The following is part of an ongoing monthly column with Culture Fly
This article’s introduction was originally a fluffy ode to Valentine’s Day. It was going to mock the holiday, because, once again, I’m not getting any in February. Then it would segue into how love is in the air at the cinema this month, but recent events mean it can’t.
Donald Trump, the President of the United States, signed an immoral Executive Order that prevents anyone of Muslim faith from certain countries entering the US. It is a huge disaster of foreign policy, making writing about movies seem trivial. But, culture is a way to protest and February at the cinema is all about resistance.
First up is Loving (3 Feb). The film focuses on the interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) and the racism, threats and persecution they faced. Director Jeff Nichols, who goes five-great-films-for-five, takes a quiet approach to the material, and by eschewing any grandstanding moments delivers an angrier, more powerful film. We know there is no justice in the world, so the fact the film only received one Academy Award nomination, for Negga’s powerful performance, isn’t surprising. The Academy has a track record of rewarding the wrong movies, and Loving is a perfect piece of cinema. People in the emerging resistance should wield its messages of tolerance, love and respect as a weapon.
Released a week later is 20th Century Women (10 Feb), a film about praising the women in your life. Written and directed by Mike Mills and based on his relationship with his mother, it features a never-better Annette Bening and indie darlings, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. Mills is giving us a coming-of-age movie with a difference, placing female characters front and centre and going against the idea that only white men are worthy of starring in movies.
Fences (10 Feb) is up next. Denzel Washington is pulling double duty as director and star of this adaptation of August Wilson’s legendary play. Both Washington and Viola Davies won Tony awards for the play’s Broadway revival, and both have been Oscar nominated for their performances. At moments it does feel like a piece of theatre, but you need to watch acting this good.
When he won the election, a video did the rounds of various superheroes watching Trump’s victory speech. They watched on in despair about what happened, and now, more than ever, we need them. Whilst this month doesn’t see the release of any major DC or Marvel outing, it does feature Will Arnett’s Lego Batman. A spin-off from the Lego Movie, Lego Batman (10 Feb) is an irreverent take on the caped crusader. It mixes respect for the source material, with some sharp barbs and old-fashioned slapstick. After Trump quoted Bane in his inauguration speech, it will be a pleasure watching a mini-figure Batman punching crooks in the face.
When it opens in the UK, Hidden Figures (17 Feb) will be a middle finger at the idea only white men can open movies. Almost grossing $100 million when writing, this film about three African-American women mathematicians sending John Glenn into space, goes against all Hollywood convention. A film like this shouldn’t be successful, which goes to show you have to resist common perceptions. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as mathematicians break down the barriers of an all-male world. At times the film does stray into cliché but the power of the performances and the message make watching this film a necessity.
Monáe also appears in Moonlight (17 Feb), a film that could cause an upset and ruin the La La Land party at the Oscars. Barry Jenkins (who might just be one of the suavest directors around) tells a semi-autobiographical story about a young gay black man growing up. Diverging from the usual coming-of-age template, telling Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) life in three separate stages, Jenkins pulls devastating performances from his cast. With eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Actress, Jenkins has delivered a film you should see.
Sometimes, when the world is destroying itself, you just want some good old-fashioned escapism. John Wick 2 (17 Feb) is the film for you. Like any good sequel, John Wick 2 develops what we know about the world of impeccably tailored assassins and continues the franchise’s now brutal action. The first film rebooted the Keanu-wave (like the McConaissance) and hopefully, this film will cement its legacy. In a film like this, the plot is redundant. All you need to know is that Wick has realised its futile to retire and is going to kill some people in a glorious way.