The 50th anniversary London Film Festival kicked off last night with the superb The Last King of Scotland (pictured right). It may not be immediately obvious from the title, but it's about African despot Idi Amin, who ruled, and ruined, Uganda in the 1970s. Forest Whittaker plays Amin, in a performance that should earn him at least an Oscar nomination. Rising Scottish star James McAvoy is also very good as the president's personal doctor, the the role that drives the film. Already in limited release in the United States, The Last King of Scotland is set for wider release around the world early in 2007. It's one of 181 features showing at the London festival over the next fortnight, and if you're in the city, there's loads to see.
British director Shane Meadows has built up a great reputation for downbeat, sometimes uncomfortable/sometimes funny, character-driven tales, including the criminally under-rated A Room For Romeo Brass. Set in 1983, his fifth feature This is England (above left) tells the semi-autobiographical story of 12 year-old Shaun as he falls in with a gang of local skinheads. It received good feedback after playing at Toronto and is expected to do the same in London.
Likewise, Babel (above right), the third film from Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu, which completes a trilogy after Amores Perros and 21 Grams. Similar to those movies, Babel weaves the stories of several people into a whole, played out across three continents by Brad Pitt, Gael GarcÃa Bernal and Cate Blanchett. It's been on the festival circuit since Cannes in May, but is set for wider release in the USA at the end of October and elsewhere over the coming months. It also closes the London Film Festival.
Others worth catching, in my opinion, are Lars Von Trier's comedy The Boss Of It All, with the Dogme director employing a new method called Automavision allowing a computer to choose camera movements; a big-screen of Kubrick's Dr Strangelove (left); and Nick Broomfield's Ghostsâ€”a fictional story from the acclaimed documentary-maker that addresses the real-life tragedy of Chinese immigrants who died working illegally in the UK.
Look out too, for the surprise screenings happening on 29 October 2006 in 50 venues across London, like Heathrow airport, a hospital and even a prisonâ€”the only one not open to the public.