BFI 52nd London Film Festival – Opening night… and the pick of the rest

BFI London Film Festival

The Times BFI London Film Festival opens tonight with the world premiere of Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard’s screen version of Peter Morgan’s hit play. Over the past few weeks I’ve been dashing hither and thither, from Leicester Square to, er, Leicester, to catch preview screenings of some of the festival’s films. Of the ones that I’ve been lucky enough to see already, here are half a dozen I warmly recommend, in the order in which they appear during the festival. And, if you can’t get to see them at the LFF, don’t worry; most of them have UK release dates already lined up.

The Class (Entre les murs)

1. The Class

A truly inspirational documentary-style drama from France based on a book by writer and and former teacher François Bégaudeau chronicling a year in the life of a class in a middle school in inner city Paris. Bégaudeau himself plays the class’s committed teacher and a multi-ethnic cast of non-professional teenagers are his tough, lippy, all too vulnerable pupils. A worthy winner of the Cannes film festival’s top award this year, the Palme d’Or.
Festival: Sat 18 & Mon 20 Oct
Cinema release: Feb 2009

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist - Michael Cera & Kat Dennings as Nick and Norah

2. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

An American teen movie that manages to be cool and smart and also sweet, this is the tale of a pair of teenagers – slightly dorky Nick (played by Juno’s Michael Cera) and insecure Norah (Kat Dennings, impressive in Charlie Bartlett earlier this year; she even has her own blog)  – who unexpectedly hook up in the course of one long New York night. Peter Sollett’s film is a bit too laid-back for its own good, perhaps, but it does have some witty bickering banter between the leads plus a cool soundtrack from a bunch of achingly hip indie bands including Vampire Weekend, We Are Scientists and Band of Horses.
Festival: Sun 19 & Wed 22 Oct
Cinema release: 30 Jan 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil - Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow

3. Anvil! The Story of Anvil

‘Are we watching another Spinal Tap?’ I scribbled in my notes at the start of this documentary about the middle-aged members of a failed Canadian heavy metal band. I’d never heard of Anvil, the ‘demigods of Canadian metal’, and it took me a moment to reassure myself that this film from Sacha Gervasi (writer of Spielberg’s The Terminal) wasn’t a spoof, but the story of the attempt by old school friends Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and Robb Reiner to resurrect their band’s musical career in their 50s is touchingly true. And, yes, there is a real dial in the movie that goes up to 11! Read full review here.
Festival: Tue 21 & Thu 23 Oct
Cinema release: 20 February 2009.

The Baader Meinhof Complex

4. The Baader Meinhof Complex

Producer and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger (Downfall) and director Uli Edel (Christiane F, Last Exit to Brooklyn) have come up with a gripping but dispassionate account of the violent left-wing militant group led by Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) that waged a terrorist war against the West German state during the 1970s. Painstakingly accurate, down to the number of bullets fired in the gang’s raids (it’s based on the authoritative book by Stefan Aust), the movie perfectly captures the mood of the era – and provides ample food for thought for today’s War on Terror. Read full review here.
Festival: Sun 26 & Tue 28 Oct
Cinema release: 14 Nov

Easy Virtue - Ben Barnes & Jessica Biel

5. Easy Virtue

Australian director Stephan Elliott, maker of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, has come up with a sparkling adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1920s social comedy about the culture clash that ensues after the young son (Prince Caspian’s Ben Barnes) from a cash-strapped English landed family impulsively marries an American widow-with-a-past (a gorgeous and surprisingly good Jessica Biel). Elliott keeps the period setting but gives a deft modern touch to the proceedings, mixing the songs of Coward and Porter with jazzy cover versions of the likes of Prince on the soundtrack. There are splendid performances, too, from Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas, plus a deliciously droll, scene-stealing turn from Kris Marshall as the family’s louche butler.
Festival: Tue 28 & Wed 29 Oct
Cinema release: 7 Nov

Slumdog Millionaire

6. Slumdog Millionaire

Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later…, Millions, Sunshine… Danny Boyle demonstrates his astonishing versatility once again with this gem of a movie about an 18-year-old orphan from the Mumbai slums (Skins star Dev Patel) who is just one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Flash back to the contestant’s early years, then, to show how he got there – and how he knows the answers. Boyle’s dynamic, vibrant, beautifully shot film is a great choice for the festival’s closing night gala. Read full review here.
Festival: Thu 30 Oct
Cinema release: 23 Jan 2009

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