The following is the January installment of my monthly column for Culture Fly
January is the doldrums month. We spend the month recovering from the festive season, and it can be depressing. Fortunately, in January the cinema is like the timeliest superhero. The month is stacked with award favourites from wunderkind and legendary directors. To demonstrate how bountiful the month is, here’s a little story. When I was asked to write a monthly review column, my editor gave me one rule: only choose six films. I had to break my one rule.
It is quite fitting Silence (1st Jan), a film about questioning faith, is being released one week after Jesus’ birthday. Any Martin Scorsese film is an event, but this is the big one. Scorsese has spent almost 30 years trying to adapt Shusaku Endo’s tale of two priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) attempting to find their apostatised father (Liam Neeson). For those who felt Scorsese was playing it safe with The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence is a more experimental film where he shows his filmmaking mastery. Garfield’s expressive acting style is perfect to show Father Rodrigues’ internal struggle with his faith. If it is half as good as its source material, the best film of 2017 opens on the first day.
Liam Neeson has always had a varied resume and this month he goes from playing a priest to a mo-capped monster in A Monster Calls (1st Jan). Director JA Bayona brings us the story of a grieving boy and his relationship with a monster tree. Blending fantasy with a kitchen-sink drama lends a hint of Spielbergian magic to this story about growing up.
Also opening on New Years Day is Assassins Creed (1st Jan). Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of the stabby-stabby video game stars Michael Fassbender as a man who explores his genetic memory to find the Apple of Eden, a very important MacGuffin. Fassbender and Kurzel teamed-up for the recent punk rock Macbeth and they match that film’s visual dynamism – the video-game-movie curse may be broken.
With two contenders out of the way, it’s time to move onto the Oscar favourite, Damian Chazelle’s movie-musical La La Land (13th Jan). Making a musical inspired by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Singin’ In The Rain is a risky move but Chazelle’s insistence on blending the retro with modern concerns and filmmaking style guarantees a joyous experience. Emma Stone’s already-nominated performance as a struggling actor will make you fall deeper in love with her whilst Gosling rides in her energy slipstream as a tetchy jazz pianist. You’ll want to give a standing ovation.
As entrenched as musicals are in movie history, the gangster movie is just as storied. Live by Night (13th Jan), Ben Affleck’s fourth directorial effort is one more entry in the canon. His first film as a director since the Oscar-winning Argo, Affleck also wrote and stars in this story of redemption. Also starring Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning and Sienna Miller, this provides the month’s pulpy thrills. It may come across as cliché, but at least Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes it look gorgeous.
In Manchester by the Sea (13th Jan), Casey Affleck makes a case for why he is the better Affleck brother. Whilst Ben has always been attracted to the A-list, Casey has become a character actor. Here, his work with director Kenneth Lonergan and Michelle Williams holds together this touching portrait as grief.
Maybe I was wrong when I said movies could help you escape a dour January because grief seems to be this month’s major theme. Jackie (20th Jan), a biopic of Jackie Kennedy, follows the famous first lady after JFK’s assassination. Natalie Portman gives an astonishing lead performance, being unafraid to show how artificial politics is. It appears as if Pablo Larraín’s political views have not been lost in translation as he handles his English-language debut.
Whatever you think of Mel Gibson, there is no denying there is no director quite like him. Braveheart stormed the world in the mid-90s and Apocalypto was ballsy enough to be filmed in Yucatec Maya. Hacksaw Ridge (27th Jan) is his version of Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) story. Doss was a conscientious objector who saved 75 men during the battle of Okinawa without firing a shot. The film is a pacifist war film and Gibson makes you feel all the bullets. It is an immersive action movie, and Garfield has picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his work.
The end of the month see’s the release of T2 (27th Jan), the belated sequel to Trainspotting, the film whose poster rests on the walls of student dorms. The film is unnecessary but Danny Boyle has never made a bad film (YEAH, THE BEACH IS GREAT, DON’T @ ME) and it’ll be interesting to see how the actors interact with each other twenty years on.