From Oscar hopefuls to cool oddities, Adam White selects the festival films that need to be on your radar
This year’s London Film Festival sees evil sheep share a line-up with cowboys, Princess Diana on the same bill as a sexually volatile nun, and Olivia Colman losing her mind on a Greek island. Saam, they help reflect an event awash in genre and storytelling diversity and serve as proof that cinema isn’t quite dead yet.
Making up for a small-scale LFF in 2020 – for obvious reasons – this year’s festival feels bigger in scope and is rich with cool oddities.
In 'n verklaring, festival director Tricia Tuttle boasted that the 2021 line-up has something for pretty much everyone.
“These are works which have moved us, provoked us, made us think and feel, and made us look at the world a little differently this year,”Het sy bygevoeg. It’s an accurate assessment.
With tickets going on sale at 10am today (20 September), we’ve collated the 12 must-see films at this year’s event.
The surreal love child of Rosemary's Baby en Crash (the sex one, not the racism one), Titane is Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her teen cannibal tale Raw. This has been even better received, with Ducournau winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. It stars the very brave Agathe Rousselle as a woman left pregnant after having sex with a car, who then kills a bunch of people. It’s daring and brilliant, and truly makes every autoerotic young person with a titanium plate in their head feel seen.
The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion’s sweeping, homoerotic Western stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a cruel cattle farmer driven to distraction by the arrival of a young man he seems to want to destroy as much as have sex with. Die belangrikste, wel, is the presence of Kirsten Dunst as the young man’s mother, who gets to brood, drink and spiral out of control on the sidelines. Kon The Power of the Dog finally earn Dunst the respect, awards and acclaim she’s always warranted? We can but dream.
The Worst Person in the World
Beloved upon its premiere at Cannes this summer, Norwegian dramedy The Worst Person in the World somehow extracts new life from the “directionless, messy twentysomething” genre that turned Greta Gerwig and Phoebe Waller-Bridge into stars. Actor Renate Reinsve – who plays a young woman drifting through a series of bleak flings and thankless jobs – is going to be huge.
Die tragedie van Macbeth
There’s still no trailer for this, nor many photos, so it might be a disaster. But it also stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and his Lady, so it seems almost unfathomable for this to be anything other than spectacular. This also marks the first movie written and directed by a single Coen brother – Joel – which is a curiosity in itself.
The French Dispatch
McDormand makes another appearance here, in yet another star-studded affair courtesy of Wes Anderson. Set within the walls of a Inwoner van New York-style magazine based in France, the movie seems pink and busy and Bill Murray-filled as per usual for the Grand Budapest Hotel filmmaker. Timothée Chalamet and Elisabeth Moss are among the Anderson newbies this time around.
With his feature debut, actor and filmmaker Fran Kranz redeems himself for all those years he played nerdy and vaguely misogynist surrogates for Joss Whedon – in Dollhouse en The Cabin in the Woods. Mass is a riveting, difficult drama about a meeting between two sets of parents: one pair that lost their son in a school shooting, the other the parents of the boy who did it. Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney star.
The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her directorial debut with this acclaimed adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novel, about holidaymakers plunged into existential hell. Starring alongside Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley, Olivia Colman plays the world’s most relatable character: someone just trying to get on with things but finding themselves distracted to the point of obsession by Dakota Johnson.
Paris, 13th District
Co-written by Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Celine Sciamma, Paris, 13th District revolves around a quartet of friends and sometimes-lovers, as they tangle with sex, gender and fidelity. It also stars Portrait’s transcendent Noemie Merlant, as well as musician Jehnny Beth, and we are suitably intrigued.
Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white recreation of his own childhood offers at least two immediate surprises: that Branagh was born and raised in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, and that he clearly had ridiculously attractive parents as he’s cast Jamie Dornan and Outlander’s Catriona Balfe as their surrogates. Also starring Judi Dench, Belfast is a sweet, coming-of-age tearjerker just treacly enough to potentially be a major player at next year’s Oscars.
The Velvet Underground
Beyond less musically minded masterpieces like Safe en Far from Heaven, filmmaker Todd Haynes is one of cinema’s greatest chroniclers of stardom and the pop industry. His 1998 film Velvet Goldmine is a Bowie biopic in everything but name, while there has never been a wilder, sadder reflection of a musical great than Superstar, his Karen Carpenter biopic made entirely with Barbie dolls (and impossible to legally view). Which is to say that Haynes’s new documentary – about the legendary band of the title – should be on your radar.
Emma Corrin may have given us the definitive on-screen portrayal of Princess Diana in last year’s season of Die kroon, but let’s not hold that against Spencer. Kristen Stewart is reportedly wonderful in it, and filmmaker Pablo Larrain – who directed Natalie Portman in his audacious and bewitching Jackie Kennedy movie – has form with gorgeous melodramas about tortured women, so this will probably be great.
The Phantom of the Open
The star of Submarine directs from a script by the writer of Paddington, with Mark Rylance playing the real-life hoaxer Maurice Flitcroft, who was dubbed “the world’s worst golfer”. All of the above may sound a bit like a collection of random things picked up at a jumble sale, maar The Phantom of the Open could also be the funniest surprise of the LFF.
London Film Festival tickets are on sale now via the BFI site, with screenings held in London and at selected cities around the UK.