Two must-see films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Darkest Hour open this weekend. There's also a sublime Eric Clapton documentary and plenty more besides.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri *****
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will make you feel deeply, laugh loudly and think hard, often in the space of one scene. It is a triumph and sees writer and director Martin McDonagh at his absolute best.
The story centres on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered seven months ago, with the police department's case now cold. Renting three billboards on a back road into her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred decides to call local law enforcement out on the lack of progress.
Despite the gravity of the subject matter, there are more laughs to be had here than in most traditional comedies; McDonagh's balancing act of dark humour and real human emotion pays off yet again, in a film that is geographically far removed from In Bruges, but shares much of its sensibility. Read our full review here.
Darkest Hour *****
In a career already filled with great performances - The Firm (TV), State of Grace, Dracula, True Romance, The Contender - Gary Oldman has arguably saved the best until now.
As Winston Churchill in Atonement director Joe Wright's relentlessly gripping, race-against-time biopic, Oldman does that rare thing: makes you think he's the first and last to ever play the British wartime leader.
With Kristin Scott Thomas as wife Clementine, Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI and Lily James as just-hired secretary Elizabeth Layton, Darkest Hour has just as much for fans of The Crown as lovers of The Cruel Sea. Read our full review here.
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars *****
Eric Clapton would become one of the world's greatest blues guitarists. Yet all the success in the world could not take away profound personal insecurity and an inability to trust for much of his life, as this masterful film carefully documents.
The narrative structure is essentially the same as that employed by the four-part Frank Sinatra series, All or Nothing at All. So you get EC mostly heard in voiceover talking candidly about his life, or seen in old footage, a careful, reflective, intelligent interviewee.
Like the Sinatra series, there are no talking heads - that cheap standby - nobody gushing about Clapton, nobody enthusing vacuously. In fact, nobody talks nonsense of any kind throughout the entire film except Clapton, when drunk or unhinged by pot, Mandrax, LSD, mescalin or heroin. Excellent.
Having done his bit to safeguard the Western with 2007's 3:10 to Yuma, Christian Bale is back in the saddle again for Hostiles, an elegiac examination of one world becoming another, a cross-country odyssey of the soul and a white-knuckle story of the evil that men do.
How there hasn't been more made of this film is a mystery, because it's as powerful and memorable as anything on screens right now. It's also, arguably, the most affecting work Bale has ever done in a role specifically written for him by his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper. You know it from the moment he puts those eyes on you. Read our full review here.
Brad's Status ****1/2
Ben Stiller inhabits the role of a hard-pressed, somewhat neurotic dad with brilliant fidelity in the engrossing Brad's Status.
Director Michael White peers behind the American dream, with its garish stage props of competitiveness and greed. Witty and perceptive, file it under 'light-hearted existentialism'. Read our full review here.
All the Money in the World ****
Having completed filming with Kevin Spacey as billionaire J Paul Getty, Ridley Scott reshot Spacey's All the Money in the World scenes in a matter of days with Christopher Plummer taking over a part for which he had originally been the first choice. Scott's bold move will go down in Hollywood lore. As for Plummer's performance, well, that's one for the books, too.
Based on the true story of the abduction in Italy of Getty's teenage grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer - no relation) in 1973, All the Money in the World follows his mother Gail's (Michelle Williams) battle to get him back, and the refusal by "the richest man in the history of the world" to give the kidnappers any of his money. Between immovable object and irresistible force comes Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg), Getty's security expert, tasked with solving the situation "as quickly and inexpensively as possible". Twists, threats and trauma follow. And all the while, the clock keeps ticking. Read our full review here.
Molly's Game ***1/2
Writer Aaron Sorkin's (The Social Network, The West Wing) directorial debut delivers more flushes than flops, but the mind-boggling true story was always going to draw the right cards.
Molly's Game tells the real-life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an almost Olympic skier, who at the age of 26, brokered a highly exclusive underground poker game for the rich and famous. But after almost a decade of hosting the illegal games and earning a staggering €3 million a year just in tips alone, Molly's 'Poker Princess' bubble was burst by the FBI. Read our full review here.