In a little over a month the BFI London Film Festival kicks off. It brings more than 200 films from around the world, more than any one person could see however I hope to get to as many as time and money permit. Usually I am quite excited to get to the opening and closing night gala screenings as they are red carpet affairs, often with many of the films creative team in attendance. I’ve seen all sort of stars at these (and other LFF) screenings – Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Michael Haneke, Keira Knightly, Naomi Watts, Michelle Williams, even Harvey Weinstein! So I was slightly disappointed to find myself unenthused by this years opening and closing night offerings.
Frankenweenie opens the festival. It’s a Tim Burton directed/produced stop motion film which updates his animated short film (made in 1984) of the same name. It looks like it should be fun but I just can’t muster much excitement for another entry in the Burton oeuvre. Alice in Wonderland did nothing for me. In addition, as a Disney release, it will have a wide theatrical release anyway which reduces the urgency to see it at the festival.
A new adaptation of Great Expectations directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) closes the festival. The BBC screened a new adaptation of the novel just last year and nothing I have heard about this new one particularly interests me. So while I would expect this to be perfectly well made and entertaining I don’t feel the need to see it at the festival.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for these opening and closing nights there are plenty of other films in the program that I am extremely pleased to see included.
Beasts of the Southern Wild has generated a lot of buzz following its screenings at the Sundance, Los Angeles, and Seattle festivals. Shot in Louisiana the film follows a six-year-old girl and her father who live in “the Bathtub”, a fictitious southern bayou community on an island surrounded by rising waters. A massive storm floods the community and in the six-year old’s vivid imagination this is linked with the ice caps melting, unleashing ancient, long-frozen beasts. Stills and clips I have seen suggest the film is visually beautiful and the unique location and story details have me very interested in checking it out.
Amour is the latest from Michael Haneke who has provided two of my greatest film festival experiences with Funny Games and The White Ribbon, films which were thought-provoking, gripping, and real surprises. Based on this track record I cannot wait to see Amour. Adding to the excitement is that this took the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. I don’t know a great deal about the plot, only that it involves an elderly couple, one of whom suffers a deterioration of health. It sounds like a premise which could well make for a challenging watch.
Hyde Park on Hudson sees Bill Murray pick up the historical political figures torch (recently held by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady) by playing President Roosevelt, it looks to grab some Kings Speech goodwill by including a visit from King George VI, and rounds things out with the always dependable Laura Linney playing Roosevelt’s distant cousin and eventual mistress Margaret Suckley. I am mainly interested to see Murray’s take on the role and hope for a fun look at a specific historical point in time that I currently don’t know too much about.
Argo is Ben Affleck’s third effort as director (following Gone Baby Gone and The Town) and early word is that he has continued to build his skills and has here crafted a tense, exciting, thriller. It tells the true life story of a daring attempt to rescue a group of Americans trapped in Iran, hiding out in the Canadian ambassadors house, by posing as a film crew filming a science fiction film titled Argo. Blending Hollywood satire with action thriller elements could pose a challenge and the story takes Affleck out of Boston (his hometown and location of his previous directorial outings) but I have high hopes that he has overcome these obstacles and delivered something special. I’m expecting Affleck to attend the screening. He previously attended a BFI screening of Gone Baby Gone and proved to be one of the more entertaining Q&A speakers. Should the opportunity present itself I may let him know that he was the bomb in phantoms.
Black Rock has a set up that makes it sound like a straightforward thriller/horror. Three friends venture out on a camping trip which turns into a terrifying fight for their lives following the arrival of three maniacal ex-soldiers. It is described in the BFI program as “a hugely exciting thrill-ride, buoyed by the genuine strength of the female characters” but a point of interest which attracted my attention is the involvement of Mark Duplass as writer. Duplass is one of a handful of breakout filmmakers from the mumblecore scene having starred and/or written films like The Puffy Chair, Humpday, and Cyrus. How (and if) the mumblecore aesthetic is used in this film, which appears to be a genre exercise, could be the difference it needs to stand out. Duplass has been involved in a number of films this year both in front or and behind the camera and is a talent to watch out for.
Seven Psychopaths is the latest from writer/director Martin McDonagh. I enjoyed McDonagh’s first film, In Bruges, so I am keen to see this follow-up. The cast is intriguing as well with the seven psychopaths including Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken.
The fun doesn’t stop there. I’m also planning to check out The We and The I (Michel Gondry), Antiviral (debut from David Cronenberg’s son), The Hunt (Mads Mikkelson in a Canne award winning role), The Central Park Five, No, Zaytoun, Easy Money (Scorsese said he was “deeply impressed” by this), and Celeste and Jesse Forever. And I haven’t even looked at the numerous experimental, animated, and short features. Once again the BFI London Film Festival is a film lovers delight.