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Ten Films to watch in February

Sunday - 28/01/2018 12:34
From Black Panther to an adult animation about sexual mores in Iran, these are movies worth making a trip to your cinema for, writes Christian Blauvelt.
Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (Credit: Credit: Grasshopper Film)

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
In case the striking poster of a negative-exposed Atticus Finch – or rather Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird – didn’t already suggest it, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? is a whip-smart documentary deconstruction of historical whitewashing in the US, the idea of “white saviours”, and racist miscarriages of justice. Its filmmaker is Travis Wilkerson, whose own great-grandfather murdered an African-American man in 1946 and got away with it. Wilkerson turns his lens on his own family and, as Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times, he “sifts through the personal and the political, travels down eerily lonely Alabama byways and deep into anguished history. The result is an urgent, often corrosive look at America’s past and present through the prism of family, patriarchy, white supremacy and black resistance.” Released 28 February in the US. (Credit: Grasshopper Film)

 

The Trader (Credit: Credit: Netflix)

The Trader
Netflix may have purged most films made before 1980 from its streaming library, but there’s still some indication that the service yet may hold interest for serious cinephiles – particularly in its commitment to documentary. In the next few months Netflix will release documentaries on such wide-ranging subjects as psychedelic pioneer Ram Dass; an Indian girl who rose from poverty to become the world’s number-one-ranked archer; and experimental medical researchers. First up, though, is The Trader by Tamta Gabrichidze, which won best documentary short at Hot Docs. It’s a verite-style look at a Georgian man named Gela who drives around the economically ravaged Caucasus nation selling odds-and-ends and collecting potatoes, which are worth as much (and more) than hard currency. Released 9 February on Netflix. (Credit: Netflix)

 

I, Tonya (Credit: Credit: Neon)

I, Tonya
Tonya Harding is one of figure skating’s most notorious figures. Now we get her side of the story in I, Tonya – was she or was she not involved in the conspiracy to club her main competition, Nancy Kerrigan, in the lead-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics? As played by Margot Robbie, who BBC Culture film critic Caryn James said “gives the film its heart” in her four-star review, Harding is a sympathetic, if far from saintly, figure. The film, presented at times like a mockumentary with the actors playing real-life Harding associates talking directly into the camera as if they’re being interviewed, shows the abuse and poverty the figure skater suffered growing up. Allison Janney, as Harding’s foul-mouthed, violent mother, is a leading contender for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards on 4 March. If it’s script is a little too “on the nose” at times, it’s an arresting vision of an athlete who tried, and failed, to live and compete on her own terms. Released 1 February in Singapore and Russia, 9 February in Mexico and 23 February in the UK and Spain. (Credit: Neon)

 

Dark River (Credit: Credit: Film4)

Dark River
Clio Barnard is one of the most exciting voices in British cinema today. She won the best newcomer award at the London Film Festival in 2010 for The Arbor, an experimental documentary about Yorkshire playwright Andrea Dunbar. Then she followed it up with the Oscar Wilde adaptation The Selfish Giant that drew comparisons to the realist work of Ken Loach. Now she’s set to release Dark River, a thriller about a woman (Ruth Wilson) who returns to her hometown after a 15-year absence to reclaim her family farm following the death of her father. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called Dark River “superbly atmospheric… a ferocious drama” at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Released 23 February in the UK and Ireland. (Credit: Film4)

 

Early Man (Credit: Credit: StudioCanal)

Early Man
Nick Park might not be a well-known name outside of the UK, but, as the creator of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, he is one of the most influential figures in the history of animation. A four-time Oscar winner, Park is directing his first feature film since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 13 years ago. The film? Early Man, which pits proud young caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his wild boar Hognob (Park himself) against the wily machinations of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who’s entered the Bronze Age faster than Dug’s tribe and wants to conquer them with his superior weaponry. Think The Flintstones but with characters who describe their hardships in terms of “sticky wickets”. Released 1 February in Greece, 8 February in Brazil and Croatia and 16 February in the US (Credit: StudioCanal)

 

Tehran Taboo (Credit: Credit: Kino Lorber)

Tehran Taboo
Between Loving Vincent and Window Horses, 2017 was a landmark year for animations geared to adults. But 2018 is right away building on the achievement of those films with Tehran Taboo, in which Iranian-born filmmaker Ali Soozandeh examines what she perceives as some of the hypocrisies and corruption of life in the theocracy. It follows several characters, including a prostitute being extorted for favours by a divorce court judge, a woman trying to get an operation that can “restore” virginity, and young women being sold for sexual slavery in Dubai. Using a rotoscoping technique in which actors film the scenes and the animation is traced over their performances, much like Richard Linklater’s Waking life and A Scanner Darkly, Tehran Taboo is, according to Wendy Ide of Screen Daily, “A lively, irreverent animated assault on Iranian morality… [that] fizzes with energy and bad behaviour”. Released 8 February in Hungary and 14 February in the US. (Credit: Kino Lorber)

 

Annihilation (Credit: Credit: Paramount Pictures)
Annihilation
Alex Garland dazzled audiences with Ex Machina, a sci-fi indie with a $15m budget but a $150m look. He’s back with another genre-expanding inquiry perched somewhere between science and fantasy with Annihilation, an adaptation of the 2014 Jeff VanderMeer novel about a soldier grievously injured on a plot of land cut off from civilisation and strangely altered by extraterrestrial forces, and his scientist wife who ventures inside the alien zone looking for a way to save him. Oscar Isaac – who danced his way into gif infamy in Ex Machina – plays the husband, and Natalie Portman is his brainy spouse – with Tessa Thompson playing another scientist. Expect your brain to be teased and your eyes to pop. Released 22 February in Brazil, Hong Kong and Israel and 23 February in the US and UK. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

 

Black Panther (Credit: Credit: Marvel Studios)
Black Panther
The Marvel Cinematic Universe turns 10 this year, and they’re kicking off their second decade with what may be their coolest film yet: Black Panther, the story of the king of Wakanda – in Marvel lore, the most technologically sophisticated nation on earth – and his exploits moonlighting as a superhero. A largely black cast is made up of such heavyweights as Chadwick Boseman (who dons the title character’s claws), Lupita Nyong’o (who leads Wakanda’s all-female special forces team), Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Michael B Jordan (as the ripped, oft-shirtless villain Killmonger). Its director, Ryan Coogler, blew audiences and critics away with Fruitvale Station and Creed and possesses an ability to wed deep emotion to virtuosic camerawork – aided by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who just became the first woman ever nominated for best cinematography at the Oscars. And on top of this, there’s a Kendrick Lamar-produced tie-in album! Released 13 February in the UK and Taiwan and 16 February in the US, Canada, India and Pakistan (Credit: Marvel Studios)

 

The 15:17 to Paris (Credit: Credit: Warner Bros)
The 15:17 to Paris
Not even time can stop Clint Eastwood. To put this singular career in perspective: Eastwood was the star of a top-rated US TV series, Rawhide, in the 1950s – and he managed to direct the top-grossing film of 2014 in American Sniper. No one else can lay claim to being so relevant for so long. His new effort behind the camera is based on the true story of the US servicemen and their friend who, while on leave, foiled a would-be assailant on an express train from Belgium to Paris. The twist here is that the real-life individuals involved with stopping the attack are playing themselves. Can they act? Does it matter? We’ll see. Released 9 February in the US and UK and 23 February in Spain and Sweden. (Credit: Warner Bros)

 

A Fantastic Woman (Credit: Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)
A Fantastic Woman
Chile has produced two of the most interesting film-makers in the world right now. Between Pablo Larraín, who crossed over to Hollywood with 2016’s Jackie, and Sebastián Lelio, who made the 2013 festival darling Gloria, the nation has become one of the most interesting movie exporters in South America. Lelio’s latest, A Fantastic Woman, has just been nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars, and is only now being released around the world. It’s about a romance between an older man and a much younger transgender woman, and the horrible abuse she takes from his family after he dies. Daniela Vega, who is herself transgender, distinguishes the film with her performance – especially considering how so many filmmakers still cast cisgender actors in transgender roles. Lelio is about to cross over to Hollywood himself for two more films scheduled to be released this year: Disobedience, an adaptation of the Naomi Alderman novel starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and a remake of Gloria starring Julianne Moore in the title role. Released 2 February in the US, 24 February in Japan and 2 March in the UK and Ireland. (Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

 

 

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