The 59th London Film Festival runs Wednesday 7th to Sunday 18th October.
240 movies and documentary features, plus hundreds of shorts from all over the globe.
Even the most rabid movie buff will concede defeat in trying to see all those films in less than two weeks. So what to watch?
In the best tradition of internet Top Lists, we proudly present the Top 10 movies we are most hotly anticipating. And then looked again and had to expand it to 15.
They may be great, they may exhilarate, hell they may even frustrate… The only guarantee is they will be memorable. Which is what makes the London Film Festival such an essential event year after year.
Enough of the preamble, let’s dive into the idiosyncratic Electric Shadows 59th London Film Festival Must-See list. In alphabetical order – we’ll save the ranking for the Top 10 of the Festival in a couple of weeks’ time…
THE ASSASSIN (Journey Strand Gala Film)
Sooner or later every renowned Chinese director will make a wuxia (martial arts) movie.
Wong Kar-wai did it with Ashes of Time back in 1994 and again with The Grandmaster in 2012. Zhang Yimou had huge success with Hero, House of Flying Daggers and The Curse of the Golden Flower. And Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the most beloved films of the noughties.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien joins this list with the amazing sounding The Assassin. A festival favourite for thirty odd years, the fact you haven’t heard of Hou is likely to change with this new film.
Set in 9th century China in the final days of the Tang dynasty, the film follows lethal assassin Nie Yinniang, dispatched to kill the man to whom she was one betrothed. But, of course nothing runs to plan.
Second-tier action star Shu Qi will likely propel into the big time for a reportedly captivating performance as the titular killer, while as a director Hou experiments with black and white and colour and changing screen shapes for what promises to be a mesmeric action film.
BONE TOMAHAWK (Cult Strand Gala Film)
Kurt Russell is due to appear in another Western soon, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. But *gasp*, this is the one that’s getting us excited. Part horse opera, part horror film, the wonderfully titled Bone Tomahawk sounds like a perfect genre mash-up that comes along all too infrequently.
Patrick Wilson plays a man who finds himself in a vigilante posse after his wife is kidnapped. Russell is the town sheriff leading the mob, but all soon find themselves facing off against an unusual and terrifying enemy. From the sounds of it this is a glorious throwback to 1970s’ rural horror movies, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes. Set against the lawlessness of the Wild West.
Add to that Kurt Russell starred in The Thing, one of cinema’s best horror flicks and another film where a bunch of guys were confronted by an unknown threat, and the reportedly very bloody Bone Tomahawk sounds irresistible.
CAROL (American Express Gala Film)
Todd Haynes’ first feature film in eight years (although he directed the Kate Winslet starring Mildred Pierce for TV back in 2011), Carol sounds like the director is back on Far From Heaven-style form.
Based on the 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, scandalous in its day, the film tells the story of aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and well-to-do older woman Carol (Cate Blanchett), whose marriage is in tailspin. A chance encounter leads to an attraction too powerful to resist yet could ruin them both.
Haynes retains the fifties New York setting and all its threat of discovery in an oppressive, hypocritical and paranoid society, while visually the film is said to ape the glamour magazines of the period.
Mara will undoubtedly be as first class as always, and Blanchett is reportedly on Blue Jasmine form as an outwardly strong woman struggling to keep her life together.
HIGH RISE (Festival Gala Film)
Early reviews have been mixed for High Rise, the latest feature from British director Ben Wheatley. But, we cannot help but get excited by the prospect of the Kill List director tackling one of J.G. Ballard’s most celebrated novels.
A 1970s set satire on the haves and have-nots, it surely will have relevance in today’s world of greed and venality. The opening sounds deliciously dark – hero Tom Hiddleston chewing down barbecued dog on the 25th floor of a luxurious apartment block intended for society’s elite.
Flashing back to how he arrived at this banquet of canine cuisine, Wheatley is reported to unleash a torrent of excess demonstrating how quickly social systems can collapse. Hiddleston is joined by a starry cast including Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons as the building’s mysterious architect.
The real question though is will High Rise top David Cronenberg’s debut movie Shivers, a classic tale of rarefied madness loosely based on Ballard’s novel?
HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Love Strand Film)
Back in 1966 Hitchcock/Truffaut was published and became a seminal book on cinema. A series of interviews French New Wave director Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock over two weeks in 1962, it is a fascinating, endlessly readable study of the joy, heartache and magic of making movies.
Now director Kent Jones, who previous documentaries have looked at legendary producer Val Lewton and controversial filmmaker Elia Kazan, brings together a host of key filmmakers to discuss both the importance of Hitchcock and of the interviews themselves, snippets of which Jones includes.
When the talking heads include Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Wes Anderson, you know film fans everywhere are going to be in celluloid heaven.
LOVE AND PEACE (Cult Strand Film)
Last year director Sion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe placed fourth in our 2014 London Film Festival Top 10 list. And the great news is the prolific filmmaker has a new film this year! A tale of white collar drudgery, rock and roll superstardom, talking turtles and a possible apocalypse, Love and Peace (the title presumably referencing an oft-quoted line of dialogue in Tokyo Tribe) sounds indescribable and indescribably fun.
We’re excited. Check out the trailer to see why.
MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE (Debate Strand Film)
A contender for our film of the year is Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Yet, 2015 could be the year we get two knockout documentaries on the Cult of the Stars as the reliable Louis Theroux journeys to LA for a powwow in the Scientology HQ.
The notoriously litigious, tight-lipped organisation is unlikely to be forthcoming to Louis’ requests for interviews. But, the fun and fascination will come from those he encounters on the way, particularly when the cult themselves begins making a film of Louis…
Theroux has tackled neo-Nazis, drug dealers and religious fundamentalists. Hollywood’s religion should not prove too daunting… should it?
THE PROGRAM (Debate Strand Gala Film)
Speaking of Alex Gibney, his The Armstrong Lie was another first class expose. Now we have the biopic of shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of 7 Tour de France titles and stripped of them all when it transpired he was illegally doping all along.
Philomena director Stephen Frears and Trainspotting scriptwriter John Hodge deliver a film guaranteed to have frontrunner status come awards season.
By accounts Ben Foster transforms into the charismatic, ambitious, flawed Armstrong, while Chris O’Dowd as David Walsh, the Irish journalist who risked his reputation to expose the sportsman, also impresses.
SON OF SAUL (Official Competition Film)
Winner of this year’s Grand Prix at Cannes, the Hungarian film Son of Saul sounds unmissable, if utterly harrowing.
Going deep into the inner circle of Auschwitz’s hell, it follows one member of the Sonderkommando, Jewish prisoners who were forced to herd new arrivals into the gas chambers before disposing of their bodies, as he attempts to give a boy he believes to be his son a proper burial.
Debut director László Nemes shoots exclusively with shallow focus lenses, meaning the background horrors are kept blurred and indistinct, not that this is said to soften the blow of depicting the extermination camp.
STEVE JOBS (Closing Night Film)
First David Fincher was on board as director, with Leonardo Di Caprio then Christian Bale earmarked for the eponymous role. All ultimately walked, but replacing them were Danny Boyle and Michael Fassbender, meaning Steve Jobs should remain one of the year’s must-see movies.
Working from Aaron Sorkin’s script, the film focusses on three major product launches, the MacIntosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988 and the iMac in 1998, to bring to life one of the most influential, divisive and mercurial figures of the last fifty years.
We cannot wait to see what Fassbender does with perhaps his biggest role to date, and how Danny Boyle can bring his kinetic style to a story presumably based in rooms and backstage at tech launches.
Kate Winslet reportedly is on top form as MacIntosh’ marketing chief Joanna Hoffman, a dynamic foil to the driven Jobs.
SUFFRAGETTE (Opening Night Film)
This year’s opening film continues the tradition of beginning the festival with great British stories. And they come no more big screen friendly than that of the Suffragette movement, those Victorian women willing to lay down their lives for voting rights.
Made principally by a female cast and crew, Brick Lane director Sarah Gavron calls the shots from a script by Shame and The Iron Lady writer Abi Morgan. Onscreen talent is impressive, led by the always wonderful Carey Mulligan and featuring Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and the legendary Meryl Streep as the movement’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst.
TRUMBO (Accenture Gala Film)
Johnny-come-latelies rhapsodise over Bryan Cranston because of his stellar performance as Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Those in the know already loved Cranston for his turn as the dad Hal on Malcom in the Middle, one of the best sitcom characters ever created.
Cranston seemingly brings this comedic flair to Trumbo, which looks to be a spirited biopic of the legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Writer of Roman Holiday and Spartacus among many others, he was one of the “Hollywood Ten”, mainly writers who were denounced as Communists in the 1950s McCarthy witch hunts and blacklisted.
Interesting to see what Austin Powers director Jay Roach will do with the material, but with a cast including Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Louis C.K. and Elle Fanning alongside Cranston this promises to be a lively re-telling in the best tradition of old Hollywood.
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (Family Strand Film)
For almost thirty years Studio Ghibli has enriched cinema with animated tales brimming with imagination, verve and heart. With co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata now retired and the studio on indefinite hiatus, When Marnie Was There marks the final Ghibli film for the foreseeable future.
A coming-of-age movie and seemingly a ghost story, the movie, adapted from Joan G Robinson’s novel, is hopefully as arresting and charming as the studio’s greatest output if it proves to ultimately be its swansong.
THE WITCH (First Feature Competition Film)
The Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and A Field In England seem key inspirations for this dazzling looking horror set in 17th century New England, home of the infamous Salem witch trials.
A well-to-do Christian family are banished from their plantation and forced to eke out a living on a run-down farm. Worn down by hardship, they spiral when the youngest family member mysteriously vanishes.
As paranoia and fear grips them reality begins to slip as supernatural forces are suspected to be at play. Striking and singular looking, The Witch may be The Keeping Room of this year’s festival.
YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (Cult Strand Film)
At the turn of the 21st century there was no director more exciting than Takashi Miike. Sensationally splicing genres and rewriting the rules of gangster cinema, horror cinema and general good taste, his masterpieces include Audition, Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q.
Miike has been consistently producing films since, but Yakuza Apocalypse could be the true comeback we’ve been craving.
A gangster-vampire film, traditional themes of loyalty and honour are blended with outrageous looking action and characters, including a fighting frog that may be the most unusual sight since Michael Fassbender’s performance as Frank Sidebottom.
Throw in marital arts masters Yayan Ruhian, Mad Dog from The Raid, and it’s silly grins all round.