A preview of 2014 on the big screen

Steve McQueen’s raging and compassionate film about Solomon Northup will be the first hit of the year.

At the start of this year in the pages of the New Statesman I predicted great things for a little-known, unassuming actor named Leonardo DiCaprio, who was scheduled to have three big movies released in 2013—Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street. It turned out I was a tad premature in my enthusiasms, since the latter film, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the memoir by the hedonistic Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort, had its UK release shunted into early 2014. It’ll open here on 17 January and, having seen it, I will say only that it is the performance of DiCaprio’s career. If he doesn’t receive the Best Actor Oscar for this, he never will. But—bad news for Leo—he won’t. That prize will go, if there is any justice, to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is mesmerising in a very different adaptation of a memoir: 12 Years a Slave (10 January), Steve McQueen’s raging, compassionate and necessarily brutal film about Solomon Northup, an African-American tricked into slavery in the early 1840s.

Matthew McConaughey is another actor who will deliver his best work to date in the new year in—do you see a theme developing here?—yet another factually-based movie, Dallas Buyers Club (7 February). Neither McConaughey nor the film go gunning for our tears, despite plentiful opportunities to do so: this is, after all, the story of a rodeo rider who starts importing illegally anti-viral medication when he is diagnosed HIV-Positive. Breaking the trend for the factual, but not as far removed from reality as it might seem, is Spike Jonze’s Her (14 February), featuring the terrifically controlled Joaquin Phoenix as a man who develops a relationship with his computer operating system. The disembodied voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson, who will also be seen as another almost-human life form in Under the Skin (14 March), the long-awaited third feature from the British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth).

Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, in which a woman recounts her grim sexual history to a man who takes her home after she has been beaten unconscious, has been a long time coming. First we were promised real sex scenes featuring stars including Shia Labeouf and Charlotte Gainsbourg; then it transpired that such recognisable faces would be digitally superimposed onto copulating bodies; next we learned that von Trier, unable to shepherd his five-and-a-half-hour work into a manageable shape, had handed over the material to other hands, resulting in a two-part, four-hour version. In fact, it’s a more sober and ordered picture than any of these headline-grabbing tales might suggest; it arrives here on 21 February.

A director’s cut of the first part of Nymphomaniac will receive its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February; that festival will open with The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest helping of candy-coloured whimsy from Wes Anderson, which is released here on 7 March. The same month brings new movies from Darren Aronofsky, whose Noah is said to have an impressive arc (sorry), and Asghar Faradi, who follows his brilliant Oscar-winning domestic thriller A Separation with The Past (both 28 March).

I’m also looking forward greatly to two Irish films. One is Calvary (April), which reunites Brendan Gleeson with John Michael McDonagh, who directed him in The Guard. The other is Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, loosely based on the Frank Sidebottom story, starring Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic rock star in the papier mâché head. On the subject of Irishness, it is worth noting that June sees the release of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, a film version of the coarse and highly popular BBC sitcom. Snobs may scoff, but the show was the hit of the Christmas schedules, easily beating Downton Abbey. It will divide cinema audiences, just as it has with their sofa-based counterparts. It would be hard to imagine such a split among those who see Lukas Moodysson’s charming comedy We Are the Best! (April), about three 13-year-old girls forming a punk band in 1980s Sweden.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch in 12 Years a Slave

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.