With Telluride and Venice behind us, and Toronto winding down, the first, and biggest, wave of the fall festival season is just about over — but Fantastic Fest, the New York Film Festival and the London equivalent are all still lying in wait. With no major world premiere this year in the vein of previous coups like “Frost/Nixon” and “Fantastic Mr Fox,” London won’t be competing with the Big Apple (which boasts “Life of Pi” and “Flight”) for media attention, but it remains one of the most useful greatest-hits festivals on the circuit.
I was too tangled up in Venice business last week to report on the unveiling of the London lineup, but it’s a healthy blend of established festival hits, less celebrated discoveries and archive gems. 200-odd features are in the mix, around 40 of which I’ve already seen — affording me plenty of room to explore the farther corners of the programme when my coverage begins next month.
Big prizewinners from Sundance, Berlin and Cannes — including “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Caesar Must Die,” “Sister,” “Reality” and, of course, “Amour” — are all present and correct, though it’s surprising to see neither of the Venice jury’s favorites, “The Master” and “Pieta,” joining them. Toronto selections set to receive their first airing across the pond include “Argo,” “End of Watch,” “Quartet,” “Seven Psychopaths” and closing film “Great Expectations”; Brits impatient to clamp their eyes on “Cloud Atlas,” “The Impossible” and the like, however, will have to wait a little longer. (Bar, of course, an appearance in the annual Surprise Film slot.)
Under the watch of newly appointed fest director Clare Stewart — formerly in charge of the Sydney Film Festival — a few changes have been made to the structure of the programme. Chief among these is the division of the films into thematic strands, as opposed to the more precise geographic sections of yore, with each strand led by a Gala film. Tidily enough, “Amour” heads up the Love strand; “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” the Dare strand (though I didn’t find the film terribly daring when it opened Venice); Romanian Oscar hopeful “Beyond the Hills” the Journey strand; British black comedy “Sightseers” the Laugh strand; “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” the Debate strand; Bollywood actioner “Chakravyuh” the Thrill strand; “A Liar’s Autobiography” the Cult strand; and French animation “Ernest & Celestine,” which I flipped for in Cannes, the Family strand.
The festival’s awards, meanwhile, have been beefed up, with shortlists for the established prizes expanded to a dozen titles each. Top of the heap is the festival’s Best Film award, which was introduced three years ago — “A Prophet,” Russian character thriller “How I Ended This Summer” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” make up the already-formidable winners list.
I’m not sure what the process was for compiling this year’s Best Film nominees, though Stewart’s team seems to have largely steered clear of films already prominently honored at other festivals. Palme d’Or victors “Amour” doesn’t make the cut, for example, though unawarded Cannes hit “Rust and Bone” (review) does. As do two non-Competition champs from the Croisette: Un Certain Regard winner “After Lucia” and Directors’ Fortnight winner “No” (review).
Venice winners in the running include Italy’s “It Was the Son” and Israel’s “Fill the Void,” which I liked a great deal. Also up for the award is Australian Oscar submission “Lore” — perhaps my most anticipated title of the fest. Much of the shortlist, meanwhile, has been plucked from the Toronto lineup, not all of them glowingly reviewed, and three of them British: Michael Winterbottom’s “EVERYDAY,” Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa” (deemed a disappointment by our colleague Greg Ellwood) and Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” — deemed a slight disappointment by yours truly last night. More on that at another point.
Festival veteran “Beasts of the Southern Wild” may seem to many an obvious frontrunner for the Sutherland Award for Best Debut Feature — yes, it hasn’t opened in the UK yet. I’ve a feeling, however, the jury may choose to look a little further afield: fellow Sundance success “My Brother the Devil,” a sharp study of Muslim gangsters in East London, and unsettling Brazilian society patchwork “Neighbouring Sounds” would make superior alternatives in my book, and those are just the two I’ve seen.
Full list of nominees (including the Best Documentary and Best British Newcomer categories) below. The London Film Festivals runs from 10 to 21 October; keep an eye out, as usual, for our coverage.
“After Lucia,” Michel Franco
“End of Watch,” David Ayer
“EVERYDAY,” Michael Winterbottom
“Fill the Void,” Rama Burshtein
“Ginger & Rosa,” Sally Potter
“In the House,” Francois Ozon
“It Was the Son,” Daniele Cipri
“Lore,” Cate Shortland
“Midnight’s Children,” Deepa Mehta
“No,” Pablo Larrain
“Rust and Bone,” Jacques Audiard
“Seven Psychopaths,” Martin McDonagh
Best Debut Feature (Sutherland Award)
“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Benh Zeitlin
“Clip,” Maha Milos
“The Comedian,” Tom Shkolnik
“Eat Sleep Die,” Gabriela Pichler
“My Brother the Devil,” Sally El Hosaini
“Neighbouring Sounds,” Kleber Mendonca Filho
“The Samurai That Night,” Masaaki Akahori
“Shell,” Scott Graham
“Ship of Theseus,” Anand Gandhi
“Sleeper’s Wake,” Barry Berk
“Tomorrow,” Andrei Gryazev
“Wadjda,” Haifaa Al Mansour
Best Documentary (Grierson Award)
“Beware of Mr Baker,” Jay Bulger
“Canned Dreams,” Katja Gauriloff
“The Central Park Five,” Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon
“The Ethnographer,” Ulises Rosell
“For No Good Reason,” Charlie Paul
“Free Angola and All Political Prisoners,” Shola Lynch
“Les Invisibles,” Sebastien Lifshitz
“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” Alex Gibney
“The Summit,” Nick Ryan
“Turned Towards the Sun,” Greg Olliver
“Village at the End of the World,” Sarah Gavron
“West of Memphis,” Amy Berg
Best British Newcomer
Rowan Athale, “Wasteland” (writer-director)
Sally El Hosaini, “My Brother the Devil” (writer-director)
Fady Elsayed, “My Brother the Devil” (actor)
Scott Graham, “Shell” (writer-director)
Eloise Laurence, “Broken” (actor)
Rufus Norris, “Broken” (director)
Chloe Pirrie, “Shell” (actor)
Tom Shkolnik, “The Comedian” (writer-director)