The 2018 BFI London Film Festival (LFF) ran from 10-21 October, finishing with me meeting Jessica Hynes, I mean with a red carpet world premiere for crowd favourite Stan & Ollie – bringing to a close weeks of press screenings, public screenings, director panels and events.
Many of the big-name films had already been shown at other festivals, and at times it does feel as if there’s a moviemaker caravan trundling round the world from festival to festival.
That said, I got to see some incredible movies – some brilliantly made, some sheer spectacle, some which didn’t quite work but at least tried to do or say something different – well before their UK releases.
Read my movie round-up below (I’ve included the trailers where available on the review pages) – or check out my article on attending LFF as Press.
Assassination Nation | Mandy | Sorry To Bother You | Colette | The Favourite | They Shall Not Grow Old | The Guilty | Border | Suspiria | Stan & Ollie | The Front Runner | The Fight | Sometimes Always Never
Imagine The Purge crossed with Heathers and liberally dosed in more blood than Carrie and that’s a good approximation of Sam Levinson’s film, where a small American town turns on its young women for doing exactly what society has told them to do – until they fight back.
A town-wide computer hack has brought secrets to the surface, and soon teenage high schooler Lily is blamed; and she and her friends targeted by a vicious and misogynistic mob.
This is a noisy, obvious and frenetic satire that didn’t say anything new about society or how we treat young women, but it’s an entertaining allegory – and is probably needed to make people sit up and take notice.
Nothing to do with the Barry Manilow song, though it’s impossible not to croon it under one’s breath whenever you hear the title.
Nicolas Cage stars as Red in this brutal revenge story that looks like the cover of one of those 1980s doorstop fantasy novels.
After a substandard but highly dangerous cult kidnaps him and his girlfriend Mandy, Red seeks retribution in a hugely violent, emotional yet disarmingly funny manner.
Imagine John Wick on acid but without the dog (they do fuck up his favourite T-shirt though).
Sorry To Bother You
A brutal commentary on capitalism, racism and class and how they intersect, Sorry To Bother You isn’t subtle. It is funny and shocking though.
Lakeith Stanfield is Cassius Green, living in his uncle’s garage, broke and desperate for a job.
Starting working at telemarketing company RegalView, he finds success once he starts using his white voice (though “not Will Smith white”).
Propelled upstairs to become a well-paid Power Caller, soon Cassius discovers the terrible secret (you will go “wtf?”) behind top client WorryFree’s business model.
Historical Drama But Not As You Know It
Don’t be put off by yet another Keira Knightley period drama; yes there are aspidistras and pretty dresses but this is a more acerbic affair than you might be expecting.
Married to big name author Willy (he pays people to pen his books for him), Colette (Keira Knightley) starts writing about her own life, though her books too are published as written by him.
Sales explode and young women across Paris start to identify with the fictionalised heroine Claudine – and Colette starts to tire of Willy’s adultery and the lack of attribution of her books.
Finding herself through her writing and her new relationships (at one point she and Willy are having separate clandestine affairs with the same woman) Colette faces down society’s expectations and finally finds her own path.
Ultimately this is quite a straightforward true story, though its message about breaking away from society’s norms of womanhood is timely.
Based on the real life friendship between Queen Anne, Sarah Duchess of Devonshire and Sarah’s impoverished cousin Abigail, this is a hilarious tale of favouritism and social climbing with a wardrobe to die for, and men in far more make up than women – though it’s also rather poignant.
Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Anne (Olivia Colman) have been friends for years. They’re also sometimes lovers, though as befits their respective status, this results in more giving than receiving on Sarah’s part. (The sex isn’t central though it’s good to have more movie sex scenes involving middle aged women, particular the kinds of women who wear a lace bonnet to bed.)
Then along comes Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah’s who has fallen on hard times since her impoverished father lost her in a card game to a German with a thin penis.
Who will win the battle to be the ultimate woman on top?
The performances are terrific, and the often bitter conversational volleys are not only hilarious but will introduce some exciting 18th century phrases to your vocabulary (I expect you all to be using “cunt-struck” regularly from now on).
They Shall Not Grow Old
Peter Jackson’s extraordinary documentary is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It’s an incredible watch – though steel yourself if you’re the parent of a teenage boy (or are a teenage boy!) as some of these kids sent to the Western Front were only 15.
Jackson and his team has colourised genuine footage and re-recorded chatter (he used lipreaders and actors to recreate the speech you see in the film clips).
Enlightening (I had no idea we had tanks in 1916), harrowing (bodies lie hang in barbed wire to rot), and real (soldiers give their genuine feels about the war) you won’t see anything like this for a long time.
The grinning young men and boys often have huge gaps in their teeth, and many were too unfit and unhealthy to be sent to fight when they signed up. Instead they were put on a plain diet with exercises and lots of tea, and grew about an inch before they left for the war.
Some of them loved it, some of them hated it, some were indifferent, some wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
This blindsiding Danish thriller is set in one claustrophobic emergency dispatchers’ office, where policeman Asger (Cedergren) tackles timewasters and fakers.
But when a woman calls in and tells him she’s being kidnapped, he becomes too involved in her rescue – and in his desperation to be a hero traps himself in a web of assumptions.
Cedergren is exceptional as the demoted policeman who’s desperate to be back on the streets, and is way too confident for his own good – in a taut and stunning movie that has no other co-stars apart from some voices on the end of a phone line.
Two strange-looking misfits find each other in Sweden, in a story that blends myth and legend with modern life and a “what if?” story.
Tina is a border guard with the unusual ability to sniff out guilt and shame; she’s unlike her colleagues but they respect her and she lives a quiet life in the forest.
One day she meets Vore. He looks like her, but he’s definitely odd, pushing into her personal space, and she’s hugely attracted to him in a way she doesn’t understand.
They bond over maggot-eating, enjoy extraordinary sex in the forest, and he tells her what they really are and about their terrible history – but there’s a terrible darkness to him that can’t be ignored.
Border boasts excellent performances and a very strange reveal.
The one you’ve been waiting for since 1977! If you’re into witch’s covens and ballet, that is.
Luca Guadagnino’s version of Dario Argento’s lurid and melodramatic classic is very different to the original so don’t go in expecting a straight remake.
Dakota Johnson is Susie Bannion, a young dancer who starts training at a German dance academy headed by the icy Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton).
Set in 1970s Berlin and entwining stories about German terrorism and the secrets of WW2, Susie is an ambivalent character.
Performances are excellent though it’s all rather grey (there’s none of the bright colour and paint-like blood of the original), interspersed with gruesome interludes – until the last section, where we get some marvellous scenes of dance and death (and some horror shocks).
Crowd Pleasers (Especially For Geordies)
Stan & Ollie
This is the story behind Laurel and Hardy’s theatre tour around the UK in 1953 (starting off in Newcastle), while they wait for pre-production to happen on their latest movie.
Their first shows are almost empty but the jokes are still funny even though everyone’s heard them before.
As they travel the country, buried tensions and slights reappear – can the showbiz troupers hold it together? With their wives Lucille and Ida providing an abrasive double act all of their own, this is a warm and witty movie that will bring them a whole new legion of fans (including me).
Steve Coogan and John C Reilly are excellent (though Stan is the more interesting character); and Rufus Jones as promoter Bernard Delfont is fantastically slippery.
Biopics (Bio-pic? BiOH-pic?)
The Front Runner
I appear to have enjoyed this movie a lot more than most.
Starring Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, and if there was a best wig Oscar he would certainly win it. Hart’s hair is a marvel and is jokingly claimed to be responsible for a measurable opinion poll points surge.
The story of Hart’s downfall while campaigning for the Democratic nomination in 1988, it makes Donna Rice, the young woman he had an affair with, a bit of a footnote for him and the movie.
Director Jason Reitman asks important questions about the press and politicians, though the film never comes down on one side or another. Don’t expect a sympathetic portrait of Hart though, as he’s certainly held to account.
Did I tell you I met Jessica Hynes? The Fight is her directoral debut, and she also wrote and stars in it. Tina is a frazzled mum who takes up boxing to deal with the stresses in her life, but who finds her past risks fracturing her present.
She uses a scattergun approach to selfcare, mixing a mindfulness app with running, fitness classes and the odd cigarette.
But when her daughter Emma reveals she’s being bullied by ex-friend Jordan, and her parents’ own marriage starts cracking, Tina has to face up to her own childhood.
This is a small scale slice of life, with some wonderful performances – particularly from Sennia Nanua as Emma, and Liv Hill as bully Jordan. And there’s a twist! (Which I won’t spoiler for you.)
Sometimes Always Never
Retired tailor Alan (Bill Nighy) is searching for eldest son Michael who’s been missing since storming out of the house over a game of Scrabble (that would not be unusual in my family).
His relationship with other son Peter is crumbling, and none of them are able to move their family forward – until Alan becomes convinced that the anonymous person he’s playing Scrabble with online is actually Michael, trying to communicate with his father.
This is a moving and at times very funny film that uses wordplay as a weapon and a way to bond; and you’ll learn plenty of new words (though unlike The Favourite, no-one uses “cunt-struck”.)