BBC Culture

Ten films to watch at the London Film Festival

  • Captain Phillips

    The London Film Festival's programme is once again a 'best of' sampling of movies that earned acclaim at Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. That's why the opening night gala goes to Paul Greengrass' already-acclaimed film starring Tom Hanks as the cargo ship captain whose vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Critics at the New York Film Festival described it as Hanks' best performance since 2000's Cast Away and also praised Barkhad Abdi as Captain Phillips' abductor. Expect rapid-fire editing from the Bourne Ultimatum director and a genuine return to form for Hanks.

  • Saving Mr Banks

    Tom Hanks opens the festival with Captain Phillips and ends it with the closing night gala screening of Saving Mr Banks, director John Lee Hancock’s take on the fight to make the Disney classic Mary Poppins. Hanks takes on the role he was born to play − Walt Disney himself − while Emma Thompson plays PL Travers, the notoriously prickly Mary Poppins author who denied Disney the rights to her story for decades. Expect a feel-good movie that goes down easier than a spoonful of sugar.

  • Philomena

    Based on a real-life scandal, Judi Dench plays a British woman forced to give up her son decades earlier who employs the help of a disgraced journalist (Steve Coogan) to find out his fate. Their journey takes them to the US, where Philomena’s son was likely to have been sold for adoption. Coogan wonders how to write a human interest story about her search without descending into cloying sentimentality, something that critics at the Venice Film Festival noted the film, directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), also avoids. Expect top-form acting and cliché-free writing.

  • 12 Years a Slave

    Critics at the Toronto International Film Festival praised Steve McQueen’s adaptation of escaped slave Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir – and the audience cheered it to the rafters. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup, a freeman in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. 12 Years a Slave, which also features Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt, will easily be a Best Picture contender at the Academy Awards next year. Expect a moving, visceral, and at times hard-to-watch depiction of one of American history’s most brutal periods.

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

    The Coen Brothers' first film since their 2010 hit True Grit explores the early 1960s folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village - and is a return to the black comedy of Barton Fink. Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a singer-songwriter who doesn't exactly achieve Bob Dylan-level success. Also starring Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, the film drew raves at Cannes where it won the Grand Prix. Expect glorious music and an acidic sense of humour.

  • Stranger by the Lake

    Alain Guiraudie (No Rest for the Brave) directs a thriller about a web of sex and violence at a gay men's cruising spot in southern France that won him both the Best Director and Queer Palm honours at Cannes. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) gets a lot more than he bargains for when hooking up with Michel (Christophe Paou), and Guiraudie depicts with total abandon the lusty whirlwind of intrigue in which Franck gets entangled. Expect to be shaken and stirred.

  • The Selfish Giant

    Director Clio Barnard follows up her inventive docu-fiction film The Arbor with a loose adaptation of an Oscar Wilde story about two underprivileged boys who fall under the questionable influence of a scrap dealer. It's being likened to British film classics as diverse as Kes, Ratcatcher, and Fish Tank. Expect striking social realism and two stunning performances from non-actors Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas.

  • Exhibition

    The first film set in London by Joanna Hogg (Unrelated, Archipelago) reveals the fault-lines in the relationship of an artist couple (Viv Albertine of The Slits, and Liam Gillick) as they try to sell their unusual labyrinth of a home. Expect a puzzle-box film of glistening surfaces and murky secrets.

  • Blue Is the Warmest Colour

    Tunisian-French director, Abdellatif Kechiche (Couscous) has attracted as much controversy as plaudits for this film, primarily for the explicit love scenes between its two female stars. Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, it stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux and is an intimate portrayal of the messy, tempestuous nature of love. It won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival; and for the first time, the prestigious award was shared between the director and its two lead actresses. Expect a searing, no-holds-barred vision of love and life.

  • The Double

    Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella transposes the action from 19th Century Russia to modern-day America. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon, a lowly office clerk with an unrequited crush on his colleague, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). When Simon's doppelganger starts working at the same office, he quickly rises up the corporate ladder and attracts Hannah's attention, sending Simon to descend into depression - and possibly madness. Expect a visually arresting, quirky love story from the director of Submarine.