After the excitement of Christmas and New Year, February is generally seen as a quiet month for film but with the biggest night in the movie industry’s year, The Academy Awards, being held and a host of new releases coming to Tokyo just in time, there are plenty of reasons to get to your nearest cinema.

By Christopher O’Keeffe

Two films nominated for the Best Picture prize are being released in Japan this month along with some other movies that have scored big in earlier festivals around the world. Anyone not interested in the weighty awards fare wont be disappointed; there are a handful of big action pictures vying for your attention too.

Zero Dark Thirty (out Feb 1)

Director Kathryn Bigelow made history at the 2009 Academy Awards by becoming the first woman to take away the Best Picture statuette for her film The Hurt Locker. She’s back again with another Oscar nod and in familiar territory working with writer-producer Mark Boal on Zero Dark Thirty.

Bigelow’s previous effort took place during the Iraq war and this new film concerns the hunt for the man many see as its catalyst, Osama Bin Laden. The film stars Jessica Chastain (pictured above), herself no stranger to the Oscars – she was nominated in the supporting actress category for her role in last year’s The Help and is up for Best Actress this time around.

Chastain plays Maya, a CIA operative working as part of a team that has spent the last decade secretly working towards a single goal, finding and eliminating Bin Laden. The film has attracted controversy from some quarters for its alleged pro-torture stance, it has been boycotted by actor Martin Sheen, amongst others, and been criticised by an ex-CIA agent for the revealing information it contains. Whatever you decide about its morals it’s sure to be an interesting, thought-provoking watch worth checking out for yourself.

Silver Linings Playbook (Feb 1)

This film has the honour of having nominations in all four best acting categories at the Academy Awards, but the star of the show is Jennifer Lawrence. She has not been far from the new release news since she hit the big time with last years box-office smash The Hunger Games after building momentum since impressing in her break out role, 2010’s Winter’s Bone.

Her latest follows Pat Soltano (Bradley Cooper), a troubled man who returns from a mental health facility with the intention of getting his life together and reconciling with his wife. Upon moving in to his family home with his father (Robert De Niro), Pat meets Lawrence’s Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own. Pat and Tiffany intend to help each other achieve their respective goals, but those begin to change as a connection forms between them.

Moonrise Kingdom (Feb 8)

The latest work from idiosyncratic auteur Wes Anderson is finally released here in Japan after receiving widespread critical acclaim, many citing it as the director’s best, since it premiered at last year’s Cannes film festival.

As usual, there is an eclectic cast, including Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, along with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton amongst others. Set in picturesque Rhode Island, 12-year-old Sam Shakusky, played by newcomer Jared Gillman, escapes from his scout summer camp to meet up and run away with Suzy Bishop (fellow-newcomer Kara Hayward).

Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop in 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Suzy Bishop is played by newcomer Kara Hayward

When Suzy’s parents discover the girl’s absence, events cause chaos on the island as they, the scout troop and local police try to track down the pair and put an end to the budding romance. If you’ve seen Anderson’s work before you’ll know what to expect but the child protagonists give the film a different slant and the sweet romance, wonderful characters, humour and warmth of the movie really make this one to watch.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Feb 1)

British comedy-drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened to excellent critical acclaim and box office takings last year in its native country and went on to prove a big success upon its international release.

The film features a fine ensemble cast of older British talent including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and John Wilkinson with support from young Slumdog Millionaire star, Dev Patel. The older cast members star as a group of retirees who move to a retirement hotel in India for a taste of the exotic and a life of leisure.

Upon arrival, their plans are shattered by the less than perfect state of hotel, however the new environment and lifestyle soon open up the group to new experiences and ways of living.

A Good Day to Die Hard (Feb 14)

If you need a break from all this worthy Oscars-fare, also out this month is the fifth installment of the Die-Hard franchise. Bruce Willis’ second appearance this month sees him return to his best known character, John McClane, travelling to Russia to help out his estranged son, Jack.

'A Good Day to Die Hard'

Is Willis back on top form in his Die Hard hat?

Jack has wound up in prison and when John turns up to help he discovers his son is a CIA operative and the pair get caught up fighting bad guys involved in a nuclear weapons heist. Jai Courtney, who came to fame through US television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and will also appear this month in Jack Reacher, plays Jack. The last instalment in this franchise was 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard and latest director John Moore will be hoping for another hit addition to the series.

Jack Reacher [Japan title: Outlaw] (Feb 1)

Tom Cruise’s latest, Jack Reacher, is based on the character from a popular series of books by the author Lee Child, the first of which appeared in 1997.

When Cruise was announced as the title character there was criticism from fans of the novels who felt that didn’t have the height and physical presence to play the statuesque Reacher. The author brushed aside concerns, believing him to have the acting chops to make up for what he lacks in height, and Cruise certainly has the experience for this action/thriller role.

Based on the ninth novel in the series, ‘One Shot’, the action revolves around the case of a trained military sniper who is arrested for the murder of five people. The accused man claims his innocence and ex-military investigator Jack Reacher gets involved when he senses something isn’t right.

The film is fairly formulaic and isn’t going to offer many surprises but fans of Cruise and his work on Mission: Impossible may get a kick out of its polished action.

by Tokyo-based film writer Christopher O’Keeffe, who also runs and writes for the Seven Cinemas website.