After the cinematic doldrums of January, February brings surprisingly packed, varied offerings, from Oscar-contending international features to biographical documentaries of legendary film artists to some electrifying genre outings. Check out my picks to see below, and catch up with our Sundance coverage ahead of our Berlinale reviews here.
16. The Monk and the Gun (Pawo Choyning Dorji; Feb. 9)
Returning after his Oscar-nominated directorial debut Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Pawo Choyning Dorji’s IFSN Advocate Award-shortlisted The Monk and the Gun premiered at Telluride and TIFF to much acclaim and will now be released this month. Selected by Bhutan as their Oscar entry, the heartwarming film is about an American in search of a long-lost, vintage gun in Bhutan as the country’s launching a democracy.
15. Ennio (Giuseppe Tornatore; Feb. 9)
The film world lost perhaps its most legendary musician when Ennio Morricone died at the age of 91 in July 2020. Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore, who worked with the composer more than a dozen times across his career, crafted a tribute with the documentary Ennio, which fittingly premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will now be arriving in the U.S. Featuring interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Dario Argento, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Wong Kar-wai, Oliver Stone, and more, the documentary opens next week.
14. Io Capitano (Matteo Garrone; Feb. 23)
After picking up Best Director at Venice for his migrant tale Io Capitano, Matteo Garrone has earned an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film, with a release set a few weeks before the ceremony. Ed Frankl said in his review, “Matteo Garrone’s talent for weaving stories out of the fabric of real events––especially those involving desperate or violent people––gets another airing in Io Capitano, an engrossing, visceral portrait of one young man’s brutal journey from Senegal to the coast of Italy. The director won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2008 for Gomorrah, his defining, excoriating portrait of the Camorra crime syndicate, and he performed the trick again ten years later in Dogman, inspired by a gruesome gangland murder in Rome. He’s also had success in comedies (Reality) and fantasy (Tale of Tales), but his new film is an epic embracing the defining issue of Italian politics right now––the flow of refugees crossing the Mediterranean heading for Europe––making a potentially abstract, no-less-urgent topic tactile and approachable.”
13. Dario Argento Panico (Simone Scafidi; Feb. 2)
Among the greatest theatrical experiences I’ve had across the last few years was during our Dario Argento retrospective at Film at Lincoln Center, which the Italian horror maestro visited to present new restorations of his classics. 2024 now brings another opportunity to celebrate his legendary career as Simone Scafidi’s documentary Dario Argento Panico (featuring interviews with Dario Argento, Asia Argento, Fiore Argento, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gaspar Noè, and Guillermo Del Toro) will arrive on Shudder this week.
12. She Is Conann (Bertrand Mandico; Feb. 2)
The Wild Boys director Bertrand Mandico returned last year, debuting his 35mm-shot queer fantasy She Is Conann (yes, drawing inspiration from Conan the Barbarian) at the Cannes Film Festival. Savina Petkova said in her review, “Following The Wild Boys and After Blue, Conann marks the third feature-length project from prolific shorts filmmaker Bertrand Mandico. Many are still not convinced long-form fits his intense and imaginative style, but what’s certain is that Conann makes one heck of a watch. Part of the self-contained cosmos of Mandico’s explosive vision, this new film is a provocative tale of endurance and self-discovery inspired by the fantasy character Conan the Barbarian (or the Cimmerian). Mandico takes the figure of a sword and sorcery hero––obviously interested in his pulp magazine origins––and fashions a timeless, iterative narrative of phantasmagoric fluidity… and glitter.”
11. The Promised Land (Nikolaj Arcel; Feb. 2)
After being in the awards conversation just a few years ago with Another Round, Mads Mikkelsen is back with Denmark’s Oscar entry The Promised Land, a reunion with his Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel. As C.J. Prince said in his review, “Arcel directs with the same kind of handsome stoicism Mikkelsen has in spades. Long shots, usually from high angles, emphasize the flat, barren lands of the Heath, while interior scenes play out with unfussy shot-reverse set-ups. At the center of it all is Kahlen, who we learn is the son of a maid and her master, who most likely raped her. It explains his hard demeanor––he speaks in blunt, transactional terms and hides feelings behind a stern poker face. Mikkelsen can nail this kind of role in his sleep if he wanted to; luckily he does more than that here, his eyes doing all the talking once Schinkel’s sadistic attempts to break his will ramp up.”
10. Out of Darkness (Andrew Cumming; Feb. 9)
Set 45,000 years ago, Andrew Cumming’s directorial debut Out of Darkness follows six people searching for a home in a brutally inhospitable landscape, stalked by a terrifying enemy at night. Luke Hicks said in our 2024 preview, “Andrew Cumming’s gripping paleolithic-set survival horror is much more than it seems. What starts as a typical last-man-standing monster movie quickly upends expectations by rebuffing familiar beats. The score, courtesy Adam Janota Bzowski, is incredible. It crawls into your bones and sends shivers of prehistoric fear down your spine. Over a tight 87 minutes, the story incrementally shifts into new territory that’s not often portrayed on film––territory that forces us to reckon with the reality of our species’ pitch-black evolutionary past. Re: spoilers, stay in the dark if you can.”
9. Cobweb (Kim Jee-woon; Feb. 9)
Premiering in competition at Cannes last year, Kim Jee-woon reunited with long-time collaborator Song Kang-Ho for Cobweb, which concerns a filmmaker frantically trying to finish the movie he believes will be his masterpiece. David Katz said in his Cannes review, “Very much associated with the first wave of post-millennial South Korean cinema that made global inroads, Kim (known for twisty shockers like A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil) intends Cobweb as both a film allowing him to take stock and memorialize his lucrative career while also making a case for himself to doubters––a tableful of snide film critics at a café feature in the opening moments, dismissed by Song Kang-ho’s lead, also called Kim, as ‘people who can’t make art.’ Kim is a jobbing director in 1970s Seoul, then under a military dictatorship, for the Shinseong Film studio, established by his illustrious mentor Shin Seong-ho and now run by his descendants, as per national tradition for large businesses.”
8. Skin Deep (Alex Schaad; Feb. 2)
One of our favorite films coming out of the Venice Film Festival back in 2022, where it won the Queer Lion award, Alex Schaad’s feature debut subverts genre and gender as it toggles from body-swap thriller to intimate relationship drama. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “By wielding a science fiction conceit wherein two people can consensually transfer their essences into the other’s body, his co-writer and brother Dimitrij and he can begin tearing down walls of gender, sexuality, psychology, and identity itself. Because while our purest self is that essence, all the other pieces that make up who we are impact its formation, evolution, and, inevitably, disintegration. Leyla isn’t mired in a ‘rough patch’ like Tristan tells himself as a coping mechanism to deal with her obvious shift in personality from active lover of life to depressive hermit devoid of spark. Her body and brain—her very existence—have become a prison. And where the only escape had been death, this alternative promises rejuvenation.”
7. Disco Boy (Giacomo Abbruzzese; Feb. 2)
Coming off one of the best performances of last year in Ira Sachs’ Passages, Franz Rogowski will next be seen in Giacomo Abbruzzese’s stylish debut Disco Boy, which picked up the Silver Bear at Berlinale last year and was a New Directors/New Films selection. As David Katz said in his review, “Disco Boy’s core theme is globalization, really, or the contingent woe we all share, through the violence of borders, forced migration, and enduring armed combat, even if no country has officially declared war. (Both in these generalized themes, and its frantic stylistic flexing, we’re reminded of Iñárritu, with a bit of dread.) Joining the Légion étrangère is a route to French citizenship for the Belarusian Aleksei (Rogowski), rather than a symbol of France’s wilting Napoleonic legacy as it is in Denis’ film. Hiding with a bunch of rowdy football fans to cross the border into Poland (and thus the European Union and its Schengen area), he has a traveling partner Mikhail (Michał Balicki) with what seems to be the same purpose; he tragically drowns as he makes his course, which can (cynically) be read as providing a bit of guilt to prop up Aleksei’s plot arc.”
6. Perfect Days (Wim Wenders; Feb. 7)
Wim Wenders’ serene, Oscar-nominated character study gives Kōji Yakusho one of his best roles, portraying the everyday routine of a toilet cleaner in Japan. (Don’t worry, it’s slightly more exciting than that sounds.) Luke Hicks said in his review, “With Perfect Days, a passion project he’s wanted to make for decades, Wenders has constructed a daydream of minimalist living (which I don’t mean fashionably) and humanist perspective that has more legs than his past five fiction films combined.”
5. How to Have Sex (Molly Manning Walker; Feb. 2)
Molly Manning Walker’s Un Certain Regard prize winner How to Have Sex, which follows a group of British teenage girls who head on a vacation that soon turns into a bitter reckoning of sexuality and consent, is arriving this month. Savina Petkova said in her Cannes review, “More than anything, How to Have Sex yields its power in the specifically cinematic way it deals with subjectivity and conveys point of view. More than just the shaky handheld camera––with its surprising low angles and shackling close-ups––the depiction of a constant flow of contradictory feelings has such direct effects on the viewer precisely because Tara cannot articulate them herself. This whirlpool of desire and shame is well-captured by cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni, but surely not without the input of Manning Walker, an accomplished DP herself. Even if this is a debut-directing feature, her command of the scene is praiseworthy.”
4. About Dry Grasses (Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Feb. 23)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan made a triumphant return to Cannes last year with About Dry Grasses, for which Merve Dizdar won Best Actress at Cannes, and now Turkey’s Oscar entry arrives this month. In his review, Leonardo Goi said, “The pastures in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s luminous new film are only dry at the very end. Save for that brief summery coda, the landscape in About Dry Grasses remains a snowcapped immensity where prairies are ringed by belittling peaks, people stand out as calligraphic silhouettes, and snow falls so heavy as to blot out everything. It’s as if it fell ‘to make oblivion possible,’ observes art teacher Samet (Deniz Celiloglu), and in a film populated with wanderers trying to start anew, those words echo like a prayer. Geographically and thematically close to the rest of Ceylan’s oeuvre, the film finds him working once again in a remote corner of Eastern Anatolia and revisiting leitmotifs in his preferred mode: long, talky symposiums that pit characters against each other in games of verbal fencing. But none of it feels like a retreading. If anything, About Dry Grasses is both a distillation of Ceylan’s recurrent tropes and a purification of his style, a film made of conversations that remain explosive even at their most forbidding, shivering with a sense of fluid emotions constantly at play.”
3. Drive-Away Dolls (Ethan Coen; Feb. 23)
The solo (narrative) directorial debut from Ethan Coen. A cast including Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, and Matt Damon. Cinematography by Ari Wegner. A logline best simplified as a lesbian roadtrip crime drama. A runtime of just over 80 minutes. Drive-Away Dolls has a lot working in its favor, and after a strike-related delay, we’ll finally get to see the results in just a few weeks.
2. The Taste of Things (Trần Anh Hùng; Feb. 9)
One of the most purely pleasurable films of last year, Trần Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things brings Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel together one of the best culinary cinematic experiences since Babette’s Feast. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Last time Benoît Magimel appeared in the Cannes competition, a vision in Albert Serra’s Pacifiction, he played a foreign diplomat who stalked an island of French Polynesia like a trashy king. If Serra’s otherworldy film told a cautionary tale about feckless Euro-decadence, Magimel’s latest is more like a revelry. Adapted from Marcel Rouf’s 1924 novel The Passionate Epicure, The Taste of Things is a film about the pleasures of preparing food and consuming it, the idea of cooking as an act of giving and even of love––if a leitmotif exists in this film’s script, it is the sigh of ecstasy.”
1. Here (Bas Devos; Feb. 9)
One of the most gorgeous, tranquil moviegoing experiences of the year will surely be Bas Devos’ Berlinale winner and NYFF & TIFF selection Here. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “For anyone keeping tabs on Bas Devos’ career, it’s notable that the drama of his latest film Here is set in motion by something as benign as a pot of soup. A charming portrait with a flânuerial spirit, the film follows a Brussels-based Romanian construction worker who, having decided to move home, cooks what’s left in his fridge, packages it up, then gifts it to family, friends and––much later––a Belgian-Chinese woman doing a PhD in moss. She is played by Liyo Gang and he is played by Stefan Gota. It’s 81 minutes long, has relatively little dialogue, and tugs the heartstrings in all the best ways. It might be the most benevolent film of this year.”
More Films to See
- Orion and the Dark (Feb. 2)
- Drift (Feb. 9)
- Suncoast (Feb. 9)
- God & Country (Feb. 16)
- Onlookers (Feb. 16)
- They Shot the Piano Player (Feb. 23)