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]

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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.





Five shorts from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015

30 Jun, 2015 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion, Review, Short films

Anthony Ing rounds up his top five shorts from the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2015.

Dear Araucaria

Dear Araucaria

Apparently tackling something of a cosy subject, Dear Araucaria’s intial focus is The Guardian’s celebrated crossword setter Rev. John Graham. But the gradual revelation of his illness, as communicated through his craft, soon submerges us into an unforeseen emotional space.

Starting Point

Starting Point

A beautifully shot intimate documentary portrait of a Polish woman who went to prison for a murder she committed as a teenager, Starting Point has the arc and atmosphere of a fiction short. It would be moving as such, but its basis in reality makes it unshakeable.

Preserving Lonesome George

Preserving Lonesome George

Preserving Lonesome George is a fascinating account of the combined science and art of taxidermy, with the nostalgic vibe of something you might have watched on a school trip to the Natural History Museum and wished you’d paid a bit more attention to.

Generation Right

Generation Right

For politically engaged Brits over a certain age, this outline of Thatcherism probably won’t be considered particularly insightful. But for those of us who weren’t alive during her leadership, Generation Right provides a concise and informative account of Thatcher’s controversial decisions and their lasting impact on the country.

The Brick Collector

The Brick Collector

The Brick Collector is a two minute film about an old man from Leeds who collects bricks. It is as charming and endearing as that sentence suggests.

Cannes 2015 Wrap Up

23 May, 2015 Posted in: Awards, Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

I’ve just come out of the press screening of the festival’s Closing Night film – the ecological documentary The Ice and the Sky – and, for me, Cannes is finished for another year. A few great films and a handful of good-to-very good ones doesn’t feel like a terrific return but I missed a lot of what went on in the Directors Fortnight section this year – including the universally well-liked Turkish film Mustang – where the overall quality was reportedly very high (though I couldn’t say that about the Fortnight’s Closing Film, Dope). So, still plenty of Cannes titles to catch up on over the course of the year, and of course some films that I didn’t really enjoy or understand on first viewing here may very well improve on second viewing, in calmer surroundings (as happened with last year’s Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep).

For now though, I’ll sign off with my personal Cannes top 10 (a clear top 3 and then the rest, all in alphabetical order), and a no-doubt poor attempt at some prize predictions:

Cannes Top 3:

THE ASSASSIN (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, in Competition)

CAROL (Todd Haynes, in Competition)

MY GOLDEN DAYS (Arnaud Desplechin, in Directors Fortnight)

The Rest:

CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in Competition)

HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Kent Jones/Serge Toucabia, in Cannes Classics)

THE MEASURE OF A MAN (Stephane Brize, in Competition)

MEDITERRANEA (Jonas Carpignano, in Critics Week)

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (Jia Zhang-ke, in Competition)

SON OF SAUL (Laszlo Nemes, in Competition)

THE TREASURE (Corneliu Porumboiu, in Un Certain Regard)

As for predictions, I’d go for Carol to win the Palme d’Or, Hou Hsiao-Hsien to win the Director prize, Zhao Tao to win Best Actress for Mountains May Depart and a toss-up between British actors Michael Caine and Tim Roth for Actor, in Youth and Chronic repsectively. Son of Saul should win the Camera d’Or for Best First Film, but that film – and its director Laszlo Nemes and lead actor Geza Rohrig – could easily win the top prize in any of the above eligible categories.



Cannes 2015: The Festival Finds Its Feet

18 May, 2015 Posted in: Awards, Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Film4 Channel Editor David Cox brings us up to date as the 2015 edition of the Cannes Film Festival moves into its second week…

We’re into the first weekend of this year’s Cannes Film Festival and, after a bumpy beginning, some stronger titles have come along and things are starting to straighten out a bit. I felt like I was clutching at straws for a few days – nothing felt like the real deal, nothing was delivering from start to finish and on all levels. There’d been plenty to enjoy (I’m not seeking perfection and you rarely find much at Cannes that’s actively bad) but it was really just moments from, or aspects of, films that were making an impression.

Amongst the early entries unlikely to be remembered by the end of the festival were Hirokazu Koreeda’s touching but perilously lightweight Our Little Sister (graced by some lovely performances); Radu Muntean’s intriguing but too-ambiguous-by-half One Floor Down; Woody Allen’s campus comedy of morality and murder Irrational Man (scene-by-scene snappy but an overly-familiar dead-end); and Matteo Garrone’s fairytale compendium Tale Of Tales, which filled the screen with lavish design and fabulous creatures but failed to conjure anything approaching a fantastical atmosphere.


More significant, and almost certain to be in the running for a prize, Laszlo Nemes’ Son Of Saul is a Holocaust drama made with the urgent immediacy of a Dardenne film (specifically Rosetta and The Son). This immersive first-person drama – set in Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944, and focussing almost exclusively on a Hungarian prisoner’s attempt to bury the dead body of a boy he believes to be his son – has a teasing visual scheme (lead Geza Rohrig is front-centre throughout, with death camp horrors glimpsed at the edge of frame or out of focus) and haunting sound design, an infernal, almost industrial clamour that conveys more of what’s going on than the images. It’s as powerful as one might expect and highly accomplished. However, given the subject matter, it also feels too contrived for comfort, with its perfectly constructed clockwork plot that, by being so compelling its own right, somehow reduces the very real historical horror to little more than a backdrop. Furthermore, some of the off-screen dialogue – lines such as ‘To the pits, the ovens must be full’ – are a little more on-the-nose than feels entirely necessary. Still, there’s no doubt that Son Of Saul is an entirely honourable attempt to confront the Shoah and an early festival highlight.


The festival whipping-boy going into the first weekend was poor Gus Van Sant (a former Palme d’Or winner for Elephant) and his spiritual survival-adventure/relationship drama Sea Of Trees. Booed at the first press screening (and maybe at the second too, but surely there can’t be that many idiots at this festival), Sea Of Trees is – simply put – not a film best-served by being in competition at Cannes. It may be ponderous, sentimental and full of trite philosophical musings but I’ve seen plenty of films here over the years that follow the same path, escaping unscathed thanks to a lower profile or a better disguise (another of this year’s competition entrants, Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs, is equally banal yet received warm applause). The nakedly earnest Sea Of Trees never tries to hide its emotions (it almost defiantly overshares in the final third) and one is never in doubt of the sort of grand effect that Van Sant – and Matthew McConaughey – are aiming for. That they end up looking faintly ridiculous is a shame, but critics would be better off trying to figure out why a big-hearted, serious-minded and beautifully-directed film ends up in such a mess rather than taking childish cheap shots.

A stumbling start maybe, but the weekend bought with it a handful of anticipated films that didn’t disappoint – Todd Haynes’ Carol; Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy; Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre (which I’ve yet to see but which has been well received); Miguel Gomes’s three-part Arabian Nights; and my personal favourite, Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days. There have also been discoveries in the sidebars – Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant; Clement Cogitore’s The Wakhan Front; Han Jun-hee’s Coin Locker Girl; and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, the director’s bloody follow-up to his popular Blue Ruin. I’ll touch on some of them in my next entry if we haven’t moved on by then – it’s amazing how quickly your new favourite film becomes yesterday’s news at this rapid-fire festival!