It's that time of year when a little bit of Hollywood glamour comes to an unassuming block of concrete under Waterloo bridge, as the 55th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) once again rolls into town for another sixteen-day cavalcade of gala events, red carpets, celebrities, and world-class films.
This year's event is significant in that it marks the swansong for Sandra Hebron, Artistic Director of nearly a decade, who has been broadly praised for bringing the event into commerical success and critical repute, and she's determined to go out on a high.
Not everyone is dazzled by this year's line-up, however. The LFF's timing towards the end of the festival calendar means many of the banner films have already been screened at Cannes and Venice, but the relative lack of exclusives - notably, there are no world premieres this year - should not be mistaken for a classically British lack of ambition.
Attention will naturally fall on already established critical favourites: Lynne Ramsey's We Need To Talk About Kevin has received almost wholly positive notices, as has Steve McQueen's sex addiction drama Shame. Silent film tribute The Artist, the surprise hit at Cannes this year, has already been named by many critics as their favourite of the year. And George Clooney is bringing his gleaming smile to the Southbank, appearing in person to promote both The Descendants and his latest directorial effort, The Ides of March.
But there are gems to found outside of the big hitters, many of which will go on general release soon anyway. Our tips would include Headhunters, a darkly funny Norweigan thriller; Alois Nebel, a bleak and beautiful Czech animation; the Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene; and the curious doco Darwin, detailing a tiny US desert town, population 35. Conversely, if you fancy a laugh at an aging pop star's misguided vanity project, Madonna's W.E. is awful, by all accounts.
The important point to be taken from all this is that despite the lack of explosive exclusives, the LFF's enormous, broad and inclusive programme deserves your attention. The biggest film festival in the country arrives in your back yard on Wednesday and you'd be unwise to miss out.
Photo by Chris John Beckett from the Londonist Flickr Pool.