With the opening of the 57th BFI London Film Festival fast approaching, we take a quick look at the films we’ll definitely be covering this year.
12 Years A Slave
Dir: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano & Benedict Cumberbatch
Writer: John Ridley
This is the one. This is the bandwagon to jump on. The front runner. The people’s champion. 12 Years A Slave looks a dead cert for this year’s Oscar nominations and, most likely, awards.
Shockingly, it’s one of the few films in American cinema that actually looks into the slave trade as its lead subject. More than this, early buzz suggests it’s not merely a saccharine push for awards. Steve McQueen and co are here to reveal the horrors of slavery.
12 Years A Slave is based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, who was abducted and sold into slavery.
Following its standing ovation premiere at Toronto, it seems Ejiofor has a Best Actor nomination in the bag, with Fassbender’s turn as a violent and racist preacher heading to a field of Best Supporting Actor nods too.
This film boasts one of the best casts in modern years too with supporting players including the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Michael K Williams, and Brad Pitt.
Although McQueen’s work is often hard to digest, this project is undeniably exciting and definitely one to watch.
Dir: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan and Michelle Fairley
Writers: Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope
Usually when comedic actors turn serious, they can end up with egg on their face. Audiences are unprepared for the sudden shift in persona and never truly take the comedian’s ‘acting’ project seriously. However after Steve Coogan’s success as bringing Alan Partridge to the big screen earlier this year, he’s set to release a potential jewel of a film in the form of Philomena.
Co-written by Coogan and adapted from the true story of Martin Sixsmith’s “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”, the film sees world-weary political journalist Martin Sixsmith pick up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
Despite the potentially over-emotional story line, Philomena could be a real hit in this country and hopefully in the US. In the vain of the recent trend of British acting greats reflecting on their lives (see: Quartet and The Last Exotic Marigold Hotel), the film will play well with older audiences. More than this with Judi Dench taking the lead as Philomena, the film’s spine is strong. Coogan himself admitted he had to “raise his game” in the presence of the acting legend.
Therefore, this is one sweet little number that could give its viewers quite a loving glow.
All Is Lost
Dir: J. C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Writer: J. C. Chandor
Following his phenomenal debut Margin Call, J. C. Chandor’s follow-up is an equally ambitious and impressive project – All is Lost.
The plot sees an unnamed man (Robert Redford) wakes to find his yacht having collided with a shipping container, and must stare death in the face as he attempts to stay afloat and alive.
Never fear though, it’s not simply Life of Pi without a tiger. Chandor knows how to write/direct a phenomenal film and Redford looks set to give us a tour de force performance as he holds the stage alone. There’s even rumours of Oscar nods for the Sundance Kid – it’s a long shot but if he’s as good as everyone’s saying in Venice, you never know…
All is Lost looks set to deliver a simple and compelling idea with aplomb and could be a dark horse for awards season.
Dir: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore
Writer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of those talented guys who the world envies. He can sing. He can act. He can dance. He can draw. He looks like James Dean’s lost cousin. With Don Jon, he’s set to utilise three skill sets to deliver the alternative take on the rom-com with Don Jon.
The film sees Don Jon (JGL), a New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).
The trailer is pumped full of energy and looks like it will be a big hit with younger audiences. JGL is always a charming lead and as seen in 50/50, he can deliver the softer notes in his performances.
Although it wants to poke fun at the rom-com genre, the plot seems set to follow the traditional rom-com format. Nevertheless, it’s definitely one-to-watch and it’ll be great to see how JGL handles his first full length feature.
The Armstrong Lie
Dir: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney makes more documentaries than I’ve had hot meals. That being said, his documentaries are much better than my hot meals.
Gibney won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary at last year’s LFF for the gut punching Mea Maxima Culpa. This year, he returns with an insight into the Lance Armstrong scandal as he trained for his 8th Tour de France. Considering how much is still unseen/unknown and the level of deceit perpetuated by our lead antagonist, Gibney will hopefully shed some light onto cycling’s darkest hour.
As already mentioned, Gibney and his production company, Jigsaw Productions, produces almost 2 documentaries a year. With this comes the inevitable hit and miss ratio. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room & the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side are definite hits whereas Magic Trip and Gonzo! left a lot to be desired.
Nevertheless, The Armstrong Lie should provide a glimmer of insight into the tangled web of lies Armstrong has spun over the last two decades and this new documentary will be interesting to see what it answers, and what still needs to be answered over the coming years.
The Spectacular Now
Dir: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Kyle Chandler
Writers: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Ever since The Spectacular Now got a standing ovation at this year’s Sundance festival, it’s been on my radar. It’s another adaptation of a teen bestseller book for sure but it looks set to be another film to join the special cannon of next gen John Hughes films.
When I say this, it does not include Hughes blinding optimism, that’s the Easy A’s accomplishment; The Spectacular Now follows Hughes in its understanding of today’s youth. The energy, the undying sense of hope, living in the now. Although it has darker nuances, The Spectacular Now – like The Way, Way Back looks set to make a film about young people using young people and understanding them.
The story sees hard partying, social king, high-school senior Sutter (Miles Teller) see his world turned upside down by the “nice girl” Aimee (Shailene Woodley).
Teller and, in particular, Woodley actually look like they could be 16 and this alone makes it one to watch. Word on the street (as it were) says they’re both phenomenal and that this film is a real triumph.
Seeing it at the festival is not a necessity as it’ll be on general release just 5 days after it’s shown at the Festival, but the film itself is a must-see.
Dir: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener and Barkhad Abdi
Writer: Billy Ray
Ignoring Green Zone, Paul Greengrass is a top notch director, who consistently delivers thrilling and heart-wrenching adventures whether through the hands of Jason Bourne or via the bravery of the passengers of United 93. Captain Phillips looks to continue this trend as it blends the elements of these films to tell the true story of Richard Phillips.
The film follows Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) who was taken hostage by Somali Pirates during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. Set on an incontrovertible collision course off the coast of Somalia, Phillips and Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the youth who led the pirates, will find themselves paying the human toll for economic forces outside of their control.
Despite the title sounding similar to Sky1 comedy, this film could be a real barnstormer. With Tom Hanks having recharged his acting batteries through a stint on Broadway, he looks set to produce a engrossing turn as the captured captain.
Hanks himself is set to attend the festival as Captain Phillips opens the festival and with Saving Mr Banks – the true story of how Mary Poppins reached the big screen – closing it. In all honesty, this is a true coup for the LFF and is a great way to open this year’s festival.
Dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris
Writers: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
Last but by no means least, we have Gravity. This is the one you should queue around the block for. This is the one that all the sci-fi fans have been waiting for since the genre became cool again 18 months ago. Gravity is going to be one helluva ride.
Gravity sees Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) work together in the emptiness of space as they try to survive after an accident leaves them adrift…
The plot alone sounds unbelievably terrifying and engaging. It’s a personal nightmare to be left drifting in space with no gravity to keep your ass on the ground. The trailers have only supported this nightmare further highlighting the true horror of being left adrift in space with no-one there to save you for a nail biting 90 minutes.
Gravity has been held back on numerous occassions yet finally Warner Bros have played their hand in the hope of Oscar glory. It’s a long shot but many critics in Toronto & Telluride – where it’s already dazzled – suggest it could go all the way with noms for both leads and cinematography seemingly nailed on.
Gravity is the one you should absolutely book.