2018 was an excellent year in film. We had teen romances (Love, Simon; Sierra Burgess Is a Loser) and urgent dramas (BlacKkKlansman; The Hate U Give); stylish thrillers (A Simple Favour; Widows) and blockbuster smashes (Black Panther; A Star is Born). Now it’s time to look forward. Mark your cinematic calendars, here are the buzziest movies to watch this year.
Mary Queen of Scots sees this year’s Best Actress nominees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie go head to head as the eponymous monarch (Ronan) attempts to overthrow her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Robbie) and ascend to England’s throne. Ronan is fiery and fearless, undermining her relative in a note-perfect Linlithgow accent; while Robbie (who, let’s not forget, made her name playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s lingerie-model wife for Scorsese) foregoes all vanity as the Virgin Queen with her smallpox-scarred complexion and clownish red wig. In a coup for diversity, Gemma Chan, whose Asian heritage had prevented her from finding her footing in period drama, also appears in the film as Bess of Hardwick.
2. The Favourite
You’ve never seen a period piece quite like this. From the inventive brain of the film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster; The Killing of a Sacred Deer) comes The Favourite, a wickedly bawdy comedy set in the court of Queen Anne – the capricious, sickly monarch played with relish by Olivia Colman (who will further her royal duties in season three of The Crown). The cousins, Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz), compete for their ruler’s affections, stopping at nothing to best each other and win the Queen’s heart. The wavering allegiances of the film’s warring women are endlessly watchable and crackle with a histrionic energy. Shot with a fisheye lens that further warps this distorted world of duck racing and seductive playfighting, The Favourite is delightfully outlandish and uproariously funny (its acerbic humour is evident in its ricocheting wordplay and stiff dance sequence). The movie is gaining momentum as an Oscar contender, and leads the pack with the most nominations at the British Independent Film Awards. Colman – who shines as the insecure, easily wounded monarch – may even win the Academy Award. She did take home the best-actress prize at the Venice Film Festival, after all.
3. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The former New York Times-bestselling biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is down on her luck and behind on her rent. Fired from her copywriting job for swearing at her manager (twice), Lee refuses to bow to authority. The writer’s unwillingness to ‘play the game’ with her publisher has damaged her reputation and dashed her chances of securing a book advance. In a moment of desperation, Lee realises she has a knack for imitating the epistolary style of other artists. Fooling independent booksellers into acquiring her forged letters proves to be lucrative. So lucrative, in fact, that she and her friend Jack (a magnetic Richard E Grant) soon appear on an FBI watch list… The sophomore film of Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a charming, understated movie that peers into the inner lives of two recluses. (Plus it’s refreshing to see two gay characters at the centre of a movie where their sexual identity is not its primary focus.) McCarthy – beloved as a comedy actress – stands her own in this drama, demonstrating her range as the spiky, sharp-tongued Lee. Based on a true story, Can You EverForgive Me? is a thoughtful meditation on loneliness, friendship and celebrity.
4. Green Book
Melissa McCarthy isn’t the only one switching genres this season. The director Peter Farrelly – renowned for the gross-out comedies There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber – delves into more profound subject matter with Green Book, his race-relations drama set in the 1960s. Described as a reverse Driving Miss Daisy, the film follows Don (Mahershala Ali), a concert pianist seeking a chauffeur for his tour of the still-segregated Deep South. He hires the brash Italian-American Tony (Viggo Mortensen) and the men soon forge an odd-couple friendship. The winner of the coveted Audience Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (a prize that has been known to align with the Oscars’ Best Picture), Green Book is a feel-good movie that (finally) posits the black man as the authority figure. Ali has earned critical acclaim for his turn as the well-to-do musician, and his progressive agenda is a tonic to the wave of conservatism sweeping the United States. “You never win with violence,” he says in the wake of a racist attack. “You only win when you maintain your dignity.” A role model to us all.
If his claims about retirement are to be believed, this will be Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate movie. The provocateur has united the Nineties heartthrobs Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a tale of a washed-up actor and his stuntman trying to transition from television to film in 1969 (an amusing notion nowadays when A-list talent is flocking to the small screen). Margot Robbie also stars as their next-door neighbour Sharon Tate, the woman who was brutally murdered by the Manson family cult. Other cast members include Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning and Lena Dunham. Despite remaining close-lipped on the film’s finer details, Tarantino has said that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood most closely aligns with Pulp Fiction, and the movie’s cinematographer has promised that it is “very, very, very Quentin”. In that case, expect stylised violence, cinephilic references and unbridled profanity.
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
After (eventually) winning his Best Picture Oscar for Moonlight, Barry Jenkins is back. The director’s third feature – an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel – If Beale Street Could Talk is a gorgeous, swooning romance thrumming with rage against social injustice. When Fonny (Stephan James) is falsely imprisoned, his pregnant girlfriend Tish (KiKi Layne) toils to free him, tracking down his accuser with the help of her mother (a heartbreaking Regina King). The movie is achingly beautiful; each frame, washed with vibrant colours and lit by New York’s late-summer sun, is like an Edward Hopper painting. And yet, the frequent intercuts between these breathtaking visuals and archive footage of police brutality demonstrates the fragility of the young lovers’ happiness, the lurking possibility of chaos. Sumptuous and arresting, If Beale Street Could Talk is exquisite film-making of the highest order and, as far as this writer is concerned, the very best movie of the year.
DC’s Wonder Woman was a smash-hit success, setting box-office records upon its 2017 release and proving that women do want to be represented in the testosterone-heavy superhero genre. Now, Marvel is finally catching up. Brie Larson is suiting up to play the titular heroine in the comic-book studio’s first female-fronted movie, which is helmed by the husband and wife team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. The movie is the origin story of Captain Marvel, the most powerful superhero of the MCU, and will outline the intergalactic battle between two alien races.
8. Beautiful Boy
Based on a pair of bestselling father-son memoirs, Beautiful Boy tells the harrowing story of how drug abuse tears families apart. What starts out as teenage experimentation gradually engulfs the lonely, Rimbaud-reading Nic (Timothée Chalamet), who becomes addicted to crystal meth. His despairing father David (Steve Carell) is at a loss as to what to do with him, alternately spending thousands of dollars on rehab and withdrawing financial support. Nic is trapped in a never-ending cycle of relapse and recovery, a track-marked, vomit-smeared existence that at times makes for difficult viewing. The It boy of the moment Timothée Chalamet delivers yet another outstanding performance in Beautiful Boy, carefully calibrating Nic’s violent mood swings to create a heartwrenching portrait of substance-induced anguish. The actor also transformed himself physically for the role, shedding 20 pounds from his already slender frame to emulate the real-life addict’s gaunt emaciation. Beautiful Boy scored Amazon Studios’ best-ever opening when it premiered Stateside in October, largely thanks to the “Chalamaniacs” turning up in droves to see him on the big screen.
In this era where brand power is eclipsing star power, Disney is reinventing its classics for a whole new generation. The behemoth’s latest remake is a live-action version of The Lion King. Donald Glover and Beyoncé will lend their voices to Simba and Nala, while Seth Rogen and Chiwetel Ejiofor breathe life into Pumbaa and Scar. The film was shot using virtual-reality headsets, allowing the actors to wander through the chalky tundra of East Africa without leaving the lot. The first-look images bear witness to stunning cinematography, including establishing shots of stampeding animals and wide angles on burnt-orange skies at sunset. Fans of the 1994 original can take comfort in the fact that the plot does not seem to stray too far from its roots; most importantly, the new film will begin with the rousing power ballad Circle of Life. The movie is still a musical – with Hans Zimmer returning to rework his Oscar-winning score – meaning we could get the Beyoncé/Childish Gambino duet we’ve always dreamed of.
10. Boy Erased
Hot on the heels of this summer’s indie hit The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes another gay-conversion drama, this one featuring Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges as Jared, a homosexual teen sent away to a correctional facility by his family. Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman play Jared’s rigidly religious parents, ill-advisedly believing they are helping their son by trying to “straighten him out”. The movie gained traction at the fall festivals, particularly thanks to Hedges’ sensitive lead performance, which marked the young actor’s first starring role (he will return to our screens later in the year opposite Julia Roberts in Ben is Back). Since sexuality continues to be policed in the United States – a country where 700,000 of its citizens have undergone conversion therapy – Boy Erased is, sadly, of-the-moment.
Another year, another incredible Christian Bale transformation. This time the Oscar winner piles on 40 pounds and fastens on prosthetics to faithfully depict George W Bush’s right-hand man: the former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Having educated us on the finer details of the 2007 financial crisis in The Big Short, the writer-director Adam McKay is tapping into today’s politically charged climate with this fast-paced biopic. Vice will take us back to the Bush administration and reveal some home truths about the indiscretions of its key figures. The film boasts a stellar cast that includes Sam Rockwell (as the President) and Steve Carell (in the role of his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld). We’re particularly eager to see what Amy Adams will bring to her part as Cheney’s wife Lynne. If TheBig Short is anything to go by, Vice will be smart and slick, an expertly penned distillation of complex, big-picture issues.
From Harper’s Bazaar UK