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Preview: BFI London Film Festival 2011

Our top picks for the films of the fest...

We assembled with other weary journalists at Leicester Square's Odeon this morning for the press launch of the 2011 London Film Festival. A starry line-up of 204 films from 55 countries was due to be announced: the cream of the crop of world cinema. Also, there were free pastries, which is obviously far less important. (*burps*)

The festival's Artistic Director, Sandra Hebron, took to the stage for what will be her final festival in charge, but looked pleased to introduce a stellar showreel of new movies that are sure to have everyone talking over the next 12 months. Here are our ones to watch…

For our money, we're most looking forward to the George Clooney double-bill of political drama The Ides Of March (which he also directs) and Alexander Payne's tragi-comedy The Descendants. The Cloonmeister has been known to steal the festival out from under its homegrown talents before and we wouldn't put it past him to do it again.

Another actor with an intriguing double-header is Michael Fassbender, who continues his assault on the multiplex on all fronts. First up was a brief snippet of Fass starring as psychoanalyst Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (why, of course they showed the Keira Knightley spanking scene!), swiftly followed by a clip from Shame, director Steve McQueen's follow-up to the critically acclaimed prison drama, Hunger. Fassbender for Man Of The Year? He's certainly laying the groundwork.

A few surprises to look out for? Try Alps, the pitch black comedy from the director of unsettling Greek chiller Dogtooth – the scene in which a hospital visitor organises an impromptu game of tennis with a coma patient raised the biggest laugh of the morning. Watch out also for Nick Broomfield's documentary on US politician Sarah Palin (titled You Betcha!) and Oz crime thriller Snowtown, which has been receiving rave reviews overseas.

Elsewhere, we're extremely excited that silent film homage The Artist (pictured below) has been selected, after it caused such a sensation at Cannes earlier this year. Intense familial drama We Need To Talk About Kevin and light-hearted comedy Terri, both starring John C Reilly, also look like picks of the fest. Rachel Weisz dominates the opening and closing movies, appearing in both 360 (from the director of City Of God) and The Deep Blue Sea (which we're reliably informed does not feature any sharks, for shame).

Frankly, there are too many films of note to mention: we haven't even touched on Sean Penn's This Must Be The Place, Ralph Fiennes' take on Coriolanus, Michael Shannon's Take Shelter, Michael Winterbottom's Freida Pinto-starring Trishna or – ahem – Madonna's period drama W.E., which prompted sniggers from the assembled crowd before a single second of footage had been shown. Not that we're expecting a stinker or anything. No ma'am.

When the lights went up and the attending press trudged out into the building site that is Leicester Square, the mood was upbeat – although that may have had something to do with the goody bags being handed out at the exit. What a bunch of blaggers we are.

Watch our trailer playlist of our top picks from this year's London Film Festival line-up below and let us know what you think @MoviesOnVM

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