BFI London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2016

This site thrives on one 12 day event that occurs every year in October; the BFI London Film Festival. The festival is now in its 60th year and we are in our 7th year of covering the film bonanza in as much detail as we can without actually losing our minds. Each year the films get better and better, I see more and more films, and I get less and less sleep.

On Thursday the line-up for this year’s event was announced and I have gone through the various strands and pulled out a film for each that really has me excited. As for my overall list of films I want to see… I am currently trying to get that down to double digits.

Galas - Free Fire

Free Fire

The Gala films tend to be the hardest tickets to get your hands on but are also the most likely to get a cinema release so I advise you look elsewhere for gems at the festival. That aside I am desperate to catch this year’s closing film Free Fire as it unites the fearless Brie Larson with revolutionary Ben Wheatley. I’ve seen three Larson films (1, 2, 3) and two of Wheatley’s (1, 2) at previous festivals and cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this bloody, funny, and no doubt dazzling action comedy from a filmmaker like no other. Amy Jump has written a 1970s American crime drama shot just outside Brighton which looks as farcical as it does violent. Bring it on.

Love - The Son of Joseph

The Son of Joseph

Back in 2011 we found ourselves very briefly delving into a surreal and stylised world of Portuguese cinema. The film that ended this baffling cinematic education was The Portuguese Nun. I’m almost certain that we enjoyed it. That film’s director, Eugène Green, is back with a French film about a young man searching for his father. I guarantee that this will be a unique film that will be either tedious, hilarious, or a delirious mixture of both.

Debate - Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog is the only documentarian that has both appeared as a baddie in Jack Reacher and as an estate agent in Parks and Recreation. So great is the caricature surrounding Herzog sometimes I forget that he is actually a skilled filmmaker who is not afraid to offer up his opinion and produces works of lyrical beauty. His latest is an exploration of our connected world; looking at how the internet has affected our real world personal relationships. Apparently it includes the line, “Can your dishwasher fall in love with your refrigerator?”. Sold.

Laugh - Lost in Paris

Lost in Paris

My favourite film of 2012 was a strange Belgian comedy called The Fairy which starred a limber comedic duo like nothing I had seen before. In their latest they play a couple who find one another in Paris and go on a series of absurd adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel thrive on genuinely funny physical comedy that relies on flexibility, ingenuity, and impeccable timing. I will not be missing this.

Dare - The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has brought us Korean classics including Thirst and The Vengeance Trilogy before impressing with his English language triumphs Stoker and Snowpiercer. Now he has taken the English novel Fingersmith back to his native South Korea to create an erotic and stylish period thriller that apparently involves some amazing wallpaper. No other director can wring so much tension from so little so I can only imagine what he does with this saucy source material.

Thrill - City of Tiny Lights

City of Tiny Lights

A crime thriller set in contemporary London starring Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper. This leapt out at me having watched Billie Piper give a career defining performance in Yerma at the Young Vic last week and feeling the need to double-check that she really is the incredible actress I saw that night. With a plotline involving a radical mosque, multiculturalism, and commercial development City of Tiny Lights sounds like a ripe and topical slice of modern noir set in the city I love.

Cult - The Void

The Void

There are numerous horrors I am keen to lose my composure to at the festival but the one that I keep coming back to is this throwback from Canada. Said to include the influence of John Carpenter and classic practical effects along with knowing nods to frighteners of the past The Void looks to be the perfect way for me to lose a few nights’ sleep.

Journey - Two Lovers and a Bear

Two Lovers and a Bear

Starring two of the most underrated and talented young actors working today, Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Maslany, Two Lovers and a Bear brings us magical realism in the Arctic. The two titular lovers are trying to overcome their childhoods in a remote and isolated town. Presumably a bear shows up at some point too.

Sonic - London Town

London Town

Imagine a time of social, political, and racial unrest under a Tory Prime Minister. Now stop thinking about last month and throw your mind back to 1979. Representing the festival strand dedicated to music we have a British comedy drama following a young teenager struggling with family life after his mother leaves the family home. What will help him get through this troubled time? Punk of course!

Family - Phantom Boy

Phantom Boy

At a film festival there are no BBFC certificates and as such there is no guarantee that the animated film you have chosen to see will not feature graphic sexual content. Thankfully the festival has the Family strand which is the only safe place for the young or prudish. Leo is a sick boy trapped in hospital who discovers he can leave his body and fly around like a phantom. A surreal animation about a new type of superhero.

Experimentia - Have You Seen My Movie

Have You Seen My Movie?

I am wary of the Experimenta strand as the films veer away from narrative cinema and towards pure art. For a novice like me this can be a challenging experience and writing about it is almost impossible. I get an abusive email roughly once every six months from one artist whose work I didn’t enjoy back in 2013. A film my brain might be able to comprehend is Have You Seen My Movie? which consists of a two-hour montage of scenes from other films that either feature people going to the cinema or in the act of making film themselves. How can this last for so long? Will it be enjoyable or tedious? This is the joy of Experimenta; you have to take the plunge and risk being proven wrong.

Treasures - Born in Flames

Born in Flames

Truly embracing the risk I am even tempted by a film that straddles both the Experimenta strand and the Treasures collection. In the latter group are older films that have been remastered or simply need to be revisited, perhaps having gained greater relevance since their initial release. This example is a slice of 80s feminist science fiction in which women never gained equality with men and so turn to violent revolution to fight for what is rightfully theirs. Anyone mocking SJWs online might want to watch their step.

The festival runs 5th – 16 October 2016 and tickets go on sale 8th September for BFI members and 15th September for everyone else.

Top Ten Films of 2013

Top Ten Films 2013

2013 has been an above average year for films. 2013 is an excellent vintage for a film to have. In the future you can pull a DVD off the shelf, note that it was made in 2013 and be assured that there is a good chance you are buying a top quality film. Film works like wine, right?

I have agonised over the list below; there were so many films I wanted to mention but had to leave out in favour of films that either tried something a little different or spoke to me personally. I’ve tried to have a good mix of genres and styles and yet the majority seem to feature an in-depth look at human emotions, three have pivotal scenes involving a piano, and two were shot in black & white. On with the list:

10 – The Comedian

10 - The Comedian

Funnily enough this was the hardest position on the list to decide on as whatever film doesn’t make this slot doesn’t make the list at all. In the end I settled on Tom Shkolnik’s debut film about a young man living in London. Protagonist Ed is unsatisfied in his job and his love life and finds himself a little lost in his life in London. The film has no strict plot but instead features authentic feeling improvised scenes and simply offers a glimpse into a short period in the life of a character. I related to the film on a very personal level which earned it a place in my top 10 but which also makes me a little nervous to recommend it. Like another film much higher on this list The Comedian gives us a little peek at human relationships and does it in such a realistic way I couldn’t help but love it. More gushing in my review.

9 – A Field in England

9 - A Field in England

And now for something completely different… Over the past four years Ben Wheatley has made four films and cemented himself in the world of British film as a man who can produce low budget films filled with unbearable tension, extreme violence, and surprisingly real characters. His fourth film took a strange turn as he produced a black & white piece set during the civil war in which all manner of horrors occur in a field in England. The film was released in cinemas and on TV, DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD all on the same day but that is far from the most remarkable thing about it. I couldn’t begin to explain the plot of A Field in England or the relatively tame but somehow harrowing visuals it contains. This is bold, brave British film-making; something we could do with a lot more of.

8 – Breathe In

8 - Breathe In

Two years ago Drake Doremus’ debut film Like Crazy was released and despite it being an impressive first film there was something about it I couldn’t quite get behind. In his follow-up, a story of infidelity and temptation starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, Doremus has utilised his improvisational style to produce a fantastic feature. This is a film of lust and longing, and not being satisfied with the cards life has dealt you. What is most impressive is that Doremus manages to create scenes of incredible sexual tension and sensuality without ever needed to show anything more than a longing look or a gentle touch. Worth an entry on this list for its ability to replace sex scenes with piano duets without losing any of the sexiness.

7 – Philomena

7 - Philomena

2013 has definitely been a great year for films and specifically a great year for Steve Coogan. Four of his films were fighting for a position in my top ten but ultimately I could only allow myself one on the list. Philomena gets this most coveted position for being the only film of the four to bring me to tears. The story of an old woman searching for the son she was forced to give up 50 years ago is a heartbreaking one but the script, co-authored by Coogan, manages to be hilarious too. As we watch the unlikely pairing of Coogan’s uptight journalist and Judi Dench’s kind-hearted and deeply religious pensioner the film explores faith, family, and forgiveness in and even handed and enjoyable way. Ultimately the story of Philomena, deeply based in fact rather than fiction, is not a happy one but she isn’t going to let it get the best of her so neither should you. Full review here.

6 – Stoker

6 - Stoker

Stoker completely passed me by when it had a cinematic release in March of this year but in an effort to fill in some of the gaps in my film watching I caught up with the film over the Christmas break, and I am glad that I did. Stoker is written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller and directed by Korean legend Chan-wook Park and is a stunningly shot gothic thriller. Mia Wasikowska plays a young girl coming of age who has just lost her father and is getting to know her previously unheard of young uncle, Matthew Goode, who comes to stay with her and her mother. The film has strangely vibrant yet artificial looking visuals and some brilliantly arch performances from its leads which allows the film to have its characters behave in a way that is slightly otherworldly. Stoker manages to maintain a strange tension throughout which created a sense that sex or violence could erupt at any moment. This film also features a second sensual scene focusing on a piano duet but things get slightly more extreme, as is so often the case with Stoker. A totally unique modern thriller that Hitchcock wouldn’t be ashamed to have directed.

5 – Saving Mr. Banks

5 - Saving Mr. Banks

At number 5 we have a very personal choice for myself. I really can’t tell if Saving Mr. Banks is actually a good film or just a load of sentimental nonsense as I am so blinded by all the baggage I am bringing to the film. Saving Mr. Banks is the story of the battle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers as he tries to obtain film rights for the books from a woman who hates cartoons, musicals, and Dick van Dyke. As someone who grew up on a heavy dose of Julie Andrews singing there is something bizarrely nostalgic about this film set twenty years before I was born. Combine this with another fine performance from Emma Thompson and the result is me in repeated floods of tears at a press screening. If you love Mary Poppins then no doubt you will love Saving Mr. Banks, otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother. Full review here.

4 – Nebraska

4 - Nebraska

Have you ever received a letter telling you that you might have won millions and that you just need to phone a number or go to an address with your prize code to find out? Nebraska is the story of one man (Bruce Dern) who takes the letter seriously. Worrying that his father will try to take the journey to claim his prize alone his son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him there just to make sure he doesn’t die in the process. Along the way they stop off at the old man’s hometown and old family feuds resurface as people are mocking and jealous of the possible windfall in equal measure. Shot in gorgeous black & white Alexander Payne has made another beautiful film, one that shows the quirks of family and how important and frail dignity can be even as you get older. Funny and touching Nebraska is never inauthentic or cloying. Perfect. Full review here.

3 – Behind the Candelabra

3 - Behind the Candelabra

Having declared his retirement from directing films for the cinema Steven Soderbergh went on to direct this biopic of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and the story of his love affair with the initially young Scott (Matt Damon). In the UK we scuppered his plan for retirement by deciding that the film was too good for TV and gave it a cinematic release instead. In Behind the Candelabra Soderbergh has created a gloriously camp retelling of the life of one gloriously camp performer, and the life of an ego so big that he gives his boyfriend plastic surgery so that he can share more of Liberace’s features. Douglas and Damon are both playing completely against type and doing a fabulous job of it but neither are so brilliant as Rob Lowe who plays the taut faced plastic surgeon who can’t so much as close his eyes any more. The whole film is turned up to eleven and is a real joy to watch. Just don’t go expecting any subtle sexy scenes at the piano as Liberace eschews subtlety in favour of glitter, candelabras, and an on-stage limo.

2 – Before Midnight

2 - Before Midnight

We return to the theme of relationships that runs through this list as we reunite with one of cinema’s best couples and the most enduring onscreen romance. Richard Linklater first introduced us to Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) back in 1995 when the two lovers met, spent a night together, and went their separate ways. 9 years later the pair were reunited in Paris and shared one long real-time conversation before leaving us with a cliff hanger. Since 2004 audiences have been left wondering whether Jesse stayed to spend another night with Celine or went back to America to his wife and child. Their love story is continued in Before Midnight as we drop back into their lives as a proper couple with their own children on holiday in Greece. Through a series of conversations we see that Jesse and Celine are still very much in love but that the years have taken their toll on the young romantics and every conversation has an undertone harking back to an argument years in the making. The Before trilogy is always pretentious, funny, and touching and as theatrical as the lengthy conversations might be the performances never stray far from my favourite adjective; authentic. Here we are watching characters we love struggle in their relationship and it is all painfully real.

1 – Blue is the Warmest Colour

1 - Blue is the Warmest Colour

The only thing that can possibly top a brief trip into the relationship of Jesse and Celine is a film that encompasses an entire relationship. Across the three hours we follow French teenager Adèle as she slowly becomes an adult and discovers her own sexuality through initial fumbles with boys and then her life changing romance with the enigmatic Emma. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has come under a lot of criticism for the film since he and the young stars (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but none of that can do anything to stop the resulting film from being so incredible. As the relationship between Adèle and Emma waxes and wanes we see all facets of their relationship. Yes we see their sex life but we see their snotty, blotchy faced arguments too. We see their initial flirtation in a bar and their tragic post-relationship reunion in a cafe. We see their conflicting family dynamics as Adèle is introduced to Emma’s foodie family as her girlfriend and Emma is invited round to Adèle’s as a friend to enjoy some bland spaghetti. The performances at the center of the film are fantastically raw and, all together now, authentic. At the end of my screening Kechiche and Exarchopoulo came out for a Q&A but I couldn’t stay to watch it for fear of ruining the illusion that the Adèle I had been watching was a living, breathing human being and someone whose most intimate moments I had seen laid bare. This marks the third year in a row that a French film has taken my top film title; they must be doing something right. Full review here.

Top 20 Films of 2011
Top 10 Films of 2012

Out Now – 1st March 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Broken City

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
That sweet tale of two young children killing an elderly woman and eating her out of house and home (PUN INTENDED) has been revamped and the siblings have grown up into witch seeking bounty hunters. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the titular duo in a film filled with bloody violence and some swears.

Broken City
A dumb and unsubtle political thriller starring a dumb and unsubtle Mark Wahlberg. A private investigator goes up against a corrupt mayor in a film with little to offer the audience.

Safe Haven
Another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. You know the type, an emotional drama with a poster featuring a couple just about to kiss. But will they kiss?!?!?! Yes, they will kiss. The two people kissing here are a young woman with a dark secret and a widower. Such sad souls, if only they had someone to almost kiss.

Arbitrage
“In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices.” I may have read the wrong Wikipedia page…

Hi-so (limited release)
Thai drama in which a young man returns home from abroad and takes a role in a film by a famous director. During the filming his relationship turns sour and a new girl catches his eye. “A bittersweet tale of love, memories and belonging” which has two special screenings including a Q&A with the director (and free booze!), on 1st March at the Curzon Renoir and 2nd March at the Hackney Picturehouse.

The Gospel According to Matthew (limited re-release)
The BFI have gone and re-released a film again, this time a 1967 Italian drama about the life of Jesus Christ. I will not be watching.

Stoker (limited release)
Mia Wasikowska stars in this dark thriller as India, a young female person who becomes infatuated with her Uncle Charlie when he moves in with India and her mother after her father dies. This film is an 18 so prepare for sexual stuff. I don’t know how you prepare for sexual stuff. Don’t go with your gran?

The Attacks of 26/11 (limited release)
Hindi crime-thriller film based on the 2008 Mumbai attacks. If you don’t know what the 2008 Mumbai attacks were then shame on you. The 2008 Mumbai attacks were twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India’s largest city, by Islamist terrorists who were trained in and came from Pakistan. Apparently. Obviously.

Caesar Must Die (limited release)
Inmates at a high-security prison in Rome prepare for a public performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. SPOILER ALERT: Caesar gets shivved in the shower at the end.

The Bay (limited release)
Mockumentary horror made up of a series of stories following the outbreak of a plague-like parasitic disease in a small Maryland town.

Trashed (limited release)
Documentary following Jeremy Irons (yes, really) as he investigates the issue of global waste and visits destinations across the world that have been tainted by pollution.

Sleep Tight (limited release)
Spanish horror about an apartment concierge who is miserable and so tries to make all his tenants miserable as well. There is a chance my landlady has been using this technique for the past two years by failing to fix our boiler.