60th BFI London Film Festival : Top Picks
Sport will feature strongly in a series of films at the 60th BFI London Film Festival. These are the Sports Gazette's top picks:
You Are My Sunday
Set in densely populated Mumbai, this buddy movie about a group of amateur footballers is a real treat. Milind Dhaimade’s feature debut finds a group of five men struggling to balance their busy work and home relationships with their desire to escape every Sunday to Juhu Beach – the one place with enough space to relax and play their beloved game. It’s paradise. But then, during one match a senile old man joins in and kicks the ball into a nearby political rally. The punishment for the unintended misdemeanour is harsh and the friends’ despondency at not being able to play becomes a reflection of each individual’s own pressure-cooker life, threatening to boil over and severely test their bond of friendship. Dhaimade’s depiction of straight men sharing emotions and love for each other as they struggle to win the day is both a rare and welcome sight.
Inspiring and hugely emotional doc about American football star Steve Gleason’s battle against neuro-muscular disease ALS – the ultimate story of resilience and fatherly love.
Filmed over five years, this documentary packs a huge emotional punch as it follows Gleason’s humbling battle for life and fight against the deterioration of his physical abilities. Interweaving moving video journals made for his unborn son with observational moments of his daily life with his family, his rocky relationship with his dad, his trip to Alaska and his campaign to help other ALS patients, Gleason is an inspiring portrait of a man who refuses to be defeated. It’s also a subtle examination of intergenerational father/son relationships and a rumination on what we pass on to our children. A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Gleason is a powerful story of resilience.
Bleed For This
Executively produced by Martin Scorsese, this film is based on the remarkable true story of world champion boxer Vinny ‘Paz’ Pazienza. This powerhouse drama recounts one of the most unlikely comebacks in sporting history. Miles Teller plays Paz, a native Rhode Islander who shoots to stardom after a succession of championship knockouts. At his physical peak and raking in the dollars, a near fatal car crash lands him in the hospital with a broken neck. Told he may never walk again, let alone fight, Paz sinks into depression, refusing to face up to the harsh reality of his situation. But months into the long and agonising road to recovery, the fighter makes a precarious decision to return to the gym and, unbeknownst to his friends and family, resumes work with his personal trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). After an excruciating rehabilitation regime, one year on from the accident that nearly cost him his life, Paz confounds expectations and returns to the ring.
George Best - All By Himself
The acclaimed team behind Hillsborough and The Imposter deliver an epic biopic of George Best, whose football genius was decimated by alcohol and fame.
Maradona. Pelé. Best. Northern Ireland’s legendary star remains one of the most naturally gifted footballers there has ever been. Famously called the ‘best player in the world’ by Pelé, George Best galvanised Manchester United’s five-year recovery from the tragedy of the Munich air crash. His skill and exuberance inspired them to win league titles and the European Cup, even though he was little more than a teenager. Tragically, his career in the upper echelons of sport was over before he turned 29, the result of his bruising battle with alcoholism and the crushing pressure of modern fame. (After all, this was Britain in the frenzy of Beatle-mania and 1960s youth culture, where Best was dubbed ‘El Beatle’ by the world’s media.)
In a Bulgarian hotel room, the night before an important match, two aspiring Premier League footballers anxiously await the 90 minutes that could define their future careers. As the teammates trade playful insults and chat about girls, fame and the beautiful game, a simmering tension permeates the air. With the atmosphere almost at breaking point, one of the men leans in to kiss the other, a move that profoundly impacts both of their lives. Intelligently adapted by John Donnelly from his own acclaimed play, director Ben A Williams brings a subtle sense of the cinematic to this intimate and urgent chamber piece (which opened BFI Flare this year), without losing any of the claustrophobic familiarity that made it such a sensation on the stage. Reprising his role from the original Royal Court production, Russell Tovey is a sensation as a young man battling internalised desires and self-hatred, ably matched by dynamic performances from the rest of the impressive cast.
The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Maki
This delightful low-key drama, shot in gorgeous 16mm black-and-white, tells the story of Olli Mäki, Finland’s hope for the 1962 World Featherweight boxing title. Known as the Baker from Kokkola, Mäki’s small-town life expands quickly when he’s thrust into the media spotlight. At the same time, he falls in love with a local girl. It’s an effective sports biopic, exploring the origins of personal motivation and ramping up a sense of dread as the big match approaches. But rather than offering up a clichéd account of the virtues of small town pleasures versus big city life, the film becomes a charming portrait of an introverted underdog who, though exceptionally gifted at boxing, doesn’t see it as the most important thing in the world. Winning the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, debut director Juho Kuosmanen confidently orchestrates a mood of swooning melancholy that makes the ending even sweeter.