Valentine’s Day is a lovely idea — celebrate the person you love! But, all the heart confetti and couples-only menus potentially damage the mental health of single people. To crush is to be crushed, especially in February, as cupid only amplifies feelings of loneliness and isolation. Luckily, February’s cinema screens are filled with touching portraits of outsiders. They are celebrating the loner and shining a light on the outcasted. They are joyous movies; ones that will make you stride into a Pizza Express and ask for a table for one.
Paul Thomas-Anderson returns with Phantom Thread (2nd Feb), his evocative takedown of toxic masculinity, brings in the big gun: Daniel Day-Lewis. Set in the 1950’s fashion world, Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a steadfast bachelor who finds his lifestyle fraying as he falls for Alma Epson (Vicky Krieps). Lush and seductive, PTA is back and he is helping the legendary actor retire and become mythological.
Number of Academy Award nominations: 5 — Best Picture, Best Actor (Day-Lewis), Best Director (PTA), Best Supporting Actress (Lesley Manville), Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges)
We all know the chaste sex franchise based on EL James’ books climaxed prematurely. Dakota Johnson’s performance is one of the only redeemable features when it comes to the abusive relationship between Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). This makes Fifty Shades Freed (9th Feb) an ideal hate watch. Director James Foley filmed the final instalment back-to-back with a the unbearable Fifty Shades Darker and even though the innuendo heavy marketing campaign has been entertaining, this is one finish most will probably have to fake enjoying.
A better Valentine’s Day watch is probably Black Panther (13th Feb). The first mainstream superhero movie to focus on a black character, this is a seismic film in terms of representation and, hopefully, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) ascendance has a scale to match. The villain Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) fits the Marvel mould, acting as a twisted reflection of the hero, allowing director Ryan Coogler (Fruitville Station, Creed) to create Wakanda, the secretive nation with Afro-future architecture. This, fused with a soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar, looks set to make Black Panther the most distinctive Marvel movie.
Guillermo del Toro has always created unique worlds and populated them with outsiders. The Shape of Water (14th Feb), his sincere and overwhelmingly romantic odyssey between the mute maid Eliza (Sally Hawkins) and The Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), a creature from an Amazon lagoon, is the culmination of the Mexican maestro’s oeuvre so far. Set in the cold war, the story is full of spies, intrigue and political subtext concerning class and sexuality as Michael Shannon’s toxic American spy races to capture the monster. This is a fairytale unafraid to sully itself with real world concerns and is a feast for the eyes as the isolated find comfort together.
Number of Academy Award nominations: 13 — Best Picture, Best Director (del Toro), Best Actress (Hawkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Original Screenplay (del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Cinematography (Dan Laustsen), Best Costume Design (Luis Sequeira), Best Production Design (Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin), Best Film Editing (Sidney Wolinsky), Best Sound Editing (Nathan Robitaille), Best Sound Mixing (Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, Glen Gauthier)
Nowhere is loneliness more acutely and keenly felt than as a teenager and Greta Gerwig has delivered a teen film for the ages with Lady Bird (16th Feb). Saoirse Ronan cements her evolution from interesting teen performer to bonafide great as a teen who feels sorely misunderstood. Gerwig’s film is filled with nuanced observations of growing up, from the impact wealth has on popularity to the burning confusion of discovering your sexuality to the freakily accurate representation of the mother-daughter relationship at the film’s centre. This is assured filmmaking and it earns its place in the top tier of teen dramas.
Number of Academy Award nominations: 5 — Best Picture, Best Director (Gerwig), Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf), Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig),
All Tonya Harding wanted was to be the best, but the media onslaught and narrative turned her into the perfect villain. Steven Rogers’ script asks who is figure skater Tonya Harding — a victim of abuse or a manipulative monster? I, Tonya (20th Feb) asks these questions, presents multiple perspectives, and lets you decide. Allison Janney is having fun with her character’s delicious barbs and Sebastian Stan suggests he will outlive his Marvel shelf-life, but the film belongs to Margot Robbie. She gives the performance of her career as Tonya and understands abuse causes more pain than physical injury. The comedic tone might be distasteful for some people when dealing with this subject matter, but it only makes the abuse more shocking and impactful.
Number of Academy Award nominations: 3 — Best Actress (Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Janney), Best Film Editing (Tatiana S Riegel)
Suitably ending the month is a film called Annihilation (23rd Feb). Alex Garland’s follow up to Ex Machina is about a team of scientists led by Natalie Portman who enter a mysterious dimension searching for her lost husband (Oscar Issac). Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh follow Portman into the portal before everything goes haywire. Garland’s career has revolved around smart pulpy science fiction — hopefully he hasn’t lost the knack for it.