Not to be confused with Polar, this year’s other chilly-sounding Mads Mikkelsen vehicle, Arctic stars Mikkelsen as a man who has crash-landed in the sub-zero middle of nowhere, and has to walk back to civilisation. Leonardo DiCaprio’s trudge through the snow in The Revenant looks like a Sunday stroll in comparison. When Joe Penna’s survival thriller debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Indiewire pronounced it “one of the best movies ever made about a man stranded in the wilderness”. As for Mikkelsen, he has hardly any dialogue, but he still gives “the best performance of his career”. Released on 1 February in the US, Norway and Poland, and on 6 February in France.
Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is the first ever South Korean film to be nominated on the longlist for a best foreign language film Oscar. If that weren’t recommendation enough, it was on Barack Obama’s personal list of his 15 favourite films of 2018. Adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story, Burning starts by setting up a painfully awkward love triangle between a naive aspiring writer (Ah-in Yoo), a flirtatious woman (Jong-seo Jun) he went to school with, and her intimidatingly wealthy and sophisticated new friend (Steven Yeun). But the film gradually creeps away from rom-com territory and towards somewhere darker and more nerve-racking. To quote Detroit News, Burning is “so stealthy that it doesn’t act like or present itself as a thriller. Instead, it skillfully weaves a tale so layered in its mysteries that it casually constricts itself around you, and by the time you come up for air, you realise you can’t.” Released on 1 February in the UK, Ireland and Japan, and 22 February in Finland and Norway.
Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and The Salesman both won Oscars; the two Iranian dramas excelled both as unpredictable whodunnits and as precise dissections of metropolitan family life. For his new film, he has relocated to rural Spain and hired two of the world’s best (married) actors, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. When Cruz’s character, Laura, visits her seemingly idyllic home village for her sister’s wedding, her daughter disappears, and a ransom note arrives the next morning. The first question is: “Who is a suspect?” The second one is: “Who isn’t?” The Globe and Mail said: “As he transfers his talents to a European setting and Spanish-speaking cast, Farhadi loses none of his remarkable ability to observe close relationships collapsing under stress.” Released on 8 February in the US, 14 February in Brazil and Portugal and 21 February in Russia.
What Men Want
Taraji P Henson, of Hidden Figures fame, stars as a sports agent who is passed over for a promotion in favour of a younger male colleague, and then gets her own back after a magic potion gives her the power to read men’s thoughts. Does that sound familiar? Back in 2000, Mel Gibson starred in Nancy Meyers’ What Women Want, so What Men Want is essentially a remake. But the switches in race and gender are timely and intriguing, and judging from the trailers, the fabulous Henson looks as if she is having a ball. Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Rock of Ages) directs. Released on 8 February in the US and Canada, 14 February in Australia and New Zealand and 22 February in South Africa.
A feisty 93-year-old Mexican woman needs a live-in carer after her son is unjustly sent to prison, so her three free-spirited grandsons – stilt-walking, Elvis-impersonating street entertainers – reunite in their home town to take on the job. It sounds like the premise of a Hollywood comedy, but América (named after the grandmother) is actually a heart-warming and intimate documentary. Filmed over three years, the debut film from Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside delves into the difficulties and rewards of looking after an elderly relative, and asks what the brothers gain and lose by being together again. Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing, has hailed at it as a “sublime, magical masterpiece”. According to Letterboxd, this “sparkling, irreverent, and deeply emotional piece of creative nonfiction announces the arrival of a standout filmmaking partnership”. Released on 8 February in the UK.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
One of the great injustices in Oscars history is that The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated for best animated feature in 2015, even though a film that could easily have been a cynical toy advert was in fact one of the most inventive and all-round delightful comedy adventures of recent times – animated or otherwise. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and the rest of the irresistible voice cast helped, but the key factor was the fizzing comic genius of its writer-directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who have since produced and co-written the stunning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). They didn’t direct The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, but they have written it, and they have ensured that this postmodern sequel is, according to Empire, “a giddy, subversive, hilarious treat”. On general release from 8 February.
Alita: Battle Angel
It’s been 10 years since the release of Avatar, the last film to be written and directed by James Cameron – and there are still nearly two years before we’re due to see the sequel. The next best thing could be Alita: Battle Angel, a manga adaptation that Cameron developed and scripted before handing the task of directing it to Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City). Rosa Salazar stars as a cyborg fighting for her life in a dystopian future, not that you’ll see much of Salazar herself. She plays a CGI character, whereas her top-notch supporting actors – including Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connolly – get to appear on screen in the flesh. On general release from 6 February.
Fighting with my Family
For the benefit of readers who don’t know their gorilla press powerslams from their double underhook brainbusters, Saraya-Jade Bevis is a young British woman who became a WWE superstar renamed ‘Paige’. Her life story has already been the subject of a 2012 documentary entitled Fighting with my Family, the gimmick being that Bevis’s parents had been wrestlers themselves. And now the documentary has been turned into a comedy drama written and directed by Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office: it’s the first film he has directed without Ricky Gervais by his side. Paige is played by Florence Pugh from the BBC’s John Le Carre series, The Little Drummer Girl; her parents are played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey; and the film’s co-producer, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, appears as himself. Released on 14 February in the US and 27 February in the UK.
The Kid who Would be King
When a bullied London schoolboy (Louis Ashbourne ‘Son of Andy’ Serkis) gets his hands on King Arthur’s magical sword, Excalibur, he has to battle the wicked Morgana le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson) and her undead army, with a little help from Merlin (Patrick Stewart). The Kid who Would be King is written and directed by Joe Cornish. His first film, Attack the Block, introduced the world to a future Star Wars star, John Boyega (the kid who would be Finn). For his follow-up, Cornish has said that he wanted to pay homage to the child-centred Spielberg yarns of the 1980s, such as E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies, and he must have got something right: The Hollywood Reporter describes the film as “a charming family-friendly adventure”. Released on 25 January in the US and 15 February in the UK and Ireland.
Another Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum is a breathtakingly authentic drama about Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old Lebanese boy who has to survive in the slums of hectic Beirut while caring for an Ethiopian toddler. Despite a daft framing device (Zain sues his parents “for giving me life”), this is an urgent and harrowing film about the divide between rich and poor, between powerful and appallingly powerless. The Wrap calls it “brutally honest” and “sometimes difficult to watch”, but Zain is so funny, defiant and street-smart that there are as many heartening moments as there are depressing ones. Released on 7 February in Denmark, Hungary and Portugal, 14 February in Russia and 22 February in the UK and Poland.
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