Free Fire

First, some score settling. My colleague Catherine and I fought over a few of our picks, so let me add my voice to the close harmony of recommendation for Gareth Tunley’s impressive debut psychological drama The Ghoul, as well as express my anticipation for the likes of Prevenge, Raw, Manchester By The Sea, Elle and Toni Erdmann. Now, with that out of the way…

The LFF is so packed with gems this year that, frankly, you could blind-buy a ticket and odds are you’ll hit upon a hotly-tipped festival favourite, cult classic in the making, or delightful deep cut from one of the festival’s expertly curated strands and selections. There’s much to see and enjoy, but to get you started here is an alphabetical handful of my suggestions…

After The Storm, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

If you ask me, Hirokazu Koreeda is the most consistent filmmaker working today, and After The Storm – which reunites Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe, who previously played mother and son in his 2008 masterpiece Still Walking – continues the director’s winning streak of winsome domestic dramas, joining I Wish, Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister.

Certain Women, dir Kelly Reichardt

Movie maths time: Kelly Reichardt + Michelle Williams = something very special indeed. A reunion of the director and star of both Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy & Lucy would be inviting enough, but throw in both Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, and we have Reichardt’s most formidable ensemble to date, gathered to tell perhaps her most ambitious story, which interweaves the lives of three women in smalltown Montana, taking inspiration from the short stories of American writer Maile Meloy.

City Of Tiny Lights, dir. Pete Travis

After offering strong support alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014’s Nightcrawler, Riz Ahmed is making 2016 count. Star Wars spin-off Rogue One will no doubt catapult him to a new level of stardom, but for now he’s appearing in two films at the LFF: Benedict Andrews’ Film4-backed drama Una and this London-set neo-noir, directed by Dredd’s Pete Travis. Riz fans, rejoice!

David Lynch: The Art Life, dir. John Nguyen / Blue Velvet Revisited, dir. Peter Braatz

It’s not long until David Lynch is back on our (small) screens with the long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks, so LFF are whetting our appetites with a double-dose of documentaries about this one-of-a-kind filmmaker. Blue Velvet Revisited is an archive feature of behind-the-scenes footage from his 1986 masterpiece, while The Art Life is a reflective, intimate bio-doc narrated by the man himself. Don’t make me choose. See both.

Ethel and Ernest, dir. Roger Mainwood

The most personal work of illustrator and bona fide national treasure Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, When The Wind Blows), Ethel And Ernest is a social history of 20th century working class Britain disguised as a gently moving biography of his mother and father. This long-gestating adaptation finally makes it to the big screen, with Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent giving voice to the title characters. A recently-released trailer suggests that it has been worth the wait.

Free Fire, dir. Ben Wheatley

After High-Rise’s skyscraping ambition, Free Fire is a single-location thriller with laser-sharp focus on recreating the shoot-em-up cinema of Sam Peckinpah – with a gun-toting ensemble of glittering contemporary stars, including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley. Don’t miss Wheatley’s Screen Talk the day before Free Fire’s premiere for a chance to hear directly from the straight-shooting, and refreshingly candid, filmmaker himself.

Further Beyond, dirs. Justine Molloy & Joe Lawlor

This curious essay film, screening in the Experimenta strand, stars Aidan Gillen as an actor recreating the journey of an Irish-born Spanish colonialist from Ireland to Chile. Mister John, the last collaboration between Gillen directors Justine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, was something of a cult gem on release in 2013 – Further Beyond seems destined for similar status.

Lake Bodom, dir. Taneli Mustonen

Fans of extreme Finnish metal band Children of Bodom will already be familiar with the enduring urban legend surrounding the grisly, unsolved murders of a group of teenagers at Lake Bodom in 1960. Taneli Mustonen’s film takes inspiration from this cultural touchstone, as a gang of modern-day teens visit the infamous lake to get to the bottom of the mystery. What sounds like a great riff on 80s slashers, though, might in fact be more surprising; BFI Cult strand programmer Michael Blyth writes that Lake Bodom ‘delights in slaying expectations and slicing up conventions’.

Mifune: The Last Samurai, dir. Steven Okazaki

Possibly the most recognisable Japanese actor in the world, thanks to his ongoing collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune is the sort of cinematic titan who surely should have had a career-spanning bio-doc by now. So, in steps director Steven Okazaki – a filmmaker with a certain heft, better known for documentaries grappling with Japanese and Japanese American experiences in the Second World War – to tell the story of this unique and formidable talent. I suspect this will be a little more nourishing than your standard talking-head fare.

A Monster Calls, dir J.A. Bayona

J.A. Bayona may now be ‘the director who brought you The Impossible’, but I’ll always remember him for the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Spanish gothic horror The Orphanage. Before he goes off to direct the next Jurassic Park movie, Bayona might have just made his Pan’s Labyrinth – an adaptation of Patrick Ness’s best-selling fantasy novel about a young boy who befriends a monstrous yew tree, voiced by Liam Neeson.

My Life As A Courgette, dir. Claude Barras

A serious contender for my film of the year, this French-Swiss stop-motion animation, adapted from a children’s novel about an orphan adjusting to life in a group home, is guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts. If you see one film at the LFF this year, I’d recommend this one.

The Red Turtle, dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit

If you’re still in mourning over Studio Ghibli’s production hiatus following Hayao Miyazaki & Isao Takahata’s retirement from feature filmmaking, here’s the perfect tonic. The Red Turtle, the feature debut from Oscar-winning Belgian animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, not only shares some of Studio Ghibli’s pet themes (chiefly, man vs nature), it also features the names of co-producer Toshio Suzuki and ‘artistic producer’ Isao Takahata in its credit block.

Trespass Against Us, dir. Adam Smith

An assured and accomplished feature debut from Adam Smith, Trespass Against Us is by turns a thrilling crime caper and a melancholic portrait of a waning way of life, as a generation gap forms between father and son in a brood of outsider outlaws. The starry cast – Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris – may be the draw, but this is a showcase for Smith, who skilfully balances volatile family drama and hair-raising car-chase set-pieces.

The Wailing, dir. Na Hong-Jin

Part crime procedural, part supernatural nightmare, this genre-bending thrill-ride from director Na Hong-Jin (The Yellow Sea) is an exhilarating and exhausting exercise in cinematic gaslighting. Nothing in the LFF lineup is like this: prepare yourself for 156 minutes jam-packed with creepy goings-on, cacophonic shaman rituals and bizarre narrative twists. Oh, and wailing. So much wailing.

We Are X, dir. Stephen Kijak

I bang on about the LFF’s superlative selection of music documentaries every year, and 2016′s most eye-catching offering in the Sonic strand is Stephen Kijak’s intimate dive into the extravagant and tumultuous history of glam rockers – and visual kei pioneers – X Japan. Expect this to sit perfectly in a double bill with Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil in years to come.

Your Name, dir. Makoto Shinkai

Japanese animation is often given short shrift by the UK theatrical scene, but you can always trust the LFF to give anime a much-deserved big screen showcase. Director Makoto Shinkai now joins the likes of Studio Ghibli and Mamoru Hosoda in the LFF anime canon, but with a welcome and remarkable twist: this emotionally-charged tale of boy-bodyswaps-with-girl is the first animated film, period, to appear in the festival’s Official Competition selection.