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26 Movies We're Excited To See At The 2015 BFI London Film Festival

Malian musicians, a young artist coming of age in Johannesburg, Steve Jobs' origin story, and so much more – here are some of the most exciting movies showing at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival, which starts on 7 October.

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1. Suffragette

Steffan Hill

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Meryl Streep

Directed by: Sarah Gavron

Gavron's second big feature film (she also directed 2007's adaptation of Monica Ali's Brick Lane) is shored up by a script from Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) and the acting talents of a very strong and largely female cast, including Queen Meryl as Emmeline Pankhurst. It's a very British story, focusing on the members of the UK suffrage movement at the end of the 19th century, and the trailer shows it weaving in a lot of the pivotal historical moments we've come to know via textbooks: acts of civil disobedience, Emily Davison at the Epsom Derby, the efforts by the establishment to crush the movement, etc. Considering such subject matter and its glittering, talented cast, it's also prime Oscar-bait.

2. Steve Jobs

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Starring: Danny Boyle

Directed by: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

The buzz has been overwhelmingly positive, and expectations – for both box office and critical awards – is very high. Aaron Sorkin, who so expertly wove a tale around the people involved in the birth of Facebook in 2010's The Social Network, wrote the screenplay based on Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography, and it has exactly what you would want: the meshing of messy private and high-stakes public life, in the centre of a digital revolution. The match of Boyle's energy with a cast of such heavyweights as Winslet and Jeff Daniels should make for one of 2015's cinematic treats.

3. A Bigger Splash

Frenesy Film Company/ Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Is not this the role Tilda Swinton was born to play? A rock star of immense magnetism, on impossibly glamorous hiatus from her impossibly glamorous life, recuperating post-surgery and taking it easy with her filmmaker lover (Schoenaerts), on a windswept Sicilian island? Their peaceful idyll is shattered by the arrival of a music producer (Fiennes) with a newly discovered daughter (Johnson) in tow. This is a remake of the 1969 French film La Piscine and reunites Guadagnino with Swinton (see 2009's I Am Love) for what should be an elegant, sensual, and no doubt sharp drama.

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4. The Lobster

Despina Spyrou

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Colin Farrell displayed his gift for absurd and dark comedy in In Bruges and he does so again in this dystopian film in which singledom has been outlawed and the unpaired have 45 days in which to find a mate or be transformed into an animal of their own choosing. Unpaired, David (Farrell) sets off into the forest to take his chances with a band of fellow fugitives where he meets Weisz's character. The result looks like a lot of fun, with Lanthimos's signature preoccupation with questioning the ways we choose to live our lives threaded right through.

5. Very Big Shot

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Starring: Alain Saadeh, Fouad Yammie

Directed by: Mir-Jean Bou Chaya

The feature debut of Lebanese filmmaker Bou Chaya is a mashup of genres, the tone swinging wildly from suspenseful crime thriller to out-and-out comedy via sharp social satire and all the way back around. The film, a co-production between Qatar and Lebanon (shot in the latter), follows the story of two brothers, the younger of whom is due to be released from prison after taking the rap for a murder his brother committed. On the outside, the older brother is trying to go straight in time for his brother's release, which draws a local gangster who is also his boss. He decides to do one last drop, and we all know how these things tend to go down...

6. 11 Minutes

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Richard Dormer, Paulina Chapko, Wojciech Mecwaldowski

Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski

Seventy-seven-year-old Polish director and actor Skolimowski may be more familiar to most as the villain interrogating Black Widow at the start of The Avengers but he has a long and distinguished career behind the camera. In this latest, he follows several distinct characters – an actor, a hot dog vendor, a drug courier, a woman in labour, and so on – for 11 exhilarating minutes in their lives, from a variety of points of view. Some of the stories – by turns exciting, intriguing, and suspenseful – unexpectedly overlap to create a "catastrophic thriller". You could watch his 2010 political thriller Essential Killing as a primer to get you familiar with his style.

7. L'attesa (The Wait)

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Starring: Juliette Binoche, Lou de Laâge

Directed by: Piero Messina

Another Sicily-set drama, this time starring Juliette Binoche as Anna, a mother who has suffered a sudden, tragic death in the family. She is still reeling when a young woman arrives, claiming to be Anna's son's estranged fiancé. What is Anna to do, except pretend that her son is alive and en route to meet them in Sicily? Binoche knows what it is to play the grieving mother; her iconic exploration of the subject matter in Kieślowski's classic Three Colours: Blue is hard to beat (she played another grieving mother in the Nobuhiro Suwa-directed segment in Paris, Je T'aime). In Messina's debut, Anna's grief is nuanced and held in check by the weight of her deception, as she gets to know her would-be daughter-in-law and vice versa.

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8. Ayanda

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Fulu Mugovhani, OC Ukeje

Directed by: Sara Blecher

The trailer for this South African film about a young woman's self-discovery has all the hallmarks of an American indie production: a direct-to-camera address from the protagonist, a somewhat maudlin acoustic guitar score, hipsterish outfits, and a hint of romance. Handily, the trailer also suggests this is a coming-of-age film you'll actually want to see. Mugovhani plays Ayanda, a 21-year-old artist and dreamer in Johannesburg who's trying to figure out who she is and how much space she can take up in the world. That she restores abandoned vintage cars in the garage that belonged to her Nigerian father is only one cool thing about this movie. It's also a real pleasure to see the very charming O.C. Ukeje (last seen in British director Destiny Ekaragha's Gone Too Far) as love interest David. Really looking forward to this!

9. Fifty

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Ireti Doyle, Nse Ekpe-Etim

Directed by: Biyi Bandele

Fifty fits very happily into this year's festival line-up, focusing as it does on the interior lives of women. It's the latest from writer-director Biyi Bandele (who last adapted and directed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun). This time he's in the megacity of Lagos, following four middle-aged, upper-middle-class Nigerian women over the course of an important few days in their lives. Each is taking stock of her life – the reality TV star with a secret, the doctor who likes younger men, the mistress with a new complication, and the woman with a newfound religious zeal. Curveballs abound, and the women rise to them the best way they know how.

10. James White

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Starring: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi

Directed by: Josh Mond

Family relationships are complex, endlessly fascinating things, and perhaps none more loaded in our collective culture than those between mothers and their sons. Girls alumnus Christopher Abbott has been steadily picking up buzz for his portrayal of the titular James, a young man still reeling from the death of his estranged father when his mother (a spectacular, by all accounts, Nixon) is diagnosed with both dementia and cancer. As his world caves in around him, James has to keep it, and himself, together. This is Josh Mond's first film as a director – the last of his Borderline Films collective to do so – but he previously produced Simon Killer and Martha Marcy May Marlene, and this reeks of quiet intensity and a very sure voice. A Sundance hit, maybe this could make push Nixon into contention come award season.

11. A Nazi Legacy

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Phillipe Sands, Niklas Frank, Horst von Wächter

Directed by: David Evans

There are family stories, and then there are family stories: What if your father was an actual Nazi? Evans' fine (British!) documentary has human rights lawyer Phillipe Sands meet up with two men whose fathers were high-ranking Nazi officers – Horst von Wächter's father operated in occupied Poland, while Niklas Frank's father was later executed for his crimes following the Nuremberg trials. The men's complicated feelings for their fathers – in the context of the horrors they helped commit – is the focus here. Is it possible to think of these men as anything other than murderers? For one of the men, it's not an easy thing to do. The emerging conversation has a personal angle for Sands too, whose family members were murdered in Poland during the war.

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12. My Love, Don't Cross That River

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Jo Byeong Man, Kang Kye Yeol

Directed by: Jin Mo-young

Imagine being with someone for 76 years, and then having to say goodbye. That's what couple Jo Byeong Man and Kang Kye Yeol, the subjects of this tender South Korean documentary, have to do. The inseparable pair have shared it all over the course of their lives – children, love, and loss – and now live off the land in a small house by the river. This is a film about intimacy and knowledge – including the terrible knowledge that we all begin dying the moment we are born – and how we prepare for inevitable events. "Last year you did it easily," Kang Kye Yeol tells her husband as he gathers wood for them. "But this year you are out of breath." Expect tears.

13. Nasty Baby

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Sebastián Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Kristen Wiig

Directed by: Sebastián Silva

Kristen Wiig's mid-career segue into the dramatic roles that seem tailor-made for her fantastic face and skill set continues apace with this Sundance hit. Freddy (Silva) and Mo (Adebimpe) are a Brooklyn-dwelling couple, about to have a baby with Freddy's best friend, Polly (Wiig). There are a lot of considerations: how to impregnate Polly; how Mo's conservative family feels about the whole endeavour; Freddy's demanding job as an artist – and the threat of deportation... It's more than a "modern gay parenting" story: You can judge for yourself if Silva's suddenly turbulent script works or not.

14. Cronies

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: George Sample III, Zurich Buckner

Directed by: Michael J Larnell

This is a Spike Lee joint in many ways, seeing as the director executive-produced this movie and developed its director-screenwriter, Larnell, while the latter was still in film school. It even looks like an early Spike joint: shot in charming B&W, and concerned with what looks initially like small-stakes subject matter, played by naturalistic actors. Set in St Louis, Cronies is about childhood friends Louis and Jack, who are growing apart in the manner of many long-term relationships. Louis has a baby and a new job at a carwash, while Jack is still in full-on party boy mode. The most effective wedge between them, though, is Louis's new friend Andrew, aka the son of Louis's employers. It's time to grow up... It feels good to have a promising new black director on the scene.

15. The End of the Tour

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Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg

Directed by: James Ponsoldt

Since his death in 2008 (and the posthumous publication of unfinished novel, The Pale King, in 2011), the status of David Foster Wallace has only grown. Here now is an adaptation of magazine writer David Lipsky's memoir, focusing on the five days the two men spent together on Wallace's national book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996. It is an intimate film of a series of intimate moments. As Lipsky, Eisenberg is nervous, grappling with his jealousy, eager to impress and be impressed. But it is Segel, with his loose, shuffling amble and soft voice, who really commands the attention: playing Wallace as a man whose legend was already somewhat outsized even in life – and would only mushroom after his death.

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16. The American Epic Sessions

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Jack White, T Bone Burnett

Directed by: Bernard MacMahon

Musicians T Bone Burnett and Jack White have gathered together a band of superstars in an old Hollywood studio. Their express mission? To each cut a record, aided by a lovingly reassembled Western Electric lathe – a pioneering piece of music recording equipment first created long before vinyl in the 1920s. With this "marvel of analogue engineering operated by a weight and pulleys", the likes of Elton John, Nas, Steve Martin, Raphael Saadiq, and Alabama Shakes (among many others) do their best in their allotted three minutes. This collaboration between BBC Arena and PBS is one for the music buffs, but also for people like me, who have literally no knowledge of this stuff.

17. The Ones Below

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn

Directed by: David Farr

British writer-director Farr has gone for the classic cinematic duo of parenthood and paranoia for his feature debut. Kate and Justin (Poésy and Campbell Moore) are expecting their firstborn and trying to work through their fears and insecurities when they get new neighbours in the flat below, who are also about to add their own bundle of joy to the family. Then comes a tragic accident, and the friendships tentatively formed turn sour – and then sinister. Is the paranoia justified, or is it all in the feverishly overactive minds of most parents? Farr's film borrows from greater, older works – and he has hopefully made a more than competent movie of his own.

18. Elstree 1976

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: David Prowse, Garrick Hagon, Jeremy Bulloch

Directed by: Jon Spira

It's a strong year for British documentaries at this year's LFF, and this one looks to be the crowdpleaser: a mix of Star Wars (and its attendant obsessives) and the many British men and women who helped bring the vision to life at Elstree Studios back in 1976. This charming and warm documentary has just 10 of that merry band of bit performers who all played their part in one of the most successful film franchises of all time, talking about their lives pre- and post-Star Wars. You may shed a tear or two.

19. La Noire De... (Black Girl)

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinek, Robert Fontaine

Directed by: Ousmane Sembène

La Noire De... is the story of Diouana (the black girl of the title) who moves to France from Senegal to work for a rich French couple. In Antibes, she is mistreated by her employees – the promise of the continuation of her governess job is broken – and they force her to work as a servant. Sembène's 1966 debut feature, lovingly restored by The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project (and back on the big screen in association with MOBO Film) addresses big themes: racism and the effects of colonialism in forming post-colonial identities across continents, as well as more quotidian concerns such as the leaching of Diouana's hope into despair. There's a new documentary on Sembène's incredibly interesting life and work also showing at the festival, and if you can't make it to the National Film Theatre, then you'll be pleased to know La Noire De... is also available on Blu-ray and DVD from 19 October.

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20. The Lady in the Van

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Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings Jim Broadbent, Frances De La Tour

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

The original 1999 production of this Alan Bennett play was a barnstorming success – nominated for play of the year at the 2000 Olivier Awards – and now Bennett's adapted it for the big screen, with the same director (Hytner) and many of the same cast. It's the true story of Mary Shepherd, a woman who lived for 15 years in a decrepit van in Bennett's Camden driveway back in the late 1960s. All the ingredients for cosy and heartwarming film are right here: a sparky Dame Maggie Smith reprising her role as Shepherd, tidy British manners, and the cream of British stage and screen popping up and doing their thing with a witty and quietly devastating script about co-dependency, loneliness, and human frailty.

21. They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Songhoy Blues, Kharia Arby, Moussa Sidi

Directed by: Johanna Schwartz

When militants took control of northern Mali back in 2012, they also delivered a harsh diktat of another sort: They banned all forms of music. Considering Mali's strong and proud musical tradition, this was tantamount to a crime against humanity. To enforce this, the militants burned down radio stations, and musicians had their instruments destroyed and their lives threatened. It forced some of the country's most talented musicians into exile, and Schwartz's film follows them and captures the fight to keep their music (and their spirits) alive.

22. Carol

Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Director Todd Haynes' latest, about a woman in the long moment of self-discovery, is lush-looking. Carol (Blanchett), an elegant married woman in mid-century America, is in a marriage that's breaking down when she meets Therese (Mara), a shopgirl-cum-wannabe photographer. Their attraction is instant, their connection deep and powerful and its existence is completely out of the question. Based on Patricia Highsmith's 1952 scandalous-for-its-time novel The Price of Salt, this is superlatively beautiful, lightly cerebral, and passionate filmmaking, as anyone who has seen Haynes' previous work (Mildred Pierce, Far From Heaven) has come to expect. Both Mara and Blanchett have already received a rapturous response from critics. The stellar supporting cast bodes well for the final product too.

23. Office

Courtesy of BFL London Film Festival

Starring: Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei

Directed by: Johnnie To

A sleek and stylish musical? Set in a hideously corporate, billion-dollar Hong Kong company? Yes, please! CEO Chang (Sylvia Chang, who also produced and adapted the screenplay from her own 2008 play Design For Living) runs a tight ship, and has been promised a big slice of the pie by her lover, Chairman Ho (Chow Yun-Fat) when the company goes public. But as the IPO auditors begin their delving, something starts to smell rotten. We get a front seat to all the intrigue through the eyes of two interns, who are themselves learning how to survive the corporate dog-eat-dog world. This should be a treat.

24. Goosebumps

Hopper Stone / SMPSP

Starring: Jack Black, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush

Directed by: Rob Letterman

For those of us of a certain age, R.L. Stine's Goosebumps is woven into the DNA of our childhoods, and here at last is a big-screen appearance for the children's horror series. When his mother is offered a vice-principal position at a school in Madison, Jack is forced to move house against his wishes. In their quiet new neighbourhood, Jack forms a crush on Hannah, the girl next door whose dad is hiding a very big secret... Letterman's film looks fun and the right kind of scary (the BFI suggests it's suitable for kids aged 6 and up) and just enough of a nod to the non-children to keep them entertained as well (Slappy the ventriloquist doll, above, is scary at any age).

25. Tangerine

Augusta Quirk / Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone

Directed by: Sean Baker

With all the noise around The Danish Girl, chances are this is the movie with trans protagonists you probably haven't heard of... Fresh out of a brief jail stint, Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) meets up with her best friend, Alexandra (Taylor). The pair, who are sex workers on Santa Monica Boulevard, then go in search of the former's cheating man (The Wire and Generation Kill alumnus Ransone) to dole out some justice. That's it, that's the whole movie. But the basic plot gives way to something much more tender and visceral and beautiful than suggested on paper. Director Baker and his co-cinematographer Radium Cheung (previously a director of photography on TV's The Americans) filmed the movie on iPhone 5s, and filmed dolly shots from cycles, and the colours are all big and bold and beautiful. The result is part road movie, part laugh-out-loud comedy-drama. It's also a beautiful portrait of female friendship. The critics love it, and chances are you will too.

26. My Scientology Movie

Red Box Films

Directed by: John Dower

It's been a bumper year for anyone fascinated by the Church of Scientology – first, Alex Gibney's Going Clear, the announcement of a Leah Remini tell-all memoir about her time in the church, and now this, a collaboration between documentary-maker Louis Theroux and director John Dower about the church. And really, who better to delve into such a notoriously private, eccentric world than Theroux? He attempts to enter the church headquarters (his request is firmly turned down) and uses actors to reconstruct incidents reported by ex-members of the organisation. In a twist, it turns out the church is also making a film about Theroux...