The 61st edition of the London Film Festival (LFF) is fast approaching, and we’ve done all the hard work of going through the extensive programme of 242 films to bring you all the highlights from around the world.
We already knew this British film was going to open the London Film Festival this year, but that hasn’t dampened our excitement in the slightest. The sweeping nature of the cinematography, two attractive leads in Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Claire Foy (Netflix’s The Crown) and a weepy true story have us hooked.
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Battle of the Sexes
Steve Carell and Emma Stone were last seen together in the superb Crazy Stupid Love (2011), and they’re back as sparring partners in this true story of one of the most incredible sporting events ever. Forget the circus that was the Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather fight, this tennis battle saw old-fashioned sexist Bobby Riggs (Carell) challenge Billie Jean King (Stone), one of the best players of all-time, go head to head.
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The world’s first fully painted feature film delivered in the style of the titular Vincent Van Gogh, this technical masterpiece has already won praise for its trailer and concept… we can only guess how good the finished work will be. The Polish movie depicts the tumultuous life of the artist with a voice cast that includes Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan and Poldark star Aidan Turner.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The hotly-anticipated closing film of the festival promises to be one to remember. Directed by In Bruges (2008) helmer Martin McDonagh, the film stars Frances McDormand as a desperate woman who decides to take matters into her own hands when the local law enforcement of Ebbing are unable to find the people responsible for her daughter’s murder. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell play the increasingly exasperated police officers.
Call Me By Your Name
An achingly beautiful story of teenage love has been taking critical praise since the start of the year. We were lucky enough to see it early ourselves and all we can say is that it more than lives up to the hype. Armie Hammer plays an American student who visits a professor in Italy and stays with him and his family for the summer. Their 17-year-old son is enamoured by the newcomer and soon finds his feelings are reciprocated. All the highs (and lows) of teen life are played out in a stunning setting and with a welcome dollop of 1980’s nostalgia.
This biting satire on modern life comes from Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska), Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon. In a world where life is better if you choose to miniaturise yourself through the marvels of sciences, one man decides to take the plunge only to be left stranded when his wife changes her mind at the last minute. The film has been winning rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival and will arrive in London with plenty of awards buzz.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Colin Farrell re-teams with director Yorgos Lanthimos and follows up the quirky fantasy of The Lobster (2015) with something far darker. A doctor (Farrell) befriends the son of a patient who died at his hands. In a disturbingly calm manner, the youngster (an outstanding turn from Barry Keoghan) informs his new friend that someone will have to pay for the death of his father. The brutality of the set up creeps up on you, but when it arrives it is utterly devastating.
A psycho-sexual thriller from French director François Ozon (something of a regular at the London Film Festival), this movie channels Hitchcock at his best. A former model (Marine Vacth) falls for a handsome psychiatrist and embarks on a steamy affair. Mystery and suspicion arise when a twin appears on the scene, only for more secrets to materialise.
The Florida Project
How do you follow up a breakout hit like the mesmerisingly effective Tangerine (2015)? Well, in the case of Sean Baker, you take inspiration from The Little Rascals series and focus on a child star (Brooklynn Kimberly) as the adult world around her plays out as a secondary concern. This one looks like another hit for the singular vision of the filmmaker.
Films about filmmakers are a tricky business. No one really cares about the inner turmoil of the more successful directors out there, and few are more lauded than French auteur Jean-Luc Godard. Fortunately, our entry into the then tumultuous 1960s in Paris is an actress (played by Stacy Martin) who not only falls for Godard (Louis Garrel) but also ends up marrying him.
Two trailers really stood out to us at the London Film Festival launch event. We’ll take a closer look at the other one shortly, but first up there’s this supernatural-tinged chiller that stunned the gathered audience into complete silence from a short promo. The last time a coming-of-age horror story was screened at LFF, is was the cannibal shocker Raw (2016) and we all know how well that went…
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A Fantastic Woman
Another film we caught up with earlier this year (at the Transylvania Film Festival, no less), is this Chilean effort that boasts a superb central performance from Daniela Vega. A trans woman is left in the unbearable position of having to tell the family of her lover that the married man has died in the shared apartment he was renting for them. Marina (Vega) faces up to all manner of abuse to get what is rightfully hers, and the film stays truthful to the characters even when it takes some fantastical flourishes in cinematography.
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You know there is more to the title when you find out that this is a Michael Haneke film. Set in Calais and focusing on an affluent construction family who are falling apart when they should be trying to keep it all together, Haneke inevitably infuses a dark sense of humour throughout the proceedings, and wallops the unfortunate players with bitter truths that hit home hard. Typical.
Beyond the Clouds
With the backdrop of Mumbai’s slums (a location that is becoming increasingly familiar to international audiences following last year’s Lion), Beyond the Clouds actually offers an outsider’s view as it is brought to us by Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi. A brother and sister find they can only rely on one another when one of them is attacked and in the resulting melee, ends up in prison. The ongoing conversation about women’s rights in India is at the core of this film, and it does a great job of also delivering an entertaining and informative experience.
Dark fairytales don’t come much darker than this Brazilian shocker. On the outskirts of São Paulo, a woman accepts the position of live-in nanny to a soon-to-be-born child. The mother-to-be is single, but crucially, very wealthy. The two form a close bond, but alarm bells start to ring when the pregnancy appears to cause strange behaviour in the host. This is said to be one of the most unique and surprising films at the festival this year…
The horror genre doesn’t get much of a look in during festival season; at best it stalks on the outside desperately trying to get a bit of attention. There are the arthouse films, as we’ve mentioned before, but this is probably the most traditional spook-fest there’s ever been at LFF. Andy Nyman brings a trio of stories previously seen on-stage to the big screen. They worked in the theatre… will they work just as well in the cinema?
The studio behind the outstanding Song of the Sea (2014) are back, and shift from celtic history to war-torn Afghanistan in this topical animation. The sole breadwinner of an impoverished family, 11-year-old Parvana is forced to cut her hair and pose as a young boy to feed those closest to her. Our hearts still ache from Song of the Sea, so we’re not sure we can cope with this, but the tone is said to be more celebratory than depressing.
Documentaries always feature heavily at this festival, and we’ll take a closer look at some others later, but for now this is the standout. Directed by and featuring feted filmmaker Agnes Varda and young artist JR, this odd couple tours small villages taking pictures of the people they meet along the way. They then plaster their faces across town in a huge format. The original French title has a poetic grace to it; Faces Places just isn’t as romantic as Visages, Villages is it?
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Why yes, that is Nicole Kidman in what is probably her 100th film of the year… we exaggerate, of course, but the ubiquitous Aussie seems to be in everything at the moment. Having wowed us on the small screen in Big Little Lies recently, Kidman puts on a Cockney accent to play a svengali in 1970’s London. Oh, and there are aliens involved as well.
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So this was the other trailer that we couldn’t contain our excitement over earlier. A Muslim convert preacher is apparently haunted by visions of Michael Jackson, an icon from his youth. The sight of a moonwalking Jacko sitting down in a mosque as our lead character delivers an impassioned sermon is eye-popping and unforgettable. We just hope the film is as good as this trailer.
There are obvious shades of Stranger Things here, as two lonely youngsters, separated by 50 years, are drawn to New York’s Natural History Museum and find their paths to be intertwined. Another surprise comes with the revelation that this is a Todd Haynes film, with the tone said to be significantly different to his previous film Carol (2015). It looks like this could be the year when established directors take on very different projects.
The London Film Festival runs from October 4–15, and tickets can be booked here.