Director: Theodore Melfi.
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe. USA 2016. 127 mins.
Without three gifted mathematicians, America might not have put its first man into space in 1961. That they were also female and black in a country where racial segregation still had a sour normalcy only adds piquancy to the story.
Theodore Melfi’s biopic Hidden Figures tells the uplifting tale of how these women helped make history. Played with great, often wry gusto by Taraji P. Henson (The Karate Kid), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and pop star Janelle Monáe, the trio are plucked from numeric drudgery by a NASA systems boss (Kevin Costner) to help meet a timetable accelerated by presidential decree. As if things weren’t already challenging enough, the women also face the routine prejudice of their work colleagues.
Hidden Figures deftly avoids clichéd melodrama to celebrate amazing achievements in a society in the throes of change.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz. UK 2017. 105 mins.
Personal shopper to a snitty German supermodel (von Waldstätten), Maureen (Stewart) is also a medium, and is trying to contact her own twin brother, who died of an affliction that she shares. What's more, she is being pursued by a malevolent stalker – or is she? Rivetingly disturbing scenes laced with Hitchcockian menace are perfectly underscored by Stewart’s wilfully blank performance. It all makes for a marvellously ambiguous discourse on corrosive anxiety.
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders. USA 2016. 111 mins.
Ambitious in so many ways, Moonlight is the story of an African-American gay man growing up in a USA that is perhaps even more intolerant than ever. In only his second feature after the brilliant but undervalued Medicine For Melancholy, writer-director Barry Jenkins successfully employs three different actors to portray the same character at three different ages.
Charismatic newcomer Alex Hibbert plays the young, naive schoolboy living with his emotionally unreliable addict mother (Harris, Our Kind Of Traitor); Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton) is the bullied teenager fully discovering his sexuality; and American football star Trevante Rhodes gives a breakout performance as the confident drug-dealing adult, a tribute to the role model who helped him endure his difficult upbringing. Never less than riveting, Moonlight is already being showered with richly deserved awards.
Director: Ben Wheatley.
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Noah Taylor. UK 2016. 91 mins.
Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field In England) follows hot on the heels of his last feature, High-Rise, with this all-guns-blazing action thriller.
In America in 1978, Justine (Larson) has arranged a deal on behalf of two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) to buy a stash of guns from gangsters Vernon (Copley) and Ord (Hammer), but then there’s a misunderstanding and shots are fired… The standout cast have great fun with this shoot-’em-up and the playful script’s wry dialogue as the manic standoff escalates into a bloody game of survival.
Director: Rupert Sanders.
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Michael Wincott, Pilou Asbæk. USA 2017. 107 mins.
Scarlett Johansson gives a riveting performance in this breathtaking sci-fi thriller with shades of Blade Runner. Ghost In The Shell is the long-awaited live-action spectacular set on a future Earth that will already be familiar to fans of the phenomenally successful manga and anime productions of the same name. Johansson plays the Major, an advanced cyborg who heads an elite counterterrorist task force known as Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out cyber technology. But the Major also has a mystery of her own to solve. Director Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) and a starry international cast make the most of the dazzling visuals and extraordinary plot, but it’s very much Johansson’s film.