London Film Festival Highlights

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This year marks the 61st London Film Festival, one of the highlights of the UK film calendar. Packed with premieres, remastered screenings and talks, it’s the first opportunity for many people in England to catch some of the most highly acclaimed films from festival season. Last year saw the premieres of films such as American Honey, Prevenge, The Ghoul, and Free Fire, and this year holds even more promise, with new films from Guillermo del Toro, Andy Serkis, and more. Tickets go on sale on 14th September, so we thought we’d plough through the enormous programme and find the gems that you cannot afford to miss.

Ghost Stories


The play of the same name from League of Gentlemen creator Jeremy Dyson, and actor Andy Nyman terrified London when it played there. This screen adaptation brings Office and Hobbit star Martin Freeman, and Fast Show legend Paul Whitehouse together for a portmanteau horror. There hasn’t been a really great anthology title since the criminally underrated Trick R Treat, and Dyson has proved time and time again that he understands horror (has British TV given us anything more unsettling than the League of Gentlemen Christmas Special?). This is bound to be worth a punt.

The Shape of Water

shape of water

“Fairy tales were born in times of trouble, in complicated times – when hope felt lost. I made The Shape of Water as an antidote to cynicism.” Guillermo Del Toro is one of the best filmmakers of modern times and the last time he really ventured into fairy-tale territory was 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the finest films ever made. The Shape of Water teams him back up with frequent collaborator Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy), as well as bringing in a huge swathe of incredible talent, from Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins, to (if reviews from Venice are to be understood) Oscar favourite Sally Hawkins. A weird creature romance set in The Cold War.

My Friend Dahmer

My friend Dahmar

I’ve been a massive, massive fan of Derf Backderf for years now. Trashed (his autobiographical tale of working in waste disposal) is an enormously fun comic, but his real masterpiece is My Friend Dahmer, a book about his adolescence and his friendship with notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s a tricky story to navigate. Writing about himself, Derf never lets himself off the hook for his actions. His friendship with Dahmer is based around a fascination for Dahmer’s weirdness. It’ll be really interesting to see how this uncomfortable story translates to film.



Paco Plaza, one half of the directing team behind [REC] takes the reigns on this supposedly real-life Spanish haunting from the 90’s. Advance word sells this as the Spanish equivalent to The Conjuring, as schoolgirl Veronica mistakenly summons the spirit of her late father during some Ouija shenanigans. [REC] is a masterpiece, and if Plaza can bring to the table half the scares he did there with this one then we’re in for something great.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri


Frances McDormand reportedly received two standing ovations during the screening of this at the Venice Film Festival. She’s never anything but wonderful in every single film she’s in and teaming up with In Bruges director Martin McDonagh sounds pretty much perfect. She plays the mother of a girl whose murder remains unsolved, and whose frustration is directed at local law enforcement (Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson) in the form of the titular billboards. In Bruges managed to tread that difficult line between poignant and hilarious in a way that only McDonagh seems to be able to do, and hopefully Three Billboards will succeed where his previous attempt to crack America (the best forgotten Seven Psychopaths) failed.

You Were Never Really Here


Fact: Lynne Ramsey is one of the best directors in cinema. Ratcatcher, Morvern Caller, and We Need to Talk About Kevin are all masterpieces. She has never once put a foot wrong. Here she adapts Jonathan Ames’ novella about an enforcer (Joaquin Phoenix), assigned a job to recover the teenaged daughter of a politician from a sex trafficking ring. Focussing less on the minutiae of the thriller premise and more on Phoenix’s hallucinogenic and increasingly unhinged mindset, this promises to be a surprisingly heady film (think Taken as written by Terence Malick). Some have compared his performance to De Niro in Taxi Driver, and everyone is in agreement that this is one of the most fascinating films coming soon. We’d expect nothing less from Ramsey.



Debut Australian filmmaker Stephen McCallum comes along riding a new wave of gritty Australian cinema, following the likes of Animal Kingdom and Wolf Creek. 1% is a biker gang film, but not the kind that would fill cinemas in the 60s. This is not an exploitation movie by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a study of sibling relationships and rivalries. Early reports suggest that 1% has a touch of Michael Mann about it, though is all the more interesting when it focusses on its characters, and less so when it comes to the bikes themselves. A refreshing change then from the drag out explosions of other car related franchises.

Lean on Pete


Willy Vlautin (singer/songwriter for band Richmond Fontaine) turned into an essential American novelist a few years ago with his second novel Northline. He followed it up with several other excellent books, one of which was the newly adapted Lean on Pete. Directed by Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years), it tells the story of a young outcast Charley, who runs away with an aging racehorse when he discovers the fate in store for it. Valutin has always managed to subvert expectations, and Lean on Pete is no different. Paired here with Haigh, whose 45 Years (another adaptation) was one of the best films of 2015, this is bound to be an exceptional film.

The Breadwinner


Produced by Angelina Jolie, and dealing with subjects as tough as the Taliban and the role of women in society, The Breadwinner doesn’t seem to be your run of the mill animated film. A young girl, Parvana, shaves her head and disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family after her father is arrested, giving the film shades of Mulan, but rooting it far more in more modern conflicts (the setting is Afghanistan in 2001). Jolie said of it “Millions of girls around the world have to grow up before their time, working to provide for their families at a very young age and in difficult circumstances. They have the strength to do what no one should ask little girls to do. I hope this film is able to bring this discussion to a broader audience.” The film is produced by the same team who made Song of the Sea, and Secret of Kells, both of which were essential watches from the past couple of years.

I am not a Witch


A Zambian set satire about a woman being accused of witchcraft in modern day Africa, from Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni which combines the uneasy puritanism of films like The Witch with the bizarre straight-faced satire of The Thick of It, I am Not a Witch is not going to work for everyone. The director herself cites Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher as a major inspiration, and his films have been a touchstone for others reviewing the film (many of whom have suggested his fascist origins film The White Ribbon as a thematic counterpart). This could well wind up being one of the most interesting films of the year, and one to keep an eye out for when Oscar season comes around.


Gem Search by Daniel Carpenter

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