30 Must-See Films at the 55th London Film Festival

Thursday September 15th 2011


After missing out on the free croissants at the press launch (apparently Robbie Collin ate them all anyway) it took even more willpower than usual to put together this in-no-way-exhaustive list of highlights from the programme of this year’s London Film Festival. But as I’m sure you’ll agree after you’ve slogged through it, it was well worth the effort.

Booking for the festival opens Monday 19th September for BFI members and a week later for the proletariat. See you at the fest!


30. DRAGONSLAYER
This profile of skateboarder Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval might have escaped my attention entirely had its synopsis not featured the words ‘inspired by the youth portraits of Larry Clark’. I’d watch a 2-hour dishwasher infomercial if it was sufficiently influenced by the youth portraits of Larry Clark.


29. CARNAGE
Critically acclaimed rapist Roman Polanski follows up his bizarre mess of a mystery thriller The Ghost with this adaptation of the 2006 Yasmina Reza play God of Carnage. Chances are Polanski won’t be in attendance at the fest, given he’s technically still a wanted sex offender.


28. 50/50
The holy triumvirate of indie comedy: JGL, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, finally come together for this Cancer Comedy™ from Jonathan Levine, director of The Wackness. Expect a slightly awkward balance between raunchy sex LOLs and serious mortality chat.


27. BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975
The old adage that the American civil rights movement is best viewed from the perspective of visiting Swedish news reporters holds true in this documentary from the excellently named Göran Hugo Olsson. I’m hoping for some heavily accented voiceover work.


26. 360
If the The Guardian’s damning review is anything to go by (‘a two-hour slog stuffed with shortcuts’) then this new one from Fernando Meirelles is another Blindness rather than another City of God. Better leave your sense of disbelief at the door.


25. TRISHNA
Films directed by Michael Winterbottom are by definition must-sees in my book (deal with it, haters) but if I’m honest, nothing about this India-set Tess of the D’Urbervilles adaptation starring Riz Ahmed and Freida Pinto is exactly jumping out of the programme at me.


24. THE IDES OF MARCH
If you’re still not sick of Ryan Gosling’s beautiful face after the bajillion other films he’s starring in this autumn, why not catch him in this, the latest film from The Director George Clooney. Also starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and ‘the other Philip Seymour Hoffman’ Paul Giamatti.


23. THE KID WITH A BIKE
The new artfest from festival megastars the Dardenne Brothers was ‘the talk of the town’ when it premiered at Cannes this year. Sight&Sound have picked it up for their LFF gala this year, and it whatever it’s like, it can’t be worse than their 2010 choice. FUCKING BOONME.


22. THE DESCENDANTS
Yeah yeah, George Clooney, Alexander Payne, bla bla bla. For me, the real selling point of this Hawaii-set family drama is the long-awaited return of Matthew ‘Uhm fillin’ woozy here!’ Lillard to the big screen after years stuck in the wilderness of animated voice work. Keep it up bro.


21. SKOONHEID
This South African tale of a middle aged man’s homosexual denial and self-hatred won the prestigious Queer Palm at Cannes and deals with lots of Big Themes like voyeurism and prejudice. Put your serious filmgoer face on and have a jolly old time.


20. THE MACHINE THAT KILLS BAD PEOPLE
I don’t often see films from the LFF’s archive strand but how could I say no to this long-lost 1952 Rossellini film about … (wait for it) … a machine that kills bad people. The machine in question is a camera whose subjects expire the instant that photos of them are developed. Spooky!


19. DREAMS OF A LIFE
One of the more adventurous-sounding entries in the festival’s British strand (which is, as always, a little heavy on the Gritty British Thrillers) is this experimental take on the true story of Joyce Vincent, who was found dead in her Wood Green flat 3 years after she went missing in 2003.


18. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Not quite as good as everyone’s saying but still pretty ace, Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of the hella depressing novel by Lionel Shriver is worth seeing if only for the powerhouse performance by Afterschool‘s Ezra Miller as the world’s most troublingly sexy mass murderer.


17. UNCLE KENT
Mumblecore megastar Joe Swanberg returns to the LFF this year with not one but two indie chestnuts (the prolific bastard), the first of which is this relationship drama about a middle aged man and a sexy young journalist. Needless to say, Swanberg also stars.


16. THE DISH AND THE SPOON
Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig.


15. SNOWTOWN
The most abuse-heavy film I saw at Cannes is one of the LFF’s ‘Films On The Square’ this year, which means you can enjoy the horrific torture on display in this Australian indie hit with up to 500 total strangers. Why you’d want to is beyond me.


14. ANONYMOUS
Alongside new films from the likes of Terence Davies and the Dardenne Brothers in this year’s Gala strand is this, the latest masterwork from Roland ‘planes flying between collapsing buildings’ Emmerich. I saw a bit of the film at Empire Big Screen and trust me, it’s bonkers.


13. SILVER BULLETS
Joe Swanberg’s second LFF entry tones down the subtle examination of sexual politics and amps up the INSANE META CRAP with the story of a group of rival filmmakers, all played by actual filmmakers (including House of the Devil‘s Ti West). Needless to say, Swanberg also stars.


12. INTO THE ABYSS: TALE OF DEATH, TALE OF LIFE
Werrrrrnerrrrrr Herrrrrzog has somehow found the time to make another documentary (is it possible he’s just getting other people to make them and then sticking a quick voiceover over the top afterwards?), this time about two convicted murderers on death row. Brace for the accent.


11. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
The serious critical fraternity seemed to be left cold by Paolo Sorrentino’s Nazi-hunting-rock-star comedy This Must Be Place when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, but personally I had a blast. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Sean Penn doing his lady voice.


10. THE FUTURE
Twee as fuck but also remarkably thoughtful, Miranda July’s rom-com woefest is every bit as quirky as Me and You and Everyone We Know but twice as poignant. And if you like films narrated by injured cats, you could certainly do a lot worse.


9. SARAH PALIN: YOU BETCHA!
Nick Broomfield’s first proper Nick Broomfield film since 2006 sees the anarchic documentarian (now approaching his mid-60s) on the hunt for an interview with the titular Alaskan maniac, whose initial agreement to meet Broomfield was quickly rescinded when production began.


8. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
Proving herself infinitely more than the sum of her siblings, Elizabeth Olsen stars in this tale of one girl’s absorption into a separatist cult, from first-time director Sean Durkin. Bonus points will be awarded for getting the name of the movie right at the Vue West End box office.


7. TAKE SHELTER
Director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon reunite after 2007’s totes awesome Shotgun Stories for this indie drama about a devoted husband and father struggling with apocalyptic visions. Like the rest of the films at this year’s LFF, it also stars Jessica Chastain.


6. A DANGEROUS METHOD
Cronenberg is back in a big way with this portrait of the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, his first film in four painfully Cronenberg-free years. Ultra Culture favourite Keira Knightley (believe, foo’) appears alongside Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortenson.


5. MICHAEL
The film that singlehandedly launched the paedo procedural genre (it hasn’t really caught on yet but give it time) when it showed in competition at Cannes earlier this year, hits Leicester Square with a bang this LFF. And by a bang, I mean a very quiet, methodical whisper.


4. SURPRISE FILM
The helplessly hopeful will inevitably be yelling ‘DRAGON TATTOO!’ when Sandra Hebron takes to the Vue West End stage on Sunday 23rd to present the fast-selling screening in the festival, but international release dates make The Rum Diary far more likely.


3. ALPS
Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos (of provocative family drama Dogtooth fame) returns to the LFF this year with his fourth provocative film Alps. The film proved a hit at Venice a few weeks ago with its provocative tale of a clique of ‘intimacy substitutes’. Sounds provocative.


2. THE ARTIST
The best (and least abuse-y) thing I saw at Cannes this year is that rarest of mothers: a film that’s pretty much unequivocally good. With star-making turns from Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and the world’s most awesome dog, The Artist is my favourite film of the year.


1. SHAME
One-film superstar Steve McQueen continues his ongoing series of movies named after ‘things you might feel’ with this study of a life ruled by sex addiction. Emotionally traumatising as well as sexually explicit, it promises to elicit fluids of all kinds from the baying LFF crowd.