I’m really excited to tell you about the movies I saw at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival because the experience was EMOTION TO THE POWER OF THREE.
WOW. I lucked out with my choice of movies this year at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival. There was an extremely strong programme of new work from around the world over the 12-day festival from 2-13 October, and the trio of films I saw were all intensely powerful, giving me an experience of EMOTION TO THE POWER OF THREE. I’m really excited to tell you about them because when they’re released in the U.K., I urge you to catch them as they are guaranteed to stir your senses and provide you with a memorable cinematic experience.
So, in the order I saw them, let’s get started.
U.K. release date: 15 November
What a superb, searing account of America’s war on terror, post 9/11, is presented here by the brilliant writer/director Scott Z. Burns. Daniel J. Jones (a surely Oscar-nominated Adam Driver) is a young Senate staffer keen to work in the top levels of government administration. Getting a job working for Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein (a career-high for the incredible Annette Bening) when she becomes Chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sees him being tasked with investigating the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program which was set up in the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks. Beginning in 2005, after it emerged that videos of interrogations using extreme torture techniques to extract information from terror suspects had been destroyed, the investigation took seven years of Jones’ life as he doggedly pursued the truth of what happened, reading over 6.3 million documents and emails to compile what was known as The Torture Report.
Burns’ THE REPORT is an exemplary study in obsession, as we watch Jones get swallowed up in the horror of what occurred and the fervent desire to see justice served to those who were responsible. Driver, who is so terrific at playing driven individuals, delivers a masterclass in focused intensity and he’s matched by the wonderful Bening, whose steely nature and a will to bring the truth to light is equally felt. The rest of the top-notch cast includes a very charismatic Jon Hamm as policy advisor Denis McDonough (going on to become Obama’s Chief of Staff by the end of the movie), Tim Blake Nelson and Maura Tierney as two of the CIA’s people on the frontline, Matthew Rhys as the New York Times reporter who Jones contacts to potentially get the story into the public domain, and Corey Stoll as the lawyer to whom Jones has to turn when the government threatens to silence him because of what he’s uncovered.
And what an absolute treat that at the festival, as the screening marked the film’s European Premiere, I had the pleasure of seeing Burns, Driver, Bening and Daniel J. Jones himself come on stage after the movie for an insightful Q&A. When THE REPORT opens later this month, do not miss it.
U.K. release date: 6 December
The fantastic writer/director Noah Baumbach has made one of the films of his career with MARRIAGE STORY. A devastating look at a husband and wife going through a divorce and the struggles they individually have to keep their emotions in check as their lives fall apart at the seams will really move you. That is down to acting of the very highest quality from the two leads Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. As Nicole and Charlie, a New York theatre couple – she acting and he directing – their creative life reaches a new level of success when their current show heads to Broadway. But it’s at just this point that we see their personal life has been far less successful for quite some time. Nicole (one of Scarlett Johansson’s finest performances), who had early film success, walked away from the potential route to stardom when she fell in love with Charlie (another staggering turn from Adam Driver). But 10 years later, she is restless in their marriage. Even though she is a wonderful, caring mother to their 8-year old son Henry (a cute Azhy Roberston) her relationship with Charlie seems ever rockier. When an opportunity to shoot a tv pilot in L.A. presents itself and she travels there with her son, Charlie begins to see the cracks in their marriage which up to this moment, he had ignored.
What follows is a blistering and perceptive look at the messy process of divorce and what a couple has to go through to keep their family together. Baumbach, possibly basing some of what we see on the break-up of his marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh, pushes and pulls us with the emotional rollercoaster of events. Making us laugh at the absurdities of what both Nicole and Charlie have to endure selecting their lawyers – and what lawyers! Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and the incomparable Alan Alda – and then making us cry at the very painful truth-telling by each party of what they’ve really felt over the course of their time together. It’s this 10-minute scene that could (and should) see nominations for both Johansson and Driver as we head into the awards season.
It was amazing to see Baumbach, Driver, Dern and Liotta all present at the film’s U.K. premiere at the LFF and I can’t recommend MARRIAGE STORY highly enough when it’s released next month in cinemas and on Netflix. See it.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
U.K. release date: 6 December
Isn’t it brilliant when, through a film, you discover something or someone new? That was absolutely the case with director Marielle Heller‘s hugely emotional movie A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Examining the phenomenon of children’s tv host Fred ‘Mister’ Rogers, I was absolutely blown away to find out who this awe-inspiring man was. I think it’s safe to say that Rogers is not very well known here in the U.K. I’d heard of him but knew little about how important he was (and still is) to millions of Americans. Because in the U.S. he is a household name, a national institution, an icon. Heller’s film looks to tell us who he was as a man and why his tv show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for almost 900 episodes from 1968 until 2001, enchanted children and adults alike with its very special way of looking at the world. Using the real-life friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod as a starting point, we see the initially cynical and difficult journalist Lloyd Vogel (a superb Matthew Rhys) feel short-changed when his editor gives him the assignment to profile Rogers at the height of his popularity. Can this man, who many people view as almost a saint, be real he thinks? While we are thinking, who could possibly embody such a person?
Why, Tom Hanks, of course!! Another national institution bringing his unique talents to bear in one of the most truly heartfelt performances of his illustrious career will melt even the stoniest of hearts. And so through their burgeoning friendship, we see why Vogel has become this bitter, jaded man and how his relationship with his previously wayward father (fabulously played by Chris Cooper) is at the root of his unhappiness and also possibly the source of his redemption. Heller, with amazingly only her third feature as director after The Diary of a Teenage Girl and last year’s Oscar-nominated, Can You Ever Forgive Me? gives us a richly rewarding emotional experience with this film. On the poster, it says ‘The Story of Kindness We Need Right Now’ and that’s exactly what it delivers in these troubling and harsh times we find ourselves in.
It was great to see Heller at the film’s LFF premiere and she spoke about the journey of bringing the story to the screen in a fascinating post-screening talk and Q&A. Make sure you see A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD when it opens next month, you’ll be so glad you did.
And so, there you have it. Three stunning new films that I think will give you informing, enlightening and unforgettable moments in the cinema this year. Jot those release dates in your calendar now and get watching.