Thursday, 4 September 2014

5 MUST SEE films at the BFI London Film Festival 2014

Noooooo I haven't been given a massive sneak peek at all 248 films showing at the BFI London Film Festival 2014. However, I was lucky enough to cover the Cannes Film Festival this year for Tastic Film and that means that I have seen 8 of those 248 already before the LFF even kicks off on October 8th.

While I'm sure there will be many more must see films at the festival this year, I wanted to highlight my top 5 of those that I have already had the pleasure of seeing. In my opinion, these films are all pretty exceptional (especially the top 3), and are bound to get people talking.

5. The Salvation (Click here for my full review)

 Mads Mikkelsen leads an unapologetically violent western that tells a straightforward revenge story elevated by a mesmerising central performance.

In America, 1871, brothers and former Danish soldiers Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) await the arrival of a train carrying Jon’s wife and son from Denmark. The family have been separated for seven years while Jon and Peter have settled in the wild and lawless lands of late 19th century America. However, no sooner than his wife Marie and child arrive does Jon find trouble at the hands of a pair of men who take a fancy to Marie. Getting in the wrong coach leads to a tense and suddenly violent encounter that leaves Maria and the boy dead and Jon wanted by notorious gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jon and his brother Peter must act alone if they are to survive and exact their revenge.

Mikkelsen delivers a typically excellent performance in the lead with some fine support from Mikael Persbrandt, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. While there are some attempts to make this slightly more arty than many genre outings, The Salvation is essentially just another chance to see one man bring some well-deserved justice to the old West.

4. Timbuktu (Click here for my full review)

Timbuktu is one of those films that sounds gruelling; hailing as it does from Africa and dealing with Islamic repression that is rife in Mali. However, in writer/director Abderrahmane Sissako’s hands, Timbuktu is much more than simply a painstaking portrait of tyranny and misery.

Religious fundamentalists now control the streets of Timbuktu, enforcing strict bans on football, music, women not wearing socks and gloves and dishing out severe punishments to those who dare defy them. Out in the nearby desert, Kidane lives quietly in the dunes with his beloved wife Satima and daughter Toya. While Kidane and his family live a peaceful and happy existence, the people in town are ruled over with an iron fist, stoned to death or flogged for defying the rule of the Islamic police and their improvised courts. Unfortunately, Kidane comes into conflict with another man which leads to him having to face the men who rule Timbuktu with no room for mercy.

Timbuktu is challenging and depressing but also surprisingly warm and even funny in places. Abderrahmane Sissako has created a thought provoking piece of cinema that may not make audiences into emotional wrecks but will certainly remain in the memory for some time.

  3. Foxcatcher (Click here for my full review)

It’s true what they say: money can’t buy you happiness or love, and it certainly cannot buy anyone talent. It is, as has so often been noted, the root of all evil and Steve Carrell’s miserable but wickedly wealthy wacko in Foxcatcher proves it perfectly.

Foxcatcher is the story of Olympic champion wrestlers, brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schulz (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is the younger brother who won a gold medal at the ‘84 Olympics while Dave is the smarter of the pair, a loving family man who coaches his brother with care and passion. The blue-collar brothers are an inseparable  team until the magnificently wealthy John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) sends an envoy out to collect Mark and fly him first class out to Du Pont’s beautiful Pennsylvania country house. Foxcatcher Farm is a mansion that would dazzle most but is particularly impressive to working class Mark, and a tour reveals the place is filled with race horses, trophies and Du Pont’s snooty mother (Vanessa Redgrave).

Carrell steals the film as a sad, pathetic, insecure little man who believes money can stop anyone saying no to him. For those who do not know the real story behind the film, try to avoid spoilers as the ending will likely be a huge shock. For everyone else, the real surprise here is Carrell whose performance as a man a million miles from normal will likely be a strong contender come award season. Catch it. 

  2. White God (Click here for my full review)

 It's the dawn of the planet of the dogs in this exceptional Hungarian film from director Kornel Mundruzco. Featuring a cast of hundreds of dogs and some striking imagery of them unleashed and taking to the city streets, it is a powerful, emotional and ultimately hilarious dog apocalypse.

When 13 year old Lili is forced by her father to get rid of her best friend and beloved mutt Hagen, it begins a story of horror and heartbreak for both the girl and her dog. Intercutting between the increasingly brutal treatment that Hagen finds himself at the hands of, and Lili's descent into teen rebellion as a response to the loss of her dog, White God is a harsh Homeward Bound where the doggy star will never be the same again by the end of the story. 

While Lili searches the streets for Hagen, the poor dog finds himself at the mercy of some savage characters and both Lili and Hagen find themselves exploited and desperate to escape their circumstances. White God then swerves violently into a wildly anarchic final act that is brutal, satisfying and absolutely hysterical in its level of horror.

Furiously entertaining with a perfect ending, White God is like 280 Dogs Later; an underdog story with some serious bite.

1. Wild Tales (Click here for my full review)

There is unlikely to be a funnier film at the BFI London Film Festival this year than the brilliantly bonkers and hysterically over the top anthology of short episodes that comprise director Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales. Never has watching a collection of diverse characters being pushed to their limits and spectacularly losing control been as much fun as it is in this violent but hilarious film from Argentina.

Choosing not to simply tell one story, writer/director Szifrón instead forces together disparate stories all linked by characters that are pushed to their limits and end up exploding, most often in magnificently brutal ways. First up in the pre-credits sequence, a model catches a flight only to realise that many of the passengers have something in common and they may not want to be on this plane after all. Then comes the tale of a waitress who is faced with a moral dilemma when a gangster who she has a score to settle with comes into her restaurant. The best of the short stories is next with the wonderfully violent encounter between a wealthy driver who overtakes and abuses a ‘redneck’ only to find himself stuck with a flat tyre further along the deserted road. Next up, a building demolition expert has a run in with the authorities over a parking ticket, a rich kid commits a hit and run to the horror of his family and finally a bride on her wedding day finds out that her new husband has been hiding a very big secret from her.

Szifrón has made an absolutely wild film from start to finish. The performances, the wildly varying music and score and the cinematography are all perfect and even the couple of stories that work less well, still have moments of genius. If there were awards for Best Fight or for Best Wedding, then this film would cream the competition. Wild Tales is one hell of a ride and a hilarious must-see.

Any of these take your fancy?

More on the BFI London Film Festival 2014

More on the Cannes Film Festival 2014

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