The early months of fall are pretty much stacked with film festivals. From the end of August, when Venice and Telluride kick off the season, to the prestigious and star-studded selections at Toronto and New York in September and October, to the increasingly important AFI and Rome film festivals, globe-trotting cinephiles could happily go back to back from the late summer pretty much up to Christmas hopping from one festival to another.
Perhaps not as high profile, but just as stacked, is the annual BFI London Film Festival, which gets its 56th installment underway next week. The festival has shied away from high-profile premieres in recent years ("Fantastic Mr. Fox" was the last major one three years back), instead focusing on bringing the best of Cannes, Sundance and other fests to the home crowd.
One could certainly nitpick some of the choices made by incoming festival director Clare Stewart this time around -- major and available festival hits like "The Master," "Silver Linings Playbook," "A Place Beyond The Pines" and "Life Of Pi" are nowhere to be found, and some of the gala selections, like "Hyde Park On Hudson" and "Great Expectations," fall firmly in the middle of the road. But dig a little deeper and there's still a wealth of pleasures to be found, and to get you ready for the reviews and interviews we'll be bringing you next week, we've picked out ten major highlights of the fest. Check them out below, and come back for full coverage of the BFI London Film Festival from October 10th to October 21st.
Synopsis: Long-term love will be put to the test when elderly woman Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke, which affects both her husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
Our Verdict: The public perception of Austrian director Michael Haneke, as far as it exists, is that he's a chilly, distant sort of chap. We're not sure how anyone can watch the gut-punch power of "Amour," or the emotion of "Code Unknown," and believe that, but there we go. But the director's latest film, which saw him pick him up his second Palme D'Or (only three years after his last, "The White Ribbon," won the same prize), is as likely as anything to change that. Following an elderly couple (played by French cinema legends Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, with Isabelle Huppert as their daughter) put to the test after the wife has a stroke, most have received the film as the most humanistic work he's ever made. Which is not to say that Haneke's pulling his punches, just that it's a little more accessible -- as our Cannes review said, it's "a tough, harrowing picture, but also one that, curiously, remains optimistic and full of heart." The film's tipped to become the rare foreign picture that crosses over into the major Oscar categories, but even if it doesn't, it's certain to be a must-see for film fans in London and elsewhere.
When? Thursday 11th and Sat 13th at the Curzon Mayfair
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need To Know: There are a few Oscar hopefuls in the LFF line-up, but the most serious is the one that seems to take the "Social Network"/"Moneyball" slot, of a smart, entertaining, grown up kind of picture, and it's a film from what would have seemed like an unlikely source: Ben Affleck. But since "Argo" premiered at Telluride a month or so back, it seems to have cemented the actor's status as a serious filmmaker, off the back of his critical and commercial hits "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town." Picking up a hot Black Listed script once intended to be directed by producer George Clooney, Affleck's film is, according to our Telluride review, "extraordinarily suspenseful, extremely well-told and effortless in its complex tonal balance." It's, by all accounts, a piece of intelligent, funny and thrilling popular entertainment -- with terrific performances from Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Scoot McNairy -- and as such, one of our most anticipated films of the LFF.
When? Wed 17th at the Odeon Leicester Square, Thursday 18t at the Odeon West End, and Saturday 20th at the Curzon Mayfair.
Synopsis: A family of Liverpool policemen are torn apart during the investigation of the murder of a young girl.
What You Need To Know: As has been the case in the last few years, the program of the LFF isn't swimming with world premieres, and those that are in there haven't, curiously, been terribly well-publicized. The one that we're most looking forward to (and have been for some time), is "Blood," a remake of TV drama "Conviction" from a few years back, by BAFTA winner Bill Gallagher ("Occupation"). Marking the second feature from director Nick Murphy ("The Awakening"), it sees Brian Cox, Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham as a family of lawmen, and if that wasn't enough to intrigue you, the always-excellent Mark Strong is also involved. Promising to be a complex Sidney Lumet-ish cop drama, we've heard good word out of screenings so far, and we'll be bringing your our review of the film next week.
When? Thursday 11th and Friday 12th at the Odeon West End, Wed 17th at the Rich Mix.