10. Southpaw (July 24)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forrest Whitaker, Rita Ora, 50 Cent, Miguel Gomez.
Based on the previews, a boxer on top of the world loses everything around him, including his wife and daughter, and has to recommit himself to his profession to get his life back in order. Fuqua hasn’t been able to replicate the critical success of Training Day, but this could be his best chance to rise above the typical action genre stuff he’s produced (Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer). He knows how to produce slick action, and that should work well with the boxing scenes. The real draw here for me, though, is Gyllenhaal, who is one of those actors that is doing some of the most interesting work in Hollywood right now and putting out the best work of his career in recent years. A script from TV writer/producer Kurt Sutter (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy) is also intriguing.
9. The Martian (October 2)
Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan, Mackenzie Davis.
Ridley Scott is directing an adaptation of a best-selling 2014 novel by the same name about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars, presumed dead by the rest of his crew, and has to adapt the research facility set up there in order to survive. The cast seems especially unique, given that Wiig and Glover are known for comedy and this looks like a serious sci-fi drama. Oddly, this film would probably be higher on my list if it weren’t for Ridley Scott being the director, only because he has become so hit-or-miss over the last few years.
8. Macbeth (Fall/Winter)
Directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Reynor, David Thewlis, Paddy Considine.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, so if that makes me a philistine so be it. But Fassbender is one of the guys acting now that I will watch anything that he is in, and Cotillard is one of the best actresses in the world too. Putting those two together in such iconic Shakespeare roles as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is appointment viewing and probably going to garner some awards consideration.
7. Knight Of Cups (December 11)
Directed by Terrence Malick and starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Jason Clarke, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, Nick Offerman, Ben Kingsley.
Malick films are definitely not for everyone. And they don’t always work for me. But 2011’s The Tree of Life had a lasting impact on me, and is firmly entrenched in my Top 10 Films of All Time, so I seek out anything this reclusive, cinematic artist puts out. His last film, To the Wonder, at times felt like self-parody. The road to bringing this film to theaters has been long, and the early reviews are mixed. But it is sure to look beautiful and the cast is loaded. Even if Malick never achieves the brilliance that I thought was The Tree of Life again, the potential for that awe and wonder is there with every Malick film.
6. Spectre (November 6)
Directed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw.
Bringing back Sam Mendes for a second Bond film has to be a minor coup. Skyfall was one of the best Bond films of any period and this promises to be right up there in terms of quality. The cast sounds great, especially with Waltz cast as the main villain. And it’s exciting that they are somewhat returning to the roots of the earliest Bond films with the Spectre criminal organization being the focus and something that all of the Craig-Era Bond films have been hinting at. It’s fair to wonder if this is Craig’s last film in the franchise, and if it is, then let’s hope they send him out on a high note here.
5. Everest (September 25)
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur and starring Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, John Hawkes.
An action thriller involving a hiking expedition that gets caught in a severe storm while on Mt. Everest. I have little familiarity with the director, Baltasar Kormakur, who is probably best known for two Mark Wahlberg features, Contraband and 2 Guns, of which I only saw the latter. But the trailers look promising. And the cast is solid. And it’s Gyllenhaal. And it almost certainly has to be better than 2000’s Vertical Limit. Extreme environments like mountain summits (along with outer space, the middle of the ocean, the bottom of the ocean in a submarine, etc.) have an inherent natural tension baked into the story. Given the cast and the plot, this looks promising.
4. Sicario (September 18)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal.
Villeneuve has become a critically acclaimed director the last few years, with Incendies, Prisoners, and Enemy. Sicario looks poised to join those previous films and maybe surpass them. The crime drama is set along the US/Mexican border and deals with the escalating war on drugs. Early buzz has been very positive and Blunt is getting a lot of praise for her performance. It looks gritty and grim and beautiful and complex. It feels like ones of those films where the director is about to jump a level in public notoriety. He’s already on my radar, and if this hits well he should be on a lot more people’s radars as well. If Emily Blunt gets some Oscar buzz from this that would be tremendous.
3. The Hateful Eight (December 25 – limited)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern, Demian Bechir.
Quentin Tarantino has dabbled in the western genre before. Here, it’s a straight up western, although it’s hard to call anything that QT does straight up anything. The film is set in post-Civil War Wyoming and has a couple of bounty hunters who get stuck in a shelter during a blizzard with some other unsavory people. You know you’ll probably get here: non-linear story, great dialogue, and a compelling story that looks great. The script for this was leaked prematurely a few years ago and led to a lawsuit by Tarantino, who initially said he wouldn’t shoot it, and was moving on, but I, along with every other fan of his work, am glad that it is being made and will be released.
2. Midnight Special (November 25)
Directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Sam Shepard.
Jeff Nichols is another director who is probably still not well-known to mainstream audiences. But he has put out three fantastic films so far (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud) and he has become one of my favorite directors. He makes character-driven dramas and Michael Shannon is a frequent collaborator, and he write and directs his own material. Details about this film are vague and I haven’t seen much outside of a few set photos like the one shown above, but IMDB says it’s a story about a father and son who go on the run after the dad learns his son possesses special powers. Given his track record, I would say it’s drama with light sci-fi elements. I’m eagerly awaiting this latest film from someone I think is one of the best working right now.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18)
Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Lupita N’yongo, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Andy Serkis, Max Von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker.
Could there be another #1? Perhaps it is foolish to get my hopes up for this new trilogy given that I got my hopes up for the prequels and was disappointed with the majority of it. But there is something about seeing those graphics and hearing that music that just gets me going. Abrams brings a level of high production gloss and potential and love for the earlier films that I am optimistic for this film. And while it will be exciting to see so many of the original characters back, I am also looking forward to how Gleeson, Ridley, Boyega, N’yongo, Driver, and “my boy” Oscar Isaac are used here. The early trailers look really promising and the visuals look great. December 18th is going to be huge.