The new films that need to be added to your spring watchlist ASAP

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  • Still trying to get a booking at the best rooftop bars for a post-lockdown pint? Worry not, because we’ve rounded up the best new films to watch this spring to keep you entertained in the meantime.

    From Kate Winslet’s incredible portrayal of groundbreaking palaeontologist Mary Anning in Ammonite, to Carey Mulligan’s turn as a revenge-seeking college dropout in the much-anticipated Promising Young Woman (directed by none other than The Crown’s very own Camilla Parker-Bowles), here are the best films spring 2021 has to offer. 

    Bring on the popcorn…

    The Dig

    The Dig – best films to watch in April

    The spectacular real-life discovery of the remains of a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk forms the backdrop for this engaging period drama set on the eve of war in 1939. At the heart of the story, however, is the meeting of empathetic minds between Ralph Fiennes’ bluff self-taught archaeologist and Carey Mulligan’s wealthy widowed landowner. Co-stars Lily James, Johnny Flynn and Ken Stott are among those getting their hands dirty as the dig proceeds.

    Director: Simon Stone

    12A, 112 mins

    Available now on Netflix

    Promising Young Woman

    promising young woman – best films to watch in April

    Carey Mulligan is on searing form as the eponymous protagonist of this darkly twisty, queasily amusing, debate-stirring revenge thriller for the era of #MeToo by actress turned first-time writer-director Emerald Fennell. Best known for playing the young Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown and as the showrunner for Killing Eve’s second season, Fennell has us on the edge of our seats, and sometimes also squirming, as Mulligan’s unforgiving med-school dropout Cassie pursues a deviously tempting form of payback against predatory men. 

    Director: Emerald Fennell

    15, 113 mins

    Available on Sky Cinema from 16 April

    The Whole Truth

    best films to watch in April – the whole truth

    Keanu Reeves’ Louisiana defense attorney has an unusually tricky murder case on his hands. His teenage client (Gabriel Basso) has admitted killing his ghastly millionaire father (Jim Belushi) but won’t say a word to his lawyer or anyone else. How then can he get him acquitted? This courtroom mystery is more of a procedural puzzle than a realistic legal drama – indeed, one can imagine Agatha Christie coming up with the basic plot. It isn’t exactly a nailbiter, but the story’s twists are enjoyably engaging, as is Reeves’ low-key turn as the film’s maverick motorbike-riding, office-shunning protagonist, and there’s fine support from Zenée Zellweger, almost unrecognisable as the victim’s downtrodden wife, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Reeves’ green but shrewd new colleague. 

    Director: Courtney Hunt

    15, 94 mins

    Showing on Sky Cinema and NOW TV 

    Nomadland

    best films to watch in April – Nomadland

    Frances McDormand’s stubbornly independent widow is a modern-day nomad roaming the American West in her carefully kitted-out van, picking up short-term work and finding camaraderie with other transient folk as she goes. With real-life people playing themselves, this vividly realistic, semi-documentary film from director Chloé Zhao (maker of contemporary cowboy drama The Rider) brims with empathy and tenderness, while capturing the splendours of America’s wide-open spaces along the way.

    Director: Chloé Zhao

    12A, 107 mins

    Showing on Disney+ from 30 April

    Proxima

    Proxima

    Movies about astronauts tend to be a male preserve – witness the title of 2018’s Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man. French director Alice Winocour turns her focus on a female astronaut and the change of view produces a richly rewarding drama. Eva Green’s single mother Sarah has been picked for the European Space Agency’s year-long mission to Mars. Put in an overwhelmingly male environment, she must cope with the dismissive chauvinism of some of her colleagues (notably Matt Dillon’s US astronaut) as well as the punishing demands of her training. But the biggest challenge she faces is being separated from her seven-year-old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant, wonderful). Brilliantly conveyed by Green, the emotional cost this inflicts on Sarah is the beating heart of the film. Proxima doesn’t deliver the exhilaration of some other space movies – indeed we barely get beyond lift-off here – but the film’s earthbound drama is just as absorbing in its own way.

    Director: Alice Winocour

    12, 107 mins

    Available on DVD and Digital

    French Exit

    best films to watch in April French exit

    Adapted by novelist Patrick deWitt from his 2018 book, this stylish comedy finds an elegant Michelle Pfeiffer on delightfully droll form as a wilful New York socialite who moves to Paris, 12 years after the death of her filthy rich husband, having finally exhausted her fortune. (‘My plan was to die before the money ran out.’ She didn’t. It did.) Not that she is exactly on her uppers. She still travels and arrives in style, accompanied by her aimless grown-up son (Lucas Hedges) and a black cat that appears to contain the soul of her late husband, and picking up a motley collection of helpers and hangers-on along the way, including a cruise-ship fortune teller (Danielle Macdonald), a laconic private detective (Isaach De Bankolé), and a lonely, emotionally needy widow (Valerie Mahaffey). Pfeiffer is fabulous, although her self-absorbed spendthrift may well test your patience and sympathy. Best to see director Azazel Jacobs’ film as a throwback to 1930s screwball comedies, which were similarly indulgent towards the madcap antics of the rich and privileged. The screwball era’s prevailing mood was fizzy mania; French Exit constantly teeters on the brink of farce but never tips over into it, opting instead for an air of wry, listless melancholy.

    Director: Azazel Jacobs

    15, 110 mins 

    Release date pending 

    Ammonite

    Ammonite – best films to watch in April

    Pioneering 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning, maker of groundbreaking fossil discoveries along the Dorset coast, is the (rather fanciful) inspiration for this lesbian love story starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Winslet’s sullenly proud, working-class Mary is disregarded by Victorian England’s scientific establishment, despite her self-taught expertise. Ronan’s melancholy young gentlewoman Charlotte Murchison, a visitor to Mary’s Lyme Regis hometown, comes from a different class, but she too is neglected and patronised. She is also severely depressed following a stillbirth, which prompts her domineering geologist husband (James McArdle) to entrust her into Mary’s care for a fee. Struggling to support herself and her sickly mother (Gemma Jones) by her fossil hunting, Mary grudgingly accepts his offer. And she is similarly grudging towards the pale and loitering Charlotte. Gradually, however, as Charlotte accompanies Mary on her muddy forays along the coast, an intimacy develops between the women that blooms into a sensual affair. God’s Country writer-director Francis Lee doesn’t stint on the sex (or the mud). Indeed, he cracks open taboos with the blunt determination of Mary Anning hammering a fossil out of a rock. Yet for all the film’s daring, it never fully sparks into life and remains for much of its running time as glum and dour as Winslet’s Mary. Winslet and Ronan deliver fine performances, but their efforts can’t convince us that the fictional liberties the film takes (in real life Charlotte was a decade older than Mary, to take one example) do justice to the historical characters they play. Ammonite can’t help but recall Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, another period film that ripped open corseted lives. But whereas Sciamma gave her story’s female lovers a electrifying chemistry from the start, Lee’s film never catches fire. 

    Director: Francis Lee

    15, 117 mins

    Showing on Amazon Prime 

    The World to Come

    the world to come

    Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby play two heartsore 19th-century farmers’ wives who slowly fall in love in this affecting period drama. Eking out a hardscrabble existence in wintry upstate New York alongside her taciturn husband (Casey Affleck), Waterston’s Abigail is still numb from her young daughter’s recent death, her life as grey as the weather. But she finds an unexpected soulmate after vibrant newcomer Tallie (Kirby) moves to a neighbouring farm with her dour, puritanical husband (Christopher Abbott). Norwegian-born director Mona Fastvold makes her film’s period details and subtle emotional registers equally convincing, vividly capturing the drudgery of the women’s lives – and the fleeting, illicit joy they find in each other’s company.

    Director: Mona Fastvold

    15, 98 mins

     Release date pending

    Supernova

    Supernova – best films to watch in April

    Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci bicker and spar beautifully and affectionately as a longtime couple travelling around the Lake District in a camper van in this touching road movie, but an undertow of sadness is ever present as the duo, classical pianist Sam and novelist Tusker, face up to the consequences of Tusker’s diagnosis of early onset dementia. Firth and Tucci’s chemistry is wonderful and the autumnal landscapes add to the story’s melancholy mood, but in the end the slightly underpowered script means the film doesn’t quite tug at our heartstrings as deeply as we might hope.

    Director: Harry Macqueen

    15, 93 mins

    In cinemas 9th July

    The Father

    best films – the father

    Anthony Hopkins looks odds-on for an Oscar nomination for his phenomenal performance as a prickly, stubbornly independent octogenarian who remains in denial about his increasing mental frailty while his weary daughter (Olivia Colman, similarly brilliant) tries to find him a carer. French first-time film director Florian Zeller, adapting his own play, tackles the harrowing spectre of Alzheimer’s with subtle power, letting us share his protagonist’s growing disorientation by means of understated cinematic sleight of hand. (For all its chamber intimacy, the film never seems the least bit stagey.) Hopkins, bolstered by Colman and sharp supporting performances from Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell and Mark Gatiss, draws us still deeper into his character’s plight. He has never been better. And, given his much garlanded career, that really is saying something.

    Director: Florian Zeller

    12A, 97 mins

    Release date pending

    Clemency

    best films – clemency

    The barbarity of capital punishment is squarely addressed in writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s powerful drama, which stars Alfre Woodard as a veteran prison warden beginning to buckle under the strain of carrying out death row executions. Woodard conveys her character’s internal struggle in every fibre, her turmoil amplified by the experience of a botched execution and her doubts about the guilt of Aldis Hodge’s condemned prisoner. Chukwu shows the cruelty of the death penalty in harrowing detail, but her film never resolves its ambivalence about the warden’s own complicity with the brutal US penal system. 

    Director: Chinonye Chukwu

    15, 112 mins

    Available on DVD and Digital, and on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

    Wildfire

    wildfire – best films

    Nora-Jane Noone and Nika McGuigan are blazingly good in this compelling indie drama about the intense bond between two Irish sisters haunted by family tragedy and mental illness, and by the dark legacy of the Troubles. The married Lauren (Noone) is outwardly the more stable and settled of the pair, but the return of her troubled homeless sister Kelly (McGuigan), missing for a year, reawakens their shared demons. Writer-director Cathy Brady’s debut feature film mines tension from its setting on the historically fraught border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but most of its power comes from its stars’ electrifying chemistry – at its most potent when the sisters dance with wild abandon to Van Morrison’s song ‘Gloria’ in a bar frequented by an unrepentant IRA bomber. Sadly, McGuigan, daughter of champion boxer Barry McGuigan, died from cancer shortly after completing the film. 

    Director: Cathy Brady

    15, 85 mins

    In cinemas 18th June

    The Croods 2: A New Age

    best films – the croods

    Nicolas Cage’s overprotective caveman dad and his winningly rumbustious clan return for another round of prehistoric peril and gentle satire in this lively animated sequel. This time out the primitive group – including feisty teenager Eeep (Emma Stone) and her more evolved boyfriend Guy (Ryan Reynolds) – find a walled-in haven but must learn to rub along with the condescending hipster family who created it – and to survive some unexpected new threats. Listen out for the voices of Catherine Keener (as Ugga, wife of Cage’s Grug), Cloris Leachman (her gran), and Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage and Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran as the Crood family’s sophisticated new rivals. And watch out for the punch monkeys!

    Director: Joel Crawford

    PG, 95 mins

    In cinemas 16th July

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