Thursday, September 14, 2006

Preview - The BFI London Film Festival 2006

The 50th annual London Film Festival kicks of on October 18th with Kevin MacDonald’s portrait of Idi Amin The Last King of Scotland, and it closes on November 2nd with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel. In the interim over 180 films will be screening across the capital, and here are my thoughts on a few of the more interesting offerings at this year’s LFF.

For Your Consideration: A new film from Christopher Guest and his team of collaborators is always a cause for celebration, and For Your Consideration sees Guest taking his faux-documentary style to Hollywood, with a comical look at a low-budget film’s road to the Oscars. Usual suspects Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Bob Balaban will be joining Guest among the cast; and the film also features Ricky Gervais making his film debut.

Hollywoodland: Ben Affleck was a surprise winner at Venice for his performance as ill-fated Superman George Reeves, and this film takes a look at the events surrounding his mysterious death. Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins fill out the classy cast, and this should be a treat for anyone who enjoys the sleazy side of Hollywood (let‘s face it, that‘s just about everyone).

Container: Lukas Moodysson’s first three films constitute one of the greatest opening runs any director has ever managed, but his last film A Hole in My Heart was a self-indulgent mess. Moodysson seems to have foregone the carefully structured humanism of Show me Love, Together and Lilja 4-Ever to make more experimental fare; and Container is a black and white, 70 minute film which may be a disaster or a return to form. We can only hope this brilliant filmmaker is back at the top of his game.

Bobby: Emilio Estevez’s film takes place on the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and focuses on various characters who were also at the Ambassador hotel that night. It looks like Estevez has chosen to direct a fairly adventurous film, and he has assembled an interesting and eclectic ensemble to help him pull it off. This could be something of a comeback for the former ‘Brat Pack’ star, who seems to have disappeared from view for much of the past decade or so.

Red Road: Andrea Arnold won an Oscar for her short film Wasp, and Red Road is her feature debut. Rising stars Natalie Press and Martin Compston star this dark Glasgow-set tale, and it could announce the emergence of a major new British talent.

The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D: Jack Skellington’s adventures, Danny Elfman’s songs, Henry Selick’s animation and Tim Burton’s twisted sensibility are brought to life in a special 3D presentation; an event which will surely be one of the festival’s highlights.

Infamous: Also known as Capote II: Electric Boogaloo (or is that just me?), this film has the unenviable task of telling the same story as last year’s acclaimed Capote, and Toby Jones has the unenviable task of stepping into the role which won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar. So what does Infamous have in its favour? In the main, it appears to possess a starrier cast - Sigourney Weaver, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig in support - and the trailer promises a slightly glitzier affair than Bennett Miller’s sombre and haunting film. Can Infamous escape its predecessor’s Oscar-winning shadow? We shall see…

This is England: Shane Meadows is one of England’s brightest young filmmakers, and after his compromised mainstream effort Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, he appears to have found his groove again with the kind of stripped-down, personal filmmaking with which he made his name. His latest is This is England, a story of a young boy who falls in with a gang of skinheads in 80’s Britain. Details on the film are scarce and the cast is made up of unknowns, but any film from a director with this much integrity and heart is unquestionably worth seeing.

Fast Food Nation: The mercurial Richard Linklater changes gears again with this adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s eye-opening bestseller, and his ensemble piece will focus on various people connected to the fast-food industry in some way. Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzmán, Ethan Hawke and Bruce Willis will be among the many big names donning their paper hats and hoping to get little stars on their name tags.

Stranger Than Fiction: Will Ferrell is just about my favourite comic actor in films right now, particularly after the fantastic double whammy of Elf and Anchorman, and Stranger Than Fiction is an interesting vehicle for him. He plays a man whose life is being narrated by novelist Emma Thompson, and she’s planning to kill off his character in her new book. Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Queen Latifah take supporting roles, and director Marc Forster takes another chance to branch out into new territory.

The Boss of it All: Little is known about this Danish film in which the owner of an IT company hires an actor to play the company’s president, but this is the latest film from Lars von Trier, and therefore it demands full attention. His mischievous, wry approach should be perfect for this office-based satire.

Brief Round-Up
The delightfully idiosyncratic Aki Kaurismäki is back with Lights in the Dusk
Ryan Gosling stars as an idealistic teacher with a dark side in Half Nelson.
Romanzo Criminale is an ambitious look at two decades of organised crime in Italy.
After years of churning out Hollywood schlock, Paul Verhoeven goes back to his roots with Black Book.
And Peter O’Toole gets a role to really sink his teeth into with the Hanif Kureishi-scripted Venus

Archives: There's the welcome opportunity to see some classics on the big screen; with Dr Strangelove, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Hearts of the World and Distant Voice, Still Lives among the many films on offer.

Talks: There will be the usual roster of interviews, Q+A’s and master classes during the festival. Forest Whitaker, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Verhoeven, Richard Linklater, John Cameron Mitchell and Tim Burton will be a few of the names stopping by for a chat.

Surprise Film: This is always one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the festival, but this year it has been given a little twist in recognition of the LFF’s 50th birthday. The selection for this spot in recent years has tended to play it safe. There have been great picks such as The Insider and Far From Heaven, but the organisers have mostly plumped for generic crowd-pleasers such as Meet The Parents, School of Rock and last year’s deflating Mrs Henderson Presents. Hopefully this year’s film will be something genuinely surprising.

But what about that twist? Well, this year the surprise film will be screened simultaneously at 50 venues around the capital, a move which should ensure the festival ends on a high note. My ridiculously early prediction? I have a sneaking suspicion for Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep.

Watch this space…..