Left to His Own Devices


BFI London Film Festival


If Only I Could Hibernate (2024)

This was the first ever Mongolian movie to play in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, but would have been accepted from any nation. It's an assured and reassuring movie about the importance of education, while also being a fresh entry into the genre of movies about children being forced to raise themselves. Normally such movies are incredibly bleak no matter where in the world they're set, but despite the worrisome title this is not the case here. “If Only I Could Hibernate” is a remarkable testament to the power of the human spirit and the dogged ability of children to create a better life for themselves, if only they have a little help.

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Brothers in Arms


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Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (2024)

The first half of “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is a jolly action buddy comedy which includes our heroes, Freddie (Akshay Kumar) and Rocky (Tiger Shroff), beginning a hostage rescue by riding some horses off the back of a helicopter. The second half of “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is a fantasy war thriller based on the password to the scientific shield keeping India safe from missile attack. In both halves the evil villain, Kabir (Prithviraj Sukumaran), strides around in a bedazzled MF Doom mask, a large selection of stylish full-length black coats, and enough evil plans to justify the Indian army going rogue, not that his evil results are terribly impressive. But this is not one of those movies a person is meant to take seriously. We're meant to admire the pretty stars and have a great time knowing the nation is safe in their hands. It's a delight.

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Folie à une

Altered Innocence

The People's Joker (2024)

The sole showing of “The People’s Joker” at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 was hugely important in film history. When legal threats cause any film to be pulled from a festival that means that something important has gone wrong, and of course nothing is more interesting that something that’s officially been pulled. But this is no “Sita Sings the Blues,” a highly personal animated story of one woman’s very bad breakup which never got a mainstream release thanks to music licensing rights. Instead, “The People’s Joker” uses characters from the DC Universe to discuss the brandification of our imaginations, the difficulties in maintaining an artistic career, the after-effect of abusive relationships and how all of these things are heightened when you’re trans. To say it is one of the most important recent American movies is an understatement. It’s entirely fresh, extremely funny and with a talent for meeting the zeitgeist that can’t be bought. It never should have been threatened, as the backlash has only brought more publicity, especially since the use of the “Batman” characters is done in an exceptionally personally (and parodic) way. It’s an extraordinary film.

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A Slap in the Face

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Family Star (2024)

He hits her in the face in what is meant to be a sweet love story. He hits her in the face and we're meant to think she owes him an apology for driving him to it. He hits her in the face and it's supposed to show just how committed he is to the welfare of his family that he would protect them at any cost. He hits her in the face in what’s supposed to be a romantic comedy. Better by far to die alone.

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Scenes From a Divorce


Our Son (2023)

It’s no one fault, or it’s both their faults, but even with the best will in the world sometimes marriages just can’t be saved. In the case of book publisher Nicky (Luke Evans) and stay-at-home dad Gabriel (Billy Porter) neither of them has been perfect – overwork here, infidelity there – but the main issue is their different parenting styles for their son, Owen (Christopher Woodley), and the resentment which has seeped in until it’s the only thing they can feel. But “Our Son” is not a gay “Marriage Story,” even if that’s the easy marketing tagline which brought it to BFI Flare. Instead it’s about ordinary adult disappointments between an ordinary couple who happen to be gay and the ways in which their homosexuality directs the choices around their completely ordinary divorce.

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Quiet Reflection


Solids By the Seashore (2023)

“Solids By the Seashore” is unusual for a few reasons. Firstly, it equates the changes people undergo in a new relationship with those a beach undergoes through the ebb and flow of the seasons. Secondly, the people in the new relationship are two young Thai women, one a free-wheeling artist and the other a quiet hijabi. And finally, it’s also a movie about art – the people who make it, the people who sell it and the relationship art has with the places where it’s made. It combines its themes for an unusually satisfying resolution that manages to make all its points despite its restraint.

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Northern Exposure

Amanda Matlovich/Headless Films Inc.

Seven Veils (2023)

If you’ve even seen a man on social media ask the woman who wrote the article if she’s ever read it, then you know exactly how “Seven Veils” feels. There’s a naivety here about how men in positions of power have exploited the women around them, both in the hallowed halls of opera and in the Bible, that feels somewhat unwarranted from a writer-director as attuned to sexualized bad behavior as Atom Egoyan. He’s directed more than one opera production of “Salome” himself, so this project is a meta attempt to analyze the text while also performing the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially at the Berlinale. But his attempts to address how the world is no longer willing to tolerate sexualized violence needed less righteous indignation and more maturity.

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A Himalayan Blunder

Aditya Basnet/Shooney Films

Shambhala (2024)

It must be easy to be a cinematographer in Nepal. You take a camera outside, point it at nearly anything, and let the astonishing mountain scenery do the rest of the work. It’s so gorgeous it’s a surprise “Shambhala” was the first Nepalese movie in competition at the Berlinale, although that rather minimizes Aziz Zhambakiyev’s beautiful work. But in face of such beauty it can be tough not to lose sight of the plot.

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Danger Zone

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Operation Valentine (2024)

“Fighter” was the Hindi-language response of “Top Gun: Maverick;” and now we have “Operation Valentine,” the Telugu-language equivalent. It's about the same real-life incidents from 2019 also referenced in “Fighter,” but “Operation Valentine” is much the worse movie for two reasons. Firstly, director Shakti Pratap Singh chose to use footage of the real-life funerals which followed the 2019 attacks, which is desperately inappropriate. Secondly, it reduces the entire history of hostilities between two nations into one man's struggle with himself. It's a breathtaking achievement but perhaps not the intended one.

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Mountainish Inhumanity

Philistine Films

The Strangers’ Case (2024)

A lot of people do not give a lot of thought to immigration except to wonder why all these people are suddenly here when they could just stay at home. What “The Strangers’ Case” does is walk us, step by painful step, through the awful things that lead to a small boat in desperate trouble arriving in Greek waters. It does this with perfect staging and acting, an enormous sense of urgency and a pointed beginning and ending that could make you cry. The title is even a quote from Shakespeare, for heaven’s sake. Unfortunately, “The Strangers’ Case” is too calculated in how it tugs at our heartstrings and it tries so hard to make its point that it backfires.

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