The London Film Festival, an international cinema showcase, opens Wednesday with "360," a fittingly globe-spanning drama that moves from London to Vienna, Rio de Janeiro and Denver, Colorado.
The film by "City of God" director Fernando Meirelles stars Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in a daisy chain of interlinked love stories based on Arthur Schnitzler's century-old play "La Ronde."
The two-week festival features more than 300 features and shorts from 55 countries. It promises something for cinephiles and celebrity-watchers alike — including two star turns from George Clooney. He directed and stars in political thriller "The Ides of March" and plays a detached father thrust into a caring role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."
Stars expected on the red carpet range from funnyman Seth Rogen to dramatic powerhouse Michael Fassbender — playing both a sex addict in Steve McQueen's "Shame" and Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's psychoanalytic drama "A Dangerous Method."
Films with literary roots include Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut, "Coriolanus," Andrew Arnold's brooding "Wuthering Heights" and "Trishna," and Michael Winterbottom's India-set take on Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," starring Freida Pinto.
Founded in 1957 to show the best of the year's world cinema to a British audience, the festival has in the past few years tried to carve out a place on the international festival calendar with bigger pictures and more glittering stars.
While most of the films have already made their debuts at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto or Venice, there are 13 world premieres in the lineup, most of them new British features.
Highlights include "The Kid With a Bike," a drama from Belgium's Dardenne brothers; Nanni Moretti's Vatican satire "We Have a Pope"; Sundance hit "Martha Marcy May Marlene," starring Elizabeth Olsen as a traumatized cult runaway; and French director Michael Hazanavicius' delightful silent-film homage "The Artist."
Controversy may be provided by "W.E." — Madonna's take on the romance between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, critically derided at its Venice debut — and Roland Emmerich's Shakespeare-bashing "Anonymous," which stars Rhys Ifans as the putative true author of the Bard's plays.
On Oct. 26, the festival will hand out a best-picture prize, from a shortlist that includes "The Artist, "The Descendants," Aleksandr Sokurov's Venice Film festival winner "Faust" and Lynne Ramsay's high school massacre drama "We Need to Talk About Kevin."
The festival closes Oct. 27 with "Deep Blue Sea," which stars Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale — stiff upper lips a-quiver — in Terence Davies' adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's play about a postwar love triangle.