A new Sam Mendes drama, Noah Baumbach adapts Don DeLillo and an amazing debut by Charlotte Wells: the Guardian’s chief film critic chooses his must-sees
Matilda the Musical kicks off the London film festival as Netflix banks on Roald Dahl
Rian Johnson’s 2019 murder mystery Knives Out was a smash hit which single-handedly revived the all-star whodunnit on-screen. The second movie in the Knives Out cinematic universe is a homicidal adventure as intriguing and intricate as the puzzle boxes that feature in the plot. Daniel Craig revives his hilarious turn as the drawling southern detective Benoit Blanc.
Korean director Park Chan-wook thrilled international audiences with his adaptation of Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith – renamed The Handmaiden – and now he is back with another exquisite suspense thriller. Decision to Leave is a sensational black-widow noir romance, with Chinese star Tang Wei as a mysterious woman whose husband’s body has been found at the bottom of a well-known climbing rock. Did he fall? Did he take his own life? Or did his wife kill him?
This deeply moving drama is one of the films of the year. Director Oliver Hermanus and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro have remade Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ikiru, or To Live, about the humble civil servant dying of cancer but on a mission to cut through red tape and get a children’s playground built before death closes in. Bill Nighy is superb as the shy functionary who wants to make his life mean something and Aimee Lou Wood is excellent as his sprightly junior colleague Margaret.
French-Senegalese director Alice Diop has been universally praised as a documentary-maker, and for her brilliant film We (Nous) about diverse communities around Paris. Her fiction feature debut – a no-frills courtroom drama – has been the talk of this year’s Venice film festival, where it won the Silver Lion grand jury prize. Kayije Kagame plays Rama, a Senegalese writer and academic who attends the trial of a Senegalese woman accused of murdering her 15-month-old child – Laurence, played by Guslagie Malanga. Rama intends a kind of reportage spun around the Medea myth, but she soon realises that her connection with the accused runs deeper than this.
Young British film-maker Charlotte Wells makes an amazing debut with Aftersun, starring Paul Mescal as a divorced dad taking his young daughter (9-year-old newcomer Frankie Corio) for a summer holiday at a budget Turkish resort: a sunshine break that is a kind of farewell. Wells’s movie ripples and shimmers like a swimming pool of mystery. The details accumulate; the images reverberate; the gentleness of the central relationship slowly deepens in importance. A quiet miracle of a film.
We’re used to dysfunctional super-rich families, from the Murdochs to the fictional Roys in Jesse Armstrong’s TV show Succession. But the most bizarre clan of modern times is the Sackler family, the US’s big pharma dynasty, which made a staggering fortune from its addictive opioid pain pill OxyContin, turning millions into junkies, and tried artwashing their brand by donating to thousands of art galleries and museums. Laura Poitras’s documentary, the Golden Lion winner at this year’s Venice film festival, is about the photographer Nan Goldin, who became hooked on the pill and then led a campaign to hold the Sacklers to account.
Here is a fascinating film about the 19th-century’s pre-eminent superstar royal: the Habsburg empress Elizabeth of Austria, or “Sissi”, played by Vicky Krieps (Daniel Day-Lewis’s co-star in Phantom Thread) in this movie from director Marie Kreutzer. The drama is centred on her fraught home life in 1877, the year of her 40th birthday. It shows us her luxurious delirium of loneliness, her unhappiness at her husband’s infidelities, her agony in getting into her patriarchally ordained corsage and also her defiance and imagined encounters with heroin and cinema.
Olivia Colman gives a glorious performance in this beautifully observed new drama from Sam Mendes – a film that breathes new life into the “love letter to the movies” genre. She plays Hilary, a cinema manager in Margate in 1981, as Mrs Thatcher’s Britain slides into recession and she herself suffers from depression. Her manager (Colin Firth) is a pompous bore and her life seems sad. But then a new ticket seller called Stephen (played with richly emotional openness by Micheal Ward) starts work at the venue and there is a connection between him and Hilary.
A macabre comedy of male emotional stagnancy, doubling as a parable for the Irish civil war, Martin McDonagh’s latest is set on the imaginary island of Inisherin off the Irish coast in 1923. Colin Farrell plays Pádraic, a dairyman who wants very little in life apart from his friendship with Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson, whom he calls for every day to go down the pub. But then Colm simply says he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic any more: an almost childish breakup which has hideous emotional consequences.
The Mexican-Bolivian editor turned director Natalia López Gallardo (who has worked with Carlos Reygadas and Lisandro Alonso) is one of the most exciting new talents in world cinema: her film is a complex, disquieting, upsetting work: a psycho-pathological moodboard of a film, a story of crime, class and corruption in modern Mexico. An unhappy married woman has taken her two children with her to live in the derelict villa owned by her late mother – but the maid there is haunted by the disappearance of her sister, whose body may be buried in the grounds.
Léa Seydoux sparkles in this lovely, humane movie from Mia Hansen-Løve; she is Sandra, a single mum who works hard as an interpreter and has devoted herself to caring for her father who has the dementia-like neurodegenerative disorder Benson’s syndrome. It is going to be Sandra’s responsibility to get her dad into a care home. But just when she is resigned to shutting down emotionally, Sandra is attracted to a married man, played by Melvil Poupaud.
Noah Baumbach’s White Noise is a terrifically stylish adaptation of the cult novel by Don DeLillo: a deadpan comedy of catastrophe and a sensuous apocalyptic reverie founded on the assumption that nothing can really go wrong … or can it? Adam Driver plays Jack, an academic with the bizarre title of head of Hitler studies; Don Cheadle plays Murray, his campus colleague who is head of Elvis studies: Slavoj Žižek has got nothing on these postmodernist thinkers. But Jack’s wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) is becoming unwell and then the entire neighbourhood is convulsed with horror when a poisonous cloud billows out from a crashed train carrying nuclear waste: an “airborne toxic event” which brings everyone’s anxieties to the surface.
The BFI London film festival runs from 5-16 October.