BFI London Film Festival 2018 – My Top 25 films to see!

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Friday night was the members’ programme launch of this year’s BFI London Film Festival (running from 10th October – 21st October). As I have found in previous years, the night proved to be incredibly insightful, not only reiterating my desire to see certain headline films, but also bringing lesser known ones to my attention, which I might otherwise have missed.

For those new to the festival, it offers a selection of films from across the world (this year 77 countries are represented), across different strands (which include themes of Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Family, Treasures and Experimenta, as well as the gala screenings, special presentations and competition entries).

As well as a glimpse at the programme of films this year, it was also fantastic to hear that 38% of the directors (or co-directors) whose work will be shown across the two weeks of the festival, are women. In a time when the world is looking more than ever at the representation of women in the film industry, it is wonderful to hear that London’s festival is playing its part. It’s also wonderful to see that, for the first time, there will be a screening held outside of London as part of the festival, which is the latest film from director Mike Leigh, to be held in Manchester and simulcast across the UK. In another first, the winners of Best Film, Best First Feature and Best Documentary will be announced in front of a public audience.

As I have done in previous years, having attended the launch and read through the complete programme, below are the 25 films that have more caught my interest and that I’m looking forward to seeing, whether at the festival, or at a later date. Hopefully there’ll be something in the list for all tastes!

A Private War

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One of the first films in the line-up that caught my eye was this one, which tells the story of The Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in 2012. A Private War marks the dramatic debut of director Matthew Heineman (previously known for documentary films such as City of Ghosts) and stars Rosamund Pike as Colvin, together with Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander. I’m very much looking forward to seeing a film about such a courageous woman who put herself at risk in order to shine a light on the Syrian conflict for the world to see. You can see the first trailer here: https://youtu.be/TTf0Lc5YAcc

The Breaker Upperers

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On seeing the brief snippet of this New Zealand comedy at the programme launch, it had me wondering how on earth there hasn’t been a film of this before. It centres on two women who run a relationship break-up service. If you want out of a relationship, these two can help, whether faking a pregnancy, staging apparent cheating or crashing a wedding, if their clients are paying, they’ll get the job done! From what I saw on Friday, this looks to be a lot of fun! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/qKVhDbe9VOo

Widows

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Another film I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while opens this year’s festival and that’s Steve McQueen’s contemporary adaptation of Widows, Lynda La Plante’s 1980s television series. Why am I so excited about this? First, it’s directed and co-written by McQueen, the man behind the incredible 12 Years A Slave. It’s also co-written by Gillian Flynn, author of some of my favourite books, including Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. Then there’s the cast, which is led by the superb Viola Davis, who commands the screen in every role that she has and who is supported by talent such as Britain’s own Cynthia Erivo, in a film which sees four widows, whose husbands were involved in criminal activity, pick up where their husbands left off in order to pay off their debt. My hopes are horribly high, so fingers crossed! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nN2yBBSRC78

Life Itself

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Anyone who is a fan of the wonderful This Is Us (currently airing the second series here in the UK, with the third starting soon in the US), should add this film to their list. Written and directed by that show’s creator Dan Fogelman, it promises to be a multi-layered story of love, which I’m expecting will make me as emotional as his series does. It also has a very strong cast which includes Oscar Isaac, Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/b5kwtJkUdpA

Etangs Noirs

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The reason why going to the programme launch is so useful was highlighted this year by the recommendation that came from one of the festival programmers to see Etangs Noirs, which I might not have paid much attention to otherwise. Yet, on reading more about it, this Belgium film sounds fascinating, in which a young man in Brussels becomes obsessed with delivering a parcel to his neighbour, which has been mistakenly delivered to his address. I’m not too sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to finding out. You can see a brief trailer here: https://youtu.be/-1kxDIc5KLg

Beautiful Boy

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After reducing me to tears by the end of Call Me By Your Name, it seems Timothy Chalamet is set to do so again, in this story of a family dealing with addiction. Adapted by Felix Van Groeningen and Luke Davies (who worked on the beautiful film, Lion), it’s based on two memoirs, one by Chalamet’s character Nic, a young man who becomes caught up in the spiral of drug addiction and the other by his father, played by Steve Carell. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/tXulJuKJTgA

Destroyer

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I’ve started hearing very good things about this film from those who’ve seen it at the Venice Film Festival, but I can’t say I’m surprised when it has Nicole Kidman in the lead. Her character, Erin Bell, is an LAPD detective who, together with her partner, spent time undercover in a criminal gang, the memories of which still haunt her. On discovering the ring-leader may have resurfaced, she is determined to find him and put the past to rest.

Stan & Ollie

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Closing the London Film Festival this year is the world premiere of Stan & Ollie, which looks at the story of one of Britain’s funniest double acts, Laurel & Hardy. I spent many a happy day with my grandparents watching their films and can’t wait to learn more about their lives in this poignant story, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly and is set in 1953, when their popularity was on the wane. I’m sure it’ll make me smile.

Wildlife

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Carey Mulligan is one of my favourite actresses, both on screen and stage and on seeing her in this film during the festival, it went straight on my list. Marking actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut, this 1950s-set film, based on Richard Ford’s book, centres on a young couple and their son, who move to suburban Montana for a new start, only for cracks to start to appear, in what I expect to be a powerful drama if Mulligan’s involved. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/GevYxH6rcvU

The Kindergarten Teacher

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This adaptation of an Israeli film caught my attention as I read through this year’s festival brochure. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a kindergarten teacher, whose life is unremarkable and unsatisfying. She joins an evening poetry class, but her work receives little reaction from the group, but then one of the boys in her class reveals a talent for poetry and she decides his work should find a wider audience. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Iaa1c4Tp-f0

Freedom Fields

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Freedom Fields is the debut from British Libyan Naziha Arebi and charts six years with Libya’s women’s football team, including the opposition they faced and their determination and spirit in the face of such obstacles. I love stories that can inspire their audience and this uplifting film sounds as though it’ll do just that.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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I admit, I hadn’t heard of Lee Israel before reading about this biopic, but this fascinating story of a literary forger who, in the 1990s, having fallen on hard times, began to sell “newly discovered” correspondence from various literary giants, sounds very good indeed. This adaptation of Israel’s own memoir stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant and I hope it’s as darkly comic as it sounds! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UvJIaNsf_bY

They Shall Not Grow Old

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This year’s festival also sees the World Premiere of Peter Jackson’s exploration of the First World War, told through the men who lived through it. Jackson has spent months using the latest technology to bring old archive footage truly back to life, giving these men’s stories a new platform on which to be heard and experienced. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the result of all of his effort on this project ever since it was first announced and it’s wonderful that the LFF is the first to showcase it, both in 2D and 3D, with Jackson himself introducing the film.

The Frontrunner

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I tend to enjoy political stories and The Front Runner sees Hugh Jackman as Democratic candidate Gary Hart, who was tipped to win the 1988 Presidential campaign, until his extramarital affairs were exposed by the Miami Herald, changing the landscape of the campaign in the space of one week. Jackman is always a strong lead and this film also sees him supported by Vera Farmiga (as Hart’s wife) and J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/BAOYDcnVx6E

Arctic

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As part of the Journey strand of the festival, Arctic sees Mads Mikkelsen as the survivor of a plane crash, fighting to stay alive, who stumbles across the sole survivor of a helicopter crash. It’s then up to him, to save her as well as himself by trekking across the icy wilderness. With apparently little dialogue, the film rests on the lead and with someone as strong as Mikkelsen in that role, I’m expecting good things. You can see a clip here: https://youtu.be/Tk3rf8M6uP0

The Hate U Give

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I recently saw the trailer for this film at the cinema and immediately knew it was a story that deserved to be told and it is receiving a special presentation at this year’s festival, which also offers those aged 25 and under the opportunity to book tickets for only £5. It’s an adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the life of Starr Carter (played by Amanda Stenberg, best known as Rue in The Hunger Games film) is changed forever, after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her black friend by a white police officer. Such a subject is always going to be powerful and with a supporting cast including Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, I’m expecting this film to stay with me long after I’ve seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/3MM8OkVT0hw

Fahrenheit 11/9

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Michael Moore is known for his outspoken, political films and he’s back this year with Fahrenheit 11/9 which, unsurprisingly, focuses on Donald Trump (who was elected on 9th November). If you’re familiar with his style of wit, you’ll know what to expect, as he looks at what led to the ultimate result of the 2016 Presidential election. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/SZeLvaflLLc

The Old Man and the Gun

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Robert Redford has recently announced his retirement and as I’ve always enjoyed his films, I’ll make sure to watch what looks to be his final acting role. He plays Forrest Tucker, the bank robber, whose last heist was committed when he was 79 and apparently the film focusses on his crime-spree in later life with his partners in crime (known as the Over-the-Hill-Gang), as they evade both police and the FBI, while along the way he tries to woo Jewel (Sissy Spacek). You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/d7rlUe-Thvk

Papi Chulo

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The Love strand of this year’s festival also includes this story of an LA weatherman, who breaks down on air following the break-up of his relationship with an older Latino man. After being placed on compassionate leave, he soon strikes up a friendship with a straight and married migrant worker, which develops in to a platonic partner substitute. Matt Bomer (best known for White Collar and who has recently been on stage in The Boys in the Band on Broadway) stars in what I expect to be a touching film.

Outlaw King

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This historical drama focuses on Robert The Bruce and the battle for Scotland that took place between England and Scotland in the early 14th century, something I admit I know very little about, which is one reason I am looking forward to watching this film. With a strong cast that includes Chris Pine and Florence Pugh, this looks set to be one of the festival’s vast epics. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Q-G1BME8FKw

The Guilty

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This film won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and from the synopsis and trailer looks to be a tension-filled thriller, in which a demoted police officer answers a call while on duty at emergency despatch to a frightened woman. The call ends abruptly and he becomes determined to find out what happened to her and save her, despite remaining office-bound. I’m expecting to have much shorter fingernails after watching this one! You can watch the international trailer here: https://vimeo.com/275237401

Benjamin

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Simon Amstell in going meta for his feature, which sees a rising young filmmaker in turmoil as the premiere of his film at the London Film Festival approaches! I admit, the main reason this film is on my list is because it stars Colin Morgan, who always seems to impress me (especially his recent stage work) and I enjoy seeing bittersweet comedies, every once in a while!

Sometimes Always Never

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Originally entitled Three Word Score, this film stars Bill Nighy as Alan, a Merseyside tailor, who is obsessed with Scrabble. His eldest son stormed out of a game years ago and has not been seen since (and I thought Monopoly was the game to cause fights) and the film sees Alan and his other son continuing to look for him, despite their own strained relationship. Within the Laugh strand of the festival, the summary refers to a family who “know plenty of words but struggle to communicate.” It’s a quirky plot and I’m rather fond of dysfunctional screen families, so this will be on my list in October.

Utoya – July 22

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I admit, I’ve been unsure about whether to include this film in my list, as I’m still undecided about whether it’s something I’ll actually be able to watch. The reason for my hesitancy? It’s a real-time drama which reconstructs the appalling mass murder that took place at the youth camp on Utoya island in Norway in 2011. However, after hearing the strong words of recommendation about it from the festival programmers, that it acts as a powerful memorial to the bravery of those who survived, I perhaps may try. I’m also astonished to hear that of the 92 minute running time, 72 of those minutes are shot as a single take. I’m certain this won’t be easy to watch, but we perhaps owe it to those involved to ensure such acts are never forgotten. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/6YP_pEVcPUk

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As you can see, there’s a wide variety of films on offer this year and this is only a fraction of them, with plenty more film shorts, documentaries and feature films across the festival. For details of the full programme, schedule and how to become a BFI member (for priority booking), visit the BFI London Film Festival’s website here: BFI LFF Website Public booking opens on 13th September at 10:00 a.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review – Una (2016); David Harrower brings his intense play Blackbird to the screen

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Earlier this year, I took a trip to New York to see lots of theatre. One of the plays I saw during that time was Blackbird starring Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in a two-hander. It was an intense production (you can read my review here) and on hearing it had been adapted by its writer David Harrower in to a film, to be screened during the London Film Festival, I was curious to see it in a different medium.

Renamed Una, the story is a chilling, uncomfortable, examination of the disturbing reality and consequences of child abuse. Una (Rooney Mara) arrives unannounced at Ray’s (Ben Mendelsohn) workplace, to his visible shock and horror. It soon becomes apparent that Una and Ray had a sexual relationship 15 years previously – when she was just 13 (it was 12 in the play and I don’t really understand why the change for the film, seeing as it is well under the age of consent). It’s a horrifying realisation for the audience and over the course of the film, we see the true consequences of such abuse; something we don’t like to think about and the way it affects that child’s life forever, as they mature and become an adult.

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Rooney Mara as Una (Photo via: Entertainment Weekly)

 

Although for the needs of a film, the story is expanded a little, it remains a piece driven by its two central characters and both actors do a tremendous job with such challenging material. Ben Mendelsohn (most recently known for Netflix’s Bloodline) is excellent at portraying Ray as a seemingly normal man. There are times when you almost forget what he has done, so good is his performance. Interestingly, he was quite different from Jeff Daniels, who played him as a much weaker and broken man. Seeing Una terrified him and he often felt weak compared to her. Mendelsohn plays him as a more confident man in my view; far more in control of his emotions. Daniels’ Ray perhaps genuinely didn’t think he was like “those other men”, but I had the sense here that Mendelsohn’s Ray knew exactly who and what he was. This made him much more disturbing.

Rooney Mara is the pivotal piece of the picture and she is astonishing as Una. It’s a role that demonstrates the calibre of actress she is when given the right material (one of the weakest bits of the wonderful film Lion for me was how wasted Mara was). She has an incredible on-screen presence that pulls you in to her world and doesn’t let you go. You see how damaged Una is; how confused she’s been for 15 years about what happened to her. There remains something childlike about her; as if part of her has been frozen in the past. There is also a tension between the two of them that chills you, as you see that as a girl she was more upset at thinking Ray had deserted her rather than what he’d done to her and her complex feelings for him made me ache for her. We rightly think of children who experience such terrible things as victims, but Una’s/Blackbird’s power is in highlighting that at the time those children may not see themselves that way.

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Ben Mendelsohn as Ray (Photo via: Entertainment Weekly)

 

One of the most powerful moments in the play was when Una recalled the last few hours she spent with Ray, after they’d ran away together to the seaside, apparently about to embark on a new life. You couldn’t see it then, but through the talent of the writing and Michelle Williams, your mind took you in to the past with Una. One of the most disturbing aspects of the film however, is the fact they can show us young Una as well as adult Una and indeed seeing her as a child with Ray is harrowing.

The film chooses to move beyond the factory setting, which allows us to see both Una and Ray interact with others; Una mainly with her mother (played by Tara Fitzgerald), who she has clearly never really forgiven for how she reacted in the aftermath of what happened, and Ray’s work colleague Scott (Riz Ahmed), someone who she could perhaps be happy with if she wasn’t quite so broken and had circumstances been different. Unlike the play, we also get to see Ray in his new life, with his wife and friends and the film leaves us with the same frightening uncertainty as the play, as to whether Una really was his only victim.

I’ve seen some people comment that they thought this was a paedophile apologist film, but it’s not that at all. It couldn’t be clearer how dreadful the actions of these predators are, while also shining a spotlight on just how such events can happen, when someone who seems to be like any other neighbour can choose to take advantage of a child in this way. It also makes us think again about those children and how they require emotional strength and support long in to adulthood.

I admit I may not have chosen to see this film had I not already watched the play, but it’s a strong, emotional and thought-provoking  piece and a very capable directorial film debut by playwright and theatre director Benedict Andrews (most recently director of Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire) and I hope is a performance that will earn Rooney Mara deserved praise. It is certainly a film no one who sees it will forget.

Una does not yet have a release date in the UK or the USA, but I’ll update this post if one is announced.

Film Review – Fun for all ages with the Trolls!

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There’s happiness inside all of us. We just need someone to help us find it. That’s the message of the latest movie from DreamWorks animation. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s like me, you’ll no doubt remember Troll toys or have even owned a few and now they are making a big screen comeback through this hugely entertaining film.

It’s a very simple premise. The Bergens are a gloomy township, who live under the belief that happiness can only be achieved one way – by eating a troll. So, every year on “Trollstice” that is what the Bergens do, until the brave Troll King leads his people to safety. Twenty years have now passed and perhaps becoming a bit too complacent, the Trolls soon find themselves in danger once again and it’s up to Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the reluctant Branch (Justin Timberlake) to risk it all to save their friends (well, her friends in Branch’s opinion!).

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Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) & Branch (Justin Timberlake) off to save the day

 

When watching Trolls, I was marvelling at how far computer animation has come. I’m still a sucker for a traditional 2D animated feature, but when the final production is as polished and impressive as Trolls you can’t not enjoy yourself. The fact that their hair is their big feature requires it to be spot-on and it certainly is. I also loved the glitter Trolls, which were an element that the filmmakers afterwards said the computer had trouble with initially. Every detail is visually brilliant – right down to the shagpile carpet in the Bergen castle, which looks so realistic as the Trolls speed over it in a rollerskate. There’s even the appropriate imprint left behind in the carpet too!

As for the look of the film, the acting and indeed singing had to be on point and the ensemble of voice actors here are very good indeed. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are both strong leads, able to convey both the fun and more serious moments of the story. They also have wonderful support from, in particular, Zooey Deschanel as Bridget, the lonely and kind-hearted Bergen kitchen maid, who is just as important as the Trolls, and Christine Baranski as the evil Bergen chef, hell-bent on power by ensuring she has the Trolls captured and therefore control of the town.

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I loved Bridget (Zooey Deschanel)

 

Justin Timberlake was also overseeing the musical content of the film as an executive producer, which is a huge element of the story. Each song included in the film has been taken and re-recoded by the cast, including the pivotal True Colours, which is the perfect centrepiece for such  a vividly colourful movie. Yes, some of the songs chosen do feel a bit cheesy, but it’s such a cheerful film that I forgave it a certain level of cheesiness. Favourites for me were the catchy “Get Back Up Again” and the lovely use of “True Colours”. The songs also add an extra layer of comedy for the adults in the audience who can appreciate how aptly they are chosen. Poppy’s choice of “Hello Darkness” in particular made me laugh and as with DreamWorks’s other hits such as Shrek, there’s enough humour here for the adults as well as fun for the kids.

Overall, this is another success for DreamWorks, which has something to offer adults and children alike and hopefully, in such a serious world, it can be a reminder of how much good can be found if you look for it. I predict a new wave of children are about to start collecting Troll toys just like I did!

Trolls opens in UK cinemas on 21st October 2016 (4th November in the USA). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/xyjm5VQ11TQ

Film Review – Lion (2016); an astonishing and uplifting true story about family love

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There are very few films that I can say have moved me to tears, but I can now add Lion to this list after attending last night’s UK premiere during the London Film Festival.

Lion is the astonishing true story of Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) and is based on his book A Long Way Home. Saroo was born in India and lived there with his mother and two siblings until the day when he was five years old, that he was separated from his brother, Guddu, after falling asleep on a train and ending up 1,600 miles from home in Calcutta with no way of getting back to his family. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham), he grew up in Tazmania with them and his adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another homeless Indian boy.

Twenty five years later, in 2008, the faces and memories of his family in India resurface and although he has loving parents and is set for university and a career, it’s clear that a part of Saroo remains lost; caught between the life he has had in Australia and the one he left behind. When a university friend suggests he use Google Earth (quite new back then) to try and locate the area he sees in his memories to look for the remote village he was from, his search for home begins and with it the hope that he will finally find a sense of peace and completeness.

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Nicole Kidman (Sue Brierley) & Sunny Pawar (as young Saroo)

Your emotional connection with this film starts from the outset, as we first see young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his life in India. I hadn’t expected so much of it to be set when Saroo was a little boy, but it’s definitely a strength of the film as Sunny gives such an affecting performance. After last night’s screening, Nicole Kidman commented that for a little boy, who wasn’t an actor and didn’t speak English, to give that kind of performance is a credit to director Garth Davis and I’m minded to agree.

You first see how happy he is, despite the poor conditions they live in and the strong bond he has with his brother, before witnessing the fear and confusion this little five year old experienced, when without warning he was separated from everything he knew. It’s heartbreaking to see the life he and other children have on the streets of Calcutta and certainly feels as if you are watching every child’s nightmare. It comes as a relief when little Saroo finally meets the Brierleys and you know he is safe. I challenge you not to be captivated by Sunny Pawar and the strength of his portrayal of young Saroo creates the affection you have for him as a young man.

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Dev Patel & Rooney Mara

Dev Patel (still perhaps most known for Slumdog Millionaire or viewers of The Newsroom) was desperate to play Saroo, resorting to going to the writer’s house and his passion for this young man’s story shines through in his powerful performance. He conveys the conflicted emotions Saroo has; he loves his family and, unlike Mantosh, has settled in to life in Australia. However, the film highlights the guilt he carries with him, guilt for the comfortable Western life he has compared to his poorer childhood, but also guilt as to the pain he must have caused his family in India, who have no idea what happened to him. It’s clearly a heavy burden, which he has kept inside, only revealing it to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, who I do think is a little wasted in this film), who helps him have the courage to face his past.

In a film all about love and family, having an actress of Nicole Kidman’s calibre on board was essential and she gives a beautiful performance as Sue, a woman who has so much love for her sons and is desperate to keep her family together. She has some lovely scenes with Sunny and a very real connection on screen with Patel. A scene in which she tells him that they chose to adopt because they wanted him is particularly moving and Kidman brings a huge depth of emotion to such moments. We also see the strains in the family quite early, as Saroo’s brother Mantosh (adopted a year after him), finds life a struggle, which we assume is a result of experiences he had as a child before his adoption. From the small insight Lion gives us in to what those children go through, I cannot even begin to imagine and Divian Ladwa is very good at conveying trauma and its long-lasting effect on Mantosh.

To say this is his first feature film, Garth Davis has done an impressive job. Lion is a visually gorgeous film, whether the scenes in India or Australia and he cleverly uses the scenery to draw links between the two places Saroo has called home. I also loved his style of adding the flashes of his childhood every so often in to Saroo’s present, forever keeping his memories alive. As the film reaches its conclusion and Saroo travels back to India it’s as if the two halves of Saroo are finally coming together and I challenge you not to be affected by it.

I found Lion to be a hugely satisfying film. It’s beautifully shot, strongly acted and the fact this is a true story only makes the experience of watching it even more uplifting. Buy a ticket and take some tissues!

Lion opens in the USA on 25th November 2016. The UK release date is yet to be confirmed.  Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/-RNI9o06vqo

Spoiler-Free Film Review – Arrival (2016); an intelligent, enthralling and deeply human science fiction film

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Last night saw the UK premiere of Arrival during the London Film Festival, which will prove to be another festival highlight for me. I’ll start by saying I’m going to be careful what I write in this review, as this really is a film that you should watch unspoilt. Part of its brilliance is in not knowing what lies ahead. Are you intrigued enough? I certainly hope so and enough to keep yourself spoiler-free until you see it.

Arrival is adapted by Eric Heisserer from the Ted Chiang short story Story of your Life and the new film from director Denis Villeneuve (whose previous work includes Sicario and Prisoners) and who is currently at work on another sci-fi film – Blade Runner 2049. If this movie is any indication, the Blade Runner legacy is certainly in strong hands!

On a day as normal as any other, the world comes to a standstill when 12 huge spacecraft materialise around the globe. With no attempt at contact, fear of the unknown takes hold, as the UN seeks to bring the nations of Earth together to try and communicate with whoever is aboard in order to understand why they have arrived.

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Venturing in to the unknown in Villeneuve’s visually striking film

 

One such craft has appeared in the USA (in Montana to be precise) and the government and military set about bringing the finest scientific and linguistic minds together, which is how we meet Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose reputation and previous linguistic assistance to the military has Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruiting her to the team. Combined with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they must try and determine the aliens’ purpose. However, as time moves on, the willingness of nations to work together comes under strain, which in turn threatens to damage any progress that’s been made, leaving Banks to use all her skill to try and make a breakthrough before it’s too late.

Arrival is not your typical science fiction movie. It is not another Independence Day-style action adventure and I’m very pleased about that. Instead, Arrival is an incredibly intelligent film, which happens to involve aliens, but is actually all about humanity; the need to pull together as a world rather than splinter and to communicate with those you may not understand in order to learn about yourself as well as them. Never has a film of this genre had so much depth and the unexpected path it takes later on, genuinely made me gasp, as I saw the whole film from a new perspective and realised what a clever and surprisingly, profoundly emotional story it is.

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Amy Adams gives a superb performance as Louise Banks

 

On top of such a superbly crafted script and story, Arrival is blessed to have such a talented actress in its lead role. Amy Adams is wonderful as Louise Banks, a woman who seems a little removed from those around her when we meet her, but who has a strength of character that you cannot help but admire. Her story is the axis around which the whole film spins and the further through the story you go, the more emotionally connected you are to her. Another Oscar nomination seems guaranteed and is very much deserved.

There is also strong support from Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, caught between the team at the craft and external government pressures, forcing his hand and also Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, whose scientific mind perfectly balances with Banks’s, to form a strong team. He and Adams have a chemistry which is believable and a pleasure to watch.

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Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly

 

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score also provides a haunting and eerie soundscape that fits the mood and tone of Arrival perfectly, enhancing the tension as the team take the first tentative steps aboard the craft, but also drawing out the beautifully emotional beats of the film as well. It is also a visually stunning film thanks to the work of cinematographer Bradford Young.

I had no idea what I’d think about Arrival before attending the screening and on watching it I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don’t normally watch sci-fi films, then don’t let the premise put you off, as Arrival is so much more than a lazy genre label. It is smart, enthralling, thought-provoking and incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. I guarantee you will not be able to stop thinking about it once you’ve seen it. It’s general release can’t come quickly enough so I can talk about it with people!

Arrival arrives in UK cinemas on 11th November 2016. Watch the teaser trailer here (it gives far less away than the full trailer): https://youtu.be/AbHGLYLbQFI

Film Review – Sully (2016) starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart

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This year I decided to buy a ticket to one of the hottest events at the London Film Festival, the Surprise Film. It’s ironic that one the screenings most people are keen to attend is the one where you have no idea what film you are going to see until it begins! It was a fantastic cinema experience as the audience speculated as to what film we’d see.

In the end the choice this year divided the audience as to whether it was a worthy Surprise Film. Some see it as an opportunity to showcase a film that perhaps won’t otherwise have as large a profile, while others expect to see something not yet on wide release. This year’s choice was Sully, which has already opened in most markets outside the UK. However, despite the disappointment of many, I was pleased it was a movie that had been on my to-see list, primarily due to its lead actor and overall it was an enjoyable cinema trip for me.

As for the film itself, Sully is the story behind 2009’s incredible landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, mere minutes after take-off after a flock of geese flew in to both its engines. The event received worldwide attention, with universal praise given to Captain Chesley Sullenberger, whose quick actions miraculously meant that all 155 people on board the aircraft survived.

Like most of us, I’d heard about it on the news and marvelled at the incredible achievement of this pilot. However, I had not known about what happened afterwards and this film, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) investigation which, with an aircraft written off at great expense to the airline, was looking to apportion blame to the captain. Everyone may have survived, but was his decision not to try and make it to an airport correct or was he reckless with the lives of his passengers and crew and responsible for the loss of the plane?

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Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley Sullenberger & Aaron Eckhart as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles

 

Sully is a fairly mainstream movie, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. I can’t see it winning any big awards, but it is still an enjoyable film. One of its weaknesses is the fact that there isn’t too much of a story to tell, as unlike in a documentary film, delving in to the detail of the 18 month NTSB investigation in to Sully’s actions that morning, wouldn’t have worked. Therefore the film does at times feel a bit padded and repetitive, as we see the landing in the river more than once and scenes in which Sully remembers the events and later the listening to the cockpit recording are practically the same.

However, with such a strong leading man in the title role, the film is given an extra weight that it may not otherwise have had. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks and he never disappoints in terms of giving a believable and human performance, which always brings the character to life so vividly. The fact that here he is playing a real person means this is even more important. Through him we see the toll the experience put on Sully; if the lead up to and landing weren’t traumatic enough, he then had to endure the accusations and insinuations afterwards, during which his career, pension and reputation were at stake, while trying to cope with PTSD (scenes in which he dreams of the plane crashing in to buildings are quite harrowing). I admit watching the events unfold made me incredibly angry at how this decent man was treated!

Aaron Eckhart is also great as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who remains a loyal and staunch friend and colleague throughout, as the only other person to truly know what it was like in the cockpit that day. Eckhart said a few words after the screening about how Sully had been with them every step during the making of the film and how it was an aspect of the miracle on the Hudson River that he too hadn’t been aware of. The rest of the cast have very little to play with in terms of material and so talent such as Laura Linney (who plays Sully’s wife) are left feeling rather wasted.

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The film’s visuals are very good indeed.

 

Visually, the effects are very good and it’s incredibly chilling to watch an aircraft fly so close to Manhattan and you can imagine how those witnessing it at the time would have felt. Indeed a scene in which we see people’s reactions as the plane appears was quite unnerving. Director Clint Eastwood also successfully managed to create dramatic tension in scenes in which the audience knows there is going to be a happy ending. You are aware everyone survived Flight 1549, however the moments on board the flight and the immediate aftermath as the passengers rush to escape the plane as it fills with water are no less frightening, as you can’t help but imagine yourself in that situation.

It’s also a lovely touch to involve so many of the real people who were there, as Eckhart told us after the film that all of the coastguard and crew of the vessels that go to the plane’s aid are played by the actual individuals who helped Flight 1549. It’s clearly a very personal film for those involved, highlighted by the end credits, which include the actual passengers and crew, gathered at the Carolinas Aviation Museum (where the aircraft is on display), whose close bond is evident.

No, this isn’t a classic film, nor one that is destined for high acclaim. It is however a very well made and strongly acted story of something that should be more widely known and hopefully now Sully’s position as a true hero cannot be denied.

Sully opens in the UK on 2nd December 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/mjKEXxO2KNE

Film Review -Manchester By The Sea (2016) starring Casey Affleck in the role of his career

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In a weekend packed with films, Saturday evening saw me at the European premiere of Terence Lonergan’s new film Manchester By The Sea and it certainly proved to be a powerful example of film-making.

Both written and directed by Lonergan, it’s the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor who lives a solitary life in Boston, only to be pulled back to his former home of Manchester when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away. Although suffering from a known condition and given a limited life expectancy, Joe’s death shakes Lee and through a series of flashbacks we see how close the two brothers were.

Joe’s death also brings an even larger adjustment for Lee, in the form of his 16 year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). With his mother out of the picture, Lee is his only family and the film’s highlight is the relationship we see develop between these two men, as they each cope with their losses in their own way.

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Brothers Joe (Kyle Chandler) & Lee (Casey Affleck)
Lee’s return to Manchester also requires him to face his past and it’s only as the story moves forward that we begin to understand the underlying reasons behind his closed-off, almost emotionless at times, personality. It is here where the true brilliance of Affleck’s performance becomes so apparent. His portrayal of a man trying (and perhaps failing) to deal with so much pain, loss, grief and guilt is a revelation and it’s a performance that stays with you. He beautifully captures all of these emotions, while all the time keeping them tightly reined in, resulting in Lee always be somewhat apart from everyone around him. You understand what he’s thinking, even when he’s still and on the surface, calm. Through the glimpses into his previous life, we see when his world was simpler, as a husband to Randi (Michelle Williams) and a father and this makes the film all the more heartbreaking.

Affleck has been a great actor for many years, but with such a stunning performance, Manchester By The Sea marks a turning point in his career that I sincerely hope earns him the recognition he deserves.

Williams may have a smaller role than I expected, but she gives a very believable, delicate and moving performance of a woman whose life took an unexpected turn, which has left her irreparably broken. However, the other performance of note is that of Lucas Hedges as Patrick. The film marks his biggest role to date and it’s a performance which I’m sure is only the beginning of a successful career.

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Casey Affleck (Lee) & Lucas Hedges (Patrick)
It is a film that is quite slow in pace and its subjects of grief and loss could have resulted in a rather difficult story to sit through. However, although I do think it is perhaps a little too long, what surprised me about Lonergan’s script is how witty it is in places and this is emphasised by Hedges’ performance and his rapport with his uncle. Patrick is dealing with the loss of his father in his own way, which includes his continued efforts to sleep with one of his two girlfriends, even going as far as to ask his uncle to keep her mother occupied! Indeed Affleck and Hedges have a genuinely lovely relationship in this film and even when I felt it was a little too slow in places, the strength of their scenes maintained my interest and emotional investment in the lives of the characters.

It is also wonderfully shot by Lonergan (who even has a brief cameo in the film) and the setting adds to the general mood. You can see how this fishing community would be both a beautiful, but perhaps also lonely place to be.

Overall, I enjoyed this film and am pleased I went to see something I may not have picked out at my local multiplex. It won’t appeal to everyone and I can see how, for some, it may be just too slow a story. However, I found it to be a delicately crafted exploration of human emotion and how we each cope (or try to cope) when we have to face heartbreaking moments and that moving on is harder for some of us than others. This isn’t an easy, light film by any means, but I would still urge anyone with an appreciation for quality storytelling and tremendous acting to go and see it.

Manchester By The Sea opens in the UK on 13th January 2017 (in the USA it’s 18th November 2016). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gsVoD0pTge0

 

Film Review – A Monster Calls

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The standard at this year’s London Film Festival is already impressive. However, I don’t think anything will strike as much of an emotional chord with me this year as A Monster Calls. Based on his book of the same name, Patrick Ness brings his poignant story to a new audience, directed by J.A Bayona. I for one admit I’d never read his book, but I may do so now.

A Monster Calls is the story of 12 year old Conor O’Malley, who is facing something no child should have to face – the loss of his mother, who is battling cancer. As she fights on, Conor immerses himself in the world of his imagination, through his drawings, and it is here where the yew tree in the grounds of the churchyard at the back of their house comes to life; every night at 12:07 the monster comes to call (although, personally I didn’t really see the tree as a monster). The tree will tell him three stories and then Conor must tell it his story; his deepest secret.

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It is certainly a powerful and emotional subject, but A Monster Calls handles the themes of loss and grief in a deeply moving and thought-provoking way. The world of Conor’s imagination and the tree’s stories, designed to help him deal with the truth, are brought to life through beautiful animation, which enables the fantasy to merge with the reality just as the colours in Conor’s drawings do.

Added to the animation is the quality of the visual effects – namely the visualisation of the mighty tree. It’s superbly done and what at first may seem frightening to the younger viewer, soon becomes a source of comfort to this lost little boy. Liam Neeson voices the tree and is the perfect actor to do so, bringing the requisite gravitas that is both a little intimidating, but also kind and I loved the bond that grows between boy and tree.

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Felicity Jones breaks your heart as Conor’s mum, who would do anything to have more time with her son. In my view she’s one of Britain’s finest actresses and this is another touching performance from her. Sigourney Weaver is also very good as Conor’s grandma, struggling to find a way to connect with him as he grows more and more angry with life.

However, the star of this film is young Lewis MacDougall. He is superb as Conor and you become more and more emotionally invested in his story as the film unfolds. I defy you not to be crying by the end, especially with the added beauty of Fernando Velaquez’s score.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I saw this film, but it will be one of my film highlights of the year and is sure to break your heart, but also remind you of the power of love and courage and how those we love will always live on through our memories.

A Monster Calls opens on 6th January 2017 in the UK and the USA. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

 

Film Review – La La Land lights up the London Film Festival!

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The anticipation for this film was evident by the Odeon Leicester Square being full first thing in the morning for this encore screening. London Film Festival director Clare Stewart welcomed us to Saturday morning’s screening of La La Land by saying it would be the best 10:30 a.m. ticket we’d ever bought. I’d read all the buzz about this film, its recent wins at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals and I admit, I was worried it may not be as good as everyone had said. I needn’t have worried though – Claire was absolutely right too!

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, responsible for 2014’s excellent Whiplash, it is a truly magical film experience. What’s it about? It’s the story of a passionate jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) whose paths cross as they struggle to achieve their dreams in the City of Angels. After the initial spark between them, we watch over the course of four seasons (which all ironically look the same in sunny LA) as they fall in love, but also have to realise that not everything in life is as it is in the movies.

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There is so much to love about La La Land. Damien Chazelle has created something that is both old-fashioned and contemporary all at once. It immediately makes you think of the era of Hollywood classics, such as those starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, as Mia and Seb sing, dance and in Gosling’s case, play across the screen and the audience’s hearts (and the fact the actors have made such an effort to do all of this themselves adds to the film’s overall quality). As well as the golden era of Hollywood glamour and style (it looks visually beautiful), the film also captures the modern craziness of LA, particularly through the crushingly awkward auditions Mia puts herself through and the shallow people she encounters in the world she so wants to be a part of.

Another strength is the work of cinematographer Linus Sandgren, whose gorgeous lighting of scenes adds a magical mood and style that illuminates the screen and drenches it in colour. The scene in which Stone and Gosling dance together, overlooking the LA skyline is a brilliant example of this, as well as the merging of old and new, as the spellbinding classic mood is broken by a very modern ringing phone! He has clearly worked closely with Chazelle to capture the essence of the story and together they ensure that you never know when we will shift from reality to the gorgeous fantasy-style dream sequences.

The music is also a high point of La La Land, although I wouldn’t class this as a musical as such. It’s a romance in which the leads occasionally sing. Justin Hurwitz’s score is spot-on, working wonderfully with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. There is also input from John Legend, who also has a small role in the film, lending another level of credibility to its musical side, as does Gosling’s evident work at mastering the piano, in order to truly convince in the role of Seb. I will certainly be buying the full soundtrack as soon as it’s available.

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Acting-wise there are strong performances in both lead and minor roles (I loved the all too brief appearance of Whiplash’s JK Simmons!), but the film belongs to Stone and Gosling, who reignite the old-fashioned Hollywood romance for a new generation. They are a superb duo, equally adept at bringing the fun, comedic and emotional aspects of their characters to life. I loved Mia’s sense of humour (particularly early on) and her kind heart, which Stone conveys so seemingly effortlessly through her eyes. I also admit to falling under Gosling’s spell as Seb. He brings a true depth of emotion to him, while also looking utterly cool and sophisticated in every outfit (full marks to the costume designer, for creating looks that were modern, but also classically stylish).

In the Q&A afterwards, Chazelle said that it is a film about timing; sometimes the timing is on and sometimes it isn’t, which is certainly true for Mia and Seb, but also for all of us in life. He hoped that it conveys to the audience that life may not always be as you dreamt, or as it was in your favourite movies, but that that’s okay; we all find our own path. It’s a lovely message and by the end of La La Land you feel that sense of hope.

This has already been an impressive film festival for me. I’ve seen more films than past years (reviews will continue to be posted here as quickly as I can write them), but La La Land will almost certainly be my highlight and possibly even one of my all-time favourite films. I laughed and cried and fell under its spell and I hope its success will signal a new era of films which draw on the magic of a bygone era, to bring a new audience to this genre of film. I’m not quite ready to put money on the Awards season, but if I had to, I think this film is a strong contender.

La La Land opens in the UK on 13th January 2017 (it’s 9th December 2016 for the U.S.A, you lucky people) and I cannot urge you enough to go along and be swept away by it. In the meatime, here’s the latest trailer: https://youtu.be/VDMf9m7FXd4

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.

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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