10. The Witch
This could be the horror movie of the year. It’s generated a lot of buzz coming out of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Now, it will get a theatrical release in February over a year later. Set during the 17th century on the edges of the New England wilderness, it’s centered on a family who encounters mysterious evil. I’ve always been a fan of fiction related to the Salem witch trials, with The Crucible being one of my favorite plays. I’m looking forward to this film from first-time director Robert Eggers
9. Knight of Cups
I have been entranced by the potential of any new film released by Terrence Malick since I saw The Tree of Life back in 2011. It wasn’t just a film to me, but an experience. To the Wonder was a disappointing follow-up, and this film has been long-delayed, with mixed early reviews. Regardless, the mere possibility contained in a new Terrence Malick film for me grants him automatic Top 10 consideration. This story is supposed to be about a man (Christian Bale) who lives in Hollywood and is trying to make sense of things around and searching for something of substance in an empty life. Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman also star in the film, along with a big cast of supporting actors.
8. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier made a great film in 2014, Blue Ruin, a thriller which was a meditation on revenge. It was the kind of film by a young director that makes you want to keep an eye out for what he does next. He’s back with Green Room, which stars Anton Yelchin as part of a punk band that witnesses something they shouldn’t see at a gig and are then stuck in the green room with neo-Nazi skinheads standing between them and escape. Also, the leader of the skinheads is none other than Sir Patrick Stewart. Imogen Poots and Alia Shawkat are also in the movie.
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a sci-fi romance about a man who wakes up early on a spacecraft carrying thousands of people to a colony planet. And not just early, 60 years early. With the possibility of growing old and dying before anyone else is woken up, he decides to wake up a second passenger. Morten Tydlum, who did the wonderful Norwegian-Swedish film Headhunters and 2014’s The Imitation Game, is the director here. Poised for a December 21st release, which means it’s probably positioned for awards contention. Also stars Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne. I was sold by Pratt and Lawrence.
6. La La Land
One of my favorite films of 2014 was Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, which was an intense treat. With La La Land, he’s doing a musical comedy-drama about a romantic relationship between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an actress (Emma Stone). This is a perfect storm for me, as I think Gosling is one of the great actors of our generation, I am completely smitten by Emma Stone (who is a very good actress in her own right too), and Chazelle wowed me so much with Whiplash that I have to see what he follows it up with.
5. The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos has made some very unique and disturbing films. Dogtooth is one I have seen, Alps is one I have not. Both are eccentric in their story premise, and The Lobster is no different, being about single people who are arrested and sent to The Hotel where they are given 45 days to find a suitable mate or be transformed into an animal and released in the woods. Colin Ferrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux star. This film won the Jury Prize, the third-highest award given out at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
4. Story of Your Life
Sicario was my favorite film of 2015, and director Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up is already in the post-production stages. I seem to like his films more and more with each release. This one stars Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams and is about the arrival of alien spaceships and an expert linguist being recruited to determine whether they come in peace. I see a lot of potential ways this could go, and given what Villeneuve has done in the recent past, I trust him to take it in the most interesting direction.
3. Hail, Caesar!
Come on, it’s the Coen Brothers! The brothers responsible for my favorite film of all time, The Big Lebowski, are back with another story about kidnapping, this time involving a Hollywood star, played by George Clooney. Clooney is a bit hit or miss with the Coen’s material (He’s great in O Brother, Where Are Thou, less so in Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading). It’s an absolutely loaded cast (Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, and Jonah Hill to name a few), and the Coens have really had a great revival run that started with No Country For Old Men. The only thing that gives me pause is the February release date.
2. The Nice Guys
Shane Black, the man who became famous for writing Lethal Weapon, moved into the director’s chair in the 2000s with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, one of my favorite films of that decade, and then Iron Man 3. Now he’s made another buddy cop style action comedy with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling that looks to be in the vein of Kiss Kiss. Complete with his Christmas motif, this film is set in the 70s and has a private investigator (Crowe) and the man who becomes his enforce (Gosling) looking into a missing girl case and a murder investigation. The early trailers look very funny, and Crowe and Gosling look like they play very well off of each other.
1. Midnight Special
This is a movie that was delayed from 2015 until March of 2016, it’s about a father who goes on the run with his son, who possesses special powers. Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Jaeden Lieberher star. The main draw for me, though, is Jeff Nichols, the director. Nichols first came across my radar with Take Shelter in 2011, a quietly unsettling film with some sci-fi elements that blew me away. In 2013, he released Mud, a film that felt like a modern-day Mark Twain story and one of the films that sparked “The McConaissance.” This is Nichols getting his chance to make more of a studio film, though still with a modest (by Hollywood’s standards) budget of $18 million. And word is that it’s not Jeff Nichols making a studio film, but Nichols getting to make a Jeff Nichols film for the studio. It reminds me of the circumstances surrounding Rian Johnson’s 2012 film Looper. Here’s hoping it catches an audience and Nichols starts to gain some mainstream notoriety like Johnson did.