Next month sees the 56th London Film Festival hit, somewhat predictably, London, in what promises to be one of the most interesting and important festivals of any stripe to take place in the capital for many years.
Perhaps the first thing to mention about this year's festival is that popular longtime LFF director Sandra Hebron has stepped down and been replaced by former Sydney Film Festival director Clare Stewart, who has wasted no time in stamping her mark on the event with a number of fairly radical changes: the biggest of which appears to be the vast increase in the number and variety of venues, with the stalwarts of the Odeon Leicester Square, the NFT screens and Vue Leicester Square now being accompanied by a host of other cinemas outside of the centre, including the Rich Mix centre, Hackney Picturehouse, the ICA, Screen on the Green and the Brixton Ritzy.
This means more films than ever – 225 features, 111 shorts - but this increased number coupled with the festival’s shorted overall running time (now 11 days, four days shorter than last year) means it’ll be even harder for the hardened festival-goer to get to see absolutely everything. This has led to a few journalists grumbling about having to race all round town to see the films they want, and I for one completely agree. How dare this upstart Aussie Stewart come over here and devise a festival schedule that makes films more readily available and accessible to the – retch – without taking the Oyster card needs of the beleagured, overworked film press into account, who now will only get to see dozens of free films a week instead of hundreds? The bare-faced cheek. I tell you, if she takes away the endless piles of free chocolate bars, I’m burning down the BFI.
Another big change is the division of the film programme (major galas and premieres aside) into themed strands, with line-ups divided into Family, Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey and Sonic. At first look this appears to have been an astute move - one of my main complaints with last year’s programming was the noticeable lack of representation left-field, oddball cult cinema, but the arrival of ‘Cult’ strand this year appears to signify a much greater dedication to weird cinema from now on, with new films debuting from Don Coscarelli (BUBBA HO-TEP, PHANTASM), Kim Jee-Woon (A BITTERSWEET LIFE, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS), Oriol Paulo (JULIA’S EYES), and Cronenberg (Jnr, granted, but still).
Add to this a fascinating documentary programme, some must-see screenings of restored Hitchcock and Lean, a special one-off editon of Adam Buxton's Bug and a packed slate of new shorts, and you’re all but sure to forget all about the noticeable absence of THE MASTER, SKYFALL, TO THE WONDER, CLOUD ATLAS and DJANGO UNCHAINED. And hey – there’s always the surprise film.
Here's some of my personal, first glance picks of the 2012 programme:
OPENING NIGHT GALA – FRANKENWEENIE
The UK premiere of Tim Burton’s new stop-motion kiddy-horror hasn’t been met with a great deal of excitement, it seems, and the fact that it will be released just days after premiering at the LFF (while simultaneously screening at 30 participating cinemas around the country) has arguably taken some of the sheen off this as a 'special' event – and that’s not even taking into account the impact Burton’s patchy-at-best output over the last decade will undoubtedly have on expectation levels.
However, I remain pretty excited for FRANKENWEENIE – I adore THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, VINCENT and the original FRANKENWEENIE short, and this looks like it is at least attempting to capture some of the magic of those films. Plus, it’s the second stop-motion film to open the London Film Festival in four years, which warms my heart a great deal.
I love music docs, and I love the Rolling Stones, so even if this long-awaited bio-doc wasn’t directed by Brett Morgen I’d be on board. As it is, Morgen is responsible for the hugely entertaining Robert Evans ego-dump THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, and one of my favourite docs of recent years, JUNE 17th 1994, which tracks a number of US sporting successes on the titular date in real time, alongside the OJ Simpson whte bronco chase that was concurrently capturing the imagination of the US public. This doc – which uses no talking heads or voiceover to tell its remarkable story – demonstrated Morgen’s remarkable documentary film-maing talent, and I’m very excited to see what he can bring to one of the most legendary stories in pop music.
Affleck yo! He’s stealthiy become one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors, single-handedly attempting to disprove the notion that the quality, mid-budget studio picture is dead with the excellent double of GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN. This story of an outlandish CIA rescue mission that uses the cover story of shooting a blockbuster to infiltrate Iran has a sumptuous amount of period detail (read: bad 70s hair, mustard shirts), and a phenomenal cast: Alan Arkin! John Goodman! Bryan Cranston! Surround yourself with that caliber of actors Ben, and you can cast yourself in as many of your films as you like.
New Haneke is always an event, and this Palme D’or winning drama blew Cannes audiences away earlier in the summer with its raw, unfiltered assault on the emotions. The premise – the unflinching look at the life of an elderly couple as one of them slowly dies of a debilitating disease – is heavier than a busful of bloggers, and one that you suspect only Haneke would be crazy enough to even try and attempt. Then again, as an aspect of life that we all do our best to avoid contemplating, who better to tackle it than the master of making aan audience uncomfortable? Despite promising two of the saddest hours of your life, the coupling of reportedly transcendant performances with the huge amount of respect Haneke’s body of work commands will make this one of the hottest tickets of the festival.
This is my favourite trailer of the year. Wheatley is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. I’ll be seeing this. ON SIGHT. *clang*
A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
As a huge lifelong Python fan I’m excited to see how this adaptation of Graham Chapman’s playful memoir will translate to the screen, with fourteen (!) different animation studios with radically different art styles all employed to realize Chapman’s surreal worldview onscreen.
END OF WATCH
This was completely off my radar, but the new cops-and-gangs-in-LA film from David Ayer (TRAINING DAY, HARSH TIMES) looked very impressive in preview footage, with Jake Gyllenhaal finally being given what looks like an interesting role after a run of fairly charisma-free ones. It remains to be seen if the faux-documentary style (reminiscent of early episodes of THE WIRE) will prove absorbing or irritating, but for now it looks very promising.
Another film off my radar, this story of abandoned children on the run in post-Nazi Germany caught my eye with its darkly inviting cinematography – makes sense now that I find out it was photographed by Adam Arkapaw, the ace lensman behind recent Aussie crime masterpieces ANIMAL KINGDOM and SNOWTOWN.
I've not been overly enamoured with the trailers for this so far – a shame, since like every other right-thinking person if Martin McDonagh’s previous film IN BRUGES were a girl I'd enter into a stable, monogamous relatonship with it. However, the clip we saw at the press launch seemed much wittier and more interesting than what we’ve seen so far – and lest we forget, the trailers (and posters) for IN BRUGES were fucking awful.
ERNEST AND CELESTINE
I haven’t seen Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier’s previous animation A TOWN CALLED PANIC, but I’ll seek it out now after seeing sumptuous preview footage of a story of controversial inter-species (mice and bears) friendship. Love the art style, and if the story-telling can match it then we’re in for a treat.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
I can’t even watch five seconds of the trailers for this without getting a lump in my throat. It’s pathetic.
THE SAMURAI THAT NIGHT
The day I miss a film with ‘samurai’ in the title is the day I commit seppuku. That said, this doesn’t appear to actually be about samurais in the shogun era of Japan, but rather about a modern day anti-hero who is obsessed with the idea of avenging the death of his wife. I’m still in.
MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
Extremely powerful and harrowing looking documentary on the prevalence of child abuse in the Catholic Church and, by proxy, the complicity of the Church’s senior figures in covering it up. From Alex Gibney, the director of ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM and CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELLIOT SPITER, this looks like a thoughtful, intelligent, but righteously angry take on one of the most despicable scandals of modern times, one that sadly remains nowhere near resolved.
CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
I’ve heard excellent things about this romantic comedy, which apparently approaches modern relationships with a degree more thoughtfulness than your typical Aniston movie, or even your usual Apatow fare. The main reason to see it, of course, is the heart-stoppingly beautiful Rashida Jones, who also co-wrote the script. IT’S NOT FAIR YOU’RE ALSO SO TALENTED OH GOD I’M WORTHLESS
EASY MONEY I and II
I do love some Nordic noir – HEADHUNTERS was one of my favourite films of the festival last year. Here’s a double bill of two equally well-received examples of the genre, examining an ambitious but down-trodden student who turns to organized crime to fund his extravagant lifestyle. Championed by Scorsese, it’s also worth a look to check out the acting chops of lead actor Joel Kinnaman, who’ll be looking for trouble next year in Jose Padhila’s ROBOCOP remake.
I've had my eye on this for a while. A box office smash in South Korea, and featuring a lead performance by the mighty Choi Minsik (OLDBOY, THE YELLOW SEA), if there’s one country in the world that can rival Norway for the production of reliably brilliant crime movies, it’s South Korea.
More Korean brilliance, this time from Kim Jee Woon and Yim Pil-Sung (HANSEL AND GRETEL), in this post-apocalyptic anthology movie. I’ll repeat that: a South Korean post-apocalyptic anthology movie. If you need more reasons to see it, you’re on the wrong website.
JOHN DIES AT THE END
This is a real get for the ‘Cult’ strand, as it looks as if this is one of those films custom-built for an eventual cult following, like THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI IN THE EIGHT DIMENSION, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, or Don Coscarelli’s previous film BUBBA HO-TEP. No idea if this adaptation of the beloved web serial will be any good or not, but I’m intrigued enough to find out.
BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME
Seeing as all of my favourite bands are either a) big influences on Big Star, b) heavily influenced by Big Star, or c) Big Star, I’m going to see the hell out of this long overdue restrospective documentary.
Obviously, there's still a huge number of films to cover, many of which that come the festival's end I'm sure I'll be kicking myself I didn't identify as must-sees earlier. For now though, that’s my initial preview for what looks set to be a really exciting festival. Be sure to check in here over the coming weeks for more reviews and festival coverage.