SILENCE - OUT 1 JANUARY
Already being heralded as a masterpiece following its premiere at the Vatican, Silence is, arguably, Martin Scorsese’s most personal work to date. Adapted from the acclaimed 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, this is a pious tale of persecuted Jesuit missionaries in 17th Century Japan who are forced to choose between apostasy and death. The film’s release marks a 27-year obsession for Scorsese who was profoundly affected upon first reading the novel in 1989. It is not the first time that veteran director, who planned to join the priesthood prior to going into filmmaking, has confronted his faith through the medium of celluloid. His early collaborations with Harvey Keitel in Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) and Mean Streets (1973) explore themes of Catholic guilt, while the ‘spiritual journey’ is a recurring motif employed in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Kundun (1997) and once more in his latest work. Silence is a deeply meditative treatise on personal faith, Christianity and the righteousness of missionary work. For all the excesses of The Wolf of Wall Street, what is remarkable about this film is its restraint, even in its torture scenes. It is a film of breathtaking cinematic beauty which invokes such past masters as Dreyer, Bergman and Kurosawa.
Ben, Curzon Cinemas Head Office
LA LA LAND - OUT 13 JANUARY
La La Land is already creating an audible Oscar buzz ahead of its release in January. Following on from triple Oscar-winner Whiplash, Damien Chazelle brings us this crowd pleasing re-imagining of a classic Hollywood musical for a modern audience. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's on-screen chemistry instantly transforms them into our 21st Century Rogers and Astaire. The star of the show is Los Angeles itself, the City of Lights which radiates with a dreamy, old school Hollywood glamour transporting us to to the 1950s, and classic movies such as Rebel Without a Cause.
The tone of the film is on point, striking the balance between being light, whilst at the same time its nuanced characters and sharp dialogue mean it never feels overly frivolous or trivial. This film is like a blast of L.A. sunshine serving as a welcome cure to even the most brutal 2016 hangover.
La La Land doesn’t necessarily tread new ground in the genre of the Hollywood musical but then it doesn’t need to because pure unadulterated joy, class and romance never go out of style. What it does perfectly is inject a contemporary and fresh energy into a traditional format. I dare you to watch this film and not want to swing around the nearest lamp post on your way home.
[Emma, Curzon Head Office]
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - OUT 13 JANUARY
There’s a moment in Manchester by the Sea, where writer and director Kenneth Lonergan makes a brief, combative cameo. In this scene, he walks past an bickering Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, wearing a thick blue puffa-jacket, and he mutters to himself sarcastically “Great parenting.” And with that interjection, Lonergan lets us know what this film is all about.
Manchester by the Sea is a film about parenting. Good parenting. Bad parenting. Sometimes both. Many of us will choose to be parents at some point in our lives. Some of us may even have parents of our own. At the very least, we’ve probably all thought about it, thought about the kind of parent that we would hope to be and the kind that we worry we might be. What we see in this film, is a cast of parents who care very deeply for their charges, but they’re just people and they get it wrong sometimes. We’re all made in their image so the stakes are incredibly high, and though that sense of duty and personal responsibility is so present and exposed by the script and the performances, that does not mean that this film has any answers.
Lonergan has not had the best luck in his career, but that is not a reflection on the standard of his work. You Can Count On Me, Margaret and Manchester by the Sea are all cut from the same cloth. But his latest, in part thanks to Affleck, Williams and Hedges is without doubt his finest and most astutely observed work.
[Ryan, Curzon Cinemas Head Office]
JACKIE - OUT 20 JANUARY
The subject of Pablo Larraín’s English language debut Jackie is as much the making of an icon, Jacqueline Kennedy, as the unmasking of the golden era of American liberalism at the height of the Cold War. Focussing tight, almost entirely in close-up, on Jackie herself, Larraín observes her in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, painting a convincing portrait of a woman who displayed strength, acumen and power even at her most vulnerable, grieving time.
At the centre of it all is an astonishing performance by Natalie Portman, whose stature grows throughout the film, as she traces the distance between the person and the persona of Jackie Kennedy, insisting that the people see her as she is - in shock, covered in blood - and yet still playing the role of the mother of the nation, both to her children and to a newly-orphaned America. At the same time, Jackie credits her with the creation of the “Camelot myth”, the halcyon days of the beautiful Kennedys - a stunning PR coup which still endures. Accompanied by a spellbinding score by Mica Levi, Jackie is a beguiling, hypnotic elegy for a time that never was, as well as a deliberate rewriting of history as female. The king is dead, long live the queen.
[Irene, Curzon Cinemas Head Office]
TONI ERDMANN - OUT 3 FEBRUARY
Toni Erdmann is the wild card in this season’s award contenders – the joker in the pack. Ostensibly about a father and daughter’s attempt to reconnect – she’s a consultant for an oil company, anxious and ambitious; he’s a music teacher, depressed and divorced, though with a fondness for pranks – it approaches the heights of a great screwball comedy while keeping its feet firmly in the here-and-now. Which is to say that one moment you might find yourself moved, pained, or embarrassed as one character experiences a reversal of fortune or change of status, and in the next be so heartened by the turn of events you will do what audiences the world over have done since its debut in Cannes: break into applause. What is the cause of such extreme reactions? Well, that would be telling. But the film, like its estranged father and daughter (as well as the actors who play them, Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek) seems open to all possibilities, including the always enticing idea of remaking yourself. But as what, exactly? Or who?
Maren Ade’s third feature, after the brilliant and raw Everyone Else, is yet further proof of her gifts as both a writer and director of wildly original personal films. You can tell she loves her actors, and her faith in them is repaid spectacularly by their fearless performances and the sense that they are working without a tightrope, so to speak. And it’s this air of unpredictability that makes the film feel so alive.
[Mick, Curzon Chelsea]
20TH CENTURY WOMEN - OUT 10 FEBRUARY
I’ve been trying to think of cool screen mums in anticipation of this piece and I’ve come up with a blank. So, thank goodness we have (only) contender number one when Annette Bening takes on the role of Dorothea, the shining star of 20th Century Women – the new film by Mike (Beginners) Mills. Dorothea is bringing up her son Jamie single-handedly in a house full of lodgers and so enlists the help of his two female friends to ‘make him a good man’. Although it doesn’t quite go to plan, Jamie is one of the strongest feminist teenagers I’ve seen in cinema for a while, so something has worked.
There are few words that can describe my joy at seeing Bening back on the back screen, in a role that has her wearing fabulous silk pyjamas and smoking (copiously) – there were some good things about the '70s after all! Great lines are sprinkled throughout the film including my favourite: ‘no matter how much you love the kid you’re pretty much screwed’. A role model screen mum for everyone, I think.
[Kate, Curzon Cinemas Head Office]
MOONLIGHT - OUT 17 FEBRUARY (PREVIEWS FROM 10 FEBRUARY)
We had an electrifying preview screening and Q&A for Moonlight at Curzon Mayfair in early December with director Barry Jenkins and star Naomie Harris. Although the location of that screening couldn't have been more different, this uncompromising representation of a poverty-stricken black neighbourhood in Miami, modelled on the place where director Barry Jenkins grew up, played excellently to our audience in the West End. The film follows the childhood and young manhood of Chiron, a boy whose mother is addicted to crack and father is absent. Chiron is gay and struggles to be himself. Bullied as a child, a chance encounter with a couple who show him kindness, resonates with Chiron as he grows up.
The filmmaking takes an innovative and refreshing approach to its gritty subject material. The daytime scenes are bathed in wonderful Florida sunshine, using a colour palette that reminds me of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s evocations of Thailand in Blissfully Yours or Syndromes and a Century. Jenkins commented on his arthouse influences in the Q&A, citing Claire Denis as a favourite director, particularly in Denis’s work with the band Tindersticks on her soundtracks. Jenkins’ soundtrack composer on Moonlight, Nicholas Britell, takes the techniques of hip hop and applies it to orchestral music, speeding it up, slowing it down and re-appropriating it.
The more I’ve read about the film, the more I find to see in it and I can’t wait to see it again on release in February. Moonlight is a film to get obsessed with.
[Michael, Curzon Cinemas Head Office]
THE HANDMAIDEN - out 14 APRIL
South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) brings his visceral style to erotic drama The Handmaiden, a labyrinthine tale of lust and deception, which premiered at Cannes this year. Based on Sarah Water’s sapphic Victorian novel "Fingersmith", Park transports the story to 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation.
Pickpocket Sookee (newcomer Kim Tae-ri) teams up with a conman who has devised a plot to seduce and steal the inheritance of Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). Nothing is as it seems in this Russian doll of a film with a Gothic edge. Scenes play out from different points of view Rashomon-style; to say more would spoil the pleasures of this sprawling masterpiece.
With explicit lesbian sex scenes and the fetishisation of Lady Hideko during her intimate “readings”, does The Handmaiden indulge the male gaze it appears to criticise? I think not. Like Park’s earlier work Lady Vengeance, strong female characters are empowered on a quest against the men who have wronged them.
This sensual thriller casts a spell with mesmerising shots and exquisite costumes, though has more in common with edgy arthouse drama The Duke of Burgundy and erotic espionage thriller Lust, Caution than last year’s lesbian melodrama Carol. A stunning, essential film from a master of extreme and boundary-pushing cinema.
[Megan, Curzon Home Cinema]