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The Fan Carpet’s Spotlight for the 58th BFI London Film Festival

18 September 2014

8-19 October 2014. 248 films. 17 venues. 12 days. One festival.

The 58th BFI London Film Festival kicks off on October 8 and runs until the October 19 and there are literally tonnes of fantastic titles to chose from this year.

With galas including FOXCATCHER, FURY, THE IMITATION GAME, WILD, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH and MR. TURNER and as always the festival are expecting a great selection of a-listers to attend including Reese Witherspoon, Keira Knightley Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sienna Miller.

In addition to the galas there are a wide variety of films (245 features!) within the different strands that have something for everyone.

Public booking for LFF tickets opens TODAY and they tend to sell out quick, so The Fan Carpet thought we'd list some of our top picks...


Merging potent drama with nail-biting suspense, The Imitation Game does cinematic justice to the vision, determination and personal story of British mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing. Director Morten Tyldum returns to the Festival after the success of Headhunters (LFF 2011) with this engrossing film about the man whose innovative machine cracked the German Enigma code and whose inventions would become the prototype of the modern computer. Graham Moore’s pithy screenplay alternates between three significant periods of Turing’s life: the nerve-wracking daily race against the clock as the team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park work to decipher the seemingly impenetrable code; the interrogation of Turing after his arrest in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ which lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality; and flashbacks to school days and his intoxicating friendship with a boy named Christopher. Benedict Cumberbatch eloquently renders the sharp, logical intelligence and complex impulses that fuel Turing’s ambition and thwart him socially, while Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke as his perfect foil, emotionally intelligent and fiercely clever, she not only understands him, she knows how to enable his success. Shot in London, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorset, with locations including the former home of author Ian Fleming and the Bletchley Park code-breaking centre itself, the film also features superb production design from Maria Djurkovic (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and supporting performances from a stellar British cast including Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard and newcomer Alex Lawther as the young Turing. ‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ was how Winston Churchill famously described Russia in a 1939 broadcast shortly after the beginning of World War II. He could just as easily be describing the origins of greatness, or the man that was Alan Turing.


Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Labor Day) goes straight to the core of Chad Kultgen’s novel and mines from it a smart, funny and very poignant film about emotional isolation in the age of screen-based technology. Boasting a stellar ensemble cast – including Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt and Judy Greer (amongst the adults); and young stars Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars), Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar), Kaitlyn Dever and Elena Kampouris (amongst the children) – the film finds a group of high school teenagers and their parents whose very ordinary lives are made complicated by the proliferation of digital platforms: social media, online games, illicit sites. Creating a visual form of overlapping dialogue with emails, instant messages, tweets and Facebook posts flashing onto the screen, Reitman uses the same, familiar technology that the film questions to reveal the darker impulses and feelings beneath the veneer of what we actually see. What does it feel like to discover your mum is getting remarried on Facebook? Or that your wife has secretly taken up internet dating? Cleverly interweaving its multiple storylines and capturing the different generational vernaculars, this wonderful film is topped off with a racy observational voiceover from Emma Thompson.


Mike Leigh’s exultant cinematic portrait of the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner is both a luminous tribute to the master of light and a fascinating, meticulous character study of a man who attained greatness whilst resisting the art-world conventions of his time. Eschewing the traditional temporal form of the biopic, Leigh focuses on Turner as a bumptious middle-aged man and traces the last 25 years of his life when his painting was transitioning from representation to the more atmospheric, impressionist work for which he is renowned. Timothy Spall, who won best actor at Cannes Film Festival, is outstanding as the fierce titular subject whose brutish interiority is seemingly at odds with the romanticism of his work. His performance hovers between deep pathos and shrewd appreciation, providing an abundance of memorable scenes: Turner’s flagrant disrespect for fellow artists at the Royal Academy; his rudimentary physical encounters with his housemaid; and the awkward blooming of his last affair. The attraction here though is not only the man who made the work, but the work that made the man. Regular Leigh collaborator Dick Pope’s glorious widescreen cinematography pays full tribute to an artist whose paintings – like ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed – the Great Western Railway’ – evoked the moving image before there was cinema.


In this captivating and richly satisfying adaptation of the best-selling 2012 memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon plays a young woman attempting the gruelling 1,100-mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s the early 1990s and Cheryl (Witherspoon), reeling from a difficult break-up, decides to embark on foot across a route that will see her pass through desert, snow, and over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Fresh from the awards season success of Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallée offers an epic appreciation of the country through which the ill-prepared Cheryl travels: rarely in recent times have American landscapes been filmed with such sweeping majesty. But this is also a very intimate tale, as the film explores the internal journey Cheryl experiences on her long trip, coping with emotional baggage as heavy as the hulking rucksack on her back. Featuring a script by Nick Hornby, the film is interspersed with moving flashbacks to Cheryl’s past, as she come to terms with the loss of her mother (a vivacious and warm Laura Dern) and her history of drug addiction. Also producing, Witherspoon is outstanding in the lead role, at turns gutsy and vulnerable – she wears her walking boots with urgency and pride.


Vera Brittain’s beloved WWI memoir Testament of Youth is exquisitely realised in this moving and timely adaptation. Intelligent and free-spirited Vera overcomes the narrow-mindedness of her conservative parents, winning a scholarship to Oxford. Entranced by her brother’s dashing friend Roland, who shares her literary aspirations, she plunges into an intoxicating romance. Blooming, in love and on the cusp of fulfilling her ambitions, Vera’s dreams are brutally shattered by the onset of war. When Roland and her brother ship out to the front, she abandons the cloistered environs of university life and volunteers as a nurse. Immediately confronted with the pitiless reality of the war’s victims, her life is irrevocably changed as she loses, one-by-one, the young men she held so dear. Director James Kent makes an assured transition from television drama to feature film, effortlessly rendering the dramatic shift from the first flush of lyricism in the idyllic English countryside, to the stark verisimilitude of the battleground. Mingling innocent charm with dogged persistence, Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair and LFF entry Son of a Gun) is marvellous as the sharply perceptive Vera. Shining brightly, and lingering long in the mind afterwards, are the performances of three rising British stars – Kit Harington, Taron Egerton and Colin Morgan – who do collective justice to the memory of the ordinary heroes they portray.


The sheer audacity of Whiplash will leave you breathless – as if you’ve just dodged a bullet, or run a marathon. In a virtuosic directorial move, Damien Chazelle structures this brilliant film about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his teacher as if it were a high-octane thriller or a competitive sports movie. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller, Divergent, The Spectacular Now) is an ambitious young jazz musician, eager to shake off his mediocre background and hungry to rise to the top of his elite music conservatory. Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons, Spider-Man, Juno) is the fierce, unorthodox instructor who leads the top ensemble at the school. When Fletcher selects Neyman to join his band, the stakes are dramatically raised. Sniffing out the fear beneath Neyman’s confidence, Fletcher ruthlessly begins to exploit it, pushing Neyman beyond the limits of both his ability and his sanity. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues – at 300 beats per minute – makes for enthralling, compulsive viewing. Featuring intense, tightly-wound performances from Teller and Simmons, and editing from Tom Cross that is worthy of the film’s title, Whiplash won both the Grand Jury and the Audience awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is loosely based on Chazelle’s own experience as an aspiring drummer.


Featuring enthralling performances from its unexpected cast and directed with unswerving rigour, Bennett Miller’s (Capote, Moneyball) nerve-jangling third feature not only confirms him as one of America’s most significant contemporary filmmakers, it powerfully demonstrates the clarity of his vision: get to the truth by creating fiction out of fact. Copious research into the real-life story of the ill-fated relationship between wrestling world champions Dave and Mark Shultz and their multi-millionaire benefactor John E du Pont is refined into a perfectly-formed, slow-burn psychological thriller. Despite his own sporting success, Mark (Channing Tatum) struggles to achieve independence from his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who is a confident athlete and coach, effortlessly social and has a loving relationship with his wife (Sienna Miller) and their two children. When the wealthy and mysterious Mr du Pont (a mesmerising and unrecognisable Steve Carell) impulsively invites Mark to take up residence at his sprawling family property – complete with high-end training facility – the introverted athlete proves vulnerable to this peculiar new influence. Du Pont’s motivations for ‘coaching’ the American wrestling team to Olympic victory seem dubious and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, however Mark remains oblivious, intoxicated by a new sense of freedom and the trappings his circumstances afford. The situation rapidly deteriorates, taking an irrevocable turn when du Pont switches his focus from the susceptible Mark to his wary older brother, Dave. Making incisive dramatic use of wrestling itself and the physical pull between intimacy and aggression, Foxcatcher parallels the action in the ring with the menacing, inexorable thrust of this profoundly haunting story. Wintry cinematography from Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Bright Star) and a sparse, portentous score from Rob Simonsen augment the cumulative sense of foreboding in this intensely brilliant film.


A landscape gardener with instinct and flair, Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is the breath of fresh air that the stuffy geometry of Versailles needs. Brought in by strict garden chief André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man who prizes order above all, she is soon charming all she meets and innovating with fresh approaches to shrubbery. But there is intrigue at the Court of King Louis XIV, a vipers nest of gossip and skullduggery, where Helen McCrory gives a delicious turn as a woman with a grudge. For his sophomore feature Alan Rickman has fashioned a spritely period romp, demonstrating a confident feel for the material – an original script from first-time screenwriter Alison Deegan. There is much pleasure taken in the wit and flow of royal society; Rickman himself plays King Louis XIV with a dry bemusement that will delight fans, while Stanley Tucci is in fine flamboyant form. But the film’s greatest strength lies in its emphasis on women and their relationships, with a sublime performance from Winslet that invests immense emotional grit into Sabine, a woman struggling with her own personal demons. As André becomes aware of her charms, so too will audiences, making A Little Chaos a treat for green-fingered romantics. Let them greet Kate!


Tomm Moore follows his Oscar-nominated debut The Secret of Kells with a richly animated tale of Celtic magic and folklore that never fails to entrance, entertain and move its audience in equal measure. One night, Ben’s mother flees their lighthouse home and is never seen again. She leaves behind a baby girl, Saoirse, who is raised by their father. As the years pass, young Saoirse is unable to speak but is enchanted by the ancient sea shell her mother owned and finds herself captivated by and drawn to a group of seals that gather together in the sea outside their home. Despite their grandmother arriving to take them to the city, Ben and Saoirse become increasingly immersed in a world of ancient magic, where mystical creatures such as fairies and witches lead them on a path to understanding their mother’s fate and Saoirse’s true destiny. A true testament to the power of hand-drawn animation, Song of the Sea is a delight that will be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.


Fury is a resounding cinematic achievement. Rarely is a film so successful at balancing the human drama of war with such ferociously precise action sequences. Set during the last months of WWII, when the Allies are making their final push into Germany, a battle-hardened sergeant (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. His motley crew (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and John Bernthal) is still reeling from the bloody death of a comrade in a recent battle. The tension mounts when Norman (Logan Lerman), a fumbling new recruit with no training, joins them as the replacement driver. When his early mistakes cost lives, Norman is pushed beyond the limits of his experience and forced to confront the reality of combat. Stunningly choreographed battle sequences, set in the fields and villages of a war-ravaged Germany, are rendered terrifyingly real, as witnessed through the eyes of the innocent rookie. Brad Pitt, who is also an executive producer on the film, gives an extraordinary performance as the uncompromising leader who, despite his tough exterior, is attuned to Norman’s struggle and has his own inner demons to contend with. Writer/director David Ayer has developed a reputation for gritty action films (End of Watch, LFF Official Competition 2012) and is working here on an expanded scale that achieves both the technical virtuosity of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and the confined, dramatic intensity of Samuel Moaz’s Lebanon. Ayer powerfully juxtaposes the inescapable space of the tank itself – reeking of testosterone, sweat and fear – with the vast, absurd theatre of this grand-scale war in all its messy death throes. Filmed largely on location in Oxfordshire, and utilising collector-owned tanks that saw action during the war, Fury features cinematography by Roman Vasyanov (End of Watch), editing by Dody Dorn (Memento, Insomnia) and a sonorous score by British composer Steven Price.

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8-19 October 2014. 248 films. 17 venues. 12 days. One festival.