At Cinemas: Come on Hollywood! Leave LA shivering in Moonlight’s shadow!

One sounds like something a stuttering crow’s nest man would say, and the other the last words of an American tourist drowned in the Mersey after asking locals if this is …

But on February 26, the musical La La Land (Metacritic: 93; release date: Feb 23) and grievous drama Manchester by the Sea (96; already at cinemas) will be facing off for the ultimate prize in the movie world: MTV Best Kiss.

Tragically, La La will probably win that as well as the Best Film Oscar, such is his accessibility to all demographics. LA: it’s got the ‘we love our city’ vote; musical: it’s got the gay vote; 32-year-old director Damien Chazelle: it’s got the youth vote; Ryan Gosling: did we mention it’s got the gay vote?

Moonstruck by Miami tale
Well, not necessarily, as we’re confident Moonlight (99; Feb 9) – no, nothing to do with black labour – can wrestle it back and head to the ol’ Kodak on the back of the blacklash of the last two years.

Barry Jenkins is the director Lee Daniels has been looking at every day in the mirror for a decade. And unlike Mr ‘I’m going to make me a black Citizen Kane’, he has assembled an unshowy cast to make a black Boyhood, a coming-of-age tale about growing up gay in a tough Miami neighbourhood.

If its Metacritic score is anything to go by, who knows, it might get some help from Uncle Oscar’s sleight of hand. Despite 11 of its 48 scores falling below 90, it has still managed to score 99. Although we agree they were right to discount the votes from Den Ku Klux Korte Avis and the Sunday Aryan People.

With 36 maximums (we should ask Eric Bristow for a quote), 100 is its mean and meridian average, and it’s clearly the most recommended film of the year (we kid you not, second on the Metacritic list is another erroneously scored film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro).

Mindful of Mini-me
Also vying for the Academy’s and your attention this month are a quartet that will gamely put on their best smile whilst missing out on the minor gongs. Nevertheless, they’re all worthy of your attention.

While Silence (79; Jan 26) was reviewed last issue but had its Danish release date pushed back by a week – in the same way it’s been shoved out of the way in the awards season – Hidden Figures (74; Jan 26) is putting its best foot forward in its stride towards the red carpet. The tale of three black women who played an integral back-office role in the early days of NASA is looking increasingly likely to score a Best Film nomination.

Less likely to earn one is 20th Century Woman (82; Feb 16), which like so many good films these days, is a nostalgic coming-of-age drama. A never-better Annette Benning enlists two unlikely helpers to aid her in bringing up her son in 1979.

Talking of kids, when’s Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) going to learn that it’s hazardous playing the adult version of a child actor who really nails his performance? He spent eight months preparing for his performance in Lion (70; Feb 9) as an Australian man returning to India to trace his family after being adopted as a five-year-old. Trouble is that Mini-me spent his whole life getting ready. He really is brilliant.

Meanwhile, the woman who played his adoptee mother suggested Nicole Kidman when asked who should play her. Of course she did, and that’s another basic error. You’re supposed to say Rosie O’Donnell so the audience can say over the closing credits: “She’s much better looking in real-life.”

Moderate but mainstream
Awards aren’t everything as long as the audiences are happy, or at least that’s what this well-reviewed quartet can tell each other.

After something of a break from cinema, promising English director Andrea Arnold (Red Road and Fish Tank) has gone stateside to helm American Honey (79; Jan 26), yet another coming-of-age drama starring champion comer Shia LaBeouf.

Barely taking a breath in case his ‘moment’ ends, Michael Keaton is back as The Founder (67; Feb 2), the genesis story of the world’s most famous fast food restaurant chain.

Another of cinema’s workaholics, M Night Shyamalan has finally turned a corner with Split (74; Jan 26) starring James McAvoy as a killer with more than just a few personalities. No joke, following The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan’s next six films steadily got ever worsening Metacritic scores, but since The Last Airbender he’s been on a three-film upward trajectory. He’s worse than Alan Pardew.

Completing the quartet is Operation Avalanche (69; Feb 22), a conspiracy thriller that questions whether man has ever really walked on the moon.

Mediocre to monstrous
Talking of conspiracies, here’s a rhetorical question: how come most of the really bad films come out in every country at the same time? Of the five films in this category this coming month, three of them, all of them sequels – 50 Shades Darker (Not Released Yet; Feb 9), John Wick 2 (NRY; Feb 9) and Rings (NRY; Feb 2) – look like dead men walking.

Fist Fight (NRY; Feb 22) might have a pulse though. Ice Cube playing a high school teacher is a riot waiting to happen. But every single entry in the filmography of the director suggests he only makes movies for zombies.

Which leaves A Cure for Wellness (NRY; Feb 16), the latest by Gore Verbinski, a director who’s fond of starting franchises (Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean), but knows when to turn off the life support machine. With Jason Isaacs and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle and The Trees Beyond the Pines) onboard, he’s assembled quite a cast.

Elsewhere, the kids have Moana (81; Feb 2) and The Lego Batman Movie (NRY; Feb 9) to look forward to at half-term; Matthew McConaughey and Matt Damon enjoy unlikely escapades in Indonesia and China in Gold (51; Feb 22) and The Great Wall (48; Feb 16) respectively; and Weiner (82; Jan 26) and Zero Days (NRY; Feb 22) wave the flag for documentaries in a month that quite rightly belongs to movies.

Even if you don’t like the Oscars, you can’t deny February’s fondness for films. A warm cinema sure beats shivering in the moonlight or visiting cold towns by the sea.