1. A Monster Calls
Out 1 January. Cert: 12A
We’ve already had J.K. Rowling’s fantastic beasts. Now it’s time for J.A. Bayona’s. The Spanish director may not be as well known as Rowling, but his work to date is hugely impressive – in particular the mind-blowing tsunami-survival epic The Impossible. Like that film, Bayona’s A Monster Calls is, at its heart, a family story surrounded by death and digital effects.
Written by Patrick Ness, who adapts his own novel, it’s the story of a young boy, Conor (newcomer Lewis MacDougall). Bullied at school, at home this 12-year-old has to deal with a mother (Felicity Jones) who is dying from cancer, a grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) he hates and a largely absent father (Toby Kebbell) who has started a new life in America.
Little wonder he turns to fantasy. In his very vivid imagination, Conor brings to life the ancient yew tree outside his window. Voiced by Liam Neeson – and brilliantly rendered with computer trickery – this bark-covered beast arrives at precisely 12.07am and announces it has three stories to tell. And after that? Conor, who is not so much scared as defiant, must tell one of his own.
While this metaphoric tale about coming to terms with life, death, grief and sorrow can be full-on at times, there’s no doubting the accumulative power of the story. MacDougall is sensational as young Conor – a ball of raw emotion who will bring you to tears by the closing credits. There’s something cathartic and cleansing about A Monster Calls: a perfect release after the high emotion of the festive season.
2. La La Land (top picture)
Out 13 January. Cert: 12A
Wash away the winter blues with this splendidly soulful musical from writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash).
Ryan Gosling plays aspiring jazz club owner and pianist Sebastian, who meets Emma Stone’s budding actress-playwright Mia for a rocky romance that begins in an L.A. traffic jam and spans the seasons of a year. A
tribute to the Hollywood song-and-dance classics of old, particularly the Fred and Ginger pictures, it’s brilliantly executed – from Gosling’s jaw-dropping ivory-tinkling to the vibrant costumes and design to Chazelle’s daring long-takes.
With memorable music and lyrics from Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, by the stunning epilogue this rough-round-the-edges diamond transcends into something really quite beautiful. Destined to dominate this year’s awards, it will sweep you off your feet.
20 January. Cert: TBC
A real-life tearjerker, this adaptation of the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley is a moving study of family, place and identity.
As a five-year-old, Saroo was separated from his brother at a train station and wound up thousands of miles from his village, stranded from his home and without even his address. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham), the grown-up Saroo (Dev Patel) sets out to search for his birth family in an epic journey aided, remarkably, by Google Earth.
Directed by Garth Davis, who was behind the several episodes of the excellent Jane Campion-created series Top of the Lake, it’s a studiously-made film – heart-warming but never overly sentimental. Best known for Slumdog Millionaire, Patel is superb in what may be his finest role yet.
27 January. Cert: U
Garth Jennings is the British director behind the excellent Son of Rambow and the big-screen adaptation of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. But this latest effort is his first foray into animation – an uplifting, hilarious adventure that should get the whole family rocking.
The story centres on Buster Moon, a koala-bear impresario (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) who hits on the idea of a singing contest to save his run-down theatre from being repossessed by the bank. Gathering an array of contestants – including a crooning mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a porcupine rock chick (Scarlett Johansson) and a piano-playing gorilla (Taron Egerton) – the story is as engrossing as it is funny. Featuring more than 85 classic tracks, music ranging from Elton John to Taylor Swift, this is a real treat.
5. T2: Trainspotting
27 January. Cert: TBC
Just over 20 years on from Danny Boyle’s touchstone take on Irvine Welsh’s seminal story about Edinburgh drug addicts arrives the long-awaited sequel. If revisiting hallowed ground is usually a bad idea, the signs are good for T2: both the old creative gang – Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald – and the cast are all back together.
Loosely based on Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno, Ewan McGregor is back as Renton, the heroin-user who returns to Glasgow to face the friends Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) he screwed over at the end of the original Trainspotting. Perhaps it won’t be the cultural phenomenon that it became in 1996, but the coolest movie of the year? It’s got that one sewn up.
6. Hacksaw Ridge
27 January. Cert: TBC
Mel Gibson returns to the director’s seat for the first time in a decade with this harrowing World War 2 drama, based on the true story of pacifist solider Desmond T. Doss.
Played by Andrew Garfield, Doss was a conscientious objector who was desperate to serve his country without carrying arms. Enrolling as a medic, despite much scepticism from his peers, his heroics on the battlefield during the savage Battle of Okinawa in Japan led to him being awarded a Congressional Medal of Honour.
Co-starring Vince Vaughn (on supreme form as Doss’ superior officer) and Hugo Weaving (as his father), the impressive Garfield taps into his character’s humanity to deliver a truly touching performance.
With the conflict scenes vividly realised by Gibson – think Braveheart with bullets – it’s an exhausting, emotional ride.