Festival Review: Twelve Of The Best Films We Caught At The 2017 BFI London Film Festival

on Sunday, December 31, 2017
BFI London Film Festival 2017 (4-15 Oct '17) // Words: Lauren Johnson-Ginn & Saam Das

The 61st BFI London Film Festival was yet another success, with over 180,000 attendees flocking to London cinemas and almost 30,000 more attending satellite screenings across the UK. The 2017 London Film Festival opened with Andy Serkis's directorial debut 'Breathe' before closing, some 240+ feature films later, with Martin McDonagh's Oscar-threatening 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'. We've collected some of our favourite films from the LFF 2017 below in alphabetical order:

'AlphaGo' (★★★★★)

Perhaps the finest documentary at this year's LFF, Greg Kohs masterfully mashes sports drama and philosophical discussion in 'AlphaGo', with a fantastic score by Hauschka. An in-depth look at man versus machine, or rather an assessment of the progress of artificial intelligence, as Google's DeepMind programming takes on human champions of the considerably complicated centuries-old board game, Go.

An excellent fit for a series such as BBC Storyville, 'AlphaGo' is pleasingly making its way to a larger audience via Netflix from January 1st 2018. Dramatic, emotional, and in its own way, triumphant. [SD]

'Breathe' (★★★★)

Based on the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, this debut feature from Andy Serkis is powerful and moving, thanks to strong central performances and an eclectic score from Nitin Sawnhey. A happy marriage is rocked by a sudden polio infection, leaving Andrew Garfield's Robin with just weeks to live. A tale of determination and enduring love, Claire Foy is particularly impressive in her role of the irrepressible Diana. [SD]

'Call Me By Your Name' (★★★★)

Sumptuous and sensual, Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory skilfully adapt André Aciman's novel for the big screen. Transporting the audience to rural Italy in the early eighties, 'Call Me By Your Name' turns its seductive eye to a burgeoning romance between youthful Elio (a star-making turn from Timothée Chalamet) on his summer hols at the family villa and the visiting Oliver (Armie Hammer).

The film's evocative feel is particularly successful thanks to the glorious cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and the soundtrack, with significant contribution from Sufjan Stevens. The overall result being a striking coming-of-age effort. [SD]

'Cargo' (★★★)

A meditative and quiet film, 'Cargo' follows the hardships of three brothers struggling to keep their family fishing business afloat after the unexpected death of their father. Director and co-writer Gilles Coulier does an excellent job of depicting the complexities of fraternal relationships, albeit with a script that is spare on words.

Full of unspoken truths, swallowed resentments and pregnant silences, it’s more about what isn’t said – instead relying on the impressive lead actors Sebastien Dewaele, Sam Louwyck and Wim Willaert to convey intensity of emotion through pointed glances and gestures. Although it may be little too slow and reserved for some, this is a powerful and affecting film. [LJ-G]

'Filmworker' (★★★★)

Leon Vitali's acting career peaked with a starring role in Stanley Kubrick's historical drama 'Barry Lyndon'. Unusually however, this was very much Vitali's choice, electing to pursue a decades-long career as Kubrick's assistant. Tony Zierra demonstrates Vitali's lasting dedication to his craft and his importance to Kubrick across films such as 'The Shining' and 'Full Metal Jacket'. A fascinating documentation of the pursuit of brilliance. [SD]

'Ghost Stories' (★★★★)

Adapted from the successful London stage play of the same name, 'Ghost Stories' brings to life a series of chilling tales, witnessed through the lens of sceptical supernatural debunker, Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman).

It’s hard to say too much about this film without spoiling the spooky twists and turns of the plot, but there are a host of great performances and cameos to enjoy here, with Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther and Paul Whitehouse heading up a talented British cast – as well as genuine scares and wonderfully dark humour. A must-watch for anyone who likes unconventional horror. [LJ-G]

'Going West' (★★★)

Norway's Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken offers an unconventional road trip movie, as father and son attempt to re-connect in the aftermath of a loved one's passing. Despite some considerably larger-than-life moments, 'Going West' feels refreshingly naturalistic in its relationships. Charming and heartfelt. [SD]

'Good Time' (★★★★)

Robert Pattinson continues his transition from teen heart-throb to notable acting talent with his starring role in this heist-gone-wrong thriller. There has been plenty of awards muttering already about Pattinson's distinctive performance, but Benny Safdie deserves similar plaudits in playing a mentally disabled character. The latter also lends a hand behind the camera, co-directing with brother and long-term-collaborator, Josh Safdie.

Oneohtrix Point Never's pulsating, scintillating score emboldens the twists and turns in this tale of shady enterprise, and the end result is a taut and terrific offering. [SD]

'Loving Vincent' (★★★★★)

More than a century after the fact, Vincent van Gogh's life (and in the case of 'Loving Vincent', his death) still attracts much fascination. The iconic painter is at the centre of this unique biopic, which saw each of the film's 65,000 frames oil painted on canvas, much as van Gogh did himself across his career.

As the first fully painted animated feature film of its kind, 'Loving Vincent' could easily have been overshadowed by its gimmick. Yet Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman portrait of the life and death of van Gogh is as moving and beautiful as any of his own masterpieces. A recent Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture (Animated) was just reward for a titanic task. [SD]

'The Killing Of A Sacred Deer' (★★★★★)

Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is undeniably one of the strongest voices in modern day cinema, having delivered such mesmerisingly off-kilter features such as 'Dogtooth' and 'The Lobster'. His latest film is an adaptation of Greek tragedy, 'Iphigenia at Aulis', and maintains Lanthimos' wonderfully surreal take on contemporary filmmaking.

Starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as husband-and-wife, whose children begin to succumb to a mysterious illness, seemingly at the hands of the eerily detached Barry Keoghan ('Dunkirk'). Disturbing and compelling. [SD]

'Strangled' (★★★)

Unravelling the disturbing story of a small Hungarian town that is terrorised by a prolific – and increasingly depraved – serial killer, who stalks lone women at night. Set against an austere 1960s backdrop, it explores the complexities and frustrations of a police investigation hampered by incompetence, bureaucratic pressure and corruption – with Zsolt Anger ably playing the hard-boiled, noir-esque lead investigator.

These scenes of reflection on a flawed justice system are interesting, if occasionally a bit hammy and cliché – while the camera’s gaze lingers on the actual murders a little too long, in a way that sometimes borders uncomfortably on fetishisation. That said, this film maintains a gripping narrative, punctuated with moments of intense, breath-holding tension. An enjoyable, but flawed, thriller. [LJ-G]

'Thoroughbreds' (★★★★)

Putting an intriguing twist on the affluenza theme, following the disillusioned exploits of two teenage girls, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke). Lily is a seemingly high-achiever living in an immaculate house in suburban Connecticut, while Amanda is her dysfunctional, damaged friend, apparently suffering from extreme emotional blunting. But behind the perfect façade of Lily’s life, there’s a problem: her stepdad; a controlling, subtly threatening presence whose constant laps on the rowing machine create unsettling reverberations throughout the house.

Lily recruits Amanda and a local dropout (played poignantly by the late Anton Yelchin) to deal with her problem. Generous praise must go to writer-director Cory Finley for his debut outing – the dialogue is witty and razor sharp, the music, sound and lighting create an acute sense of claustrophobia throughout – as well as the lead actresses, who deliver arresting performances. It seems likely that we’ll see much more of all three talents. [LJ-G]

Find more info at bfi.org.uk/lff.

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