Public booking for the London Film Festival (which runs from 13 - 28 October) opens next Monday. Most of the big gala screenings will have been snapped up by BFI members, who will have been booking since 15 September, but that's ok because they're all about the hoopla anyway. I'm not pretending for a second that I am not as excited as anyone to see eye-catching marquee titles such as Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go adapted by Alex Garland from Kazuo Ishiguro's subtly devastating novel, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan, which received ecstatic reviews at the Venice Film Festival, or Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, about the mountain climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), who had to do something very nasty indeed to save his own life. The trick with the latter film will be to keep from counting the number of walk-outs and pass-outs during the grisly bits.
But these are the headline-grabbers that attract valuable attention for the LFF; they already have distributors and release dates in place. The real treasures are buried deeper in the programme and are, as ever, a matter of pot luck. I'm slightly perturbed by the return this year to the bad old days of padding out the festival with titles that are mere minutes away from being released. When you've been a student slashing your weekly food budget so you can afford LFF tickets, it's rather galling to then find that the films you've booked to see at inflated cost are opening within a few days of being screened at the festival. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is well worth seeing, but it's crazy that it is released just two days after its last festival showing. Perhaps in future the LFF brochure could, where possible, list release dates alongside the enticing blurbs for each title, to avoid near-overlaps such as Africa United (opening two days after its final LFF slot), The Arbor (four days), Olivier Assayas's Carlos "the Jackal" film, Carlos (six days) and Mike Leigh's Another Year (two weeks).
For the Surprise Film, my money this year is on either Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock, which shifts the action of Graham Greene's novel to the 1960s, or Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, another hotel-based study of an actor's loneliness (like her reputation-making Lost in Translation), which won the Golden Lion at Venice earlier this month. Then again, the festival might buck the trend of giving the Surprise Film platform to an English-language title, and go instead for Francois Ozon's Potiche, a reputedly breezy farce starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, which was widely declared a crowd-pleaser at Venice.
In the mean time, here are five titles that I will be seeking out. And that's as near as I'm willing to get to any guarantee of quality:
Treacle Jr - The third film from The Low Down's Jamie Thraves is the story of a man who walks out on his family, and is befriended by a misfit and his girlfriend. The excellent Aiden Gillen stars.
Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt has proved herself an insightful and elliptical filmmaker with Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy; this wagon-train drama, set in 1845 Oregon, is rumoured to be her finest yet.
A Screaming Man - From Mahamat-Salah Haroun, director of Abouna and Daratt, a tale of father/son tensions in present-day Chad.
Aurora - Five years ago, Cristi Puiu came to international attention with his grim, funny and affecting fable-cum-satire, The Death of Mr Lazarescu. His new film is a tense character study in which -- like fellow art-house new-wavers Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates) and Rafi Pitts (The Hunter) -- the director is also his own leading man.
Self Made - Gillian Wearing is the latest British artist to turn to cinema. Early reports about her debut -- the result of a newspaper advert asking "If you were to play a part in a film, would you be yourself or a fictional character?" -- are overwhelmingly positive.