In theaters: 'Belfast'
One of the more hotly awaited features of the season—coming in with plenty of buzz as the winner of the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival—Belfast is five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh's most personal film to date, a semi-autobiographical coming-of age-tale about a young boy growing up in volatile 1960s Belfast, Branagh's beloved hometown. The boy, played by Jude Hill, is backed by a terrific cast, including Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench and Jamie Dornan. The film is shot in sumptuous black-and-white by Academy Member Haris Zambarloukos, and features music—including a brand-new song—by another hometown hero, Van Morrison. Branagh also wrote the script and co-produced.
In select theaters and streaming on Netflix: 'Passing'
Another black-and-white period piece getting absolutely rave reviews is this debut directorial feature from Academy member Rebecca Hall, set in 1920s Harlem. Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing stars Academy members Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, two old friends rekindling their relationship amid the stifling racial politics of the era. Irene is shocked to discover that Clare is "passing" as a white woman, and is married to an outright racist, played by Alexander Skarsgård, who has no idea who she really is. This is a complex and disturbing film, directed with aplomb by first-timer Hall, who also penned the screenplay.
In select theaters: 'Julia'
Fresh off a Telluride premiere, from the Oscar-nominated team that brought you RGB, comes a new look at beloved, trailblazing TV chef Julia Child. The doc, produced and directed by Academy members Julie Cohen and Betsy West, chronicles Child's rich life—she didn't begin her cooking career until later in the game—and also puts some of her most celebrated dishes on display, teaming with the same food stylist, Susan Spungen, who worked on Julie & Julia in 2009. Child died almost two decades ago, but her stature as a feminist culinary icon has only grown, and this loving, lighthearted doc shines even more light on her remarkable achievements. Julia is now screening in New York and Los Angeles.
Pick it up on DVD: 'The Early Films of Lee Isaac Chung'
Director Lee Isaac Chung made a big splash last year with Minari, picking up nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay along the way. But what was he up to before? For those who might not know his excellent earlier work, this box set will do the trick: Packaging three of his films, Munyurangabo (2007), Lucky Life (2010) and Abigail Harm (2012), the set presents a beautiful, high-definition opportunity to dig into the work of a true talent with an exciting career ahead of him, but also a rich filmography to date.
Also on DVD/Blu-ray: 'Fury'
Legendary German director Fritz Lang got his start in the States with Fury, a 1936 drama starring two-time Oscar winner—and nine-time Best Actor nominee—Spencer Tracy as an innocent man who narrowly escapes the murderous clutches of a mob, and then seeks his revenge. Inspired by the true and terrible story of the 1933 kidnapping and murder of Brooke Hart in San Jose, California, Fury also wins distinction by being the only film, in the estimation of the eminent novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene, to truly deserve to be called "great." High praise. Written by Bartlett Cormack, Lang and Norman Krasna—who for his part claims he never actually wrote a word of his contribution down, just dictated it verbally to producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz—the film picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Original Story. Also stars Sylvia Sidney, Walter Abel and Walter Brennan.