THE LFF 2019 PREVIEW
The time of year has once again arrived for us to descend upon Picturehouse Central and the BFI for London Film Festival – the UK’s premier celebration of the moving image. In that spirit, we’ve laid out some recommendations and highlighted what we’re most excited to see this October.
Unlike previous years, we’ve actually viewed a lot of the festival slate already, having covered both Cannes and Venice over the summer months. That means that we’re a little more prepared than usual to offer some picks for you to see over the coming weeks. But there’s also a lot of interesting stuff that we haven’t set eyes on (sadly, though, Uncut Gems didn’t make it into the lineup) that we’re super psyched to watch.
So, without further ado, sit back, relax, and read on for our ultimate guide to LFF 2019.
STUFF WE’VE ALREADY SEEN
At Venice this year, we were gifted two 5* masterpieces that will be making their way to the BFI. Pablo Larrain’s Ema is an absolute lightning-strike of inspiration that defies filmmaking and storytelling convention at every turn. Playing more like an electric dance party than a piece of narrative filmmaking, it’s an experimental marvel that should be seen on the big screen with a roaring sound system.
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, too, is the culmination of his entire career – and features the best performances that either Scarlett Johansson or Adam Driver have ever given. An acidic takedown of the legal institution of divorce, and how it corrupts even the best of intentions, the Netflix-backed film features a Japanese-knife-sharp script and a remarkable amount of insight.
At Cannes in May we raved about Rob Eggers’ strange, eerie follow-up to The Witch, The Lighthouse. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe both put in incredible, exaggerated performances as a pair of lighthouse keepers stranded on a remote island which quickly disintegrates into a hallucinogenic hellscape. Shot on beautifully aged 35mm in a ridiculous ratio (1.19:1, which is basically the size of an Instagram post), this is a perfect arthouse/blockbuster entertainment crossover which it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone not liking.
Just last week, too, we saw Monos, a mythical Aguirre-cum-Apocalypse Now-cum-Lord of the Flies riff that plays more like a transcendent, thrilling moodscape than an actual feature. Showcasing a dazzling abstract score from genius composer Micah Levi, and kitted out in otherworldly, cosmic visuals by cinematographer Jasper Woolf, Monos has been winning rave reviews since it first played at Sundance, and absolutely deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. A more-than-worthy addition to the descent-into-the-hostile-jungle subgenre.
OUR MOST ANTICIPATED
- COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
Heading up our most anticipated is a somewhat unusual pick. Last year’s Mandy was not only the best film of the festival but of the entire year, so we’re looking forward to seeing what forward-thinking production house Spectrevision have been able to do with Colour Out of Space.
Cult-directing legend Richard Stanley takes on one of H.P. Lovecraft’s best known and most-loved (most-adapted, too) short stories, about a malevolent colour from, you guessed it, space, and slams Nicolas Cage right into the middle of it. Whilst there is a whiff of opportunism about the whole thing – Spectrevision looking to cash-off on Cage and psychedelic cosmic horror after Mandy, and the few images we have from this thing looking like the production designers just aped Annihilation, this film seems EXTREMELY OUR SHIT. Fingers crossed it doesn’t disappoint.
2. THE IRISHMAN
It’d be impossible to talk about this year’s LFF without talking about the new Martin Scorsese film. Picked to close the festival, The Irishman is a 3.5-hour-long gangster epic mounted by Netflix that is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films of the rest of the year. Iffy de-aging effects (which are never a good idea), and some dubious comments by one of the film’s producers about the work being slow and lacking intensity aside, we absolutely can’t wait to see what Scorsese comes up with. Reuniting with Robert De Niro once more, The Irishman looks like it could be a powerful swan song from one of the most prolific, iconic directors in the history of cinema.
Following-up It Comes At Night with a completely different kind of film, Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is an immensely personal piece of work focusing on the trials and tribulations of an African American family. First trailers and images have touted an aesthetic straight out of the Barry Jenkins playbook, whilst (sadly) spoilery reviews have hinted at an earth-shatteringly emotional, thoughtful film which might have awards potential.
4. SAINT MAUD
A firm favourite everywhere that it has played so far, Saint Maud has been described by several sources as a ‘religious experience’. Focusing on a re-born Christian woman who befriends a terminally ill dancer, before revealing herself to be something a little less pious than she might seem, this A24-distributed horror has the potential to be terrifying.
Winning rave reviews at Fantastic Fest, this film centred around a chaotic bullfight is allegedly a love it or hate it affair, and pure chaos for its entire runtime. A lot of praise has been heaped upon its go-for-broke craziness, as well as an allegedly impressive soundtrack that builds an effective audio visual experience. We just want to see a wacko psychedelic movie about a bull chasing people for 90 minutes.
6. THE LODGE
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s follow up to the much-acclaimed Goodnight Mummy has been receiving some iffy reviews as of late, but the talent both behind and in front of the camera means we’re still looking forward to seeing The Lodge. Riley Keough stars as a woman who spends the night in a remote cabin with her two new stepchildren, whilst sinister spiritual forces ‘terrorise’ them. Allegedly the result is absolutely crazy and defiantly weird – strange enough to prevent this film from reaching a wide audience, and also strange enough to have several critics rolling their eyes at the ridiculous nature of the plot. Still, there’s also been some good buzz, and we love nothing more than a good fright (if you couldn’t already tell), so it’s on the list.
Another film in receipt of some middling reviews so far, Michael Winterbottom’s satire about Phillip Green makes the list because A) Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan is an all-time great combination (watch: The Trip), and B) it has a wonderful plot about said retail titan planning a tasteless, Greek-themed birthday party on Mykonos. There’s only one piece of footage floating around from this thing at the moment, and it’s very funny – critics have pointed to Winterbottom’s lack of anything really meaningful to say with Greed, and that’s fine, but we’re looking for a good time with this one more so than real political bite.
A slight wild card, we’re really looking forward to Gerard Johnson’s new thriller, set in the bodybuilding world. With Hyena, Johnson (in this critic’s opinion) signalled himself as a major new talent in the UK film scene. Here’s hoping that Muscle, which already has a beautiful poster, is just as stylish, raw and brutal as its predecessor. Here’s hoping, too, that Johnson now has the confidence to take matters into his own hands and develop his own distinctive directorial style as opposed to leaning somewhat on forebearers like Mann and Refn.
9. KOKO-DI KOKO-DA
Another wildcard, this dark, distinctive horror straight from Fantastic Fest has a polarising plot that instantly intrigued us. Koko-Di Koko-Da tells the story of a couple who get trapped in a mysterious time loop in the woods, and are killed time and time again by a sadistic sideshow artist in increasingly humiliating ways. Supposedly, it’s about grief.
10. THE ANTENNA
The wildest card on this list, primarily because it’s already been torn apart by audiences at Fantastic Fest, The Antenna caught our eye because of it’s LFF programme listing. Mentioning Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Demons 2 (two all-time greats as far as I’m concerned), this film about the residents of an apartment block going slowly mad has a stand-out premise. Unfortunately, reports say it sent half the room at Fantastic Fest – which is a genre-leaning event, and is far more likely to heap praise on this sort of film than it’ll get at, say LFF – to sleep, so we’re not too sure whether we’ll end up liking it. The lure of Tetsuo pulls The Antenna to our number 10 spot on this list.
As always, it’s great to be back at the BFI – one of the most laidback festivals we have the pleasure of attending – and hope you enjoy our coverage this year. Previous contributor Lilly Zhuang will be joining me at the event, alongside new writers Jack Salvadori and Nacho Martin Sierra. We look forward to bringing you news, reviews, and interviews over the coming weeks.