The London Film Festival gets underway this week. As always, it’s packed with exciting offerings from every corner of the globe, and to suit all tastes – from cerebral beard-strokers to popcorn-munching populists. We’ve ploughed through the (huge) programme and picked out the highlights so you don’t have to.
The Big Hitters
The festival’s opening and closing galas always nab two of the hottest films of the festival, and this year is no exception.
Kicking things off on Wednesday will be the European premier of Tim Burton’s deliciously dark new animated feature, Frankenweenie. Channeling the small town loner theme of Edward Scissorhands and the macabre puppetry of Corpse Bride into a reworking of the Frankenstein story (only this time, it’s a young lad’s pet dog that is brought back to life), it sees Burton back on the sinister yet charming storytelling turf where he made his name.
There’s similar anticipation attached to the festival’s closing gala film, Mike ‘Four Weddings’ Newell’s reworking of Great Expectations. From a script by One Day author David Nicholl, the lavish staging of the Dickens classic sees Helena Bonham Carter taking on the role of literature’s most famous spinster, Miss Havisham, and Ralph Fiennes its most tragic crook, Magwitch. We’ll be watching with, well, great expectations.
Other big hitters to look out for include Crossfire Hurricane, a career-spanning documentary about the Rolling Stones that celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary, and new Ben Affleck film Argo. The once sneered-at heartthrob completes his impressive career reinvention by directing and starring in this espionage thriller, which is already going Oscar buzz-tastic.
Unlike the global categories of previous years, the new-look 2012 festival is broken down by theme – ‘love’, ‘laugh’, ‘thrill’ and so on. Each is packed with promising new offerings from some of the world’s greatest filmmakers. But what are the ones that really stand out?
Let’s start with Sightseers, which sees Kill List director Ben Wheatley move into comedic territory (though of the blackest possible variety) with a story about a young couple on a caravanning holiday that factors in love, laughter and a spate of casual murders. We sense a cult classic in the making.
There are more British-helmed laughs to be had in Spike Island, a coming-of-age story set around a legendary early Stone Roses gig and the efforts of a young group of friends to be there.
And the charms of youth can also be found in Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires, which tells the real-life story of a 60s Irish girl group who go to Vietnam to sing for troops, and stars the now ubiquitous yet ever-watchable Chris O’Dowd.
Perhaps the most hotly-anticipated film of the entire festival is Beasts Of The Southern Wild, a fantastical piece set in America’s Deep South that had Sundance and Cannes critics scrabbling over each other to gush their praises (not a pretty site, though the film apparently is).
And those underachieving yanks (pah, what do they know about making movies) have some other exciting prospects on offer, in SXSW prize-winner Gimme The Loot, about a loveable pair of ambitious young NYC graffiti artists, and Compliance, an unsettling telling of a dark and disturbing real-life drama that took place inside a fast food joint.
Based on the brutal brilliance of his 2009 French prison drama A Prophet, it’s little wonder everyone is hungry to see what director Jacques Audiard has turned to next. Starring Marion Cotillard (and a killer whale), Rust And Bone is a very different feature altogether; an unlikely love story (no, not involving the killer whale) that is as intense in its emotion as A Prophet was in its violence and severe narrative.
We’re also hearing very good things about the curious and seemingly very creepy Spanish horror/thriller Painless.
And to finish on an appropriately local note, London’s most notable festival appearance is in Sally El Hosaini’s hotly-tipped My Brother The Devil, a Hackney-set tale of drugs, gangs and sibling secrets that is apparently far more interesting than the subject matter might suggest.
The Indie Crowd
Hogging pretty much all of the art house anticipation (quite understandably) is Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning Amour, about an elderly couple trying to cope after a stroke leaves the wife paralysed and speechless. It’s obviously not the cheeriest film (and there are no helicopters or explosions), but critics are pretty much foaming at the mouth over it and, in its wake, attaching a variety of ‘best living filmmaker’ tags to the Austrian master.
As for the rest, The Hunt sees Festen director Thomas Vinterberg extract a strong (and Cannes Best Actor award-winning) performance from Mads Mikkelsen, as a teacher wrongly accused of inappropriate behavior with a student.
Caesar Must Die uses a real Italian prison and real inmates in its portrayal of a behind-bars production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Our Children promises to “make you weep” with its devastating story of the pressures faced by a young couple. And American director Antonio Campos’s follow-up to the well-received Afterschool is intriguing drama Simon Killer, starring US indie darling Brady Corbet.
The factual fixtures of this year’s festival are a similarly strong bunch.
Beware Of Mr Baker traces legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker to a ranch in South Africa – only to discover that he’s now a cantankerous old curmudgeon.
Canned Dreams takes us on a now-familiar-but-still-uncomfortable journey behind the scenes of the global food industry.
Free Angela And All Political Prisoners tells the story of Angela Davis, a militant activist in 60s America.
For No Good Reason looks back on the career of Hunter S Thompson’s favoured illustrator Ralph Steadman.
There’s high-altitude tragedy in The Summit, which tells the story of a fateful 2008 climbing expedition at K2, in which 11 climbers died.
And West Of Memphis revisits the story of three Arkansas teenagers who were accused of performing satanic rituals and wrongfully imprisoned for murdering three eight-year-old boys.