This year, narrowing down my list of picks from the London Film Festival’s stellar line up has proven even more difficult than usual – there’s such a wealth of potential riches in the 2016 line-up. My colleague Michael has also contributed his picks, so for more top choices, click here – as usual, we’ve had to fight it out over some titles. Here are the 19 I managed to bag – in alphabetical order…
All This Panic, dir. Jenny Gage
I’m a sucker for an intimate coming-of-age movie, and All This Panic, which arrives in London with great buzz out of Tribeca, is exactly that in observational documentary form, filmed over three years in Brooklyn and focusing on two sisters, Ginger and Dusty, as they navigate the perils of high school politics and teen angst.
American Honey, dir. Andrea Arnold
When Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling road movie (which embeds us within a motley crew of young drifters as they travel the US scratching a living) premiered at Cannes, I was expecting many things, but not a show-stopping scene in a supermarket set to Rihanna’s We Found Love. For that – and other reasons – I can’t wait to revisit.
Divines, dir. Houda Benyamina
Divines snuck up on me. To begin with, it felt like a fairly unremarkable girls-in-the-hood yarn, but as the characters bedded in, I found myself swept up in the energy and emotion of the piece. I’m keen to see if a second viewing can replicate that rush.
Elle, dir. Paul Verhoeven
Of all the films on my list, this is the one. This is the one that I have an urgent need to re-watch which amounts to an almost physical itch. Tough, dangerous, funny, graceful, horrifying, mischievous, mortifying, it flies along on one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from Isabelle Huppert – or indeed anyone else. (Bonus content: there’s also a Paul Verhoeven ScreenTalk scheduled – expect provocations.)
La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle
The raves greeting the world premiere of La La Land at the Venice Film Festival suggest that Damien Chazelle has not only equalled his breakout hit Whiplash, but may actually have surpassed it. Throw an appealing cast into the mix in the form of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and this could be one of the LFF’s most satisfying offerings.
Lady Macbeth, dir. William Oldroyd
Word has it that Lady Macbeth is the film that will elevate the likeable Florence Pugh to the status of bona fide star, in what is reportedly a thrillingly effective period drama driven by passion and infidelity.
LFF Connects: Television – Black Mirror
Black Mirror is one of the most exciting small screen shows of the past five years, so I’m raring to see creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, plus Joe Wright (who directs the first episode of the new series), discuss the dystopian series live.
Manchester by the Sea, dir. Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, Manchester By The Sea is only Kenneth Lonergan’s third film as a director. Following on from the lush epic that was Margaret, if it’s even half as good as that film, it will be well worth your time.
Mindhorn, dir. Sean Foley
Julian Barratt is MI5 Special Operative Bruce Mindhorn, who has a super-advanced optical lie detector in place of his left eye, enabling him to literally “see the truth.” Sold.
Nocturnal Animals, dir. Tom Ford
Whether you loved or loathed director Tom Ford’s glossy high-end commercial aesthetic in A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals will be worth a watch. An adaptation of Tony & Susan, a strange and compelling art house page-turner of a novel, the book’s meta-textual thriller structure should provide Ford’s visual flourishes with a more robust underlying skeleton.
Planetarium, dir. Rebecca Zlotowski
Rebecca Zlotowski’s Grand Central was a memorable Un Certain Regard entry for me in 2013, with scorching hot chemistry between leads Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux. Her follow-up, Planetarium, was anticipated as a likely Cannes entry this year and didn’t make an appearance, so I’m now extra curious to see what a combination of Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp and supernatural shenanigans in pre-war France can offer up.
Prevenge, dir. Alice Lowe
Dating back to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Alice Lowe has always been a talent to watch, but the electrifying response from those who’ve already seen her directorial debut about a pregnant serial killer in which she also stars suggests she’s about to take it to a whole new level…
Raw, dir. Julia Durcournau
This is one I’ve already seen, but am chomping at the bit to see again. Grisly cannibal horror meets campus hijinks in a Suspiria-esque hermetically-sealed universe, where logic bends and warps as a freshman student finds herself acquiring a taste for human flesh. A must-see.
Safari, dir. Ulrich Seidl
After training an unflinching lens on the frequently bizarre goings on in Austrian basements in off-beat doc In The Basement, Ulrich Seidl brings his darkly humorous formality and impeccable composition to the world of big game trophy hunting, in what is likely to be one of the most upsetting watches of the festival.
The 13th, dir. Ava DuVernay
Tracing the history of racial prejudice in the US justice system, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th couldn’t be tackling a more timely subject. The title refers to the 13th amendment, which supposedly outlaws slavery, but contains the notable get out clause: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
The Autopsy of Jane Doe, dir. André Øvredal
A corpse is perfectly preserved on the outside – but inside, is dissected and burned in a possibly ritualistic mutilation. It’s a grisly, gripping set-up that evokes small screen procedurals like Hannibal, a show I’ve still yet to find an effective replacement for in my TV viewing. Perhaps this will do the trick.
The Ghoul, dir. Gareth Tunley
A splendidly twisty low-budget head-scratcher from actor-turned-writer-director Gareth Tunley, The Ghoul is an auspicious debut that announces a new voice in British filmmaking. Get in on the ground floor and catch his debut now.
Toni Erdmann, dir. Maren Ade
This three hour German comedy came completely out of the left field for me when I saw it in May. There’s very little about it on paper that hints at quite how glorious, moving and funny it is – it’s a real one-off, with everything from broad comic set-pieces to heart-wrenching father-daughter bonding. Essential.
Una, dir. Benedict Andrews
After her performance in Carol last year, I will watch literally anything with Rooney Mara in, but it doesn’t hurt that the Film4-backed Una also stars the ever-brilliant Ben Mendelsohn and is based on the acclaimed play Blackbird.