BFI London Film Festival second week highlights

THE STARS may not turn out in their droves and it may not be the stand out event in the film festival calendar, but in its own understated way, the London Film Festival has been pleasing London film buffs for decades.

From the gala screening of Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips that opened the festival, to the UK premiere of the feted Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the first week had plenty of cinematic morsels for punters to sink their teeth into.

The second week looks even better. It’s not just about the big stars, either: there’s plenty of treasure buried deep in the 200 film festival programme. Here we preview some of the best films showing in the final week...

Being screened Oct 18, 19 and 20

Like last year, the London Film Festival has employed a number of themes to make the vast programme a tad more navigable.

Locke, starring Tom Hardy, is included under the theme Journey, and the (literal) one embarked on here is from Wales to London. Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a high-flying engineer with a specialisation in concrete. Tomorrow he is set to supervise the pouring of concrete into the foundations of a landmark skyscraper. Professional success is matched by an idyllic family – he has much to lose.

Director Stephen Knight made a name for himself writing dark, intricately plotted, twisty thrillers (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), but this is about as restrained as you can get as a director.

For the entire hour and a half run-time Hardy is the only actor on screen, and the action doesn’t leave the cabin of Ivan’s car.

It makes for a gripping, suspenseful ride as one mistake threatens to send the perfectly constructed edifice that is Ivan’s life crashing to the ground.

The perfect platform for Tom Hardy to show his range, expect a towering performance from the one-time batman antagonist.

Being screened Oct 16, 17 and 19

If anyone could beat the Partridge out of Steve Coogan, it was Stephen Frears. Ever the expert at getting passionate, committed performances out of his casts, the Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen director is bang on the money once again with Philomena, the true story of an Irish mother who decides to seek out the son she was forced to give up for adoption fifty years previously. He’s now a jaded and cynical ex-journalist and agrees to meet despite some major reservations.

It’s a tender, moving drama about the impact of religious conservatism that combines the talents of two fine actors – one a little further from his comfort zone than the other.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Being screened Oct 15, 17 and 19

Joel and Ethan Coens’ latest, Inside Llewyn Davis is a quiet comedy loosely based on the life of obscure singer Dave Van Ronk and the New York folk scene of the 1960s. Llewyn, played by Oscar Isaac is a penniless musician trying to ge­­t by on occasional gigs.

For a while he is consoled by the company of a cat, which he then swiftly and disastrously loses (the cat doesn’t belong to him).

The Coen brothers concentrate on the mishaps and calamities of one of popular culture’s most romanticised movements. It’s a world where many are eccentric and many are down and out but few people are actually great.

Look out for excellent turns from Justin Timberlake and the John Goodman, and listen out for the brilliant soundtrack, affectionately put together by T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford.

Don Jon
Being screened Oct 16, 17 and 20

Joseph Gordon-Levitt smartly enlists the help of his most talented friends for his directorial debut, Don Jon. Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza join him in telling the story of Jon Martello, a handsome and successful man in his thirties. Martello seems to have it all – the car, the bachelor pad, the muscles – but an all-consuming addiction to pornography has left him unable to fulfill the emotional requirements of a long term relationship. He has no problem attracting women (his success in that area inspires the nickname that is also the film’s title) but is unable to fall for a living, breathing woman.

If you think Shame has the whole porn/sex addiction thing covered, think again.

Where Steve Mcqueen and Michael Fassbender, prowled the darkest recesses of a sex addicted psyche, this is a lighter, funnier affair – expect plenty of wise cracks.

Kill Your Darlings
Being screened Oct 17 and 18

James Franco wasn’t quite right in Howl, and Tom Sturridge was wide of the mark in On The Road. Can Daniel Radcliffe do it in Kill Your Darlings?

Much to everyone’s surprise, the Hogwarts alumnus has been lauded as a vast improvement on the most recent portrayals of American poet Allen Ginsberg.

His performance is vital, fizzing with intellectual energy and youthful idealism. However, the focus here isn’t really on Radcliffe’s Ginsberg. More important is his handsome classmate Lucien Carr, played by the ascendant Dane DeeHan. You may remember DeeHan as the Leo DiCaprio lookalike who gave a startling performance as a troubled stoner in the third act of The Place Beyond The Pines.

He’s on scintillating form once again as Carr, an in irresistible enigma for whom Ginsberg falls hard (Ginsberg’s most famous poem, Howl, was dedicated to Carr). And it’s not just those two.

It’s difficult to do Beat generation films without submitting to Kerouac cliches. If it’s about the Beats, you can guarantee there’ll be a scene in which someone furiously types and smokes at the same time. This aesthetic predictability put paid to the success of Franco’s Howl and the disastrous On The Road.

What’s so different about Kill Your Darlings? The answer is twofold: DeHaan and Radcliffe. Both deliver performances as urgent as the best Beat writing.

Saving Mr Banks
Being screened Oct 20

PL Travers biopic Saving Mr Banks alternates between the Mary Poppins author’s childhood in Queensland Australia and the two weeks she spent in Los Angeles being wooed by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Disney’s motives were financial rather than amorous – he was after the film rights to her novels. Suspicious of the Hollywood and its tendency to sentimentalise, the Australian-born author (Emma Thompson) takes a lot of convincing. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks excel in roles they seem destined to play. The clash between Disney’s Hollywood glamour and Travers’ Antipodean properness gets plenty of laughs – it’s more than just a spoonful of sugar.

12 Years A Slave
Being screened Oct 18, 19 and 20

Steve McQueen’s eagerly anticipated follow up to Shame is showing at the London Film Festival having won the main prize at Toronto International Film Festival. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, a successful violinist who lives as a free man in New York City before being abducted and forced into slavery. Ejiofor is joined by Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and perennial McQueen collaborator Michael Fassbender. A definite frontrunner for next year’s best film and the must see film of the festival.

The Selfish Giant
Being Screened Oct 16

The Selfish Giant, director-screenwriter Clio Barnard’s adaptation of the Oscar Wilde short story of the same name, is set in modern day Yorkshire and focuses on the relationship between Arbor and Swifty (Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas ). The two young boys struggle to fit in, but their lives are given purpose when they meet a local scrap dealer. They learn how to make money from copper wire, but a rift develops between them.

An elegiac, prose-poem that recalls Fish Tank and Kes in its realist grace.