London Film Festival highlights: Killers of the Flower Moon and more

Film festival season is in full swing. We recently presented you with the highlights of the 2023 Venice Film Festival, the 2023 Toronto Film Festival and the 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

We now arrive at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival (or LFF for short). Here are some review highlights of buzzed-about titles that could be spearheading the forthcoming Oscars award season.


1. Killers of the Flower Moon (released on October 20th)

Martin Scorsese's lacerating account of the Osage Nation tragedy is the work of a veteran filmmaker at the top of his game. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone front this near-four-hour epic of oil, greed and widespread corruption that's adapted from David Grann's bestselling non-fiction book.

"Killers of the Flower Moon is yet another late-career masterpiece from Scorsese," writes Chris Connor for Flickering Myth, "and while its length may be a discussion point the subject matter and style more than warrant it, helping to do the story justice and incorporate multiple perspectives. Every aspect is on song to make this one of his very finest works, and we can only hope that there are more films in him, but this continues a phenomenal late streak for a true cinematic titan.


2. Saltburn (released on November 17th)

In 2021, writer-director Emerald Fennell scored a critical and artistic success with the penetrating and insightful Promising Young Woman. It probed uncomfortable and prickly discussions around consent, eliciting an outstanding, Oscar-nominated performance from Carey Mulligan in the central role.

Fennell returns with Saltburn, a kind of Evelyn Waugh meets Patricia Highsmith black comedy about gilded, upper-class decadence. The Banshees of Inisherin's Barry Keoghan plays Oxford Uni student Oliver Quick who becomes infatuated with upper-class fellow alumnus Felix, played by Euphoria's Jacob Elordi.

Invited to the latter's country pile Saltburn, Oliver is seduced by the lifestyle of the upper one percent, ultimately becoming wrapped in a web of sex and conniving self-deceit. The top-drawer cast also includes Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant and critics have reveled in the film's joyous air of bad behaviour.

Sharai Bohannon raves in Dread Central: "Emerald Fennell has crafted an absurdly funny, dangerous, seductive world where everyone is more than they seem. ‘Saltburn’ is everything we assumed it would be but also somehow more than we ever could’ve dreamed. It defies expectations and refuses to settle for a simple indictment of the rich because that would be too easy."

3. The Bikeriders (released on December 1st)

Director Jeff Nichols is an established chronicler of the atmospheric American interior. His films Take Shelter, Mud and others take a long, hard look at rural landscapes and the hardened nature of the people within them.

So, it's hardly surprising that Nichols' latest encapsulates that most American of images: the lonesome bike rider and the irresistible appeal of the open road. The aptly named The Bikeriders assembles a strong ensemble, including Austin Butler, Tom Hardy and Jodie Comer, to dramatise a pivotal moment in 1960s American culture. This was a time when biking gangs roved the American sub-continent, causing mayhem and inviting discontent wherever they went.

The movie takes its visual and thematic inspiration from a photobook of American biking culture. The Bikeriders has been praised for its authentically melancholic atmosphere as per this five-star review from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who describes it as "a potent ode" to the period.

"This film opens up the storytelling throttle with a throaty growl," writes Bradshaw, "delivering the doomy romance of an old-fashioned western and the thrills of a mob drama."

4. The Boy and the Heron (released on December 26th)

Renowned Japanese animator and Studio Ghibli chief Hayao Miyazaki has twice announced his retirement. But you can't keep the man from his art, and Miyazaki now returns with another masterpiece in the making, The Boy and the Heron.

The legendary creator of Spirited Away and countless other Studio Ghibli classics now brings us another delicate and visually ravishing fable. It centres on a young boy named Mahito Maki who discovers an abandoned tower in his new town and enters a fantastical world with a talking grey heron.

It sounds like classic Studio Ghibli territory, openly crossing the boundary between make-believe and reality to fashion a powerful statement on man's connection with nature and the limits of one's own imagination. The title is borrowed from the 1937 novel of the same name but otherwise is a completely original creation.

The film is slated to be Miyazaki's last, although we've heard that before. If it's true, then The Boy and the Heron will be a genuine historical marking point, capping off one of the most astonishing careers in the history of animation. 

Sci-fi Now writer Katherine McLaughlin lauds the movie as "a masterpiece". She adds: "If this truly is Miyazaki's swan song then it's one hell of a goodbye – an exquisitely crafted animation packed full of imagination, humour, tenderness and all pieced together by the erudite hand of a filmmaker reflecting on life and death in all its heart-breaking and messy wonder."

5. Poor Things (released on January 12th, 2024)

When Yorgos Lanthimos crafts a coming-of-age story, you know it won't be conventional. After all, this is the director of the Oscar-winning The Favourite, which took a memorably cracked and darkly funny look at the court of the ailing Queen Anne.

Following her celebrated role in The Favourite, Emma Stone now reunites with Lanthimos to deliver a career-best performance in Poor Things. The movie is adapted from Alasdair Gray's novel and imagines a burlesque vision of society that crosses Frankenstein with the surrealism of Terry Gilliam.

Stone plays Bella Baxter, a fusion of a young human brain in an adult body. As Bella acclimates to both the wider world and her own identity, the results are as outrageously hilarious as they are insightful. Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe flank Stone's impressively physical and full-throttle performance while the design of the piece is truly something to behold.

Poor Things appears to be leading the pack for this year's Oscar nominations. It's received unanimously strong reviews from this year's Venice Film Festival and is poised to win over the crowds again at the LFF.

6. All Of Us Strangers (released on January 26th, 2024)

Award-winning British filmmaker Andrew Haigh is back with his new drama All of Us Strangers. It's adapted from Taichi Yamada's group Strangers and fuses the queer relationship focus of Haigh's breakout film Weekend (2011) with something altogether more mysterious, crossing the material world with that of the supernatural.

Andrew Scott is superb in the lead role of Adam, an isolated, gay writer living in a largely empty tower block in London. Adam has long internalised the tragic death of his parents, which occurred when he was 12, and is attempting to parlay his experiences into a film script.

At the same time Adam meets and falls for the handsome stranger Harry (played by Aftersun Oscar nominee Paul Mescal), he returns to his childhood home for inspiration. There he is greeted by the 30-something iterations of his parents, played by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell. So begins a shattering, moving account of what it means to reconcile with devastating loss and loneliness.

"This is bleakly handsome filmmaking with a virtuoso cast," writes Paul Flynn in the Evening Standard. "Tthis film admirably sits amid Andrew Haigh’s honourable portfolio of taking sexuality seriously."



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