Most exciting original movies coming in the first half of 2020

Tom Beasley
Contributor
2020 is set to deliver some compelling original movies. (Credit: Universal/Pixar/Netflix)

As we move into a new year at the cinema, the common complaint can be heard again that everything Hollywood produces is either a sequel, a remake, a reboot or an adaptation of an existing story. But that’s not the case at all. There are plenty of wholly original movies coming your way.

The year will begin with Oscar season, in which oddities and elegant ideas butt heads with the usual crop of adaptations and retreads. Then, once the awards have been handed out, there are a few months of intriguing material set to land before the summer blockbusters begin in earnest.

Read more: 50 most exciting movies coming in 2020

So let’s take a look at some of the most interesting and exciting original projects landing in UK cinemas in the first half of 2020...

Uncut Gems (10 Jan in cinemas, 31 Jan on Netflix)

Uncut Gems is an Adam Sandler movie arriving on Netflix. If you think you know what you're getting, you don't. The directing duo behind this film is the Safdie brothers, who previously turned Robert Pattinson into something truly bizarre with Good Time. They've completed a similar act of transformation with Sandler here, as a New York City jeweller who loves an absurdly risky sports bet. The film follows a rapidly unravelling period of his life as he attempts to pay off some of his debts by selling a valuable black opal.

The film is a stressful watch for sure, but Sandler's performance is terrific and perfectly conveys the character's increasingly frantic persona. There's comedy, thrills, intense drama and the ending packs a seriously potent punch. It demands to be seen and could well be a major contender at the Oscars. Sandler has threatened to make a terrible movie on purpose if he doesn’t win.

1917 (10 January)

Sam Mendes has spent the last decade or so hard at work on a pair of James Bond movies, as well as his stage musical version of Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He’s now back outside of the world of franchises and adaptations with 1917 — a visually breath-taking journey through the trenches of the First World War. With the help of masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes tells the story of two soldiers delivering an urgent message as if it is constructed as only a couple of lengthy takes.

Read more: Mendes says there’s “no victory” in making Bond films

The film utilises its impressive visual style to add tension and energy to the story, which is a war movie every bit as harrowing as Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-nominated Dunkirk a few years ago. George MacKay and Game of Thrones star Dean-Charles Chapman deliver stellar, physical performances, but it’s the cinematic invention that keeps the movie flying high.

Waves (17 January)

Trey Edward Shults delivered one of the most interesting horror films in years with It Comes at Night, but he’s gone in a completely different direction for his follow-up. Waves is an intimate family drama following a high school wrestler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) struggling with a career-ending injury, as well as problems in his personal life. At the midway point, the movie turns completely on its axis and foregrounds the protagonist’s sister (Taylor Russell) as the new lead.

Waves juggles tones and styles as it follows this family through highs and lows, with Shults injecting visual invention into the story at every possible opportunity. There’s also a musical thread running through the film, with music embedded deeply into the narrative in a similar style to Edgar Wright’s vehicular caper Baby Driver. This is something unique and compelling.

Weathering With You (17 January)

One of the most exciting animated films of the last decade was Makoto Shinkai’s incredible body swap romance Your Name, so all eyes were on what the Japanese filmmaker would do next. The result is Weathering With You, in which a young man on the run befriends a girl who has the power to alter the weather.

It’s very much Shinkai embracing his trademark style, delivering fantasy-inflected romance with colourful animation and a fun J-Pop soundtrack. The movie was chosen as Japan’s entry for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, but it didn’t make the shortlist of 10 movies in the running for a nomination.

Queen & Slim (31 January)

Lena Waithe is becoming an increasingly prominent figure in modern Hollywood. She won an Emmy for penning an episode of sitcom Master of None and played a major role in Steven Spielberg’s screen adaptation of Ready Player One. She has now written the script for Queen & Slim — a fresh take on the Bonnie and Clyde story told with a timely twist about the tension between American police and the black community. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith play a couple on a date who end up killing a cop when he stops them at the roadside.

This sends the titular couple on the run, fighting against a justice system that stacks the odds against them at every turn. It’s the debut feature from award-winning music video director Melina Matsoukas and it looks set to be one of the buzziest movies of January.

The Lighthouse (31 January)

What happens if you lock a bearded Willem Dafoe and a moustachioed Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse together? The result is the latest film from The Witch director Robert Eggers and possibly the most unique movie of 2020. Pattinson plays the apprentice to Dafoe’s seasoned lighthouse keeper, gradually going mad as the two are thrust together in their isolated home when a storm hits. There’s masturbation, merpeople and more farting than you could ever imagine. Pattinson wet himself on set at one point and almost punched Eggers.

Read more: People only method act as a**holes, says Pattinson

Make no mistake. This is an unhinged film that has madness running through its veins. The film is shot in black and white and uses the rare, almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio, creating an entirely unique stylistic experience. It’s a descent into a very particular kind of hell that no cinemagoer can forget in a hurry.

Parasite (7 February)

Bong Joon-ho had already attracted considerable praise for movies including Snowpiercer and The Host, but his most acclaimed work is Parasite. It won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and has wowed audiences just about everywhere in the world en route to finally arriving in UK cinemas this year. The film tells the story of a poor family in South Korea who con their way into a series of jobs working for a wealthy tech CEO and his family. Needless to say, the movie travels into some very dark corners from there.

Parasite is being discussed as a potential frontrunner at the Oscars and, given the critical buzz behind it, Bong’s movie could achieve what Roma couldn’t and provide a non-English Best Picture winner for the first time ever.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (28 February)

The forbidden story of a lesbian romance in 18th century France, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is another movie which UK audiences have had to wait a very long time to see. Céline Sciamma’s film won the Queer Palm at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first female-directed movie to win that prize. It tells the story of painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who falls for aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) when she is commissioned to create a portrait of her.

It’s fair to say that Portrait of a Lady on Fire arrives in the UK on a wave of critical approval and as one of the most anticipated foreign-language releases of the year. Lesbian love stories are very rare on the big screen and this sounds like one with real emotional power.

Onward (6 March)

The first of two Pixar films on this list cats Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as a pair of elf siblings living in a magical world which has largely turned its back on magic in favour of technology. The siblings embark upon a road trip in order to discover whether there is truly any magic left in their world and with the hope of reuniting in some way with their deceased father. There will almost certainly be tears.

Read more: Pixar director shoots down fan theory

The trailer for Onward reveals a cavalcade of magical creatures, including dustbin-diving unicorns. This looks like a vintage Pixar bit of world-building, setting up a traditional family story with plenty of room for emotional potency. It also features Octavia Spencer as the voice of a Manticore. What more can anybody want?

My Spy (13 March)

Much like his professional wrestling comrades Dwayne Johnson and John Cena, it seems Dave Bautista is settling into an action-comedy groove. After the enjoyably ludicrous Final Score and last year’s Stuber, Bautista is teaming up with a nine-year-old co-star for My Spy. Bautista plays an experienced CIA operative who finds himself playing spy instructor to a precocious youngster when she becomes embroiled in an investigation.

This looks like an amiable comedy, even if the concept of a stoic bruiser gradually having their heart-warmed by an overly smart kid is about as old hat as it’s possible to get. Bautista has shown real aptitude for both action and comedy, so it’s on his shoulders that this one will rest.

Rocks (10 April)

British filmmaker Sarah Gavron hasn’t made a movie since 2015’s powerful historical drama Suffragette, but she’s bringing things right up to date with her latest piece of work. Rocks follows a black teenage girl in London who fends for herself after her mother leaves, in order to avoid her and her brother being taken into care.

Read more: Best British films of the decade

The film has received strong reviews on the festival circuit and boasts enough topical relevance that it should play well to audiences when it hits cinemas. Gavron is a voice worth treasuring in British cinema and it seems as if she has produced another very special film.

Promising Young Woman (17 April)

British screenwriter Emerald Fennell is best known for serving as the showrunner on the second season of Killing Eve, but she’s making the jump to the big screen as the writer-director behind Promising Young Woman. It’s a prickly, feminist revenge thriller in which Carey Mulligan portrays a former medical student who now serves as something of a vigilante, tackling toxic “nice guys” who take advantage of women in nightclubs.

The trailer for Promising Young Woman teases a darkly comic thriller in which Mulligan sheds her usual image as the star of cosy period dramas for something with a whole lot more edge. Much like the recent Black Christmas reboot, it’s a film that uses its female heroine to take on the system of toxic masculinity at American colleges. It looks like it packs a tonne of bite and it’s due to premiere later this month at the Sundance Film Festival.

Antebellum (24 April)

Multi-hyphenate star Janelle Monáe is set to lead a movie for the first time this year in the shape of the secretive horror tale Antebellum. The film’s plot is largely under wraps, but the trailer suggests that Monae plays a famed author who becomes trapped in some sort of alternate reality, transported from the modern day to the era of slavery.

The trailer also makes clear reference to the presence of the producing team behind Jordan Peele’s devastating one-two punch of Get Out and Us. Like those movies, this looks like a genre story that is packed to the brim with commentary about racial politics in America and, with that in mind, it could be one of the essential movies of 2020.

Deerskin (8 May)

Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux is best known for his 2010 film Rubber, which told the story of a killer tyre. His latest is perhaps a shade more conventional, but only just. Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for his lead role in The Artist, portrays a man driven to crime as a result of an obsession with a jacket made of the eponymous material. It’s a lean, mean oddball comedy that serves as a comment on fractured masculinity.

Deerskin isn’t going to get a huge cinema release, but it’s a movie with a premise so unusual that it has to be worth seeking out. It’s another film that premiered way back at Cannes a year ago, but British audiences will finally have a chance to enjoy its bizarre charms.

Soul (19 June)

When you think of Pixar’s most impressive achievements, it’s often Pete Docter’s name that is associated as director. The man behind Monsters Inc., Up and Inside Out is now set to journey deep into the heart of humanity with Soul. It follows a jazz musician voiced by Jamie Foxx whose soul is separated from his body as a result of a car accident, sending him into a strange realm populated by souls waiting to return to bodies on Earth.

Read more: Disney becomes first studio to make $10bn in a year

This is precisely the kind of premise with which Docter is able to thrive and, if the trailer is anything to go by, Soul is Docter at the peak of his powers of invention. Anyone still struggling to overcome the emotional trauma of Inside Out should probably come armed with a box of tissues for this one.