London Film Festival – highlights roundup

My top 22 features from the London Film Festival 2019! If you get a chance to see any of these, please do check them up – they are all hugely recommended.

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  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Sciamma) – Utterly devastating; on a single watch it instantly secures a position as the greatest romance of the decade.
  2. Marriage Story (Baumbach) – Reminiscent of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. Second waterworks of the festival. Everyone knocks this out of the park: Driver is the best he’s ever been. Pure knockout.
  3. The Lighthouse (Eggers) – Eggers goes from strength to strength – a delirious two-hander, magnificently wrought from Pattison and Defoe’s bravura performances, and shot in stunning black and white.
  4. Zombi Child (Bonello) – A sly, provocative, troubling postcolonial satire. Showcases Bonello’s instincts for juxtapositions & endings, refuses to force meaning on the audience. Bonello is one of the best directors working today, in part as he has such a phenomonal grasp of the power of the edit.
  5. Monos (Landes) – That Mica Levi score! Those stunning vistas! That feral scrabble for love, for power, for life… loved it. Lord of the Flies meets Aguirre Wrath of God. Child soldiers in the clouds and in the rivers, out on the edge of forever.
  6. Uncut Gems (Safdie & Safdie) – Masterfully orchestrated nightmare barrage of panic, & self-sabotage. I loved its itchy editing & layered cacophony of voices. A suffocating vision: 15% of the audience had to walk out, gasping at the night air.
  7. Deerskin (Dupieux) – Like a soft-Haneke farce. Gently absurd, with a bleak edge and a cheeky grin. Doesn’t outstay its welcome. Perfectly paced, with the escalations doled out nicely.
  8. Knives Out (Johnson) – Rian’s best: kinetic, playful, knowing & fun. A classic murder mystery comedy romp: had the audience erupting into laughter throughout. Knew it would be good; did not expect a Gravity’s Rainbow joke! Joy!
  9. Heart (Jeong) – Jeong Ga-young goes from strength to strength. A more playful, funnier spin on Hong Sang-soo’s meta filmmaker games. Lightness of touch here belies hidden depths. Deadpan, spiky, quasi-slacker charm to spare. Jeong has comic timing for days. Also: ghosts! I loved it.
  10. Our Ladies (Caton-Jones) – Left me in tears. Wouldn’t have guessed that from the opening 10 min, but sometimes movies surprise you as they go. Coming of age romp: Catholic schoolgirls go rogue on alcopop & sambucca in ‘96. A gem.
  11. Bacurau (Filho & Dornelles) – A violent, heartfelt yell in support of communitarian anarchism. I’ve never heard a reaction to a film like the one I heard when Bacurau’s credits rolled. Singing, whistling, yells of “Lulu Libre! Lulu Libre!” (Look it up). Under the pavement, the ammunition.
  12. The Last Black Man In San Francisco (Talbot) – Such a fantastic opening. Some pacing/structural issues in the back half take the edge off, but as a whole it’s a great entry into the pantheon of San Francisco movies. Great performances, and the moment-to-moment editing is… *chefs kiss*.
  13. Saint Maud (Glass) – Engrossingly tense horror/thriller film. A deft directorial touch, rich imagery & a savage edge. The final shot is delightfully nasty.
  14. Atlantics (Diop) – Mati Diop’s admirable ruminative fantasy of border crossings: Senegal to Spain, childhood to marriage, this world to the next. Potent images: the white eyes of the possessed, a policeman staggering home as he seems to zombify.
  15. Invisible Life (Ainouz) – Rage rage rage against the patriarchy & toxic masculinity, both in this era (50s) & in the present regime in Brazil that this film foreshadows. A “women’s picture” melodrama that turns into a scream of pure anger.
  16. So Long My Son (Xiaoshuai) – Epic tale of a Chinese working-class couple and their attempts to have, or to replace, a child. A brutal assault on the tear-ducts. This one will stick with me.
  17. The Irishman (Scorsese) – The Irishman is suddenly GREAT in the last 30m, veering into Scorsese’s real concern; making peace with death. Pesci is sublime throughout.
  18. Give Me Liberty (Mikhanovsky) – Early ‘Safdie Brothers’ vibes: as if Good Time was set over one day with a kind, good hearted, social services van driver at the end of his tether. Manic, stressful, hilarious, and fully socially committed. Two thumbs up!
  19. Fanny Lye Deliver’d (Clay) – Folk Thriller: libertines in the barn, a patriarch with a whip & a nosy sheriff: Cromwell’s Shropshire never seemed so horny. Can under-the-thumb Fanny come out on top? Great period soundtrack, and fabulous ending.
  20. David Copperfield (Iannuci) – Absolutely delightful. A real you’ll-laugh-you’ll-cry joy. And I never knew Dickens had written such a warm, loving description of a schizophrenic! Wonderful performances – this truly deserves to do very, very well indeed.
  21. Bad Education (Finley) – The standout performance is from Allison Janney. What a gift we have in her. Hugh Jackman and Ray Romano (!) are also very good. Twists, turns, escalations, a gradual loss of moral clarity, and best of all they didn’t stick pictures of “the real characters” over the credits.
  22. The Painted Bird (Marhoul) – As if Lars Von Trier dispensed with his sense of humour, and decided to do a nearly 3-hour spin on Ivan’s Childhood. I liked it!

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