Sep 11, 2011

LFF 2011 Preview Part 1

Yes, it's that time again, for all us movie fans the circus is back in town, as the London Film Festival ramps up for its 55th year. This is also the final year for artistic director Sandra Hebron, whose tenure has seen the festival become a very significant event in the world film calendar. It looks like she and her team have crafted an eclectic programme again this year across all the familiar strands, and across this 3 part post I'll be picking my personal must sees of the fest.

Let's begin, then, with the festival's heavy hitters.


Opening Film: 360
Dir: Fernando Mierelles

A dynamic and moving study of love in the 21st century from the director of The Constant Gardener.

Mierelles reunites with his Constant Gardener star Rachel Weisz, and assembles a cast of international talents (also including Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Jamel Debouzze and Moritz Bleibtreu) for the globetrotting set of interlocking stories about couples. It's an adaptation of La Ronde (hence 360). For me, Mierelles is overrated, and this looks very middling, but as the opening film, and one of Rachel Weisz' four Oscar hopeful roles this year it must count as one of the big events of the festival.

Closing Film: The Deep Blue Sea
Dir: Terence Davies

Terence Davies' poetic and sensitive adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play, with subtly nuanced performances from its impeccable cast.

A classy British cast for a classy British director, adapting a play by a classy British writer. Yep, that's an LFF closing film. This is perhaps the expected Oscar nominated performance for Rachel Weisz, playing a woman who, in 1950's London, leaves her older husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a younger man (the very busy Tom Hiddleston), but inevitably finds that that relationship also has its problems. This looks like a heady drama with a beautifully crafted look and a standout part for Weisz.

The Artist
Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

They don't make ‘em like they used to, apparently. Well, ‘they' do now!

Set in Hollywood in 1927, this homage to silent cinema was one of the big popular hits of the Cannes Film Festival, and won lead Jean Dujardin the Best Actor prize. The Artist is, apparently, not quite a modern silent, but eschews dialogue almost completely and that, along with the crisp black and white photography, should allow us to plunge into what is now, for most, a lost world, just as the movies discovered sound. This looks like a smart, sweet and funny love letter to cinema. I can't wait to see it.

Dir: Ralph Fiennes

A clever, contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's play of political power and intrigue, directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes.

Rather shamefully I don't know Shakespeare's Coriolanus at all. That said, what we've seen of Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut doesn't exactly scream Shakespeare at you. Instead it seems that by setting this story of a Roman general in modern day and in a Balkan war zone Fiennes has come up with a muscular adaptation, combining Shakespeare's words with the ultra modern imagery that he and Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd have collaborated to find. Fiennes also leads a cast packed with the best of British acting talent... and Gerard Butler, who appears to be playing a man who shouts in a Scottish accent. Well, you can't have it all can you?

A Dangerous Method
Dir: David Cronenberg

Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley star in David Cronenberg's compelling look at the early days of psychoanalysis.

A new David Cronenberg film is always a cause for celebration as far as I'm concerned, and it seems that, having been preoccupied with the body for so long, Cronenberg is becoming more and more interested in exploring the mind with his recent films. Here he depicts the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Cronenberg's current muse, Viggo Mortenson), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and one of Jung's patients, with whom he has an affair (Keira Knightley). So, and adventurous and high quality cast, a script by Christopher Hampton and Cronenberg dealing with sex and psychoanalysis. Sign me up.

The Descendants
Dir: Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne is another filmmaker I find hit and miss, but this, his first film since Sideways, looks to be much more up my street than that film or About Schmidt. George Clooney plays a Dad who suddenly realises, when his wife is seriously injured in an accident, that he doesn't really know his two daughters (who are ten and seventeen). Clips suggest that Payne's comedic instinct as as sharp as ever and that Clooney is well cast. The danger is probably that the film could start to feel over familliar, or that the inevitable learning and hugging could be cloying, but hopefully Clooney's Cary Grant like charm will keep those things from becoming a real issue.

The First Born
Dir: Miles Mander

The sex lives of the upper classes come under scrutiny in this tour de force of late silent British cinema.

You're probably best off asking Pamela from Silent London about this one. The archive gala is a late silent period British film, starring Madeline Carroll, who would go on to be one of the quintessential Hitchcock blondes in The 39 Steps. Coincidentally, The First Born was co-written by Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville. The story of a philandering husband, jealousy, miscegenation and images of Carroll taking a bath (shot in very voyeuristic fashion) must have been controversial at the time, and suggest a film that is still likely to feel adult and somewhat contemporary.

The Ides of March
Dir: George Clooney

George Clooney directs and appears alongside Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood in this smart, incisive exploration of dirty politics on the campaign trail.

After a misstep with charmless screwball throwback Leatherheads it seems that George Clooney is back to what he does best as a director. The Ides of March casts Clooney as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (who seems to carry more than a few echoes of Barack Obabma). The cast is high quality, the quetion mark will likely be whether Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov can keep the political rhetoric from being too heavy, or, worse, the whole thing from simply feeling like The West Wing lite.

Dir: Steve McQueen

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan star in Steve McQueen's frank study of a New York man's sexual compulsion.

I didn't like Steve McQueen's debut; Hunger quite as much as some other critics, but Shame sounds more interesting for several reasons. First is Michael Fassbender, the real standout aspect of Shame, reuniting with McQueen having gone from strength to strength as an actor since their last collaboration. Second is Carey Mulligan, whose career is so much in the ascedant right now that she could be doing blockbuster upon blockbuster, but instead she's choosing daring parts like this and finally there's simply this; when was the last time you saw an English language film that treated sex as more than something to leer or snigger at? It doesn't happen much. Truly adult films, treating adult subjects intelligently, are too rare. This looks like being one.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Dir: Lynne Ramsay

The much-anticipated film based on Lionel Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel.

One of the great mysteries in the film business is why, after the opening one two punch of her magnificent Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, it took eight years (and several collapsed projects) for Lynne Ramsay to be allowed back behind a camera.

This adaptation of the novel about a woman (played by the always magnificent Tilda Swinton) trying to come to terms with the fact that her son has committed an awful crime sounds like it is right up Ramsay's particularly bleak street, and the casting also seems dead on, with John C. Reilly as Swinton's husband and the hotly tipped Ezra Miller apparently outstanding as Kevin. I just hope it's as good as I want it to be.

1 comment:

  1. Trust when I say, Kevin will be as good as you want it to be. The best of the year so far, and I don't see anything coming close to topping it. The Descendants is phenomenal as well, and The Artist was very enjoyable. 360 doesn't entirely work, but isn't the complete misfire that Blindness was.