BFI London Film Festival 2016 – My top 20 films to see!

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Friday night was the members’ programme launch of this year’s BFI London Film Festival (running from 5th October – 16th October). It was the second year that I had been along to hear the festival team introduce the programme, as well as to see the screening of trailers and clips from a selection of films from across the festival strands (which for those new to the festival, include themes of Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Treasures and Experimenta as well as the gala screenings and competition entries).

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This being the 60th anniversary of the festival, there is to be a new venue added to the list of participating cinemas. As well as the other 15 venues this year (including, the lovely Prince Charles Cinema for the first time too), there is to be a purpose built temporary cinema, constructed in the Victoria Embankment Gardens (see photos above), which will seat over 700 and have Dolby 7.1 surround sound and 4k digital projection. It certainly sounds as if it’ll be an exciting venue and I hope I’ll be able to see something there over the fortnight of the festival.

As I did last year, I thought I’d select my top 20 films from this year’s programme. With over 240 films on offer, it’s not an easy task and I’d say there is even more that is tempting me this year than in recent years. However, these are the 20 that have caught my interest the most and will be on my watch list for the future if I don’t manage to secure a ticket in October.

1. Una

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During a recent trip to NYC, I was able to see the stage production of David Harrower’s play Blackbird. On discovering that theatre director Benedict Andrews is making his feature film debut with an adaptation of that play and that it will be shown at the festival, this went straight to the top of my list. The story centres around two characters, Una and Ray and without giving anything away about the plot (read my review of the play if you want to), this promises to be a powerful, emotionally charged film, with two wonderful actors in the central roles (Ben Mendelsohn from Netflix’s Bloodline and Rooney Mara).

2. La La Land

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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in this love letter to LA and the Hollywood musicals of yester year. Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress and Gosling a pianist, for whom romance blossoms, in the second film from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. From the clip I saw on Friday, this looks to be something quite special and I’m very much hoping to acquire a ticket for one of its three festival screenings. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/V4HL9QE3ZAU

3. A United Kingdom

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As this is the festival’s opening gala, nabbing a ticket is likely to be more of a challenge, but I’m very excited to see this film whether at the festival or on general release. Based on the true story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), who fell in love and married a London office worker, Ruth Williams, in 1948, causing a stir in both the UK and Africa. Starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, from the trailer this looks set to be a moving and inspiring story of love against the odds. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/url66-67O90

4. Snowden

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It seems everyone has heard of Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who leaked NSA secrets on a huge scale and with Oliver Stone at the helm and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role (not to mention Tom Wilkinson and Zachary Quinto in the mix too), this looks to be a very promising political thriller. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QlSAiI3xMh4

5. Brimstone

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I know I’m getting older when Dakota Fanning is no longer the child actress we’ve all seen grow up! Although I have been unable to find a trailer yet for this film, everything I have read to date about Brimstone suggests this could be her finest performance yet. She plays Liz, a young, mute midwife in the American West, whose past life comes back to haunt her with the appearance of a new preacher in her town (played by the brilliant, and apparently in this story terrifying, Guy Pearce). I’m almost certain this won’t be an easy watch, but it is a film that already intrigues me enough to give it a try.

6. Trolls

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As for something more cheery, you can’t get more colourful than Trolls! Those of us of a certain age remember when these strange creatures with brightly coloured hair were all the rage in bedrooms across the UK and now they are back in this DreamWorks film, which brings together a host of stars including Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel and James Cordon. It’s sure to entertain all ages (although with only one screening during the festival itself, this may be one that has to wait until its final release). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/xyjm5VQ11TQ

7. Arrival

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After the recent uproar regarding this film’s poster choices, I’m looking forward to seeing the European premiere of this new science fiction movie starring Amy Adams as Dr Louise Banks, a linguistics professor enlisted by the US Government to decipher the language of the newly arrived alien species, whose crafts have appeared around the globe. With support from Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, I’m hoping this is a more intelligent and engaging sci-fi film. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/ZLO4X6UI8OY

8. Scribe

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I hadn’t heard of Scribe (which also seems to go by The Eavesdropper) until I read the festival programme brochure, but this French/Belgium film has sparked my interest. The story revolves around a middle-aged man, who after a difficult period is offered the job as a scribe for an eccentric businessman. However, life takes a darker turn when one of the private calls he is transcribing leads to murder, in a film that the BFI brochure says pays homage to political thrillers of the 1970s.

9. Lion

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Lion was added to my watch list after I saw the trailer for it on Friday evening. British actor Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, on whose memoir the film is based. Saroo was separated from his mother and brother in India when he was five years old, after becoming trapped on a train he had fallen asleep in. Transported hundreds of miles away and all alone, he was eventually adopted by an Australian couple (played by Nicole Kidman & David Wenham), but 25 years later, he begins the search for his family. I have a feeling this one may make me shed a tear or two. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/-RNI9o06vqo

10. Queen of Katwe

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My tenth choice is another film based on a true story. Queen of Katwe is about a young Ugandan girl (played by Madina Nalwanga), who on finding a chess club run by a football player turned missionary, discovers she is a natural player with huge potential. With such talented actors as Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo involved, I have high hopes for this one. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/z4l3-_yub5A

11. Nocturnal Animals

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Tom Ford’s new film is an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, in which fiction and reality blend together, as gallery director Amy Adams turns to the manuscript of a novel written and sent to her by her ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) when her current marriage hits a difficult path. With such a strong pair of actors in the central roles, I’m hoping there will be a trailer of this film soon to give even more of an insight in to what is already an intriguing premise.

12. The Pass

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I’d intended to catch The Pass at the BFI’s Flare festival earlier in the year, so I’m thrilled to see it’s part of October’s film festival programme. Based on the play by John Donnelly (who has also written the film’s screenplay), which I loved last year at the Royal Court, it’s the story of a young footballer (Russell Tovey reprising his stage role), who over the course of the story (and the years it takes place) grapples with his desires and his inability to face them. If this film is half as good as the stage production, then festival audiences are in for a real treat.

13. Nocturama

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Nocturama has intrigued me, but I’m still debating whether I’ll have the nerve to go and watch it during the festival! As this year’s Debate strand gala it will certainly generate quite a lot of discussion due to its subject matter, which centres on a group of young people, who despite their diverse backgrounds, have come together in Paris to “set the city alight” and following their mission they hide out in a department store. Billed as a controversial film that will be disturbing and compelling in equal measure, I will be very interested to see what reception this film receives. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/H-6EEsn3Akc

14. Free Fire

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At Friday’s programme launch we were also treated to an exclusive look at the new trailer for Ben Wheatley’s latest film Free Fire (so new it seems, that I cannot yet find it online). Following the success he had at last year’s festival with High-Rise (you can find my review of that here), Wheatley’s new film is an action thriller which sees how an arms deal in a deserted warehouse goes awry as the bullets start to fly! If the trailer is any indication, then this is set to be a bloody, but also darkly funny film, which also has a superb ensemble cast including Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer.

15. The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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The BFI warned on Friday that this film is not one for the squeamish or faint-hearted, so whether I’ll pluck up the courage to see it in the cinema or wait until I can watch it at home in the future remains to be seen. My bravery aside, this is still one of my choices from the festival programme. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play a father and son, who work together as coroners and one night are faced with the body of a Jane Doe, whose body defies medical sense. This looks to be a gory and nerve-shredding film experience, but if you’re brave enough, be ready to buy a ticket.

16. Gleason

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At last year’s film festival one of my highlights was the documentary He Named Me Malala, which I found both moving and inspiring (read my review here and go and watch it immediately). If any documentary is going to have the same effect this year, I think it will be Gleason, which is all about the American football player Steve Gleason, who at 34 was diagnosed with ALS. Filmed over five years as he battles against the disease, while becoming a father, this looks to be a hugely powerful and emotional film, which will make its audience cherish life and not take a moment of it for granted. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/WgkQU32XSFQ

17. A Monster Calls

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I haven’t read Patrick Ness’s book on which this film is based, but on seeing the trailer I’m very much looking forward to its release. Conor is bullied at school, while at home his mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness. In a fantastical turn, a strange tree appears (voiced by Liam Neeson and brought to life with some wonderful effects), offering him an outlet for his imagination as he comes to terms with the reality that he will soon lose his mother. Tissues at the ready everyone! Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

18. Chi-raq

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This is a film I would almost certainly have overlooked had it not been for the programme launch. The title, a blend of Chicago and Iraq, highlights the sad fact that there have been more gun-related deaths in Chicago in the last 15 years than there were in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Through a hip-hop musical reimagining of Aristophanes’ Greek play Lysistrata, Spike Lee introduces us to a group of women, who so angered by the constant violence between two rival gangs make a pact – unless there is an end to the violence, there will be no more sex for the men and to top is all off, Samuel L Jackson is on hand to act as the chorus! This sounds as if it will be an imaginative way of bringing the serious issue of gun violence to everyone’s attention. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Jo7nvjZmE1Q

19. A Quiet Passion

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Cynthia Nixon stars in Terence Davies’ film about the life of the American poet Emily Dickinson. I don’t know much about Dickinson, but the combination of Davies, Nixon and the wonderful Jennifer Ehle (she’ll always be Lizzie Bennet to me!) to name just a few involved in this story, already has me adding A Quiet Passion to my festival ticket list. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/eKJpx8FYp54

20. Porto

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Playing within the First Feature Competition strand of the festival, Porto is the story of a love affair between Jake (Anton Yelchin) and French archaeologist Mati (Lucie Lucas). I was saddened by the news of the tragic death of Yelchin earlier this year, as he was an actor who only seemed to be growing in talent with each new role he took on and this will undoubtedly make the festival’s screening of Porto all the more emotional.

………

So those are the 20 films that have most caught my attention and it will be from these that I try and whittle down a schedule that will work across the fortnight. As the variety of films on offer this year is so strong, there is bound to be something for everyone and I strongly recommend you take the time to read through the festival brochure for yourself. You can pick up a copy at the BFI Southbank or download it from the website below. Any films I do see, I’ll make sure to review for this blog during October.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th – 16th October 2016. Public booking opens on Thursday 15th September. For further information (including membership for access to priority booking) visit the festival’s website here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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