Two Oscar-nominated performances are front and centre this weekend: Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya.
Lady Bird *****
On the surface, Lady Bird may seem like it’s all been done before. Here we have Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a precocious teenage girl growing up in California in 2002 with a sharp tongue and big dreams. She hangs out with her dorky and loveable best friend, tries to impress the resident high school mean girl, experiments romantically with sweet boys and unsuitable cool guys . . .
Throw in a fraught build-up to prom night, a school play, and choir practice and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut could be a John Hughes’ teen flick with a degree in Eng. Lit. . . . Read our full review here.
I, Tonya ****
Based on "irony free, wilfully contradictory and totally true interviews", I, Tonya chronicles the rise and fall of figure skater Tonya Harding (an excellent Margot Robbie).
She went from being a relative unknown outside her chosen sport to overnight global hate figure following the 1994 attack on skating rival Nancy Kerrigan, which was 'masterminded' by her on-again, off-again ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
This caustic character study and skewed sports film doubles down on career-defining performances: along with Robbie we get Allison Janney in flamethrower form as Harding's mother LaVona. Read our full review here.
Black Panther ****
It may be named Black Panther, but the film is very much an ensemble piece - Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan (interviewed below), Lupita Nyong'o - with enough action and social commentary to carve out a place as one of Marvel's better standalone offerings.
It looks great and there are some brilliant action set pieces and car chases to really get the adrenaline going, without it ever veering too far into the CGI-fatigue zone.
The script, and the way it weaves in issues like slavery, racism and colonialism, is also excellent, with writer-director Ryan Coogler showing that he is a force to be reckoned with. And the soundtrack is just phenomenal - if only Kendrick Lamar could curate everything. Read our full review here.
The Shape of Water *****
Guillermo del Toro's wildly imaginative adult fairytale is an opulently entertaining monster fable that is spectacularly stylised and perversely enchanting.
Best Actress Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins delivers an utterly captivating tour-de-force performance as a cleaner who falls in love with a fish-man (Doug Jones) in a covert U.S. research laboratory during the height of the Cold War. On paper it may sound stuffy, but visionary filmmaker del Toro (interviewed below), who co-wrote the script with Vanessa Taylor, manages to create a richly exuberant and poetic romance.
The Shape of Water is a voyage into the depths of humanity and idealism. Make no mistake, the Amazon aqua-monster isn't the enemy here. Read our full review here.