Happy New Year! It’s getting off to a good start for UK cinemas, with the recent news that attendance for 2018 is on course to be the highest since 1970.
And what a year it was, from a particularly strong crop of awards season entries (Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water) to blockbusters that ranged from the sublime (Black Panther) to the ridiculously enjoyable (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) – not forgetting the many lower profile gems like Shoplifters, Blindspotting and Leave No Trace.
There’s plenty more to look forward to this month as awards season kicks into gear – from Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly taking on one of cinema’s most famous double acts, to the regal Olivia Colman indulging in a spot of lobster racing…
Welcome To Marwen
Director Robert Zemeckis has long been associated with films that utilise innovative special effects to tell their stories – from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to The Polar Express.
Based on a true story, Welcome To Marwen sees Zemeckis turn his actors into talking dolls, as it shows how Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) recovered from a devastating physical attack by creating and photographing his own fantasy world.
After being violently assaulted for telling his assailants that he was a cross-dresser, Hogancamp lost nearly all memories of his previous life.
As a form of therapy, he painstakingly created a miniature World War II-era town, and populated it with dolls that represented himself, his friends and his attackers.
A strong supporting cast includes Janelle Monae (Moonlight), Leslie Mann (Knocked Up) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) as some of the friends who come to Hogancamp’s aid in both the real and fictional worlds.
A bumper month for Steve Carell fans, this – he stars here as a father desperately trying to save his son (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name) from a crippling drug addiction in this true-life drama.
Based on the memoirs of David Sheff (played by Carell) and his son Nicolas (Chalamet), the film depicts Nicolas’ anguished cycle of relapse and recovery in his battle to beat his addiction to crystal meth, and the traumatic effects on his family.
Adapted for the screen by BAFTA-winning writer Luke Davies (whose previous film, 2016’s Lion, was also based on a real-life family story), it also features Amy Ryan (who co-starred with Carell in The Office) as David’s wife Vicki, and Maura Tierney (TV’s The Affair) as Nicolas’ mother Karen.
”I have sent for some lobsters, I thought we could race them and then eat them…”
A quick look at the trailer for The Favourite makes it clear that this blackly comic story of infighting in the court of Queen Anne is no ordinary period drama.
There’s plotting and scheming aplenty when the volatile and ailing monarch (played by Olivia Colman) is caught up in a bizarre triangle with her childhood friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and servant Abigail (Emma Stone, La La Land), as the pair vie for her affections.
It certainly looks like a lot of fun, and also marks a step towards the mainstream for idiosyncratic director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), working from a screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara – the first draft of which Davis wrote 20 years ago.
Good things come to those who wait – the film’s picking up a huge amount of awards season buzz, in particular for the always brilliant Colman, who’s already picked up the Best Actress gong at the Venice Film Festival.
Stan & Ollie
This poignant biopic sees Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly take on the roles of one of cinema’s most beloved comedy duos, following them on a little-remembered tour of the UK in the 1950s.
With their Hollywood golden age fading into the distance, Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (Reilly) make their way around Britain’s variety halls, playing to half-empty rooms (but still wowing the audiences) and struggling to deal with old tensions and resentments.
They’re joined by their respective wives Ida (Nina Arianda, Florence Foster Jenkins) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson, Bridget Jones’s Diary), whose combative, bickering relationship forms an off-screen counterpart to their famous husbands’ double act.
Scripted by Coogan’s Philomena collaborator Jeff Pope, it’s said to be an affectionate, funny and touching account of Laurel and Hardy’s partnership, with Coogan and Reilly highly praised for their portrayals of the real-life men behind the act, as well as their finely-honed recreations of the pair’s famous routines.
The man who gave the world Ron Burgundy here turns his attention to a rather less loveable real-life figure, in this darkly satirical biopic of former US Vice President Dick Cheney.
Writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short) tells the story of how the famously quiet and uncharismatic Cheney (played here by an almost unrecognisable Christian Bale) became the man whom many saw as the real power behind the throne in the George W. Bush presidency.
It’s inevitably proved controversial, not least for its partially comedic take on possibly the most despised VP in America’s history – but many critics have been impressed by Bale’s performance, with Variety claiming that he “nails the Dick Cheney persona…with a playful bravura that could hardly be more perfect”.
Bale’s American Hustle co-star Amy Adams plays Cheney’s wife Lynne, alongside Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) as Bush and Steve Carell (yep, him again) as Donald Rumsfeld.
The Favourite isn’t the only new release that’s out to breathe new life into the corseted world of period drama – Colette is a biopic about a trailblazing French novelist who defied the social and sexual conventions of the early 20th century.
Kiera Knightley stars as Colette, whose series of semi-autobiographical novels about an unconventional country girl became a huge hit in France in the early 1900s – but she got none of the credit as they were published under the name of her husband, the charismatic author known only as Willy (Dominic West, and stop sniggering at the back).
Chafing against her lack of recognition, Colette begins to assert herself, pushing back against society’s narrowly-defined expectations and her husband’s increasingly domineering attitude.
Directed by Leeds-born Wash Westmoreland (whose previous film was the Julianne Moore drama Still Alice), it’s seen critics full of praise for Knightley’s performance, which several say is a career-best.
Mary Queen of Scots
Two of cinema’s brightest young acting talents face off against each other in this latest big screen retelling of the eponymous monarch’s story.
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) plays Mary Stuart, who returns to Scotland from France to stake claim to the throne – pitting her against her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie, I, Tonya).
Scripted by House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon, the film follows the two women as they circle each other warily whilst trying to maintain their independence in the male-dominated, deadly and treacherous world of 16th century British politics.
The feature film debut of theatre director Josie Rourke, it includes supporting turns from the likes of David Tennant, Gemma Chan, and Robbie’s fellow Neighbours graduate Guy Pearce.
This year will mark two decades since director M Night Shyamalan first wowed audiences with supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense.
It’s fair to say that his output since hasn’t always been quite so well received – but fans will have high hopes for Glass, which ties together two of his most acclaimed films, 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split.
The plot sees Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) on the trail of The Beast – the deadly superhuman persona of Split’s Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy).
Also returning from Unbreakable is the brittle-boned Elijah Price, aka Mr Glass, played by Samuel L Jackson – who was just as surprised as audiences were when the ending of Split revealed that Shyamalan would be requiring his services again.
This atmospheric, Los Angeles set slice of film noir about a cop out for revenge stars Nicole Kidman as we’ve never seen her before.
Kidman plays Erin Bell, a hard-bitten LAPD detective consumed by guilt and anger over an undercover operation that misfired early in her career.
When the leader of the gang she infiltrated re-emerges, Bell is propelled into an obsessive mission to bring the remaining members to justice.
It’s a familiar enough plot, but by all accounts Kidman puts in an astonishing turn as Bell – a role to which she committed so much that she wore the character’s unwashed, greasy jeans for months both on and off set (much to her kids’ displeasure).
The director is Karyn Kusama, who made the 2009 Megan Fox horror movie Jennifer’s Body.
Corsets! So many corsets! In a prestige drama-heavy month, this Jennifer Lopez romcom may come as a breath of fresh air.
J-Lo stars as Maya, a 40-something under-achieving New Yorker who creates a fake résumé after losing out on a promotion to a college-educated colleague.
It pays off when a major cosmetics company are fooled by the jobs that she’s got and hire her as a consultant.
So the stage is set for a tale of street smarts vs book smarts, as Maya must make a success of her new role while fronting it out amongst the Harvard-educated elite, including the CEO’s daughter (High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens).
From RBG to BTS: One-off screenings
January often tends to be a quieter month in terms of one-offs – certainly, few were listed at the time of writing – but one that definitely sounds worth catching at City Screen is acclaimed documentary RBG.
Showing on Tuesday 8th, it’s a portrait of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s celebrated for her groundbreaking work advancing women’s rights and gender equality throughout her career.
Still working in the role at the age of 85, she’s become a latter-day feminist icon, inspiring the Notorious R.B.G Tumblr, and will be the subject of a new biopic starring Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex, which will be out next month – making this the perfect opportunity to see the woman behind the legend.
Also worth flagging up at City Screen is a showing of timeless classic Singin’ In The Rain on Sunday 27th.
Showing in City Screen’s regular Dementia-Friendly Screenings slot – open to all but especially for people with dementia and their family, friends and carers – its combination of dazzling song-and-dance routines and laugh-out-loud comedy is the perfect antidote to the January blues.
It was a favourite of the late, great Observer critic Philip French, whose story of how it restored his spirits in the midst of a gruelling period of army training is well worth a read.
For an altogether more modern song-and-dance extravaganza, international megastars BTS will be up on the big screen at Vue this month in BTS World Tour – Love Yourself in Seoul.
The hugely successful South Korean boy band’s legions of teenage fans can catch the show on Saturday 26th, when it’s screening throughout the day.
(And yes, as a middle-aged 6 Music listener I’ll admit I’d never heard of them until I wrote this – though I rather like the fact that their name translates to English as Bulletproof Boy Scouts. Had they formed in this country they’d surely have been condemned to a life as alt-rockers plugging away in the toilet venues of Lowestoft…)
And finally, the first big anniversary screening of the year is The Shawshank Redemption, which marks 25 years since its original release with a screening at Vue on Friday 26th.
Famously a flop in cinemas which then became a mega-hit when it came out on video, Frank Darabont’s inspirational prison drama has since gone on to be one of the best-loved films of the 1990s.
It’s one of many successful adaptations of Stephen King’s stories (and comes from the same short story collection that inspired Stand By Me), but King never actually cashed the $5,000 cheque for the movie rights – many years later, he had it framed and sent to Darabont with a note that read: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
As we stumble out of the post-Christmas fug, repenting of our over-indulgence and pledging to go on an all-celery diet for the whole of January, South Bank Community Cinema are going the opposite way, with a new season celebrating food and drink in films.
They’re kicking off with an absolute gem on Friday 11th, when they screen Pixar’s Ratatouille.
This charming 2007 film, from the golden era when it seemed like the studio could turn its hand to the most unlikely of tales and make it a success, follows an idealistic rat called Remy who dreams of being a great chef.
Proving about as popular in the kitchens as Basil the rat in Fawlty Towers, he strikes up a partnership with Linguine, a young garbage boy in a Parisian restaurant, through whom he begins his culinary career by proxy…
It’s followed on Friday 25th by the perfect choice for Burns Night, Ken Loach’s 2012 comedy dram(a) The Angels’ Share.
The title refers to the 2% of whisky that evaporates in the cask as part of the ageing process, and the Glasgow-set film sees a group of young men on community service coming together to carry out a heist on a whisky distillery.
As often in Loach’s career, he worked with non-professional actors in many of the key roles, including Paul Brannigan, who plays the gang’s leader Robbie, and went on to star as one of the unfortunate Glaswegian townsfolk picked up by Scarlett Johansson’s enigmatic alien in Under The Skin.
Both screenings are in Clement’s Hall on Nunthorpe Road, starting at 8pm. Tickets are £3 for members or £4 for guests.
Meanwhile, Film at the Folk Hall are starting off the year with a trip to Casablanca on Friday 25th.
The iconic wartime romance stars Humphrey Bogart as the cynical ex-pat nightclub owner who is torn when his old flame (Ingrid Bergman) asks him to help her husband escape the country.
One of the most quoted and referenced films of all time, its influence has echoed down the years, sometimes in the strangest of places – legendary US critic Roger Ebert pointed out that the 1996 Pamela Anderson vehicle Barb Wire basically nicked its plot…
This one is free for members, and if you want to you can join on the night – membership costs you £5 and will get you £2 off every Film at the Folk Hall screening for the rest of the year.
It shows at the Folk Hall, New Earswick, at 7:30pm, and those wanting to find out more about Film at the Folk Hall can also attend their AGM, which takes place prior to the film at 6pm.