The London Film Festival, which runs from 15 to 30 October, is framed by celebration and commiseration this year. The 2008 event marks the 75th anniversary of the BFI, which organises the festival, but it's also the year in which its greatest champion, Anthony Minghella, passed away.
The international line-up of films is a fitting memorial to Minghella's enthusiasm, especially in a season when the world's other major film festivals are said to have been disappointments. One of the London event's great strengths is its non-competitive nature, which allows the organisers to select movies that might otherwise not qualify for inclusion.
That said, London's lack of competitive interest does make it vulnerable to criticism, too: does London – a city far larger than Venice, Cannes, Toronto or Telluride – really need a film festival? And do most Londoners even notice that it's going on?
The pull of the capital does at least guarantee a star-studded guest-list, and this year the red carpet will cushion the footsteps of, among others, Gwyneth Paltrow (starring in Two Lovers), Oliver Stone (director of W), Spike Lee (director of Miracle at St Anna), Eva Green (in Franklyn), and Benicio del Toro (in Che). There are interviews and masterclasses with the likes of Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) and Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York). And among the hundreds of films being shown is an impressive total of 15 world premieres.
You can see the programme and book at www.bfi.org.uk/lff or by calling 020-7928 3232. The organisers insist that returns and last-minute tickets are frequently available for sold-out screenings, including the gala events.
Screen grabs: the pick of the festival
The festival opens on Wednesday next week with Peter Morgan's adaptation of his play 'Frost/Nixon', a gripping recreation of David Frost's interviews with the fallen President, starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. Steven Soderbergh's four-hour, two-part Che Guevara biopic 'Che' tracks the Argentinian's rise to the role of revolutionary hero in Cuba (part one) and his attempts to foment uprisings across Latin America (part two).
Turner Prize-winner Steve McQueen's first feature, 'Hunger', depicts the slow demise of another rebel, the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Oliver Stone's 'W' ought to lighten the mood, being a mildly satirical life of the current US President. Stone says his picture (Josh Brolin plays Dubya), is "a fair, true portrait". And 'Telstar', by directorial debutant Nick Moran, is the story of Joe Meek who, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, was Britain's premier pop music producer.
Best of British
There are new films from Danny Boyle, Michael Winterbottom and Richard Eyre. Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire', a colourful romantic saga set in Mumbai, closes the event on 30 October; Winterbottom's 'Genova' is a melancholy family drama starring Colin Firth and Catherine Keener; and Eyre's 'The Other Man', based on a Bernard Schlink story, unravels the secrets in a married couple's relationship. 'Incendiary', directed by Sharon Maguire, from the novel by Chris Cleave, examines the guilt of an unfaithful wife whose husband and son have died in a terrorist attack. The other big British beast making a return is Bond... James Bond; 'Quantum of Solace' screens in the festival on 29 October, immediately after its world premiere.
As ever, the London Film Festival is the first and best opportunity to see some of the rest of the world's most wonderful and revealing cinema. Among the hot tickets this year is 'Waltz With Bashir', an animated memoir, in which the director Ari Folman, a former Israeli soldier, remembers his involvement in the war in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Similarly challenging and politically charged is 'The Baader Meinhof Complex', about the Red Army Faction, the violent West German terrorist group of the 1970s. The director, Bernd Eichinger, takes an unflinching look at a dark period in German history.
From Asia come two rather more light-hearted offerings: 'The Good, the Bad and the Weird' is South Korea's big film of the year, a tribute to its director Kim Jee-Woon's favourite spaghetti westerns; and 'Achilles and the Tortoise' the latest movie by Japan's irrepressible Takeshi Kitano, which parodies his country's modern art. 'The Class', winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, is based on François Bégaudeau's book 'Entre les murs', about a term in a Paris school. Bégaudeau plays a fictional version of himself, a teacher who takes on a troubled class of mixed races and religions.
The documentary strand is just as varied in tone and subject, from 'Religulous', Bill Maher's comic take on the sillier elements of religion (most of them, by all accounts), to 'Of Time and the City', Terence Davies's "visual poem" to Liverpool, made to mark the city's year as European Capital of Culture. 'Gonzo' and 'Tyson', two biographical films about controversial Americans, will draw the crowds. 'Gonzo', made by Alex Gibney ('Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room') and narrated by Johnny Depp is a celebration of the life and work of Hunter S Thompson. 'Tyson', by the subject's film-maker friend James Toback, is a complex, intimate interview with the boxer detailing his irresistible sporting rise and very public fall from grace.
And just when you thought the rockumentary ('Metallica: Some Kind of Monster') and its spoof tributes ('This Is Spinal Tap') had been exhausted, along comes 'Anvil! The Story of Anvil', which supposedly breaks new ground in its examination of these former "demigods of Canadian metal".
Rian Johnson made a huge impact with his genre-bending debut 'Brick'. Can he match it with his second feature 'The Brothers Bloom', a con-man caper with Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz (27, 28 October)? Charlie Kaufman, writer of 'Being John Malkovich', 'Adaptation' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' makes his directorial debut with 'Synecdoche, New York', starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Judging by Kaufman's previous work, it would be foolish to attempt a plot explanation. The same could be said of 'The Possibility of an Island', a debut effort by author Michel Houellebecq from his "art-house meta-sci-fi" novel, showing in the French Revolutions strand (19, 22 October).
'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' is a sweet, offbeat teen romcom starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, directed by the equally youthful Peter Sollett ('Raising Victor Vargas'). Nick (Cera) is in a struggling rock band – as are the central characters of '1234', the first feature from Britain's Giles Borg, which looks set to be a sleeper hit (17, 24, 25 October).