As I make my way through the remaining films of 2015, I must turn my attention to the new year and what it has to offer.
If 2015 was a year where most of my top films were more or less in the mainstream, this looks to be more like 2014–a year where most of my favorite films were lesser-known outings, either indies, foreign films, or foreign indie films. And that’s fine by me. I’d rather highlight the underdogs than echo the general sentiment.
I gotta say, though, I have no idea how this year will turn out. Probably the two films I most want to see are technically holdovers from last year. But after poring over several lists (including these two, and these three lists from the B+ Movie Blog, which I heartily recommend), and taking stock of what’s been playing at Sundance, I’ve assembled the following lists.
I’ve broken the lists into blocks of 25, the first of which I’ve most extensively illustrated, these films broadly being those I am most excited for. But this far out, who knows what the year will bring?
- American Honey
Andrea Arnold’s newest. I have Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights but have yet to see either (random thought: will we ever really see Katie Jarvis again?), so I don’t know how I feel about her style, but she’s certainly got a solid reputation. And the premise of this is intriguing enough: “A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a travelling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.” And by Midwest, they appear to mean the parts of it where I’ve spent most of my life. So this has me intrigued on multiple levels. Oh, and it co-stars Shia LaBoeuf, in case I needed more reasons to see it.
- The Bad Batch
I absolutely loved A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Ana Lily Amirpour’s direction was a big part of why. So given that her newest film is a romance set among a group of cannibals in post-apocalyptic Texas, and given that it stars Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and Keanu Reeves, I’ve got to see this. I hope to God it goes over and she gets the career she deserves.
- The BFG
Bridge of Spies reassured me that Spielberg can still do top-notch work. I’m not the biggest fan of the source material (I’m not sure I’ve read the book, but I saw the animated film as a kid), but if anyone can make it sing, it’s Spielberg. It’s got a good cast, too–Mark Rylance as the BFG, Bill Hader and Jermaine Clement as giants–and a John Williams score. Which can, under the right circumstances, be a very, very good thing.
- Certain Women
The new Kelly Reichardt. Meek’s Cutoff was amazing, and Night Moves, while not quite as good, was certainly well directed. This is a trio of stories about women in a small Montana town, starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart. Word out of Sundance is very strong. I’m hoping this, like Meek’s, is one of my top films of the year, and I’m hoping this turns out to be another strong for Lead and Supporting Actress.
- Elvis & Nixon
Okay, maybe putting in this in the first block wasn’t entirely justified. But it’s Michael Shannon as Elvis, Kevin Spacey as Nixon (big fan of Nixon films), and it looks like it might be crazy fun. Maybe not a feature film’s worth, but the premise and the cast are enough for me. Also: it’s randomly co-written by Cary Elwes.
- Free State of Jones
Not a great trailer (and I don’t really know if I can trust “STX Entertainment”), but Gary Ross has a very good track record, I’m always game for a good historical drama (and this has a more interesting premise than most), and it has a strong cast: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (fuck yeah), Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali, and Brendan Gleeson. This could, admittedly, be a let down, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
- Hail, Caesar!
Thank God they put out a second trailer. I was getting really sick of the first one. Not that I don’t still want to see this–it’s the Coens, it’s Roger Deakins, it’s an awesome cast, and it’s a great premise–but enough is enough. I don’t feel like I need to say much, because if this isn’t on your radar, I don’t know what to tell you.
- High Life
To be fair, I haven’t seen any of Claire Denis’ films yet. But she’s making her English-language debut with a science-fiction film starring Robert Pattinson (who can be really solid with the right material) and Mia Goth (who was good in Nymphomaniac). The premise:
The movie is about a group of criminals who accept a mission in space to become the subjects of a human reproduction experiment. They find themselves in the most unimaginable situation after a storm of cosmic rays hit the ship.
I’m pretty sure I already had my eye on this last year. But it’s coming out this year, and if I were to rank this list in terms of pure anticipation, this would probably be in the top 3. It looks absolutely like my cup of tea. It has a great cast, a skilled director (I didn’t love A Field in England, but that was more because of the writing), what appears to be world-class production design, and a cool dystopian premise. The reviews to date have been on the mixed side, but I expect I’ll side with those who praise it.
- Knight of Cups
The reviews were mixed, but it’s Terrence Malick. I have to see this. And I might just like this as much as I liked To the Wonder. I said my peace on this last year, but you know how Malick takes his time.
- Kubo and the Two Strings
I admit I never got around to seeing The Boxtrolls, but Laika’s new film has a cool premise (drawing on Japanese legend), a solid voice cast, and it’s stop-motion animation. I’ve got hopes for it.
- La La Land
Damien Chazelle, who brought us Whiplash, now gives us an original musical starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons (as “Boss”), Finn Wittrock (who was great in The Big Short), Rosemarie DeWitt, and John Legend (who’s just awesome). If this comes off, it could be truly delightful. The image above suggests they’ve got the tone down, at least.
- The Lobster
I won’t say anything more about this one. I should have seen this last year. The first screening I can get to…I’m there.
- Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman’s newest film. I’ve seen all four of his films, and they’re all ***½–in fact, his last film, Damsels in Distress, was one of my Best Picture nominees in 2012 for quite some time. So I’m already sold on this. Granted, it’s an adaptation of a lesser-known Jane Austen work (and I’m not a Jane Austen fan by any means), and it reunites Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny from The Last Days of Disco, which was easily my least favorite of his films (though I really should give it another try), but there’s no way I’m not going to see this unless it gets totally fucked out of a release. Now if only he could get his George Washington biopic off the ground…
- Midnight Special
I was somewhat worried when this got bumped from November to March. I still am, a little. But the trailer looks really good (what’s up with those chanting people?), Nichols has a solid track record (I haven’t actually seen Take Shelter, but I really liked Mud), and it has a cast I like: Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, and Sam Shepard. So I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong.
- A Monster Calls
It’s about a kid dealing with his mother’s terminal illness who forms a bond with a monster. The monster is being played by Liam Neeson. (The mother is Felicity Jones, the father is Toby Kebbell, and the grandmother is Sigourney Weaver–not too shabby.) The premise and the October release date bode well. To be fair, the director made The Impossible, which I avoided because it looked absurdly white-washed. But that may have been unfair of me. In any case, I intend to give this one a chance.
- The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn returns. Drive was as impressive as Only God Forgives was problematic, but at the very least, there should be some real artistry on display here. The premise is a bit vague–something about a young model in L.A. and a circle of women who sound almost like vampires–and could tip over into the queasifying depiction of women OGF graced us with, but it could also be one of the year’s most dazzling films. Let’s hope he learned his lesson and is back in gear.
It’s Scorsese’s newest film, which automatically makes it a must-see. It’s also been one of his passion projects for about a quarter of a century, and hopefully the passion translates to the final product. The cast includes Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson (hell yes), Tadanobu Asano (who was great in 47 Ronin), and Ciarán Hinds–all good actors. I’m hoping this makes Cannes or Venice.
Oliver Stone, getting political. As long as it justifies its existence given that we already have CitizenFour (that’s two Joseph Gordon-Levitt films in a year’s time which dramatize the subjects of acclaimed documentaries…weird), I’ll be happy. I also really want to know what Nicolas Cage is doing here.
- Story of Your Life
Denis Villeneuve. Science fiction. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg. Bradford Young. Allowing that my issues with Sicario were more with the writing than with Villeneuve’s direction (and that I really should rewatch it one of those days), I see no reason not to be excited for this.
- Sunset Song
Terence Davies. I loved The Deep Blue Sea, and mean to check out his earlier work one of these days. In the time being, this Scottish-set World War I romance looks, at the very least, to be visually stunning, and hopefully it packs the emotional punch of Sea. The reviews have been generally positive.
- A United Kingdom
It’s Amma Asante’s new film (she made Belle, which I quite liked), starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (both of whom I nominated last year), dealing with the first president of Botswana and the Englishwoman he married. Best-case scenario, this gets Oyelowo the Oscar nomination he should’ve had for Selma. At the very least, I expect it’ll be a solid historical romance.
- War on Everyone
John Michael McDonagh. The Guard was really good. Calvary was my #3 film of 2014. So I’m already interested. “Two corrupt cops in New Mexico set out to blackmail and frame every criminal unfortunate enough to cross their path.” Starring Alexander Skarsgård (good) and Michael Peña (potentially great). All I need is the name McDonagh, though.
- The Witch
This is coming out pretty soon and has been building up buzz since last year’s Sundance. I don’t need to say too much. I’m usually dubious about horror films, but this looks like a good one, and a period piece to boot. Plus, goats.
I don’t know a ton about this one, but here’s a synopsis of the novel it’s based on:
Zama takes place in the last decade of the eighteenth century and describes the solitary, suspended existence of Don Diego de Zama, a highly placed servant of the Spanish crown who has been posted to Asunción, the capital of remote Paraguay. There, eaten up by pride, lust, petty grudges, and paranoid fantasies, he does as little as he possibly can while plotting his eventual transfer to Buenos Aires, where everything about his hopeless existence will, he is confident, be miraculously transformed and made good.
The director, Lucrecia Martel, has a pretty strong reputation. And this has a lot of buzz around it. So I’ll keep an eye on it and see if it might be a Best Foreign Film contender. I’m not banking on getting to see this in time for my 2016 awards, but here’s hoping I do.
- Assassin’s Creed
I didn’t play the game. But it’s got a prime release date, a cast I like (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson), and a classy director (Justin Kurzel, who did the awesome-looking Macbeth with Fassbender and Cotillard that didn’t really get a release). So I’m thinking this is worth the benefit of the doubt.
- Basmati Blues
It’s a musical about genetically modified rice. Starring Brie Larson, Scott Bakula, and Donald Sutherland. Between the cast and the premise, I’m sold.
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Ang Lee’s new film, about a group of soldiers who are brought home from Iraq to a do a set of halftime shows during Cowboys games. Because it’s Lee, maybe I should’ve put this higher (although I really didn’t love Life of Pi), but the premise sounds potentially sappy. It’s got an interesting cast, though; Billy is being played by Joe Alwyn, a complete unknown, and the rest of the cast includes Garrett Hedlund (ugh), Steve Martin (haven’t seen him in a while), Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Tucker (haven’t seen him in a while). It’ll probably end up being a big enough deal that I’ll have to see it, but I’m on the fence right now.
- The Birth of a Nation
The story of the Nat Turner revolt (love the choice of title), starring, written, and directed by Nate Parker, whom I best know as the male lead from Beyond the Lights. Fox Searchlight bought the rights to this for $17.5 million (a Sundance record), so…we’ll be hearing more about this one. The reviews out of Sundance seem to be a little more respectful than truly rapturous, but since I’ll almost certainly be seeing it, I’m expecting a rewarding experience at the very least.
- Captain America: Civil War
Of the major comic-book films of the year, this is probably the one I’m most excited for. At least non-ironically. “But he’s my friend.” “So was I.” That’s all I need. I’ll be seeing them all, but I expect this will be the best of them.
- Dark Night
It’s an ensemble drama about the events preceding a mass shooting in a movie theater–the title might tip you off that the inspiration was the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, CO. I’m intrigued, and given the generally positive reviews it received at Sundance, I’m going to keep an eye out for it.
Paul Verhoeven returns. His films can be awesome (RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) or they can be awful (Basic Instinct, Showgirls), but they’re always interesting. I hope this rape-revenge thriller is a return to his best form.
- Finding Dory
For Pixar’s sake, I put it this high. But, honestly…I’m not a big fan of Dory. I thought she was pretty tiresome (though, to be fair, I haven’t gone back to Nemo in ages). So I’m not overly excited for this. But since Inside Out was so good, I’ll go back to giving them the benefit of the doubt.
- The Founder
The story of Ray Kroc (the man who made McDonald’s what it is today). Starring Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, and B.J. Novak (I know at least one person who’ll like that). From the director of The Blind Side (which I’ve never seen) and Saving Mr. Banks (which was fine for what it was). I think if it weren’t for Keaton, I wouldn’t be as interested. But I am.
- A Hologram For the King
“The film tells the story of a washed-up, desperate American salesman who travels to Saudi Arabia to secure the IT contract for a massive new complex being built in the middle of the desert.” Directed by Tom Tykwer, who co-directed the extremely underrated Cloud Atlas with the Wachowskis, and starring Tom Hanks (which intrigues the hell out of me). I don’t know how it’ll actually be, but on paper it sounds promising.
- How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Based on a Neil Gaiman short story. It’s apparently some kind of sci-fi rom-com, starring Elle Fanning, Ruth Wilson, Nicole Kidman, and Matt Lucas, among others. It’s directed by John Cameron Mitchell, whose resume to date is: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus, and Rabbit Hole. So that’s something. I’ll probably be more actively intrigued once I have a better idea of what it’s actually about. (I could read the story, I suppose.)
- The Light Between Oceans
I didn’t love The Place Beyond the Pines, per se, but I appreciated its ambition. (I still haven’t seen Blue Valentine.) This is about a lighthouse keeper and his wife raising a child they find, and, I believe, what happens when the child’s real parent(s) enter the picture. Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz star. I could see this getting an Oscar push, especially since Disney is behind it.
Another Jeff Nichols film, dealing with the Loving v. Virgina case, starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the Lovings. Michael Shannon is also in it, since he’s apparently Nichols’ go-to guy. I’ll assume this also gets an awards push until proven otherwise.
- The Magnificent Seven
A remake (of a remake). Antoine Fuqua directs and Denzel Washington stars–not a bad sign, since I liked The Equalizer. It also has Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, Cam Gigandet, and Vinnie Jones, to name a few. And it has James Horner’s final (or nearly final) score. I am concerned about the September release date, since that month is still kind of a dumping ground, but a trailer may help assuage (or confirm) my fears.
Disney’s animated feature for the year, an adventure set in the South Pacific, featuring the demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson). Again, give me a trailer and I’ll have a better idea of how to feel about this. But I like that they’re featuring a culture which doesn’t get much representation in American cinema.
- The Nice Guys
Shane Black’s new film, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. It’s a comedic crime film set in the 70s. The trailer looks fun, if leaning towards crassness; I hope it maintains its balance. If it does, it should be a lot of fun. If it doesn’t, it could still have its moments–and should be a contender for my own awards for Production and Costume Design.
- Nocturnal Animals
A thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Kim Basinger, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, and Armie Hammer (who really needs to get more work). But for me, the biggest selling point is the fact that it’s directed by Tom Ford, who did a hell of a job with A Single Man. I hope this is comparably fine.
Morten Tyldum let me down a bit with The Imitation Game (an odd statement to make about an Oscar-winning critical success, but I’m standing by it), but this sci-fi film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt should be a bit more up my alley. Oh, and Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne are also in it. Written by the co-writer of Prometheus, which might not be the worst sign (I forget who’s really to blame for the problems with that script). It’s also coming out right before Christmas, so the studio clearly has faith in it.
- A Quiet Passion
Another Terence Davies film, this one a study of Emily Dickinson. Now, I’m not a fan of her work, but that doesn’t mean a film about her couldn’t be compelling. She’s being played by Cynthia Nixon. (I like that they shot this in Belgium, even though it’s set in Massachusetts.)
- Salt and Fire
Werner Herzog directs Michael Shannon and Gael Garcia Bernal. About a volcano on the verge of eruption. Herzog appears as “man with one story”. Assuming Queen of the Desert was a blip, I’m sold.
- Sing Street
I got this trailer before my second viewing of Room. I thought it looked cute. Then it played Sundance and was quite well received. So I expect I’ll like it. It’s by the guy who made Once, if that helps.
- Swiss Army Man
Ohhhhhhhhh, shit. Paul Dano finds Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse (he’s playing the corpse, it’s not supposed to be his corpse), and it becomes his best friend. It also farts. A lot. So much so that Dano can ride it like a jet ski. And it gets weirder from there. Word out of Sundance varies from outright hatred to delight. I have to see it just to see where I fall on that scale. But from the sound of it, it sounds delightful.
- The Trap
Harmony Korine’s newest. Might not actually come out this year. But if it does, I’ll be ready.
- Tulip Fever
A romance set against the backdrop of the tulip craze in 17th-century Holland. Written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Justin Chadwick (who made the mediocre Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, but the script was really the bigger problem there), and with one hell of a cast: Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Holliday Grainger, Judi Dench, Jack O’Connell, Cara Delevingne, Tom Hollander, and, supposedly…Zach Galifianakis. At the very, very least, I have to see what he’s doing there.
An adaptation of the play Blackbird, starring Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn. I won’t reveal what it’s about, but if you already know…with those two as the leads, this could be one hell of an experience. That’s all I’ll say.
If the list ends here, it is because I have not yet finished sifting through the various lists and resources regarding the 2016 lineup. I will complete the list at the soonest opportunity.