56th BFI London Film Festival – Choice picks from this year’s lineup

This year’s BFI London Film Festival has a new head and a new look. Australian Clare Stewart has succeeded the LFF’s legendary festival director Sandra Hebron and will be up on stage on Wednesday 10th October to introduce the opening night gala – the European premiere of Tim Burton’s enchanting 3D stop-motion animation Frankenweenie.

After nine years in charge, Hebron – famed for her shrewd programming and trademark knee-high black leather boots – is a hard act to follow, but Stewart, previously in charge of Sydney’s film festival, is clearly tackling the challenge with a zest. She’s made some significant changes to the festival’s structure, introducing competitive sections akin to those familiar from Cannes, Berlin and Venice; and also introducing strikingly titled strands – Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family – that will help guide festival goers through the programme.

Tickets for this year’s festival, which runs 10-21 Oct, go on sale to the public on Monday 24th September. In the meantime, here are six festival films I’ve already seen and six I can’t wait to catch. Click on the titles for more on each film, including booking information.

Six I’ve seen

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Benh Zeitlin’s remarkable debut film is set in a remote Louisiana bayou community known as the Bathtub, a strange world we experience through the eyes of a motherless six-year-old girl called Hushpuppy (an astonishing performance by Quvenzhané Wallis). (Fri 12, Sat 13, Sun 14)

End of Watch - Michael Peña & Jake Gyllenhaal

End of Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play freewheeling LA police officers who fall foul of a vicious drug cartel in this hectic cop thriller from writer-director David Ayer, returning again to the LA-scene of his crime dramas Training Day and Harsh Times. Like its protagonists, whose hand-held camera footage provides much of the film’s point of view, End of Watch has a reckless, hectic energy. Sharing a patrol car with this duo is a giddying, scary thrill ride. (Thu 11, Sat 13, Sun 21)

Good Vibrations: Terri Hooley, the irrepressible maverick who championed punk rock in late-1970s, Troubles-era Ulster, is celebrated in this energetic, feel-good musical biopic. Dubbed Ulster’s Godfather of Punk, Hooley ran his own DIY record label from his Belfast record shop, Good Vibrations, and released John Peel’s all-time favourite single – the Undertones’s ‘Teenage Kicks’. (Fri 19, Sat 20, Sun 21)

My Brother the Devil: The prospect of yet another Hackney-hoodie crime drama hardly quickens the blood, yet writer-director Sally El Hosaini’s contribution to the genre is more thoughtful and provocative than most. It’s the tale of two brothers from an Egyptian family living on an East London housing estate, the younger (Fady Elsayed) itching to get involved in gang life, while the elder (James Floyd) is discovering a new world beyond the ‘ends’. (Tue 16, Fr1 19, Sun 21)

Sightseers: Personally, I couldn’t stand Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List, but the film’s been accumulating fans since its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s a darkly comic road movie in which a Brummie couple (screenwriters Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) go on a caravan trip that sees them commit a string of casual murders during visits to a string of British tourist sites. Imagine a horror film directed by Mike Leigh and you’ll have an idea of what’s in store. (Sat 20, Sun 21)

Rust and Bone: Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to A Prophet couldn’t be more different from that savage prison drama. Based on stories by Canadian writer Craig Davidson, it’s a subtle relationship drama in which two lost souls – bare-knuckle prizefighter Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and aqua park killer-whale trainer Stephanie (Marion Cotillard – both battered by life, find solace in each other. (Sat 13, Sun 14)

Six on my to-see list

Amour: This year’s Love Gala, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning drama, stars French screen icon Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman, Z, The Conformist) as an octogenarian husband struggling to cope when a stroke renders his wife partly paralysed. (Thu 11, Sat 13)

Crossfire Hurricane: This year’s American Express Gala promises to be a blast. Director Brett Morgen marks the Rolling Stones’s 50th anniversary with a career-spanning documentary that tracks the band’s progress from teenage pin-ups through to counterculture heroes, hedonistic tax exiles and enduring rock legends. (Thu 18)

Dormant Beauty: Italian director Marco Bellocchio has been a LFF favourite of mine with such films as My Mother’s Smile, Good Morning, Night and Vincere, and I’m looking forward to his latest work, which interweaves three stories around a controversial real-life euthanasia case from 2008. (Sat 20, Sun 21)

GINGER AND ROSA by Sally Potter, starring Alice Englert and Elle Fanning

Ginger and Rosa: The new film by Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) is a coming-of-age drama set in 1960s London about the friendship between politically concerned Ginger (Elle Fanning) and sexual rebel Rosa (Alice Englert). The starry supporting cast includes Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks as Ginger’s parents, as well as Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt. (Sat 13, Mon 15)

A Liar’s Autobiography: Fourteen different animation studios collaborated on this offbeat biopic. Subtitled The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, it’s an imaginative adaptation of Chapman’s cod life story A Liar’s Autobiography Vol VI and features most of the late comedian’s fellow Pythons among the voice cast. (Tue 16, Fri 19)

Seven Psychopaths: Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges sounds like it’s going to be another pitch-dark, scabrous, gleefully funny comedy thriller and stars Colin Farrell as a boozy Hollywood screenwriter who gets entangled in the LA underworld after his best friend (Sam Rockwell) dognaps the beloved shih tzu of a local gang boss (Woody Harrelson). (Fri 19, Sat 20, Sun 21)

Public booking for the festival opens on Monday 24th September. If the films you want to see are sold out, check back from 4th October when more tickets will become available. Log in or create an online account and sign up for festival emails to receive the latest ticket release information.

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