The London Film Festival — our picks

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We're always pretty happy when the London Film Festival opens — as it does today — because it means a bounty of interesting movies to see, from mega-budget conceptual experiments by big-name directors to foreign language finds and odd little documentaries. Oh, and we're allowed to go to the cinema in office hours. Result! Though this year's festival doesn't have many feel-good crowd pleasers, there are some wonderful offerings in a darker vein. Here are our 10 tips of what to watch.

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1. Black Swan

A film about ballet? Yes, us too. But it's directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem For A Dream) so you can be sure that there'll be a demonic twist. Natalie Portman gives what is being heralded as a career-rebooting performance as Nina, an uptight ballerina offered the dual-role of a lifetime in Swan Lake. She can do the angelic, prim "white swan", but can she conjure up the primal, sexual power of the "black swan"? Or will she spit feathers and see the role go to her mysterious new rival, Lily (Mila Kunis)? Showing 22, 24 and 25 October

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2. 127 Hours

You probably heard about Aron Ralston, the real-life adventurer who, after a climbing mishap, found himself wedged under a boulder in a Utah canyon and who slowly — oh so slowly — began to realise that there was only way for him to get out alive (and it involved leaving a little piece of him behind). We're hopeful Danny Boyle will shake off the Slumdog cheese to bring us a gritty tale portrayed with his customary panache. And considering Ralston is played by our current cover star James Franco, we'd say the odds are very good indeed. Showing 28 October (ticket ballot)

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3. Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel and adapted by Alex Garland (The Beach), is the story of three young friends (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley) from an English boarding school. But their lives are full of unusual rules and fears and restrictions; soon it becomes apparent — to them and us — that they are being raised for a sinister and terrible purpose. Showing 13 (ticket ballot), 15 and 18 October

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4. It's Kind Of A Funny Story

Producer-director couple Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have already produced two powerful films — Half Nelson, about a drug addicted teacher played by Ryan Gosling, and Sugar, about an immigrant baseball player. From the sounds of things they're going lighter this time, with Zach Galifianakis as a mental patient who befriends a young newcomer. OK, maybe not that much lighter. Showing 19, 20 and 21 October

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5. Meek's Cutoff

The characters in this historical drama, set in 1845, might well have felt some kinship to Aron Ralston from 127 Hours — after setting out on the Oregon trail, they lose their way and tensions run high as food and water run low. But at least they've got each other... Right? Kelly Reichardt, who directed the sublime and subtle Wendy And Lucy, about an aimless girl who loses her dog, reunites with Michelle Williams here. Showing 18 and 19 October

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6. Submarine

We profiled author Joe Dunthorne back when his debut novel, Submarine, was first published in 2008, so we're pleased to see his hilarious, teen coming-of-age story getting what looks to be a deservingly funny screen adaptation. The comedy credentials are backed up by The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade, who directs. Also, just to be confusing, there's another film called Submarino: it's the latest by Danish director Thomas Vintenberg (Festen), about two addict brothers, and also looks quite good. Either would be fine by us. Submarine is showing 22, 23 and 27 October; Submarino is showing 24 and 26 October

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7. Biutiful

We're not sure what the crazy spelling is all about, but we're still intrigued to see Javier Bardem play Uxbal, a single father by day and street hustler by night who — if that weren't enough — also has Derek Acorah powers to commune with the dead. It's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first Spanish language film since 21 Grams and Babel, and we're sure it'll be as visceral and riveting as his past work. Showing 26 and 27 October

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8. Everything Must Go

After regaining some of his comedy power with The Other Guys, Will Ferrell is probably right to do a smaller, funny-man-shows-range type of project, which this offering from writer-director Dan Rush certainly is. Based on a Raymond Carver short story, it's a low-key drama about Nick, a middle-aged alcoholic who discovers his wife has left him in dramatic style — by putting all his possessions out onto their front lawn. Nick's response? A yard sale. Showing 16, 17 and 18 October

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9. Catfish

Quickly gaining a reputation as the "other" Facebook film, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's documentary reveals Schulman's brother Nev's quest to find out just how social a network it really is, by befriending a family at random. Of course, he may well have an agenda, and yes, it may well involve hot girls, but that didn't stop this being a much-tipped film at Sundance and, by all accounts, a clever and sinister piece of movie-making. Showing 23 and 25 October

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10. The Tillman Story

Pat Tillman was a perfect war hero. A handsome former NFL player who enlisted to the US Army and served multiple tours of duty, before he was killed in Afghanistan in 2003. What happened to him next was where things got complicated: as the Bush administration tried to mythologise his story, his family — and particularly his mother Dannie — were determined not to gloss over the difficult questions or to misrepresent a complex man, as this documentary from Amir Bar-Lev takes pains to show. Showing on 20, 21 and 23 October

The 54th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, runs from 13 to 28 October in various London cinemas. For venue information and to book tickets call 020 7928 3232 or go to bfi.org.uk/lff