For some people, January may bring thoughts of new year’s resolutions, gym sessions, and anxiously awaiting the sun to return. For cinephiles, however, it marks the true beginning of awards season: the Oscar nominations will be announced at the end of this month, and before those are given out we have the BAFTAs to look forward to, as well as the fallout from last week’s Golden Globes awards. We get our films a little bit later than in the States, which means that from January studios will start putting out their big hitters. Here are five of our favourites:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Frances McDormand is garnering high levels of Oscar buzz for her leading role in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a dark comedy set in a small town in the American Midwest. She plays Mildred Hayes, a tough-as-nails mother whose daughter was raped and murdered seven months previously, on a lone stretch of road. Her killer still hasn’t been found, so Hayes erects three billboards, calling out the local police force for their inaction. With support from Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Lucas Hedges, Three Billboards takes on heavy topics, like sexual violence, police brutality, and institutional racism – it’s been picking up steam on the awards circuit, despite some critics questioning McDonagh’s treatment of sensitive subjects.
Released 12th January
Last Flag Flying
Director Richard Linklater has been on a roll for the last few years, picking up critical claim for Before Midnight ’s realistic treatment of monogamy, Boyhood ’s emotional clout and ambitious scope, and the frat-boy hijinks of Everybody Wants Some!! He returns later this month with Last Flag Flying, a spiritual sequel to the 1973 film The Last Detail. Last Flag Flying asks heavy questions about the role America has played in the middle east over the last two decades: taking place in the winter of 2003, we follow “Doc” (Steve Carell), who makes a trip cross-country to bury his son, who was killed in Iraq. He enlists two old friends, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne), with whom he served in Vietnam. On the surface a gentle buddy comedy, Linklater draws links between the America of the 70s with its more modern iteration, suggesting that some things never really change.
Released 26th January
Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev broke through into the mainstream last year with Leviathan – a tragic retelling of the biblical story of Job, this portentous tragedy, of epic proportions, set out to expose the corruption that lies at the heart of modern Russia. He follows this up with Loveless, which again serves as a critique of Russian life. Taking as its starting point a child who goes missing, Loveless explores topics as wide-ranging as class divisions, married life, and the callousness of an overstretched police force. With a painterly eye, Zvyagintsev takes us through a series of beautifully-composed scenes, which nevertheless retain a sense of existential dread.
Released 9th February
The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins is one of the most unique British actors working today. Coming to public consciousness with her leading role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky back in 2008, she returns to the spotlight this award season as the centrepiece of Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy drama The Shape of Water. Set during the height of the Cold War, the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Shape of Water sees Hawkins play Elisa, a mute janitor who works at a top secret government facility. She falls in love with an amphibian creature the government has captured, in a story of forbidden passion, with Michael Shannon taking on the antagonist role as Colonel Strickland, who is in charge of the facility. Michael Stuhlbarg continues his sterling support work as one of the lab’s scientists, while Octavia Spencer stars as one of Elisa’s colleagues. Del Toro is back where he’s most comfortable: a richly-textured world of fantasy and drama, where real life and the magical coincide with ease and grace. It’s definitely one to watch.
Released 14th February
It’s been a while coming. Over the last decade, Greta Gerwig has shown herself to be one of the most exciting actors and screenwriters of her generation. From early features in mumblecore films, through to collaborating with partner Noah Baumbach in Frances Ha and Mistress America, two of the best comedies to come out of America in recent years. Now, with Lady Bird, she has shown what she can do when given the freedom to write and direct. Starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama indirectly inspired by Gerwig’s own experiences growing up. It arrives on our shores trailing behind it a stream of fervent critical acclaim, as well as box office clout – the insightful screenplay, in particular, has been highlighted as emotionally rich and multifaceted, taking the audience through the an uncannily-familiar adolescent experience.
Released 16th February