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  • Writer's pictureStefanos Yoo-Min Florakis

BFI London Film Festival 2019: The most exciting entries of this year's cinematic gathering

As London is preparing itself for the high-profile film gathering of the year, we also prepare ourselves to watch some of the most anticipated entries of the 63rd annual festival.

From all the films, I'll get to see 24 showings, from multiple countries and industries in the business. Within our watchlist, several of them have become the centre of attention with big Oscar talks for the upcoming awards season.

Even though all of our scheduled films are extremely intriguing, 10 of them truly have me excited to be part of a small group of people to experience them on the big screen.

Disclaimer: high-profile films in the festival are not in our books due to schedule conflict and budget. Some of them are Les Mans '66 (aka Ford v. Ferrari), The King, The Aeronauts, The Two Popes, and Honey Boy. Also, The Last Black Man in San Fransisco has already been seen earlier in the year, and it is one of the best works of 2019.

10. Bad Education (dir. Cory Finley)

No, this has nothing to do with the BBC Three sitcom. It is the sophomore directorial work of Thoroughbreds director, Cory Finley, a semi-autobiographical film about the film's writer, Mike Makowsky, a real-life event that occurred in his high school as a student.

Praise has met with Bad Education, especially for Makowsky's screenplay and the performances of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. Shortly after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, HBO Films acquired the distribution rights for a reported $20 million.

Including Jackman and Janney, the film also has Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Kayli Carter, and Rafael Casal.

09. A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick)

A return to form for the director, Terrence Malick- as several critics have described the film after its premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The best reviews he has received since his 2011 Palm D'or winning film The Tree of Life.

A Hidden Life takes place in Austria during World War II, flowing the real-life figure of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Third Reich. the film depicts both the natural beauty of the land and its people (a standard motive to Malick's work) but also the haunting segregation of those who went against the regime.

Jägerstätter is portrayed by August Diehl, with Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Jürgen Prochnow, Matthias Schoenaerts, and the late Bruno Ganz in supporting roles.

08. Waves (Trey Edward Shults)

Premiered in both Venice Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals, Trey Edward Shults' third feature film met with critical praise as a sleeper hit for A24.

Waves follows a mid-class suburban Florida family, through their lives, navigated by their experiences and conflicts after a tragic loss. That is the only description given by the studio, hinting of major dramatic depth, and based on Shults' work on Krisha and It Comes at Night, this will be an interesting ride. Especially when the trailer for the film gets a similar mood with A24's Oscar-winning film, Moonlight.

The cast consists of Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Lucas Hedges, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Clifton Collins Jr., and This is Us' Sterling K. Brown.

07. Knives Out (dir. Rian Johnson)

Rian Johnson leaves the galaxy far far away to the complex mystery thrillers that made his career, with a new original "whodunnit".

Knives Out takes place in the manner of a wealthy crime novelist, celebrating his 85th birthday with his dysfunctional and untrustworthy family. The following morning of the party, the patriarch of the Thrombey estate is found dead, and an investigation begins as the authorities, with the help of Detective Benoit Blanc, are trying to solve the suspicious demise.

A premise that could easily be an Agatha Christie novel and the trailer indicates that it could be one of the most entertaining films of the year (which the early reviews indicate so).

Detective Blanc is played by Daniel Craig, combined with an A-list cast including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer as the wealthy victim.

06. Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi)

Freshly out of the Toronto Film Festival, with the festival's top prize of People's Choice Award, Taika Waititi returns with a strong satire against hate.

The film is about Jojo, a young boy in World War II Germany, raised in Hitler's youth army, but fails to come to the same standards of the other kids, with his only solace being his imaginary friend, Hitler himself, played by Waititi. But after he discovers a Jewish girl hiding in the wall of his house, Jojo starts to question his country's beliefs and actions, while trying to fit in with his community.

Jojo Rabbit shows to be one of the New Zealand director's most profound work with a cast filled with both dramatic and comedic talent like Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, and newcomer Roman Griffin Davis as the titular character.

05. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)

Did you have nightmares after watching Robert Eggers' The Witch: A New-England Folktale? Then prepare yourself for the next stage of madness with his sophomore debut.

A24 (once again) presents a bizarre and twisted tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890s, filled with hypnotic and hallucinatory events. A film that both got praise since its premiere at Cannes and terrified critics, with huge admiration of Eggers' filmmaking and the performances of the two leads.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star in the two-man show of Lovecraftian horrors.

04. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (dir. Marielle Heller)

After the success of last year's documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? the world came into a realization that it needs more of Fred Rogers.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the real friendship between the father of children's programming, Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod while writing an article about Rogers and his legacy of educating kids about difficult subjects.

A sweet story about an important figure of American television, helmed by Can You Ever Forgive Me? director, Marielle Heller, promising a thoughtful and charming biopic.

Mr Rogers and Junod are portrayed by the father of American cinema, Tom Hanks and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, respectively. Also in the cast are Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, and Enrico Colantoni.

03. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)

By the time of this piece's publication, Marriage Story holds the highest score at the review aggregator Metacritic for any film released in 2019, since the film's premiere in Venice.

Noah Baumbach's drama takes place in both Los Angeles and New York City, as an actor and a stage director struggle through a coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes, especially the life of their son. A deep study on relationships and the court procedures on the end of a marriage.

This is the second collaboration of Baumbach with Netflix, after 2017's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and it seems that this is going to be the streaming service's big hopefuls in the award season.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are playing the leads with Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta in supporting roles.

02. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

Céline Sciamma returns after her powerful 2014 film Girlhood, with probably her best work so far, based on reactions from critics and audience members who got the chance to witness it in multiple festivals in the year.

The French period drama follows a young painter named Marianne, who travels to an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, where she gets obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young lady, Héloïse. Although the soon-to-be wife does not desire to model for the painting, due to her refusal to be wedded through an elicit marriage proposal. Therefore, Marianne disguises herself as a lady's maid in order to gain Héloïse's trust only to find herself inadvertently falling in love with her.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire was a big hit in Cannes, which led Sciamma winning two accolades for the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay Award.

Marianne and Héloïse are played by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel respectively, with Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino also included in the cast list.

01. The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)

As Marriage Story is one of the big hopeful entries for Netflix into the Oscars, The Irishman stands as the leading film for the service, marching them with one of the most anticipated films of the year (if not the most).

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. These four names have never been together before in any film, and witnessing it in 2019 just makes it even more impossible to believe.

The film goes through the span of three decades, based on the labour leader Jimmy Hoffa's criminal activity with the help of mob hitman, Frank Sheeran. De Niro and Pacino portray Sheeran and Hoffa respectively. The story is being told from the perspective of Sheeran, detailing the journey of his involvement into Hoffa's disappearance, and his involvement with the Bufalino crime family, especially with Russel Buffalino, portrayed by Pesci.

The Irishman has been in development since 2007, with the script first being drafting by the acclaimed writer, Steven Zaillian nine years later. After long negotiations between Scorsese and Netflix, the service agreed to finance the film with a staggering $159 million (mainly due to de-ageing technology used on the cast) and the runtime of 209 minutes.

Including the three leads, the film also features the additional talents of Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, and Ray Romano.

Extra: Surprise Film

One of the showings on my visit to the festival is the annual Suprise Film. We do not know which film it is, but based off the choices of previous years (Green Book last year and Lady Bird in 2017) this one could be another grant one from this year's other international festivals.

Our bets go to wither Uncut Gems, from Good Time directors, the Safdie Brothers, with Adam Sandler, or this year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner Parasite from Okja director, Bong Joon-Ho. Either way, they both are in my most anticipated films.

The 63rd BFI London Film Festival will take place from the 2nd until the 13th of October, with tickets available on the festival official site.

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