It’s that time of year again when film fans huddle in dark corners of our capital to watch endless hours of cinema from countless countries. Yep, it’s the London Film Festival. It’s a little like Christmas for film nerds but instead of a fat man giving you presents, the BFI give you a dancing Emma Stone. Doesn’t sound like a bad deal to us.
For the uninitiated, the London Film Festival is eleven days of cinema celebration, showcasing pretty much every faction of film. This year, director Amma Asante, David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have the privilege of kicking off the festival with their enduring love story, A United Kingdom, which sees Oyelowo’s King Seretse of Bechuanaland and common office worker, Pike, fight apartheid South Africa and Seretse’s own people. It’s no doubt going to be labeled Oscar bait but hopefully this time around Oyelowo will at least get a nomination unlike last year when his excellent portrayal of Martin Luther King, somehow, failed to inspire the Oscar voters.
The festival boasts an impressive range of films for the Headline Gala category ranging from Denis Villeneuve’s thinking man’s sci-fi, Arrival, Nate Parker’s long awaited The Birth of a Nation and Kenneth Longergan’s third feature, Manchester by the Sea. There is also Tom Ford’s sophmore effort, Nocturnal Animals, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in the originally titled Snowden, and Whiplash director, Damien Chazelle, offers up his second feature La La Land starring some bloke called Ryan Gosling.Yet, it’s J.A. Bayona’s adaptation of A Monster Calls that looks set to be one of the big hits of the festival. Lovingly adapted from Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A Monster Calls sees 12-year-old Conor (Lewis McCarthy) being bullied at school because he is different and struggling to come to the terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Burdened by a useless father (Toby Kebbell) and controlled by an overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), solace and hope comes in the form of a mystical, monstrous tree that comes to the life, and is voiced by Liam Neeson obviously, to help Conor through harsh times. The trailer alone looks better than most films we have been subjected to this year and with the creative team of Pan’s Labyrinth working on the visuals, this could prove to be something really special.
Bringing down the curtain is Ben Wheatley’s fifth film, after his marmite High-Rise, Free Fire. Don’t expect a naked Tom Hiddleston or any alsatian eating but do expect a cast that boasts an Oscar winning actress, Cillian Murphy’s cheekbones and Jack Reynor on hilarious form once again. The Scorsese exec-produced crime thriller is set in 1970’s Boston, note the first time Wheatley has left these shores, and revolves around Brie Larson’s Justine who sets up a gun deal for two Irish criminals (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and two less than desirable gangsters (Shalto Copley and Armie Hammer), but once someone spots something not right, all guns are blazing. It’s clear from the trailer, Wheatley and his writing partner Amy Jump are taking their brilliantly black humour stateside.In between all this glitz and glamour the programme is packed full of indie gems, thought provoking documentaries and Nicholas Cage. Horror aficionados will be well served with the likes of the French set Into the Forest, which tells the story of two young brothers who travel to Stockholm to see their estranged father for the summer, but due to some trippy premonitions and the prospect of staying in their father’s deserted cabin, it isn’t the summer they, or probably anyone else, wanted. But things take a turn for The Shining when their isolated wilderness causes their dad to go all Jack Torrance.
There’s more woods related horror in Lake Bodom, which might all sound a little Friday the 13th – a group of teenagers are brutally murdered on a camping trip – but it promises to avert your expectations. And last but not least, is Lorcan Finnegan’s feature debut, Without Name, which revolves around land surveyor Eric (Alan McKenna), who is sent to assess an isolated woodland location. But when he has to team up with a younger female research assistant who he shares a checkered past with and the endless feeling of an ominous presence lurking in the woods, everything goes a little trippy. Despite years and years of cinema warning us against venturing into deep dark woods, apparently we haven’t learnt our lesson, but at least it makes for good cinema.If you would rather laugh than scream, the festival has a great selection of comedies on offer. The Julian Barratt penned Mindhorn promises to be the “next great British cult movie comedy”, while you can go down under with Down Under, which sounds like Four Lions created by Chris Lilley. But if taking a microscope to bizarre subcultures is more your thing, get tickets for Christopher Guests’ Mascots. Guests’ latest follows a group of mascots, made up of the likes of Jane Lynch, Chris O’Dowd and Parker Posey, who want to win big at the ‘The 8th World Mascot Association’. You’ll regret missing this one.
Elsewhere Russell Tovey stars in The Pass, a touching story about two openly gay footballers, and Riz Ahmed goes all Sam Spade in the thrilling, noir-esque City of Tiny Lights. But if you prefer to rock out to the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, you might want to grab some tickets to see Barnaby Clay’s Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. While we would love to list every single film worth seeing – and trust us it would take forever, we’ve read the programme back to front – why not pick up a BFI programme and see just how much the festival has to offer.
The 60th BFI London Film Festival will take place 5-16 October 2016. For more information, click here.