As the summer draws to a close, we all need some excellent films to keep us company as we curl up on the sofa and welcome the crisp autumn months.
Here are some of the best winter movies to watch now – you won’t want to miss them.
Enola Holmes, the great detective’s spirited younger sister, proves her brother’s equal in this enjoyably peppy adventure mystery based on the popular novels by Nancy Springer. Played with appealing zest by Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things, the teenage Enola is also no slouch when it comes to deductions and she, too, has a puzzle to solve. Why did her unconventional feminist mother (Helena Bonham Carter) disappear on Enola’s 16th birthday? Giving the slip to her aloof brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill, dapper and amused) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin, prim and reactionary), who want to send her to finishing school, Enola sets off for London to find her mother. Along the way, she finds her fortunes intertwine with another young rebel, a floppy-haired runaway lord (Louis Partridge) who is being pursued by a remorseless bowler-hatted assassin (Burn Gorman).
Enola is more than a match for the perilous scrapes that ensue, having been home-schooled by her mother in jujitsu, among other pursuits. Very much a heroine for today, Enola breaks the Victorian mould in other ways as well – and she also breaks the fourth wall, addressing the viewer with winks and asides from the start (a device perhaps borrowed from Fleabag, similarly helmed by Enola Holmes’s director, Harry Bradbeer). Happily, it all works, making the film a jaunty, mildly irreverent sidebar to the Sherlock Holmes canon, and Brown’s Enola a bright on-screen role model.
Director: Harry Bradbeer
12, 123 mins
Netflix from Wednesday 23 September.
Hurt by Paradise
Poet, actor and model Greta Bellamacina adds some more strings to her bow as writer, director and star of her debut feature film, a defiantly quirky, gently funny ode to female friendship and artistic aspiration. Bellamacina plays struggling poet and single mother Celeste, who is striving without much success to find both a publisher and her long-missing father. Meanwhile, her flaky upstairs neighbour and babysitter Stella (co-writer Sadie Brown) seems to be devoting more time to an implausible online romance than she is to getting her acting career off the ground. Their efforts throw up moments of comedy as well as frustration, with a streak of self-effacing humour dispelling any whiff of self-indulgence. Shot in a burnished black and white that every now and then flushes into colour, Hurt by Paradise is also a loving cinematic tribute to London, finding melancholy beauty in bohemian corners of Fitzrovia and Soho with a fondness that recalls Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Director: Greta Bellamacina
12A, 85 mins
On release from 18 September
Toxic male anger runs rampant in this contrived but exciting road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Indeed, the credits haven’t even finished rolling before we witness at a distance Crowe’s unnamed character commit a domestic double murder. He remains at boiling point for the rest of the movie. Definitely unhinged. Pistorius’s hard-pressed single mom, Rachel, is unlucky enough to have a run in with him at a traffic light later that day, which is enough to turn her into the object of his furious ire. Everyone else in her life, including her teenage son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) and lawyer friend Andy (Jimmi Simpson), had better watch out as well. For Crowe, the soon-to-be-divorced Rachel represents everything he despises in women and in society at large, which is bad news, too, for anyone else who crosses his path as he seeks to make an example of her. Nothing about the film is subtle, but if you’ve turned up expecting down-and-dirty genre thrills then Unhinged certainly delivers. Director Derrick Borte keeps the pedal to the metal, staging some truly staggering automotive mayhem as Crowe rampages across the city. Meanwhile, Pistorius makes the most of her thinly drawn character and Crowe, looking more than ever like a blubbery walrus these days, oozes furious malice. His character may remind you of Michael Douglas going off the rails in Falling Down, Joel Schumacher’s 1993 drama of urban paranoia, but two decades on, today’s political climate makes Crowe’s rage even more incendiary.
Director: Derrick Borte
15, 90 mins
In cinemas now
Batman’s cackling archenemy the Joker gets his own big-screen origin story. And it’s no laughing matter. Controversial and divisive, director Todd Phillips’ nightmarish drama departs from Hollywood’s usual comic-book playbook to deliver a disturbingly compelling movie; one that has more in common with films of the late 1970s and early 1980s – notably Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy – than with the current DC universe. Famously, Joaquin Phoenix lost three stone to play the film’s mentally fragile central character, Arthur Fleck – and reaped a Best Actor Oscar for his pains. Living in the film’s grim, grotty version of Gotham City circa 1981, Arthur is an oddball loner who works as a party clown by day and cares for his sick mother at night. He also suffers from a Tourette’s-like affliction that causes him to burst into uncontrollable laughter. He dreams, however, of emulating his TV idol, talk-show host Murray Franklin (played by Robert De Niro in an ironic echo of his role in The King of Comedy), and becoming an adored stand-up comedian himself. Arthur’s subsequent journey takes him through street beatings and mental breakdown, and sees him adopted as the figurehead of an anti-rich street movement before we get hints of the future Joker of comic-book legend. Repellent and pitiful at the same time, Phoenix is absolutely riveting, his fearless performance a world away from Cesar Romero’s campy shtick in the 1960s TV series and every bit the equal of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s scene stealing turns in Batman and The Dark Knight. Like Phoenix, the film is often tough to watch – but always thrilling.
Director: Todd Phillips
15, 122 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 7th August
Ride Like a Girl
The story of the first woman jockey to win Australia’s highly prized Melbourne Cup is one of those rousing, outlandish tales where real life outdoes fiction. Michelle Payne, the youngest of 10 in a racing dynasty of jockeys and trainers, is only six months old when her mother dies. She grows up determined to become a champion jockey and, despite a near fatal fall, a further family tragedy and the dyed-in-the-wool sexism of the racing world, nothing can deter her from her goal. Making her directing debut, Rachel Griffiths doesn’t steer too far from biopic convention, but she gets foursquare performances from Teresa Palmer as the headstrong Michelle and from Sam Neill as her equally stubborn widowed dad, and the movie’s feelgood final furlongs are sure to have you cheering. Stevie Payne, who has Down syndrome, plays himself and, as Michelle’s brother, her horse’s strapper and her biggest supporter, steals the film with his charm and wit.
Director: Rachel Griffiths
PG, 98 mins
Available on DVD & Digital from 10th August
An Easy Girl
Over the course of a summer on the French Riviera, working-class 16-year-old Naïma (Mina Farid) gets swept up into the Chanel and champagne world of her sensual, fast-living 22-year-old cousin Sofia (Zahia Dehar), who takes up with a pair of wealthy yachtsmen (Nuno Lopes, Benoît Magimel) as her new patrons for the season. Shot in an around Cannes, this typically Gallic coming-of-age drama courts sensation by casting Dehar – known to French tabloids as ‘la scandaleuse’ following her involvement in an underage prostitution scandal – but its deceptively subtle handling of sex and class turns out to be psychologically nuanced and insightful.
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
15, 92 mins
Available on Netflix from 12th August
There’s a new drug on the streets of New Orleans: a pill that for five minutes gives the user superpowers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rule-breaking cop wants to find the source, and so does Jamie Foxx’s enigmatic ex-soldier, his motives initially unclear. Streetwise teenage rapper Robin (Dominique Fishback), a part-time pusher of the drug, is caught somewhere in the middle. Adding sci-fi flourishes and rocket-fueled action to the scuzzy urban cop film, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (makers of Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 and 4) have come up with a super action thriller fantasy. And with well-aimed swipes at ‘guys in suits’ who care nothing for the people of New Orleans, there’s a withering social critique in there as well.
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
15, 111 mins
Available on Netflix from 14th August
Ready or Not
Shotgun wedding takes on a new meaning in this darkly funny horror comedy. Young bride Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying into the filthy rich Le Domas clan. According to tradition, each new member of the family has to play a randomly allotted game on their wedding night. On most occasions, the game is innocuous. However, Grace draws a deadly version of hide and seek. Can she evade her murderous in-laws, now armed to the teeth with crossbows, axes and guns, until dawn? Combining gouts of gore, cutting satire and eye-watering black comedy, Ready or Not recalls such recent films as You’re Next and Get Out in the way it pits a spunky representative of the 99% against members of a sadistic elite. The mood here is more comedy than horror, but we’re still rooting all the way for the terrific Weaving’s heroine, who keeps her nerve even as her bridal white dress turns increasingly bloodstained as the night wears on.
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
18, 95 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 29th August
The High Note
Tracee Ellis Ross looks and sounds the part as an imperious soul diva in this hugely enjoyable comedy drama set in LA’s music scene – and the fact that she’s Diana Ross’s daughter only adds an extra frisson. Cast opposite Dakota Johnson (another showbiz insider from birth), she plays a pop legend named Grace Davis who has been coasting in her career for years. Her manager (Ice Cube) is pushing her to take up a lucrative Las Vegas residency, but her put-upon personal assistant, wannabe producer Maggie (Johnson), reckons she can do better. We’re a long way from A Star Is Born here. The crises in The High Note are resolved far too readily, and the plot turns are easily anticipated. But Ellis Ross and Johnson chime well together, and the script has enough tart wit (much of it delivered with Ellis Ross’s throaty chuckle) to compensate for the slight story. There are some pointed observations along the way, too, about the role of gender, age and race in the pop music business. The soundtrack isn’t bad, either, with interesting cover versions and some very deep cuts. Listen out for Leon Bridges, Elmore James, Maxine Brown, Lee Moses, PP Arnold, and Cher’s cover of Dylan’s ‘All I Really Want’.
Director: Nisha Ganatra
12, 113 mins
Available on DVD & Digital from 31st August
The Good Liar
Together on screen for the first time, national treasures Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen spar beautifully in this twisty thriller about a career con artist who sets his sights on a wealthy widow. Hooking up with her on an online dating site, McKellen’s veteran crook Roy reckons Mirren’s trusting suburbanite Betty is an easy mark. But will his fiendish swindle go to plan? Based on the bestseller by Nicholas Searle, this highly entertaining mystery takes us through a series of sinuous plot turns, and then springs yet more surprises. (Too many, some may feel). Its most enjoyable feature, however, is the delicious spectacle of screen veterans Mirren and McKellen going toe to toe. We first meet their Roy and Betty in parallel scenes that play over the film’s opening credits. Sitting at their respective computers, they fill out their dating profiles. Smoker? No, taps Roy, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Drinker? No, taps Betty, wine glass at hand. Roy’s fibs, we quickly discover, go far deeper. At the same time as he is courting Betty, he is also plotting an elaborate scam with his partner Vince (Jim Carter) to defraud some gullible investors over a Russian investment. As the deceptions mount, the plot becomes increasingly slippery, with flashbacks from the story’s 2009 present to Berlin in 1948 and 1943. Roy is a nasty piece of work, it soon becomes clear, but what else can we glean before the story’s end?
Director: Bill Condon
15, 105 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 4th September
The filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s joyfully groundbreaking, gleefully subversive hip-hop musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers captures the stage show’s energy and excitement – and, thanks to artful up-close camerawork, throws in some extra intimacy, too. Shot on Broadway in 2016, the performance has Miranda himself in the lead as Alexander Hamilton, the brilliant orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the War of Independence and played a leading role in the creation of the US Constitution. Miranda, also responsible for the show’s music, lyrics and book, tells this story with furious verve and wit, qualities matched by the dynamic fizz of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, while the production’s most revolutionary stroke – the casting of mostly black and brown faces as white figures from history – packs an even bigger charge today.
Director: Thomas Kail
12, 160 mins
Showing on Disney+
The black adopted son of liberal white parents stirs up trouble with deft alacrity in this absorbing film, which shares with its enigmatic protagonist the desire and dexterity to push people’s buttons. Played with cryptic charisma by Kelvin Harrison Jr, the eponymous Luce is a former child soldier who was pulled out of a war zone in Eritrea at the age of seven to be raised in comfort in the US by well-meaning, well-heeled couple Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth). Ten years later, he is his high school’s star pupil, a skilled debater and a talented athlete to boot. ‘I’m a poster boy,’ he says, mockingly. ‘A black kid who overcame his tragic past.’ He does, however, have a prickly relationship with his exacting history teacher, Harriet Wilson, played by Octavia Wilson. And when she asks her class to write an essay in the voice of a historical figure, he picks the 20th-century political philosopher of decolonisation from Martinique, Frantz Fanon, notoriously an advocate of revolutionary violence. Is he simply fulfilling the teacher’s brief or expressing his own beliefs? Like Luce himself, director Julius Onah’s film keeps us guessing, throwing in white privilege and guilt, black identity and code-switching – and a bag of illegal fireworks – into the story’s combustible mix. This is very much a drama of ideas (it’s based on the play by JC Lee) and a whiff of the stage still clings to the characters’ intellectual tussling, but it is very well acted, endlessly stimulating and, at this present juncture, extremely timely.
Director: Julius Onah
15, 110 mins
Available on DVD & Digital