American Fiction (2023)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
In the running for five Oscars, this sharp literary satire boasts a deliciously exasperated turn from Jeffrey Wright as the distinguished but not much read novelist who frustratedly bashes out a parody of the kind of urban Black novel that gets feted by critics. Of course, it makes him a hot property, forcing him to make appearances as his pseudonym: a burly, cussing fugitive from justice called Stagg R. Leigh. Based on the 2001 meta-fictional novel Erasure by Percival Everett, this first feature from TV writer Cord Jefferson is packed with knowing and very contemporary jokes about how Black art gets pigeon-holed by white gatekeepers.
The Zone of Interest (2023)
Only his fourth feature in nearly 25 years, The Zone of Interest is Jonathan Glazer’s bracingly serious-minded attempt to film Martin Amis’s novel about the home life of a Nazi commandant and his family living next door to Auschwitz. With the chilly distance of a Michael Haneke movie, Glazer’s film foregrounds the idyllic domestic existence of Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their children. But over the garden fence we see smoke rising from the camp’s chimneys and hear ghastly ambient noises that conjure unspeakable horrors. Although Glazer never shows us inside the camp, his film has inevitably renewed arguments about if and how the Holocaust should be dramatised on screen.
Days of Heaven (1978)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, including BFI Southbank
Made just before his 20-year absence from directing movies, Terrence Malick’s magnificent second feature returns to cinemas this week in a 4K restoration. This is Malick’s poetic drama of migrant workers in the Texas panhandle – a vision of a rural American past that feels closer to American scene painting or the late silent films of F.W. Murnau or Frank Borzage than anything in modern movies. It’s the one with lovers Richard Gere and Brooke Adams pretending to be brother and sister to hold down seasonal work on Sam Shepard’s farm, resulting in a love triangle drama that seduces the senses with its Morricone score, lush pastoral landscapes and glowing magic hour photography.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Texas-born actor, lecturer and music video producer Callie Khouri hit the big time when she wrote her first script – a new spin on the couple-on-the-run formula in which the couple were women. Winning her the Oscar for best original screenplay, Ridley Scott’s film became an early 90s pop-cultural phenomenon. This landmark of mainstream feminist film had audiences cheering on best friends Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) as they motor west across the USA after a violent incident at a truck stop puts them on the wrong side of the law. To a twanging, slide guitar score by Hans Zimmer, Scott films their epic journey with an eye for stunning Marlboro ad images of the American southwest.
Runaway Train (1985)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 00:15
This 1980s action thriller has a better pedigree than most – direction by the émigré Soviet filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, and a script based on an unused screenplay by one Akira Kurosawa. The plot is all kinds of irresistible: two convicts (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) escape a maximum security prison in the wilds of Alaska, only to hop on board a locomotive whose driver has a heart attack, sending the unmanned and gradually accelerating train off on a careening journey through the snowy landscapes. Rebecca De Mornay is along for the ride, while a vengeful prison guard is trying to catch up and board the runaway train. A terse, tense spectacle.