‘It’s like Christmas come early’ shouted someone from within the Twittersphere on September 1st this year. No, it wasn’t to herald the arrival of a new Star Wars trailer – although that would doubtless have been met with similar screams of jubilation. As it turns out, the source of such elation was the announcement of the full program for this year’s London Film Festival. Yes, it’s that time of year again, when British cinephiles from across the country converge on our nation’s capital for 11 days of cinematic celebration.
Now, it may seem like an over exaggeration on the part of this thrilled tweeter to compare the unveiling of a film festival program with a time in which we celebrate peace and goodwill to all men. But, to be honest, if you love films like we do, then opening up the 100+ page LFF program for the first time is likely to fill you with a similar euphoric sensation. It’s as if you’ve awoken on Christmas morning to find your tree laden with all the gifts you could ever want, and then some.
It all kicks off this Wednesday with the Opening Night Gala Suffragette, director Sarah Gavron’s timely telling of the struggles faced by the women who were determined to change the course of history for the better. And it closes 11 days later on Sunday 18th with Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, a biopic centred on the famed creator of Apple Mac computers. Like last year, please don’t fret if you can’t get tickets to either screening, because both films are going to be simulcasted to cinemas across the UK.Fittingly, given that this is one of the first years in which it feels like the fairer sex have been offered a real voice on the big screen, many of the entries from this year’s crop focus on stories about strong and remarkable women. There’s Todd Haynes’ Carol, a tender tale of lesbian love in 50s America told with passion and profundity by stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, which functions as this year’s American Express Gala. Whilst in the Official Competition is Sean Baker’s Tangerine, which follows a working girl as a she tears through Tinseltown in search of the pimp who broke her heart.
Delve further into the different strands of the program, and there’s yet more evidence that this is, as Festival Director Clare Stewart says herself, “the year of the strong woman”. In the Love section there’s Hirokazu Koreeda’s Our Little Sister, a sensitive story of siblings living together at their grandmother’s house. Or, if you’re in the mood for a thrill, there’s Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, a potentially Birdman-beating one-shot sensation that sees a young woman’s flirtations with a local guy turn deadly when out with his friends one night in Berlin.
Inevitably, with 240 films playing over the 11 day duration of this year’s London Film Festival, it would be easy to name check a long list of titles we at Culturefly are eagerly anticipating. But thankfully, we have more restraint – or, at least, we like to believe we have. So instead my fellow writer Stephen Mayne and myself, who will once more be bringing you full coverage of the festival, have whittled our top picks down to a more manageable 10. We urge you to make sure you see as many as you can, and hope that you have a great festival. After all, there’s still 11 weeks waiting until Christmas.
Our Top 10 Picks
1. Tangerine (Dir. Sean Baker)The tale of two transsexual hookers scouring the streets of Santa Monica Boulevard on Christmas Eve, searching for the pimp who broke one their hearts. As pitches go, it’s impossible to not be intrigued by Tangerine. A sleeper hit that played at Sundance earlier this year, this is a film that promises style and substance in spades. Entirely shot on an iPhone 5S and starring two non-actors (Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), it’s a film of female friendship that, if the trailer is anything to go by, looks like it’ll has the strength and attitude to smack you in to the middle of next week. JM
2. Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)There are many reasons why this film has to be seen. It’s a romance between two women in buttoned up 1950s America from the pen of Patricia Highsmith, it’s made by Todd Haynes with all the meticulous style that brings, it stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – arguably the best actress working today and the best of the new generation – it has peerless costume design from Sandy Powell and a powerful score by Carter Burwell. Each element alone is worth a look. Imagine how good it could be when you combine them. Well that’s how good it is. SM
3. Youth (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)This could go one of two ways. It’s Paolo Sorrentino’s latest effort following The Great Beauty, the best film of the decade so far. But it’s also in English, which didn’t work out so well last time Sorrentino tried it. Luckily, Youth is much closer to The Great Beauty camp. It’s almost mark II, with Michael Caine as a retired composer musing on his past and the creative process from the safety of a luxury Swiss mountainside retreat. There are bum notes along the way, but watch wave after wave of operatic crescendo sweep them away. SM
4. Suffragette (Dir. Sarah Gavron)“The time is now” comes the rousing cries from those at the heart of this stirring account about the struggles faced by the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement. Though pivoted on the fictitious story of Carey Mulligan’s courageous everywoman Maud Watts, the film is steeped in truth; Maud’s story standing as a epitaph to those whose names have been lost. Though there is still a long way to go, 2015 is a year where females have finally been offered real focus in film, and so the release of Suffragette feels particularly pertinent. This is a painful but essential story from our past that deserves to be told, and the time really is now! JM
5. The Lobster (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)For those who believe its impossible to tell a dystopic tale of the future without focusing upon a group of grating young adults, The Lobster may be the biggest revelation of this year’s festival. Directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, whose previous films include the dark and delirious Dogtooth, it’s an absurdly comic and fiercely modern film about the human condition, which transports us to a world where single people are turned in to animals and sent to live in the woods if they fail to find love. Told with heart and honesty, this unconventional exploration of companionship is designed to take you out of your comfort zone, and force you to consider the intimacy in your own life from an deviously new perspective. JM
6. The Club (Pablo Larraín)Now he’s done with Pinochet, it’s the Catholic Church’s turn to face a reckoning in Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s superb drama. The lives of four priests, banished internally to a remote house as punishment for sexual abuse, are turned upside down when a new church official comes onto the scene. Disgusted at their behaviour, and the lenient treatment the Church previously dished out, he soon cracks down on a lifestyle that resembles a comfortable retirement home. Tension builds slowly until it reaches a devastating release. It’s not an easy watch, but it would be a travesty to miss it. SM
7. Son of Saul (László Nemes)If you thought The Club was hard going, try this astonishing debut from Hungarian director László Nemes. A technical master class, the camera sticks close to the face of Saul, a sonderkommando in a Nazi concentration camp as he attempts to bury a boy he believes to be his son. There’s not an ounce of sentimentality in this brutally raw film that gets as close as a motion picture possibly can to the true horror we continually inflict on each other. SM
8. My Scientology Movie (Dir. John Dower)Guaranteed to spark debate from all who see it, John Dowler’s new documentary follows the captivatingly awkward and inconspicuous Louis Theroux as he explores the truth behind the Church of Scientology, uncovering many strange and surprising secrets. Undoubtedly fascinating and frightening in equal measure, this is likely to be the sort of story that just can’t be made up. JM
9. Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)For some films, it’s just best to go in knowing as little as possible. And having Jeremy Saulnier, the acclaimed director of the brilliant Blue Ruin at the helm should be more than enough to colour most people luminously excited about Green Room. But if that isn’t enough, how about the prospect of seeing Patrick Stewart playing a thuggish neo-Nazi… ah, now we have your attention. JM
10. Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)All you really need to know is Lenny Abrahamson directs. He’s made four strong features before, including the wonderfully bizarre Frank, and he looks like continuing the run here. This is a tough story; that of a kidnapped young woman, played by Brie Larson, finally released after years locked in a single room with the child forced on her by her assailant. It received strong reviews, and walked away with the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Just so you know, out of the previous seven winners of that prize, six were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and three won. SM