Best Movies to See in Feb.: ‘Birds of Prey,’ ‘Downhill,’ ‘The Invisible Man’
From a very contemporary take on H.G. Wells’ classic to the return of Harley Quinn — what to check out this month at a theater near you
Forget the horror films of 2019 — was there anything scarier than that first Sonic the Hedgehog trailer, featuring a disturbingly toothy rendition of the video game hero? It created such an outcry that the film was bumped to February 2020; thankfully, you’ve got a lot of other choices re: what to check out this month at the movies, from a supervillainess getting her moment in the spotlight to a few fresh literary adaptations, an ingenious new take on a classic Universal monster-movie staple and an A-list American remake of a Swedish black comedy. Here are the 10 things to see this month at a theater near you.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Feb. 7)
How good was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad? So good that she was able to crawl from the wreckage of that disaster and bring the Joker’s on-again, off-again girlfriend into a movie of her own. Directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey finds Harley trying to rediscover her own identity after a break-up with her Clown-Prince-of-Crime beau. To get over her heartbreak, she teams up with a bunch of Batman-adjacent characters (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Rosie Perez) to protect a woman targeted by the brutal villain Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Bring on the candy-colored chaos!
The Call of the Wild (Feb. 21)
Jack London’s classic dog story has seen several movie adaptations since its 1903 publication, but none have been able to take advantage of 21st century advances in special effects technology — advances that more or less take the need to use canine actors out of the equation. (Check out the trailer, and you can practically see where the real thing ends and the pixelized pooch begins.) Whether that approach works or not remains to be seen, but this latest attempt to bring man’s best friend-vs.-nature to the screen features a cast that includes Harrison Ford, Bradley Whitford, and Karen Gillan, as well as marking the (mostly) live-action debut of veteran animator Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon). That’s as good a team as any four-legged creature could hope for, whether the li’l fella is made of flesh and blood or strictly computer code.
Downhill (Feb. 14)
Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus co-star as a couple whose family vacation takes a bad turn when an act of cowardice involving a cell phone, an avalanche and the fight-or-flight instinct widens their marriage’s cracks into fissures. Anyone who’s seen the film it remakes — Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure — will know right away that it’s not the sort of twinkly romance usually released on Valentine’s Day, assuming co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back) keep even a fraction of the original’s acidic observations.
Emma. (Feb. 21)
Remember when Jane Austen adaptations (and the Austen-inspired Clueless) flooded theaters in the ’90s? Is it time for another wave? That might depend on how this new take on the author’s beloved story of a busybody matchmaker (played by Split‘s Anya Taylor-Joy) turns out. Photographer-turned-filmmaker Autumn de Wilde makes her directorial debut, aided by a well-chosen cast that includes Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner and Mia Goth. If nothing else, the high energy, brightly colored trailer suggests she’s trying to break with costume drama tradition. (And yes, the period is part of the title. Don’t ask us why.)
Fantasy Island (Feb. 14)
Welcome…to Fantasy Island! From 1977 to 1984, ABC’s hit TV show let viewers spend an hour escaping to a vacation paradise where visitors’ dreams came true (for the relatively small fee of $50,000). The show’s procession of guest stars usually learned a lesson before each episode ended — and we’re assuming that the morals of the stories are likely to be a little harsher in this Blumhouse-produced horror-movie update on the premise. Michael Peña steps in Ricardo Montalban’s shoes as Mr. Roarke, the island’s mysterious proprietor.
The Invisible Man (Feb. 28)
Virtually every movie based (even loosely) on H.G. Wells’ novel all seem to get that it’s really a story about how the ability to disappear leads those who possess it to commit horribly amoral acts — so it makes perfect sense that the 2020 version looks as if it will turn its invisible man into the ultimate gaslighter. Elisabeth Moss is a woman whose abusive ex-boyfriend, a brilliant scientist, commits suicide. She’s ready to start over…although why does she get the feeling she’s constantly being watched? What’s up with all those things that seem to be moving of her own accord? And why does no one believe her when she says she thinks this monster may still be around? It’s not hard to guess what happens next, especially with writer/director Leigh Whannell (the co-creator of the Saw franchise) at the helm.
The Lodge (Feb. 7)
Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala disturbed viewers with their 2014 film Goodnight Mommy, and it doesn’t look like they’ve mellowed with this follow-up. Riley Keough stars as a woman left alone in a snowbound home with her stepchildren (played by Knives Out’s Jaeden Martell and future Eternals star Lia McHugh). Will they quietly pass the time as the bond as a family? Unlikely, given that this new mother figure was once part of a religious cult, who had some interesting…ideas about things. Uh-oh.
The Photograph (Feb. 14)
Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield star in a love story complicated by echoes of the past. She’s living in the shadow of her mother, a famous photographer whose letters make her feel more present in death than she did when she was alive. He is a journalist working on a story about her parent and who begins to take a different sort of interest in her daughter. Chelsea Peretti, Lil Rel Howery, and Courtney B. Vance round out the cast of a film directed by Stella Meghie (Everything, Everything).
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Feb. 14)
Chances are you’ve already heard of this film by French director Céline Sciamma (Girlhood), which became a sensation with its premiere at Cannes last May and played a few theaters in a short, awards-qualifying run last fall. Chances are equally good you’ve been spending months waiting to see this story of the passionate, forbidden romance between two 18th century women (a painter and her subject) in a remote pocket of Brittany. Well, your chance is here at last — and the hype is more than justified.
Wendy (Feb. 28)
It’s been eight years since filmmaker Benh Zeitlin broke out with the phantasmagoric Beasts of the Southern Wild — and now the Oscar-nominated writer-director is back with his follow-up, a new (if loose) take on Peter Pan. Co-written by Benh’s sister Eliza Zeitlin, this latest take on J.M Barrie tale shifts the focus, as its title suggests, to a runaway girl named Wendy (newcomer Devin France) who travels to an island that promises eternal youth. Lost boys, men with hooks and childhood adventure galore awaits her.