The 12 days of the BFI London Film Festival rivals the much more famous 12 days of Christmas as the best week and five days of the year. If you're a London based film nerd, which I'm proud to say I am, it is cinema heaven.
This year is the 57th year of the festival. It's also the second led by current festival director, Clare Stewart. If you went to any of last year's events, you'll know Clare has an extraordinary line in patterned dresses and has made some major changes to the format. This included categorising films under various headings (laugh, dare, thrill, cult etc) which made it easier for people encountering the festival for the first time. As a consequence, 2012 was the best attended London Film Festival.
Now, for 2013, we're presented with potentially the best line-up in history. It may not have major world premieres, its proximity to the Toronto and Telluride festivals puts paid to that, but the quality and depth of the line-up makes it a rival for any festival in the world. The fact that the public can buy tickets to any of the screenings also immediately sets it apart from the much vaunted Cannes Film Festival.
The two biggest events are the opening and closing night galas and this year they're dominated by one man, and acting doesn't get much bigger than Tom Hanks. The opening night gala is Paul Greengrass' account of the 2009 hijacking of a US container ship and the heroic actions of the man at the helm, Captain Phillips. Twelve days later and Hanks is back for the closing night gala, playing Walt Disney as he battles (gently) with author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) over the proposed film adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins in Saving Mr.Banks. Hanks is expected to bring his considerable star power to both galas.
Aside from the opening and closing, arguably the most sought after ticket is the UK premiere of Alfonso Cuaron's extraordinary Gravity. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play a pair of astronauts who run into a bit of bother when their spaceship is hit by a cloud of space debris. If any film this year demands to be seen on the big screen, it's this one and with Bullock and Cuaron expected to be in attendance, when better to see it?
Rivaling Gravity in the ticket temperature stakes is Steve McQueen's, 12 Years A Slave. His third feature film following his debut Hunger and last year's Shame, tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free-man in upstate New York in 1841 who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Having picked up the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, it's been installed as the odds-on favourite for the Academy Award for Best Picture and this is the first chance anyone in the UK has to see what the fuss is about.
Other notable galas include the Judi Dench comedy-drama, Philomena, the Cannes Grand Prix winning Inside Llewyn Davis and Kate Winslet's return in Jason Reitman's (Up In The Air, Young Adult) Labor Day. Perhaps most intriguingly, the Palme d'Or winning Blue Is the Warmest Colour has a showpiece gala in the Love strand, with both stars Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux expected to attend alongside director, Abdellatif Kechiche. You may have read that a mini war of words has been brewing between the actors and director over their treatment on set. It'll be interesting to see if sparks fly on stage.
Last year, in the official competition strand, best film was won by Jacques Audiard's punishing Rust & Bone and this year the entrants are equally as impressive. Amongst others, Gadget Man, Richard Ayoade (Submarine) returns with The Double, Hirokazu Kore-eda's family drama Like Father, Like Son received rave notices at Cannes and Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) returns after nine years with Under The Skin.
Aside from the competition and galas there's huge fun to be had digging deeper and taking a punt on one of the lower profile films. Films are screened at 17 venues across London and there are still plenty of tickets available. I'm particularly looking forward to James Ponsoldt's coming of age drama The Spectacular Now and Ti West's latest horror nightmare, The Sacrament. However, this is barely scratching the surface of a programme that contains 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 countries. You're only just a couple of clicks away from finding next year's hidden gem. Whether you're in it for the glitz and glamour or just happy to be part of it, it's a fantastic 12 days.