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57th BFI London Film Festival Top 10


20 September 2013

Now in its 57th year the BFI London Film Festival is fast approaching. Beginning on the 9th October and taking place over 12 days, the festival is once again celebrating a wealth of cinema from a total of 74 countries around the world. Screenings will be taking place in multiple venues across the whole of London and tickets are now on sale.

Opening with the European Premiere of Paul Greengrass’ CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and closing on the 20th with the European Premiere of Disney’s SAVING MR. BANKS the festival will be showcasing  a total of 234 fiction and documentary features including 22 World Premieres, 16 International Premieres, 29 European Premieres and 20 Archive films.

There is an amazing crop of films this year, and here we take a look at some of our top picks at this year's Festival...

Philomena

Demonstrating his customary flair for extracting brilliant performances and balancing deep pathos with cogent wit, Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) directs this wonderful adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. More complex in its texture and more surprising in its turns than most works of fiction, Philomena is the true story of an Irish Catholic woman (Judi Dench) who decides to find her son more than fifty years after she was forced, as an unmarried mother, to give him up for adoption. As scornful of ‘human interest’ journalism as he is distressed by the scandal that shortened his career as a political advisor, Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) reluctantly agrees to meet Philomena and hear her story following a chance encounter at a friend’s party. A true odd couple – the sheltered, elderly woman with a hearty appreciation of buffet dining and the dry, world-weary ex-BBC journo – Philomena and Martin embark on a journey together that takes them from a convent in rural Ireland to the White House in Washington DC. Revealing the impact of religious and political conservatism on the lives of both mother and son across two different eras (the 1950s and 1980s respectively) and counterpointing the heartbreaking drama with astutely funny observational moments, writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope create exquisite dialogue playing with the tension between Sixsmith’s cynicism and Philomena’s blunt naturalism. The film’s extraordinary potency is achieved as much through performance as through direction and story. Dench and Coogan know exactly what to put out emotionally and precisely when to hold back, adroitly navigating the tonal shifts between drama and humour and imbuing their real-life characters with depth and dignity.

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) confirms his directorial prowess with a film of momentous importance and expanded cinematic scope in which he tackles head-on the long-untouchable subject of slavery. Solomon (an extraordinary performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an accomplished violinist living as a free man in New York who is conned into joining a travelling show then brutally abducted and sold as a slave. When his comparatively benevolent first owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) sells him to abusive, demented plantation boss Epps (Michael Fassbender), any chance to prove the illegitimacy of his situation seems lost. As Epps spirals into madness, Solomon and his fellow slaves are subjected to escalating bouts of violence and their struggle to maintain dignity becomes increasingly desperate. Based on Solomon Northup’s confronting memoir, 12 Years a Slave plays out on Louisiana plantations prior to the American Civil War, a potent historical context for McQueen to continue exploring themes of physical deprivation, self-loathing and the absence of choice. This unrelenting, indelible work of cinema is timely as both an expansion of, and antidote to, the very different ventures of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Spielberg’s Lincoln. Featuring stellar cinematography and editing from McQueen’s regular collaborators Sean Bobbitt and Joe Walker, and a resounding score from Hans Zimmer.

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers’ funny, melancholic elegy to early 1960s folk music is as cinematically nimble as it is musically rich. Shambolic and self-absorbed, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a penniless musician trying to make it as a solo artist. Roughing it on the couches of barely sympathetic friends, he scores the occasional gig at a bar in Greenwich Village but struggles to break through despite earlier success with his former musical partner Mike. Things go from hapless to hopeless when Llewyn loses the beloved marmalade cat of a couple he crashes with and discovers that his fling with married songstress Jean (Carey Mulligan) has resulted in a very unwanted pregnancy. Deliciously playful but never irreverent, this is the Coens working on the intimate scale of A Serious Man, in the thematic territory of Barton Fink and with the musical veracity and inventiveness of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (T-Bone Burnett is music producer again here, working with Marcus Mumford). Punctuated throughout with terrifically memorable characters (the splendid cast includes John Goodman and Justin Timberlake), Inside Llewyn Davis riffs on the traditional biopic, creating a fictional reality that is coherent and honest in its portrayal of creative vulnerability and hubris, and that is heartfelt in its love for the era and its sounds.

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Director Abdellatif Kechiche (L’Esquive, Couscous) has an expansive approach to storytelling, all the better to get under his characters’ skins and into their social reality. His latest, this year’s Palme d’Or winner, spans several years in the life of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). We first meet her as a school student, tentatively getting together with a male admirer but increasingly fascinated by Emma (Léa Seydoux), a woman with blue-dyed hair that she glimpses in the street. Before long they are an item, Adèle becoming the muse for Emma’s art while she pursues her own path into adulthood. The extended scenes of lesbian sex earned headlines in Cannes – and sparked critical debate over the question of Kechiche’s male take on the material – but these sequences are strikingly new in a mainstream context, not just in their uninhibited nature, but because they’re about female pleasure presented in a direct, non-mystificatory way. The film’s compelling grip is partly down to Kechiche’s eye as a social observer, partly because of its two lead actors. Seydoux depicts Emma with genial wit and toughness, while Exarchopoulos is a revelation, offering a fearless, deeply affecting performance of remarkable intensity. The result is something rare – a film that truly catches the messy, mesmerising turbulence of life and love.

The Double

From innovative filmmaker Richard Ayoade comes this tale of Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a browbeaten office clerk working in an ominous government organisation. With his colleagues failing to recognise him on a daily basis, Simon fills his empty days with dreams of colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), but any encounter with her leaves him tongue-tied and mortified. Undermined and undervalued everywhere he turns, it seems that his directionless life couldn’t get any worse, until one day his exact double gets a job at his company. As his confident and ambitious doppelganger climbs the corporate ladder, attracting the attention of Hannah on his way, our hero sinks further into mediocrity, and possibly even madness. Transposing the action from 19th century Russia to a surrealist modern-day America, this quirky adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s celebrated novella is a distinctly contemporary update of a literary classic. As with his acclaimed debut Submarine, Ayoade’s idiosyncratic visual approach comes laced with a dry wit that perfectly compliments the inner dysfunctions of his characters. But for all its irony and self-awareness, The Double has a surprisingly gentle heart, with a central love story that is just about as sweet as they come. In a peculiar sort of way.

Under the Skin

Visually and aurally audacious and as slippery in form as its central character, Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Birth) elliptical sci-fi about an alien creature (Scarlett Johansson) who stalks down human prey is a brilliant amalgam of fantasy and reality. In a stunning early sequence of metamorphosis, the naked femme fatale dons the attire of her predecessor and goes out on the prowl in a non-descript van, effortlessly procuring not-so gullible lads from the backstreets of Glasgow and local highways and luring them into an unimaginable void. Through alien eyes, the world appears desolate, the men all hungry and wanting. Through human eyes, her insatiable drive feels strangely vindicated. The cycle mutates when a routine pick-up unexpectedly kindles an empathetic response, infecting her with humanness and illuminating the fate of the one who came before. Filmed on location in Scotland, where not all the male victims were knowing participants, the filmmaking recalls the realism of Ken Loach as much as the surrealism of David Lynch. Vividly heightened by Mica Levi’s (of Micachu and the Shapes) discordant string and synth score, Glazer has created an entirely distinctive film, both creepy and luminous in its metaphysical precision.

Enough Said

Endlessly amusing and emotionally astute, this delicious mid-life romantic comedy centres on the calamity-prone Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a divorcee and soon-to-be empty nester who makes her living as a massage therapist. Things get complicated when she strikes up a friendship with Marianne (Catherine Keener) and starts dating Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist who just happens to be the new-best-friend’s ex-husband. Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Lovely and Amazing) is a dynamic writer and director of situational comedy. Her keen eye for human folly combined with her capacity for developing richly textured characters is enhanced here by terrific performances from the cast, which includes Toni Collette as Eva’s old-best-friend. Dreyfus is superb as the hapless Eva and the late, great James Gandolfini will steal all hearts playing against type as the affable and witty Albert, whose tenderness and fierce protectiveness lend additional poignancy to this highly enjoyable film.

Hello Carter

Carter has had a bad year. Since breaking up with his girlfriend Kelly 11 months earlier, he has found himself unemployed and sleeping on his brother’s floor. In an effort to turn his life around, Carter decides to win his ex back. The only problem is he doesn’t have her phone number. His fortune seems to take an encouraging turn when he runs into Kelly’s movie star brother Aaron on the tube, but when the egotistical Aaron requests a favour in return for his sister’s digits, Carter finds himself on a wild, and potentially criminal, goose chase around London. Having worked as an assistant director on a number of productions including The End of the Affair and The Deep Blue Sea, Hello Carter marks the directing debut of Anthony Wilcox, whose wealth of experience shines through in this warm, witty and effortlessly charming take on the romcom.

The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam’s latest creation focuses on Qohen Leth (a bald-headed Christoph Waltz) a reclusive computer genius living in an undetermined future, who works as a programmer for the Orwellian organisation Corporation ManCom. He resides in an ancient derelict church, awaiting a phone call that will give meaning to his life. When the mysterious ‘Management’ summons him to crack the Zero Theorem, a formula that could answer everything, and the seductive Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and the turbulent Bob (Lucas Hedges) barge into his controlled universe, Leth’s existence is set to irrevocably change. With striking cameos from a gaudily dressed Matt Damon and a boisterous and hilarious Tilda Swinton acting as a virtual shrink, Gilliam fans will relish the return of the cult director in familiar dystopian territory. Quirky, inventive and colourful, Zero Theorem is a reflection on the absurdity of the modern world and our obsession with ever faster methods of communication.

Gravity

Gravity is awesome in the dictionary-definition sense: ‘inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear.’ Unfathomably beautiful and technically immaculate, Alfonso Cuarón’s (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) space thriller is pure cinematic experience. Medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission under the command of astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), making his final flight before retirement. During a routine spacewalk to undertake repair work, satellite debris crashes into their shuttle, leaving the craft severely damaged and their means of communicating with earth destroyed. Their challenge is not only how to survive and return home with a fast depleting supply of oxygen, but how to do so before the accumulating mass of debris returns on its ferocious orbit. From Melies’ A Trip to the Moon through Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Scott’s Alien to Neill Blomkamp’s more recent District 9, space stories and science fiction have provided rich material for cinematic innovators. Cuarón’s vision is superbly realised by VFX Supervisor Tim Webber and London-based Framestore. What is extraordinary about Gravity’s digitally generated universe is that, whilst being propelled on a nerve-shredding thrill-ride, the effect of total immersion is such that the very idea of fiction is suspended. This is space: fact.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place 9-20 October, visite the BFI online for more information and to book tickets