The 12 best films to see at the London Film Festival from Poor Things to The Kitchen

Ramy Youssef and Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (© 2023 20th Century Studios )
Ramy Youssef and Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (© 2023 20th Century Studios )

So you’ve obviously already got tickets for Scorsese’s The Killers of the Flower Moon and the opening gala screening of Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn (No? Get your bleedin’ skates on!). The impossible mission now, with more than 250 movies to choose from at the London Film Festival, is what else you absolutely have to watch.

Well lucky you, because after poring over the festival programme we have selected our pick of films from the buzziest movie on the planet right now to the most mind-blowing debuts and the darkest edges of cinemas. These are the LFF films you don’t want to miss.

Poor Things (dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)

Like the mangled jowls of Willem Dafoe’s Victorian mad scientist in the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), your jaw will be dropping open throughout this wild romp. Emma Stone (Oscars buzz?) plays prim Bella, who kills herself only to be re-aminated à la Frankenstein’s creature by Dafoe. Unfettered by the mores of the era (slapping people and throwing food at dinner is her new MO), Bella’s second life is marked by unbridled discovery, primarily carnal ones. Having just won the Golden Lion at Venice, this is now the hottest ticket at LFF.

October 14 (5.30pm), 15 (10.30am & 7.50pm)

The Killer (dir: David Fincher)

 (Courtesy of Netflix)
(Courtesy of Netflix)

First rule of film-making: stick with what you do best. And Fincher is in back on Fight Club form, punching out our retinas with this adaptation of the graphic novel about a hyper-disciplined, yoga-loving assassin who becomes the prey of his former employers after botching a job. With Michael Fassbender’s exterminator eyes searing into the camera as the titular hitman and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker reunited with the director for the first time since Se7en, this is a stars-aligning cinematic event.

October 5 (8pm), 6 (2.30pm), 12 (11.50am)

The End We Start From (dir: Mahalia Belo)

You had us at Jodie Comer. But this also has London and dystopia (two of our favourite things) as the capital is consumed by catastrophic floods and young mother Comer must struggle to survive with her newborn child. Comer said this is about the “quiet heroics of determination, bravery and love”, so expect intense intimacy amid the watery hellscape.

October 13 (6pm), 14 (11.30am)

The Kitchen (dir: Kibwe Tavares, Daniel Kaluuya)

Kane Robinson as Izi, Jedaiah Bannerman as Benji in The Kitchen (Chris Harris / Netflix)
Kane Robinson as Izi, Jedaiah Bannerman as Benji in The Kitchen (Chris Harris / Netflix)

As the directorial debut of Daniel Kaluuya, co-directing with Kibwe Tavares, the closing gala is a big draw already, but it’s also set in a near-future London and tackles some zeitgeisty hot potatoes: gentrification, the corrosion of community. Izi (rapper Kano) wants to leave The Kitchen, the last social housing in the capital, for a luxury penthouse. But when a young boy arrives in search of his father, Izi finds himself bonding and joining the increasingly drastic battle to save the estate. Kitchen-sink drama this ain’t: think more Afro-futurist Blade Runner.

October 15 (7.15pm & 9pm)

The Zone of Interest (dir: Jonathan Glazer)

It’s been 10 years since Under the Skin. Has the wait for Jonathan Glazer’s new outing been worth it? The answer should be a resounding, albeit uneasy, yes. Rudolf and Hedwig live an idyllic existence in their pristine home. However, from beyond the garden wall drift the sounds of mechanised murder, for Rudolf is commandant of Auschwitz. Inspired by Martin Amis’s novel, the banality of evil is scrutinised with acute precision under master clinician Glazer’s microscope.

October 12 (9pm), 13 (2.15pm)

Fingernails (dir: Christos Nikou)

Riz Ahmed and Jessie Buckley in Fingernails (Apple TV+)
Riz Ahmed and Jessie Buckley in Fingernails (Apple TV+)

The presence of Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White in this sci-fi romance is a mouth-watering prospect. What if, beyond reckless algorithms, there was a definite test of perfect coupledom, and all it takes is the removal of a fingernail? Ouch! Buckley and Allen White are a 100% match, but with Ahmed loitering true love is clearly not going to run smoothly...

October 9 (5.45pm), 12 (8.40pm & 8.55pm)

Starve Acre (dir: Daniel Kokotajlo)

Another slice of folk horror? Don’t mind if I do. Especially if it stars Matt Smith and Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud) and as an archaeologist and his wife who find their young son going weirdly loco after moving to the remote family estate. Family fractures, unnerving folklore and a cauldron of moody atmospherics should make this one of the festival highlights.

October 12 (6.10pm), 15 (3pm)

Sky Peals (dir: Moin Hussian)

Like airports, motorway service areas are non-places, just crapper. So where better for Moin Hussain to set his lugubrious, visually potent and undoubtedly weird sci-fi realist debut about alienation and belonging. Mixed-race Adam works the night shift at the station and, upon learning of his estranged father’s death, soon begins to wonder if his dad was actually from another planet. The recent Venice crowd enjoyed this and so too should Londoners.

October 11 (5.50pm), 13 (8.40pm)

Earth Mama (dir: Savanah Leaf)

This intimate debut is about a woman desperate to cling on to her unborn child while trying to regain custody of her first two children. A tender portrait of black motherhood, this has already drawn glowing reviews at US festivals.

October 5 (9pm), 7 (12.10pm)

High & Low - John Galliano (dir: Kevin Macdonald)

You might know him for Les Incroyables, his ‘so legendary it’s almost mythical’ graduate fashion collection. However, it was John Galliano’s spectacular descent from grace (with that sozzled anti-Semitic rant) that probably sticks. They are the lofty zenith and abysmal nadir of the title, but Oscar-winning doc specialist Macdonald (Whitney, One Day in September) goes way deeper, speaking to the man himself, as he follows the designer’s road to redemption.

October 12 (6.10pm), 14 (3pm & 3.15pm)

Stopmotion (dir: Robert Morgan)

Mixing traditional horror and animation, this terrifyingly violent trip to cinema’s outer limits follows a recently bereaved animator wrestling with turmoil while trying to complete her new work. The LFF director suggested audiences will be left either dazed, distraught or confused, so worth a punt for those who like to journey to the edge.

October 7 (8.45pm), 10 (8.30pm)

Poolman (dir: Chris Pine)

Chris Pine (he of the “astral projecting” at THAT Don’t Worry Darling premiere) manifests a little Big Lebowski to direct and lead this comedy about a bumbling poolman who embarks on the civic crusade to end all others. Annette Benning and Danny DeVito help him along the way and those who come to festivals to laugh should be thoroughly delighted.

October 12 (8.50pm), 13 (6.15pm)