After his Oscar-nominated break-out performance in 2016’s Manchester by the Sea, Lucas Hedges stars in Boy Erased, the true story of a boy who is forced to take part in a gay conversion therapy program. The timely On the Basis of Sex sees Felicity Jones star as a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the start of her law career. If you’d prefer something a little less intense, then The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part will be trying to live up to the surprise success of its predecessor. But if none of those take your fancy, there’s plenty to look out for this month.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? – 1st February
After making waves with her 2015 directorial debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller’s latest – Can You Ever Forgive Me? – tells a (remarkably) true story.
When the release of her new book flops, Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is forced to sell a letter she received from Katharine Hepburn to a local book store, in order to make ends meet. But when she realises just how much money she could make, she starts forging letters from deceased famous figures – an endeavour that doesn’t go unnoticed…
By all accounts (and given her Oscar nomination for this role), McCarthy gives a truly superb performance as the morally dubious Israel, by ensuring that the audience understands why she makes these bad decisions. Alongside her is Richard E. Grant, playing Israel’s accomplice and garnering his own – and first – nomination in the process. But aside from fantastic performances, this film promises a close look into a complex character within the context of wider themes such as artistic integrity and accepting failure.
Green Book – 1st February
Breaking away from the comedy films (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) he’s known for directing with his brother, Peter Farrelly also directs a somewhat-true story in this Jim Crow-era drama.
Having lost his job as a nightclub bouncer, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is hired by jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as a driver for his upcoming tour through the Deep South. Although they are initially hostile, Don’s experience as a gay black man in the South soon brings them closer as Tony tries to understand life through Don’s eyes.
Despite winning the top prize at this year’s Producers Guild of America Awards (a key indicator of which film will triumph at the Oscars), Green Book has been riddled with controversies: Mortensen saying the N word during a discussion panel, co-screenwriter Brian Hayes Currie’s anti-Muslim tweet and Shirley’s family saying that he is wrongly depicted in the film. Once again, this whole palaver reintroduces that difficult debate of when to separate art from its makers. Whichever side you stand on though, you can at least be assured that Ali gives a standout performance – and will all but certainly be hearing his name called out on 24th February.
If Beale Street Could Talk – 8th February
Following his Oscar win for Moonlight (and also a fantastic episode of the criminally underrated television show Dear White People), Barry Jenkins returns with his latest feature, based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name.
When Tish’s (Kiki Layne) long-time boyfriend (Stephan James) – and father to their unborn child – is arrested for a crime that he did not commit, it’s up to Tish and her family to prove his innocence.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this will not be an easy watch; it’s depressing enough to know that the source material, published more than forty years ago, is still just as poignant. However, Jenkins has proven that he is a master of selfless direction, in that he trusts his team of actors and crew members to just let the story play out, and let the nuances speak for themselves. This should definitely go on your “to be seen” list.
Jellyfish – 15th February
Perhaps the least well-known of this bunch is Jellyfish, from up-and-coming director-writer James Gardner.
Although only a teenager, Sarah (Liv Hill) has gotten used to balancing school life with being the main carer for her mother (Sinead Matthews) and her younger siblings. However, when her teacher introduces her to the world of stand-up comedy, she realises that there is a place where she can let her guard down.
Having been BAFTA-nominated for her role as one of the victims of the Rochdale child sex abuse ring in the television miniseries Three Girls, Hill proves once again that she is a young talent to keep an eye on. Aside from that, Jellyfish shines a light on a part of society not often depicted on the big screen, despite the hundreds of thousands of young carers in the UK. If you have a spare Sunday afternoon, I highly recommend this hidden gem.
Featured image courtesy of Georgia Butcher.
Image use license here.