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London Film Festival 2011: The Empire Staff Picks

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It's that time of year again: the line-up for the 55th BFi London Film Festival has been announced this morning at Leicester Square, and the Empire staff are now, like kids with a toy catalogue before Christmas, poring through the programme and planning our October viewing. But, just to make things difficult, we've tasked everyone with choosing their favourite film from the line-up and explaining why they're looking forward to it so much. Here's the official site for the Festival; read on to find out our top picks...

Empire Editor Mark Dinning:

A Clooney double is always a pleasure but if The Ides Of March is this year’s Syrianna then The Descendants is its Good Night, And Good Luck. Ides seems from the head, Descendants from the heart. The premise is dinner-party brilliant. Clooney playing a husband whose wife falls into a coma following a speedboating accident… and then he discovers she’d been having an affair… What makes this particularly tantalizing, however, is that it’s Alexander Payne’s follow up to Sideways. A Payne movie is always special but it’s remembering the beautifully raw performance he teased out of Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt that makes this none-more must-see. Clooney laid bare? Bring it.

Assistant Editor Ian Freer:

Terence Davies hasn't made a fiction flick for over ten years — The House Of Mirth (2000) — so I am chomping at the bit to see The Deep Blue Sea. Based on Terence Rattigan's play, it offers a plumb role for Rachel Weisz, one of movies unsung actresses, as Hester Collyer, a woman trapped in an anodyne marriage who finds passion and purpose in a relationship with an ex RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston). But what is really exciting is the return of Davies as a dramatist (his last film was his love letter to Liverpool, 2008's Of Time And The City); his use of camera moves, slow dissolves and mix of classical and popular music in films like Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes is the stuff of Proper Cinema so my hopes are high for this. It is also very much a London film, which makes it a perfect choice for the closing night of the capital's film festival.

Contributing Editor Damon Wise:

Dexter Fletcher's directing debut is a modest but terrific drama about an ex-con who moves back to his old East London stomping ground. While he's been away, though, there have been some changes. His girlfriend has left not only him but their two boys as well; the youngest one doesn't know him, the eldest doesn't want to know him. With great performances by Charlie Creed Miles and Son Of Rambow's Will Poulter as the feuding father and son, Wild Bill features unexpected cameos from Jamie Winstone, Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams, looks great and carries an powerful emotional punch as Bill struggles not to be brought down by a local gang of drug dealers.

*Acting Reviews Editor Joe Cunningham:*

Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala (which translates as Miss Bullet) premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes earlier in the year, and Naranjo will be hoping his tale of a beauty queen caught up with Mexico’s drug cartels receives as warm a response in London as it did on the Croisette. Promisingly, the film’s themes appear to be similar to those of past festival favourite, Gomorrah - stripping away the glamour of crime to reveal the stark brutality of just how far the arms of the criminal underworld can reach. Its star, Stephanie Sigman, could be one to watch.

*Online Staff Writer Ali Plumb:*

There are many reasons to look forward to Junkhearts. One of them is the unstoppably brilliant Eddie Marsan, who plays the lead, Frank, an ex-soldier with “a dark past”. Another is Simon Frank, the film’s writer, who recently won a TAPS newcomer award for The Dry Cleaner and whose other short piece, The Mood, won the Soho Shorts Film Festival. But the real reason why I’m looking forward to Junkhearts is, shamefully, that I went to school with its other lead, Tom Sturridge. Look, I’m telling it to you straight here – he’s a talented little bastard, and after undemanding fluff like The Boat The Rocked, it’s going to be great to see him actually get his teeth into the "real" role of manipulative drug dealer Danny.

*Staff Writer Philip de Semlyen:*

Judging by the LFF show reel, a larger than usual number of films this year involve John C. Reilly having a nervous breakdown. I love John C. Reilly deeply so I have mixed feelings about this. All three of his films - We Need To Talk About Kevin, Terri and Carnage - look seriously promising, but I’ve circled the latter with my special ‘must see’ pen. Whatever you think of him, no-one knows their way around the twistier parts of the human psyche than Roman Polanski. Carnage turns his forensic gaze on the chattering classes, in a domestic drama with a cast that’d win most games of Top Trump: Actors.

*Features Editor Dan Jolin:*

Given my favourite Clooney-helmed movie is Good Night, And Good Luck, it shouldn't come as a massive surprise that the LFF offering I'm most looking for is his next picture (let's ignore Leatherheads) The Ides Of March — another strongly political movie, this time based on the play Farragut North, itself based on playwright Beau Willimon's experiences on the campaign trail with Howard Dean. As with his debut, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Clooney puts himself in a supporting role, allowing centre-stage to go to the brilliant Ryan Gosling (have you seen Drive yet? See it! See it!) as the idealistic young press spokesman who gets caught up in power plays during the Ohio Democratic primary. And if that wasn't enough to get me through the door, how about this: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti play rival campaign managers. Let the war of the amazing-schlubby character actors begin!

*News Editor Chris Hewitt:*

In the shortsighted absence of that arthouse fave, Fast Five, I’m going to plump for Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. Ok, so it’s a slight cheat as I saw it at Cannes, but I fell in love with the French director’s hugely ambitious and boundlessly inventive silent B&W movie back then, and the flame hasn’t diminished since. Reuniting Hazanavicius with his OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, this tale of a silent movie star on the decline is a dazzling hymn to film, and the possibilities of filmmaking, and should, if there’s any justice, turn Dujardin into a global superstar.

*Deputy Online Editor Helen O'Hara:*

I love me a bit of the Bard (who was not the Earl of Oxford, whatever Roland Emmerich says) so I'm very much looking forward to Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut, Coriolanus. A Balkans-y update of one of Shakespeare's less performed plays, this mixes Shakespeare's language and authentic Roman politicking and scheming with a hefty dose of realistic looking action (from Hurt Locker cinematographyer Barry Ackroyd, fact fans). Judging by the clip we saw at the launch this morning, Gerard Butler's a surprisingly good foil for Fiennes' steely-eyed general, and Vanessa Redgrave looks to be tough as nails as Fiennes' mum. With Jessica Chastain and Brian Cox also in there, we're expecting great things. At the very least, I'm hoping that it will enlighten me as to the play's text a little further than the Reduced Shakespeare Company managed, wherein they skipped it because they thought the "anus" part might offend people.

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