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The Best of the Fest: Our London Film Festival Top 10

The 61st London Film Festival is finally over. Of the 241 movies shown at the festival I managed to see a measly 40. Covering a film festival as a press delegate was an extraordinary experience. Average days would involve arriving at 8:00 in the morning, watching three movies almost entirely back to back and then attending a gala premier of a fourth movie in the evening.

Seeing films at the London Film Festival as a ticket holder is even more extraordinary. There’s a great sense of curated viewing as you select from the programme consisting of only the best from the rest of years festivals. You often have to walk down a red carpet to attend your screening and there are almost always intros and maybe even Q&As with members of the production. This year I had a chance to see: Andy Serkis, Todd Haynes, Sam Claflin, Emma Stone, Danny Boyle, Elizabeth Shue, Takeshi Miike, David Fincher, John Carol Lynch, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alexander Payne, Christoph Waltz, Lynn Ramsay, Joaquin Phoenix and many more.

The festival is celebration of film and I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of it this year. If you’re near London and love film then I can’t urge you strongly enough to try and get tickets next year.

Meanwhile here are the ten (sort of) best films that I saw at the festival this year. Be sure to look out for them when they are released!

Special category: Documentaries

‘Roller Dreams’ and ‘Promised Land’

I saw two documentaries as part of the festival this year and absolutely adored them both. They both managed to shed light on a subject matter I knew little about and presented that information in a fascinating way that felt entertaining and urgent.

10. ‘Lucky’

A beautiful send off to a wonderful actor. Lucky sees the late great Harry Dean Stanton play a nonagenarian who contemplates life and death in a tiny little town in rural America. He’s kept company by some of the best character actors in the business and David Lynch. It’s a funny and poignant sign off and a great movie in its own right.

9. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ and ‘Thoroughbreds’

I’ve decided to group together my two thrillers about disturbed young women. Ingrid Goes West tells the story of a young woman who becomes obsessed with a social media star and decides to become her friend at all costs. Thoroughbreds is about two young women who decide they must murder someone to become free. Both films draw humour from discomfort and aren’t afraid to deal with darker material. Thoroughbreds has the more distinctive visual style and is definitely told in a more clinical way, but Ingrid Goes West is relentlessly entertaining. They’re both very funny and absolutely riveting.

8. ‘Downsizing’

Downsizing is more than just an excellent and fascinating concept. It’s a beautiful character drama and a really moving comedy. In a future where people can be shrunken down to miniature size to reduce their environmental impact, Matt Damon struggles to find his place. The tone is pitch perfect as the film balances intelligent sci-fi with quirky indie drama.

7. ‘Battle of the Sexes’

A great sports movie in the vein of Rocky, but also a powerful social statement about equality and understanding. It’s really funny, superbly acted (Emma Stone and Steve Carrell) and actually pretty suspenseful (unless you remember the actual story of course.)

6. ‘Call Me by Your Name’

The greatest summer you never had. Two young men fall in love in the idyllic Italian countryside. It’s a sumptuous tale of love ripening in a gorgeous setting. It’s erotica driven by character and story.

5. ‘Last Flag Flying’

A heart-breakingly poignant and heart-warmingly funny story of a man returning his son’s body to his home town, with two old war buddies along for the ride. Driven by three terrific central performances from Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne and Steve Carrel, it’s the funniest and sweetest movie I saw at the festival.

4. ‘The Shape of Water’

Del Toro at his best. A cleaner working in a research laboratory falls in love with a test subject and decides to free him. This is a charming modern fairy tale about love, freedom and understanding. It also has stunning production design and a fabulous lead performance from Sally Hawkins.

3. You Were Never Really Here

With its extreme violence, surreal atmosphere and deeply understated narrative, this is destined to become a cult movie in the vein of Drive. A fixer is commissioned to find a senators abducted daughter. Joaquin Phoenix is momentous in the lead role and Lynne Ramsay makes a triumphant return to cinemas.

2. ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

Yorgos Lanthimos returns with another surreal dark comedy, only this time he’s made a superbly tense thriller. The premise is too good to spoil, try to go in knowing as little as possible. It’s a visceral experience that’s bound to shock and impress.

1. ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Martin McDonagh returns to form with this wickedly funny and dark comedy. A woman erects three controversial billboards to try and find justice for her daughter’s killer and in so doing tears the small town where she lives apart. Brilliant performances, hilarious comedy, meaningful sentiment and a heartfelt theme. It’s my favourite film from the festival this year.

Thank you to everyone who read and shared my reviews during the festival. I hope I shall be able to bring you more news from special events in the coming year!

Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.