February 14 was a significant date in the film calendar and it had nothing do with romance. To be eligible for the BAFTAs, films had to be released by this date, meaning all the big awards films for 2014 are either in cinemas now, or have already been and gone. As a result there's often the perception the high quality films currently filling cinemas are about to stop. It wasn't quite the case last year, with Park Chan Wook's mesmerising melodrama, Stoker, Steven Soderbergh's pharmaceutical crime drama Side Effects and bittersweet comedy Robot & Frank, all released during March. That line-up is put to shame this year however, with a range of films that could have made an alternative BAFTA line-up and given the real one a run for its money.
One of Hollywood's most distinctive auteurs, Wes Anderson, a man who has been nominated for an Oscar on three separate occasions, returns on 7 March with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It features Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role as Gustave H, the legendary concierge at the titular hotel who strikes up a friendship with his trusted lobby boy (Zero Moustafa). Since Rushmore, Anderson has always been able to attract the very best actors but the cast list for this film is frankly insane. I won't list them here but think of an actor and chances are they're in this film. It's one of Anderson's most heavily stylised films but feels like all the details he's renowned for have reached their pinnacle in this meticulously constructed 100 minute caper.
It's been nine years since Jonathan Glazer's mesmerising last film, Birth and he finally makes his long-awaited return on 13 March with Under the Skin. I first saw the film at the London Film Festival in October and it has resolutely refused to leave my consciousness. It's an extraordinary work, less a film than a sensory experience that combines music, imagery and a bizarre story in a way that has rarely, if ever, been seen in the history of cinema. What narrative there is follows a mysterious alien, played by Scarlett Johansson with dyed hair and fur coat, who has found herself in Glasgow (of all the places to land). The film follows her as she experiences the world and interacts with humans for the first time. It puts Glazer firmly amongst the highest echelon of film makers and I would place it as the equal, if not better, than any of the awards worthy films released this year.
Terry Gilliam is making a much anticipated comeback with his Python chums later this year but before that on 14 March, he releases his latest sci-fi head scratcher, The Zero Theorem. Christoph Waltz plays a reclusive genius computer hacker who embarks on a mysterious project. It may have been many years since Gilliam last made a great film but his work is always distinctive and he's still one of the most imaginative directors out there.
If you've been waiting since A Prophet for the next great prison drama then your wait is almost over as Starred Up is out on 21 March. Jack O'Connell plays Eric Love, a proper rotter who is starred up - moved from a young offenders institution to adult prison early because he's such a troublemaker. Once in prison he encounters Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn), his real father who has been in prison since Eric was five. Yes, it's brutal and harrowing but it's also a fascinating and wholly believable look at the inner workings of a British prison and the casting is nigh-on-perfect. Jack O'Connell is frighteningly good as Eric, so much so that I'd probably cross the road to avoid him if I saw him walking towards me. It's a tough watch but those up for it won't be disappointed.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's last film, A Separation was one of the best films of the last few years and although his follow-up, The Past, doesn't reach those heights it's better than most other films out there. Ali Mosaffa stars as Ahmad, an Iranian man who leaves his French family to return to his homeland. Upon his return to France he finds his wife has begun a relationship with another man (Tahar Rahim). It's an impeccably acted drama exploring the tensions that arise in a bruised and fragile family unit. The Artist's Berenice Bejo won the Best Actress award at Cannes last year and thankfully you get to hear her voice in this one.
Jason Reitman is still only 36 yet he's compiling an annoyingly impressive CV, including Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult. His latest, Labor Day, stars HRH Kate Winslet as a single mother who, whilst driving with her son, picks up a wounded and mysterious man. As the two embark on an unlikely relationship his chequered past becomes clear. Focussing more on romance than comedy, this is a deliberate change of direction for Reitman but looks to continue his hot streak.
Finally, released on 4 April is Darren Aronofsky's Noah. The biblical flood defier gets the big screen epic treatment with Russell Crowe playing the title role. He's joined by a first rate cast, including Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins and a whole host of CG animals. Aronofsky's last film was the stunning, Oscar nominated Black Swan, so it's fair to be extremely excited for this one and a prime pre-Easter release slot could send this one soaring.
That takes us up to early April and still to come later that month are John Michael McDonagh's follow-up to The Guard, Calvary, The Raid 2 and perhaps most intriguingly, Wally Pfister's Transcendence. The high quality of 2014 films is all set to continue.