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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle returns from the success of Slumdog Millionaire with a vibrant depiction of man versus nature.

The story here is of Aaron Ralston (played by James Franco), the outdoor enthusiast who in 2003 was stranded under a boulder after falling into a remote canyon in Utah.

Beginning with an extended opening section, Boyle uses a variety of techniques (including split screen, weird angles, quick edits) to express Ralston’s energetic lifestyle as he ventures into a situation that would become ominously static.

He meets two women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before parting with them and climbing across an isolated canyon where he becomes trapped for the next 127 hours (look out for a killer title card).

Although it was a widely publicised news story at the time, there is a dilemma when discussing the events of this film.

Some will go in knowing what happened, whilst others will not.

For the benefit of the latter, I’ll refrain from revealing the full details but it is worth noting that the film is not a gory exploration of Ralston’s distress and audiences might be surprised at the overall tone of the film, which is far from gloomy.

An unusual project, in that so much of it revolves around a central location, Boyle contrasts the vital specifics of Ralston’s confinement in the canyon with his interior thoughts as it becomes an increasingly desperate experience.

The details of the situation are expertly realised as a penknife, water bottle, climbing rope and digital camera all assume a vital importance with a large chunk of the film feeling like an existential prison drama.

This gives it a slightly unusual vibe, as the audience is effectively trapped with Ralston in a claustrophobic way.

Using two cinematographers (Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chedia) working in tandem, the ordeal is powerfully realised using a bag of visual tricks to delve deep into his physical and emotional trauma.

Before we get to the canyon, the sun filled landscapes of Utah are shot and edited with a vibrancy and panache recalling some of Boyle’s earlier work, notably Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.

There are also some poetic details that enrich the atmosphere: the distant planes above cutting through the blue sky, insects nonchalantly roaming free and the colour of the rocks themselves which look startling in the sunlight.

Once he actually becomes trapped, a variety of different shots and perspectives help give the situation different visual flavours: the interior of his water bottle, the bone inside his arm and video diary footage on his personal camera, become important in breaking up the gruelling monotony of his predicament.

His interior thoughts are brought to life with memories, flashbacks and hallucinations: a break-up with a girlfriend (Clemence Poesy); visions of his family and childhood; a strange chat-show monologue with himself and a flash flood.

There are times when it feels the filmmakers are over-compensating for the limitations they chose, and more doses of stillness would have been welcome, but overall the visual and audio design helps us get inside Ralston’s physical and emotional situation with clarity and empathy.

But the most brilliant decision of all was the casting of James Franco. His surface charms and hidden depths as an actor provide a perfect fit for the role, as he impressively navigates the emotional ride of his character.

With an unusual amount of screen time he hits all the notes required: exuberant daring as he cycles across Utah; determined ingenuity as he tries to escape the canyon; and the desperate, haunted pain as he stares into the face of death.

A.R. Rahman’s score is a bit looser than his work on Slumdog Millionaire, but it makes for an emotional backdrop to the events on screen and Boyle’s use of songs (notably Free Blood’s ‘Never Hear Surf Music Again’) is effective in cutting together with the images on screen.

Although 127 Hours feels longer than its 93 minute running time (well, it wouldn’t it?), this is actually a sign that Boyle’s gamble in dramatising this material has actually worked.

It is an unusual project in all sorts of ways, eschewing narrative conventions and revelling in its creative rough edges, as it focuses relentlessly on one man’s physical and mental struggle.

There is something in Ralston’s struggle that is both primal and fascinating. Inevitably we ask what we ourselves would have done in the same situation.

But this film version is not just a technical exercise in outdoor survival. It is a reminder of the basic need to survive in the darkest of circumstances.

By the end 127 Hours becomes a transcendent film about the power of life in the face of death.

127 Hours closed the LFF last night and goes on US release on Friday 5th November and in the UK on Friday 7th January.

> 127 Hours at the LFF
> Official website
> Reviews from Telluride and TIFF via MUBi

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2010: The Kids Are Alright

A perfectly pitched comedy-drama about family tensions, director Lisa Cholodenko’s third film is also a showcase for some stellar acting.

When a Los Angeles lesbian couple, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), discover their two teenage kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), have got in touch with their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) it causes various complications.

As with Chodolenko’s previous films, this is very much a character piece exploring the intricacies and complications of human relationships.

But it is a step up from her last two films, applying a light touch to potentially heavy issues, and much of the enjoyment comes from the actors fitting snugly into their roles, especially the two leads who have their best parts in years.

Bening is excellent as the career-orientated matriarch. As an uptight, wine-loving physician she manages to convey a genuine warmth and affection for her family that often seems hidden beneath her surface anxieties.

Moore gets to explore a more vulnerable side, as someone less interested in a career and who strays of the beaten track in looking for someone to spice up her domestic routine.

The chemistry between the two is striking and they paint a convincing picture of a genuinely loving couple who are nonetheless susceptible to the insecurities and problems of everyday life.

Already attracting awards season buzz, it will be interesting to see which categories both actresses are submitted for. At the moment the smart money is for Bening, but it seemed to me that Moore had slightly more screen time.

In the key supporting roles, Wasikowska and Hutcherson provide a nice contrast to their parents with their charming levelheadedness, whilst Ruffalo exudes a relaxing, easy charm as the man who is a catalyst for unexpected change.

The screenplay, by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, manages to flesh out the characters and impressively depicts underlying tensions, be they of gender, sexuality or background.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is how purely enjoyable it is to watch, moving from scene-to-scene with witty dialogue and organic humour generated from the interaction of the well-drawn characters.

This has the added bonus of dramatic moments arriving with unexpected force and when they do, it is with a lack of bombast unusual for films dealing with relationship problems.

For an independent film, albeit an upscale one, the look and feel of the production is convincing and special credit must go to editor Jeffrey M. Werner who helps move scenes along with an understated ease and fluency.

Added to this is an excellent soundtrack, which seems to reflect the different tastes of the family: for the parents there is David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and The Who, whilst for the kids, we get tracks from Vampire Weekend and MGMT.

Comedy-dramas (or dramatic comedies) can often be a hellish thing to get right, but here Chodolenko strikes just the right balance, with a tone that never takes its characters too seriously, whilst still treating them with respect.

Although the issue of gay marriage is still a contentious one in America, this film goes a long way in putting forward the idea that a happy family doesn’t have to be a conventional one.

Without resorting to grandstanding polemic and instead just showing the bittersweet ups and downs of a loving family, Chodolenko has made a convincing case that the kids will indeed be alright.

The Kids Are Alright screens at the London Film Festival (Monday 25th, Tues 26th and Weds 27th) and opens in the UK on Friday 30th October

> The Kids Are Alright at the LFF
> IMDb entry
> Reviews at Metacritic

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s portrait of an obsessive ballerina is wonderfully intense experience, powered by a standout performance from Natalie Portman.

Set amongst a New York City ballet company producing Swan Lake, it focuses on the psychological and physical tribulations of Nina (Portman), a dancer desperate to impress her demanding director (Vincent Cassel) and possessive mother (Barbara Hershey).

After she wins the lead role we see Nina’s ambition and drive turn into something much darker.

She begins to have suspicions about her predecessor (Winona Ryder), a fellow dancer (Mila Kunis) and herself as she becomes burdened with all kinds of psychological and physical problems.

Incorporating a variety of influences that include The Red Shoes, Repulsion and David Cronenberg, it also riffs heavily on the raw source material of Swan Lake itself.

Tchaikovsky’s original work is given a modern day twist, as the trials of a young princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer get unsettling and often surprising parallels.

At one point Cassel’s director says of his staging of Swan Lake:

“It’s been done to death, I know, but not like this. We’re going to strip it down and make it visceral and real”

This might also be Aronofsky talking, as that is exactly what he does with Black Swan.

Clint Mansell’s score also emphasises this, expanding on Tchaikovsky’s original compositions but taking it to a more sinister place, which, allied with some highly effective sound design, makes for an arresting audio backdrop.

Intriguing parallels with The Wrestler abound: both examine the physical and mental costs of being a performer; show the pressures of ageing; feature a character’s desire to connect; and climax with a grand flourish.

Black Swan goes further in cranking up the tension and, along with a paranoid, unreliable narrator, there is an unusual amount of visual effects shots that depict the crumbling reality of Nina’s world.

Mirrors are a recurring motif throughout and shots in rehearsal rooms are designed so we don’t see the reflected cameras; people and body parts morph in creepy ways; and a variety of subtle effects are used to make us question what we have just seen.

Part of what gives the film such an exhilarating kick is Matthew Libatique’s handheld visuals, shot on grainy 16mm. Like in The Wrestler, his work has a fluid urgency which really pays off in the dance sequences and also the claustrophobic world of Nina’s apartment.

But the heart of Black Swan is Natalie Portman’s captivating central performance. In what is easily the best part of her career, she conveys a believable kaleidoscope of emotions – including fear, aggression and pain – in a relentless push for artistic perfection.

Performing well outside of her comfort zone as an actress, her work has a certain meta quality that reflects the journey of her character, although we can safely assume the actual film production wasn’t as gruelling as the fictional ballet.

In supporting roles, Vincent Cassell is brilliantly arrogant as the manipulative director; Mila Kunis is a charming foil; Barbara Hershey conveys a suffocating and vicarious ambition, and Winona Ryder has a small but juicy role as a fading star.

Since establishing himself in the independent sphere with films such as Pi (1998) and Requiem For A Dream (2000), Aronofsky has carved out an impressive niche for himself with thoughtfully crafted character portraits that have included mathematicians, drug dealers and wrestlers.

Black Swan is probably his most daring film yet: the bold mix of genres, combined with a dark sensibility may put off some audiences, but is also a reminder of how rich and rewarding his work can be.

Black Swan played at the London Film Festival today and screens on Sunday 24th and Monday 25th.

> Black Swan at the LFF
> Official site
> Reviews from Venice and Toronto at MUBi

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: The King’s Speech

A superbly crafted period drama about the relationship between King George VI and his speech therapist provides a memorable showcase for its two lead actors.

Beginning in 1925, the film traces how with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), The Duke of York, enlisted the help of an unconventional speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who helped him overcome a crippling stammer as he eventually assumed the throne and helped rally his people during World War II.

The bulk of the film explores the relationship between the stiff, insecure monarch and the charmingly straightforward Logue, his loving and supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) and the royal relatives who may have contributed to his problem.

Having spent his life in the shadow of his domineering father, George V (Michael Gambon), the shy Albert struggles with the responsibility of assuming the throne when his headstrong brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), decides to abdicate.

The screenplay by David Seidler deftly weaves these domestic tensions with the wider drama of the challenges of speaking in public, as the development of radio and newsreels create new expectations and pressures.

It is to director Tom Hooper’s credit that he keeps focused on the relationships at the heart of the film and steers well clear of the ponderous self importance that can afflict British period dramas.

Much of the appeal lies in the culture clash between Lionel and Albert: the Australian-born failed actor and the heir to the throne make for an amusing odd couple, but the connection they gradually form over the years is believable and touching.

Their sequences provide an impressive showcase for the two lead actors: Firth convincingly depicts the underlying frustration and pain of someone suffering a stammer, whilst Rush is delightfully irreverent as the one person who can engage him.

Firth seems to have been re-energised by his work in last year’s A Single Man.

Although this role might seem like a return to the repressed English gentleman he was often typecast as, he brings real nuance and feeling to the role, which could have easily slipped into cliched bluster.

Rush is magnetic as an eccentric whose wit and empathy gradually erode the aristocratic barriers blocking his patient.

Combined, their chemistry is a joy to watch as they depict the social hangups of the British class system as they gradually form a deep bond.

In supporting roles the standouts are Bonham-Carter, who is pleasingly restrained and dead-pan; Michael Gambon as an imposing George V; Guy Pearce as the smarmy Edward and Jennifer Ehle as Lionel’s loving wife.

Hooper demonstrated with his work on HBO’s John Adams that he has a great eye for period detail and the interior lives of historical figures: he achieves the same level of intimacy here with the main characters and crafts a believable recreation of the era.

Danny Cohen’s camera work is a key part of this, artfully framing the characters with a wide lens, whilst also using a Steadicam to give certain sequences an intriguingly fluid feel for a period piece.

The technical contributions across the board are excellent: Tariq Anwar’s crisp editing keeps things moving smoothly; Eve Stewart’s production design is richly detailed and the costumes by Jenny Beaven are first rate. (The only slight lapse is some CGI work near the end).

‘Crowd-pleaser’ is a term that can often signify something sentimental, but The King’s Speech is likely to give a lot of pleasure to audiences across a wide spectrum.

An astutely observed social comedy, it also has great depth as a drama, beginning and ending with sequences of considerable weight and tension.

The film has already proved a hit on the festival circuit this year and it is very hard to see audiences and Oscar voters resisting its classy blend of history, humour and emotion.

The King’s Speech premieres at the London Film Festival tonight and screens on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th. It opens in the UK on January 7th 2011.

> The King’s Speech at the LFF
> IMDb entry

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Ken Loach Keynote Speech

Ken Loach recently gave a keynote speech at the London Film Festival where he discussed the current state of British cinema and the role of the national broadcasters in supporting a healthy UK film culture.

Here are some edited highlights:

You can watch the full speech at BFI Live by clicking here.

> Ken Loach at the IMDb
> Ken Loach Films on YouTube

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Tabloid

A former beauty queen, a Mormon missionary, British tabloid newspapers and cloned dogs all provide Errol Morris with some riotous material for his latest documentary, which ranks alongside his finest work.

After two serious documentaries about figures involved in US military conflicts – The Fog of War (2003) and Standard Operating Procedure (2008) – Morris has returned to the quirkier territory of earlier work like Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981).

In the late 1970s when a former Miss Wyoming named Joyce McKinney, caused a tabloid scandal in England by allegedly kidnapping a Mormon missionary in Surrey and ‘enslaving’ him in an episode which was soon dubbed the ‘Mormon sex in chains case’.

The resulting media feeding frenzy increased when she was arrested and imprisoned only to later escape to the US, where she surfaced many years later in a very different story.

Morris explores this bizarre tale through extended interviews with McKinney herself; Peter Tory, a journalist for the Daily Express close to the story; Kent Gavin, a photographer for the rival Daily Mirror who had a different take on McKinney; Troy Williams, a Mormon activist who provides religious context; and a Korean scientist who clones dogs.

Using his trademark Interrotron camera, which creates the effect of the subject talking at the audience, Morris elicits revealing testimonies which relay events like a compulsive, page-turning novel.

He certainly struck gold in finding McKinney: energetic, talkative and at times seemingly delusional, she has a turn of phrase which is infectious, ridiculous and hilarious.

Providing a nice counterbalance is Tory, who gives a more sober account but also has an intriguing part in the story he reported on.

Not only was he MacKinney’s unofficial ‘minder’ for the Express, accompanying her to a film premiere for publicity, but his recollections are not always what they seem.

Another perspective is provided by Gavin, who as a deadly rival to Tory, embodies the tenacity of old-school Fleet Street veterans. His relish and glee at uncovering certain photos is as revealing as McKinney’s delusions.

But tabloid is more than just the hilarious recollections of a juicy story: it is a shrewd dissection of tabloid culture itself through its use of inventive graphics and judicious editing.

One dazzling technique used throughout is the accentuation of the interviewee’s words with on screen graphics, highlighting the way in which tabloids interpret language for effect.

Morris also uses graphics to visualize the story, as archive tabloid coverage comes alive with headlines, pull-quotes and cartoons cleverly synced with the words we hear from the people on screen.

Seeing the fonts of various English newspapers flash up on screen conveys the hysterical, funny and often cruel nature of how tabloids present information to the world.

It nails the peculiarities of the British tabloid press: the screaming headlines, bitter rivalries, fascination with smut and the overblown, self-important nature of their coverage are all deftly conveyed.

The editing by Grant Surmi is also outstanding and the film flows with consummate ease between the different interviews, often punctuating them with marvellous audio and visual flourishes.

On a deeper level Tabloid is about how stories and events are remembered.

There are different points of view on MacKinney’s story and the film is fascinating precisely because it leaves room for our own conclusions.

Ironically, this is the polar opposite of tabloid coverage which seeks to paint things in black and white, and provide a definitive viewpoint on even the most contentious of matters.

Morris takes quite the opposite approach and by probing the details of this odd case, appears to suggest that the attention seeking subject reflects the very culture that showcased her.

But Tabloid is by no means a cerebral, academic exercise.

One of the most purely entertaining documentaries in years, it makes you think whilst you laugh and is another reminder of why Errol Morris remains one of the best filmmakers working today.

Tabloid played at the London Film Festival over the weekend but a UK release date is TBC

> Tabloid at the IMDb
> Official website of Errol Morris
> Reviews of Tabloid via MUBi
> Tabloid at the LFF

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Another Year

Mike Leigh’s latest film is a pitch-perfect ensemble piece revolving around the friends and family of an ageing married couple.

Nearing retirement age, Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) live in North London and seem genuinely happy as they work, tend to their allotment and play host to an array of characters who come in and out of their lives.

These include: their son Joe (Oliver Maltman), who is still close to them; Mary (Lesley Manville), a needy divorcee with relationship problems; Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend with a taste for food and alcohol; and Katie (Karina Fernandez), a therapist who forms a relationship with Joe.

Each section of the film is titled with a season and as they change, so do the characters to varying degrees as they deal with the stuff of life: love, death, humour, despair, loneliness and friendship.

It follows the familiar Leigh formula of finding drama in lives of distinctive characters in a particular setting and, like his previous films, relies heavily on the actors to make it work.

The good news is that nearly all the cast bring something distinctive to their roles, creating a rich tapestry of emotions and memorable situations.

Broadbent and Sheen play their couple with just the right amount of affection and tenderness. Their deep love for one another, shown through subtle body language and speech is so good you might not notice it at first.

Lesley Manville is especially outstanding in what initially might seem a clichéd role. But as the film progresses, she conveys the piercing frustrations of her life whilst also managing to be funny, annoying and sympathetic, in what is one of the performances of the year.

The other supporting actors also fill into their roles with an ease which is often a hallmark of a Leigh ensemble and there are also small but perfectly formed turns from Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis.

Not every character is minutely dissected, nor has their conflicts neatly resolved, but we get to observe them at close quarters as time gradually changes their lives, for the better or worse.

Small talk is present in much of the dialogue, but Leigh finds a way to make it revealing, as people either gradually get to the point or reveal their true feelings with a look or gesture.

This means that everyday locations are a theatre of emotions: a dinner featuring Joe’s new girlfriend is awkwardly hilarious; a living room after a funeral becomes a sombre venue for old family tensions; an allotment in the rain seems like the happiest place for a family to be.

Mainstream cinema can be a medium prone to the obvious and bombastic, but the subtle drama Leigh shapes in this film is a master class in exploring the emotional temperatures of everyday life.

These qualities are mirrored in the quietly excellent technical contributions, which feature Dick Pope’s lean and elegant cinematography and Simon Beresford’s convincing but unobtrusive production design.

After coming out of Another Year, it was hard not to think of Secrets and Lies (1995), which, in an already acclaimed career, was arguably Leigh’s creative and commercial high point to date.

The humanity and sheer pleasure of that film is mirrored in his latest, a wonderfully executed exploration of the ups and downs of everyday existence.

Another Year screens at the London Film Festival this week (Mon 18th-Weds 20th) and opens in the UK on Friday 5th November

> Another Year at the LFF
> Another Year at the IMDb
> Reviews from Cannes via MUBi
> Find out more about Mike Leigh at Wikipedia and Screenonline

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Never Let Me Go

The film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is an exquisitely crafted but emotionally distant meditation on mortality.

Set in an alternate timeline of England where science has cured many illnesses, a young woman named Kathy (Carey Mulligan) looks back on her childhood when she grew up with two friends, Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).

As youngsters they attend Hailsham, a boarding school sheltering them from the outside world, and as they grow older it slowly dawns on them that they have been excluded from mainstream society for a reason.

From the opening credits director Mark Romanek establishes a carefully controlled mood, and for the early section we see younger actors (Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe) convincingly play the three leads as children in 1978.

Hints are dropped fairly early on about the mysterious nature of their youth, alongside a developing love triangle as Kathy realises Tommy, who she bonded with from an early age, is in love with Ruth.

The recreation of an ageing English boarding school is thoroughly convincing, with some first rate costume and production design, and the transition to their teenage years in the mid-1980s is fairly seamless.

Romanek handles the material with considerable skill and technically the film is exquisitely made: Adam Kimmel’s widescreen cinematography and Barney Pilling’s editing all help to create a rich mood of sadness and regret.

As an American, Romanek was an interesting choice to direct the material and he gives it a crisp sense of movement, far removed from the ponderous nature of many British productions which can drearily linger on their period settings.

The alternative version of England is depicted with unusual precision.

Look carefully at the school, the countryside, the towns and vehicles and you will notice a piercing eye for detail, which enhances the realism despite the sci-fi backdrop.

There are also some memorable images: the creepy beauty of Hailsham, the wintry isolation of an empty beach and the clinical interiors of a hospital are just some of the startling visual backdrops.

Added to this is a standout central performance from Carey Mulligan. Her work here is on par with her lauded turn in ‘An Education’, demonstrating a rich vein of emotion along with a captivating screen presence.

As the film moves in to the 1990s, she depicts a maturity beyond her years, perfectly suited to the material, and also delivers a potentially tricky voiceover with just the right nuance and feeling.

But there is a paradox at the heart of Never Let Me Go, which is that for all its impeccable craft, there is an emotional distance to the audience.

Alex Garland’s screenplay, which otherwise does a fine job at extracting and shaping the ideas of the book, shows its hand early on, so there is a sense of inevitability to the story.

Whilst this emphasises the notion of fate, it also means the revelations are blunted and end up lacking an intellectual and emotional force.

This is typified in Rachel Portman’s lush orchestral score which despite containing beautiful flourishes, is deployed too heavily throughout, and ends up blending into a collective sound of despair.

Added to this, there is no escaping that the material is an emotional downer: a reminder of the transience of existence, it goes against the feel-good optimism of many mainstream releases.

This is actually to its credit, as precious few films even attempt this, but it may be a reason audiences either don’t respond or simply stay away.

Going in to the awards season this was being touted as a major contender and, after dividng critics at Telluride and Toronto, has died an early box office death in the US with its platform release evaporating into thin air.

In the language of the film it has already ‘completed’ and this is disappointing, as films displaying this level of craft deserve a better fate.

I suspect some US audiences were instinctively repelled by the way in which the characters ‘accept’ their condition.

This is of course an underlying theme of the novel and film – that human beings resign themselves to social conditioning – but it clearly hasn’t caught the mood, even amongst more discerning audiences.

Certainly a film about death, which focuses on the underlying cruelty of a society dedicated to the greater good, is a tricky sell in an era of recession and general gloom.

Time may be kinder to Never Let Me Go.

Despite certain shortcomings, it is a worthy adaptation which conveys the profound sadness of the novel and marks a welcome return for Romanek to the director’s chair.

Never Let Me Go opened the London Film Festival tonight and opens in the UK on Friday 21st January 2011

> Official site
> Reviews of Never Let Me Go at Metacritic and MUBi
> Find out more about Mark Romanek and Kazuo Ishiguro at Wikipedia
> Never Let Me Go at the LFF

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival News

London Film Festival 2010 Lineup Announced

The full lineup for this year’s London Film Festival has been announced and the selection of films will feature feuding ballerinas, an unconventional speech therapist and an immoveable boulder.

It will open on October 13th with Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go and close just over two weeks later with Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, but in between will also feature Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Palme D’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Here are some key films to look out for:

  • Never Let Me Go (Dir. Mark Romanek): The opening night film is a story of love and loss based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-selling novel starring Caerry Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. Already heavily tipped as an Oscar contender.
  • The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper): The story of King George VI (Colin Firth) and an unconventional Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who helped him overcome his stutter. Was very well recieved at Telluride recently and is already regarded as a strong Oscar contender.
  • Another Year (Dir. Mike Leigh): An ensemble drama set in London exploring the lives of a married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and their various familes and friends. Got a lot of critical buzz in Cannes back in May.
  • Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky): A psychological thriller set in the world of the New York Ballet about a dancer (Natalie Portman) who struggles to meet the demands placed upon her. Co-starring Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassell and Mila Kunis, it premièred at the Venice film festival recently and is likely to get some awards recognition.
  • Biutiful (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu): A contemporary drama set in Barcelona’s underworld about a single father of two struggling to survive.
  • 127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle): The closing night film is a drama based on the real life story of mountain climber Aaron Rawlston (James Franco) who became trapped by a boulder in Utah back in 2003. It screened at Telluride recently and is expected to be an awards season contender.
  • The Kids Are Alright (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko): Family drama about a couple (Julianne Moore and Anette Benning) whose life becomes more complicated when their adopted children try to find their bilogical father (Mark Ruffalo).
  • Miral (Dir. Julian Schnabel): A drama examining one woman’s experience of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Of Gods and Men (Dir. Xavier Beauvois): Lambert Wilson and Michel Lonsdale star in this in this drama set in a monastery in North Africa.
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul): The unexpected winner of this year’s Palme d’Or involves a gathering of humans and ghosts around a dying man.

Other films of note looking out for in the Films on the Square section include:

  • The American (Dir. Anton Corbijn) which stars George Clooney as an enigmatic assassin in Italy
  • Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas): An epic biopic of infamous Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Dir. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden) A coming of age tale about a troubled Brooklyn teenager (Keir Gilchrist)
  • Let Me In (Dir. Matt Reeves): The US remake of Let The Right One In, about the relationship between a young boy and a vampire;
  • Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris): The latest documentary from Morris is the story of Joyce McKinney and the case of the ‘manacled Mormon’.

Following last year’s inaugural ceremony, the BFI London Film Festival Awards return for a second year to celebrate the finest films within the festival.

This year the awards will take place on October 27th at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, before a panel of judges representing the international film community. (The full Awards shortlist will be announced on September 28th).

For a full list of films showing at the festival, including the New British CinemaFrench RevolutionsCinema EuropaWorld CinemaExperimentaTreasures from the Archives and Short Cuts and Animation strands go to the official LFF website.

You can download a calendar of events at the festival as a PDF file here.

The 54th BFI London Film Festival runs from October 13th until October 28th

> Official LFF site
> Coverage from last year’s festival