Top 30 Picks for BFI London Film Festival 2018

The 62nd edition of BFI London Film Festival is on from October 10-21 and I’m in town to see as many films as I can.

This year’s edition includes 225 films from 77 countries and will be showing in 14 cinemas across London. The festival will open with Steve McQueen’s Widows and will close with Stan & Ollie directed by Jon S Baird.

When the programme was announced in August, there was an emphasis on the representation of female directors in the festival. This year’s edition includes 38% of the directors in the programme are women (for features the figure is 30%, up from 24% last year). In three of the four competition strands the gender split was 50-50. It’s good to see there’s a focus on including more female directors in film festivals, especially in the competition categories, compared to Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.

I listed the Arab films Arab films screening this year, and below are my top 30 picks of the festival in general.

Note: I didn’t include recommended films I’ve seen at Berlinale in February and Hong Kong in March, but if you get a chance, don’t miss the following films:

  • Dovlatov (Aleksey German Jr, 2018)

  • Eldorado (Markus Imhoof, 2018)

  • The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, 2017)

  • John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut, 2018)

I also didn’t make a separate list for the classic films screening this year, but you can find them here on the film festival’s website.

All the Gods in the Sky
Dir Quarxx
France | 2018 | 98min

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30-year-old factory worker Simon lives a solitary existence on a decrepit farm in the remote French countryside. Devoting his time to caring for his sister Estelle, who was left severely disabled when a childhood game went horribly wrong, Simon is plagued by guilt and depression. But he sees a way out, looking to otherworldly forces as a means of liberating both himself and his sister from the corporeal prisons in which they are confined. Expanded from his short film A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky, director Quarxx has crafted a visually breathtaking, emotionally challenging nightmare, filled with claustrophobic dread and horror. Yet beneath the brutal violence and mystifying surrealism lies a profound sense of sadness and unexpected empathy, making for a deeply disorienting experience.


Dir Victor Kossakovsky
UK-Germany | 2018 | 89min 

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Aquarela takes audiences on a deeply cinematic journey through the transformative beauty and raw power of water. Filmed at a rare 96 frames-per-second, the film is a visceral wake-up call that humans are no match for the sheer force and capricious will of Earth’s most precious element. From the precarious frozen waters of Russia’s Lake Baikal to Miami in the throes of Hurricane Irma to Venezuela’s mighty Angels Falls, water is 'Aquarela's' main character, with director Victor Kossakovsky capturing her many personalities in startling visual detail.


Asako I & II
Dir Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Japan-France | 2018 | 119min

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Do we ever really get over our first love? Asako is about to find out, in this quirky romantic drama with a dash of the uncanny.


Ash is the Purest White
Dir Jia Zhang-ke
China-France | 2018 | 136min

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Heartbreak and resilience fuel this quietly epic saga, in which one woman’s fortitude and knack for crime carry her through a rapidly changing China.


Between Two Cinemas
Dir Ross Lipman
USA-UK-Canada | 2018 | 85min

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4K scans of several of Lipman’s poetic, exploratory, partially-narrative short works are presented and the former UCLA archivist opens up new conversations about how artists look after their work, whilst casting a fresh eye on the broad terrain of alternative film as it has been historically received. Archival material on Stan Brakhage and Andrei Tarkovsky, along with details of collaborations with artists Bruce Baillie, Jeanne Dielman cinematographer Babette Mangolte, Bela Tarr composer Mihaly Vig and synthesizer pioneer Patrick Gleeson all feature in this highly unusual, immersive and discursive, personally inflected hybrid of curated-programme and essay-film.


Birds of Passage
Dir Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Colombia-Denmark-Mexico | 2018 | 120min

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Documenting the true-to-life rise and fall of rival Wayuu clans in northern Colombia, the latest film by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra (the team behind Embrace of the Serpent), Birds of Passage is an unexpected take on the cartel genre. With incredible attention to the detail of Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu customs, traditions, and celebrations, Gallego and Guerra weave an epic tragedy of pride, greed, and the clash between the old and new worlds.


Bisbee ‘17
Dir Robert Greene
USA | 2018 | 112min

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Radically combining documentary and genre elements, the film follows several members of the close knit community as they collaborate with the filmmakers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bisbee Deportation, where 1200 immigrant miners were violently taken from their homes by a deputized force, shipped to the desert on cattle cars and left to die.


Dir Ali Abbasi
Sweden | 2018 | 104min

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Prepare for a love story like no other in this audacious Scandinavian fantasy, based on a novel by the writer of Let the Right One In.


The Breaker Upperers
Dir Jackie van Beek, Madeleine Sami
New Zealand | 2018 | 81min

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This rambunctious New Zealand comedy finds two women running a relationship break-up service and the new client who jeopardises their professional and personal partnership.


Dir Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt
Portugal-France-Brazil | 2018 | 92min

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Throwing fascism, colonialism and gender into a cinematic blender, Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt serve up a candyfloss farce that’s an absurdist delight.


Dir Sergei Loznitsa
Germany-Ukraine-France-Netherlands-Romania | 2018 | 121min

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This disturbing new film from Sergei Loznitsa (My Joy, In the Fog) examines the civil conflict in Ukraine through the prism of black humour and the absurd.


The Favourite
Dir Yorgos Lanthimos
Ireland-UK-USA | 2018 | 120min

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It’s the early 18th century, England is at war with France and Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) poor health finds her relying on her doting friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the Palace, her charm soon wins the Queen’s attentions and the shrewd girl sees a way to restore her social status, lost through her father’s disastrous wagers. With stakes of the heart high, the two women soon become rivals for the Queen’s affections in a wickedly funny game of one-up-womanship.


Happy As Lazaro
Dir Alice Rohrwacher
Italy | 2018 | 125min

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A delightfully singular time and genre-bending rumination on the fate of innocence when faced with corruption and greed.


The Image Book
Dir Jean-Luc Godard
Switzerland-France | 2018 | 84min

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Jean-Luc Godard pushes his exploration of words, sounds and images to vivid new extremes in this complex, dizzying mix of film, essay and collage.


If Beale Could Talk
Dir Barry Jenkins
USA | 2018 | 119min

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Barry Jenkins follows his Oscar-winning Moonlight with an audacious, distinctive and assured adaptation of James Baldwin’s account of love, injustice and racism in America.


In Fabric
Dir Peter Strickland
UK | 2018 | 118min

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Impeccable red talons slide a flick knife across a box to reveal its contents, a beautiful silky dress... that can kill!


Dir Amanda Kramer
USA | 2018 | 93min

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When a violent earthquake leaves them cut off from the outside world, eight teenage girls attending a birthday party find themselves trapped in an underground apartment. As their isolation breeds paranoia, the gang become divided, battling against each other to maintain a sense of control in a seemingly hopeless situation. And it’s a situation made worse when one of the girls claims to have seen a mysterious man lurking in the basement. What begins as a neat female twist on Lord of the Flies mutates into something far more beguiling and infinitely more unknowable. The uncanny world created by director Amanda Kramer is not only one of mistrust, jealousy and shifting allegiances, but also of eccentric style and playful design. A bona fide curiosity that is as hypnotic as it is dreamily intangible.


Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Dir Bi Gan
China-Taiwan-France | 2018 | 140min

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A dazzling dive into a noir-like dreamscape singles out Bi Gan’s partially 3D feature as the most intoxicating cinematic experience of the year.


Dir Panos Cosmatos
USA-Belgium | 2017 | 121min

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Nicolas Cage gives perhaps his most unhinged performance yet in this wild, psychedelic slice of ultra-violence for the ages.


Monrovia, Indiana
Dir Frederick Wiseman
USA | 2018 | 143min

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This small town in Indiana, a traditionally Republican state, known as the Crossroads of America is subject to documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s treatment.


Dir Alonso Ruizpalacios
Mexico | 2018 | 127min

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Gael García Bernal stars in this dazzlingly enjoyable heist thriller about an ambitious plan to loot one of the World’s most famous museums.


Dir Alfonso Cuarón
Mexico | 2018 | 135min

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Straight from the heart of Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men), this glorious reminiscence of a momentous year is a sumptuous black-and-white ode to the woman who shaped his early life.


Dir Ivan Ayr
India | 2018 | 97min

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Feminist policing, Indian style: Ivan Ayr’s refreshing, class-conscious debut considers the solidarity between a fiery female officer and her superior.


Dir Wolfgang Fischer
Germany-Austria | 2018 | 94min

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A woman’s solo sailing journey turns into a deadly serious ethical dilemma in this unusual and taut political allegory.


Dir László Nemes
Hungary-France | 2018 | 142min

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1913, Budapest, in the heart of Europe. The young Irisz Leiter arrives in the Hungarian capital with high hopes to work as a milliner at the legendary hat store that belonged to her late parents. She is nonetheless sent away by the new owner, Oszkár Brill. While preparations are under way at the Leiter hat store, to host guests of uttermost importance, a man abruptly comes to Irisz, looking for a certain Kálmán Leiter. Refusing to leave the city, the young woman follows Kálmán’s tracks, her only link to a lost past. Her quest brings her through the dark streets of Budapest, where only the Leiter hat store shines, into the turmoil of a civilisation on the eve of its downfall.


Dir Luca Guadagnino
Italy | 2018 | 155min

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Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, Call Me by Your Name) pays homage to Dario Argento’s horror classic with this delicious feminist update.


Too Late to Die Young
Dir Dominga Sotomayor
Chile-Brazil-Argentina-Netherlands-Qatar | 2018 | 110min

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After Pinochet’s fall, three youngsters drive up to a woodland commune below the Andes. The trip finds them questioning their life in this woozily gorgeous evocation of a Chilean summer.


Two Plains & A Fancy
Dir Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn
USA | 2018 | 89min

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The world’s first psychedelic ‘Spa Western’ is a witty, trippy and discursively delightful jaunt across Colorado.


The Wild Tree
Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Turkey-France-Germany | 2018 | 188min

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Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s follow-up to his Palme d’Or-winning Winter Sleep is a persuasive portrait of a young writer at odds with his hometown and family.


Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema
Dir Mark Cousins
UK | 2018 | 240min plus interval


The latest cinematic lecture by Mark Cousins is passionately devoted to and powered by female practitioners. Women Make Film aims to present 40 key topics pivotal to the craft and philosophy of cinema through excerpts from films directed by women. For the first four hours of Cousins’ vast project, he traverses 11 topics, including ‘Openings’, ‘Believability’, ‘Conversations’ and ‘Framing’. The result is a beautiful labour of love – a tribute to the genius of women directors and to the art of cinema. It is also a valuable contribution to the ongoing process of addressing film history and those who have been omitted from it. Future episodes include ‘Sex’, ‘Religion’, ‘Memory’ and ‘The Meaning of Life’.