BFI London Film Festival 2015 – My Top 20 Films To See


Wednesday night was the BFI London Film Festival’s programme launch for members, which proved to be an insightful look at the eclectic mix of films being showcased this October. The festival this year sees 238 films, from 57 countries being screened across London (there are 16 participating venues this year) from 7th – 18th October.

Festival director Clare Stewart declared that 2015 is the year of strong women and that the festival showcases this through not only films about the strength of women, but also by having 20% of directors represented being women (admittedly not a huge number, but Stewart noted that this was better than other festivals). It was an interesting evening, during which we saw a number of trailers and clips from some of this year’s films, across the variety of festival strands (Gala, Competition, Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Treasures and Experimenta) and I found this particularly interesting for the smaller budget and foreign language films, areas I admit I am quite unfamiliar with.

With so many films across the strands (including a new short film award this year), there will be something for everyone and I urge you to have a look through the extensive festival brochure. Here though are the top 20 that I’m looking forward to seeing, whether I manage it during the festival or on general release later on.

  1. Suffragette


No film at the event encompasses strong women more than the film which opens this year’s festival. Suffragette sees an impressive cast including Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham-Carter and Ben Whishaw bring the history of the fight of women for the vote in the early twentieth century. The trailer certainly looks great and Carey Mulligan could be seeing awards nominations in her future. The opening night’s screening will also be screened in select national cinemas, details of which are on the LFF website.

  1. He Named Me Malala

Malala Yousafzai

Another inclusion showcasing powerful women is this documentary about one of the most famous and incredible young women of our time – 17 year-old Malala Yousafzai, who after being shot in the head by the Taliban for championing girls’ education has gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and continue to be a role model around the world. Director [Davis] Guggenheim’s film looks to be an incredibly interesting record of her life so far.

  1. The Lady In The Van


Anything with Dame Maggie Smith gets my vote and this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play (which she also starred in), based on the true story of the woman who parked her camper van on his drive and ended up remaining there for 15 years, looks wonderful. As well as Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings plays Bennett and as someone who has seen him in the role on stage, it’s sure to be a wonderful portrayal. Funny and touching, this looks to be a British gem.

  1. The Program


Another topical inclusion is director Stephen Frears’s (previously at the festival with Philomena) The Program, which tells the story of Lance Armstrong’s fall from sporting icon to disgrace. Chris O’Dowd is the sports journalist David Walsh, who was determined to prove Armstrong’s cheating was a reality, while Ben Foster (looking vastly different from when I last saw him on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire) plays Armstrong. It looks both interesting and engaging, with some fantastic work capturing the power and energy of the sport.

  1. Black Mass


I couldn’t fail to mention Black Mass, which sees Johnny Depp transformed in to the creepy Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, an infamous real life Irish gangster in Boston, who became an FBI informant to help them eliminate the Italian mob. With support from Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother, a political rising star and a screenplay written in part by Jez Butterworth (the man behind the incredible play Jerusalem), this looks to be a tense crime drama, giving Depp something a bit meatier to get his teeth in to. From the reviews coming out of Venice today, it sounds very promising indeed.

  1. Burn, Burn, Burn


One from the “Laugh” strand of the festival which has caught my eye is this film starring Jack Farthing, Joe Dempsie, Laura Carmichael and Chloe Pirrie, in which Dan (Farthing) who has recently passed away gives his friends the final task of scattering his ashes in five disparate places around the country. Along the way he’ll accompany them via the video messages he has recorded, which from the trailer bring both laughter and poignancy. I love a good film about the power and importance of friendship, so I’ll certainly put this on my list.

  1. The Lobster


A quirky addition to the Gala strand is this film by Yorgos Lanthimos with an all-star cast of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly. Set in the near future, singledom is banned and those not paired up must go to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find a mate. If not, they are transformed in to an animal of their choice (hence the title, the choice of Farrell’s character). It sounds bonkers (and the clip shown was indeed bizarre), but I’m intrigued by the possibility of mixing surreal humour and love with something that bit darker in tone. Plus anything with Mr. Whishaw cannot be missed in my opinion!

  1. Room


I have been aware of the novel Room since it was released in 2010 but have yet to read it. Therefore this adaptation by Emma Donoghue of her own bestseller caught my eye in the brochure. The idea of a five year-old child spending their life since birth in an 11 foot room with just their mother (and the possible reasons as to why they remain there) sounds horrifying to me, even though little Jack does not have any awareness of the world outside his own. The story of this mother-son relationship, is one I expect to be incredibly powerful and will try to see.

  1. Office


I had never heard of this film before the event this week, but it certainly intrigues me. Adapted from Taiwanese actress Sylvia Chang’s play Design For Living,  this Hong Kong film charts the corporate culture and glamourous lives of those working in the office in question in stylish, musical song and dance fashion, with a cast that includes Sylvia Chang herself. It sounds quite surreal, but I loved how the play Enron brought something fresh, inventive and creative to the story of corporate greed in today’s world and perhaps this Chines film could be equally as entertaining. I’ll be interested to see what the reaction to it is at the Toronto Film Festival later this month.

  1. Truth


Cate Blanchett stars in two films at this year’s festival (the other being Carol), while also receiving the BFI Fellowship. Both movies look fantastic, but I’m more interested in seeing Truth, in which she plays Mary Mapes, producer of Dan Rather’s 60 minutes television show in America. The film focusses on the programme’s questioning of George W. Bush’s avoidance of the Vietnam draft and whether he received preferential treatment. With Robert Redford as Rather and also starring Elisabeth Moss, I’m hoping this proves to be an engaging and intelligent political drama.

  1. Brooklyn

Brooklyn EmoryCohenSaoirseRonanBrooklyn_article_story_large

Nick Hornby adapts Colm Toibin’s best-selling novel, in which a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn (the wonderful Saoirse Ronan) faces the pain of choice – between her Irish homeland and a new life in America, as well as between two men from those different places. She’s a fantastic talent and with a brilliant cast including Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters (who looks fab as her Brooklyn landlady from the clip we saw on Wednesday night), I’m hoping this will be a stirring and moving film. For  fans of the TV show Arrow, I think I also spotted Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak) in the cast too, although I’ve no idea how big her role is.

  1. Steve Jobs


Closing the festival (so almost certainly one I’ll have to watch on general release) is this film charting the life and success of a hugely iconic figure in today’s society – Steve Jobs. With direction from Danny Boyle, a screenplay by Aaron “West Wing” Sorkin and the hugely talented Michael Fassbender in the title role (together with support from Kate Winslet), I have high hopes for this movie and the trailer looks great too.

  1. High-Rise


An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel, this film is according to the BFI’s festival brochure said to be a “brilliant satire of both 1960s social idealism and the Thatcherite values that undermined it.” Starring Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing, the film is set in a luxury high rise tower, in which everyone who lives there is cut off from the rest of society. No trailer has yet been released, but from the  clip we were shown (which saw Hiddleston shopping on the supermarket level and seeing a glamorous woman pass with her huge dog in her shopping trolley) this looks to be a surreal, but interesting film. The supporting cast includes  Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and James Purefoy.

  1. The Wave


For fans of disaster thrill rides and Nordic/Scandi dramas, look no further than The Wave. Set in Norway, the film envisages what would happen today if a landfall in the fjords triggered a tsunami (as happened once before in 1934). It may scare me to death, but the visual effects looked impressive enough for me to give this a try. Plus the film has just been announced as Norway’s entrant for consideration for Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars.

  1. Youth


This film by Italian writer and director Paolo Sorrentino, set largely in a luxury Swiss spa, stars Michael Caine as Fred, a retired composer and Harvey Keitel as Mick, an elderly film director looking for a comeback and centres around their friendship, while weaving various strands of narrative together. I don’t know too much about it yet, other than it stars Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter and Jane Fonda, but I love Michael Caine’s work and I’m hoping this will be a moving and funny addition to the festival. It has already competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will also be shown during this month’s Toronto Film Festival.

  1. Beast of No Nation


This Netflix original film is currently receiving a positive response at the Venice Film Festival. By Carey Fukunaga’s (HBO’s True Detective) it is an exploration of child exploitation in an Africa country torn apart by civil unrest and atrocity stars the brilliant Idris Elba as The Commandant of a militia of rebel soldiers and newcomer Abraham Attah as the young boy Agu. I certainly don’t expect this to be an easy film to watch, but I’m sure it will prove to be extremely powerful and will see release globally on Netflix in October.

  1. Grandma


Lily Tomlin stars as a foul-mothed poet, who ends up on a road trip through LA with her 18 year-old granddaughter after the death of her long term partner and her split from her recent much younger girlfriend. This film sounds extremely enjoyable and as Lily Tomlin is always a joy to watch (although she’ll always be The West Wing’s Deborah Fiderer to me!) I’m hoping for a few laughs and some cracking, sharp dialogue with this one. From watching the trailer I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed.

  1. Remember


This drama starring Christopher Plummer, looks at the nature of evil, with Plummer as an elderly German Jew, already succumbing to Alzheimer’s, determined to keep the promise he made to a friend (played by Martin Landau) to find and kill the Nazi commandant who ordered the deaths of both their families. With such a great actor as Plummer and dealing with a subject that still sparks powerful, emotional reactions, I’m going to try and see this one.

  1. Sherlock Holmes


One from the archives here, as the festival screens this recently discovered American silent film from 1916. Once thought lost, it is based on the popular 1899 play by William Gillette of the same name and also stars Gillette in the title role. Its significant to the Holmes world, as Gillette is viewed as contributing greatly to our image of Holmes and to the development of the character of Moriarty. This will no doubt appeal to fans of the famous detective from 221B Baker Street and it’s wonderful that such  films are still being discovered and restored for the pleasure of a whole new audience.

  1. Goosebumps


One for the family here with the big screen arrival of the hugely successful book series by R L Stein that every generation of kids seems to know. Starring Jack Black, this film looks set to be a thrilling and entertaining outing for children and perhaps adults looking to relive a part of their childhoods.


So those are my picks from the extensive offerings at this year’s festival. As you can see it’s a varied mix and I’ve barely touched so many of the strands. If you enjoy cinema, are looking to see an upcoming film a little earlier or are curious to delve in to some foreign films, then download the brochure (or pick up a hard copy) and start planning your festival schedule!

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7th – 18th October 2015. For full details about the programme visit the festival’s main website. Public booking opens on 17th September or you can consider becoming a member of the BFI.


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