First off, my apologies. I’ll keep this intro brief and get onto the movies quickly, but in what has proven to be a hectic first week of semester two, This Month in Film is coming to you a week later than usual. But fear not, because care and consideration has still gone into it, no matter how late it may be! This month you’ll find plenty of awards contenders, as well as the latest Marvel blockbuster and one movie that I find to be truly special. So anyway, onto the picks…
Phantom Thread, dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville.
Release date: February 2nd.
Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the top directors of the last 25 years. Daniel Day-Lewis, possibly the greatest actor of all time. Need I say more? Phantom Thread, and its surprising six Oscar nominations, hits UK shores this month, telling the story of a dressmaker (Day-Lewis) who falls in love with a waitress (Krieps). From what I’ve heard divulging further into the movie’s story would ruin what is being heralded as one of the best movies of the year, so I shall hold my tongue. Phantom Thread may seem to be a rather bland or possibly even off putting movie on the surface, but the talent involved, it would seem (if you’ll pardon the pun), have risen above this and delivered a powerful and engrossing examination of a relationship that is so much more than what we may think it is. But it also comes with a bittersweet edge as this looks to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film before he officially retires from acting. The greatest actor of our time, the king of method, will finally hang up his boots (to ironically stick to his hobby of cobbling) and lock up his record three Oscars. Not a bad career, me thinks, and not a bad way to end it either.
Black Panther, dir. by Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Andy Serkis, Sterling K. Brown.
Release date: February 13th.
Almost two years after his emphatic debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the new King of Wakanda is back on the big screen: Chadwick Boseman finally arrives with his own solo venture – Black Panther. Anticipation is high for Marvel’s first black superhero solo movie in the MCU and by all accounts it should meet the lofty expectations many have set for it. Director Ryan Coogler is coming off of a white hot debut on the scene with the award winning Fruitvale Station and Creed, he is reunited here with his Creed leading man Michael B. Jordan, one of the industry’s hottest talents, and the rest of the ensemble is bolstered by the likes of Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whittaker, along with Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown. In bringing Wakanda to life, Coogler’s film promises to pack unique visuals unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU, as well as represent African culture in a major Hollywood production, Black Panther is a significant bound forward in equal representation in the industry after 2017’s historic Wonder Woman. Early buzz promises us another hit from the movie making machine that is Marvel and Kevin Feige, with praise going towards the cast, particularly Jordan and Danai Gurira, visuals, storytelling and characters. Keep those expectations high, Black Panther is about to fulfil them.
Lady Bird, dir. by Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein.
Release date: February 16th.
We’re in the heart of awards season right now and the race seems to be narrowing down to two big hitters; one, last month’s Golden Globe and SAG award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the other, a certain sci-fi/fantasy romance that I’ll tell you a bit more about later on. But, as Yoda said, there is another, another film that could breakthrough on Oscars night and snatch the top prize, as well as a couple more in the process; the critical darling and utterly stellar coming of age film Lady Bird. Honestly the story of Lady Bird only furthers it as being one hell of a great movie. The directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, 20th Century Women), Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen, an artistically inclined girl who comes of age in the early 2000s in Sacramento, California, whilst juggling her family pressures and the world of high school, with all the friends and relationships that come with it. Ronan is a dynamo lead, an actress at the top of her game, and the rest of the cast, Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts as her parents and Beanie Feldstein as best friend Julie in particular, bolster on of the year’s finest ensembles. The fact that rising stars Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet are also along for the ride is an added bonus. With a sharp script, packed full of wit, charm and emotion, and terrific lead performances, Lady Bird is a coming of age film for the ages and a serious awards contender. If it trips up the big boys on the night and leaves the Dolby Theatre with Best Picture, don’t be surprised.
I, Tonya, dir. by Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney.
Release date: February 23rd.
Lets all face it: Margot Robbie is the world’s next megastar. You know it, I know it, hell even Margot Robbie knows it. Ever since she burst onto the scene in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, she’s lit up any and every screen she’s appeared on, frequently being the best part of any project she’s involved in, perhaps most notably making Suicide Squad watchable with her dynamite performance as Harley Quinn. Finally, Robbie has her ultimate vehicle, the film to push her over the edge and show her talents to their fullest, and she’s playing a villain in the process. I, Tonya hits UK theatres this month, telling the story of figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) and her role in the 1994 attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. Similar to 2015’s The Big Short, I, Tonya features irreverent, dark humour to tell this dark tale and shatters the fourth wall in the process, featuring uprising emotional heft and social commentary in the process. Obviously the now Oscar nominated Robbie is a big draw, but equally so is Best Supporting Actress nominee Allison Janney, one of this century’s finest supporting players in an equally as twisted and dark role as Robbie, she is the current front runner to take home the statue on March 5th. Likened by some to Scoresese’s Goodfellas, I, Tonya promises to be a darkly comedic and shocking take on the infamous skater, one that shouldn’t slip under radar this month.
EDITOR’S PICK: The Shape of Water, dir. by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer.
Release date: February 14th.
Every so often there comes a film with one truly striking aspect, an element that stands out among the rest and is so powerful that a teacher would want to use it as an example in their film studies class. For example, you’d teach Manchester by the Sea to any budding screenwriter, Whiplash to a hopeful editor, or perhaps Birdman to a keen cinematographer. In The Shape of Water, we have a film that should be taught and analysed in all its faucets for years to come, yes, it’s that damn good. From the mind of visionary director Guillermo del Toro, the current favourite to take home the Best Director Oscar, the film tells the story of Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who works at a government research centre in Cold War era America, who is largely lonely aside from her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her life changes when Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) drags an ambiguous amphibious creature known as ‘The Asset’ (Doug Jones) into the facility for examination, in the creature, Eliza finds an unlikely companion. The acting, the writing, the direction, the characters, the score, the cinematography, the editing, the visuals, there is not a single area where The Shape of Water is anything but spectacular, just look at its near record-tying 13 Oscar nominations for further proof. As director, del Toro works wonders and has crafted possibly the best film of his career, there is such meticulous care and passion put into this project that it’s hard not to love it. It’s also thematically rich, drawing on its historical context (the Cold War and Space Race), social ramifications (several subplots regarding the whole ensemble work so successfully) and internal personal issues, the film has numerous layers that can be unpacked and analysed in essays and think pieces galore, the longer you spend away from the film, the more you’ll come to think about it. Overall, The Shape of Water is utterly magical, a movie for the ages and unquestionably the top pick for February 2018, and hopefully the Oscars.