The House That Jack Built has all the tension, torture and gruesome murder you might expect from a film about a sadistic homicidal maniac. But it also has illustrated lectures on Glenn Gould, the “Aeneid”, dessert wines and dictators. Written and directed by Lars von Trier, it has as much in common with a typical serial-killer thriller as von Trier’s previous film, “Nymphomaniac”, had with a typical porno movie. Matt Dillon (above) stars as Jack, an American psycho who recounts five “incidents” from a 12-year killing spree. Like so many Hollywood butchers – notably Hannibal Lecter – Jack considers himself an artist and a genius. But von Trier’s mischievous and challenging treatise asks whether he is, in fact, just a deluded bore. Sometimes horribly amusing and sometimes just horrible, “The House That Jack Built” will be one of the most divisive films of the season. It will also be one of the most daring.
On release: Dec 14th (UK, US)
Carry on Cleo
In Roma Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”, “Children of Men”) pays tribute to the housekeeper who helped raise him in the early 1970s. The central character in this autobiographical film is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, above), a quiet, loyal maid who is first seen mopping up dog mess from her middle-class employers’ driveway.
The black-and-white drama that follows moves across Mexico City and beyond, as Cleo falls in love, watches a marriage disintegrate, saves two lives, and dodges bullets during the Corpus Christi massacre of student demonstrators that took place in the capital in 1971.
As ever in Cuarón’s films, there are virtuoso unbroken takes that last for minutes. There are also domestic disasters and violent political upheavals, as well as stunningly detailed panoramas, teeming with extras. But the heart of “Roma”, which won the top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is the shy woman who cleans up after the dog, and who is treated almost as a member of the family – but not quite.
On release: Dec 14th (US)
West is best
The Coen brothers love cowboys. The spirit of the western infuses films such as “The Big Lebowski” and “No Country for Old Men”.
Cowboys come to the fore again in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a witty anthology of six Wild West short stories. The first segment, featuring Tim Blake Nelson as a rootin’, tootin’, sharp-shooting troubadour, is so much fun that if you left straight afterwards you would still have had your money’s worth.
The second part, with James Franco as an unlucky bank robber, boasts the year’s finest punch-line. Other chapters range from a sunny yarn about a nature-loving gold prospector (Tom Waits) to the spine-tingling tale of a travelling showman (Liam Neeson) and his limbless partner. Linking them is the Coens’ inimitably florid dialogue, the crisp wilderness vistas and the fine attention paid to the position and lighting of every single bullet hole.
On release: Nov 16th (US)
Olivia Colman, who takes over as Queen Elizabeth II in the third series of “The Crown”, can also be seen as another English monarch in a far more outrageous saga of palace intrigue. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), The Favourite is set at the court of Queen Anne in the early 1700s.
The queen is suffering so badly from gout that she leaves most of her royal duties to her friend Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). When Sarah’s winsome and seemingly humble cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes to stay, the stage is set for conflict. As Abigail manoeuvres her way into the queen’s good books – and her four-poster bed – the barbed put-downs keep getting sharper, and the bad behaviour worse and worse.
“The Favourite” isn’t just a ribald black comedy. Beneath the political and sexual shenanigans, the film is a perceptive and sensitively acted tragedy about what women have to do to survive in a man’s world.
On release: Nov 23rd (US), Jan 1st (UK)