59th BFI London Film Festival

Wow – so the 59th BFI London Film Festival unveiled its line-up today and it’s a 238-feature selection to keep the festival afloat at the top end of the world’s best.

It makes me feel a lot better about not going to Venice or Toronto this year (I’m sure that was a prime motivation for the selectors) but there’s a strong feeling they’ve really got the best of all the fests into this year’s programme as well as busting out some new discoveries and premieres of their own.

S_05986-new-image_webThe festival bookends are always key and I’m glad they’ve got strong LFF connections again this year. Suffragette opens things on Oct 7, an all-star vehicle that seems to carry the banner for the festival – “the year of strong women” the festival director Clare Stewart dubbed it – looking at the battle for the vote as carried forward by the Pankhursts et al around 100 years ago.

The trailer showed Carey Mulligan looking pained yet persistent (that’s one of her key looks), with Helena Bonham-Carter doing some big stares from the foggy London streets, a bit of an Epsom moment (nods to My Fair Lady and Cecil Beaton?) and the magnificent Anne Marie Duff telling various bowler-hatted gents to “shut their bleedin’ cake ‘ole”.

Sarah Gavron the director looks to have a hit – the cameo from Meryl Streep seals it – on her hands, a mainstream breakthrough after LFF slots for her debut Brick Lane and her great doc The Village at the End of the World.

STEVE_JOBS_raised-arms-web But I must say I was rather more energised by the trailer for Steve Jobs, the new film by Danny Boyle, who completes a hat-trick of LFF Closing Nights (after Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) with this Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic of the computer guy, who’s played by Michael Fassbender.

It looks zippy, as Danny’s films always do, and sounds quippy, like Sorkin’s scripts always do, and there are parts for Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels. I just hope it doesn’t turn into one of those typing movies that films about computer people tend to, like the Assange movies.

CAROL_shop-counter-webOther trailers that got the taste buds tingling included Carol, which I loved at Cannes and can’t wait to enjoy again, Todd Haynes’ super tasteful tale of lesbian love in 1950s New York, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, great design, gorgeous music (the trailer oozed Ella Fitzgerald) and those wonderful costumes by Sandy Powell (Oscar a certainty).

I’m looking forward to Trumbo, with Bryan Cranston as a blacklisted Hollywood writer – I love films about impassioned, crusading, flamboyant writers and wish it was all typewriters, cigarettes and danger these days.

Black Mass looks like a decent Johnny Depp movie at last, the story of James Whitey Bulger with lots of gangsterism and violence in 70s period dress (leather jackets and moustaches, usually) – hope it’s better than when he played John Dillinger in Publie Enemies for Michael Mann back in 2009. Benedict Cumberbatch co-stars and will be there – I don’t know if Johnny will: maybe it depends on his dogs’ passports?

BROOKLYN_shop-webBrooklyn, starring Saorsie Ronan, looks great and very moving; The Lady in the Van looked like you’d expect Maggie Smith in an Alan Bennett story to look – funny, batty, eccentric and Britishly loveable, i.e. “the toilet flush is on the blink…”

I’m glad Ben Wheatley’s High Rise will be there, with Tom Hiddleston in the JG Ballard adaptation, while you should book now for Cannes winner Dheepan by Jacques Audiard and the beautiful tear-jerker from Japan’s heart-tugger Hirokazu Kore-Eda, whose Our Little Sister won many soppy admirers at Cannes, including me.

SON_OF_SAUL_stare-webAlthough it still doesn’t have the international standing it deserves, the Competition at the LFF (for the Star of London trophy – you should know it, but you don’t) bursts with great films – Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida won it before going on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign, for example. This year has Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, by True Detective original director Cary Fukunaga, as well as Cannes buzz title, the Holocaust film Son of Saul (see my interview with that film’s star Geza Rohrig here). Looking forward to Terence Davies’ Sunset Song in there and Lenny Abramson’s terrifying- looking Room, with rising star Brie Larsson.

THEY_WILL_HAVE_TO_KILL_US_FIRST-SONGHOY-webThere’s almost too much to go into (and many felt they let the launch go on too long – it was like sitting through the entire festival already…) but I always like to delve into the Sonic section for the great music docs which often go unheralded. Two picks in advance: American Epic, about folk, blues, gospel and bluegrass music history; and the wonderful clip from They Will Have to Kill Us First, about the continued existence of music in Mali despite the ban on it by imposed by Islamic regimes in 2012 (I did not even know about this – how can you ban music in world-famous Mali? How?).

This is what films, and film festivals, are for – so roll on the 59th LFF. See you there.