54th London Film Festival Lineup

The London Film Festival announced its 2011 lineup today with the usual mix of British premieres and acclaimed films from the festival circuit.

Running from October 12th-27th, it opens with Fernando Meirelles’ 360 and closes with Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea.

One of the advantages of the festival is that it usually cherry picks the most buzzed about titles from the year’s major festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

This means that although there isn’t usually the kind of excitement that surrounds a world premiere (such as The Tree of Life in Cannes this year), it can act as a useful filter for the festival hits and misses that year.

After scouring through the schedule here are those I’m most interesting in seeing this year, divided up into Absolute Must Sees, Definitely Worth Checking Out and Mildly Intrigued.

ABSOLUTE MUST SEES

Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen): The director’s follow up to Hunger (2008) is the study of a thirty something man (Michael Fassbender) in New York with an unhealthy sexual compulsion who is visited by his sister (Carey Mulligan). Reviews out of Venice and Telluride were very strong and given that his debut was one of the best films of the last decade, cinephiles will be eagerly awaiting this.

The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius): This love letter to the days of silent cinema was (along with The Tree of Life) the most buzzed about film at Cannes this year. Set in 1927, it depicts a movie star (Jean Dujardin) threatened by the advent of talkies and the actress (Bérénice Bejo) he has recently discovered. Likely to be the first Oscar contender in years to be shot in black and white and feature minimal dialogue. With The Weinstein Company releasing in the US, parallels to The King’s Speech are not far off the mark (i.e. heartfelt, old fashioned film storms in from leftfield to become a critical and commercial hit).

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Dir. Werner Herzog): A Herzog documentary is automatically an event but when the German auteur explores violence and capital punishment through interviews with Death Row inmates, it automatically becomes a must-see. Raves at Telluride already suggest something special.

The Descendants (Dir. Alexander Payne): Payne’s first feature since Sideways (2004) is a comedy-drama about a father (George Clooney) living in Hawaii who is forced to cope with unexpected family issues. Strong reviews out of Telluride would suggest this is already an early Oscar frontrunner.

Alps (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos): The second feature from the director of the remarkable arthouse hit Dogtooth (2009) has attracted raves out of Venice, although some reccommend that you should know as little about it as possible. Intrigued? Me too.

DEFINITELY WORTH CHECKING OUT

Michael (Dir. Markus Schleinzer): Austrian film about a mysterious 35 year old man and his relationship with a ten year old boy. The tough subject matter – which seems to be inspired by real life cases in Austria – will make this a tough sell for even the arthouse audiences, but it has already drawn high praise after its debut in Cannes.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin): One of the most buzzed about films at Sundance deals with a seemingly pleasant commune in the Catskills, which slowly reveals a different side. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Brady Corbet and Hugh Dancy it is likely to send urban tastemakers into fits of cultural rapture.

Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel): Australian serial killer drama that freaked some audiences out at Cannes back in May. The film adaptation of Australia’s most notorious serial killer case has been described as ‘horrific’ and ‘incredible’. It even topped a Cannes 2011 Abuse Checklist, which this year is really saying something.

The Ides of March (Dir. George Clooney): The ‘other’ Clooney film at the festival (shades of 2009?) is an adaptation of Farragut North, the play which was loosely based on Howard Dean‘s 2004 presidential campaign. Starring Ryan Gosling as an ambitious press spokesman for a Democratic candidate (Clooney), it boasts an impressive supporting cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti) and reviews out of Venice were (mostly) solid.

Like Crazy (Dir. Drake Doremus): The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance was this tale of a young couple (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) who find themselves stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Quickly acquired by Paramount after wowing critics and buyers in Utah, agents and casting directors are already obsessed with Felicity Jones and the studio have big expectations for this. The use of a Twitter hashtag in the trailer suggests they already think it will tap into the zeitgeist.

Anonymous (Dir. Roland Emmerich): This might seem like the strangest film project in years as the director of apocalyptic blockbusters uses the Shakespeare authorship question to explore political intrigue in Elizabethan England. I’ve already seen it (but can’t talk about it yet as there is a review embargo) but it may surprise people when it debuts in Toronto and London.

The Deep Blue Sea (Dir. Terence Davies): The fact that Davis has actually been given money to make a film is cause for celebration, but an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play makes for added excitement. A tale of relationship problems in the 1950s, the combination of Davies, Rattigan and two fine leads (Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell Beale) could make for something interesting.

Coriolanus (Dir. Ralph Fiennes): The directorial debut of Fiennes is a modern day update of Shakespeare’s rarely filmed play and stars Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave. Film fans may be excited about the presence of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (who shot The Hurt Locker and United 93).

MILDLY INTRIGUED

Wuthering Heights (Dir. Andrea Arnold): In a year which has seen another Bronte adaptation (Cary Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre), director Andrea Arnold takes on this novel with what promises to be a radical adaptation. After the richley deserved acclaim of Fish Tank (2009) it will be interesting to see Arnold tackle the realm of corsets and country houses.

Trishna (Dir. Michael Winterbottom): Winterbottom can be a bit hit-or-miss but he’s undeniably one of the most prolific andtalented directors of his generation. Here he returns to Thomas Hardy – after Jude (1996) – for an ambitious adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles which is set in modern day India with Freida Pinto in the lead role.

This Must Be the Place (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino): Although reviews were mixed out of Cannes this story of a retired rock star (Sean Penn) on a road trip across the USA has must-see value for both the star (in what seems a strange role even for him) and the director, who made the modern classic Il Divo (2008).

360 (Dir. Fernando Meirelles): His last film – Blindness (2008) – was a bit underwhelming but this is one of the few world premieres at the festival. Boasting a stellar cast (Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Anthony Hopkins) and a screenplay by Peter Morgan, it is modern update of Arthur Schnitzlerís play La Ronde.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay, 1999): Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel this sees Ramsay’s long-awaited return to the big screen after Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002). The story of an American woman (Tilda Swinton), with a rather troublesome teenage son (Ezra Miller) probes into some dark areas and got mostly positive reviews out of Cannes.

50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine): The story of a writer coping with cancer (inspired by screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experiences) this stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role and features a strong supporting cast which includes Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall.

Dark Horse (Dir. Todd Solondz): Solondz may have recovered from a mid-career dip with this dark comedy about two dysfunctional thirtysomethings (Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair) planning to marry. Solid supporting cast includes Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken.

Any others you are looking forward to?

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