The Best in New Cinema from BFI London Film Festival 2016

The dust is settling as BFI London Film Festival 2016 drew the curtains on its many cinemas across the city on Sunday, cleared the popcorn, and rolled up the red carpets. We’ve seen a broad array of works, with a welcome spread of more diverse players, and the results are in. With Certain Women taking home the official competition prize for Best Film, Raw leaving with Best First Feature, 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo taking Best Short Film, and Starless Dreams winning in the documentary competition category, you’ve heard from the jurors. Here are The Plus’ top picks for what you should check out in the cinemas later this year. Take a look at our special curation…

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara star in LION Photo: Mark Rogers

The Soul-Wrenching Journey of LION

Identity Crises Spanning Decades and Oceans…

LION is London Film Festival’s movie with a message: taking as its inspiration one historical instance of the 80,000 children who go missing in India every year, the new film from Garth Davis explores the shifting relationship between emotional and physical distance; between nature and nurture, between loss and being lost. Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, LION is a touching bi-partite narrative chronicling the young Suroo’s accidental and complete displacement from his infant home in rural Khandwa, and his torturous post-adolescent efforts to once more find his home using Google Earth. Following over twenty years of cultural assimilation in the privileged Tasmanian homestead of his adopted parents Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), Saroo (Dev Patel) finds the paper he has carefully been laying across the cracks of his split identity falling apart.

Lion 02
Lion 01

Women get a mixed treatment in this film: Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy (Ronoey Mara) is cute but nondescript; Sue, however, is devoutly, fervently maternal, and Kidman tracks the emotional fraying of an embattled mother over the course of twenty years with deft naturalism. The doe-eyed, infant pragmatism of Sunny Pawar in the role of the young Suroo is a triumphant find on the part of directors; the sequence tracking his gradual perambulations further from home is a similar resounding – cinematic – success, indulging in warm tones and intimate moments deliberately at disorienting odds with the increasing distance he puts between himself and his end-goal: home. A film that will pull you apart like a lost child taken from their maternal hearth, with all the emotional fall-out that entails.

La La Land: a Musical Homage to Dreaming, Dreamers, and Dazzle

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Fight for Each Others’ Dreams

From Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of Whiplash [2014], comes this knowing gem, plucked straight from the hey-day of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and dressed sparely in the accoutrements of the modern day. Chance encounters bring Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) together to fight both for their growing love and their increasingly threatened, waveringly cherished, dreams.


Deftly employing the versatile reprise and big-band crescendos of musical theatre, the soundtrack is – unsurprisingly – one of the showstoppers of this film. Supported by the full heft of musical scores created for LA LA LAND by Chazelle and deployed with the familiar musical-film frequency, the voices of Stone and Gosling are just imperfect enough to counter the sugar-packed feature. Their unpolished vocals touchingly complement the story of young lovers struggling on in their fight against the trials of reality.

London Film Festival’s Cerebral Take on ‘Alien Invasion’

Arrival Gives London Film Festival “Deceivingly Smart” Food for Thought

“Deceivingly smart; deceivingly emotionally intelligent”, Jeremy Renner says of Denis Villenueve, director of 2016’s contribution to the growing list of Hollywood’s speculations on the subject of alien contact: ARRIVAL. Yet this could just as easily be said of the film itself: a forceful apology for a breed of tolerance that appeals to measured and exhaustive critical thought, rather than sympathy and idealism, bound so tightly to a study of linguistic expert Louise’s struggle as a suffering mother that ‘plot’ and ‘subplot’ are difficult to extricate.


Particularly commendable is the stunningly unaffected and empathetically strong lead performance from Amy Adams as Louise, pulled from her college lectureship to lead America tentatively through the darkness of communication with an alien species whose stance – hostile? exploratory? – remains unknown.


The fraught blindsiding that was the violent currency of Villenueve’s 2015 offering, Sicario, is replaced in Arrival with a slow-burning intellectual pressure and a quietly looming, decisively omnipotent threat so ‘foreign’, so opaquely unintelligible, that it might symbolise any number of indistinct threats with which today’s culture constantly grapples. And herein lies the film’s power: Arrival proves that words can be mightier than the sword, not just in conflict, but also as a starting premise from which to build a top-rate ‘alien threat’ movie.