London film festival 2020: our critic's top 10 picks

From Frances McDormand in Nomadland to Riz Ahmed in Mogul Mowgli, the Guardian’s chief film critic chooses the ones to watch at this year’s BFI London film festival

Ultraviolence

In 2001, Ken Fero co-directed the polemical documentary Injustice, about the deaths of people of colour in British police custody – one of the most important British documentaries of the 21st century. Now, in our new age of #BLM, he returns with a follow-up film about the people who are still facing this hidden scandal and the effect on their families and communities.
Viewing online on BFI Player, Monday 12 October.

Never Gonna Snow Again

Małgorzata Szumowska is the brilliant Polish film-maker whose movie Mug was a mysterious parable of the Polish and European soul. Now she returns, sharing a directing credit with cinematographer Michał Englert, with a strange story of a masseur with supernatural powers who visits a gated community of the Polish bourgeoisie and exposes their secret fears.
Viewing online on BFI Player, Sunday 11 October.

Limbo

British director Ben Sharrock has created a marvellously poignant, witty and even gripping story about refugees in the UK, who have been relocated to the Hebrides while their cases are processed, with nothing to do but wait on this remote island. There’s a great performance from Amir El-Masry as the Syrian man who is quietly in anguish about his family left behind and now has to make sense of the weirdly Beckettian black comedy of his new life of waiting.
Viewing online on BFI Player, Friday 16 October.

Nomadland

Frances McDormand gives what could be the performance of her career in this inspired docu-fictional hybrid from film-maker Chloé Zhao, based on America’s real-life phenomenon of nomads: sixty-something retirees destroyed financially by the 2008 crash, who have sold everything to roam the country in campervans, taking transient seasonal work in places like Amazon warehouses. McDormand plays a fictional nomad, blending in with real nomads telling their real stories.
Screening live at BFI Southbank and other venues in London and UK-wide, Friday 16 October and Saturday 17 October.

Mogul Mowgli

Riz Ahmed brings his engaging and intense presence to this film as star and co-writer. He plays a British-Pakistani rapper who has become a hit in New York and is preparing for a US tour. He decides to use the time before the tour begins to reconnect with some of his family in London. But from almost the moment he arrives back in the old neighbourhood, bad things happen and tough choices have to be made. A fierce performance from Ahmed.
Screening live at BFI Southbank and other venues in London and UK-wide and online at BFI Player, Saturday 10 October and Tuesday 13 October.

Riz Ahmed in Mogul Mowgli.
Intense presence ... Riz Ahmed in Mogul Mowgli. Photograph: Pulse Films

After Love Bafta-nominated short-film-maker Aleem Khan makes this much-talked-about debut with Joanna Scanlan as Mary Hussain, who converted to Islam when she married, and has been living a placidly contented life in Dover. But when her husband dies unexpectedly, Mary makes a startling discovery while going through his affairs, a secret over the Channel in Calais. An intriguing parable about contemporary British and European identity.
Screening live at BFI Southbank and other venues in London and UK-wide and online at BFI Player, Thursday 15 October, Friday 16 October and Sunday 18 October.

Ammonite The open secret of Victorian sexuality is rediscovered by Francis Lee (who made the much-admired God’s Own Country) in his impassioned, intelligent reimagining of neglected lives. Kate Winslet plays the real-life 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose fossil discoveries galvanised the study of pre-human existence on Earth. Saoirse Ronan plays her friend and associate Charlotte Murchison and the film dramatises a relationship that goes beyond friendship. An intensely romantic and erotic film.
Screening live at BFI Southbank and other venues in London and UK-wide, Saturday 17 October and Sunday 18 October.

Impassioned reimagining of neglected lives ... Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite.
Impassioned reimagining of neglected lives ... Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite. Photograph: Courtesy of TIFF

Days

Days is the new film from the Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang, featuring his signature minimalist compositions and unhurried, long, unbroken takes. The film concerns the relationship between a well-off man, Lee, who lives alone in a handsome and well-appointed house. He gets acupuncture then a massage from Non, whose own more materially modest life we have already seen, interspersed with Lee’s. Their delicate, elusive relationship unfolds.
Screening live at BFI Southbank and online at BFI Player, Thursday 8 October.

Lovers Rock

A monsoon of musical and sexual rapture bursts overhead in this drama from Steve McQueen, one of a five-film series for the BBC about black British experience called Small Axe. The setting is an all-night party in 1980 in west London’s Ladbroke Grove, where people are crammed into the living room to dance to lovers rock, soul and reggae. Amarah-Jae St Aubyn and Micheal Ward are Martha and Franklyn, two people between whom there is a spark. The sheer, open-ended hedonism and sensuality of this film is a treat and the music is amazing.
Screening live at BFI Southbank, Sunday 18 October.

Franklyn (Micheal Ward) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St Aubyn) in Lovers Rock, part of Small Axe.
Franklyn (Micheal Ward) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St Aubyn) in Lovers Rock, part of the series Small Axe. Photograph: Parisa Taghizadeh/BBC/McQueen Limited

One Night in Miami Actor turned film-maker Regina King has directed this adaptation of a rather Stoppardian stage-play by Kemp Powers, which takes as its starting point the fact that on one night in Miami in February 1964, four remarkable people did meet each other: Muhammad Ali (when he was still Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, soul singer Sam Cooke and sports hero turned film actor Jim Brown. After his surprise defeat of Sonny Liston, Clay really did hang out with these three people in a Miami hotel room. This movie imagines a sizzling debate about race, prejudice and what lies ahead for them in 60s America.
Screening live at BFI Southbank, Sunday 11 October and Monday 12 October.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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