10 of the best films to watch this April
(Image credit: Aidan Monaghan/ Focus Features)
Including a postmodern riff on fame with Nicolas Cage, a modern French fable, and Jared Leto as a “pseudo-vampire” in Morbius, these are this month’s unmissable releases.
(Credit: Bathysphere Productions)
Onoda: 10,000 Nights in The Jungle
Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda had a remarkable life story. One of the Japanese “holdouts”, Onoda refused to believe that World War Two ended in 1945. Convinced that reports of Japan’s surrender were faked, he hid on a small island in the Philippines, carrying on his own personal guerrilla campaign as the months turned to years and then decades, only handing over his sword in 1974. “It’s a famous, fabulously knotty, semi-surreal story, fraught with allegorical potential,” says Jessica Kiang in Variety, “but… it is somewhat surprisingly made, by French director Arthur Harari, into a potent, satisfying saga of old-school, muscular filmmaking.” Yûya Endô plays the younger Onoda, and Kanji Tsuda plays his older self in a drama that excels both as a monumental war epic and a sensitive character study. The Lieutenant wasn’t a lunatic, Harari suggests, but a dutiful soldier who stuck to his own beliefs, as we all do.
Released on 15 April in the UK and Ireland
(Credit: Giles Keyte/See-Saw Films, Courtesy of Netflix)
In 1943, as British forces were preparing to invade Sicily, a group of intelligence officers formulated an elaborate scheme to throw the enemy off the scent. This stranger-than-fiction film tells the story of the officers who drew up a set of fake plans for an invasion of Greece, planted the plans on a corpse dressed in a Royal Marines uniform, and then dumped the corpse off the coast of Spain, in the hope that it would eventually fall into German hands. If that sounds like the plot of a far-fetched espionage novel rather than a real-life story, it could be because one of the officers behind the ruse was Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, later the author of the James Bond novels. In Operation Mincemeat, Fleming is played by Johnny Flynn, alongside Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Jason Isaacs. “It’s actually about the creation of fiction, which is one of the things that makes it really, really fascinating,” the director John Madden told Total Film. “It’s such a strange idea, it really ought not to work, and as the story unfolds, there are many, many, many reasons that it might not work.”
Released on 15 April in the UK and Ireland, 27 April in France and 11 May in the US
(Credit: Katalin Vermes/ Lionsgate)
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage has brought his own brand of pop-eyed manic intensity to blockbusters and indie movies for 40 years, but in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, writes Marya E Gates at RogerEbert.com, he “delivers one of the most complex, yet crowd-pleasing performances of his career”. The twist is that he is playing himself, or a parody of himself, anyway. A past-it movie star who hasn’t had a big payday since the years of The Rock and Face/Off, Cage now owes $600,000 (£458,000) in hotel bills, so when his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) mentions a million-dollar offer to attend the lavish birthday party of a super-fan (Pedro Pascal) in Spain, he accepts. The next problem is that the super-fan might just be an international arms dealer, and Cage might just have to become the action hero he has often played. This postmodern concept “could easily begin to feel like a gimmick,” says Gates, “but the filmmakers… craft something transcendent.”
Released internationally on 22 April
No relation to such recent films as Dog, with Channing Tatum, or Pig, with Nicolas Cage, Cow is a revelatory documentary directed by Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Fish Tank). Its subject is Luma, a Holstein Friesian cow who lives on an English dairy farm. But unlike most agricultural documentaries, this one has no voiceover, and the farm workers and vets are barely glimpsed. Instead, Arnold shows life from Luma’s perspective. Her evident distress as she is shunted from field to lorry to milking parlour for years will make every viewer consider switching to oat milk. “Cow is tender, respectful, and incredibly visceral,” says Rachael Sampson at Film Inquiry. “It has heart, soul and oozes empathy. On a personal note, I have not cried like that in a long time.”
Released on 8 April in the US
(Credit: Columbia Pictures)
By my count, the release date of Morbius has been pushed back six times, but now we can finally see Sony’s latest superhero – well, sort of. Like Venom, Dr Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) wavers between being a superhero and a supervillain, having accidentally transformed himself into a “pseudo-vampire”: super-strong, super-fast, but with an unfortunate thirst for blood. Morbius is originally a Marvel character, like Spider-Man and Venom, but this film is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Matt Smith plays Milo, another pseudo-vampire who is less conflicted about blood-sucking, and Michael Keaton returns as The Vulture, the villain from Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s hard to imagine that Leto’s immortal demon-scientist in Morbius will be as weird as his fashion designer in House of Gucci, but we live in hope.
Released on 31 March in the UK and Ireland, and 1 April in the US and Canada
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
In the third of five planned Fantastic Beasts films, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) clash with the dark forces of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, taking over from Johnny Depp) in the 1930s. The previous instalment, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was the most over-complicated and underwhelming of the films set in JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, but Steve Kloves, who wrote the Harry Potter scripts, has joined Rowling as co-screenwriter this time, and several scenes are set at Hogwarts, so maybe they can conjure up some of the old magic. They could even answer the series’ most pressing question: when did Dumbledore swap the three-piece suits he wears in Fantastic Beasts for the floor-length robes he wears in Harry Potter?
Released on 8 April in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and 15 April in the US and Canada
(Credit: Aidan Monaghan/ Focus Features)
Robert Eggers’ first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, were horror-dramas that balanced meticulously researched period authenticity with all-out hallucinatory freakiness. His third film, The Northman, is in the same vein, but on a far bigger scale. Inspired by the Medieval Scandinavian story of Amleth – also the model for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – The Northman is a brutal revenge thriller that boasts volcanoes, sea crossings, huge battles, and an A-list cast, including Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Björk. Alexander Skarsgård is its Conan-like hero, a Viking prince whose father (Ethan Hawke) is murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang). Eggers confirmed to IGN that The Northman is “a big epic adventure story that is for mass audiences. Is it still a Robert Eggers movie…? Absolutely.”
Released on 15 April in the UK and Ireland, and 22 April in the US and Canada
Céline Sciamma follows up Portrait of a Lady on Fire with another intimate and tender tale of female-bonding – and it’s another triumph. The heroine of Petite Maman is eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz). After her grandmother’s death, Nelly plays in the woods near her mother’s childhood home, and meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine’s twin), a girl of her own age and with remarkably similar features. The pair play together every day, fast becoming close friends. This “modern fable… goes straight into my list of the greatest films ever made for children of all ages,” wrote Mark Kermode in The Observer. “Whether you are six or 60, this astonishingly insightful and heartbreakingly hopeful cinematic poem will pierce your heart, broaden your mind and gladden your soul, even as you wipe away tears.” And all in just 72 minutes.
Released on 22 April in the US
(Credit: Paramount/ Sega)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
When the crazed Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) returns to Earth from the mushroom planet with his sidekick Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), it’s up to a blue alien hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) and an alien fox with two tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) to stop these villains conquering the world with the power of the giant Master Emerald. Got all that? True, it doesn’t make any sense if you haven’t played the video game on which this live-action / animated children’s movie is based. But the first Sonic the Hedgehog film was fun, and its director, Jeff Fowler, thinks that the sequel is better. “It is much bigger in scope, but also in humour,” he told Collider, “and of course, what good is any of that if there’s no heart or emotion? We’ve worked really hard not to get too carried away with set pieces and action and adventure, but also continue to tell Sonic’s story, and develop him as a character.”
Released on 1 April in the UK and Ireland, and 8 April in the US and Canada
(Credit: Ben Blackall/ Focus Features)
Downton Abbey: A New Era
BBC Culture’s Caryn James enjoyed the “elegance and glittering production values” of the first Downton Abbey film, which was released in 2019. “The movie is so sumptuous and enticing,” she wrote, “that it’s possible to overlook its many cinematic flaws.” The sequel, once again scripted by Julian Fellowes, promises to be even more sumptuous and enticing. One storyline has a film crew renting the Crawleys’ stately home, so the residents have to put up with a bossy director (Hugh Dancy) and an egotistical actor (Dominic West). In the other storyline, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) reveals that she has inherited a villa in the south of France, so the family heads down to the Riviera to investigate. Don’t expect any hard-hitting social commentary, but do expect lashings of “glamour, manners and wealth”.
Released on 29 April in the UK and Ireland and 20 May in the US and Canada
Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.