The best and worst of London Film Festival 2018

Eva Mackevic

As London's beginning to settle down after two weeks of cinema madness, here's our roundup of everything you should look out for—and avoid—in film in the coming months. 

The knockouts:  

Suspiria 

What is it? Luca Guadagnino's irresistible, all-star remake of Dario Argento's 1977 cult classic.

Why should I watch it? For eerie witchcraft vibes, a Thom Yorke-conceived soundtrack and Tilda Swinton. Duh. 

Best characters? Dakota Johnson finally shows off her acting chops as the ambitious dancer, Susie, while Tilda Swinton does Tilda Swinton as the mesmerising artistic director of a dance company, Madame Blanc. 

 

Wildlife 

What is it? Paul Dano's pitch-perfect and sincere directorial debut about an unhappy family. 

Why should I watch it? To witness a quiet, stripped-down drama where a lingering look or a half-concealed sigh speaks more than words ever could. 

Best character? Carey Mulligan's distressed but strong-minded wife and mother, Jeanette. Vivid, fiery and versatile, her performance is a jaw-dropping revelation. 

 

Colette 

What is it? A dazzling period drama about the famed French novelist finding her own voice.

Why should I watch it? Wrapped in alluringly sumptuous settings, gorgeous costumes and opulent cinematography, it's a consuming biopic that brings out a new, refreshing side of Keira Knightley. 

Best character? Dominic West's character, Willy—Colette's much older, worldly husband—is a standout, achieving a subtle balance between irresistible charm and blatant boorishness. 

 

Dogman 

What is it? An emotional rollercoaster about a dog groomer in rural Italy that fluidly alternates between disarming sweetness and white-knuckle brutality. 

Why should I watch it? For some seriously overdue inner-self maintenance, and a scene involving a break-in, a chihuahua and a freezer that'll absolutely floor you. 

Best character? Marcello Fonte, who plays Marcello, is sublime; his ocean-deep eyes relay everything from immense love to earth-shattering sadness, and his almost caricatural, Peter Lorre-like face is unforgettable. 

 

The Favourite 

What is it? A naughty, naughty start to 2019 in cinema, The Favourite is a twisted little tale about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her two confidants, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and maid Abigail (Emma Stone), competing for her attention.

Why should I watch it? For its Machiavellian twists, decadent cinematography, deliciously acerbic humour and phenomenal acting. 

Best characters? The cast is arguably the film's biggest asset, with all three leading ladies delivering obscenely good performances as the borderline psychotic women. 

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

What is it? The true story of Lee Israel—a biographer who, when times got tough, turned her writing talent into an illegal, money-making scheme.

Why should I watch it? To get immersed in an old-timey world of words, letters, typewriters and authors, accompanied by a whip-smart script and an organically sweet, un-Hollywood-like portrayal of friendship. 

Best character: Melissa McCarthy proves that she can pull off serious, dramatic roles just as well as her "comedy goofball" template. We can smell an Oscar in the air… 

 

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

What is it? Master of character study Ben Wheatley's new, manically funny, intense family psychodrama. 

Why should I watch it? For a mixture of tears, laughter and digging up old dirt to the sounds of weird techno music, that'll make you feel better about your own dysfunctional family. 

Best characters? While you'll probably warm up to every single member of this comically absurd clan, special mentions go out to Joe Cole as the slightly dopey but lovable nephew, Charles Dance as the cross-dressing uncle and Sam Riley as the black sheep of the family. 

 

If Beale Street Could Talk 

What is it? A moving adaptation of James Baldwin's novel of the same name, from the director of the Oscar-winning Moonlight, Barry Jenkins. 

Why should I watch it? For a beautiful portrayal of love at its purest, gentlest and most wholesome, playing out against the ugly background of racial discrimination and social injustice. And the music score. Oh dear god, the music score. 

Best characters: KiKi Layne and Stephan James will make you weak in the knees as the wildly romantic couple, determined to make it work against all odds. 

 

The alright ones: 

Beautiful Boy 

What is it? Probably one of 2019's most harrowing numbers, it's a true story of Nic Sheff—a young man coping with addiction, and the devastating effect it has on his nearest and dearest. 

What's good about it? Astounding, heart-rending performances from Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrel, and a fantastic soundtrack spanning everything from Nirvana to Henryk Górecki. 

Where does it stagger? The flashback-driven narrative feels a bit messy and disjointed at times, while the incessantly depressing portrayal of addiction sometimes verges on the brink of exploitation. 

 

Stan and Ollie 

What is it? Steve Coogan and John C Reilly stepping into the shoes of one of the most iconic comedy duos in the world, Laurel and Hardy.

What's good about it? A very capable cast: John C Reilly is magnetic as “Babe,” while Coogan works wonders as the flamboyant perfectionist, Stan Laurel. But the real scene-stealers here are their wives; the cartoon-voiced Lucille Hardy and the hilariously blunt Russian, Ida Laurel, played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda, respectively, who turn out to be a delightful comedy duo in their own right.

Where does it stagger? The script lacks a certain spark and gumption, making it a very "safe," sometimes bland film, with the plot just plodding along from scene to scene. 

 

The Old Man and the Gun 

What is it? A quaint, ebullient comedy-drama about a man who just loved robbing banks. 

What's good about it? Again, a stellar cast consisting of Robert Redford in his final role before retiring from acting; Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck and—most importantly—Mr Tom Waits himself. 

Where does it stagger? The flipside to the whole Robert Redford retirement thing is that director David Lowery treats this project more like a tribute to the great actor than a film in its own right, which gets tedious to watch after a while. 

 

Sorry to Bother You 

What is it? A fresh, irreverent comedy about Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield)—a young telemarketer whose work success propels him into a twisted world of corruption, greed and vicious capitalism.

What's good about it? The bizarre, unconventional allegory about race, phenomenal performances and a vast display of some seriously cool earrings by Cassius’ girlfriend, played with great verve by Tessa Thompson.  

Where does it stagger? Sorry to Bother You is too imaginative for its own good. With an unlimited supply of ideas at its disposal, the film sometimes struggles to reign them all in, resulting in a wobbly structure. 

 

Bad Reputation

What is it? An in-your-face, spirited documentary that’s as mischievously fun as its subject matter, Joan Jett. 

What's good about it? Tons of juicy archive footage, interviews with such rock giants as Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry as well as loads of rip-roaring rock’n’roll that’ll make you feel 16 again. 

Where does it stagger? While entertaining to watch, the doc struggles to really sink its teeth into some of the meatier and more problematic aspects of Jett's life and career. 

 

The not-so-great: 

Wild Rose

What is it? A music drama about a brazen but talented young woman from Glasgow, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), whose only dream is to become a country singer in Nashville. 

Why should I skip it? As dull and unimaginative as its very title (the protagonist's name is Rose—get it?), Wild Rose ticks just about every tired movie cliche in the book. Somehow, they managed to develop a leading character so obnoxious, self-absorbed and unlikeable, that spending time in her company is excruciating. 

Any redeeming qualities? "Whispering" Bob Harris is in it. 

 

The White Crow 

What is it? Ralph Fiennes' passion project: a biographical drama about one of the world's greatest ballet dancers, Rudolf Nureyev, and his defection from the USSR in the Sixties. 

Why should I skip it? Though graceful and light as a dancer, star Oleg Ivenko turns out to be heavy-handed and cumbersome as an actor. He doesn't do Nureyev—a naturally charismatic, playful man—any favours by portraying him as a relentlessly angry, glum and generally unpleasant person to be around. 

Any redeeming qualities? A cast consisting of numerous real-life ballet dancers (including the infamous Sergei Polunin) means copious amounts of great choreography. 

 

Assassination Nation

What is it? A wannabe cult film that takes itself way too seriously to actually work as one.

Why should I skip it? Because its every attempt at social commentary (feminism, classism, toxic masculinity, you know the drill) rings false, while the heavily stylised violence and social media-driven narrative reek of desperation to be relevant and edgy. 

Any redeeming qualities? Despite all of the above, we could still think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours. It's kind of fun. 

 

Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records 

What is it? Exactly what is says on the tin: a documentary about how one British record label popularised reggae around the UK. 

Why should I skip it? It's evident that the film is a genuine labour of love for director Nicolas Jack Davies, so it's a huge shame that Rudeboy, amongst the many interviews, anecdotes and dramatic reenactments, struggles to teach you anything of substance about how Jamaican music transformed Britain. 

Any redeeming qualities? As long as you have a soft spot for reggae, you'll still enjoy the whimsical interviews with such legendary figures as Lee "Scratch" Perry or Ken Boothe, plus loads and loads of good music.