For film lovers, autumn means one thing: summer’s underwhelming crop of blockbusters are gone, replaced by a new clutch of films jostling for awards consideration. Spanning 242 feature films and 128 shorts from 67 countries across 12 days, this year’s BFI London Film Festival is the perfect chance for you to get ahead on the films that everyone will be talking about come January. And while other film festivals have hit the headlines for leaving female filmmakers woefully under-represented, our capital is doing (slightly) better, with 25 percent of titles directed by women. A small proportion yes, but a step forward from last year’s 20 percent. From Emma Stone’s La La Land follow-up to buzzed about Sundance favourites, here are a handful of our favourites…
1. Call Me By Your Name
The most buzzed-about title by far from this year's Sundance Film Festival? Call Me By Your Name, a same-sex love story that doubles up as an unfeasibly photogenic coming-of-age tale, starring Armie Hammer and new face Timothée Chalamet. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the man behind the aesthetically pleasing likes of A Bigger Splash and I Am Love, it’s set against a dreamily sun-drenched Italian Riviera (perfect escapism for a British autumn) and follows a summer romance between a teenager (Chalamet) and an older grad student (Hammer).
It’ll drop onto your Netflix dashboard next month, but this year’s festival presents a chance to catch Mudbound on a screen bigger than a sheet of A4 – so take it. This sweeping and timely American epic made waves at Sundance earlier this year, before being snapped up for $12.5 million by the streaming service (with one eye not-so subtly trained on 2018’s awards circuit). Starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and Mary J. Blige (yes, that Mary J.), Mudbound weaves together the stories of two Mississippi families in the years following World War Two, as they grapple with a harsh, unforgiving landscape and the glaring inequalities of the Jim Crow-era Deep South.
3. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
After The Beguiled comes this year’s second (and best) Colin Farrell – Nicole Kidman billing. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, arthouse director Yorgos Lanthimos’ second English-language film, is surreal and harrowing, its humour pitched even blacker than his 2015 sleeper hit The Lobster. Farrell is a seemingly successful surgeon who attempts to welcome a clearly troubled teen, played by Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan, into his picture-perfect family. What follows is a dreamily shot and unbearably visceral riff on the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia – with the added bonus of the scene-stealing Alicia Silverstone comeback we’ve been waiting for since the ‘90s.
4. Battle Of The Sexes
How to follow up an all-singing, all-dancing, (almost) all-Oscar conquering turn in La La Land? For Emma Stone, the answer was swapping tap shoes for tennis shoes in Battle of the Sexes. Yes, it’s an awards-baiting sports biopic, but don’t let that put you off: directed by the husband and wife duo behind the endearingly offbeat Little Miss Sunshine, it tells the story of the legendary showdown between women’s champion Billie Jean King (Stone) and the chauvinistic Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell). Given the prehistoric attitudes to female athletes which certain (male) commentators can still be relied upon to dish up, the 1973 episode still feels timely; off court, the film also explores King coming to terms with her sexuality.
5. On Chesil Beach
After earning her first Oscar nomination (aged just 13) for Atonement nearly 10 years ago, Saoirse Ronan returns for another Ian McEwan book-to-film adaptation (this one with a script by McEwan himself). Based on the Booker-nominated novella and set in 1962 (the year before sex ‘began,’ as Philip Larkin would put it in Annus Mirabilis) On Chesil Beach follows a newly married couple on their honeymoon, tentatively preparing to navigate the physical and emotional awkwardness of their first night together. Billy Howle stars opposite Ronan, alongside Emily Watson and Anne-Marie Duff.
Awards season means one thing: an influx of weepy biopics set in the 1950s, all underpinned with an against-the-odds underdog story for maximum uplift factor (we’re calling it the Theory of Everything effect). Breathe, the directorial debut of Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis, neatly ticks off all of those prerequisites, but we’re willing to forgive it thanks to the central pairing of Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy. Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a young man who becomes paralysed after contracting polio. Given just a few weeks to live, he and his wife (Foy) disregard his diagnosis to blaze a trail for disability rights. It'll probably make you cry; embrace it.
Playing out like a millennial Cruel Intentions with darker laughs and an even darker ending, Thoroughbreds is as poised and fast-paced as its title would suggest. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke make a compellingly twisted duo as Lily and Amanda, two privileged Connecticut teens who’d drifted apart until the latter’s mum bribes the former to assist her daughter with SAT prep. Type-A Lily soon becomes fascinated by Amanda – and by the grim neighbourhood whispers about what happened to her pet horse – and recruits her into an increasingly sinister campaign against her hateful stepfather.
8. Ingrid Goes West
Social media satire Ingrid Goes West has influencer culture in its sights, skewering our obsession with watching other people’s shiny, beautiful lives play out on screen. In a darkly funny cautionary tale for the Instagram generation, Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid, a twenty-something who heads west when her life starts to fall apart. Her goal? To befriend Taylor Sloane, an impossibly perfect influencer (played by Elizabeth Olsen) with an equally Insta-genic life. Soon, she’s managed to ingratiate herself with her virtual idol but – spoiler alert – the life of a professional Instagrammer isn’t quite as #aspirational as it appears on screen…
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