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If Beale Street Could Talk. Image credit: Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures

February Films: Naughty AND Nice

2 February 2019 | Daniel Pateman

The awards assault continues as an army of Oscars glimmer on the horizon. But alongside more conventional, Academy-approved dramas, this month's cinema offerings feature some highly subversive, NSFW treats. Personal memoirs snuggle up beside gory satires, while romance confronts the challenges of prejudice, social injustice and psychosis in films that will make you laugh and gasp in quick succession.

Missing out on Oscar nominations despite the pedigree of its cast, Boy Erased (8th February) earned plaudits for lead actor Lucas Hedges, who was nominated for a Golden Globe last month. Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, Hedges plays a teenage boy sent for conversion therapy by his Baptist parents when he comes out as gay. Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe play the flawed but concerned parents in a film by writer-director-actor Joel Edgerton; exploring the tension between parental love and dogmatic religious belief. It is currently receiving praise as a “complex, powerfully performed drama”.

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ latest offering is If Beale Street Could Talk (8th February), based on the James Baldwin novel. It tells the story of a young African-American couple in 1970s Harlem, ‘Tish’ and ‘Fonny’, who resolve to be together after Fonny is falsely imprisoned and Tish discovers she is pregnant. With a woozy jazz score and dreamy cinematography, Beale Street looks like a meditation on the boundlessness of love and a reminder of the lives ruined by racial prejudice. Although missing out on Oscar nominations for Best Film and Director, actress Regina King bagged one for Best Supporting Actress and Jenkins too for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Displaying more levity but an equal amount of acting chutzpah is the much-anticipated biographical drama Can you Ever Forgive Me? (1st February). The film stars Melissa McCarthy as embattled writer Lee Israel, attempting to overcome declining popularity by forging letters from deceased writers. Based on Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name, the film looks a hoot. Richard E. Grant and McCarthy prove an endearing double act while McCarthy plays against-type to display her range as an actress. The film has led to a slew of award nominations for Grant, with McCarthy receiving her second Oscar nomination after Bridesmaids.

After a number of comparatively sombre dramas come a couple not approved by the Academy: filmic cocktails brimming with WTF ingenuity. Velvet Buzzsaw launched in select cinemas and on Netflix on 1st February, with Director Dan Gilroy compiling a stellar cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, John Malkovich and Rene Russo. The former bring A-list gravitas to a delightfully silly premise about a dead artist’s work that appears suffused with vengeful supernatural power. Like Banksy directed The Ring, the film takes an irreverent look at the greed of the art world and has bloody fun doing it. Destined for cult-movie greatness.

A second helping of pitch black comedy comes in the form of Piercing by Nicolas Pesce, released 22nd February. Channelling an 80s vibe and the yuppie psychosis of American Psycho (2000), the film stars Christopher Abbot as a man who leaves his family one day to check into a hotel and kill an unsuspecting escort: enter Mia Wasikowska. Based on Japanese author Ryū Murakami’s novel, the film looks like a surprising blend of murderous antics and dark humour as a game of cat and mouse ensues. “What’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever done?” Wasikowska causally asks while leaning over a drugged Christopher Abbot - hinting at the film’s thrilling subversion.

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