Five must-see films for February

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New movies coming to UK cinemas this month, including Michael Keaton as the founder of McDonald's – and Annette Bening's 20th Century Women (pictured with Lucas Jade Zumann)

1. 20th Century Women

10 February. Cert: 15

Writer-director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners) returns with this engrossing 1970s comedy-drama.

Set in Santa Barbara, California, Annette Bening stars as a liberal single mother concerned for her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) as he grows up without a male influence.

Featuring Elle Fanning as Jamie’s girl-next-door friend and Greta Gerwig as the coolest lodger you could ever want, it’s a wonderfully inventive tale, told with real joie de vivre, and worthy of its Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Bening is particularly fine, on a par with her performance in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. Scored with a cracking, nostalgia-inducing soundtrack, it’s the sort of film you wish you’d seen as a teenager to reassure you that everything will be OK.

2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

10 February. Cert: 15

Ang Lee, the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi, adapts Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel about a soldier back from Iraq after a heroic fire-fight and blasted into the spotlight on Thanksgiving during the halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys football match.

Featuring British newcomer Joe Alwyn as Billy, it’s an often-times surreal meditation on patriotism, military pomp and homecoming histrionics. Cutting scenes at the show and his home-life (with his anti-war sister, played by Kristen Stewart) with flashbacks to his frenetic time in Iraq, Lee has painted an intriguing psychological portrait of the modern-day soldier.

True, it’s not as devastating as, say, Born On The 4th July, but it’s still a walk you’ll want to take.

3. The Founder

17 February. Cert: 12A.

If you enjoyed The Social Network, then John Lee Hancock’s latest is for you.

Similarly studying the dark side to the American Dream, instead of Facebook, it focuses on the birth of the world’s largest fast food chain, McDonald’s. Michael Keaton is fantastic as Ray Kroc, the travelling salesman who encounters the streamlined San Bernardino burger joint owned by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and goes into business with them.

Dreaming about franchising McDonald’s, Kroc’s lust for success comes at the expense of others – not least his first wife, played by Laura Dern. Despite its 1950s-setting and immaculate period detail, The Founder feels utterly contemporary: the perfect film for the Trump era.

4. Moonlight

17 February. Cert: 15.

Outside of La La Land, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is one of the awards season favourites – with eight nominations at this month’s Oscars.

A subtly crafted coming-of-age film – think Boyhood meets Boyz N The Hood – it’s a story that defies racial and working-class stereotypes with its depiction of a young African-American boy from Miami at three stages of his life.

Played by three different actors, Chiron is a mass of confusion – about his sexual identity and his role in a dangerous world where drug dependency has left his own mother (Naomie Harris, brilliant) a shell of her former self.

Written and directed by Jenkins, it’s an impressive work as performances, cinematography and sound design all come together quite beautifully to forge this nuanced character study.

5. It’s Only the End of the World

Curzon / 24 Feb / Cert: TBC

Xavier Dolan’s drama won the Grand Jury prize in Cannes last year and utterly split the critics. It’s certainly brave – a claustrophobic adaptation of the 1990 play Juste la fin du monde by Jean-Luc Lagarce that rarely leaves the confines of the family home, as prodigal son and playwright Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns after a protracted 12-year absence to reveal he’s terminally ill.

The support cast is the crème-de-la-crème of French cinema – Vincent Cassel as his aggressive older brother, Marion Cotillard as his downtrodden sister-in-law and Léa Seydoux as his pouty younger sister.

Compared to Dolan’s more exuberant recent films, like Mommy and Laurence Anyways, it’s a more troubled work – but his visual and sonic flourishes are still there for all to see.

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