London Film Festival Official Competition: what they're saying

London Film Festival Official Competition: what they're saying

Guy Pearce in Martin Koolhoven's Brimstone

We look at the 12 films competing for the most prestigious award at Britain's biggest film festival

The 60th London Film Festival is looming, and amid the 245 films on offer, just 12 have been shortlisted for the Official Competition, which recognises 'inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking': whichever film wins is officially Best Film. They're a diverse bunch, with a Japanese animated fantasy competing against quality literary adaptations, an Australian cop movie, a French period drama with German dialogue and what can only be described as a Paul Verhoeven film, but here they are with a brief guide to what people are saying about them.

Brimstone, dir. Martin Koolhoven

This blood-soaked revenge Western stars Dakota Fanning as a young woman, Liz, accused by hellfire-spouting preacher Guy Pearce of a crime she hasn't committed. Reviews have been mixed, with some critics praising its doomy, visionary qualities, while another called it a 'tastefully packaged but borderline offensive slice of revenge porn'. Thu 13–Sat 15 Oct

Certain Women, dir. Kelly Reichardt

A more promising piece of award bait, Reichardt's ninth movie is adapted from the short stories of American writer Maile Meloy and features Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart as four Montana women. It's been showered with praise for its unshowy skill and realism, with Reichardt being called 'the quietest of great American filmmakers'. Sun 9, Wed 12 & Thu 13 Oct

Clash, dir. Mohamed Diab

'Quiet' is not a word that anyone associates with Clash, which is entirely set inside a police van during the mayhem that ensued when, in July 2013, the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi. It's also Egypt's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Violent and nerve-wracking, it's being praised as a harrowing depiction of a society sliding into chaos. Wed 12 & Thu 13 Oct

Elle, dir. Paul Verhoeven

Who'd have thought that the man who gave us Showgirls would be up for a major award? Quitting America has been good for Verhoeven: 2006's gut-wrenching Black Book had an outstanding turn by Carice van Houten. Elle is another film with a complex woman at the centre: Isabelle Huppert is at her best as a French businesswoman who is raped in her apartment and decides to track down her attacker. Sat 8 & Tue 11 Oct

Frantz, dir. François Ozon

Ozon's latest is a mostly-black-and-white adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 Broken Lulllaby. Ozon's version focuses on a young German woman (Paula Beer), in mourning for the death of her boyfriend in WWI, who then meets a charming Frenchman who claims to have known her fella before the war. You don't need to be Robert McKee to spot the twist. This mournful period drama has been praised as yet another swerve in the never-predictable career of its director. Fri 7 & Sat 8 Oct

Goldstone, dir. Ivan Sen

This Australian police procedural stars indigenous Australian actor Aaron Pedersen as Jay, a detective investigating a disappearance in a small mining town, who teams up with local cop Josh (Alex Russell) when they start to uncover a Web of Corruption®. David Wenham as the bad guy continues to demonstrate, after Top of the Lake, that being that nice Faramir was very much a one-off for him. Critics are split between those who admire its handling of live political issues, and those unimpressed by its handling of noir tropes. Tue 11, Wed 12 & Sat 15 Oct

Layla M., dir. Mijke De Jong

What is it with the Dutch? They're all over this shortlist. The titular heroine of Layla M is a young Muslim woman (Nora El Koussour in her feature debut) who becomes increasingly drawn to militant Islamism as the only outlet available for her idealism. De Jong and El Koussour have been praised for making Layla a three-dimensional and sympathetic character, and for pulling no punches either about the anti-Muslim bigotry Layla encounters in the Netherlands, or the misogyny and patriarchy she is faced with after moving to Amman. Tue 11 & Thu 13 Oct

Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins

The story a young Black man growing up in Miami has had nothing but glowing reviews (fives out of fives, people), especially for how its central character handles his own sexuality: he's gay, but he lives in a society which regards that as a weakness. As if that weren't enough, it's also got Janelle Monáe in it, although the trio of actors playing central character Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) have all been raved about. Thu 6–Sat 8 Oct

Neruda, dir. Pablo Larraín

Not the only film on this list with a poet in it, Neruda's main character is actually (fictional) Chilean detective Oscar Peluchoneau (the always wonderful Gael Garcia Bernal), who's on the hunt for the famed poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) after communism is outlawed in Chile in 1948. Not a biopic, then, but a meditation on authorship, politics and celebrity, which has been hailed as 'stunningly inventive'. Fri 14 & Sat 15 Oct

A Quiet Passion, dir. Terence Davies

After nine films in 35 years, the fastidious Terence Davies knocks two out in quick succession. 2015's Sunset Song conferred proper actor status on ex-model Agyness Deyn, while this is nothing less than a biopic of Emily Dickinson, with a much-praised Cynthia Nixon as the poet and Jennifer Ehle at her sparky best as Emily's less-reserved sister. Reviewers have been neatly split on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with some British critics hailing it as Davies's finest yet, while Americans tend to be less convinced. Mon 10 & Wed 12 Oct

Una, dir. Benedict Andrews

This adaptation of David Harrower's play Blackbird casts Rooney Mara as Una and Ben Mendelsohn as Ray, the man who had a sexual affair with her when she was only 13. Another polarizing choice; some praise the film for dealing sensitively with difficult issues, others reckon the play did it better. We thought it was a bit of both. Sun 9, Mon 10 & Thu 13 Oct

Your Name, dir. Makoto Shinkai

In the first year that every award category in the LFF has featured an animated film, Your Name is the yearningly romantic story of a boy and girl who swap bodies with each other in their dreams. At the Japanese box office it kicked the stuffing out of the next-highest contender, Suicide Squad. Writer / director Shinkai modestly disavows the title of 'the new Miyazaki', but on the strength of the reaction to Your Name, it's going to happen. Fri 14–Sun 16 Oct