This Month in Film: January 2020

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Happy new year everyone! 2019 was a great year for movies, and 2020 promises to be just as stellar. The early months of the year in the UK usually see the remainder of the awards contenders and indie darlings trickle into cinemas, having already been released over in the States, and this year is no different. Indeed, each of this month’s picks is technically a ‘2019 film’. Hey, that’s how international film distribution works! There’s no point complaining either, as it means January and February in British cinemas are full of variety. Here are the top picks for January…

THE BLOCKBUSTER: 1917, dir. Sam Mendes

Release date: 10th January

Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Bowing out of Bond after Skyfall (yay!) and Spectre (boo!), Sam Mendes’ latest project may be his most ambitious yet. A WWI film with the appearance of one continuous shot, 1917 stars Brit up-and-comers Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as two young soldiers given a special mission on the front in northern France. With stakes as life-or-death as they could possibly be, Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins look to have created an authentic war epic that ratchets the tension up to 11. The ‘one shot’ technique can sometimes be an irritating gimmick, and applying it to real-life tragedy feels like it could raise some moral questions. However, it could be the most effective possible way of capturing the true horrors of war and highlighting why we must never forget. The story is based on one Mendes was told by his grandfather when he was a young boy. If 1917 sticks in the memory of audiences as much as that story did for the writer-director, this could be an extremely powerful experience.

THE ALTERNATIVE: Jojo Rabbit, dir. Taika Waititi

Release date: 1st January

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi

A very different war film now, with a very different tone. Taika Waititi has established himself as a quirky comedy favourite over the past decade, directing Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows before moving into the blockbuster scene with Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok. He’s signed up for the fourth Thor movie, but before that comes Jojo Rabbit. A black comedy set in Nazi Germany, with Waititi starring as the imaginary friend of a young boy in the Hitler Youth. Oh, and this imaginary friend is the boy Jojo’s idealised perception of Adolf Hitler. Jojo Rabbit has split critics, with Waititi’s handling (or, rather, mishandling) of the Holocaust particularly questioned, but has been met more warmly by audiences. It won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, and has been nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy by the Golden Globes ahead of this month’s ceremony. Jojo Rabbit is a challenging, controversial release: are some areas off limits for laughter? See for yourself this month.

EDITOR’S PICK: The Lighthouse, dir. Robert Eggers

Release date: 31st January

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Robert Eggers made one of the best horror films of the decade with his feature directorial debut The Witch – or, to go by its proper folky title, The VVitch. He’s heading back into similar waters with long-awaited follow-up The Lighthouse, a darkly comic psychological chiller starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers who gradually go a bit barmy in their stormy isolation. Not only are Dafoe and Pattinson two of the most compelling male performers in the industry right now, both going through purple patches at differing stages of their careers, Eggers is very much a director to keep an eye on. Put simply, he makes interesting creative choices. The Lighthouse is shot in black-and-white, with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, to really give it that feel of a 19th century setting and ostensibly evoke a Lovecraftian mood. This is another A24 production, so you know it’s going to be worth the time.

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Film Editor 2019/20. Enjoys classic Simpsons, R.E.M. and the MCU.

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