Two newcomers become glorious movie stars in this comedy from Paul Thomas Anderson, set in 1970s Los Angeles. Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a fast-talking high-school kid with the nerve to start hitting on a 25-year-old woman – played by Alana Haim (of the pop band Haim), who has Barbra Streisand’s charisma and beauty. Their strange semi-platonic love affair plays out against this kid’s floundering dual careers as a child actor and waterbed salesman. Gorgeously made, with wonderful cameos from Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn.
Released in the UK on 1 January
The title couldn’t more ironic. This subtle film from Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is about slippery Rahim (Amir Jadidi), imprisoned for debt and allowed out of prison on a weekend pass. His girlfriend has found some apparently valuable gold coins in the street: Rahim plans to sell them and give the money to his creditor to cancel his sentence. But when they turn out to be worth much less than he thought, Rahim cooks up an alternative scam to impress a charitable foundation: pretend he was always going to hand the coins back to their owner.
Audiences will experience a kind of agribusiness pastoral in this immersive documentary from Andrea Arnold, who takes us up close and personal with cows on a farm as they moo and trot around and give birth and stare with profoundly mysterious placidity into the camera. Arnold gets alongside her bovine stars as they give birth, and we don’t see any humans until right at the very end, when we must confront the cows’ awful destiny at the hands of the human carnivores. There is great poignancy and intimacy here.
The artist and Palme d’Or-winning film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul gives us his first movie from outside Thailand: a strange, exalted, visionary work. Tilda Swinton stars as a British expat in Colombia plagued by hallucinatory sounds. Her search for their meaning leads her to an unearthly epiphany. Weerasethakul is a director concerned with the unsolved and unspoken mysteries of existence. Memoria is a beautiful and enigmatic picture – cinema that decelerates your pulse.
There’s such terrific warmth and tenderness to Kenneth Branagh’s movie about the Belfast of his childhood: spryly written, beautifully acted, and shot in a lustrous monochrome. This is a film consciously without the anger and despair generally considered indispensable for movies about the Troubles. Instead, we get generosity and wit. Jamie Dornan plays a Protestant carpenter who lives with his old mum and dad (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench), his wife (Caitriona Balfe) and sons (Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie). As the political situation gets worse, he must figure out how and when to leave Belfast.
Guillermo Del Toro gives his rich and exotic imagination full rein in this supercharged noir, a new version of the pulp shocker by William Lindsay Gresham, first filmed by Edmund Goulding in 1947 with Tyrone Power in the sleazy lead role. Now it’s Bradley Cooper playing Stan, a criminal who needs to vanish into the underground and gets a job with a travelling troupe of carnies and con-men. The film shows us how his whole life is a fascinatingly tacky illusion heading for disaster.
The energy and creativity of Pedro Almodóvar continues to be a marvel. This new film is a baby-swap melodrama – at least on the surface. Penélope Cruz plays Janis, pregnant and determined to go it alone as a single mum; she befriends teen Ana (Milena Smit) who has the same idea, though without Janis’s resources. Their babies get accidentally mixed up; their lives are intertwined; nature, nurture and ancestral burdens combine as a subplot tackles Spanish trauma over the civil war.
Here’s a social-realist love story from director Clio Barnard, set in Bradford, which is being compared to Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss. Adeel Akhtar plays a likable, happy-go-lucky South Asian guy called Ali, who is secretly depressed at the end of his marriage. Then he runs into Ava, a white woman from an Irish background, recently widowed, whose late husband was an abusive bully. She’s a sweet-natured soul looking for human warmth, and she and Ali fall for each other. The film is an essay in acceptance and love.
Jessica Chastain gives it her very considerable all in this biopic of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, the devoted wife of notorious fellow preacher, huckster and fraudster Jim Bakker. She learned her commercial vocation in the Lord from him and was utterly committed to their dual lifestyles of righteousness and wealth. But Tammy was also sincere and thoughtful in her own way, and was committed to LGBTQ+ rights in a style that the Christian right did not espouse.
One of Britain’s pre-eminent new film-makers has elevated her reputation still further with the second part of her luminous autobiographical movie: a self-portrait of the artist as a young woman. Writer-director Joanna Hogg fictionalises herself as the insouciantly well-off film student Julie, played by Honor Swinton Byrne, now recovering from her destructive amour fou with the complicated man called Anthony we saw in the first film. Now she is planning to alchemise that pain into a movie.
African cinema is represented this year by the great Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, part of his continent’s great quietist, walking-pace tradition of film-making. Lingui is a Chadian word meaning “sacred bonds” – between man and woman, mother and child. These are tested when Amina, a woman who has to pretend her husband is dead to avoid scandal, finds that her teen daughter is pregnant and in the same situation that she was in not so very long ago.
Death on the Nile
When Kenneth Branagh had an enormous hit with his 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express, starring himself as the Belgian sleuth Poirot, British cinema re-learned a great truth: Agatha Christie is gigantic box-office. So now Branagh has done the same thing with Death on the Nile (which, like MOTOE, was a 70s movie hit), returning as Poirot and leading an all-star cast including Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo and Armie Hammer.
Here is the last movie from the late Roger Michell, the director who died in September – and it could be his masterpiece: a true-crime comedy of British manners about a politically motivated art theft in 1960s Britain, which tweaked the nose of the pompous establishment. Jim Broadbent plays plain-speaking northern socialist and chancer Kempton Bunton and Helen Mirren is his wife, Dorothy. Kempton is outraged when public money is spent on saving Goya’s Duke of Wellington portrait for the nation when it could have been spent on needy working people. So he steals it from the National Gallery, a chaotic caper which electrified the country.
The definite article was first appended to Batman’s name in the Christopher Nolan era as an indicator of something thrillingly primitive and elemental. Now it’s actually going in the title. Robert Pattinson wears the pointy-eared mask. Has he been bulking up in the gym to match Christian Bale’s presence? Or will this be a slighter, wirier Batman? At all events, he faces the giggling conundrum-creator of Gotham City, the Riddler, played by Paul Dano. Meanwhile, the Penguin is an unrecognisable Colin Farrell.
Jacques Audiard’s freewheeling ensemble picture about Parisians in love – and set in the treizième – deserved more awards in Cannes than it actually got. It’s adapted from American stories by the graphic artist Adrian Tomine, transplanted to France. A young woman living rent-free in her dementia-stricken grandma’s flat has a tricky relationship with her roommate-with-benefits, who in turn has a tumultuous row with his kid sister over her plan to be a standup comic. Another young woman is mistaken for an online sex worker, and turns to the real thing for help. The zinging energy of this film is a marvel.
The Real Charlie Chaplin
Festival audiences have been thrilled by this in-depth documentary, which returns to the eternally fascinating subject of Charlie Chaplin, the movie legend and former workhouse inmate whom Dickens would have loved and understood. He was the cinema genius who became the world’s first and arguably most pervasive global celebrity in an era when silent cinema was understood by everyone. But during the second world war, he was punished by the US government for his outspoken leftist politics, and became an exile in Europe.
The year’s best romantic comedy comes from the most unexpected source. Norwegian director Joachim Trier is known for his shocking and challenging dramas; now he has created a lovely relationship comedy in the tradition of Nora Ephron and David Nicholls. Renate Reinsve plays the heroine, Julie, and the movie breaks down her troubled romantic history. She hooks up with a rebellious graphic artist, played by Anders Danielsen Lie, and then cheats on him with a humble shop assistant. It’s a sweet and funny film that insists on the importance of the romcom questions: who should you fall in love with? Who is the one?
There’s a great tradition of train journeys on film and this is a gem. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen has created a charming 90s-set love story from unpromising elements. Laura is a sweet-natured young Finnish student of archaeology, in retreat from a stagnant affair with her professor, who embarks on an epic rail journey from Moscow to freezing Murmansk to view some mysterious rock drawings, thousands of years old. And in compartment No 6, she meets boorish, drunken, obnoxious Vadim, who starts out looking like a tough guy and ends up being the sensitive soul that she needs.
François Ozon brings us a beautifully crafted example of French cinema: an affecting but unsentimental film about assisted dying. Veteran character actor André Dussollier plays André, a wealthy and well-connected industrialist who is suddenly reduced to a shadow of himself after suffering a stroke. His daughter Manue, excellently played by Sophie Marceau, has difficult memories of his cruelty during her childhood and even fantasised about killing him. So it is with mixed feelings that she receives the news he wants her to organise his euthanasia in Switzerland.
One of the most extraordinary stories of the second world war is retold, adapted from the bestseller by Ben Macintyre. To conceal the Allied plan to invade Sicily in 1943, British intelligence officers took the body of a dead homeless man, dressed him up in a captain’s uniform and placed on him bogus documents detailing non-existent plans to invade via Greece and Sardinia. Then they allowed the body to wash up on the Spanish coast, confident it would be passed on to the Nazis, who would assume pure chance had given them their enemies’ secret plans. Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen star.
Paul Verhoeven is a director whose wildly over-the-top creations have long been subject to revisionist cinephile praise, but there has been a division of opinion over this new nunsploitation romp – based on the true story of a 17th-century French abbess, Benedetta (played by the estimable Virginie Efira), who was stripped of her authority because of her relationship with a fellow nun. There is much raunchiness here. Is it Showgirls in wimples? Kinda. For Verhoeven partisans, who insist the mockers and the nay-sayers just don’t get it, this is the whole point.
Still speedy, still needy, still eerily boyish, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns in this present-day sequel to Top Gun. The US navy airman played by Tom Cruise could be piloting a desk by now, but he prefers to be a badass warrior of the skies. Jennifer Connelly plays Maverick’s love interest, a mere nine years Cruise’s junior. Miles Teller plays Rooster Bradshaw, the son of Goose Bradshaw from the first film, who was played by Anthony Edwards. Could it be that this film will include the homoeroticism famously imagined by Top Gun superfans Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino? Probably not.
Tom Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker, the notoriously super-controlling manager of Elvis Presley, in this new biopic of Elvis directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann – and we can expect some storytelling fireworks from this high-energy film-maker. Austin Butler (who was the creepy Manson follower Tex in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) plays Elvis – though it is not yet clear if he will be doing his own singing.
The chilling Port Arthur massacre of 1996 was one of the worst examples of mass murder in Australian history, and now director Justin Kurzel has made this movie about the stranger-than-fiction life-story of the killer, Martin Bryant, starting with the nasty nickname he acquired at school: “Nitram” – “Martin” spelled backwards. Having been let down by his parents, Bryant was bizarrely befriended and taken in by a wealthy and reclusive heiress (played by Essie Davis), who put him in her will before dying in questionable circumstances – making Bryant rich enough to indulge his passion for guns.
Mission: Impossible 7
The non-appearing No Time to Die achieved a kind of mythic status during the lockdown. Something of the sort has also happened to Mission Impossible: 7, the long-awaited latest in the action-adventure series with Tom Cruise as daredevil Ethan Hunt – chiefly because of an illicit audio recording that surfaced in December 2020, in which an extremely stressed Cruise can be heard berating the UK crew for not observing social-distancing rules. Can anything in the film be as exciting as that? We must hope so.
UK release dates may change