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Best Of BFI London Film Festival – What To Watch

Every October the British Film Institute hosts the star-studded London Film Festival featuring the very best upcoming films selected by the festival director, Clare Stewart and her team, to preview to the general public who are treated to red carpets, interviews and Q&A’s with the cast and crew of each film. It’s a wonderful event that strives to highlight the best in filmmaking while making it accessible to Londoners via subsidised initiatives such as rush queues and £5 tickets for 16-25 year olds available at every single performance.

This year was a two week marathon of evocative, brutal and beautiful storytelling that shook me to the core and also left my face near transparent from spending so long in dark rooms with my eyes open in awe! There are plenty of thorough reviews available for each film and I don’t pertain to be a critic, it seems a pretty hard job. What I am is an avid film fan and filmmaker, in that order, so instead of giving them 1-5 stars or lengthy breakdowns, I thought I’d compile my outstanding films of this year’s festival into the kind of destinations they are to me – seems fitting! I don’t always know what kind of film I want to watch from reading the summaries but I always know where I want to travel to and since films can transport a person as much as a flight can, I’m running with it!

Destination Film

Hollywood: the all-rounder, family friendly blockbuster no one will argue about
Film: Battle Of The Sexes

This film has got it all including the award-winning husband and wife directing team behind Little Miss Sunshine, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. They steer stars Emma Stone and Steve Carrell to my favourite ever performances from them and cover so many angles of what sexism truly is with the snappy dialogue and humorous sincerity that I wanted to watch the whole thing again and again as soon as it finished. Before seeing it I was turned off by the film’s drab 70’s posters and the subject of tennis but this film isn’t really about either. It’s heartwarming, funny, forgiving and powerful. Billie Jean King, the star of the show played by Stone, is recognised as the equal rights champion she was and still is (she came to the premiere in Leicester Square and was truly amazing in her positive messages and fervour for life!). I’m a huge fan of Faris and Dayton and with this film, they’ve struck gold once more and made some very important 2017 social commentary in the process.

Deep South: The one that deals with all the issues while being moving and gritty and pretty to look at
Film: Mudbound

There is an incredible performance by Garrett Hedland in this complimented by wonderful turns by Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J Blige and Jason Clarke. I liked that the plot deals with racism, class, poverty and war in equal measure. Everyone is thrown in together and no one comes out unscathed by it. Cinematography by Rachel Morrison is simply divine and I’m a huge fan of the editing style, allowing each scene to settle in your bones without ever feeling languid or predictable.

Africa: Escape into the wilderness for something completely removed from everyday life (unless you’re a safari guide or something)
Film: Jane

The story of how this came to be made is beautiful. Dr Jane Goodall became famous in the 60’s for moving to Tanzania with her mother to study chimps, eventually discovering through her observation almost everything we know about them today. Her beauty and single status made her a star back home and National Geographic sent out a photographer, Hugo Van Lawick, to document her. They fell love, had a son and started a research centre and protection programme that still provides protection and research of these chimps in the wild. All of the footage was thought to be lost until recently discovered in Nat Geo’s archives and compiled into this touching documentary by Brett Morgen.

Midwest: A cowboy is a state of mind
Film: Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri

What’s great, and also terrifying, about this film is the fact that you keep thinking it’s set years ago, only to be reminded that it’s a modern-day story, based on a true event.

Frances McDormand is sly and wry and brilliant and Sam Rockwell and Caleb Landry-Jones provide well-timed comic performances either side of her. The Washington Post called it ‘a vigilante comedy for our age’ which sums it up the most concisely. It’s not going to change your life but you will laugh out loud, gape in horror, then laugh again but a little more quietly.

England: Biting satire, anarchy, an obsession with social standing and the hilarious self-awareness that comes with it.
Film: The Party

It’s familiar Scandi-noir drawing room territory, even going so far as being in black and white, but get a staggeringly talented cast like this together and the result is immensely enjoyable. Little England drama plays out between the living room, kitchen and bathroom and it’s short and sweet (please, more of these 1 hour feature films!). I loved Timothy Spall’s performance and Patricia Clarkson is deadpan gold, delivering lines such as, ‘That’s why you never trust the yogis. Tickle an aromatherapist and you’ll find a fascist.’

Italy: Warm, lazy summer days, dining al fresco, falling in love. La Dolce Vita for 2 hours.
Film: Call Me By Your Name

I loved Guadagnino’s Bigger Splash and although this is an altogether lighter, more romantic course for the director, it was a beautiful introduction to the writing of Andre Aciman whose book by the same name this film is based upon. Featuring two straight actors playing gay, this could have been pretty flimsy but their warm relationship shines through each balmy frame, only overshadowed by the father to son speech delivered by Michael Stuhlberg in the final moments of the film. It’s easy to overlook the fact that this film is entirely about one relationship and that there is no judgement or third-party casting stones at the relationship itself. It allows you to relax into it and be transported.


Middle East:
Provocative, artistic brilliance replaces conflict, terror and suspicion.
Film: Foxtrot

This film is fantastic. It handles the touchy subject of modern Israel’s relationship with the past in a way that is loving, insightful and evocative. Israeli director Samuel Maoz gave my favourite Q&A of the festival eloquently articulating candid answers about everything from his filmmaking style to his government’s rejection of the film itself. The message is that the world is currently unbalanced and Judaism should avoid being stuck in trauma, essentially doing the Foxtrot. It’s a thought-provoking piece sure to cause a bit of debate after viewing, but a worthy debate to have. Sarah Adler and Lior Ashkenazi act their delightful socks off.


Disneyland:
Shiny, happy, colourful and probably your secret favourite film.
Film: The Florida Project

From the moment this film opens with 6 year old Moonee (played by the potentially Oscar-winning, Brooklyn Prince) screaming, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ it had me at hello.

I watched Tangerine, Sean Baker’s last feature film entirely shot on iPhones and love that all of the children in this film are always shot at eye level, for me Baker is the future of directional American filmmaking. The Florida Project succeeds in shining a light on a poverty cycle happening next to the big money in so many cities and countries around the world while simultaneously highlighting that childhood’s microcosm, within which we’d normally pity these characters, is actually a playground of imagination, friendship and epic adventure. As viewers, we’re treated to the wider picture of Moonee’s mother struggling to stay afloat by whatever means while Willem Dafoe is outstanding as the motel manager trying to balance his heart with his head in a situation out of his control. The ending doesn’t really go anywhere, but not many of this year’s films do. It’s the best child performance I’ve ever seen and you’ll leave it smiling despite the dark subject matter.

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