The 62nd BFI London Film Festival is just over a month away which means that it is time for the Festival to unveil the complete programme for 2018. We’ve had drips and drops leading up to last Thursday’s big reveal, including the announcements of Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, period drama The Favourite, being this year’s American Express Gala whilst the festival as a whole will be bookended by the European Premiere of Steve McQueen’s long-awaited Widows (which I’ve already expressed is my most anticipated film of 2018) and the World Premiere of the Laurel & Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. But Thursday let the floodgates open and, as someone who has covered the last two years of the Festival, on paper this looks to be the best line-up yet of the years I’ve been. A cavalcade of big names toplining and a whole heap of interesting-sounding curiosities and potential surprises on the undercard. Ahead of our coverage, which will begin with the Festival on October 10th, here’s a not in the slightest bit comprehensive rundown of just some of what’s in store over those 12 days.
In terms of the Headline Galas, the biggest name films that get sparkly red-carpet treatments in Leicester Square and prime real-estate in the specially-constructed Embankment Garden cinema, the BFI have spared zero expense this year. The Coen Brothers’ Netflix Western anthology feature The Ballad of Buster Scruggs gets a deserved chance to run on a few big-ass cinema screens before a bunch of heathens view it on their phones whilst on the toilet. The Broken Circle Breakdown’s Felix Van Groeningen makes his English-language debut with an adaptation of Beautiful Boy, a memoir about a father (Steve Carrell) witnessing his son’s (current golden boy Timothée Chalamet) meth addiction. Marielle Heller finally follows up the brilliant Diary of a Teenage Girl with the Melissa McCarthy-starring Can You Ever Forgive Me? based on the true story of notorious forger Lee Israel, whilst Still Alice’s Wash Westmoreland brings Colette, a biopic about the French novelist played by Keira Knightley, to the UK prior to its delayed release next January (it will already be screening in America when it plays the Festival; boo).
Jason Reitman hopes to continue his redemption for 2014 by following the magnificent Tully with political biopic The Front Runner, in which Hugh Jackman plays Democratic Senator Gary Hart whose career and presidential aspirations were brought down when news of an extramarital affair got out (back when scandals could actually end presidential candidacies). Cult favourite turned mainstream weeper-extraordinaire Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love, This is Us) brings his second turn in the director’s chair, the highly-anticipated Life Itself, and Luca Guadagnino’s divisive Suspiria remake previews in advance of its November release. Rounding off we have David McKenzie (Starred Up, Hell or High Water) reteaming with Chris Pine for Scottish revolution biopic Outlaw King with nary a Groundskeeper Willie accent in sight (fingers crossed), Tom Harper (War and Peace) returns to feature films with the Scottish country musical Wild Rose, and Cartel Land’s Matthew Heineman transitions to narrative features in A Private War, a biopic about famous Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin (here played by Rosamund Pike).
That’s a lot of biopics, I’m aware. Fortunately, they’re not all that the Festival has to offer and one need look no further for evidence of that than the headline films of each programming strand. Toplining Cult is the delirious Assassination Nation, an insane-looking action-horror-comedy that aims to explore the Salem Witch Trials through the prism of Spring Breakers. Dare hosts Border, a folktale about a Swedish customs officer (Eva Melander) with an extraordinary nose which won the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes, whilst Thrill is home to Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, a South Korean mystery-thriller that has been taking festivals and critics by absolute storm so far this year, and Debate has the Jury Prize-winning Capernaum, the latest by acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?). Laugh, meanwhile, screens Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote on 16th October so mark your calendars in preparation for the world collapsing in on itself like a dying star.
Before then, Family will screen the newest film by legendary anime director Mamoru Hosada (Wolf Children, Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), the time-travelling fantasy Mirai. Journey sees Alfonso Cuarón follow up Gravity with a deeply personal ode to the live-in domestic worker who helped raise him, Roma. And should the world not end as the last-ditch effort to stop Don Quixote from finally playing in front of my eyeballs, then Create screens the Rudolf Nureyev biopic The White Crow, Ralph Fiennes’ return to the director’s chair, whilst Love welcomes back Best Picture winner Barry Jenkins with his sprawling adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk. I especially want to see that last one, so please don’t let anything go majorly irreversibly wrong with the world until afterwards, thanks.
The Festival’s organisers have been proudly touting that 38% of the films featured in their line-up this year were made by female or female-identifying directors and, whilst you may be forgiven for expressing scepticism about the figure based on those headline movies, it is a statistic you’ll see better represented elsewhere in the programme. For example, the Official Competition. Cristina Gallego turns director with Ciro Guerra (both of whom worked on Embrace of the Serpent) for the unconventional Columbian crime drama Birds of Passage. Karyn Kusama follows the underseen and underappreciated comeback strike of The Invitation with the dark and heavy undercover police thriller Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman. Festival alumni Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) brings her Austrian sex-trafficking drama Joy to town, whilst Alice Rohrwacher’s award-winning Happy as Lazzaro will be hoping to add another trophy to its cabinet, and Dominga Sotomayor tells a coming-of-age road trip story against the backdrop of the end of Chile’s fascist rule in Too Late to Die Young.
Going up against them is the mysterious new Ben Wheatley film, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, supposedly a return to his black comedy Down Terrace roots (also his first film since Down Terrace not to be co-written by Amy Jump) and receiving its World Premiere at the Festival. The incomparable Peter Strickland (Berbarian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy) has the clothes-based ghost story In Fabric, and maybe David Lowery has managed to dislodge his head from his ass post-A Ghost Story by adapting the partly-true story of Forrest Tucker in The Old Man and the Gun, starring Robert Redford in his supposedly final role. Rounding out the slate is the latest large-scale visually-astounding historical epic by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) whose Shadow dramatises the failing peace accord between the Pei and Jing kingdoms, and the Oscar-winning director of Son of Saul, László Nemes, goes to the twilight days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for his sophomore feature, Sunset.
To wrap up, because if I were to go through all the strands (including the competitions for Debut Feature and Documentary) we would be here all day, a few notable-sounding highlights from deeper into the programme. Jessica Leski directs an ode to boybands and teenage girls with her feature debut I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story which sounds tailormade for me, Asako I & II is a Japanese romantic drama in which the titular Asako dates a disappeared lover’s exact physical double in a bid to recapture that spark of first love, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? FINALLY comes to UK shores after singlehandedly raising the share-prices of Kleenex in America all Summer (probably not). Freedom Fields documents Libya’s turbulent existence following the 2011 revolution through the eyes of their burgeoning women’s football team, Oliver Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper) goes full comedy and aims to out-Haneke Michael Haneke in tech/society satire Non-Fiction, and Simon Amstell debuts his sophomore feature, Benjamin, at the London Film Festival about… err, a young director having a breakdown about the upcoming premiere of his sophomore feature at the London Film Festival. I hope he’s doing ok.
Ying Liang’s A Family Tour, partly based upon his own experiences, follows a controversial director’s journey to Taipei for the premiere of their new film in the aftermath of having a prior film banned in mainland China. Fittingly, this year’s Festival also sees the UK premiere of the latest film by banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (This is Not a Film, Taxi), 3 Faces. Mumblecore architect Andrew Bujalski continues his late-career niche-breaking with the Hooters-riffing comedy Support the Girls, whilst New Zealand contrasts that by bringing Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami’s riotous-sounding The Breaker Uppers about two women who run a relationship-ruining service. Craig William Macneill follows up his 2015 debut The Boy (not that one) with a feminist interpretation of the Lizzie Borden case, starring Chloë Sevigny as Lizzie, and Jim Cummings (not that one) expands his acclaimed tragicomedy short Thunder Road into a feature. Timur Bekmambetov takes the directorial reigns for the first time in the Screenlife subgenre he’s recently been shepherding (Unfriended, Searching) with journalism thriller Profile, and Jessica Hynes, perhaps sick of waiting for quality projects to come to her, makes her debut behind the camera in boxing drama The Fight.
FINALLY, Amanda Kramer traps eight women underground in the midst of an earthquake with the psychological thriller Ladyworld, Johnnie To’s Drug War receives a ‘reinterpretation’ (as it’s being billed) in Lee Hae-yung’s South Korean thriller Believer, Mia Hansen-Løve follows up French DJ drama Eden with a PTSD road movie called Maya, and Christina Choe’s twisted debut drama Nancy, starring Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes wrongly convinced that her deceased mother kidnapped her from her ‘real’ parents (Steve Buscemi and J Smith-Cameron) as a child, crosses the Atlantic at long last. Plus, Mike Leigh’s dramatization of the Peterloo massacre will premiere simultaneously at the Festival and in Manchester – a first in the Festival’s history – the first two episodes of the Park Chan-wook-directed John le Carré series The Little Drummer Girl screen early as a Festival exclusive, and there’s a Brazilian Capitalism satire called The Cannibal Club where rich upper-class folk literally eat their lower-class help. Because blunt unsubtle satire is not something solely endemic to English-speaking cinema.
There is, of course, plenty more than just those movies which you can see for yourself by heading over to the official website and downloading the full programme. We here at Set the Tape will be running extensive coverage across the Festival, or at least as extensive as one man (myself) can manage by themselves. Chances are, we won’t even get to cover half of the films touched upon here! But, then, that’s the joy of such a stacked festival programme, is it not?
The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs from 10th October to 21st October. Keep it locked to Set the Tape for daily coverage!