October is just over the horizon and that means only thing for British film goers – The London Film Festival.
This year’s takes place from 8 – 19 October and the release of the programme means we all know what we’ve got to look forward to. The 2013 event was, in my view, the best yet, so Clare Stewart and her team at the BFI have a lot of live up to. Have they done it? Let’s see ……
The opening and closing films were announced last month and the festival is bookended with two films about contrasting aspects of World War II. The gala opener is British drama The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma Code. And the whole she-bang concludes with Fury, starring Brad Pitt as the commander of a tank of the same name.
In between, there’s some very tasty morsels. Foxcatcher, for one, with an unrecognisable Steve Carell as an eccentric millionaire ‘coaching’ two wrestling brothers, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Bennett Miller won Best Director at Cannes for this and he’ll also be talking about his spectacularly successful career at one of the festival’s Screen Talks.
Another Cannes winner, Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, was widely expected to put in an appearance – and it’s most certainly there. Timothy Spall won Best Actor for his performance as British artist J M W Turner and word is it’s the best thing Leigh has done in his long and distinguished career.
Sundance winner Whiplash at last makes it to the UK – it was a conspicuous absentee at London Sundance earlier in the year – and portrays the volatile relationship between a drummer and his seriously ruthless teacher in the style of something closer to a thriller.
Rosewater has received a lot of coverage recently, primarily because it’s the directorial debut from no less than The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. Based on the story of a journalist imprisoned in Iraq which Stewart actually featured on his show, it features Gael Garcia Bernal in the lead role.
Other films getting gala screenings include Jason Reitman’s Men, Women And Children, Jean-Marc Vallee’s first film since Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, with Reece Witherspoon taking on the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail and the cinematic version of Vera Brittain’s Testament Of Youth with a stellar British cast including Kit Harrington, Dominic West and Anna Chancellor.
Best Of The Rest
Outside of the gala screenings, there’s an impressive selection of films, divided again into such categories as Love, Thrill and Debate. With a total of 245 feature films on show, it’s impossible to cover them all, but here’s a few goodies to look out for.
Jack O’Connell, who looks bound for great things later this year in Angelina Jolie’s Unbreakable, plays a squaddie straight out of training who’s sent to the violent streets of Belfast in ’71. Separated from his unit, he finds himself on the run and at the mercy of loyalist allies.
More recent events are the inspiration for Michael Winterbottom’s The Face Of An Angel. Inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, it features Daniel Bruhl as a director making a movie in Italy about the murder of a student.
Love in later life comes under the microscope in Love Is Strange, with Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a gay couple who marry and find themselves having to live apart. Set in the 1930’s, Serena re-unites two of cinema’s biggest contemporary stars, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, in the story of an industrial magnate and his ruthlessly ambitious wife.
One of the hits of last year’s LFF was James Gandolfini’s penultimate film, Enough Said. This year’s event sees his last appearance on the big screen, crime thriller The Drop, set in the grim underbelly of Brookly. Tom Hardy plays his partner in crime.
Finally, a piece of what looks to be stunning Australian cinema, Charlie’s Country. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil won Best Actor at Un Certain Regard at this year’s Cannes for his performance as an elderly man fighting against prejudice and neglect.
It’s a strong line-up, no doubt about it, but how does it compare with last year? There’s not much to choose between the two – and I’m saying that before seeing any of the films! One thing that distinguished the 2013 programme was the number of movies that went on to be awards contenders and winners. The 2014 equivalents aren’t apparent yet, although there’s already a head of steam forming behind The Imitation Game, Mr Turner, Whiplash and Foxcatcher. Bennett Miller’s film was originally due to be released last year but, as it was always viewed as awards material, it was withdrawn because of the strength of the opposition. The right decision? Time will tell but its track record so far is indicating that it was.
There’s some absentees, of course. There always are. There’s no The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’ Western which also stars Hilary Swank. Inarritu’s Birdman, which opened in style in Venice last week, isn’t there either, nor is Good Kill, with Ethan Hawke as a Drone operator faced with a crucial decision. But if every festival featured the same films, it would all get rather boring, wouldn’t it?
One thing’s for sure – this year’s LFF has some very juicy prospects. And it won’t be just Londoners who can enjoy them, because the BFI is taking some of the gala screenings to major cities around the UK as well. Public booking opens on Thursday, 18 September. Before that, the complete programme and everything else you need to know is on the festival website, http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff.
The London Film Festival takes place from 8 – 19 October.