The London Film Festival is a yearly event with previews of the best upcoming films, both professional and independent. This year, due to the current global situation, the event took place partially online which meant that I was able to attend. However many of the films were still only available in-person and so, to bring you the best of both worlds, I have partnered with my friend, and fellow film critic, Nate who was physically in London. Enjoy this slice of movie life, from worst to best.
The documentary-style think piece about the technological advancements around us is mostly silent in voiceover and in tone. It ultimately never gets its feet off the ground and seems to have no stance on the pros and cons of tech. Upsettingly dull.
Handles its premise acceptably. The tale of two reunited childhood friends hiding a dark childhood secret is engaging enough and beautifully shot but doesn’t feel totally fulfilling. Excellent performances all around but it feels a little slow and simple
All Is Vanity
Beginning as a seemingly mundane comedy about a photoshoot, this low-budget film repeatedly rearranges itself to become a completely new film. It’s self-aware to acknowledge its own flaws, but that’s not enough to negate them. Instead, it just means All Is Vanity comes off as annoyingly smug.
An acceptable glimpse into the care sector. This fictional French story which follows a group of girls in a care home has lovable characters but suffers from jumping back and forth throughout the story. The story is excellent…if you can follow it.
The Secrets of Jeremy Thomas
Mark Cousins’ dive into the mind of legendary producer Jeremy Thomas with a road trip to Cannes as the backdrop provides a documentary that is occasionally erratic. It oozes high art without being so itself and, like all stories, is worth listening to. Sure to be insightful for those who are aware of his work and oddly fascinating for those who aren’t.
A couple of Indian-Americans on a date are forced to live together when COVID hits in this well-put-together production. There isn’t a bad word to be said but films set during The Pandemic still hit too close to home to be properly entertaining.Very sweet but too early
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
Contains more interesting concepts than execution. This collection of 3 Japanese shorts focused on love is more intriguing than tantalising with characters who vary in likability. Feels like it could be brilliant but lacks a certain oomph.
Director Sam Firth explores her unresolved childhood trauma through an interesting hodgepodge of methods concluding in something I hope is cathartic for her. Interviews with her parents and rehearsed performances of childhood moments with actors provide art with a purpose. Viewing this film felt less like entertainment and more like a privilege.
Slow but centers on an important conversation. As a group of Spanish trans women take a trip to France, they discuss their lives and transitions whilst enjoying each other’s company. It showcases different experiences in a way that society so rarely does.
A simple tale told well. The story of a Puerto Rican woman connected to nature experiencing a sexual and mystical awakening is shot with wide-eyed wonder and filled with love. Often heartwarming and occasionally funny with a haunting score.
An interesting and necessary documentary. It discusses cinemas famous Monument Valley in relation to director John Ford and the Navaho people whilst also looking at the nature of monuments and the way society is shaped by the land. Frustratingly leisurely pace which remains respectful of the Navaho plight throughout.
Where most films have a plot, Neptune Frost can best be described by a series of contemporary buzzwords; it’s an Afrofuturist, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist science fiction musical. The result is as bonkers and baffling as it sounds. It may be messy and incomprehensible, but its unique aesthetic and sensibilities mean that it will likely become a cult classic soon enough.
Last Night In Soho (https://fatnatsfilmtalk.wordpress.com/2021/10/12/nat-reviews-last-night-in-soho/)
Edgar Wright’s retro horror movie starts off promisingly, interrogating our obsession with the Swinging Sixties and the exploitation that lay beneath it. Unfortunately, an unnecessary third act twist completely derails the film, resulting in a comically unscary finale that contradicts everything that has come before.
Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege
This documentary about the besiegement of Yarmouk, Syria uses footage shot by the filmmaker at the time to demonstrate real human struggle. It’s fundamentally about perseverance but is full of melancholy. The fact that Palestine remains under subjugation only makes this more impactful. Heartbreaking to watch.
The Real Charlie Chaplin
The fascinating life of Charlie Chaplin in relation to his work is whimsically dissected using film footage, reconstructions, and interviews. Narrated by Pearl Mackie, of Doctor Who fame, it lacks a proper exploration of his relationships but contains enough of his story.
Between Two Worlds
This French drama based on a writer living as a cleaning person to expose their struggles is inherently tense but incredibly sympathetic. A portrayal of class and social inequality that is no less relevant than when the book was released. Blunt and brilliant.
The true story of a gay Afghan refugee is told via a mixture of interview audio, 2D animation, and real news footage in an essential look at the seemingly eternal refugee crisis. An emotional rollercoaster which makes it difficult to remain impartial.
The Harder They Fall (https://fatnatsfilmtalk.wordpress.com/2021/10/07/nat-reviews-the-harder-they-fall/)
Debut director Samuel Jeymes’ film places black characters at the forefront of the traditionally white western genre. Though The Harder They Fall often feels like it could do more to challenge rather than imitate its predecessors, everyone on screen is having a blast, resulting in a bombastic crowd pleaser.
Mothers of the Revolution
Powerful and timely. Using reconstructions, archived footage, and interviews it details the women’s protest camp at Greenham in the 1980s. The passion and importance of the piece clearly show we’d be worse off without them and how much is still to be done. Serves as a wonderful companion piece to documentary Rebel Dykes.
Ear For Eye
One of the hardest watches of LFF, Ear For Eye is an uncompromising look at the frustration of being black in the United States and United Kingdom. Adapted from a stage show, it’s undeniably theatrical but always engaging. The second part, which features Lashana Lynch arguing with a white professor who refuses to acknowledge white terrorism, is particularly claustrophobic.
A throwback to the classic cockney revenge thriller, Bull is a queasily enjoyable, ultraviolent guilty pleasure. Though a third act twist cheapens the heart of the story, this remains a thrillingly brutal watch.
The Power of the Dog
A period drama ripe with repressed tension, Jane Campion’s latest film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a controlling cowboy in the early 20th century. Cumberbatch hands in an impressive performance, whilst Campion skillfully ratchets up the stress levels.
Money Has Four Legs
This morally righteous satire tells the story of a Burmese filmmaker down on his luck who will do whatever it takes to get his film made. It is often funny, continuously entertaining and features a bittersweet ending. Also contains excellent music choices throughout.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest (https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2021/11/04/cannon-arm-and-the-arcade-quest-lff2021/)
This Swedish Doc about one man’s quest to play 100 hours of videogame Gyruss and the friends that help him is whimsical, funny, tense, and personal. It’s a testament to them and to all those like them, although liking video games probably helps with the entertainment.
Ride The Wave
A feature length documentary that follows a young Scottish surfer, Ben, as he attempts to ride some of the biggest waves in the UK. Director Martyn Robertson’s film looks gorgeous, but is at its most powerful during the intimate moments with Ben and his family as they face the realities – and the dangers – of a career in surfing. The waters around Scotland may be freezing, but Ride The Waves radiates warmth.
The story of a French teen learning about her mother’s past through a recently delivered box of memories is set against a Christmas backdrop and contains all the love of the season. It’s emphasised by a subtle yet powerful score and is visually interesting. Also contains a lesbian subtext without being overbearing.
Phantom of the Open
There aren’t many things that Britain can realistically claim to be a world leader in, but cosy low-budget underdog comedies is one of them. Telling the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator who was able to bluff his way into the prestigious British golf open, writer and national treasure Simon Farnaby has crafted a silly, soppy and effortlessly charming delight.
Céline Sciamma’s latest film is a gentle investigation of childhood, innocence and inter-generational bonding. When Nelly is taken to her mother’s childhood home in the wake of her grandmother’s death, she begins to learn more about her parents. Not much happens, but Petite Maman feels like revisiting home after a long time away; comforting on an almost atomic level.
This Iranian film explores the extent to which public opinion can shape a narrative. Rahim is in debtor’s prison, but when he returns a purse to an old women, he finds himself at the centre of an intense debate about whether he’s a hero or a schemer. Smart and sad, it’s ending is appropriately ambiguous.
The Neutral Ground
Comedian CJ Hunt’s self-exploration of his race through the Chicago statue removals of 2017 starts lighthearted but shows that reality is often horrifying. There’s a sense of cautious optimism throughout, even to the end, despite often overbearing racism.
This utterly compelling Austrian war thriller about a group of POWs being murdered one by one in their homeland has a gripping story and wonderfully interesting backgrounds. It also serves as a harrowing insight into how badly soldiers were treated upon their return from war.
The Good Boss
This scathing workplace satire follows the amoral boss of a factory, played by Javier Bardem. Though he may talk about justice and family, Bardem perfectly encapsulates the narcissism and greed of a man who’s convinced himself that what is good him must be good for the company. There are few laugh out loud moments, but this is a deliberately paced, finely tuned comedy that pays off in satisfying and unexpected ways.
An alien invasion film for the QAnon era. Riz Ahmed plays a military veteran, Khan, who effectively kidnaps his kids in an attempt to keep them safe from their extra-terrestrial attackers – the only problem is that it’s not clear whether the aliens are real or just a delusion. Unfortunately, Encounter gives away the truth too fast, but the touching relationship between Malik and his kids ensures this twisty thriller remains emotionally engaging at all times.
Drive My Car
A moving tale worthy of the 3-hour runtime. As a Japanese stage actor/director rehearses his show after losing his wife, he strikes an unlikely bond with his new driver in a powerhouse of performances. Intricate storytelling with several brilliant twists.
Queen of Glory (https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2021/11/04/queen-of-glory-lff-2021/)
The story of a Ghanian-American woman whose mother dies suddenly and leaves her with a Christian bookshop in Brooklyn is constantly entertaining and occasionally hilarious. It also manages to be an honest look at the aftermath of loss and never uses race or religion as a punchline.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Tragedies are, by definition, not meant to be fun, but The Tragedy of Macbeth is an absolute blast. Boasting an all-star cast including Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand chewing up the minimalist scenery, gorgeous cinematography and lighting that makes it look like an arthouse Hammer horror film and all the gore that can never be shown on stage, this is Shakespeare at his most entertaining.
A powerful piece about the aftermath of death. Two couples discuss a violent demise that has impacted them differently in a story that feels like it becomes more necessary every year. Excellent buildup and emotional delivery, this is a must-watch.
This gripping tale of a particularly busy night in a restaurant, with too many variables that could go wrong, is truly edge-of-the-seat stuff. Spectacular camera work and acting from all involved with an ending befitting its brilliance. And all shot in a single take. A must-watch.
Once again, a huge thank you to Nate, without whom this list would have been shorter and less sophisticated. Please give a follow on all the socials!