What happens when you pair The Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss with Lady Bird lead Saoirse Ronan (Little Women, Ammonite) opposite a scenery-chewing Annette Bening (20th Century Women) as an aging actor? An exhilaratingly brisk walk through the celebrated play of the same name by seminal Russian writer Anton Chekhov, is the answer. A triangle doesn’t even cover half of the love complications at play in this fun adaptation by director Michael Mayer.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest intriguingly thought-provoking film is a bracingly dark comedy that again teams him up with The Hunt star Mads Mikkelsen. Mads plays the ringleader of a bunch of teachers who decide it’s a grand idea to micro-dose booze at school. While this cracking movie starts off as a hoot, the hijinks slink into some pretty hairy places, and it packs an emotional gut punch. The complexity befits a film with tragedy behind the scenes: Vinterberg’s daughter was killed in a car crash a few days in and they completed it in her honour. He gave the most emotional speech of the night when he accepted the Best International Feature Film at the Oscars earlier this year. Also check out Vinterberg’s submarine drama Kursk.
Local hero Nicole Kidman plays a grizzled detective pushed to her very limits by a slow-burning vengeance quest to put an end, once and for all, to a drug dealing gang with which she has complicated history in this hardboiled LA noir. It’s a tour de force delivered with searing emotional blows by American director Karyn Kusama that, in a just world, should have picked up a heap more awards. If you love gripping crime movies, also check out American Animals.
The Eight Hundred
If you’re after a spectacular war epic with a special effects budget and score to dazzle (and occasionally deafen), then try Chinese writer-director Guan Hu’s blockbuster. Set in 1937 in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Shanghai to unrelenting Japanese forces, with WWII cranking into inevitable doom on the horizon, it depicts the impossible last stand of Chinese soldiers commanded to defend one warehouse. Shot entirely on IMAX-ready cameras, it’ll still blow you away on the small screen.
If you like your war dramas a little more low-key, then why not pop a cuppa on and sink into Danish director Lone Scherfig’s very British film. A sweet ode to the women’s rights movement and the love of movies, it’s based on the novel by Lissa Evans and sees Gemma Arterton as a writer pressed into service whipping up Dunkirk-inspired propaganda films that will appeal to women on the home front during the Blitz. Bill Nighy is brill as a hammy actor past his prime.
No, not the upcoming Mad Max prequel (that’s Furiosa), this is actually an erotically charged Belle Epoque biopic from French debut director Lou Jeunet. She depicts the incendiary love affair between Parisian dandy Pierre Louÿs, to whom Oscar Wilde dedicated the French edition of Salomé, and fellow novelist, poet and all-round scandaliser Marie de Régnier. If you enjoyed the shifting power dynamics at play in Keira Knightley movie Colette, check out this considerably steamier offering.
On a much more intimate scale, English director Terence Davies’ adaptation of the first instalment of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic 20th century novel trilogy A Scots Quair is a treat for the eyes and the soul. Set on a remote Scottish farm, it’s a family saga led by Agyness Deyn’s sublime turn as a woman coming of age, interrupted by the Great War. Also look out for a towering performance from Peter Mullan as her cantankerous father.
Never Look Away
In an era where it increasingly feels like most movies are unnecessarily long, you’re going to have to trust us that The Lives of Others filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s three-hour epic, covering four decades of fraught German history, never overstays its welcome. Nominated for two Oscars in 2019, it’s loosely inspired by the life of artist Gerhard Richter, here renamed Kurt (it’s complicated) and played by Tom Schilling. Paula Beer is also brilliant as a fellow artist who defects to the West with him.
Postcards From The Edge
Need something a bit more comic but still with a razor-sharp edge? Then look no further than The Graduate director Mike Nichols’ Oscar-nominated big-screen take on the late, great Carrie Fisher’s rollicking semi-autobiographical novel. Meryl Streep plays a character not unlike the Star Wars lead, whose recovery from drug addiction may or may not be helped by moving in with her alcoholic showbiz mum, as played by Shirley MacLaine in the vein of Debbie Reynolds. It’s a trip.
Under The Skin
Speaking of trippy, if seriously freaky dystopian sci-fi is your bag, then you’re going to want to tune into this one by director Jonathan Glazer. An unnerving adaptation of the Michel Faber novel, it features a transformative performance by Scarlett Johansson as an alien invader driving around in a white van picking up unsuspecting but super-keen men never to be seen again. The gender dynamics are fascinating, as is the dark glass look at humanity. You’ll never forget it.
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