It may seem strange posting a blog about the 2018 London Film Festival three weeks after its conclusion, but I have my reasons! Firstly, critics have access to a digital library of films for an additional two weeks, so I wanted to see a number of films I hadn’t had the opportunity to catch at the Festival. Secondly, the Festival and the immediate period afterwards is quite simply so jam-packed, with the films, events and of course the reviews (I’ve linked to a number of mine throughout the article) that there’s little time to think of a ranking piece for your own lowly blog! And finally, film festivals are notorious for critics slipping into hyperbole. In the excitement of it all, it’s so easy to over exaggerate the value of a film, and we end up with so many critics claiming certain movies are “masterpieces” and “the best movie of the year”. Equally, films that fall below expectation can be trashed mercilessly. Hence why a little bit of space can be useful when it comes to properly analysing film festivals.
Today I’ve ranked the movies I managed to see at the Festival, whether at screenings or on the digital library. Originally, I felt a little lukewarm towards the movies I caught this year. I thought very few were of the very highest quality. I had missed the first couple of days of the Festival, including screenings of Widows, Beautiful Boy, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Happy New Year Colin Burstead, Roma, The Old Man and the Gun…. the list goes on. These looked like some of the strongest days, and the snippets I read on Twitter seemed to confirm this. However, looking back now, I’m surprisingly pleased with what I saw. Of the 21 films I witnessed, only one stands as out as terrible to me, and it’s certainly a film others will enjoy. There were a couple of other disappointments, and maybe one or two I need to watch again (you know, without sleep deprivation and after having seen 4 other movies back to back the same day). But everything else? Well it was all pretty solid. There are 15 movies at least on my list that range from good to great, so I can’t have too much to complain about.
I’m not going to give too many plot details away, instead I’ll just focus on my thoughts. You can find synopsis pretty easily if necessary. Anyway on with the show. Here are my numbers 21-11.
21. The Image Book (Le livre d’image)
I like early Godard. I really do. A Bout du Souffle, Une Femme est Une Femme. I even caught 1986’s Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company on MUBI earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed that. I have, however, never been subjected to a true latter-day Godard film. I’d heard a lot about them: how he disregards regular narrative structure for an inventive essay approach. How he works with a collage of videos, images and voiceovers.
I walked into the BFI Imax with an open mind, ready to engage. However I found it such a dull, soulless film, and unnecessarily convoluted for what Godard was trying to discuss. Godard die-hards will pour over it definitely. For me though it was an 84 minute drag. Perfect, if only for a nap.
Read my full review for Flickering Myth here.
20. Bisbee ’17
Bisbee ’17 was one of my most anticipated movies of the Festival. I have never seen Robert Greene‘s last film Kate Plays Christine but the unusual story has always intrigued me. The documentarian takes an inventive new approach to the form, blending fact with a fictional portrait in his work. In Bisbee he tackles the subject of the 1917 Bisbee deportation, when migrant mine workers were forced at gunpoint to board trains, and were left in the middle of the desert to live or die.
Greene creates a fictional recreation of this using local people, at the same time the town prepares to commemorate the event. The final scenes are truly powerful as everything comes together, and the issue of prejudice is analysed in such a unique way. However somehow, despite the fascinating tale, for the majority of its two hour runtime leading up to this, the film falls flat. I expected a lot more from this, and it was a real disappointment.
19. Young and Alive (L’Époque)
I feel a little cruel leaving this film so low on my list. It was the very first film I watched this year. Young and Alive has an intriguing concept: documentarians follow young people on the streets of Paris at night. In the current world, in the current state of politics, and with growing tensions particularly in centres like Paris, it is a great idea to capture how people are feeling at this moment. In a way Young and Alive gets to the core of what documentary filmmaking really is. There are snippets of ideas and concepts presented throughout but nothing to really blow audiences away. It faded quite quickly from my memory, and that’s the main reason it ranks so low.
There seems to be a common consensus that Peterloo got panned by critics. Before, during and after the festival I have heard this narrative. To be fair, from the people I spoke to, that seems pretty accurate. However, whilst the reviews haven’t been stunning they’ve not been as damning as expected. Mixed is the best way to describe it. The Guardian even handed over 5 stars.
Why it is such a disappointment for me is simply because there was so much potential, and it never lives up to it. It’s not terrible but it is filled with issues, not least the poorly constructed characters, painfully slow pace, and a couple of torrid performances.
Read my full review for Film Inquiry here.
This is the softest of my recommendations. By that I mean I am massively undecided on this one. Burning was at the top of my “must-see” list for this year’s festival. It is an adaptation of a Murasaki short novel (who I love) about a young man who meets a girl. The girl meets another young man. Things get awkward, things get unsettling, perhaps things get dangerous. I’m not going to give away too much, partly because I don’t have much room and the film is over two and a half hours long. It’s a slow thriller, taking its time to build, dwelling instead on the frankly breathtaking cinematography as well as character development. It seems tailor made for me, however I struggled to get into it.
I found it quite slow with the beautiful imagery never really making up for a lack of a compelling storyline. It was refreshing to see the tale subvert many expectations, although some choices meant it remained a bit of a disappointment. I wanted more, maybe a second viewing can do it for me. I’d recommend it just for the visuals, and maybe so you can discover something further beneath the surface.
16. Assassination Nation
The trailer for Assassination Nation had me hooked. It looked like a heavily stylised retelling of the Salem Witch Trials (sort of), and it appeared like the perfect slice of brutal and bloody escapist cinema. Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. A warning at the beginning of the film made it seem much more extreme and much more unique than anything that actually followed it.
It’s still an enjoyable ride don’t get me wrong, with the style, direction and cinematography all worth the price of admission. It does feel like it’s working very hard to try and become a cult classic, but you know what, there’s just enough quality that I think it might just succeed in claiming that crown.
15. Support the Girls
The new film from Andrew Bujalski, one of the founding members of the accidental Mumblecore movement in the mid 2000s, was exactly what I expected it to be. Taking place over a single day the movie follows the life of the manager of a Hooters-esque bar. It’s a quick breeze of a film, as fun and funny and full of heart as it needs to be. Lead actress Regina Hall is a stand out.
14. Border (Gräns)
I watched this one with a group of people and to say it split the room would be an understatement. I was sold on this film as an unusual love story. My preconceptions were completely wrong. Border is a truly unique film. It takes the darkness of the original Scandinavian fairy tales and twists them further. The film moves from romantic, to unsettling to downright chilling. It is some of the most inventive, original filmmaking of the year. You may love it or hate it, but see it. You won’t see much else like it.
13. United Skates
United Skates tackles a subject I had absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever: roller skating. It is a hugely popular activity amongst many Americans, yet the number of roller rinks continues to shrink and shrink. This is the sort of subject that documentaries were made for. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it, but it manages to be enjoyable and enlightening in equal measure.
With Non-Fiction Olivier Assayas delivers maybe the Frenchest film possible. It focuses on two couples and the publishing world that links their lives. It feels a little less inventive than his previous film, Personal Shopper, with its fascinating supernatural hints, but it’s still a solid follow-up. Although I enjoyed it at the time, it wasn’t a movie that I would rush out to see again, and so it falls short of my top ten.
11. Dragged Across Concrete
The work of S. Craig Zahler is certainly not for everyone. His films are brutal and bloody, the pace is slow, and the characters and their political beliefs clash violently with left wing audiences. His work has been compared to Tarantino, although with just his third film, Zahler has already stepped out of Tarantino’s shadow. His writing is whip smart and although Dragged Across Concrete is overlong there is a ton to enjoy here.
Read my full review here.
Come back soon for numbers 10 to 1!