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Superheroes, spies and Spielberg: Here’s the must-see movies of 2018

The Black Panther roars, Matt Damon shrinks, and Jennifer Lawrence takes spying into a new dimension

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian News & Media Ltd.
18:20 January 2, 2018

Prowling panthers, slick spies and a Steven Spielberg double bill gets the cinematic fare going in the first four months of 2018. Here’s our pick of the best films to check out:

Darkest Hour

Director Joe Wright

Gary Oldman turns in a grandstanding performance as Winston Churchill in this handsomely mounted movie, which brings a House of Cards tone to a familiar story. Winston’s back — and the nation’s back — is up against the wall in 1940, and he’s going it alone with the Nazis poised across the Channel. Kristin Scott Thomas is his perennially exasperated wife Clemmie, and Stephen Dillane and Ronald Pickup play Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, the two appeaser fainthearts who still plan on selling out and making a deal.

Release date: January 11

I, Tonya

Director Craig Gillespie

For those who have never got over Will Ferrell’s performance as Chazz Michael Michaels in the classic Blades of Glory, here is another dark tale from the world of competitive ice-skating — this time true. Margot Robbie plays skating badass Tonya Harding who, with her ex-husband, hired someone to break the leg of a competitor with a hammer. It’s played as a black comedy, though it might not have seemed funny to her victim at the time.

Release date: January 11

The Post

Director Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg brings his massive prestige to bear on the issue of fake news and real values in journalism and politics with this handsome, heartfelt picture about the Washington Post and its battle in 1971 to publish the Pentagon Papers: documents that proved the government was hiding the truth about Vietnam. Tom Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep is the paper’s queenly, steely owner Katharine Graham. Rousing stuff.

Release date: January 18

Downsizing

Director Alexander Payne

Opinions vary about this satirical fantasy from Alexander Payne, a sci-fi daymare about a world in which it is scientifically possible to reduce yourself to the size of a matchbox. It’s a lifestyle-career option that saves you money because you don’t consume as much and it could save the planet if everyone did it. Married couple Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig decide to take the plunge, but then a commitment-related glitch causes disaster. Does the film disappear too deeply down the rabbit hole — or is it genius?

Release date: January 18

All the Money in the World

Director Ridley Scott

Veteran Ridley Scott took his place in the history of #MeToo by firing Kevin Spacey from this film and replacing him with Christopher Plummer, who plays ageing oil tycoon J Paul Getty in this true story from the 70s. Getty refused to pay a kidnappers’ ransom for his abducted grandson and instead hired a former CIA tough guy (played here by Mark Wahlberg) to get him free.

Release date: February 1

The Shape of Water

Director Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro may have created his masterpiece with this strange, sad, exotic and dreamily wonderful fantasy. It is set in Baltimore in the early 60s, and shy Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, lives in an apartment above an old-fashioned movie theatre and works as a cleaner in a top-level government science facility that has discovered a mysterious sea creature and imprisoned it in conditions of the gravest secrecy. But Elisa discovers she can communicate with it.

Release date: February 1

Phantom Thread

Director Paul Thomas Anderson

Daniel Day-Lewis makes his final bow with this almost outrageously charismatic and theatrical performance. He plays Reynolds Woodcock, a 1950s couturier and fashion designer loosely based on Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. At the height of a midlife creative crisis, Woodcock becomes obsessed with a lonely German waitress and embarks on an amour fou with her as his model and lover, an obsession mysteriously connected with his own creativity. Release date: February 1

The 15:17 to Paris

Director Clint Eastwood

The indefatigable Clint Eastwood directs this gung-ho action movie based on the attempted Thalys train attack in 2015, when a terrorist attempted to open fire on a crowded French train and was subdued by a number of people, chief among them three American nationals (two of whom were off-duty soldiers), Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos — who will be playing themselves.

Release date: February 8

Black Panther

Director Ryan Coogler

Marvel’s reign as chief purveyor of superheroes to the masses continues unchallenged, and this is one of its most keenly anticipated new movies: Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman as the ruler of the fictional African nation of “Wakanda”, who is also an Avenger with superpowers. He faces a threat at home that may well escalate to a global catastrophe.

Release date: February 15

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director Martin McDonagh

Violent, jagged, black-comic and often brilliant, this new movie from Martin McDonagh features a great performance from Frances McDormand, her best since Fargo. She plays Mildred Hayes, a tough-as-nails woman who is infuriated by the town police chief’s failure to find the man who raped and murdered her daughter. So she rents out three billboards to demand answers and shame the indolent, racist cops into action.

Release date: February 22

Journey’s End

Director Saul Dibb

For the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, here is a new movie adaptation of the classic anti-war play by RC Sheriff, set in the trenches in 1918. The story takes place in the British officers’ dugout in March, but also directly dramatises those events that in the theatre are left offstage: the action is just before the Germans’ spring offensive, whose purpose was to crush the British infantry and drive them into the sea. Sam Claflin plays Captain Stanhope, a boiling mass of tension and trauma.

Release date: TBA

The More You Ignore Me

Director Keith English

Former psychiatric nurse and comedy legend Jo Brand has scripted this movie, based on her much-admired 2010 novel. Sheridan Smith plays a young mother with mental-health issues in remote rural England in the 1980s; she conceives an obsession with the local weatherman and is admitted to a psychiatric facility, leaving her daughter to struggle with conflicted emotions — before coming up with a plan to heal her family.

Release date: TBA

Roman J Israel, Esq.

Director Dan Gilroy

A character-led legal drama, this stars Denzel Washington as Roman, a shy and self-effacing back room guy who has been the secret heart, soul and ethical driving force of a small firm of lawyers specialising in championing the underdog. But when his partner dies, he must step up and find out what corners the firm has been cutting to stay in business. An obvious must for Washington fans.

Release date: TBA

Loveless

Director Andrei Zvyagintsev

This new film from Russian film-maker Andrei Zvyagintsev is a stark, mysterious and terrifying story of spiritual catastrophe: a drama with the ostensible form of a procedural crime thriller. A married couple are splitting up, having found new partners and grown to detest each other. But when their 12-year-old disappears, there is a massive police search, and the estranged pair realise they have to work together. But is this possible in such a grim environment? A gripping, terrifying movie.

Release date: TBA

The Mercy

Director James Marsh

James Marsh directs this poignant and stranger-than-fiction true story of inexperienced sailing enthusiast Donald Crowhurst, who entered a round-the-world yacht race in the hope of winning a cash prize but soon got into terrible difficulties at sea. Traumatised by danger and mortified at the shame and financial ruin in admitting failure, he instead reported false positions to make it look as if he was winning. Colin Firth plays the unhappy Crowhurst.

Release date: TBA

Lady Bird

Director Greta Gerwig

Writer-director Greta Gerwig now has the honour and the burden of having the best reviewed film since records began — according to Rotten Tomatoes. It’s been getting raves everywhere it’s played. It’s a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan as a high-school student in California in 2002, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, who longs to escape her provincial background and various stultifying and mortifying romantic situations.

Release date: TBA

Dark River

Director Clio Barnard

The fiercely intelligent, visually inventive and innovative filmmaker Clio Barnard returns with a tough, shrewd social-realist picture in a rural setting. Ruth Wilson plays a young woman who returns home to the family farm when she hears that her father has died. She is in fierce confrontation with her brother; he blames her for running out on the family; she is dealing with memories of abuse.

Release date: TBA

Annihilation

Director Alex Garland

Alex Garland directs this movie, based on the award-winning novel from sci-fi author Jeff Vandermeer, the first of his Southern Reach trilogy. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and one of a team of four women who set out to explore an abandoned region known as Area X. This is a feared place associated with unexplained illness, madness and suicides. The expedition discover a spiral staircase that disappears into the ground. A terrifying quest is in prospect.

Release date: TBA

Red Sparrow

Director Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence stars in this meaty spy thriller, based on the best-seller by former CIA agent Jason Matthews. Lawrence plays Dominika, or “Red Sparrow”, a Russian intelligence agent with the unique ability to sense people’s emotions and secrets through her synaesthesia, a perception of emotional “colour”. She is to fall in love with a CIA man, played by Joel Edgerton, and must consider whether or not to become a double agent.

Release date: March 1

A Wrinkle in Time

Director Ava DuVernay

Madeleine L’Engle’s classic and much loved 1962 novel is once again adapted, this time for a film directed by Ava DuVernay. Meg is a smart girl who finds that her missing scientist father is being held captive in some remote galaxy, so she has to rescue him, with the help of three time-travelling astral adventurers: Mrs Which, played by Oprah Winfrey, Mrs Who, played by Mindy Kaling and Mrs Whatsit, played by Reese Witherspoon.

Release date: March 8

Tomb Raider

Director Roar Uthaug

Lara Croft is back, a positively Whovian regeneration of the role that helped make Angelina Jolie a megastar. Now it is Alicia Vikander as the boy’s own heroine, the gutsy archeologist, aristocrat and adventurer who must go on a dangerous expedition to uncover secrets known only to her late father (played by Dominic West) and which will clear the family name.

Release date: March 15

Ready Player One

Director Steven Spielberg

The restlessly creative Steven Spielberg directs this futurist adventure based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Owen Watts, an Oklahoma teen in 2045, when the world has become a ruin due to overpopulation and economic collapse. Their only escape is virtual reality gaming, and Wade sets out to win the game’s ultimate prize, an “Easter egg” that will grant him control of this alternate reality.

Release date: March 29

Mary Magdalene

Director Garth Davis

It is perhaps the role Rooney Mara was born to play: a challenging portrayal of Mary Magdalene, the woman who followed Jesus, witnessed the crucifixion but became known in subsequent mythology as a fallen woman or a prostitute, something not supported by the Gospels. Joaquin Phoenix plays Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Peter.

Release date: March 29

You Were Never Really Here

Director Lynne Ramsay

The ghost of Travis Bickle haunts this nightmarish and humidly absorbing psychological drama from Lynne Ramsay, featuring an eerie, jangling musical score by Jonny Greenwood and starring a slab-like and bearded Joaquin Phoenix. He is a lonely and troubled ex-soldier who now works in shady areas of “private security” and is hired to rescue a politician’s teen daughter, who has been abducted by a sex-trafficking ring.

Release date: April 5

The New Mutants

Director Josh Boone

The New Mutants is a superhero-horror film based on the Marvel Comics superheroes of the same name. Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga and Blu Hunt play Wolfsbane, Magik, Cannonball, Sunspot and Mirage — the Mutants who are held in a secure facility and must fight to save themselves.

Release date: April 12

Avengers: Infinity War

Directors Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Fans have had their minds well and truly blown by the trailer to the new Marvel film, in which the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to tackle the evil Thanos, who is trying to steal the Infinity Stones that encode the very essence of existence itself. Will this giant ensemble prove to be an overload — or another giant leap forward in superhero excitement?

Release date: April 26

The Square

Director Ruben Ostlund

Here is last year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. Ruben Ostlund, the director of Force Majeure, has now created a sprawling and daringly surreal satire. The Square turns a contemporary art museum into a city-state of bizarre, dysfunctional and Ballardian strangeness. Christian (Claes Bang) is a museum director who wants something daring and confrontational. He gets precisely that, and the whole place is on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown.

Release date: TBA

Isle of Dogs

Director Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson returns to the world of animation and stop-motion with which he reinvented Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Five dogs are quarantined on a special remote island in the Japan of the future, due to a disease called “canine flu”. They are voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban. They are miserable in their world of imprisonment until a boy shows up looking for his dog, and they agree to help.

Release date: TBA

Wonderstruck

Director Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’s dreamy YA adventure is adapted by Brian Selznick from his own novel of the same name. It is a double-stranded narrative, two stories in different historical times about hearing-impaired kids who are lonely, unhappy and run away from home, heading for the bright lights of the big city in search of meaning and answers. A boy in 1970s Michigan discovers an old book that sets him off on a journey to New York; back in the 1920s, a girl is obsessed with a movie star, played by Julianne Moore. The two destinies intertwine.

Release date: TBA

The Children Act

Director Richard Eyre

This high-minded and rather Shavian drama is an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan. Emma Thompson gives an elegant performance as a hard-working and conscientious judge who must rule in the painful, controversial case of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are refusing on religious grounds to let their sick son have a blood transfusion. It is a dilemma that is to have profound personal consequences for her.

Release date: TBA

Beast

Director Michael Pearce

A disturbing British psychological drama-thriller, inspired by the Beast of Jersey case — the real-life serial sex attacker who was at large in the island in the 1960s. Jessie Buckley plays Moll, a delicate young woman who falls in love with Pascal, a truculent, sexy local guy played by Johnny Flynn. Being with Pascal is an act of defiance for Moll — but could he be the Beast who terrorising everyone?

Release date: TBA