Because there is so much on at this year's London Film Festival I'm going to divide my preview into three parts. This first one will focus on the bigger things happening; the Galas, Special Screenings and the Film on the Square section. The New British Cinema and French Revolutions strands will make up Part 2, and Cinema Europa and World Cinema will be addressed in Part 3.
The films I'll be mentioning are a mix of personal picks and, especially in this first part, some of the notable titles on show. For the full programme, CLICK HERE.
Notes: Within their strands films are listed alphabetically by title. Short synopses are taken from the LFF brochure.
GALAS & SPECIAL SREENINGS
DIR: Danny Boyle
Gripping, adventurous film-making and headline grabbing drama from Oscar-winning Danny Boyle.
The European premiere of Boyle's latest follows a Toronto screening (a tactic that worked nicely for Boyle with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). The trick here will be making the excruciating series of events that happened to Aron Ralston (James Franco), who had to cut off his own arm with a dull penknife after becoming trapped while rock climbing, true to life without putting people off with extremes of gore. It will also be an interesting test for Franco, impressive in a lot of supporting roles, and now carrying a film almost completely alone.
DIR: Mike Leigh
A virtuoso, London-set exploration of family and friendship from Mike Leigh.
I'm not a massive fan of Mike Leigh's, but this latest reieved excellent reviews when it premiered at Cannes, and features several long term collaborators, as well as leading role for the always excellent Jim Broadbent.
DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu
A powerful contemporary drama set in Barcelona's underworld, with an award-winning performance from Javier Bardem.
Iñárritu's latest has excited a lot of interest while doing this year's festival circuit, capped with the Cannes Best Actor prize for Javier Bardem, but I have to say that the longer synopsis reads a little familiar to me, and Iñárritu is a filmmaker I've never entirely warmed to.
DIR: Darren Aronofsky
A sophisticated psychological thriller set in the milieu of the New York Ballet.
Though Darren Aronofsky is another filmmaker I haven't warmed to to the degree that most film lovers seem to have, Black Swan has me intrigued. There's plentiful Oscar buzz for Natalie Portman, following its recent Venice premiere, and of course there's the prospect of Portman and co-star Mila Kunis making out, but it's the resembelence to Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue that I'm interested in. Aronofsky has long wanted to remake that film, and from the trailer it looks like he's got close here.
DIR: Tony Goldwyn
Based on real events, Hilary Swank stars in this uplifting story of one woman's persistence to overturn a miscarriage of justice.
The big question of this based on a true story drama is likely to be 'can Hilary Swank win a THIRD Oscar from under Anette Benning's nose?' Hopefully Conviction's uplifiting story casting Swank as a high school drop out who spent ten years becoming a lawyer so she could free her wrongfully convicted brother from life imprisonment will be a higher class of Oscar bait, especially with Sam Rockwell as the brother.
The Kids are All Right
DIR: Lisa Cholodenko
Julianne Moore and Annette Benning star in a smart and funny story of modern family life.
One of the most interesting casts in the festival; Julianne Moore, Anette Benning, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson among them, along with a glowing critical reputation from the festival circuit and a recent US release is probably good enough reason for Kids to show, but you have to question the point when its UK release is in the same week as these LFF screenings. That said, this looks likely to be an extremely well acted and engaging drama, and a step forward for Cholodenko.
The King's Speech
DIR: Tom Hooper
The fascinating story of the relationship between King George VI and an unconventional Australian speech therapist.
This none more British effort boasts a star (Colin Firth) and director (Tom Hooper, whose last was The Damned United) hot off their most recent work, and it's likely that Firth's apparently excellent performance as George VI as he engages an Autralian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to cure his pronounced stammer will see him get a second Oscar nod in as many years. Firth is been reliably worth watching lately (as is Helena Bonham Carter) and there could be no more appropriate festival to see this at.
DIR: Julian Schnabel
A richly textured look at one woman's experience of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The early stills suggest that Julian Schnabel's latest shares the painterly beauty of his last film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This time Schnabel has turned his focus on a young woman (the titular Miral, played by Freida Pinto) growing up in an orphanage and school for Palestinian children, who finds herself questioning the head's philosophy of non-violence when the intifada gains popularity. This should be provocative and evocative in equal measure.
West is West
DIR:Andy De Emmony
The funny and poignant sequel to East is East, in which the family return to their roots in Pakistan.
This is likely to be the big popular success of the festival, but if it's anything like its predecessor East is East that success will leave me feeling like some sort of alien, and baging my head against a table. I LOATHED East is East, and I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than see a sequel, but if you want it... here it is.
FILM ON THE SQUARE
DIR: Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike's slam-bang period drama plays like a cross between Seven Samurai and King Hu's A Touch of Zen and stars Koji Yakusho and Yusuke Iseya.
Miike works fast, two to three films a year fast, and that can make him something of a scattershot talent, but he's remained edgy and interesting over the years, and there is almost always something to enjoy in his films, even if just for the craziness, and the references laid out above, combined with Miike, would seem to promise fun times.
DIR: Cristi Puiu
Romanian director Cristi Puiu's study of a day in the life of an embittered, middle-aged divorcee is a disturbing and darkly comic portrait of male angst.
With his first film; The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Cristi Puiu was the filmmaker who really brought the present Romanian new wave to notice. Aurora is his first film since then, it sounds like it might be tough going; a three hour character study of an embittered divorced engineer who may turn violent, but if you've been enjoying what's been coming out of Romania of late then this would seem to be a must see.
DIR: Frederick Wiseman
Renowned documentary maker Frederick Wiseman's beautifully observed study of a Texas gym.
Frederick Wiseman's films are about as pure a form of documentary as you can imagine, and Wiseman, the lifelong observer, has now turned his attention to a Texas boxing club. It's an interesting subject to follow his last film, La Danse, about the Paris Opera Ballet, as Boxing Gym too would seem likely to be about people defining themselves through their physicality. Whatever it ends up being about, this should be fascinating because Wiseman is perhaps cinema's foremost people watcher.
DIR: Pablo Trapero
Urban thriller and soulful romance collide in this Argentine drama about an ambulance-chasing lawyer who falls for an emergency medic.
Another national cinema that seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance. Argentinian films are suddenly getting exported, and there is evidence of a wave of interesting talent. Pablo Trapero's last film, Lion's Den, was highly acclaimed and Carancho reunites him with that film's star, Martina Gusman, casting her opposite the potential breakout star of Argentinian cinema; Ricardo Darin (XXY, The Secret in Their Eyes). The stills and synopsis suggest a thrilling noir with a romantic undertone, combine that with the cast and Carancho sounds very interesting.
DIR: Olivier Assayas
Olivier Assayas takes on the life and crimes of notorious '70s terrorist and headline-grabber Carlos (aka 'the Jackal') in a fast-paced modern epic.
I have been hearing greaat things about this lengthy biopic of the infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal, and particularly about Edgar Ramirez' leading performance. Perhaps the best reason to see it at LLF though is that it will be showing in its full 325 minute version, something you are very unlkely to see on the big screen otherwise. If nothing else it will be an experience.
It's Kind of a Funny Story
DIR: Anna Boden / Ryan Fleck
A funny, astute and authentic look at the sometimes difficult process of growing up.
I may have hated Boden and Fleck's first film, Half Nelson, but even through that film's barely in focus, 90% close up cinematography it was easy to see that they are able to draw strong performances from their actors. I'm interested to see how they can bring that skill to bear on what seems like a more mainstream project (the festival synopsis references John Hughes) and also to see how Zach Galifianakis does in what is likely to be the most dramatic role he's had to date.
DIR: Gregg Araki
An 'old school Gregg Araki movie', Kaboom is smart, sexy and so much fun.
Gregg Araki is a hit and miss filmmaker, but I'm hoping that, though he's conciously revisiting the old ground of his 'Teen Apocalypse Trilogy' here, he can bring some of the weight of Mysterious Skin and perhaps some of the fun of Smiley Face to Kaboom. However, I'm most interested in this because it seem like British actress Juno Temple, who has impressed me in everything I've seen her in, finally has a really juicy role to get her teeth into.
DIR: Kelly Reichardt
An absorbing and beautifully composed western, set on the Oregon trail in the 1840s.
Kelly Reichardt is a filmmaker whose work I've been meaning to explore for a while, and Meek's Cutoff seems likely to be be a good starting point. The Oregon Trail setting and the narrative hook of three families lost with food and water running low suggest that this film will have a slightly more traditional narrative approach, and be more accessible than her minimalist work to date. Then there's the cast, made up of a selection of great character actors; Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, Will Patton, Paul Dano and the wonderful Scottish actress Shirley Henderson, who is always worth watching.
Place your bets please. Notable absences from the announced programme include Sofia Coppola's Somewhere and the Coen Brothers' True Grit (the former is perhaps more likely, as No Country For Old Men took this slot in 2007). If I had an ultimate outside bet I'd suggest that Tron: Legacy would be PERFECT for this spot, but that's probably dreaming.
DIR: Jan Švankmajer
Eugene prefers a life of dreams to everyday reality in surrealist animator Jan Švankmajer's witty extension of one of his own dreams.
Jan Švankmajer is a fascinating filmmaker, his work can be both nightmarish and beautiful (often in a single frame) and though his films are often baffling they are always intensely interesting to look at and technically astonishing (forget Aardman, nobody does stop motion better than Švankmajer). You may not eventually understand Surviving Life, but you're likely to be taken aback by it.