Goodbye, the cinematic dump month we know as January; hello, the occasionally fertile pre-Oscar period of weeks we call February. At this time last year, we were prepping to see a little film called Get Out – whether the 2018 edition delivers something equally as memorable is anybody's guess, though we have high hopes for both the sci-fi flick Annihilation and the stellar-looking Black Panther. We're also getting new films from Clint Eastwood, Brooklyn's most ill-tempered indie virtuoso, and the animation house behind Wallace and Gromit – and that's not even accounting for some Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees and the grand finale of our era's defining love story. (Or, at least, the one about which we've made the most bondage puns.) Here's what's coming to a theater near you this month.
Annihilation (Feb. 23rd)
Promotions have played it coy with the details of writer-director Alex Garland's enigmatic new project, – having not read the source novel, we know it involves an all-woman research team (including Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez), a surreal forest and some sort of surrounding, shimmering membrane. Also a mutant albino crocodile and some deer with cherry blossoms for antlers show up, as does a darker and more abstract unknown. Garland brought a philosophical bent to the outer reaches of sci-fi with Ex Machina, and all signs suggest that he's going to continue classing up the genre with his latest effort. Personally, he had us with "mutant albino crocodile."
Black Panther (Feb. 16th)
Creed director Ryan Coogler insisted on doing things his way while operating as part of Marvel's machinery – and judging from the trailers/what we've heard so far, his take on the superhero (notably the version featured in Ta-Nehisi Coates's groundbreaking run in the comics) is going to have fans joyously flipping the fuck out. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the hero-king of the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda, has to beat back a colonialist threat that's linked to an exiled throne seeker (Michael B. Jordan). Along the way, many asses are kicked, courtesy of Boseman's noble royal and a patrol of bald, female warriors led by The Walking Dead's resident badass Danai Gurira. Did we mention that Kendrick Lamar curated soundtrack? Can this come out right now, please?!?
Early Man (Feb. 16th)
In which the rascals at Aardman Animations take the feather-light antic energy of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep back a few millennia. After the demise of the dinosaurs, a humble caveman named Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) embarks upon a perilous quest with his pet boar. To save his tribe's valley from the villainous Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), he'll have to team up with a kindly vendor (Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams) and, most improbably, win one of history's earliest soccer matches. Who likes characteristically dry British humor with elaborate slapstick, done in a comic fusion parents and kids can enjoy?
A Fantastic Woman (Feb. 2nd)
Star-making performances in foreign releases don't always get a similar fanfare stateside, so here's a hot tip: whatever 'it' is, Daniela Vega's got it. As lounge singer and trans woman Marina, the star of Sebastián Lelio's sensational (and now Oscar-nominated) new drama sprints the full emotional gauntlet in 104 minutes flat. First, her older boyfriend dies unexpectedly; then his family scorns Marina out of small-mindedness, forbidding her from attending the funeral. There are more perils on the horizon, but watching this woman grieve, persist and persevere is, its in own way, a melodramatic treat. Not to mention that her performance is, quite simply, a knockout.
The 15:17 to Paris (Feb. 9th)
On the afternoon of August 21st, 2015, a gunman opened fire aboard a train to Paris from Amsterdam. In a display of pure heroism, a group of passengers including three Americans – off-duty servicemen Spencer Stone and Alex Skarlatos, along with their boyhood friend Anthony Sadler – banded together to disarm and subdue the attacker. Regular chronicler of star-spangled bravery Clint Eastwood has taken it upon himself to dramatize this incident, tapping the actual trio of do-gooders to portray themselves as they navigate the high-pressure scenario. Go right ahead and bring your dad.
Fifty Shades Freed (Feb. 9th)
Ever since the second installment ended in wedding bells, audiences have obediently waited for the conclusion to the romance between spanking enthusiast Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and hardy, flexible Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Now, after a year of quivering anticipation, they're gonna get what they've been begging for. The climax to the BDSM-tinged book-turned-movie-phenomenon sees Mr. and Mrs. Grey struggling to adjust to married life, as Christian's eye wanders and a face from Ana's dark past returns to cause a little havoc. Returning director James Foley is sure to dish out more of the luxurious escapism that's made this franchise so lucrative – the only porn here is interior design porn, folks.
Game Night (Feb. 23rd)
A group of friends (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler and New Girl's Lamorne Morris, to name a few) get together for a night of murder-mystery fun. What they do not realize is that the guns, the hitmen and the blood are all real. Cue hijinks! From the Tropic Thunder school of humor comes this silly, breezy farce featuring Jesse Plemons as a cut-rate Bond villain and a running joke concerning a bloodstained pooch. Making a successful studio comedy can't be that hard, right?
Golden Exits (Feb. 9th)
King of the micro-indie misanthropes Alex Ross Perry is back, caustic and emotionally guarded as ever! An out-of-towner (Emily Browning) comes for a stay in the sort of Brooklyn that all those trend pieces warned you about – brownstones, kale, bourgeois neurosis, yadda yadda yadda. She then disrupts the lives of pretty much everyone she meets, including Jason Schwartzman, Mary-Louise Parker, Chloë Sevigny and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz. Perry has a skill for crafting characters that can remain complex and sympathetic, even when you want to bash their faces in. That's a compliment, we think.
Loveless (Feb. 16th)
We're as broken up as you are that this isn't a behind-the-music dramatization of My Bloody Valentine's heyday. But hey, at least we get another jewel of bleak austerity from Russia's premier miserablist Andrey Zvyagintsev. This Oscar competitor revolves around the fruitless efforts from a bitter married couple to locate their missing son. Who took the kid could not be further from the point; the filmmaker would rather document the emotional ground war waged by the parents, and draw a bigger parallel between their crumbling union and the ingrained conflict in his fractious nation.
Winchester (Feb. 2nd)
Everybody processes loss in their own way. Some people simply carry on with life; some have a full-blown crisis; and others, like Sarah Winchester, sink personal fortunes into the construction of a sprawling mansion in order to be haunted by ghosts for the rest of her days. Helen Mirren stars in this horror flick based on the bizarre true story of gun manufacturer William Winchester's widow Sarah, who spent 38 years obsessively expanding their San Jose home after his passing. She claimed that the grounds were infested with the spirits of those who had died from her husband's creations – cue her paranoid nightmares to life. If Michael and Peter Spierig's Saw spin-off Jigsaw is any indication, Mirren better hold onto her limbs and prep for her grisliest role since Caligula.