As in the past, the New Year begins full of films with Academy Award aspirations. Several of these enjoyed a limited release in the US towards the end of 2019, to cement their Oscar eligibility. But in addition to some of the best films of 2019, January and February also serve as a dumping ground for movies that studios have lost faith in. Somewhere between these two groups, there’s likely going to be a gem or two. So here’s a guide to some of the most noteworthy feature films coming to cinemas soon…
2020 opens with a literal bang as Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (Spectre) delivers his epic World War I war film, 1917. The story follows two British soldiers (George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman) tasked with crossing enemy lines to head off a cache of troops marching into a trap. At stake are the lives of 1,600 fellow soldiers including the brother of one of the two messengers.
The film’s enjoyed a late December limited release to help stir buzz and many critics are already hailing 1917 as one of the (last?) year’s best films. Then at the Golden Globes ceremony earlier this month, the film was named Best Picture Drama and Mendes also won for Best Director Drama. Mendes wrote the screenplay along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who’s a name to remember as a fast-rising talented Hollywood scribe after penning Edgar Wright’s upcoming film Last Night in Soho.
Besides Mendes and Wilson-Cairns, 1917 is the beneficiary of Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Early reviews have remarked on the beauty of the film and its excellent craftsmanship of Deakins. Having just won his first Oscar for Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Deakins might want to make a little room on the shelf for number two if that early buzz is merited.
UK release: 10 January 2020.
Bad Boys for Life
The original Bad Boys hit cinemas in 1995 during the height of Hollywood’s obsession with bombastic films that were thin on plot and thick on noise. Although it was corny and clichéd, the chemistry between co-leads Will Smith and Martin Lawrence resonated in the era of buddy-buddy cop flicks. In 2003, director Michael Bay delivered a bloated sequel running nearly two hours and thirty minutes that offered little in terms of a new direction.
So why bring back a third instalment, 25 years after the original? Riding the modern film trend of making old things cool again with endless reboots and remakes, Bad Boys for Life will look to cash in with some ’90s nostalgia.
This time Smith and Lawrence aren’t the “young guns” but the “old guys”, but if the first trailers are any indication the duo will pull plenty of explosive hijinks to prove they’re not yet ready for retirement. Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi take over for Bay in the director’s chairs. There’s nothing too complex about this one and the studio must be hoping that fans of the first two will turn out again.
Lawrence first announced this film in a TV interview almost seven years ago. It was stuck in pre-production purgatory for ages, so just the fact Bad Boys for Life has been made seems like a major victory. Whether or not it’ll make its money back seems a long shot, especially given it’s being dumped in January rather than typically stronger months for ticket sales. But on the positive side, the US release does coincide with a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) so it’s possible the film will exceed expectations domestically. Either way, the Miami bad boys are back… for better or worse.
UK release: 17 January 2020.
A Hidden Life
Director Terrence Malick’s been a fixture in Hollywood for more than five decades. But over that span, he’s only directed eight movies. The oddity of that math is part of the allure for many of his fans. He’s also notorious for driving studios crazy by missing deadlines and stretching production budgets, but his best works contain a high standard of cinematic beauty that can’t be denied. Which makes the January release of A Hidden Life, Malick’s latest, a noteworthy addition to this list.
The film tells the story of an Austrian man who refuses to fight for the Nazis during World War II. Franz Jagerstattter (Inglourious Basterds’ August Diehl) was a conscious objector within occupied Austria. His story is told over a nearly three-hour running time (standard for Malick) in a film that might just generate some late awards buzz.
As with some of the world’s rarest wines and finest tobaccos, Malick’s films are an acquired taste that won’t likely resonate with a larger audience, but A Hidden Life tells a new story behind a familiar backdrop in a manner only Malick knows how.
UK release: 17 January 2020.
This is another film audiences should check out if they intend to place sensible bets on Oscar night. The Lighthouse was one 2019’s darlings at film festivals and is an early favourite for multiple Academy Award nominations. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson headline this creepy tale of two lighthouse keepers attempting to keep their wits about them while stationed on a remote island in the 1890s.
Shot entirely in black-and-white, critics have raved about the film’s beautiful aesthetics and the haunting performances of Dafoe and Pattinson. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote “very few films can make you scared and excited at the same time. Just like the lighthouse beam, this is dazzling and dangerous.”
The film had a limited theatrical release in the US in early November without much fanfare. Nevertheless, The Lighthouse is almost certainly one film the accomplished cinephile will not want to miss. You can read our earlier review here.
UK release: 31 January 2020.
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
In an answer to the numerous hero team-up films dominated by men (including DC’s own Suicide Squad), Warner Bros. delivers the female alternative. Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn (supervillain Joker’s main squeeze) as she teams up with a pair of superheroines and a Gotham police detective to find a missing girl. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Rosie Perez round out the fearsome foursome. Ewan McGregor plays the mysterious Black Mask.
Director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) is getting her big opportunity with a production budget north of $100M on a film WB/DC desperately needs to be a success. Marvel’s leading comic-book movie rivals are yet to build the kind of consistent shared cinematic universe Disney/Marvel has profited from for more than a decade. How Birds of Prey will fly (or falter) without the help of a big tent hero or villain will be interesting to see.
UK release: 7 February 2020.
This South Korean film was one of the best-reviewed movies of 2019, with a Metacritic score of 96 at the time of writing. A film that’s on the Top10 list of nearly every professional critic, so Parasite beckons for a wider audience.
It tells the story of a family living in poverty and not particularly motivated to do anything about it until a scheme presents itself involving a wealthy family and their need for a tutor. The plot thickens as the scheme unravels and all actions have consequences.
Writer-director Bong Joon-ho also made Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017), but Parasite seems to be the movie that finally opens doors to bigger-budget Hollywood undertakings. And it won’t be a surprise to here Joon-ho’s name come Oscar night. You can read our early review here.
UK release: 7 February 2020.
The story of a quirky doctor who talks to animals has been told before, but this new version starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role could be 2020’s first mega box office hit. In addition to RDJ, many big-name actors lend their vocal talents to the film—including Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, and Rami Malek. Marketing for the film looks like it could be a winner with family-friendly audiences, too.
It’s not clear if Dolittle is designed to be a stand-alone feature or the start of a new film franchise, but in the age of endless sequels and given RDJ’s apparent retirement from Marvel Studios, a good run at the box office will almost certainly guarantee this won’t be the last of Dolittle.
However, that represents a best-case scenario for RDJ and Universal. Dolittle’s had a long production and there are rumours of behind-the-scenes drama. An expose was posted by an alleged crew member on Reddit that went into extensive details about numerous on-set problems and a “batshit director.” It certainly doesn’t bode well that Dolittle is being released in the winter months instead of a prime summer weekend.
UK release: 7 February 2020.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Everyone will have their own reason for taking a curious look at this. There’s a segment of grown men and women who were kids playing classic Sonic video-games, but then there’s another group (which I consider myself a part of) who are confident Sonic the Hedgehog will be a train wreck of epic proportions.
It was an ominous sign several months ago with the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog was released to widespread criticism from the target audience. Gamers and movie fans quickly took to social media to blast its poor quality CGI and the filmmakers took the criticism so seriously that they went back to redesign the title character and make him more cartoonish than semi-realistic.
Whether or not the results will satisfy fans is yet to be seen, but with the likes of middle-aged funnyman Jim Carrey as the movie’s biggest non-animated star the forecast isn’t good for Sonic. But like a grizzly crash, this one is going to be hard to look away from.
UK release: 14 February 2020.
Sony Pictures deliver their feature film adaptation of Bloodshot, a popular series from Valiant Comics. Vin Diesel plays the title character as a slain soldier who’s re-animated with vengeance on his mind. The source material isn’t well-known to mainstream audiences, but Sony’s banking on the allure of Diesel to bring people to the cinema.
While a healthy dose of scepticism is merited with this one, it’s also worth remembering Sony exceeded expectations with a similar strategy not long ago. Venom (2018) starring Tom Hardy made over $800M at the global box office despite its reliance on a similarly obscure anti-hero without a broader connection to an established cinematic universe. That film also managed to successfully blend action with enough tongue-in-cheek humour to make Venom a surprisingly enjoyable flick.
Whether or not Sony can replicate that formula will be the major question audiences will have answered in a few short weeks. If so, Bloodshot will spur yet another anti-hero film franchise.
UK release: 21 February 2020.
The Invisible Man
Loosely based on the classic story by H.G.Wells, this new adaptation of The Invisible Man aims to emphasis the horror over the science-fiction, as Elisabeth Moss plays a woman haunted after the apparent suicide of an abusive ex-boyfriend.
The film was made by Blumhouse Pictures, who’ve established themselves as the standard for horror films. If the first trailer’s any indication, The Invisible Man will be pack plenty of jumps and startles for audiences. While the film was originally going to fit into the so-called ‘Dark Universe’ of movies from Universal Pictures (which died after Tom Cruise’s The Mummy flopped) it seems more likely The Invisible Man will now be a standalone feature. And that might prove to be the better choice for both the studio and audiences. Blumhouse-produced horror movies have consistently pleased audiences and produced profits over the last several years.
UK release: 28 February 2020.
The Call of the Wild
Hollywood icon Harrison Ford leads this modern adaptation of the classic Jack London story. This family-friendly feature should draw a healthy crowd between the allure of Ford and the unfathomable desire for audiences to see yet another lost dog film.
Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) makes his live-action film debut with something the official site claims “employs cutting edge visual effects and animation technology in order to render the animals in the film as fully photorealistic—and emotionally authentic—characters.” Whether the final product is groundbreaking or not remains to be seen, but I’d be surprised if The Call of the Wild didn’t enjoy a strong opening weekend.
UK release: 21 February 2020.
The next Disney-Pixar animated feature stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland as Elf brothers on a journey to find some magic that can let them meet their departed father. The two teenage adventurers lost their father before either can really remember him, but a magic staff and a promise might just change all of that. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer also lend their vocal talents.
Betting against the dynamic duo of Disney-Pixar is like betting against the house in Las Vegas, the odds say they always win in the end. Chances are strong that Onward will be another mega-hit and could be the first bona fide box office smash of 2020.
UK release: 6 March 2020.
A Quiet Place Part II
The sequel to one of 2018’s biggest surprises hits takes audiences back to the post-apocalyptic world where the Abbott family are struggling to move on. As they leave the confines of their farm, they face an outside world left of people who might not be worth saving.
Once again Emily Blunt stars with husband John Krasinski writing and directing. Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) joins the cast in what should be another terrific ride. Granted it will be hard to match the success of the first film which grossed over $340M worldwide and landed on many “best of” year-end lists. The recently released first trailer teases plenty of thrills to keep audiences glued.
UK release: 20 March 2020.
Following the successes of last year’s Aladdin and The Lion King, Disney presents a live-action adaptation of Mulan. The film follows a young Chinese maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior to protect her father. In the process, she becomes one of the nation’s greatest heroines.
This is another big-budget film with a troubled production. Sources indicate the film cost nearly $300M to make and that was before recent reshoots were ordered to “fix historical inaccuracies.” Shortly after the first trailer was released last year, Mulan’s lead actress, Yiefi Liu, ran afoul with many on social media when she voiced her support for Hong Kong police during a series of protests. Her opinions were interpreted as anti-democratic with some even calling for a wide boycott of the film. It’s not clear if those rumblings will amount to any substantial numbers avoiding the film. But either way, Disney needs Mulan to be another billion-dollar box office smash to be anything other than a financial disappointment.
UK release: 27 March 2020.