For movie lovers, October is London Film Festival time. Specifically, Wednesday 4th to Sunday 15th October this year.
Now in its 61st year, organisers have ditched including the number in the name, favouring the trendier sounding BFI London Film Festival 2017.
Whatever the moniker, the festival is guaranteed to deliver first rate films over 12 celluloid (and digital format) stuffed days.
While there are big hitters amongst the 242 films screening from a whopping 67 different countries, this year we’re most excited by the darker end of the festival.
Still present are the typical galas and strands. Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, Breathe, is the Opening Night Gala. An uplifting period piece about the triumph of the spirit over adversity, it features Andrew Garfield as a young man crippled by polio. Imagine The Diving Bell and the Butterfly pondering The Theory of Everything and you’re not far off.
The American Express Gala’s Battle of the Sexes is another true story movie. Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are 70s tennis champs Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in an energetic yarn whose topics of inequality and discrimination remain relevant 40+ years on.
There is Alexander Payne’s Being John Malkovich-esque Downsizing with Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, presented in the BFI Patron’s Gala. The Love Gala has On Chesil Beach, adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, and starring Saoirse Ronan. It’ll be interesting to see how the film depicts the shocking narrative key point.
Much to admire then.
But, capturing our eye are those films that step into the shadows. Works by supreme fabulists, or movies lighting a fire in the Thrill and Cult strands.
Primarily we’re talking about Guillermo Del Toro’s latest flight of fantasy, The Shape of Water. A splendid looking splicing of B-movie sci-fi with the Gothic romance of Crimson Peak, plus inclusion politics, it stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who finds a connection with a strange aquatic creature in a 1950s government lab. But, the Head of Research (the unfailingly good Michael Shannon) sees the merman as little more than dissection fodder.
Already drawing comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth, this could emerge as the festival highlight.
Other visceral delights include Headline Gala The Killing of a Sacred Deer, reuniting The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos with star Colin Farrell. Joining them both are Nicole Kidman and Dunkirk actor Barry Koeghan for a dark morality tale that (jointly) won Best Screenplay at Cannes 2017.
Richard Linklater pays homage to the 1970s classic The Last Detail with another Headline Gala, Last Flag Flying, a road-trip meditation on war with mouth-watering trio Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne in the leads.
Speaking of war, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here looks to be a shattering experience. Joaquin Phoenix picked up Best Actor at Cannes 2017 as a Gulf War vet and former FBI man turned killer-for-hire. Violent and hallucinatory, advance word on this is strong. Jonathan Ames’ script, based on his novel Ramsay. shared the Best Screenplay award in Cannes with the above mentioned The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Elsewhere, the ever-reliable Michael Haneke reunites with The Piano Teacher star Isabelle Huppert for the undoubtedly ironically titled Happy End, a Festival Special Presentation examining the super wealthy living beside Calais’ refugee “Jungle”.
The Cult Gala movie is Joachim Trier’s Thelma, a female coming-of-age chiller with echoes of Carrie, while the Thrill Gala is Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal. The 100th film from the remarkably prolific Miike, we’re hoping for the fun and fury of 2010’s Thirteen Assassins, rather than the bewildering brain-fart of 2015’s Yakuza Apocalypse.
Diving into the Thrill strand, we have Thai-teen-exam-cheat-thriller(!) Bad Genius. The Cambodian Jailbreak is an actioner that won the Audience Award at Montreal’s 2017 Fantasia Film Festival and marks the feature film debut of Celina Tran (aka one-time porn star Katsuni).
Korean cinema looks to be well represented by Won Shin-yun’s Memoir of a Murderer, about a vigilante hunting a killer, but blighted by Alzheimer’s. As with most Korean thrillers, this looks to be all-flavours-in-one, guaranteed to equally delight and disgust.
Over in the Cult strand, we cannot wait to check out Brawl in Cell Block 9, the bruising looking Vince Vaughn prison movie from S Craig Zahler, writer/director of Bone Tomahawk. Reportedly, Zahler has retained that film’s red, raw and graphic depiction of mayhem, and may even have upped the ante.
We’re intrigued by My Friend Dahmer. The source graphic novel by Derf Backderf (pseudonymn for cartoonist John Backderf, who attended school with Dahmer) is so beautifully illustrated and chillingly, yet empathetically told, we want to see if writer/director Marc Meyers has managed to translate this to moving pictures.
Other films exciting us are Spanish Ouija board thriller Veronica, Ellen Page’s Ireland-set post-zombie outbreak movie The Cured, and Ghost Stories, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson bringing their hit London stage play to the silver scream, er, screen.
Not enough spicy movie meat to chew on? How about John Woo’s Manhunt, a return to the bullet ballets of The Killer and Hard Boiled? We’re gunning for that one to deliver.
Oh, and Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria, remastered to reportedly majestic effect in 4K.
Still not enough? Take a punt on Good Manners, a Brazilian film the LFF brochure blurb describes as “this year’s great cinematic surprise”.
And if all that still leaves you wanting more, the 2017 BFI London Film Festival Closing Night Gala is the uncompromisingly titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The latest film from In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths director Martin McDonagh, lead actress Frances McDormand is said to electrify as a mother declaring war on the local police when they fail to solve her daughter’s murder.
Early word is strong on Oscar buzz, making this a fitting end to a festival walking on the wild side in 2017.
For more information on the BFI London Film Festival 2017 click here.