All you need is love… blah blah… blah blah blah! If your love life’s DOA, chances are you don’t want to be reminded of the sappy, cliched and commercial annual celebration of Saint Valentine. Who needs greeting cards, flowers or heart-shaped chocolate boxes when you’ve got the whole couch to yourself?
Dim the lights, kick your feet up, order your favourite pizza, get your own box of chocolates and indulge in these gripping films that have got absolutely nothing to do with cheesy romantic overtures or whispering sweet nothings. Make this year an Anti-Valentine’s Day!
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
There’s no love lost in The Trial of the Chicago 7, a gripping political courtroom drama based on actual events. Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest screenwriters working today, having penned The West Wing as well as The Social Network, The American President, A Few Good Men… you know, “you can’t handle the truth!”? Writing many of his films as if they were set in a court of law, Sorkin has a knack for crafting brilliant dialogue and compelling characters.
Here, he’s directing his own circus of a real-life drama based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged with conspiracy. The Trial of the Chicago 7 features a stellar cast including: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Keaton. Excellent performances, entertaining court theatrics and razor-sharp writing fuels an air of suspense in this tightly wound drama of the highest order.
IMDB rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 90%
Whodunnit? You’d never expect James Bond, but there he is in all his glory. To his credit, Daniel Craig delivers one of his most entertaining performances in a decade as an unorthodox detective with a Southern twang. Playing off an all-star cast of suspects in Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ana de Armas, this is a thrilling murder mystery in the style of Cluedo. The late Christopher Plummer’s brilliant turn ironically became one of his last great performances, but it’s really the fresh-faced de Armas who steals our hearts.
Coasting on Craig’s energy as the eccentric lead investigator, this dizzying ensemble crime drama from Rian Johnson smacks of old-school murder mystery nostalgia. Offbeat comedy, a trail of red herrings and a gathering full of malice set this powder keg of fun alight. Watch it for the actor’s showcase, the genre refresh and the high-spirited jaunt and adventure of it all!
IMDB rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (DStv)
Quentin Tarantino is the self-taught video clerk turned filmmaker who loves rollicking in anything and everything that shaped his taste in film. A self-confessed magpie, he admits to grabbing shiny trinkets from other films. His ode to the golden age of Tinseltown is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Borrowing the naming convention from one of his favourite Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, he delivers one of his most mature films yet.
Starring two of the most handsome leading actors on the planet as a washed-out actor and his stunt double respectively, this film drips with mood, capturing the Zeitgeist of the 60s. Tarantino gets the best from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, with a little help from: a flamethrower, Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, Sharon Tate and Sunset Boulevard. From wild throwbacks to the era to a strangely compelling, comedic and at times violent tale, this is a tour de force.
IMDB rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%
Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime)
Riz Ahmed has been itching for bigger and better roles having started with aplomb in Four Lions and Ill Manners. A solid talent, he’s only now getting the recognition he deserves based on nuanced lead performances as a rapper in Mogul Mowgli and a drummer in Sound of Metal. Peroxided hair, chest tattoos and smashing the pigskins, he’s probably not the first person you’d expect to see spinning drumsticks in a heavy metal band. And yet he honours this refreshing casting decision with a full-fledged and beautiful performance.
With Ahmed’s character dealing with hearing loss, the audio is just as important as the visuals in this mesmerising and vicarious journey that recalls A Quiet Place and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. As he grapples with the steady progression of his disability and comes to terms with a new normal, the lead delivers a story as heartwarming as it is frustrating in his struggle to find self-acceptance.
IMDB rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%
The Current War (Showmax)
Thomas Edison is depicted as the inventor of the light bulb and by extension the “light bulb moment” as if he was struck by lightning after leaving the window open in a thunderstorm. This textbook portrait is shattered in The Current War, which takes a There Will Be Blood approach to storytelling. Pitting Benedict Cumberbatch against Michael Shannon is the equivalent of a Hollywood boxing match. Two of the best actors of their generation from either side of the Atlantic find themselves duking it out as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in a battle to light up the United States.
Arrogant, shrewd and brilliant, this is a gloves-off version of history as Edison’s quest for commercial empire gets railroaded by the enterprise of businessman George Westinghouse. In a literal power grab, the two captains of industry define the phrase in their ambition at a time when America was still running on steam.
IMDB rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 61%
Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster flicks starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci but as his collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio prove, he’s not just about wise guys. Testament to this is his spiritual drama, Silence, starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. As we follow two Jesuit priests in search of their mentor in Japan, we undertake a perilous journey into the Orient as culture, religion and wills collide.
Beautifully photographed with many ethereal scenes, there’s a visual poetry and haunting majesty to Scorsese’s intellectual and spiritual cross-country conquest. Andrew Garfield is phenomenal as always, far-flung from our frame of reference and yet still accessible and relatable.
IMDB rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 83%
A Vigilante is all about Olivia Wilde. It’s as if Wilde was in a state of chrysalis before this performance, finally emerging from her cocoon to showcase her true worth as an actor. Essentially playing an avenging angel, she reinvents her career much like Liam Neeson did in Taken. Harnessing the special skills backstory and baptised in a pool of fire, she’s got some serious kick-ass attitude in this gritty and violent thriller.
Domestic violence and abuse remains a disturbing reality, which is dealt with in a swift, cold and calculated way in A Vigilante. A woman who suffered at the hands of a violent husband makes it her life’s work to “take out the trash”. A real-life superhero, Sadie uses her anonymity and rigorous training to overcorrect bad situations.
(For more Olivia Wilde magic, check out her directorial debut, quirky comedy Booksmart.)
IMDB rating: 5.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 90%
The Imitation Game (Netflix)
Benedict Cumberbatch just looks intelligent. Having played the brilliant Sherlock, Thomas Edison himself and even that college quiz aficionado from Starter for 10, he’s dangerously close to being typecast. In The Imitation Game he stars as Alan Turing, the real-life inventor of the digital computer, whose mathematical genius helped decipher the German enigma code. The focus of the film is on the darkest of days during World War II as a critical numbers game ensued.
Cumberbatch plays opposite Keira Knightley in one of her finest performances as Joan Clarke. If he’s the brains, she’s the heart of this surprising all-rounder of a film. Determined, stoic and operating on another level, it’s one of those historical dramas that wows you with numbers without becoming overly dry. The Imitation Game offers a wonderful peephole into the backroom workings of what ultimately became a turning point for all of humanity.
IMDB rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 89%