The Taste of Things to How to Have Sex: Ten of the best films to watch in February

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: BBC News:
February 2, 2024 at 06:36

Including The Taste of Things, How to Have Sex and a documentary about Albert Einstein and the Manhattan Project – this month's unmissable movies to watch and stream.

Magnolia Pictures (Credit: Magnolia Pictures)
Magnolia Pictures

1. The Promised Land

The Promised Land didn't get any Oscar nominations, but if Nicolaj Arcel's sweeping, gritty-yet-accessible 18th-Century epic had been in English rather than Danish, it would have won awards aplenty. The always-brilliant Mads Mikkelsen stars as a retired army captain who dreams of being seen as a nobleman. His plan is to cultivate a tract of supposedly unfarmable scrubland in honour of King Frederik V. But if the heath itself weren't hostile enough, he also has to contend with a spiteful local aristocrat (Simon Bennebjerg) who doesn't want this scruffy soldier encroaching on his territory. "The Promised Land makes for a gripping man-versus-wilderness survival story with unmistakable political undertones, but it's also nimble enough to allow romance to blossom under its slate-grey skies," says Phil de Semleyn in Time Out. Arcel has "crafted a kind of Danish The Last of the Mohicans that's full of passion and political conviction. It should stand the test of time almost as well as its rugged hero."

Released on 2 February in the US & 16 February in the UK, Ireland and Sweden

MUBI (Credit: MUBI)

2. How to Have Sex

Three British schoolgirls go on holiday together without any parental supervision, and look forward to a week of wild adventures in a Greek party resort. It could be the premise of a raucous teen comedy, and for a while that's what Molly Manning Walker's directorial debut seems to be: the noisy, boozy chaos of a hedonistic nightclub has rarely been recreated so convincingly, or so funnily, on the big screen. But things become more unsettling when one girl (Mia McKenna-Bruce) feels herself being pushed towards losing her virginity. One of the year's best films, How To Have Sex is "an unflinching but empathetic look at consent, violation, and the surrounding grey areas of sexual experience," says Isaac Feldberg at RogerEbert.com. "This is fresh, passionate, and remarkably assured filmmaking, made with ample energy and even more exhilarating clarity of vision."

Released on 2 February in the US, 9 February in Canada, and 15 February in Netherlands

Neon Rated (Credit: Neon Rated)
Neon Rated

3. Perfect Days

A quiet character study of a middle-aged man who cleans Tokyo's public toilets, and who spends his spare time tending plants and reading paperbacks? It may not sound like a must-see, but Perfect Days is a delightful return to form by Wim Wenders, the 78-year-old director of Paris, Texas and The Buena Vista Social Club. It has been nominated for best international feature at the Oscars, and its star, Koji Yakusho, won the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. "The director has crafted a film of deceptive simplicity," says David Rooney at the Hollywood Reporter, "observing the tiny details of a routine existence with such clarity, soulfulness and empathy that they build a cumulative emotional power almost without you noticing. It's also disarming in its absence of cynicism, unmistakably the work of a mature filmmaker thinking long and hard about the things that make life meaningful."

Released on 7 February in the US, 9 February in Ireland and 23 February in the UK

IFC Films (Credit: IFC Films)
IFC Films

4. The Taste of Things

Anyone with an appetite for "foodie films" should tuck into this most lavish of cinematic banquets. Tran Anh Hung's warm-hearted French drama is set in 1885 in the idyllic rural kitchen of Dodin Bouffant (Benoit Magimel), the so-called "Napoleon of the culinary arts". He spends his days preparing gourmet feasts for his friends, with the invaluable help of a loyal cook, Eugénie (Juliette Binoche). The pair have been happily in love for years, but Dodin may have to take his gastronomie to new heights if he is ever to persuade Eugénie to marry him. "An instant candidate for one of the greatest culinary films of all time, The Taste of Things is a romance at its heart," says Alissa Wilkinson at Vox. Yet "the focus… is the food: what it means, what it sounds like, what it feels like, how it sizzles, how the taste can prompt emotions so profound in the taster that it can't be put into words."

Released on 9 February in the US, 14 February in the UK and 16 February in Ireland

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)

5. Einstein and the Bomb

Some of the key scenes in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer involve Albert Einstein (Tom Conti), including the one that brings the film to its blood-freezing conclusion. Now a Netflix documentary delves further into Einstein's feelings about the Manhattan Project. Directed by Anthony Philipson, Einstein and the Bomb explores his horror at the rise of Nazism in Germany, his emigration to the United States in 1933, the letter he co-signed to the US president, recommending that they begin research into nuclear weaponry, and the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film mixes archive footage with dramatisations, in which Einstein is played by Aidan McArdle, and the dialogue is taken directly from things the scientist said or wrote. "I made one great mistake in my life," he says in the trailer. "Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have taken part in opening that Pandora's box."

Released on 16 February on Netflix

Paramount Pictures (Credit: Paramount Pictures)
Paramount Pictures

6. Bob Marley: One Love

Reinaldo Marcus Green's last film was King Richard, a biopic that bagged Will Smith an Oscar for best actor. (You might remember what happened at the ceremony.) Green has followed it up with another biopic, this time of Bob Marley. "Instead of cradle to grave," says BBC Culture's Caryn James, "[the film] focuses on the years 1976-77, when Marley was politically active, trying to unify divided factions in Jamaica, and surviving an assassination attempt, all while preparing for his huge One Love Peace Concert in 1978." Lashana Lynch from No Time to Die and Matilda the Musical plays Rita, the reggae legend's wife, and Bob himself is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, who was Malcolm X in One Night In Miami. He's certainly put in the work. "Looking back, I may as well have been learning to play a part in French," he told Tom Lamont in The Guardian. "I was building my understanding of Bob's language from the ground up; the dialect, the flow, the intonation, the feel. Jamaican patois is deceptive. So much of the English language is in it, you think you know it. But it's more confusing and complicated than that."

On general release from 14 February

Universal (Credit: Universal)

7. Drive-Away Dolls

The Coen brothers wrote and directed 18 feature films together before they eventually decided it was time for a change. Joel went on to make a black-and-white version of Macbeth, and now Ethan has directed his own solo film, Drive-Away Dolls, which he co-wrote with his wife (and the film's editor), Tricia Cooke. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan star as two lesbian friends who are chased by bungling gangsters when they go on a road trip. Violent farces and incompetent crooks are nothing new to the Coens, but in this instance the characters' sexuality – and the number of sex scenes – distinguishes Drive-Away Dolls from anything that Joel and Ethan have done. "It's a queer kind of caper that doesn't take itself too seriously," Cooke told Tamera Jones of Collider, "and that's very lighthearted and fun and kind of outrageous at times – perverse, sexual, all of those things."

Released on 23 February in the US, Canada, Spain and Poland

Focus Features (Credit: Focus Features)
Focus Features

8. Lisa Frankenstein

Diablo Cody followed her Oscar- and Bafta-winning debut screenplay, Juno, with the script for Jennifer's Body, a horror comedy that put black magic into a high-school setting. Seventeen years on, Diablo has done something similar with her latest film, Lisa Frankenstein. Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa, a teenager who meets her dream man (Cole Sprouse) in a small town in 1989. The only snag is that he happens to be a reanimated corpse whose rotting body parts keep dropping off. It's up to Lisa to replace them, even if that means hacking the limbs off some other local boys. "It was funny to me how the whole Frankenstein narrative was co-opted in the '80s by movies like Weird Science where they were like, 'What if we could create the perfect woman?'" Cody tells Empire magazine. "You see that theme across genres, and I felt like nobody was making a 'building a man' movie except The Rocky Horror Picture Show... I thought: 'What if a teenage girl had the ultimate sensitive guy who can't talk?'"

Released on 9 February in the US, Canada and Finland, 22 February in Germany

Universal (Credit: Universal)

9. Argylle

Matthew Vaughn, the director of the Kingsman films, has made another espionage action comedy – and this one has an even loopier high concept. Bryce Dallas Howard stars in Argylle as Elly, a shy author who writes spy novels featuring a 007-alike secret agent (Henry Cavill). But then a genuine 007-alike secret agent (Sam Rockwell) tells her that the plots of her books tend to predict what happens in the real world, so now he needs her to work out what a mysterious crime syndicate is planning. The question is, can the tricksy premise of Vaughn's film compete with the behind-the-scenes rumours? When the producers published a spin-off novel, some Taylor Swift fans speculated that it was actually written by her. "I don't normally [see fan theories] but the Taylor Swift one came up on my radar cause my daughter told me off for not telling her," Vaughn told Hope Sloop at Entertainment Tonight. "She said, 'You're not cool, dad. You've got to introduce me,' and I said 'I do not know Taylor. It is not true.'"

On general release from 2 February

Sony Pictures Classic (Credit: Sony Pictures Classic)
Sony Pictures Classic

10. Madame Web

Spider-Man has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe owned by Disney, but various supporting characters from the Spider-Man comics are still a part of the co-called Sony Spider-Man Universe. What this confusing state of affairs means is that Sony films such as Venom and Morbius can have Spider-Man-ish superheroes and supervillains in them, but they don't feature Spidey himself. Later this year, two more SSU films are due to be released, Venom 3 and Kraven the Hunter. In the meantime, Madame Web stars Dakota Johnson as the conveniently named Cassandra Webb, a New York paramedic who acquires the ability to see the future. This puts her at odds with a Spider-Man-ish baddie (Tahar Rahim) who is trying to kill three Spider-Man-ish women (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor and Isabela Merced). Let's hope the film is more successful than the first trailer, which became notorious for one clunky line of dialogue: "He was in the Amazon with my mum when she was researching spiders, right before she died."

On general release from 14 February

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