stars Timothee Chalamet who has become, very understandably, infatuated with a visiting Armie Hammer. The clip we were shown seems to really capture the spirit of a hot, sexy Italian summer.
The BFI Patron’s Gala this year is Downsizing, a movie the rest of the world won’t be getting until December! This is the new Alexander Payne movie with a genius premise; to help reduce man’s carbon footprint Norwegian scientists have perfected a method of shrinking people to tiny sizes. The movie stays Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Kristen Wiig. The clip we were shown makes it seem Kaufmanesque, and very funny.
The Mayfair Hotel Gala is to be Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a true story about a whirlwind romance between an ageing Hollywood star (played by Annette Benning) and a young Liverpool lad (played by Jamie Bell). The short clip made this film seem very quaint and sincere.
The Royal Bank of Canada Gala is Mudbound, about two Second World War veterans who ignite racial tension. The premise of the film is truly epic, adapting a novel that ties together multiple threads of family histories. The clip we were shown depicted a very well-acted and tense interaction between the two veterans. I imagine it’s hard to capture the scope of such a film in a short clip. One to watch!
The American Airlines gala is The Shape of Water! Guillermo Del Toro’s new film about a shy, mute woman played by Sally Hawkins who discovers a bond with a strange sea creature (inevitably played by Doug Jones), much to the chagrin of the creatures captor, a menacing Michael Shannon. This film looks wonderful. Much smaller in scale than Del Toro’s recent efforts but full of heart and charm. Hawkins’s performance in particular looks especially engaging.
There are four headline galas which have not been directly sponsored by a big bank or excellent mayor. The first shall be Saul Dibb’s adaptation of Journey’s End, a play that should be familiar to any A-Level English students. The story follows soldiers in world war one as they try to survive trench life in anticipation of a big attack. The film seemed claustrophobic and unsettling. The film has a great cast (Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham, Paul Bettany) and it’s always interesting to see World War One portrayed on film.
I’m very excited to see that the second Headline Gala is The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This is the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos (director of Dogtooth and The Lobster) and stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. The film seems to be a surreal horror film, but the clip we were shown only revealed a more natural form of dialogue than previous Lanthimos films (shame!) and some very striking production design/cinematography. I sincerely hope I am able to learn nothing of the plot before I see it. I can’t wait for this film.
The third Headline Gala is The last flag flying. The film stars Bryan Cranston and Stevel Carell as they track down an old army friend of theirs played by Laurence Fishburne. The three of them must transport the body of Carell’s son back home. This may seem like any one of a number of get-the-band-back-together-again movies that we’ve seen a lot of lately, but this is the new film by Richard Linklater and the sombre nature of the men’s quest suggests there will be emotional heft behind the laughs (and the trailer we were shown was certainly funny).
The programme planner proudly announced that 25% of the films submitted were directed by women. This was met by light applause and a slightly too audible derisive snort from myself. 25% still seems very low. Although undoubtedly this will be due to the biases that exist within the film industry that means far fewer women are given the financing to make their movies than men. We weren’t given a figure to show how this compares to last year, perhaps because they were embarrassed by it.
Nevertheless in the fourth and final Headline Gala we have a very promising looking return from Lynne Ramsay, director of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her new film, You Were Never Really Here, is about a gulf war veteran named Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) who is contracted with saving a US Senator’s daughter. The clip we were shown of a fight in an alley looks brutal but stylish.
Now we move into the strand galas. The festival is split into strands to categorise the films shown (often a little clumsily). There is a gala for each strand!
The Love Strand is all about love, appropriately enough. The Love Gala shall be the new adaptation of On Chesil Beach, adapted by Ian McEwan himself. The story involves a newlywed couple in the 60s as they try to explore their newly permitted intimacy. The short clip we were shown made the film seem to be a beautifully shot character drama with a typically brilliant performance from Saoirse Ronan.
The Debate Strand is vaguely about films that overtly tackle real world issues (I told you these were a little clumsy). The Debate Gala is Foxtrot. This Israeli film is all about the absurdity of conscripted military service and follows the lives of several people caught up in it. I caught Samuel Maoz’s (director and screenwriter) previous film, Lebanon, at the film festival a few years ago. If this film is as natural and well shot as that one was, it will be something to savour on the big screen.
The Laugh Gala shall be The Meyerotiz Stories by Noah Baumbach. As you’d expect from Baumbach the film is a funny but poignant family drama. As you would not expect from any film ever, Adam Sandler looks great in it. As does Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson. It’s bound to be hilarious and moving.
The Dare Strand…is about provocative films? Which is different from debate because…anyway, the dare gala is Amant Double. Presented to us as being in the style of Hitchcock and De Palma at their naughtiest, this is an erotic thriller about a former model who gets involved in a psychiatrists dangerous game. The trailer was suitably beguiling and interesting.
The Thrill Gala is about thrillers that aren’t quite provocative enough to be in the dare or debate gala. But we have a real gem as this strands gala! Blade of the Immortal is the 100th film by Takeshi Miike, who is expected to attend the gala in a rare UK visit. The film seems to be a fabulously violent supernatural action movie where an immortal samurai murders whole armies of people. This looks to be in the spirit of the previously brilliant 13 Assassins, and a real treat for Miike fans.
The Cult Strand is where they stick all the weird stuff they don’t know what to do with. Appropriately enough the gala is Thelma, a subtle and gorgeous looking horror movie about a young girl who discovers she has supernatural powers. Comparisons were made to Carrie, Ginger Snaps and Raw. Lofty company to be in! Let’s hope it lives up to that praise.
The Journey Strand is for movies that vaguely involve characters travelling from Point A to Point B, but sometimes in time as well as space. Todd Haynes ambitious new movie Wonderstruck is the Journey Gala. This film tells two simultaneous stories about a young boy in 1977 dealing with his mother’s death, and a young girl in 1927 who is mute and obsessed with a silent movie star. The two kids inhabit the same places fifty years separated, as the film explores the connections between them. The trailer we were shown looks mysterious but very endearing.
Create is all about movies dedicated to the subject of creation. The gala is Redoubtable, the new film by Michel Hazanavicius (director of The Artist). The film is about the provocative film maker Jean Luc Godard,and the clip shown seems to imply that the film maker is using some of Godard’s unpredictable style in capturing the story of the young film maker’s affair with actor Anne Wiazemsky.
The Family Strand is fairly straightforward and the gala film looks fantastic. The Big Bad Fox and other tales is a French animated movie about a fox who just isn’t scary. The trailer was very funny. The hand drawn animation is particularly special.
Right, that’s the galas done! I shall do you and my editor a favour and not get into the various competitions and strands held at the festival and shall instead just draw out some highlights of the rest of the program.
David Fincher will be at the festival to talk about his new serial killer TV show Mindhunter, the first two episodes of which will be screened at the festival. I’m hoping his talk will also include plenty of discussion about the important projects of his career.
The Party looks to be a terse family drama starring Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cillian Murphy, Kirstin Scott Thomas and an unrecognisable Timothy Spall. The clip was suitably tense and uncomfortable.
120 BPM had a very exciting clip of protesters storming into a medical research office. The film looks to be a thrilling but heart-breaking celebration of political activism.
Apostasy is about a girl from Manchester who is ex-communicated by her branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The film looks like a powerful expose of some of the darker sides to the religion.
Bad Genius is about sophisticated cheating in the Thailand exam system. The film looks really riveting with a powerful lead performance by Chtimon Chuengcharoensukying. She commands every scene she appeared in.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 features an eye-catching performance by Vince Vaughn as a tough guy caught up in a drug deal gone bad. The film looks gritty and provocative.
The Cured seems to be a clever Irish zombie movie in reverse, in which a cure has been found for zombie-ism. Ellen Page plays a former zombie who must be rehabilitated back into a society that doesn’t want them.
Funny Cow is a British film about an aspiring female stand up comedian staring Maxine Peake, Paddy Considine and Alun Armstrong. It looks hilarious, but more importantly an engaging story of one woman tackling discrimination. I’ve always believed comedy to be one of the most important unifying forces, so I’m very excited to see this film.
Ghost Stories is a big screen adaptation of the very successful London stage play from the comic minds of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. The clip shown certainly made me laugh and even got a good jump out of me!
The beautiful cinematography of Grain made it stand out in the dare strand. In a dystopian future, genetically modified grain, which has wiped out all natural grains, mysteriously stops working, causing global catastrophe.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties seems like an insane movie featuring Nicole Kidman as a punk queen, Elle Fanning as an extra-terrestial and Alex Sharp as the poor kid caught in the middle. It looks upsetting, funny and very weird. A perfect cult movie! Obviously it’s part of the Love Strand…
I believe Ingrid Goes West has already been released in the states. It’s about an unhinged girl (Aubrey Plaza) who becomes obsessed with a social media personality (Elizabeth Olsen) and endeavors to infiltrate her life. The trailer looked bizarre and darkly funny.
Cambodian film Jailbreak looks very exciting. Two guards must safely deliver a weaselly criminal to his cell but an all-female criminal gang is out to thwart their plan. This looks like a thrilling martial arts movie in the style of The Raid.
We only saw a moment of Let the Corpses Tan, the new film from the directors of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, but it looked like a gorgeous 70s action movie throwback.
Lucky stars the now 92 year old Harry Dean Stanton as an old loner who contemplates mortality. I love Harry Dean Stanton and this looks to be a very personal project for him. It also co-stars David Lynch.
My Friend Dahmer is an adaptation of the graphic novel that seems to have captured the unnerving qualities of the book about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s teenage years.
Strangled is a Hungarian serial killer drama that looks graphic and disturbing.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer at this competition. Please go to their website and endeavour to see something. Every screening is curated and almost all of them will feature guests to discuss the work. These are the two most exciting weeks of the year for cinema in London. Don’t miss it!