x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Flicks from far and wide feature at the London Film Festival

We preview the best films to be shown at the London Film Festival, which opens today.

A scene from the Serbian film Clip, which has already been banned in Russia. Courtesy London Film Festival
A scene from the Serbian film Clip, which has already been banned in Russia. Courtesy London Film Festival

Autumn officially arrives in London today as the British capital, still buzzing with post-Olympic good cheer, sees the launch of the 56th London Film Festival. Rebooted and expanded under its new creative director Clare Stewart, the LFF is screening 255 films over 12 days, with a starry guest list set to include Mick Jagger, Helena Bonham Carter, Dustin Hoffman and Winona Ryder. Introducing an official competition strand for the first time, the LFF will feature 14 world premieres alongside highlights from the past nine months of global film festivals. Here are our top picks from the programme.

Blood (Nick Murphy, UK)

Rough justice in a shabby English seaside town is the theme of this hard-knuckled, morally murky, noir-ish crime thriller. Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham play hot-blooded brothers and fellow police officers whose brutal interrogation of a suspected child killer leads to tragedy, treachery and cover-up. Brian Cox co-stars as their father, a former detective haunted by his own guilty secrets.

Clip (Maja Milos, Serbia)

This explosively raw debut feature from the young Serbian writer-director Maja Milos takes us inside a group of delinquent teenagers from the Belgrade suburbs. The sulky beauty Isidora Simijonovic leads the youthful cast on a roller-coaster ride of random violence and loud music. Already banned in Russia, Clip looks certain to be one of the more controversial screenings in the LFF's First Feature Competition strand.

Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Michell, UK)

Clearly aiming to be a kind of sequel to the phenomenally successful The King's Speech, this warm-hearted retro-comedy from the director of Notting Hill revisits another true story from the life of Britain's King George VI, this time an eventful state visit to the US on the eve of the Second World War. Pure, frothy nostalgia, but Bill Murray's twinkly portrayal of President Franklin Roosevelt is already being tipped for an Oscar.

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)

Fifteen years have passed since the Danish director Vinterberg scored a smash with his sensational debut feature Festen. Touching on similarly dark material, The Hunt is a return to vintage form, with Mads Mikkelsen playing a primary schoolteacher who is demonised by his small-town neighbours after he is falsely accused of child molestation. Superior melodrama, powerful performances.

Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, US/Austria)

This elegant fusion of drama and documentary stars the cult Canadian singer Mary Margaret O'Hara as a first-time visitor to the Austrian capital, Vienna, where she meets Bobby Sommer's urbane art museum guard. Essentially a series of conversations on life, love and painting, this charmingly odd, low-budget feature makes an absorbing argument for the power and importance of art.

Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil)

Laced with menace, mystery and music, this multilayered drama unfolds among the upscale apartment blocks of Recife in northern Brazil. A playboy property developer, a single mother locked in perpetual war with the noisy dog next door and a private security firm with murky personal motives are just a few of the interwoven stories in this unsettling, Haneke-esque study in creeping urban paranoia.

Zaytoun (Eran Riklis, UK/Israel)

Previously acclaimed for The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, the filmmaker Eran Riklis again tries to convey a hopeful message of reconciliation with the Arab world in this glossy, gripping thriller. Stephen Dorff stars as an Israeli military pilot shot down over war-torn Lebanon in 1982, where he is held hostage by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. But his growing bond with one of his captors, a proud Palestinian boy played by Abedallah El Akal, leads to a grudging friendship and a dramatic escape attempt.

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, UK)

Colin Farrell reunites with the writer-director of the cult hit-man comedy thriller In Bruges to play a struggling Irish screenwriter in Hollywood who gets in too deep with some colourful mobster types. McDonagh plays witty, self-referential games with his script while Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish and Sam Rockwell savour every juicy line. Showing in competition at the LFF.

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, UK)

Earning huge advance buzz on the festival circuit, this savagely funny black comedy follows an eccentric young couple who gradually turn their caravan holiday on the sleepy back roads of northern England into a serial killing spree. Co-written by its two stars, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, Sightseers is emphatically British yet macabre and hilarious enough to appeal to audiences worldwide.

Wadjda (Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia)

The first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, by the first ever Saudi female director, is a small but quietly revolutionary challenge to stifling conservative values. Making her highly impressive screen debut, the 12-year-old star Waad Mohammed plays a rebellious schoolgirl who defies family and social rules by buying herself a bicycle. Competing for the LFF's First Feature prize, Wadjda was recently bought by Sony Pictures for worldwide release.

The London Film Festival runs until October 21. Visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff for further details.