For the British cinephile, there is perhaps no greater annual event than the London Film Festival. Every year, filmmakers and film-lovers from across the Globe converge on London, and are transported through the Looking Glass and into the world of cinema. This October, between the 8th & 19th, 245 feature films and 145 shorts will be screened in venues across our nation’s Capital – from the glorious cinematic majesty of the Leicester Square Odeon, to the intimate and beautiful screens of the Ritzy in Brixton.
Traditionally, the London Film Festival is an opportunity to have that all-important first look at some of the films destined for Oscar glory come February, and this year is no different. It opens on Wednesday Oct. 8th with the European Premiere of Morton Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a computing pioneer who is credited with breaking the German’s Enigma code. And it closes on Sunday Oct. 19th with the European Premiere of Fury, an exploration of WW2 tank warfare that’s directed by David Ayer and stars Brad Pitt. Don’t fret if you can’t get tickets to either screening by the way, because both films are going to be simulcasted to cinemas across the UK.
If that wasn’t enough, during the intervening days there will be a host of Headline Galas that are certain to wet both the Academy’s appetite and your own. These include Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher, which tells the tragic true tale of the Shultz brothers, who formed an ill-fated relationship with multi-millionaire John E du Pont, and the European Premiere of Men, Women & Children, Jason Reitman’s topical tale of digital-age isolation.
Then there are the 3 award categories, which recognise the distinctive talents of the inventive filmmakers who have submitted films to the Festival this year. Central to this is the Official Competition (read: Best Film Award); a coveted honor that this year sees Peter Strickland’s highly anticipated The Duke of Burgundy contending with Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President, amongst others. The Grierson Award meanwhile, acknowledges the very best documentaries on show. Such as Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, Ossama Mohammed’s visceral examination of the Syrian conflict, and Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, which paints a detailed portrait of the London National Gallery’s inner-workings. While The Sutherland Award applauds the incredible work of those presenting their directorial debuts at the Festival, which this year includes Yann Demange’s critically lauded ’71 & Debbie Tucker Green’s highly ambitious Second Coming.
Yet no matter how robust and diverse the Galas and Competitions are, they only provide a taster of the richly rewarding works that the London Film Festival thrives upon. For a more all-encompassing experience, you must turn to each of the individual categories. There are 11 in total: Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Treasures & Shorts, and Experimenta. Each strand is headlined with its own Gala film, and comprises of various works from both distinguished and developing international filmmakers. Head to the Dare category for Goodbye To Language, the latest feature from Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Goddard, or to the Thrill section to experience Daniel Monzón’s cat-and-mouse drama El Niño.
The beating heart of the Festival though, comes from the opportunity to revel in the work of homegrown British filmmakers. These include eminent figures within the industry such as Mike Leigh, who this year brings us Mr. Turner, having dazzled audiences with it at Cannes. As well as emerging talents such as the Wolfe Brothers Matthew & Daniel, whose debut feature Catch Me Daddy is featured in the First Film Competition.
Just looking through the Festival’s weighty program, one realises that he could carry on waxing lyrical for hours about the wide-array of exciting films ready and waiting to be viewed this year. But no words could really do justice to what’s on offer. Instead, my fellow writer Stephen & myself, who will be covering the London Film Festival for Culturefly, have each picked our top 5 films showing this year. We both implore you to see as many of them as you can, and then go and see as many more as is physically possible. Tickets are still on sale, and you can obtain some by just following the link here. So come and join us for an experience like no other, a cinematic tour de force in the heart of our nation’s capital that’s not to be missed.
Scroll down to see which films James and Stephen are most looking forward to watching at London Film Festival this year.
5 Films To Look Out For: James’ Picks
1 – Queen & Country (Dir. John Boorman)
It may not be the hottest ticket at this year’s festival, or even a film that’s on your radar, but John Boorman’s Queen & Country is my most eagerly anticipated entry in the LFF line-up. Why? Because despite rarely getting mentioned, Boorman’s semi-autobiographical Hope & Glory is, for my money, one of the finest filmic examinations of life during WW2. This sequel, set a few years later, follows Bill after he is called up for National Service during the Korean War. Once again Boorman compounds heartfelt drama with heart-warming humour, drawing on his on experiances to bring the audience one that’s both rich & rewarding.
2 – Leviathan (Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Battling it out in the Festival’s Official Competition after picking up the best screenplay award at Cannes, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is my number two pick. Though its set on a remote Russian peninsula, Zvyagintsev’s tale of a man taking on a corrupt system is a universal theme we can all relate to, while his exploration of the conventions on Russian society should help lift the lid on a nation we still know very little about.
3 – The Tribe (Dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
One of the things that always excites me most about LFF is the opportunity to see how different filmmakers have utilised the medium in order to tell a story, and The Tribe is one that immediately piqued my interest. Set in a boarding school, it follows a young man named Sergey as he tries to fit in. A simple tale certainly, but on that has a remarkable twist… Sergey, like everyone else at the school, is deaf and the whole film is told through sign language, with no subtitles; an audacious idea by debut director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, which should hopefully pay dividends when seen on the big screen.
4 – The Face Of An Angel (Dir. Michael Winterbottom)
The Face Of An Angel feels like a bit of a curveball, considering its director Michael Winterbottom turned up to Sundance London this year with The Trip 2, which followed two comedians as they ate in various Italian restaurants. Here Winterbottom uses his own observations to lift the lid on the media circus that surrounded the Amanda Knox trial. Given the constant changes to the journalistic profession of late, this looks to be a film that’s not only relevant, it’s necessary.
5 – Fury (Dir. David Ayer)
Boldly examining the realities of the Second World War from the point of view of those who fought from within the confines of the tanks, David Ayer’s Closing Night Gala Fury will hopefully help to make amends for Sabotage earlier this year. From the trailers, it looks like it cannot be faulted thanks to its blend of visceral action with understated human drama; more than enough to warrant a place in my top 5.
5 Films To Look Out For: Stephen’s Picks
1 – Winter Sleep (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
If you were to hire Nuri Bilge Ceylan to direct your life, it would be long, exceedingly beautiful and full of melancholy isolation. After picking up the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Winter Sleep arrives as my number one pick for London. Following a family as their daily routine running a small hotel in remote Anatolia is disrupted, it promises an engrossing three-hour plus experience that should hopefully be worth every minute.
2 – Mr. Turner (Dir. Mike Leigh)
Whether you love art or just good cinema (although both would be a real boon), Mike Leigh’s biopic of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s life offers enough to come in at number two. Timothy Spall, in a performance that won rave reviews at Cannes, steps in front of the canvass to journey through the last 25 years of the artist’s life. Leigh appears keen to show all aspects of Turner to show how the good and bad came together in his work, and how his work then influenced his life. It’s ambitious but if he pulls it off, we’re all in luck.
3 – Timbuktu (Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako)
Where other films on this list aim to get lost quickly inside their characters, Timbuktu offers an altogether more topical focus. Set during the recent occupation of northern Mali by Islamic extremists, Abderrahmane Sissako’s film aims to blend the personal in with the political. If he gets it right, the result could be spectacular. And it’s number three because early word suggests he nails it.
4 – Foxcatcher (Dir. Bennett Miller)
Who doesn’t want to see Steve Carell wearing a prosthetic nose? If, for some odd reason, that’s not enough of a draw, Foxcatcher has plenty more going for it. Bennett Miller’s third feature (the first two were Capote and Moneyball so he has form) explores the fascinatingly bizarre relationship between wrestling world champions Dave and Mark Shultz, and Carell’s millionaire benefactor. If you’re in need of an intense psychological thriller, this might be just the ticket.
5 – Black Coal, Thin Ice (Dir. Diao Yinan)
Number five is probably the more conventional entry on the list. Black Coal, Thin Ice tells the story of a murder mystery in China that unravels slowly over a number of years. It surprised many in February when it walked off with the Golden Bear in Berlin. Now’s the chance to see just what secrets this wonderfully named film holds.