La La Land
As if we needed a reminder that Ryan Gosling was a beacon of perfection, with that voice and those moves he proves without a shadow of a doubt that he is (Ryan, if you're reading this, call me). This year's top contender for the Oscars sees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone channel Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in this wistfully romantic musical that recalls the golden days of Hollywood. This sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and altogether sweet film is smart and, despite being firmly rooted in Old Hollywood musicals, wholly refreshing. Also showing at Picturehouse Central and The Ritzy Picturehouse from Jan. 8.
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Manchester by the Sea
This is the film Jimmy Fallon called "the only thing from 2016 more depressing than 2016," but don't let that dissuade you. One of the most emotional films of the year, Casey Affleck's performance just won him the Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. With sweeping cinematography across a cold, desolate town, the visuals match the whole soul-in-pieces vibe of the storyline in a way that lends palpability to Affleck's character's emptiness. Also showing at Curzon Bloomsbury, Canterbury, Chelsea, Soho, Sheffield, and Wimbledon; Picturehouse Central, Ritzy Picturehouse, Hackney Picturehouse, BFI Southbank, Rio Cinema, The Barbican Centre, and pretty much everywhere else.
Set against the backdrop of Brussels' violent youth gang culture, Black takes the Romeo and Juliet formula to a new, deeper, darker, place. When Mavela falls for Marwan, a member of a rival gang,an emotional journey begins which ultimately culminates in tragedy. This film doesn't shy away from the sex and violence that its themes imply. Featuring a cast of young unknown actors, scouted from the very streets where this tragic tale unfolds, this film delivers poignant and complex performances that are sure to make a few careers. More than just a tale of star-crossed lovers, Black offers an eye-opening commentary on racism and the harsh anti-immigration laws in Belgium.
The prodigal director's latest, this is quintessentially Allen. The film follows young whippersnapper Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who moves to 1930's Hollywood to work for his uncle (Steve Carrell), a powerful agent to the stars. He soon falls in love with his uncle's secretary (Kristen Stewart) - the only problem is that Uncle Phil is taken with her too. It has all the classic elements you'd expect from Allen - romantic hijinks, nostalgic setting, caustic asides - but it lacks depth and development. It's a cardboard cut-out of Midnight in Paris, but it's still Woody, and still a solid option for avid cinema-goers.
Jim Jarmusch's latest feature (and festival circuit fav) is a refreshing reminder that small-town America isn't always the place of nightmares, it can also be quite idyllic. Adam Driver is excellent as Paterson, a bus driver working in Paterson, New Jersey, who writes poetry on the side, drawing inspiration from the conversations of his passengers. His wife is also an amateur artist, and though she has no career of her own, is fulfilled through her creative pursuits. Their story is on the surface quite banal, but is in reality one that is exceedingly rare: a quietly content, happy, though imperfect couple, and their happy, quiet, content life. We thought that only existed in fairytales...