TIFF: five favourites

28 Sep, 2015 Posted in: Festivals, Toronto

Elena Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film festival on her five favourites of the fest.

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ success in realising the usually disastrous combination of farcical black comedy and romance proved to be my favourite film of the festival. Entertaining from beginning to end, The Lobster has its strange cake and eats it, balancing comedy and tragedy, violence and extreme tenderness, its tonal shifts never distracting from the central human plot, but always working in its service. Colin Farrell’s deadpan performance is endlessly watchable and makes his character’s outbursts of romantic feeling and ultimate sacrifice all the more moving in the end. With its intensely designed cinematography echoing the absurd and polarised structure of the film’s world, The Lobster felt to me the most wholly realised film at the festival.

Green Room

As the most violent and graphic film on my list – and possibly at the festival – it might seem strange to single out Green Room for the respect it has for its audience. The film does not waste time in lengthy exposition or explanation. Rather, entering the world of punk rock without being given any particulars proves part of the pleasure, as we spiral into a world of suddenly escalating violence. Although they appear in what is essentially a straightforward siege/slasher film, the lead characters (a rag-tag punk band) are presented as refreshingly intelligent; instantly and acutely aware of the dubious atmosphere of what turns out to be a neo-Nazi club, they prepare themselves for the worst quickly and efficiently.


Winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness – the festival’s absurdly fun strand of late night screenings – Hardcore is entirely shot with GoPro cameras from the perspective of a bionic man on the run, like a first person shooter video game with the boring bits ripped out. Operating in a fantastical world, the violence in the film is too extreme, too omnipresent and too choreographed to be painful to watch, instead proving intensely enjoyable in all its OTT glory. As in a video game, we admire all the cool and inventive ways contrived to eliminate enemies and we cheer on our hero, even as his face remains obscured to us, because we ‘are’ him.

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition

Initially released in 1999, this animated film is of my generation but somehow passed me by, and so proved a total revelation for me at TIFF. Brad Bird’s debut effortlessly achieves what recent ‘dark’ Pixar films are aiming for: lasting and genuine emotional impact. The difference with The Iron Giant is that I did not feel manipulated, as I did with Toy Story 3, or, to some extent, Inside Out, both films that seemed to purposefully, almost sadistically select a subject or a direction calculated in advance to crush your soul. The Iron Giant feels less clinical, starting from a place of genuine innocence in its tale of a lonely boy and his friendship with what might be a giant metallic killing machine.

The Club

Nuanced films about tough subjects are to be cherished and admired, as they are so rare in contemporary cinema, and The Club is one of them. Dealing with the issue of hushed-up child abuse in the Catholic Church, the contemporary setting of the film is instrumental in effectively questioning the on-going responsibility and complicity of the Church in these crimes. The film’s accusations extend beyond individual priests to deliver a more structural and damning verdict, serving to highlight how ancient institutional principles of secrecy and protection are untenable in our modern world.

TIFF: five favourites

28 Sep, 2015 Posted in: Festivals, Toronto

Manuela Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film Festival on five favourites from the fest.

The Witch

What if the sorceresses and deadly spells in which people believed so fervently in the 17th century had been real? The Witch takes this premise and explores how belief systems operate, demonstrating that in fact, no one, whether in 1630s New England or 2015 Toronto, can comprehend the existence of true, absolute evil, even when presented with empirical evidence. Even the parents of the cursed family at the film’s centre eventually blame a supernatural being; they cannot imagine it being simply an external figure – it must be someone within the family. The Witch distinguishes itself by its reliance on human psychology rather than graphic horror to intrigue and terrify.

How Heavy This Hammer

Depression is a tough subject to tackle onscreen: even the best-intentioned filmmakers risk oversimplifying or exploiting it in order to manipulate an audience. With How Heavy This Hammer, writer-director Kazir Radwanski avoids this by keeping the origin of his main character Erwin’s dissatisfaction opaque. Erwin’s increasingly jaded attitude marks his descent into isolation, as even the quick gratification of video games loses its appeal. His rudeness and passive aggression towards his blameless family is off-putting, yet Radwanski nevertheless succeeds in creating unexpected empathy for this difficult character.


Holidays can become boring. When you run out of silly games to play, you may have to raise the stakes to keep everyone entertained. This is how a gang of male friends cruising along the Greek coast in Chevalier comes to compete for the title of ‘best man.’ Every interaction becomes an act and a test, with notes taken and a mysterious rating system implemented. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg) also shows each participant in more intimate moments where doubts surface, revealing the difficulty of maintaining ideals of masculinity which no one can actually define. As they grow increasingly determined to win the competition, these complex characters concoct ever more absurd exercises, which prove dryly amusing but also surprisingly moving in their audacity and courage.


Francois Truffaut was the ultimate cinephile. Like many French New Wave directors he paid tribute to the filmmakers he admired (arguably with greater deference than his contemporaries), both in his writing for the Cahiers du Cinema and in his own directorial oeuvre. This trait is nowhere more evident than in his interview series with Alfred Hitchcock, which transformed a then out-of-fashion English director into the ‘Master of Suspense’ in the public imagination. In Hitchcock/Truffaut, film writer Kent Jones goes beyond illustrating the influence of the master on his admirer as presented in the book, by adding interviews with contemporary directors. Jones finds wild and varied connections between different film artists, from David Fincher to Wes Anderson to Arnaud Desplechin, connecting their common experiences of learning from the original interviews, in order to better underline the unparalleled importance of both the two men and their meeting itself.

In Jackson Heights

I have never set foot in Jackson Heights, and yet watching Frederick Wiseman’s exploration of the New York City neighbourhood, I felt as though I were standing on its streets, entering its various religious and political centres, and listening to its residents from all nationalities. Once again, Wiseman immerses himself in cultures – without disturbing or judging them – by filming their public appearances. Humanity shines through as he focuses on certain characters and demonstrates his unparalleled ability to communicate the formal reality of people and places. The radiant images and elegant sound mix effectively delineate the multiple facets of this exceptionally diverse community, and the people and places prove perfect subjects for Wiseman’s empathetic worldview. This is a film full of optimism and light, despite the multiple struggles it presents.

Michael Leader’s 20 LFF 2015 recommendations

Site Editor Michael Leader rounds out our team’s picks for this year’s London Film Festival…

This time last year, I picked a mixture of already-seen and the dying-to-see from the LFF’s 2014 line-up. This time around, I’ve seen far fewer festival favourites – but therein lies the excitement of perusing the LFF’s all-you-can-eat buffet of 2015’s buzziest films. I’ll be gorging on many more come October, but for now here are 20 that I wouldn’t dare miss.


35mm: The Quays Meet Christopher Nolan

Stephen & Timothy Quay are hugely influential and widely respected in animation circles but, unlike their stop-motion contemporaries (think Jan Švankmajer, Nick Park and Henry Selick), they still sit outside of mainstream appreciation of the artform. These restored prints of their shorts In Absentia, The Comb and Street Of Crocodiles, screening alongside a short, eight-minute documentary about the brothers’ methods directed by Christopher Nolan, will be a sure-fire delight whether or not you’re familiar with the Quays’ distinctive work. [Buy tickets]

Elephant Days

The Maccabees’ behind-the-record film Elephant Days isn’t so much up my street as literally shot down my street, reportedly serving as a documentary portrait of the much maligned Elephant & Castle area of South London, which I’ve called home since 2009. The Elephant’s appeared on screen in the past as a forbidding backdrop for inner-city terror (at best, Attack The Block; at worst, Harry Brown); a more personal take on the neighbourhood is long overdue. [Buy tickets]


Elstree 1976

I love Star Wars, but not as much as I love documentaries about people who haven’t so much had a brush with fame, as stood in proximity to it (such as music docs Anvil and Mistaken For Strangers). Jon Spira’s film combines the two to introduce us to ten performers who played bit parts in George Lucas’s blockbusting sci-fi adventure, which should offer a much-needed respite from the relentless hype-train for Episode VII. [Buy tickets]


Francois Truffaut’s landmark series of candid interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, published as Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock in 1967 (afterwards translated into English as Hitchcock/Truffaut), is one of my go-to film books, and it sounds like Kent Jones’ documentary – which features filmmakers including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese – serves as both a fitting companion to the book, and an effective illustration of Hitchcock’s enduring influence. [Buy tickets]

I Am Belfast

No doubt one for fans of Chris Petit, Andrew Kotting and Patrick Keiller, the latest from Story Of Film director/critic Mark Cousins is a ‘metaphorical essay’ about his hometown, which recasts Belfast as a 10,000 year old lady with a rich and complex history, complete with archive footage, a soundtrack by composer David Holmes (Hunger, ‘71), and cinematography from Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love, Hero). [Buy tickets]

In Jackson Heights

After last year’s National Gallery, seasoned documentarian Frederick Wiseman returns with a look at one of New York’s most diverse neighbourhoods, observing the everyday life of a population that speaks 167 languages. Wiseman’s patient filmmaking style isn’t for everyone – his films are rarely under three hours long, and In Jackson Heights is no exception – but the texture and detail found in his work are second to none. [Buy tickets]

The Invitation

I’m expecting to spend most of my time at the LFF gleefully devouring the dark genre delights in the Cult selection (check out the full line-up here), but I’m most excited to see The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) – a slowburn chamber piece that wrests tension, paranoia and anxiety out of the most simple of social engagements: the dinner party. [Buy tickets]

Janis, Little Girl Blue

Every year, the LFF’s Sonic strand delivers a strong selection of music documentaries, and 2015’s line-up is no different, judging by the inclusion of Danny Says, a portrait of Ramones manager and ‘pop culture Zelig’ Danny Fields; Sacha Jenkins’ hip-hop fashion doc Fresh Dressed and, most notably, this comprehensive look at the life and music of Janis Joplin, directed by Oscar nominee Amy Berg (West Of Memphis). [Buy tickets]

Listen To Me Marlon

Continuing the trend set by the likes of Amy and Cobain: Montage Of Heck, this bio-doc from director Stevan Riley (Fire In Babylon, Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007) sets its sights on another inscrutable icon, the legendary Marlon Brando, offering an intimate portrait through the actor’s personal archive of audio recordings, encompassing everything from press interviews and business meetings to hypnosis and therapy sessions. [Buy tickets]

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ deft, deliciously twisted, yet ultimately moving satire on the culture of coupledom bagged the Jury Prize at Cannes in May, and finally makes it way to the UK as the LFF’s Dare Gala. This deadpan, dystopian drama, featuring a stellar cast including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, is like no other film in the selection: an oddball treat for romantics with a perverse sense of humour. [Buy tickets]



Johnnie To, the king of stylish Hong Kong cinema, gathers an all-star cast (headed by Chow Yun Fat) for this lavish adaptation of co-writer and cast member Sylvia Chang’s play Design For Living. Whether they are gangster movies (Drug War), romantic thrillers (Blind Detective) or, in this case, white-collar workplace musicals, To’s films always dazzle with eye-popping costumes and production design that beg to be seen on the big screen. [Buy tickets]

Our Little Sister

I’m a fully paid-up member of the Hirokazu Kore-eda fan club (interviewing the man himself at the LFF two years ago was a festival highlight), so I’m already on board with this adaptation of a manga series about three sisters taking in a younger half-sister after their father dies. Expect the gentlest of gentle dramas, light on incident yet full of heart. [Buy tickets]


Park Lanes

Part of the fun of festivals is seeing films you almost certainly won’t find elsewhere. This year’s “Least likely to show up in your local Cineworld” prize goes to Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes, an eight hour long recreation (take that, Wiseman) of one day in the life of a factory that manufactures bowling alley equipment, which promises to offer an epic, intimate insight into the drudgery and social interactions at the heart of the American workplace. [Buy tickets]


Public House

Another South London story, Sarah Turner’s documentary reportedly bends genre conventions to tell the tale of the Ivy House in Nunhead, which was earmarked for redevelopment until the locals rallied around this pillar of the community, eventually turning it into ‘London’s first co-operatively-owned pub’. [Buy tickets]

Queen Of Earth

Frankly, I haven’t yet come to terms with the end of Mad Men. The only consolation is seeing Elisabeth Moss flourish on the big screen (see 2014’s sci-fi-tinged relationship drama The One I Love). This psychological drama, her second collaboration with writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), opened recently in the States and was greeted with uniformly positive reviews, praising in particular Moss’s performance as a woman on the verge of an emotional breakdown after a series of life-changing events. [Buy tickets]

The Room--(None)


I’m intrigued to see how Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel, told from the juvenile perspective of a boy brought up in captivity, will translate from page to screen, but what a dream team to handle the transition: director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did), Donoghue herself writing the screenplay, and Brie Larson in the lead role of a young woman striving to create a semblance of family life in the midst of a Fritzl-like confinement. [Buy tickets]

carol-1024_LRG (1)

Todd Haynes: Screen Talk

It’s hard to believe that Todd Haynes has only directed six feature films in his near 30-year career, most recently ending an eight-year break from the big screen with the instant-classic Carol. It will be a rare pleasure to hear him look back his small, perfectly-formed body of work, as well as his award-winning shorts and television work, in the LFF’s ever-fascinating Screen Talk strand. [Buy tickets]

When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli alert! The legendary Japanese animation house’s first appearance in the LFF line-up since The Cat Returns in 2003 comes with a bittersweet aftertaste, since this gentle gem from Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is, for now, Ghibli’s final release – so treasure it while you still can. [Buy tickets]

The Witch

Robert Eggers’ Sundance prize-winning Puritan-era horror became a must-see for me after David Ehrlich, in his fevered Time Out rave, called it “A jaw-droppingly bold gift from God… A major horror event on par with recent festival sensations like Kill List and The Babadook”. A creepy-as-hell trailer, released last month, cemented the deal. [Buy tickets]

Yakuza Apocalypse

I could easily pick out any of the LFF Cult strand’s Japanese Contingent (boasting new films from directors Hideo Nakata and Sion Sono) but I’ll plump for the latest from professionally-prolific powerhouse Takashi Miike: a vampire/mobster mash-up that’s sure to fit comfortably alongside his craziest work. [Buy tickets]

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 Film4.com 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.





Six Film4-backed films selected for TIFF 2015

26 Aug, 2015 Productions Posted in: Toronto

Room, High-Rise, The Lobster, Youth, 45 Years and Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story Of Dream Alliance have been selected for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from September 10-20…


“We are proud to be working with some of the industry’s most renowned and visionary filmmakers. Having six films invited to Toronto is a wonderful validation of Film4’s commitment to creative excellence on an international scale. Congratulations to all our filmmakers and partners,” said David Kosse, Director of Film4.

The highly anticipated line-up includes Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard and starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, which is making its world premiere at the festival.

Three other films will make their North American debuts at the festival following successful world premieres respectively at key festivals earlier this year: Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly which won the Cannes Jury Prize; Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth starring Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz and Harvey Keitel and Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, which won Silver Bear Acting Awards for both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In addition, two films will make their Canadian premieres at the festival: Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue and starring Brie Larson, William H. Macy and Joan Allen and the documentary Dark Horse which won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.