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
There is nothing about Tilda Swinton playing a rock star reportedly amalgamating David Bowie and Mick Jagger that I’m not excited about.
This is really three recommendations in one, since Tabu director Miguel Gomes’s 381 minute epic is screening in three parts. 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.
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 no Netflix proposition with more buzz about it right now than this timely child soldier drama, featuring Idris Elba.
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.
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.
Couple In A Hole
Some films intrigue because of the director’s past work, sometimes it’s because of a favourite actor, or a particular head of department whose name always augurs quality. Other times, it’s a premise, and that’s the case here. A middle aged middle class couple living like feral animals in a hole in the ground? Sold.
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 could 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.
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 a result of director Guy Maddin’s interactive Seances project.
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.
Early buzz on Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s 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.
A lively, compassionate and tightly edited look at middle class functional alcoholism rendered all the more emotional for being shot like a horror movie, I was flabbergasted when Trey Edward Shults’ sizzling debut Krisha didn’t win top prize in the Critics’ Week strand at Cannes – fingers crossed for a prize in London.
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, analysis and classic clips.
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.
Filmed entirely within a circular frame (“Tondoscope”), Gust van den Berghe’s Lucifer promises formal experimentation based on a 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.
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 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 turn in Star Wars: Rogue One.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click here to explore the rest of the London Film Festival 2015 programme.