LFF 2018: What to Watch

London Film Festival is on the horizon, and with a 120-page novella of a programme, it can be hard to decide what to watch. The big gala screenings promise the cinematic hits of awards season 2019, but hidden within the festival’s numerous strands there are some real gems to be found. Luckily for you, the London Student LFF team have already combed through the offerings and are here to report back with some great recommendations.

This year’s festival features some absolutely incredible works from all around the globe, with an impressive male-to-female director ratio to boot. This year, we’re bringing five correspondents to the BFI, so I’m hoping that this piece can work as both an introduction to the programme and to our writers by way of their film tastes and genre leanings. There will, of course, be some overlap in the choices presented below but, as you’ll see, often we’re excited about the same film for very different reasons.

Georgina Bartlett


I want my nightmares to look as good as Suspiria. The original – Dario Argento’s 70’s kaleidoscope of blood and guts and neon – is an intensely immersive experience, which is why I was a little more than wary of its need to be made over. But Luca Guadagnino, from what I’ve seen so far, may just make the cut. While it’s received mixed reviews, the rework promises to add meat to the story’s bones, rather than simply dimming its visuals with a 21st century glaze.

A Private War

Rosamund Pike is at her most striking when spearheading a character study. As the title hints, A Private War captures both the work and soul of the late Marie Colvin, a renowned foreign correspondent who took the mantle of speaking truth to power and giving a voice to victims of war. Dusted in desert sand and wearing a distinctive eye patch, A Private War presents a real-life heroine of the battlefield. Its question of why she chose to live in conflict provides fertile ground for a more than capable actress.


Scrolling through the festival’s programme, Profile was one of the first to catch my eye. It employs a format used to varying degrees of success: the desktop setting. Following critics’ praise of Searching, I’m now optimistic about this chapter in the sub-genre of investigative journalism dramas. In what seems a relevant addition for the digital age, London-based journalist Amy comes too close to danger when she poses as a prospective ISIS recruit, and uncovers the group’s techniques of online persuasion: cue a real-time race of Skype calls with soldiers between quick-fire coaching from her team.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Its trailer is warm to the eye, yet settles goosebumps on the skin. This year, director Barry Jenkins takes us from Moonlight’s Miami to Harlem for what will undoubtedly draw another sumptuous, affecting, and resonant portrait of modern America. Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, Beale Street follows young lovers Tish and Fonny, torn apart by racial injustice in the form of a false arrest. From glimpses, it’s clear that Jenkins will remain true to his artistic signatures: the story’s emotional weight will linger, and it will be carried through mere expressions and bouts of silence.


Growing up, I found many heroines in Keira Knightley. From adventurous Elizabeth Swann to bold Elizabeth Bennet, Knightley has left me energised – by period dramas, no less – even after several reruns. In Colette, she is set to deliver once again, as a revolutionary storyteller with her own story to tell; for too long she has remained in the wings, fashioning her author-husband’s success as she writes his work in secret.

Neo Wei Sheng

The Favourite

The Lobster was a revelation, I can’t wait to see what Yorgos Lanthimos’ unique vision can bring to the genre of historical fiction. The Favourite features a strong leading cast (Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman) and promises to be just as fearlessly funny as it is liberal with history. The film also recently picked up the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.


At this point, Alfonso Cuaron’s pedigree is well-established (Children of Men; Gravity). His thoughtfulness as a filmmaker allowed him to imbue his action thrillers with humanity, and in ROMA, Cuaron directs that same thoughtfulness to the lives we live. The result has widely been regarded as a masterpiece, with ROMA winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.


Nicolas Cage is the greatest film actor of all time, and Mandy has been hailed at his greatest performance. Amidst the self-indulgent, psychedelic gorefest that is Mandy, Cage is given the space to let loose and work his genius. And it will be glorious.

Birds of Passage

There is something about sprawling mafia epics that wins our hearts over and over again. Despite being compared to The Godfather, the Columbian setting in Birds of Passage allows the directors to tell the story in a way that brings something new to the genre.


Foreign-language directors often offer new perspectives on the issues that they raise, and because they are unencumbered by the influence of English-speaking cinema, they are also free to push the boundaries of existing cinematographic techniques. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, Burning is the first film in 8 years from the award-winning Lee Chang-dong.

James Witherspoon


Panos Cosmatos’s Beyond the Black Rainbow was a visceral cinematic interpretation of the lurid VHS covers of 1970’s B-movies, and Mandy looks to go several steps further. Nicholas Cage stars as a crazed, drugged-up husband hellbent on revenge in what is sure to be a brutal, psychedelic epic for the ages; featuring Johann Johannson’s final, masterful score. Guadagnino may be bringing his intellectual, thesis-lite version of Suspiria to the festival, but if you’re a fan of Argento’s multicoloured, garish original then Mandy may actually be a better bet. Lauded with scores of five-star rave reviews, and recently topping Esquire’s fantastic ‘Best Movies of 2018 So Far’ list, Mandy is my most anticipated film of the festival. It’s also my most anticipated of the year. 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues has proved to be one of the most underrated debuts in recent years – it’s jaw-dropping, 40-minute single take unfortunately drowned out by the superlative achievements of Victoria and the technical trickery of Birdman. With Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a ‘deconstructed noir’, Gan ups the ante with an hour-long, dreamlike single take shot in 3-D. Fans of Terrence Malick’s later work and mood-first-plot-later cinema are sure to find themselves lost in oceans of wonder. Those in search of more conventional, narrative-driven work should probably look away.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

One of the most important (if not the most important) new British directors, Ben Wheatley has built a stellar collection of modern cult masterpieces – Sightseers, Kill List, High Rise, A Field in England, and Free Fire. His latest, previously titled Colin You Anus, has been surprise announced specifically for LFF, and details around the production are still sparse. Nevertheless, Wheatley’s pedigree is alone enough for Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. to make it into my top five most anticipated of the festival. With the programme touting a toned-down approach, early fans of the director will be looking for a return to Down Terrace -style filmmaking, but only time will tell whether this is a bona fide feature that stands with his best, or a filler piece to tide us over until Freakshift.

In Fabric

It’s always a perverse joy to have a new provocation from Peter Strickland. Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy are both deeply idiosyncratic, shockingly weird, and incredibly unpredictable – In Fabric looks to be no exception. Strickland’s fetishistic relationship with European horror, especially the kink of Giallo, has translated into a darkly comedic tale about a killer dress. Expect sensuality and humour in the most unexpected places, and delectable cinematography to boot. Another film that those disappointed in Guadagnino’s academic discourse should find much to admire in, without having to sacrifice intelligence or wit.

Birds of Passage

Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent is a film that completely floored me: immersive, unique, beautiful, and strange – it’s a true masterpiece that ranks among the best of the decade. What a joy, therefore, that Birds of Passage, his new film, should be showing at the festival. Taking an idiosyncratic stance on early South American drug wars, audiences should be ready for a hard-hitting, expansive, and dreamy tableaux of life cast into chaos – expect an Oscar nomination to follow.

Lai Yan

Dead Pigs

When thousands of dead pigs inexplicably float down Shanghai’s river, the lives of the city’s residents become intertwined in ways they’d never expect. Cathy Yan’s debut feature follows the stories of a mishmash of characters, all colourful in their own right, and how their lives are impacted by the onslaught of porcine deaths. Dead Pigs promises a playful yet poignant look at the consequences of Chinese capitalism.

The Cannibal Club

Guto Parente’s feature is a nasty reimagination of the playground of the rich: in The Cannibal Club, Brazil’s ultra-wealthy take pleasure in feasting on their unsuspecting hired help, who are easily replaced by individuals from the area’s slums. The film promises to be an entertaining ride – it definitely won’t hold back on the blood, sex and gore, whilst providing biting commentary on the relations between economic strata.

Bisbee ‘17

In 1917, around 1200 mine workers on strike in Bisbee, Arizona were illegally deported at gunpoint and left in the desert without water – most of them immigrants. Robert Greene documents an attempt by the residents of Bisbee to re-enact the shocking deportation in an effort to confront their town’s dark past. Bisbee ’17 has the potential to be a gripping piece, remarkable for its ability to plunge the viewer into the tension that enveloped the historical situation.

Putin’s Witnesses

Vladmir Putin is an enigmatic figure – no one really knows what’s on his mind, but everyone wants to. Featuring footage that he shot in 1999-2000 while head of documentaries for Russian national television, Vitaly Mansky offers us a peek at Putin’s personal interactions, and fresh insights as to what makes the man tick.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Bi Gan’s feature promises not a story, but an experience. The film’s simple premise – a man goes in search of a past lover – merely serves as a backdrop to dreamlike sequences of our main character drifting through the dark, rainy streets of his hometown, sifting through his memories. The film boasts noir-like visuals and commendable cinematography that beg to be relished in, not least during the 55-minute single take that closes the film.

Lily Zhuang

If Beale Street Could Talk

Following the success of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin’s 1974 novel on an African-American couple struggling with race and class. What can be expected is that Jenkins transforms Baldwin’s Harlem-set story with his mesmerising aesthetic and lyrical tone, turning it into a visual poem of love challenged by a crooked system full of social injustices to heighten our experience of an exploration of the black experience in America.

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell (David Sheff) and Timothée Chalamet (Nic Sheff) take on the serious subject of living with addiction in Beautiful Boy, a new film that just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival under high praise. The film, at first sight a dark tale but ultimately an inspiring and uplifting story about family, is the product of both Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff and gives the audience an insight to an authentic, genuine, and human story about a father who tries desperately to save his ‘golden boy’ son before it’s too late.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen brothers are reviving the Western with this year’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-chaptered ode to the American frontier. With its amazing cinematography and screenplay, which already won them the Best Screenplay award when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the brothers remind us once again that we’re always going to have some special place in our cinephile hearts for some good ol’ Coen.

Sorry to Bother You

In a world that never ceases to remind us of its mess, sometimes a little dark humour and satire about an African-American man propelled to success by using his ‘white voice’ is what we didn’t know we needed. Joining the likes of Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, the indie Sorry to Bother You confronts the viewer into self-reflection and heightened awareness of race and greed in the most eclectic and thought-provoking way possible.


Keira Knightley does what she does best taking on another period piece as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French novelist finding her voice in a society that only has ear for the heterosexual white male. Rewriting convention, fighting subjugation, and battling stigmatisation, in the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movement, Colette is painfully relevant to this day.

That’s all from us – catch us over the next month at LFF where we’ll see just how accurate these predictions are…

James is an undergraduate law student at UCL, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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