Ten films to watch in February

4 weeks ago
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Nicholas Barber chooses 10 of the best films coming out next month, including a thriller starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto, Kristen Wiig’s latest comedy – and two dementia dramas.
(Credit: Netflix)

(Credit: Netflix)

Pelé

Whether or not you understand the off-side rule, don’t miss this candid and complex documentary about football’s best ever player, Pelé. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, as he once was, had so much talent that he was picked for the national squad at the age of 17, and went on to win the World Cup with the Brazilian team three times. More importantly, he gave Brazil confidence in itself as a modern nation. But that monumental role came with pressures, which this gripping film examines. Directed by David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas, it was made with the full co-operation of the 80-year-old Pelé, who is interviewed alongside friends and team-mates. But it asks tough questions about his reluctance to speak out against the country’s dictatorship, and the issue of whether Brazil’s World Cup victory in 1970 shored up the repressive regime.

On Netflix from 23 February

(Credit: Larry Horricks/AIP)

(Credit: Larry Horricks/AIP)

Minamata

W Eugene Smith was one of the US’s greatest and most influential photojournalists. He was injured by mortar fire while chronicling the fighting in Japan during World War Two, and then, in 1971, he returned to the country to document an environmental catastrophe: a chemical company had been dumping toxic waste near the town of Minamata, resulting in deformities and neurological damage. Andrew Levitas’s powerful drama stars Johnny Depp as Smith. Jessica Kiang at Playlist says that he “gives his best performance in quite some time”, and that “Levitas’ unusually even-handed approach works to balance the film’s inspirational true story with its tragic real-world context… while sensitively outlining the everyday heroism of the ordinary men and women most grievously affected”. 

Released on 5 February in the US and Canada

(Credit: Warner Bros)

(Credit: Warner Bros)

The Little Things

The Little Things was a contemporary neo-noir detective mystery when John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr Banks, The Blind Side) wrote the screenplay back in 1993. Almost three decades later, Hancock has finally directed what is now a period drama set in the dark distant days when the police didn’t all have cell phones and DNA-tracing technology. Its three Oscar-winning stars are Denzel Washington as a burnt-out sheriff, Rami Malek as a straitlaced sergeant, and Jared Leto as the creepy prime suspect in a Los Angeles serial killer case. Robert Daniels at Polygon says that “Hancock, in what might be his best film, grazes with greatness by constructing an enthralling thriller that relies on the talent of its three leading men to mine regret for mystery”.

Released on 29 January in the US and Canada, 12 February in UK and Ireland

(Credit: Warner Bros)

(Credit: Warner Bros)

Judas and the Black Messiah

Like last year’s Aaron Sorkin film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah is a US political drama that is set in the 1960s, but which seems uncannily topical today. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton, the Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. The FBI’s boss, J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), is worried that this charismatic young revolutionary leader could become a “black messiah”, and so he instructs one of his agents (Jesse Plemons) to “neutralise him, by any means necessary”. The agent blackmails a car thief, William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), to spy on Hampton for the FBI. “After the murder of George Floyd, and the reaction to that,” says Kaluuya, “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this film and these people articulate how people are feeling right now. A lot of people need to hear what Chairman Fred said and how he moved’.”

Released on 12 February in the US and Canada, 26 February in the UK

(Credit: A24 Films)

(Credit: A24 Films)

Minari

Lee Isaac Chung’s autobiographical drama has had glowing reviews, but it has also been the source of controversy. Most of the dialogue is in Korean, so the organisers of the Golden Globes put it in the Foreign Language Film category. But Minari is also the tale of a US  family working on a small farm in Arkansas in the 1980s, so some commentators have argued that calling its language “foreign” is outdated and insulting. Still, let’s concentrate on the glowing reviews. Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Times says that the film “feels like a balm right now, a gentle, truthful and tender story of family filled with kind people trying to love one another the best they can. It’s filled with the specifics of Chung’s Korean American upbringing, but it’s also universal in its insights into the resiliency of the human spirit.”

Released on 12 February in the US, 18 February in Australia, and 26 February in Canada

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

French Exit

French Exit offers us a precious gift: an all-too-rare lead performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. In this quirky but poignant comedy, adapted by Patrick DeWitt from his own satirical novel, Pfeiffer plays Frances, a widowed New York socialite. Having spent all the money her husband left her, she moves out of her swanky apartment and relocates to Paris with her son, Lucas Hedges. And then the trouble starts. Frances is the kind of person who sets fire to a restaurant’s flower arrangement to get the waiter’s attention, and conducts a seance so that she can communicate with her husband via her cat. BBC Culture’s Caryn James says, “The tone is at various times mordant, touching and farcical, with particular humour deriving from a cat that joins the journey. All that and gorgeous, non-touristy views of Paris in this gem that should be a breakout for the director, Azazel Jacobs.”

Released on 12 February in the US, Canada and Italy, 26 February in the UK and Ireland

(Credit: Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

(Credit: Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Frighteningly, it’s now been a whole decade since Bridesmaids came out. Its Oscar-nominated writers, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, have been busy since then. Wiig was in The Martian, Ghostbusters and Wonder Woman 1984, among numerous other films, and Mumolo has been a TV regular. But now at last they have written another comedy, and this time they co-star in it, too. We still don’t know many details: the jaunty, pastel-coloured trailer made a point of not showing the main characters’ faces. But apparently Wiig and Star play “best friends, who embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time ever to vacation to Florida. Cue the laughter, tears… and an evil villain who plots to kill everyone in town.”

On VOD internationally from 12 February

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

The Father

There are several films about dementia around at the moment (including Falling, see below). What’s unique about The Father, which Florian Zeller adapted from his stage play, is that it shows the illness from the perspective of the person who has it. Anthony Hopkins stars as an 80-something man who is content to live alone in his London flat, but who thinks that the people and possessions around him keep changing: in some scenes his daughter is played by Olivia Colman, and in others by Olivia Williams. Zeller’s film currently has a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, partly due to the writer-director’s ingenious cinematic trickery, and partly due to the extraordinary acting. “To play a man who’s begun to lose his mental faculties, Hopkins methodically strips away every quality we’ve come to expect from him – the refinement, the silver tongue, the imposing intensity – until there’s nothing left but frailty and distress,” writes AA Dowd in AV Club. “The final scenes of the movie are among the most heartbreakingly vulnerable of Hopkins’ whole career.”

Released on 26 February in the US and Italy, 12 March in the UK

(Credit: BBC Films)

(Credit: BBC Films)

The Mauritanian

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was arrested at a family wedding in Mauritania. Suspected of being an Al Qaeda recruiter, he was flown to the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was locked up for 14 years. But he wasn’t charged with any crimes. Now Kevin Macdonald, the director of The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, tells Salahi’s harrowing story with the help of a stellar cast. Tahar Rahim (The Serpent / A Prophet) has the title role, Jodie Foster is the steely lawyer who doubts whether there is enough evidence to hold him, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the prosecutor who is determined that Salahi should never leave Guantanamo. James Mottram in the South China Morning Post calls it a “a real gut-punch of a movie… a long, exhausting but ultimately exhilarating watch”.

Released on 17 February in France, 19 February in the US and Canada

(Credit: Quiver Distribution/Mongrel Media)

(Credit: Quiver Distribution/Mongrel Media)

Falling

Viggo Mortensen is best known as the square-jawed star of The Lord of the Rings and Green Book. “Now he has written and directed his first movie,” writes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, “and it’s a really valuable work, beautifully edited and shot, with a wonderful performance by the veteran actor Lance Henriksen: a sombre, clear-eyed look at the bitter endgame of dementia.” Yes, Falling is another entry in the current catalogue of dementia dramas, along with Supernova, Relic and The Father. Mortensen plays John, a gay man who lives in California with his husband and daughter. Henriksen (Aliens) co-stars as his widowed father, Willis, a bigoted farmer who is forced to move in with John when his memory deteriorates. Beware: Willis is a more fearsome monster than anything Henriksen met in Aliens or Mortensen met in The Lord of The Rings.

Released on 5 February in the US and Italy, 25 February in Portugal

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