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From Monster-makers to Bank (Robert’s), from The Bedroom to Sinatra, from masterclasses to a Dark Blue World, London this month might make Everybody Happy. Helen Barlow previews this year’s London Film Festival.

Australia’s cinematic talent will be represented at the London Film Festival (November 7 – 22) by Fred Schepisi's Last Orders, which will be given the prominent British Gala Screening. Starring Sir Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings and Helen Mirren, the film tells of a group of friends sending off one of their number (Caine) who has suddenly died. Robert Connolly's The Bank will also screen at the Festival, as well as British director Jez Butterworth's Birthday Girl, starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin; and Steve Jacobs' irreverent, tri-lingual Australian comedy (and official Foreign Language entry for the Oscars), La Spagnola, will also be given a berth.

A series of masterclasses, and the Guardian lecture series, where filmmakers and actors impart their knowledge, are highly informative as well as a good night's entertainment. This year boasts discussion with: Peter Fonda, whose 1971 movie, The Hired Hand, is part of the Festival, and is being re-released shortly in the UK; Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater will no doubt discuss his more experimental approach in making his latest movies, Waking Life and Tape, starring Ethan Hawke, his wife Uma Thurman and best buddy Robert Sean Leonard; Pixar's John Lasseter will impart his knowledge as the man behind the Toy Story movies and now the superlative Monsters Inc.; Isabelle Huppert will discuss her role in Michael Haneke's French language The Piano Teacher, for which she won the Best Actress award in Cannes; and Ed Harris will discuss his long-awaited directorial debut, Pollock, in which he also stars as the American artist.

"eight world premieres"

In a year when the London Festival program boasts its strongest line-up in a while, there will be eight world premieres of mostly British films. The most prominent is Gosford Park, where American veteran Robert Altman weaves his ensemble magic with British actors, in the manner of his best movies, Cookies Fortune and his classics MASH and Nashville. (We can now forgive him for Dr T and The Women and The Gingerbread Man.) A murder mystery set in an English country house, Gosford Park stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Dame Maggie Smith and Emily Watson.

Other world premieres include: The War Bride, starring British actress Anna Friel as an orphan who becomes a war bride and moves to Canada with her husband, the Canadian-Australian Aden Young; Everyone's Happy (but not quite, as the film is set in a caravan park) from Full Monty writer Simon Beaufroy; and Teenage Kicks, a documentary about the band, The Undertones.

Several British movies in the program are making waves: Lawless Heart, a witty and poignant story focusing on the repercussions of a death amongst a group of friends, set in wintry and atmospheric rural Essex and starring an uncharacteristically restrained Tom Hollander; In The Bedroom boasting a stellar performance from Tom Wilkinson (the older bottom-revealer in the Full Monty) as the husband of an ever-magnetic Sissy Spacek as they together face a family tragedy; and Strictly Sinatra, starring Ian Hart as a Scottish-Italian lounge singer and co-starring Kelly McDonald from Trainspotting, who also is a stand-out in Gosford Park.

Me Without You marks a vast improvement on Sandra Goldbacher's previous Minnie Driver vehicle, The Governess, and features two captivating performances by (surprise!) Dawson's Creek's Michelle Williams as a British Jewess and British actress Anna Friel (again) as her domineering best friend. The movie is a coming-of-age drama that has many a poignant moment, especially for anyone who visited London at the time of punk or New Wave music.

International stand-outs include Dark Blue World from Czech director Jan Sverak (Kolya) about a group of Czech pilots who battled for Britain during World War II; and Mira Nair's Venice Festival winner, Monsoon Wedding, a lively contemporary family comedy set in Delhi.

"most of the British actors in home-grown films will be in attendance"

While most of the British actors in home-grown films will be in attendance, the Festival's Hollywood contingent is still undetermined (first the actor's strike and now world terrorism has played havoc with festival attendances this year). Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are hopefully coming for British director Iain Softley's fabulous K-Pax, where Kevin Spacey claims he is an alien from planet K-Pax and psychiatrist Bridges has to determine whether he is the most brilliant delusional or telling the truth ; Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton will most likely attend for the disappointing Bandits, which is redeeemed by Thornton's wondrous ability to deliver droll (and actually well-written) dialogue; while Steve Martin, hater of the British tabloid press, will not be in town for Novocaine, a film which would have improved if the American comedian himself had written the screenplay.

Probably nobody will show for David Mamet's clever and engaging Heist, featuring a fine performance from Gene Hackman, who is on something of a roll, with the Royal Tenenbaums and Behind Enemy Lines as Oscar hopefuls.

Published November 8, 2001

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The Birthday Girl

The Last Orders

The Bank

La Spagnola

The Piano Teacher

Monsters Inc


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