Opinion

Catherine Bray’s 20 LFF 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

There is nothing about Tilda Swinton playing a rock star reportedly amalgamating David Bowie and Mick Jagger that I’m not excited about.

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. 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 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

Carol

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.

Book for Carol

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.

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 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.

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 a result 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

High-Rise

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.

Book for High-Rise

Krisha

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.

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, 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

Lucifer

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.

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 some 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 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

Trumbo

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

sonofsaul

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 SEA OF TREES

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Cunningham’s 11 recommendations for LFF 14

19 Sep, 2014 Posted in: London Film Festival, Opinion

Unfortunately I haven’t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that’s what makes the London Film Festival’s compilation approach to programming all the more exciting – there’s no shortage of films that come highly-recommended that I’m desperate to see, and now they’re here on my doorstep. Already overflowing with recommendations from Michael and Catherine, I delved even deeper into the programme to select an array of films that I haven’t already been assured are all absolutely brilliant, but that look like they just might be.

Mr Turner

Mr Turner

Mr. Turner, dir. Mike Leigh

After Timothy Spall’s Best Actor win in Cannes and hearing all of the positive noises about Mike Leigh’s film as it makes its way around the festival circuit, it’s exciting to think that we’ll soon be able to hear those already infamous grunts first hand and on home soil ahead of its October 31st UK release. (Buy tickets)

The New Girlfriend, dir. Francois Ozon

Francois Ozon returns to the LFF for the third successive year after the excellent In The House and Jeune & Jolie with a film starring Romain Duris that plays in the Official Competition and comes billed as an audacious melodrama with a ravishing twist. What’s not to like? (Buy tickets)

Stray Dog, dir Debra Granik

Debra Granik met the subject of her debut documentary, Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall while making her Oscar-nominated feature, Winter’s Bone. If she tells the story of this American biker and war vet with the nuance and grace with which she depicted characters like Teardrop and Ree in her narrative feature, this should make for a fascinating watch. (Buy tickets)

The Tribe, dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

When our very own Catherine Bray saw The Tribe in Cannes she drew parallels to Michael Haneke, calling the Ukrainian film “unusual” and “brilliant.” Featuring a cast of young deaf performers and told entirely through sign language and without subtitles, The Tribe promises to be a completely new cinematic experience. (Buy tickets)

X + Y, dir. Morgan Matthews

Playing in the festival’s ‘Love’ strand, BAFTA-winning documentarian Morgan Matthews’ X + Y has assembled an impressive British cast that includes Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins for his tale of an autistic teenage maths prodigy (Asa Butterfield) whose talent takes him from the English suburbs to Taipei. (Buy tickets)

Metamorphoses, dir. Christophe Honore

Of the numerous clips and trailers that played at the LFF’s press launch earlier this month, it was the Metamorphoses trailer that proved perhaps the most attention-grabbing. The description of an “erotically upfront re-reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, enacted by a fearless cast of young actors in contemporary French settings” does nothing to loosen that grab on my attention. (Buy tickets)

White Bird In A Blizzard, dir. Gregg Araki

I’d been looking forward to Gregg Araki’s first film in four years long before the pleasant surprise of finding it in the ‘Dare’ strand (naturally) of the LFF programme. Again exploring his favourite themes of sex, mortality and adolescence, but this time with two of Hollywood’s most exciting stars in Eva Green and Shailene Woodley, this will hopefully be a return to form for Araki. (Buy tickets)

Night Bus, dir. Simon Baker

I don’t find myself naturally drawn towards the LFF’s ‘Laugh’ strand, but Night Bus immediately struck me as a brilliant idea that I couldn’t believe hadn’t been done before. Written and directed by Simon Baker (no, not that one), the comedy-drama will take us on a journey through London that very isn’t often experienced sober. (Buy tickets)

A Second Chance, dir. Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier, the Oscar-winning director of In A Better World, has two films at this year’s festival, and despite her English-language effort featuring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role, it’s her Danish-Swedish production starring Game Of Thrones’ excellent Nikolaj Coster-Waldau that I’m excited about. (Buy tickets)

Robot Overlords, dir. Jon Wright

I’m a firm believer that in the era of CG-animation, modern mainstream cinema is failing to adequately provide younger audiences with quality, live-action movies. This ambitious, futuristic British sci-fi in the ‘Family’ strand will hopefully buck that trend. Fingers crossed for something positively Spielbergian. (Buy tickets)

Animated Shorts For Younger Audiences, dir. Various

What other section of the programme includes a picked-on pig befriending an artistic fox? That’s the plot of the adorable-looking The Dam Keeper, and there are also shorts featuring elephants,  a ghost, a giant octopus, and a prehistoric fish in this international selection. After a bevy of serious, arthouse cinema, this should be a lovely change of pace. (Buy tickets)

 

Michael Leader’s 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

19 Sep, 2014 Posted in: London Film Festival, Opinion

One of the best things about the London Film Festival’s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there’s an eclectic collection of exciting films of all shapes and sizes that are finally finding their UK premieres after months of international buzz. So, after Catherine’s round-up, here are my 11 picks from the programme – a mixture of the already-seen and the dying-to-see.

Second Coming

Second Coming

Second Coming

Hot on the heels of its world premiere at TIFF, Debbie Tucker Green’s Film4-backed domestic drama, starring Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a couple whose relationship is rocked by a mysterious pregnancy, appears at the LFF in the First Feature Competition. But it’s a London film at heart, shot locally in the South-West of the capital and written with an intimate understanding of the area’s British-West Indian community, so there’s no better place to catch it (especially its Sunday 19th screening at the Ritzy in Brixton). (Buy tickets)

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

One of my favourites from Toronto this year, Electric Boogaloo is about as fun and informative as a documentary about a film studio could possibly be. Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) stuffs his latest trawl through movie history with hilarious anecdotes and ludicrous clips, as he delves into the backstory of 80s eccentrics Cannon Films, the production company that brought you the likes of Missing In Action, Death Wish III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Masters Of The Universe. (Buy tickets)

It Follows

The wait has been excruciating, but It Follows has finally made it to UK shores after rave reviews from Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Toronto and various other international film festivals. Our Catherine Bray called David Robert Mitchell’s second feature “the best teen horror pic to emerge since The Faculty” – and, believe me, that’s high praise. Expect to see me cowering in the front row. (Buy tickets)

Catch Me Daddy

One more exciting, Film4-backed debut from the First Feature Competition line-up. Music video director Daniel Wolfe’s gripping tale of two young lovers on the run through the Yorkshire Moors is bold and beautifully shot (by Andrea Arnold’s regular DoP Robbie Ryan). And the critics at Cannes agreed, with Time Out lauding the film as an “unblinking and upsetting debut”, while The Telegraph hailed it as “a terrifically bright start for its director”.  (Buy tickets)

Bjork: Biophilia Live

If Peter Strickland’s S&M-themed drama The Duke Of Burgundy leaves you gagging (!) for more, then don’t forget his second appearance in the LFF programme, a concert film co-directed with BAFTA-winning editor Nick Fenton, documenting the live portion of the ever-inspiring Bjork’s ambitious multimedia project Biophilia. (Buy tickets)

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

Certainly not the cheeriest of choices from the LFF programme, but this intriguing unfinished project from 1945, completed and restored by the Imperial War Museum, was initially filmed for a single, propagandistic purpose: to confront German citizens with the horrors of Hitler’s regime in order to ‘de-Nazify’ the population after the Second World War ended. From Schindler’s List to Shoah, the question of how best to document the holocaust on film has been a hotly-debated topic for decades, and this is a unique chance to see how such footage could have been used as a socio-cultural weapon. (Buy tickets)

National Gallery

I experienced something of a documentary-related epiphany about halfway into Frederick Wiseman’s patient, observational four-hour long film At Berkeley at Venice last year, and this new observo-doc about one of London’s most august institutions, a relative trifle at just under 180 minutes, should be no less engrossing or enlightening. (Buy tickets)

The Drop 

Tom Hardy cuddles a puppy! If that mental image hasn’t convinced you to see The Drop, there’s plenty to love about Michael R Roskam’s (Bullhead) adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s finely-textured, character-driven crime story, which sees Hardy appear alongside the great James Gandolfini as the bartender and manager of a run-down Brooklyn joint reduced to acting as a ‘drop’ location for the local mafia. (Buy tickets)

Tokyo Tribe

Here’s a gangster rap musical, adapted from a hyper-stylized manga series by maverick Japanese director Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Suicide Club). Need I say more? This follow-up to last year’s madcap gem Why Don’t You Play In Hell is a glorious mash-up of West Side Story and The Warriors, with wall-to-wall rapping and the incessant stylistic bombast that Sono has turned into a personal trademark. (Buy tickets)

Spring

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s segment in horror anthology doc VHS: Viral – featuring skaters stumbling across a freaky demonic ritual in Tijuana – was one of my highlights from FrightFest last month, so Spring, reportedly a romance/horror hybrid that brings together Richard Linklater and HP Lovecraft, is right at the top of my must-see list. (Buy tickets)

The World Of Kanako

Tetsuya Nakashima is one of Japan’s most exciting directors, and his latest finds the candy-coloured pop art of Kamikaze Girls colliding head-first with the foreboding drama of Confessions, with a thread of violent bad-cop thrills tying it all together, as an unpredictable ex-detective tracks his missing daughter through the unseemly criminal world that lies beyond her seemingly perfect high-school life. The World Of Kanako sometimes feels like four films happening at once – and the experience is absolutely exhilarating. (Buy tickets)