I have seen a grand total of 47 films from the programme of the BFI London Film Festival, either at the LFF, in Venice or elsewhere. While there are many films I missed (Gravity, Labor Day, Only Lovers Left Alive…), here are my very personal top 10 films of the ones I have seen (at least at the moment I am writing this). The overall quality of the films has been excellent and bringing it down to 10, or even 17 if you count the honourable mentions, was not easy. They are admittedly mostly the obvious choices, but they are obvious choices for a reason:
10.Felix (directed by Roberta Durrant)
This small South-African children’s film about a boy who is desperate to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a jazz saxophonist was a joyous surprise. Made with craftsmanship, passion and a lot of heart, this film will make you smile for hours. I hope this finds the audience it deserves.
9. Ida (directed by Pawel Pawlikowski)
Pawel Pawlikowski first Polish film won best film in the Official Competition of the festival. Filled with beautiful, striking visuals, Ida tells the touching story of two women, who face personal issues and are haunted by the legacy of World War II. Debutant Agata Trzebuchowska impressively carries the film with a great, low-key performance.
8. Saving Mr Banks (directed by John Lee Hancock)
Saving Mr Banks is half a good film, half a great film about the author of Mary Poppins (and Walt Disney). Plays like a classic Disney film: great humour and even greater sentiment. Emma Thompson, one of the truly great actresses, is as good as she’s ever been as a character which could have become annoying in lesser hands. Made laugh, made me cry, and then cry some more.
7. Philomena (directed by Stephen Frears)
This is a true-life tale of a woman who was forced to give away her son and decides to look for him 50 years later. Frears strikes about the perfect balance between drama and comedy, anchored by strong performances by Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (who should be Oscar-nominated for this performance, but won’t). Take your mum, your gran, yourself – everyone to see this.
6. Le Passé (directed by Asghar Farhadi)
The first French-language picture of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Seperation) is a very tough, moving family drama. It’s superbly written, has assembled a fantastic ensemble cast (Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Burlet and Bérénice Bejo being the standouts) and feels much shorter than its 130min running time.
5. The Zero Theorem (directed by Terry Gillam)
Terry Gilliam, one of cinema’s most original voices, finally returns with The Zero Theorem. While indubitably not one of his best, I don’t get the negative reactions. All the usual Gilliam touches are there: amazing visuals, crazy production design, and little in jokes. Most importantly though, the film contains a scene in which a bald Tilda Swinton starts rapping for no reason.
4. All Is Lost (directed by J. C. Chandor)
Robert Redford on a boat. No dialogue, no back-story, simply Robert Redford on a boat, against the elements. One of the best thrillers of the year, All Is Lost is an intense, relentless ride. I was fully immersed into it, I could almost feel the sea wind in my hair. Redford should win the Oscar for this.
3. Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (directed by Shion Sono)
One of the most original and craziest films I’ve seen in a long time. Combining amateur filmmaking, teen romance, the Japanese mafia and an extremely catchy toothpaste jingle, all hell breaks loose in this ultra-violent, exploitation B-movie. Blood and limps flying everywhere, this is a big bowl of fun.
2. 12 Years a Slave (directed by Steve McQueen)
Steve McQueen has now made 3 brilliant films in 3 attempts and he should make some room on his awards shelf. As should Chiwetel Ejiofor, who carries the film with a terrific, tortured central performance. Furthermore, he is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast (Giamatti! Cumberbatch! Fassbender! Pitt!, and scene stealing newcomer Lupita Nyong’o). A tough, harrowing experience, which is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and spent 12 years in slavery, is the best film about this part of history I have seen.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Coen brothers have done it again. Set in the New York folk music scene in the early 1960s, we follow struggling musician Llewyn Davis, hopping from couch to couch. The film plays like a road movie, in which the main character doesn’t complete a journey, but keeps moving in circles and ends up in the same places. The soundtrack, produced and arranged by T-Bone Burnett is a thing of perfection.
The Selfish Giant (dir Clio Barnard): moving British drama in the style of Ken Loach
The Double (dir Richard Ayoade): Jesse Eisenberg vs Jesse Eisenberg
Jeune & Jolie (dir François Ozon): a young girl discovers herself through her sexuality
Captain Philips (dir Paul Greengrass): gripping, intense Somali-pirate thriller
The Spectacular Now (dir James Ponsoldt): interesting take on the teen movie with strong characters
The Armstrong Lie (dir Alex Gibney): documentary about the doping scandal surrounding cycling legend Lance Armstrong
Milius (dir Zak Knutson, Joey Figueroa): big bowl of anecdotes about Hollywood legend John Milius