It’s been an already tumultuous year for the UK film industry: cinemas have gradually shut their doors as studios push their films further into 2021, and streaming services have boomed with more films heading online. In the case of this year’s London Film Festival, director Tricia Tuttle and her team have done a radical change up by offering a hybrid programme that consists of over 50 virtual premieres, and four previews that played exclusively in a host of cinemas across the UK. The result was a fantastically diverse range of films that varied from off-beat comedies, to socially conscious dramas; from astounding animations, to tender romances, as well as being the most accessible festival to the general public ever. That being said, here are my top five picks from this year’s festival:
Mangrove, dir. Steve McQueen
Starring: Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden
Release Date: 15th November 2020 on BBC One
Retelling the Mangrove Nine case from 1970 when a group of British black activists were falsely accused of inciting a riot at a peaceful protest, McQueen’s latest feature rages with fury, reminiscent of his debut Hunger, as a community is painfully eroded by police that enacted on racial hatred. Infused by a terrific ensemble cast and a vivid sense of location, McQueen continues to show why he’s one of today’s best British filmmakers. I’m excited to see the rest of the Small Axe series next month.
The Reason I Jump, dir. Jerry Rothwell
Starring: Jordan O’Donegan
Release Date: Early 2021
Personally my favourite of the festival, this is an extraordinary adaptation of Naoki Higashida’s groundbreaking memoir on how people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) perceive the world. It was a personal watch for me, but that shouldn’t get in the way of it being an immersive experience that breaks many preconceptions of autism and is delivered with empathetic filmmaking that will hopefully change many people’s thoughts on this common disability. An important film that everyone should seek out!
Soul, dir. Pete Docter
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett
Release Date: 25th December 2020 on Disney+
This is another exceptional animation helmed by Pete Docter. At this point, I feel like Docter’s work is similar to Charlie Kaufman’s in terms of examining the human condition. If Monsters Inc is about fear, Up is about old age and bereavement, and Inside Out is about emotions and growing up, then through Joe’s outer body journey, Soul is about life itself and how we define it with Joe Garnett’s ‘soul-searching’ adventure. At times, the animation is breathtaking and its usage of shape and colour makes some sequences, unlike anything I’ve seen in a Pixar film. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is ingenious, especially how it differentiates the worlds through a cracking jazz score and bumbling synths. Even how it represents jazz is just wonderful, it made me want to pick up my trumpet as well as long to play in my university jazz group again. My only issue is I don’t know if a young audience will understand the concepts and attach to the ideas that Docter is playing with, so we’ll have to wait and see when everyone gets to see it in December. But for now, it’s another fantastic Pixar featuring a well-picked voice cast, especially Richard Ayoade and Rachel House, two of my favourite actors around, and blistering imagination.
Another Round, dir. Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelson, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Release Date: TBA
It’s likely that the criticisms of this film will be its mixed messages on alcoholism and how its idea is a one-trick pony. But Thomas Vinterberg’s distinctive style and a great ensemble cast meant that this story of four men experimenting with alcohol consumption becomes an intoxicating madness that was immensely enjoyable to watch. Personally, I never thought Vinterberg was endorsing the positive effects of alcohol at any point. His handheld cinematography showing close-ups of champagne, the sound of bubbles fizzing and bottles pouring actually made me uncomfortable as the consumption intake increases between the four men. The lunacy in Finn Skarderud’s theory is accentuated which is why I found moments funny but also somber as it shows how alcoholism can consume someone’s life. In addition, Mads Mikkelson’s performance is potentially one of his most memorable film roles to date. It’s clear that he’s having fun with his character Martin, and the scene where he teaches a history lesson on Vodka is a brilliant piece of acting. A worthy winner for the festival’s Best Film award.
Wolfwalkers, dir. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Starring: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Release Date: 11th December 2020 on Apple TV+
I completely adored this. Wolfwalkers is an enchanting Irish animation filled with fairy folklore and magic that follows the journey of young apprentice hunter Robyn who suddenly encounters Mebh, a wild native girl with extraordinary powers. The animation from Cartoon Saloon is gorgeous, a 2D rota style with woodblock aesthetic and plenty of hand-drawn expressive work that gives the impression of a storybook, but also something truly magical – a sequence of wolves running through the woods left me in tears of joy. In addition to the sublime animation, this is also a wonderfully original story filled with memorable characters, a terrific script from Will Collins, and some fabulous voice-acting. Robyn Goodfellowes is a great role model for young girls and boys thanks Honor Kneafsey’s charismatic voice performance. Sean Bean as Robyn’s father Bill is a welcome addition and Simon McBurney is a brilliant villain. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have delivered a wonderful family adventure and expect this to be ranked very high on my end of year list.