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Catherine Bray’s 20 London Film Festival 2015 recommendations

The 59th BFI London Film Festival runs 7th – 18th October – here are Film4 editorial director Catherine Bray’s 20 top picks.

Including fiction and documentary, there are 238 features playing at the 59th London Film Festival – and a quick leaf through the programme reveals what promises to be a bumper crop. Dig deeper and there are plenty of  treats and treasures lurking outside the boundaries of the feature film – from live action and animated shorts, to interviews, live Q&As and experimental presentations.

The team here at are raring to dive into the festival and no doubt discover some new favourites, but we’re also hazarding some recommendations and picks in advance. Here are mine, and do look out for choices from site editor Michael Leader and editorial assistant Beth Webb, coming soon.

In alphabetical order…

 A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton (in her third feature-length project with director Luca Guadagnino) plays a rock star reportedly amalgamating David Bowie and Mick Jagger. There’s nothing not exciting about that. Throw in Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts and Ralph Fiennes and you’ve got a potentially heady brew.

Book for A Bigger Splash

Arabian Nights

This is really three recommendations in one, since Tabu director Miguel Gomes’s 381 minute epic is screening in three parts. I loved this when I saw it at Cannes – if you can get past the intimidating investment of time, this is one of those films that you will remember forever: a sweeping tapestry something like Moby Dick or The Canterbury Tales in scope, patch-worked together from pop/doc scraps.

Book for Arabian Nights

Beasts Of No Nation

I’ve had my eye on director Cary Fukanaga since hosting him in Q&A for his striking directorial debut Sin Nombre in 2009, so it’s thrilling to see him at the vanguard of the current strain of ambitious, high-value VoD projects – there’s simply no Netflix proposition with more buzz about it right now than this timely child soldier drama, featuring Idris Elba.

Book for Beasts Of No Nation

Bone Tomahawk

Three of my favourite actors are Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson – and wouldn’t you know, all three appear in this apparently ultra-violent genre-fusion of Western and horror from writer/musician S Craig Zahler, making his directorial debut in the LFF’s always brilliantly programmed Cult strand (as the strand’s Gala screening, no less).

Book for Bone Tomahawk


Patricia Highsmith’s classic age-gap love story about a shop assistant who falls for an older woman was received with justifiably wild enthusiasm when it bowed in Cannes earlier this year – I loved it and can’t wait to see London audiences swept off their feet by this modern classic, which Film4 are proud to have backed.

Book for Carol

Couple In A Hole

Some films intrigue because of the director’s past work, others because of a favourite actor, or a particular head of department whose name always augurs quality. In this case, the premise is the draw. A middle aged middle class couple living like feral animals in a hole in the ground? Sold.

Book for Couple in a Hole

The End of the Tour

The gifted novelist David Foster Wallace has been practically deified by his loyal fans since his untimely death, meaning that the howls of outrage over the casting of Jason Segel as Wallace should have been anticipated. Less predictably, those howls have since been somewhat tempered by rave reviews rolling out of Sundance, praising Segel’s performance as definitive and the film itself as a riveting road trip – I can’t wait to see for myself.

Book for The End Of The Tour

The Forbidden Room

A world first, this Experimenta Special Presentation at the IMAX promises to be a completely bananas head-trip defying all description, as we lurch through the choicest cuts of over 4000 hours of rushes captured at live “happenings” around the world as part of director Guy Maddin’s interactive Seances project.

Book for The Forbidden Room

Green Room

A classic home invasion siege set-up is relocated to the cramped green room of a heavy metal club as a gang of likeable punk kids find themselves targeted for elimination by Neo-Nazis in Jeremy Saulnier’s brisk, punchy follow-up to Blue Ruin – I caught this in Cannes and can’t wait to see it again.

Book for Green Room


Early buzz on Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s Film4-backed big screen adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopic classic High-Rise is strong and the casting is a dream: Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons… here’s hoping for a hit.

Book for High-Rise


A lively, compassionate and impeccably edited look at middle class functional alcoholism rendered all the more emotional for being shot like a horror movie, I was surprised when Trey Edward Shults’ sizzling debut Krisha didn’t lift the top prize in the Critics’ Week strand at Cannes – fingers crossed for a nod in London.

Book for Krisha

Live From New York!

It’s difficult to underestimate the influence of Saturday Night Live on American comedy over the forty years since it first aired – from the early days of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner to latter-day leading lights like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, so here’s hoping for insider anecdotes, smart analysis and classic clips.

Book for Live From New York

Love and Peace

The only predictable thing about a Sion Sono film is that is will be unpredictable, so if you’re feeling jaded about all the respectable awards season fare come October, this should be just the punkish underground tonic to jolt you out of your ennui. We hear there are talking turtles involved.

Book for Love and Peace



Filmed within a circular frame (“Tondoscope”), Gust van den Berghe’s Lucifer promises formal experimentation based on an ahead-of-its-time book written by 17th-century Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel (thirteen years before Milton’s Paradise Lost shook up the worlds of both poetry and theology).

Book for Lucifer

Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Film


As the female written/directed/produced dramatization of the Suffragette struggle opens the festival, spare some time for a look at this canny piece of parallel programming: 21 short films, ranging from contemporary newsreel to early comedies, all of which revel in that quintessential equal rights strategy of making more noise.

Book for Make Some Noise

Men And Chicken

This apparently pitch-black Danish comedy clearly isn’t anything like NBC’s Hannibal, but for those suffering Mads Mikkelsen withdrawal since the cannibal shrink had his final old friend for dinner, Men And Chicken should fill the gap until his hotly anticipated turn in Star Wars: Rogue One.

Book for Men and Chicken

My Scientology Movie

Scientology would be an endlessly fascinating phenomenon even if Tom Cruise and other celebrities were not involved – as is, and with a documentary fronted by the ever-charming Louis Theroux, it’s one of the essential can’t-look-away subjects of the 21st century.

Book for My Scientology Movie

Screen Talk: Saoirse Ronan

Since becoming one of the youngest Academy Award nominees of all time following her knock-out performance in Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has gone from strength to strength: it’ll be a treat to hear the story of her career told live in her own words.

Book for Saoirse Ronan

Son Of Saul

I was pretty wiped out when I saw this utterly immersive Holocaust drama towards the end of Cannes this year, but even in my bleary state I could tell that I was in the presence of a towering achievement all the more impressive for being the work of a first-time feature director, Hungarian helmer-to-watch László Nemes.

Book for Son Of Saul


There are too many prestige biopics made these days and it’s impossible to get excited about all of them, but one exception is the prospect of Bryan Cranston playing blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the complex and admirable Hollywood Communist whose life was as rich in drama as many of his screenplays.

Book for Trumbo

Click here to explore the rest of the London Film Festival 2015 programme.





Edinburgh preview: 12 must-sees

31 May, 2015 Posted in: Edinburgh, Festivals

With a new artistic director at the helm, the Edinburgh Film Festival is back for a jam-packed 2015 edition. Catherine Bray picks 12 highlights (in alphabetical order)

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years

1. 45 Years, dir. Andrew Haigh

Winning Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for star Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years is director Andrew Haigh’s follow up to the acclaimed Weekend. Film4 are proud to have backed this moving exploration of a relationship in its 45th year.


2. 54: The Director’s Cut, dir. Mark Christopher

A curio for all those ’90s kids who kinda-sorta liked Mark Christopher’s 1998 Ryan Philippe vehicle 54 but always wondered what might have been, welcome to the director’s cut, at 106 mins (in contrast to the original’s 93 mins).


3. Amy, dir. Asif Kapadia

Fresh from its triumph at Cannes, where it was feted as a “stunningly moving” (The Guardian), “deeply felt” (Variety) and “wrenching” (The Telegraph), Senna director Asif Kapadia’s exploration of the troubled life of Amy Winehouse is a film that Film4 are proud to have backed. Click here to read more reviews.


4. Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream, dir. Grant McPhee

Featuring scene mainstays Norman Blake, Bobby Bluebell, Jo Callis, Allan Campbell and Edwyn Collins, this doc is set to unfold the story of Fast Product, a predecessor to Rough Trade and Factory Records.


5. Chuck Norris vs Communism, dir. Ilinca Calugareanu

In Communist Romania in the 1980s, black market imported Hollywood movies on VHS were some of the hottest cultural contraband around. Ilinca Calugareanu’s documentary, receiving its European premiere at Edinburgh, documents a videotheque resistance.


6. Dope, dir. Rick Famuyiwa

A John Hughes-style coming-of-age tale about growing up geeky in “the hood”, Dope has attracted heartfelt praise and comparisons with Superbad at premieres in Cannes and Sundance – this is a first chance for UK audiences to see the film.


7.  Fritz The Cat, dir. Ralph Bakshi

Counter-culture classic Fritz The Cat was the first animated feature to be given an X-rating, for its sexual, political and drug content, and this is going to be an extra special screening with a post-screening Skype Q&A with iconic director Ralph Bakshi.


8. Maggie, dir. Henry Hobson

Following in the footsteps of Life After Beth, Warm Bodies  and other undead denizens of the heartfelt indie end of the zombie movie spectrum, Maggie sees Arnold Schwarzenegger paired with Abigail Breslin as a father and daughter fending off zombies, police and military, and there is nothing about that pairing that doesn’t sound promising.


9. Malcolm McDowell In Person

From early roles in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Lindsay Anderson’s If… to recent work in small screen hits like Community, Entourage and Heroes, who wouldn’t want to hear cult icon Malcolm McDowell speak live about an extraordinarily varied career?


10. Misery Loves Comedy, dir. Kevin Pollak

Featuring Lisa Kudrow, Tom Hanks, Matthew Perry, Judd Apatow, Steve Coogan and Larry David, this doc sees Kevin Pollak interview comedians to attempt to get to the heart of that old chestnut: are comedians all emotional screw ups?


11. Remake, Remix, Rip-Off, dir. Cem Kaya

In the 1960s and 1970s, the long arm of Hollywood copyright law hadn’t quite reached Turkey, resulting in a lawless land of illegal mash-ups of Hollywood products. If you want to see what an evil Spider-Man wearing The Phantom’s mask and Superman’s cape looks like – and we certainly do – this is the doc to see.


12. Stand by for Tape Back-up, dir. Ross Sutherland

Originally based on a stand-up/spoken word set, in Stand By For Tape Back-up performer/director Ross Sutherland asks the question: “How can Ghostbusters connect us to people we’ve lost?” Time Out said of the original live version “It’s quite hard to convey how well it works, because Sutherland manages to wrench such tremendous feeling out of such silly source material.”




A personal top eleven at Cannes

24 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals

Across all categories and strands, Catherine Bray picks eleven must-sees from Cannes 2015.

Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

I feel kind of guilty writing this piece, for two reasons. The first is that although I saw 31 films at Cannes, it is nevertheless impossible to see everything, so I am certain to be missing some brilliant films in this list. In particular, I regret not catching Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, which won the Competition’s directing prize, and Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Years, which won the SACD Prize out of Director’s Fortnight and is reputedly excellent.

The second reason I’m feeling bad is the dominance of English language films in the following eleven picks. It was an English language heavy year, and it happens to be the case that the films which wowed me the most were mainly English language. Sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw.

1. Carol, dir. Todd Haynes
Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy managed to put together a Competition entry that, for once, united critics (if not the Coen brothers’ Jury, who split the Competition award for best actress between Carol’s Rooney Mara and Mon Roi’s Emmanuelle Bercot). In virtually every review, the superlatives flowed like the champagne undoubtedly uncorked that night by producers as five star verdict after five star verdict rolled in. It is a ravishing film, every frame beautifully composed, and yet it never suffers from the lack of air that can oppress precision period work – the world of 1950s New York feels entirely lived in, and the melancholy thrill of the romance between Cate Blanchett’s eponymous older woman and Mara’s shop assistant feels as fresh as any depiction of falling in love on the silver screen.

2. Arabian Nights parts 1, 2 and 3, dir. Miguel Gomes
Miguel Gomes entranced cinema-goers in 2012 with Tabu, a dreamlike piece of lyricism that was part romance, part pastiche. He’s on even more ambitious form here, with a six hour plus tapestry woven in imitation of the form of the Arabian Nights, and delivered as a triptych, but taking the effects of the financial crisis on Portugal as its loose theme. The result is a remarkable achievement in cinema, by turns gripping, illuminating, tiring, sublime and funny.

3. Krisha, dir. Trey Edward Shults
Sometimes, size really doesn’t matter. Krisha was filmed in just 9 days on a single location with a cast made up of performers drawn almost entirely from the director’s own family, for around $100,000. That’s about as small as small potatoes get in narrative cinema, and yet the resultant story, in which an estranged 60-something woman attempts to reconnect with her family at Thanksgiving, is more emotionally impactful than many a more anticipated or expensive effort. It perhaps threatens to undermine the old Anna Karenina maxim (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”) in that, although this family’s specific issues may not be identical to your own, they’ll surely strike universal notes for many, illustrating the similarities, and not the differences, in pain inflicted by loved ones.

4. Son of Saul, dir. László Nemes
This is an extraordinary film by any yardstick, but it’s all the more impressive in its status as a directorial debut. Hungarian director László Nemes hasn’t set himself an easy task, either – many first-timers have stumbled tackling subjects far less complex and horrifying than the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. His decision to keep the film’s perspective directly locked in to that of protagonist Saul Ausländer is a smart one, resisting the instinctive urge in films on this tragic subject to attempt to convey horror through scale, and instead conveying with precision one man’s nightmare among millions. This is a hugely deserving Grand Prix winner – higher honours would have been equally welcome.

5. The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
A film whose second act key change seems to have baffled some critics, The Lobster is a film broadcasting on a very particular wavelength. If the brutal absurdity of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s break-out Dogtooth mixed with the sensibility of various dark British comedies satirizing the extremes of social stereotype (The League of Gentleman sprang to mind at certain moments) sounds like your jam, make sure you bag a ticket for this one.

6. Macbeth, dir. Justin Kurzel
A film that seems to have connected better with UK critics than US, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the daring visual poetry of this highly cinematic treatment of one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Burying much of the dialogue under bold, disorienting sound design and naturalistic delivery, this ain’t your GCSE English teacher’s Macbeth. Justin Kurzel has forged a formal experiment that heeds Lady Macbeth’s own advice to her vacillating husband: be bloody, bold and resolute.

7. The Shameless, dir. Oh Seung-uk
A slick and seductive Korean neo-noir from Oh Seung-uk, The Shameless takes the point of view that where atmosphere is concerned, it’s best to go big or go home. Almost every scene is riven with tension, sexual or otherwise, as a seedy cop and seedier bar hostess team up to comb various nightspots in search of enough MacGuffin to MacGuffin the MacGuffins. This is a film about the looking, the longing, and the shifting quicksand of any given character’s motivation at any one time. Plot? Forget it, Jake, it’s neo-noir.

8. Green Room, dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Spot the odd one out: Green Room is the film on this list about which you can’t make too many high falutin’ art-house claims, but you can say it’s among the most viscerally exciting viewing experiences of the lot. It’s not dumb, either. A simple, smartly executed exercise in genre thrills packed with likable kids that we’re sorry to see die bloody, the premise is a basic home invasion riff relocated to enemy territory, as a punk band holed up backstage at a dodgy venue attempt to survive a concerted effort to slaughter them all, supervised by Patrick Stewart having fun playing the ideological opposite of his X-Men gig: a grim-faced white supremacist.

9. Our Little Sister, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
As previously blogged, I wasn’t sure about this film as it unfolded. To put it bluntly, basically nothing happens. But it’s been a big grower for me since, with its simple reliance on the quotidian pleasures of domestic rhythms, commonplace interactions and the passing of the seasons blossoming into a minor but sweetly heartfelt work celebrating the little things in life.

10. Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller
In Mad Max: Fury Road, life is a tale told by a maniac, full of sound and fury, signifying everything. As previously blogged, it’s fabulously experimental for a tentpole release, in terms of its image system and structure, and also in its equal opps gender vibes (though it’s depressing that this facet counts as an experiment). I won’t say too much more about Mad Max, since it’s already on general release, but it seemed equally perverse to deny it a spot altogether for that reason.

11. Tale of Tales, dir. Matteo Garrone
It’s got Salma Hayek eating a sea serpent’s heart. It’s got Toby Jones rearing a giant flea. It’s got Vincent Cassel accidentally shagging a 100 year old trickster crone. What’s not to love?







Top pop moments from Cannes 2015

21 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals

Cannes is always a great place to see and hear brilliant pop music, often divorced from its usual context, and 2015 has been no different. Here’s my personal playlist of top pop moments from the Competition and sidebars.

Click here to listen to the following playlist on Spotify

1. ‘Say You, Say Me’
Miguel Gomes’ epic 6hr+ tapestry of tales, Arabian Nights, playing in Directors’ Fortnight, offers  bounty of musical highlights to choose from, but top of the heap has to be the tragicomedy of Lionel Richie’s ‘Say You, Say Me’ on vinyl at a dinner party in the final part of Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One.


2. ‘Sound Of Da Police’
Emmanuelle Bercot’s Opening Night film Standing Tall drew its fair share of complaints that it was a little flat and uncinematic. They’re perhaps not unjustified, but an early scene where juvenile delinquent Malony (Rod Paradot) goes joy-riding is one of the most kinetic in the film and is appropriately soundtracked by KRS-One’s ‘Sound Of Da Police’.

3. ‘You Got The Love’
Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth in the main Competition may have divided critics on the Croisette, but surely no-one could disagree with the joy of the opening scene, where a hotel covers band plays a swooping, swooning version of Candi Stanton’s disco classic ‘You Got The Love’.

4. ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’
And speaking of hotel covers, Britain’s own Olivia Colman scores a spot in the list courtesy of a hilariously straight-faced version of ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’, in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark Competition comedy The Lobster. Performed in the hotel her character runs to help single people find love, it’s possibly the best deadpan karaoke moment in film since Bill Murray’s ‘More Than This’ in Lost In Translation. It’s also one of two songs with a Nick Cave connection to make an appearance in The Lobster – there’s also room for Cave’s crossover hit ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, while ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ was of course also covered by Cave & co on Kicking Against The Pricks.


5. ’212′
In Alice Winocour’s Un Certain Regard entry Maryland, sound design is used to help indicate an Afghanistan vet’s post-traumatic stress disorder. It never seems quite so unsettling as when he wanders in a daze through a wealthy mansion party of arms dealers, aristocrats, politicians and other dodgy sorts, all going nuts on the dance floor to Azealia Bank’s breakout hit ’212′.

6. ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’
The political undercurrent of this section of the playlist takes a turn from thriller to horror in Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal, blood-pumping siege nightmare Green Room (Directors’ Fortnight), as punk band the Ain’t Rights go from covering the Dead Kennedys’ minute-long howl of anger to fighting for their lives against far-right white supremacists.

7. ‘Love Is A Losing Game’
From genre horror to the horrors of reality, with a track from Amy Winehouse, whose too-brief life and career is the subject of Asif Kapadia’s hard-to-watch doc. Of the many musical moments in the film, it’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ which perhaps even more than the more obviously illuminating ‘Rehab’ gets to the heart of the issue.

8. ‘Love Is A Song’
To end on an uplifting note, closing out Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative Un Certain Regard entry Cemetery Of Splendour is this superbly game and earwormy little pop number that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all week. It’s not on Spotify, so here’s the YouTube embed:


Critics’ Week: Day Seven – Krisha

20 May, 2015 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Review

Catherine Bray adds to a growing chorus of acclaim for Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha, a feature film backed on Kickstarter to the tune of  $14,260, which went on to win the Grand Jury Award at SXSW…

Krisha (Krisha Fairchild)

Krisha (Krisha Fairchild)

Some films are important because they clearly signal in some way the arrival of an important new talent, without necessarily being a film that works independently of its function as a calling card. Krisha is both calling card and a legitimately accomplished film in its own right.

Multi-talented multi-hyphenate Trey Edward Shults writes, directs and edits his own feature debut, as well as playing a small but key role in the film, and it’s worth learning his name now: he’s scored a two-pic deal with A24 off the back of Krisha’s success and is still only in his mid-twenties. We’ll be hearing from him again.

Director Trey Edward Shults

Director Trey Edward Shults

More importantly, the film itself is a gem. Actually, I say “gem” because it fits neatly with elements of what we understand by the word “gem” (a film reviewer’s word if ever I saw one), in that it’s small but perfectly formed, shot in just nine days on a single location, it’s an indie, it premiered at SXSW, and so on (there is no such thing as an “epic gem”). But actually, “gem” may not be the right word, implying as it sometimes can, a certain kind of twinkling warmth or whimsy, perhaps even twee qualities (Garden State was the prototypical indie gem, back when people still liked that film).

The plot synopsis – estranged aunt Krisha attempts to reconnect at Thanksgiving dinner – does nothing to allay impressions of possible hugging and learning outcomes, Oscar bait style, but the film’s major gambit places it in rather different territory. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Lost Weekend, Krisha locates horror tropes in the nightmare of trying to function in society as an alcoholic. The tension, suspicion, compulsions and treachery that underlie most psychological horror are all present and correct, but transposed cleverly onto a warm and banal family ensemble, and Shults plays on these aspects like a pro. If you’ve ever dealt with any of the issues presented here, be warned it’s a tough watch.

Nor is this a cold technical exercise – there is real feeling here, perhaps partly as a result of the film’s other big gimmick, which is the casting of Shults’ family in fictionalised versions of themselves. This could have been a disaster, but Shults marshals his actors/family effectively and captures dozens of moments where it’s impossible to tell where fiction ends and documentary begins. This is one of my must-sees from Cannes.


Krisha (Krisha Fairchild)

Krisha (Krisha Fairchild)





by Catherine Bray

Catherine is a film journalist and the Editorial Director of Film4 Online. She is also the producer of teen movie documentary @beyondclueless and forthcoming horror documentary Fear Itself.

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