Flixist’s top 5 films of London Film Festival 2019


October has proven to be a busy month for Flixist, with a fantastic array of film and gaming events covered by our busy writers at this year’s New York Film Festival and New York Comic Con. Although we’ve yet to figure out a way to be two places at once, this year’s London Film Festival was packed full of so many headliners and noteworthy indie productions that it made a great lineup. 

Some honourable mentions that didn’t make it to my top 5 included Noah Baumbach’s much-lauded Marriage Story; Scott Z. Burns’ The Report; Harriet; and an unforgettable film about a chain-smoking, gangster pensioner, Lucky Grandma. Many of the headliners, including The Irishman and The King, will be making a Netflix debut within a matter of weeks, meaning a better chance of catching something you might have missed, and that all-important distribution for Oscar contenders. For now, here are my top 5 from a frenetic 10 days in London:

5. The Personal History of David Copperfield – 8

Throughout David’s (a fantastic Dev Patel) life, he is known by many different names. Trotwood. Daisy. Dodie. But in The Personal History of David Copperfield, he is allowed to rewrite his story to tell the truth. Iannucci’s comedy is here stylised like a play and its payoff is brilliant: the specificity of the jokes and their fantastic execution is what made them work so well. Although Dickens’ material, it resembles an Oscar Wilde farce in many ways, largely owing to Iannucci’s comedic input.

The framing was so dynamic — each shot was focused in on close-ups of the characters’ faces. Space is a malleable thing, played with, pulled backwards and forwards. Not only that, but Iannucci isn’t afraid to play with form. On two occasions, a story told from one character’s point of view to another is transformed into a diegetic projection on the wall. As the credits rolled, I felt as though I understood Dickens’ work so much more clearly as Iannucci had teased out the satire that could so often go unnoticed.

4. Bad Education – 8.5

Whether or not you’re familiar with all the details of the $11.2 million public school embezzlement scandal in New York in the early 00s, you will be after Cory Finley takes to the screen again this festival season. He has once again proven his exceptional eye for detail and sensitivity to nuance in even greater force.

He closely observes the complex crossover between education and economics, which had a significant impact on the script development process. It’s an interesting observation that so many of the decisions that are made within school life are influenced by those in power, as if the school is a micro-economy. You may choose to read it as a skewering of modern politics and power, but Bad Education deals with the fallout of consistent lying;  in deceiving others, you eventually deceive yourself.

3. Jojo Rabbit – 8.5

Waititi’s Hitler is as grin-inducing as expected, and while I expected to see more of him, he’s able to laugh at himself liberally without saturating the picture. Imaginary Hitler acts as Jojo’s conscience and encourager throughout the picture, for better or worse. The two begin with a fun and encouraging relationship but as Jojo begins to shift in his worldview, they become more distant. In fact, there are whole sections of the film where Jojo doesn’t interact with or rely on him at all, allowing the character to unfold.

The composition of the film itself is part of the beauty of a film that could easily be written off as pure satire. No, in fact it demands to be taken seriously. Bach-like chorales and German lieder (melodic 19th-century songs) reminiscent of Schubert play over the moments of greatest tension. And the attention to detail reveals how well considered the comedy is. A magazine entitled Ja Hitler! is Nazi Germany’s answer to Ok! magazine. Jojo’s uniform, bedroom walls and the rest of the Hitler Youth are not adorned with swastikas, but with AC/DC lightning bolts — easily interchanged, of course. Waititi’s passion for, and perceptive takes on, pop culture are here in full force.

2. Knives Out – 8.5 

Knives Out is many-layered: tacking anti-immigration sentiment, masculinity in crisis, shifting narratives and a self-reflexive approach to genre that doesn’t slip into parody. There’s an appealing Barbour wax jacket and boots aesthetic to the film, and a spectacular set piece of a throne surrounded by a great circular frame of inverted knives. The plot leads us through twists and turns that are a delight to experience, with plenty of the old cliche to please a crowd: a mug of tea dropped in shock, an overblown car chase, the sound of an antique clock chiming in a silent room.  In taking time and labouring meticulously over the detail of each take, Johnson in turn demands the same attention and commitment from his viewers, and rewards them with a film that’s impossible not to want to see again immediately.

1. Waves – 8.5

In some of the most sophisticated filmmaking I’ve seen, director Trey Edward Shults steers a course through a family loss of tragic proportions, only to remedy it in a discrete, but interconnected, narrative. The official synopsis is that “Two young couples navigate through the emotional minefield of growing up and falling in love,” but this is unfairly reductionist.I prefer to read Waves as a film of two halves: the first of a brother, then of a sister. Yin and yang. It’s like watching two separate movies, both epic in proportions, so that by the end of the second half you question whether the previous actions took place in the same narrative, so different are they in tone.

Waves is profoundly moody and engulfing, the waves of the Florida coast crashing around characters, echoing their sound through bedrooms at night. Combined with this sensory rush, the music is captivating: classical arpeggios fuse with hip hop, creating a unique blend of sound effects and melody. It stands in for the gaps when individuals can’t articulate or express themselves.

Sian Francis Cox
Sian is Flixist’s UK Editor and has written for sites including Escapist Magazine, Destructoid, and Film Enthusiast.