The 61st BFI London Film Festival has come to an end after showing a plethora of exciting and engaging movies made by a diverse range of filmmakers from across the world.
I was lucky enough to catch more than a few of the cinematic offerings on this year’s slate, which featured moving documentaries, thrilling dramas and wonderful comedies alike and below is a list of ten movies that I urge you to seek out. Enjoy!
If there’s one film genre Australia does well it’s the gritty crime drama and 1% falls heavily into that category. Following in the footsteps of Chopper and Animal Kingdom, Steve McCallum’s feature debut centers on Paddo (Ryan Corr), the acting president of a motorcycle gang who is put into a dangerous position after his developmentally disabled brother Skink (Josh McConville) steals heroin from a rival gang. While he’s trying to negotiate a deal to stop his brother getting killed, his biker group’s actual president, Knuck (Matt Nable who also co-wrote the script), returns after a three-year stint in prison and throws a wrench into the works when he tries to reassert authority. With Paddo’s ambitious girlfriend (Abbey Lee), pushing him to remain in control of the biker gang and a power struggle with Knuck, tension builds and violence ensues towards a final act that leaves many casualties. A cross between Macbeth, Sons of Anarchy and Of Mice And Men, 1% is not for the faint-hearted.
Theatrical release date: TBC
Elvira Lind’s documentary centers on contemporary dancer Bobbi Jene Smith as she branches out on her own after 10 years at Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and returns home to the US. Some critics feel the director merely scratches the surface of presenting the challenges Bobbi Jene faces as she uproots her life to achieve her personal ambitions while maintaining a relationship with a man ten years her junior but I disagree. In the same way, Bobbi Jene presents unspoken emotions and struggle through her choreography, Lind showcases her subject’s conflicting feelings of wanting to succeed as a woman, as an artist and as a lover through poignant moments that don’t need words to make you empathize with her journey. Whether you’re a fan of contemporary dance or not, this documentary offers an emotional insight into a pivotal time in an artist’s life.
Theatrical release date: TBC
Movies made by Saturday Night Live alumni have been hit and miss over the years, but Brigsby Bear definitely finds itself in the former category. Directed by SNL writer David McCary, who co-wrote the script with current cast member and the movie’s star Kyle Mooney, the film takes a rather dark subject and douses it with such careful levity and humor that it will no doubt become a cult pop-culture classic. James (Mooney) has lived his whole life in a bunker, isolated from the world and only a kitsch children’s TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventure for visual entertainment. When he is thrown into the real world, without seeing the ending to his favorite show, he takes it upon himself, with the help of some friends, to give Brigsby Bear the cinematic send-off it deserves. The film explores the modern obsession people have with pop culture and the psychological reasons for it too but at the same time celebrates creativity and the positive impact it can have on the world. Probably one of the most feel-good movies of the year.
Release date: Available on DVD from November 14
Alex Ross Perry is back with another melancholy tale but with far less confrontations than his last two movies Queen of Earth, starring Elisabeth Moss, and Listen Up Philip, starring Jason Schwartzman. The latter actor returns in this New York-based dramedy as part of an ensemble cast featuring Chloe Sevigny, Mary Louise Parker, Analeigh Lipton, Lily Rabe, Emily Browning and former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. Their seven characters are joined by family and work, and all seem equally dissatisfied with their lot in life. Nick (Horovitz) is an archivist working on his father-in-law’s legacy, who hires a young Australian assistant, Naomi (Browning), to help for a few months, under the watchful eye of his domineering sister-in-law Gwendolyn (Parker) and neglected wife Alyssa (Sevigny). Naomi knows no one in New York apart from Buddy (Schwarzman), a married music producer, who meet up after their mothers’ push for a reunion. Her arrival causes friction in both families, forcing them to address the underlying unhappiness they’ve been ignoring for so long. Golden Exits is worth seeing just for Parker’s performance but also to make you think about the direction of your own life and relationships. Hopefully, it’s far less despairing.
Theatrical release date: TBC but will be shown at Philadelphia, Denver, and St. Louis International film festivals.
I Am Not A Witch
For so long African stories have been told from a white perspective, but in recent years we’ve been seeing cinematic offerings set on the continent that are not only made by African filmmakers but with the primary narrative guided by African stars too. I Am Not A Witch is a shining example of this, from Zambian-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni. The social satire is set in a Zambian village and follows Shula (Margaret Mulubwa), a young girl accused of being a witch and exiled, only to be taken in by a traveling witch camp and offered up along with other “witches” as a sort-of circus attraction for tourists. Nyoni’s British influence shines through the film’s comedic moments but it doesn’t distract from the underlying critique of the treatment of women, not just in this specific African culture, but around the world too. A brilliant feature debut for the young director, I Am Not A Witch is a refreshing yet poignant cultural exploration you will want to experience.
Theatrical release date: October 20 (UK)
King of Peking
Cinephiles will love this Chinese-set father and son story from Australian filmmaker Sam Voutas. It follows divorced father Big Wong (Zhao Jun), an out-of-work projectionist, and his son Little Wong (Wang Naixun) as they channel their love of film into a bootleg DVD business working out of a basement of a cinema. It’s not just for the love of movies that the father embarks on this criminal venture; his ex-wife is trying to take back custody of their son but will halt her plans if he is able to pay her monthly spousal support. As their bootleg business thrives, cracks in the father-son relationships begin to show forcing Big Wong to reassess his role and influence as a father. King of Peking is a gentle comedy that celebrates cinema, despite the piracy storyline, that will leave you with a warm feeling inside as the final credits roll.
Theatrical release date: TBC
Lean On Pete
An adaptation of Will Vlauntin’s novel, Lean on Pete takes the viewer on an emotional American journey that they weren’t expecting. Charley is a young teen from a broken home, trying to find some sort of meaningful human connection, instead, finds it with an aging racehorse soon to be put to pasture. He meets the animal – whose name lends itself to the movie’s title – after taking on a job with crabby trainer Steve Buscemi. The two are joined by Chloe Sevigny’s cynical jockey as they travel from race track to race track, but soon the reality of life hits Charley hard and he must find his own way in the pursuit of a happy ending. The young Plummer gives a performance to rival Casey Affleck’s Oscar-winning turn in Manchester by the Sea which is in no doubt down to the direction of Andrew Haigh, who has already earned critical acclaim for his awards’ favorite 45 Years.
Theatrical release date: February 16, 2018 (UK)
The Meyerowitz Stories
There is no actor I have a more love-hate relationship than with Adam Sandler. Hate, because he often brings out mediocre comedies that fail to live up to his earlier work. Love, because every now and then he reminds us of what a magnificent actor he can be when given the right character and script. Noah Baumbach provides both in The Meyerowitz Stories, a generational dramedy that centers on the family Meyerowitz and their years of emotional conflict and familial dissatisfaction. Sandler plays Danny, a failed musician and stay-at-home dad who is sending his daughter Eliza off to college while moving in with his own father, newly retired artist and professor Harold (Dustin Hoffman) after separating from his wife. He feels deep resentment towards Harold and his younger half-brother Matthew, who has been championed by their father ever since they were children, and it comes out in both hilarious and heartbreaking form as he gets drawn into more family drama. This is Sandler at his best since Punch Drunk Love, and given how rare these performances are you definitely shouldn’t miss it.
Release date: Available on Netflix
My Friend Dahmer
Not long ago Zac Efron was confirmed to play Ted Bundy in a film biopic and with My Friend Dhamer, another former Disney star takes on the role of a serial killer. Ross Lynch has long been a wholesome face on the Disney Channel in Austin & Ally but fans will get a serious role reversal from the actor as he plays Jeffrey Dhamer during his pre-killing teen phase. The film is based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name, created by Dhamer’s high school acquaintance John “Derf” Backderf (played by Alex Wolff) and offers an uncomfortable insight into his early life and how a string of toxic moments sets him on the path to becoming a serial killer. Lynch plays the teen disturbingly well while Anne Heche as Jeffrey’s mentally unstable mother gives a performance that could certainly see her career lifted out of obscurity.
Theatrical release date: November 3
While Patriots Day offered various points of view on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, Stronger tells the emotional story behind one of the most famous images taken on that tragic day, of Jeff Bauman who was pictured after the attack with both of his legs blown off. The blue-collared Costco worker was just there to impress his ex-girlfriend by showing up, but after suffering the catastrophic injuries his life is turned upside as he is forced to go through his rehabilitation in the public eye. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a gut-wrenching performance as Jeff, showcasing the tough reality of a formerly able-bodied person coming to terms with a disability caused by such a traumatic event. He isn’t the only performance of note as both Tatiana Maslany and Miranda Richardson, as Jeff’s girlfriend Erin and his mother, show the effect this terrorist attack had on not just the victims but their families too. David Gordon Green offers an unsentimental yet uplifting film about one of the most terrible recent tragedies in American history and it will no doubt be up for a few gongs this awards season.
Theatrical release date: Stronger was released in the US on September 29. It’s UK release date is December 8. It is expected to be released on DVD this December.
With so many great films showcased at the festival this year, it’s no small feat to narrow down a top 10, so here’s a bonus pick of ours not included on the above list. With some astoundingly good press out of LFF, we highly recommend Brawl in Cell Block 99, out in UK cinemas the 20th of October and available on VOD through iTunes and Amazon. Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) and starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, with Udo Kier and Don Johnson.