Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Last year’s list was 25 films long… Well, we went a little longer this time. Expected release dates are in parentheses. Tell us what we missed!

35 Project Almanac (US 30 Jan, UK 6 Feb)
Before we get to the blockbusters and art-house icons, let’s start with something dumb but fun: a found footage time-travel movie. Hopefully this is something like The Blair Witch Project meets Primer, rather than Apollo 13 meets The Butterfly Effect. A group of teens try to fix past mistakes via their new time machine, but things go awry when one by one they start to disappear from reality. So… Chronicle meets the photo from Back to the Future?

34 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (20 Nov)
These are the best YA movies out there: a strong cast and smart direction should keep this story on track as events power through to the climax. Will Donald Sutherland get an explosive arrow in the face? (I genuinely don’t know, I’ve not read these books),

33 Inside Out (US 19 Jun, UK 2 July)
Disney’s new animation shows the conflicting emotions inside a young girl’s head. Amy Poehler plays joy, Mindy Kaling plays disgust, etc… Surely the animation of the year.

32 Carol (TBC)
Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) returns to the 1950s with this story of a young lady department store clerk (Rooney Mara) who falls in love with a married woman (Cate Blanchette). I anticipate more Douglas Sirk-esque goodness.

31 Beyond Clueless (already on the festival circuit, but starting to widen…)
Dreamlike interleaving of images from pretty much every American teen movie from 1990-2010. To a soundtrack by (of course) Summer Camp, the tropes fuse to become a vision that is at once universal and at the same time completely fantastic and alienating through repetition. Stop trying to make fetch happen!

30 Knight of Cups (TBC)
Here’s hoping for a return to form by Terrence Malick, whose last decent movie was probably The New World. Christian Bale appears to be playing a troubled middle aged white professional of some description. Hopefully this will be better than than the similar-sounding Sean Penn bit from The Tree of Life.

29 The Duke of Burgundy (UK 20 Feb, Internet 23 Feb)
Dir: The king of creepy sound design, Peter Strickland! (Berberian Sound Studio). In a world without men or cars, the only polite pastime is attending or giving lepidoptory lectures… until the sun goes down. Nothing like a bit of unapologetic surrealist erotica.

28 Kingsman: The Secret Service (US 13 Feb, UK 29 Jan)
Reunites the creative team behind Kick-Ass (the fun original, not the fairly dire sequel). Tailor/spy Colin Firth inducts a young ragamuffin spy into a secret service unit, and tasks him with defending professor Mark Hamil against Big-Mac eating villain Samuel L Jackson. By all accounts this movie is pretty eccentric throughout, but achieves wholly unexpected levels of insanity in the third act.

27 Jane Got a Gun (US 4 Sept, UK 25 Sept)
Much delayed, much recast, this Natalie-Portman starring ‘feminist western’ will presumably emerge at some point. By now we almost want to see it more out of grim fascination than anything.

26 Crimson Peak (16 Oct)
Guillermo Del Toro 19th century gothic haunted house movie. SOLD. Bonus: Tom Hiddleston plays the homeowner.

25 The Martian (US 25 Nov, UK 27 Nov)
Thanks to Alien and Bladerunner I will always give a chance to a Ridley Scott sci-fi. Despite the existence of Prometheus. In this one, Matt Damon is stranded on Mars. That guy just loves being stranded on planets.

24 Black Mass (18 Sept)
Johnny Depp plays fat bald mafia don Whitey Bulger. Hopefully this is more Donnie Brasco than Public Enemies. The only question will be: is Depp miscast in a role that will probably require a more method approach than his usual pantomime schtick? If not, Benedict Cumberbatch will be on hand to pick up the acting slack.

23 Top Five (already out in the US, UK 30 March)
Chris Rock is a guy who keeps threatening to be an interesting filmmaker, if he can only be prised away from Adam Sandler. Top Five is a Woody-Allenesque roam around New York City, with Rosario Dawson as his sparring partner.

22 It Follows (US TBC, UK 27 Feb)
A great, smart, schlocky, urban-legend style horror. A teen realises she has contracted a sexually-transmitted haunting. Now something is coming for her, and wherever she goes… it follows.

21 Ubik (released: Never)
Michael Gondry was all set to direct this adaptation of my favourite reality-bending Philip K Dick novel. In the original story, protagonist Glen Runciter is dead. Or psychic. Or everyone else is. Or both. Everywhere he goes there are adverts for Ubik, the mysterious product of indeterminate utility… and someone wants to kill him (again). Sadly, Gondry recently abandoned this movie. It’s not coming. It’s on this list to represent all the movies that could have been… but never were.

20 Blackhat (US 16 Jan, UK 20 Feb)
Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) directs Chris Hemsworth in what now seems to be a very topical thriller. A cyber war against Chinese hacker cells starts to heat up. Go get those Chinese hackers, Chris… unless it’s a frame job. Then you’ll just have made things worse.

19 A Most Violent Year (US already out, UK 23 Jan)
Already out in the US, this slow burn thriller set in early-80s New York features Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

18 The Revenant (US 25 Dec, UK 15 Jan 2016)
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, fresh from Birdman, directs Leonardo DiCaprio as a man who was left for dead by his gang. But if Point Blank taught us anything, it’s that you never leave a man “for dead”.

17 Silence (TBC)
Martin Scorsese’s new film is the tale of two priests persecuted for attempting to spread Christianity in 17th century Japan. A return to religious themes for Scorsese after The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. A previous 1971 adaptation of the source novel has been described by The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin as “Apocalypse Now with Samurai”.

16 A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (already out in the US, UK TBC)
The greatest monochrome Persian vampire western of all time. A girl walks home through Bad City (located somewhere between LA and Tehran). She’s alone, but there’s a reason for that.

15 Ant-Man (17 July)
Can small-time criminal Paul Rudd turn things around and be “the hero his daughter already thinks he is”? Surely YES, once Michael Douglas teaches him to shrink down really small and use his mind to control ants. Biff bam pow… ants.

14 The Ferryman (TBC)
It’s been a while since a truly great Wong Kar Wai movie – maybe since In The Mood for Love. Even when they don’t work they are gorgeous confections, but here’s hoping he delivers something more than that this time around. The simple storyline – a young woman falls in love with a painter with an unfaithful wife – is promising. Could this be a return to his strengths?

13 American Honey (TBC)
The first American movie from director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights). Arnold is one of the great directors of non-verbal cinema, shooting films of incredible rawness. This is apparently a road movie centring on “a runaway teenager selling magazine subscriptions around the U.S., who gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard-partying, law-bending and young love.”

12 Mad Max: Fury Road (15 May)
Original series director George Miller returns with Tom Hardy taking on the title role. Fury Road is so high up this list on the basis of its gloriously amped-up trailer.

11 Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (18 Dec)
Some sort of spaceships kind of deal.

10 A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (US TBC, UK 24 April)
Roy Andersson (Songs From The Second Floor) returns. This guy’s movies are all like a terminally depressed Swedish version of Monty Python’sThe Meaning of Life. In one scene in Pigeon, Sweden’s 18th century King Charles XII is heading to the famously catastrophic battle of Poltava when he decides he feels thirsty – a situation he remedies by locating a completely modern bar, and kicking out the increasingly perplexed customers. To be clear… this is either up your street or it isn’t.

9 The Lobster (March)
We hoped for this in 2014, so please see our fuller description elsewhere, but: this is about people who are arrested and forced to assemble in a hotel and pair off romantically. If they fail, after 45 days they are transmogrified into animals and released into the forest. I think we can all relate.

8 Mission Impossible 5 (US 25 Dec, UK 26 Dec)
Aside from M:I-2 this series is seriously fun, and to my mind somewhat underrated. The plots have just enough twists to keep them interesting, but serve primarily as a way to string together the best stunt and chase sequences in the business. This is a movie-as-rollercoaster, done right.

7 Spectre (US 6 Nov, UK 23 Oct)
Blofeld. Is. Back. But which member of the cast is playing him/her?

6 Queen of the Desert (TBC)
Werner Herzog, director of so many great movies (including one of my all-time favourites, Fitzcarraldo), has once again got his hands a decent budget by the looks of it. Nicole Kidman plays Gertrude Bell, the real-life British “traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer” also known as the “female Lawrence of Arabia”. Jolly good.

5 The Hateful Eight (13 Nov)
Tarantino’s infamously leaked script has apparently been “rewritten” although to what extent is unclear. Eight (or is it now nine?) strangers in the American west are forced to share a remote cabin in a snowstorm. But everyone has a secret, and most of them have a weapon. As ever, there is a cast to die (horribly) for.

4 Inherent Vice (already out in the US, UK 30 Jan)
PT Anderson (There Will Be Blood) directs the first ever adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. He has, thankfully, chosen the simplest, funniest one. Another great ensemble cast means that this should hopefully be a great addition to that niche genre, “stoner private eye noir” (see also The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski).

3 Flashmob (TBC)
Michael Haneke (Caché, The White Ribbon) directs this movie, about which almost nothing is known beyond the fact that it follows a group of people who have met on the Internet. Shooting was delayed to allow Haneke to cast the exact actress he needed. Will it even be ready in 2015? It’s a mystery.

2 Avengers: The Age of Ultron (US 1 May, UK 24 April)
Some sort of superheroes vs killer robot thing.

1 High Rise (TBC)
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Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers) directs this JG Ballard adaptation about the dream of new-build high-rise living going horribly wrong. In the novel the sense of cold doom is there right from the opening words:

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog…”

The good news is that “he” in that sentence will be leading man Tom Hiddleston. Here’s a quote from Wheatley (via io9.com):

Yeah, well, I mean it’s going to look like the ’70s. It’s going to be very styled in that way. We’re looking at the Ridley Scott adverts of that period. It’s going to be modern in a way that the ’70s looked. In a way that, “I don’t know what the future looks like anymore,” which is quite funny. We’re already in Buck Rogers land now. Aren’t we? We’ve all got phones, it’s not that exciting. But back then they had a real idea of what the future was going to be like, and it was much more stylish.

Tom Hiddleston, holed up on his mid-70s luxury balcony, looking stylish, and eating a dog.

SOLD!

Films of the year, 2014

All of these fall into at least two out of: 1. released in the US in 2014; 2. released in the UK in 2014; 3. I saw them for the first time in 2014…

(Edit: after thinking a bit more about The Interview, I dropped it in favour of the very fun Edge of Tomorrow…)

25-21: The Flawed Gems

25 Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise only makes two good kinds of movie these days: ones where he plays a slimeball, and ones that have the words “Mission Impossible” in the title. “Edge of Tomorrow” (now sort-of-retitled “Live. Die. Repeat.” for VOD) looks like a bit of hokey sci-fi, and it is, but it’s also a great Tom Cruise slimeball pic. He plays a cowardly soldier exposed to the reality-warping effects of having an alien explode all over his face. He’s then forced to relive the same beach invasion over and over until he finds a way to not die during it. The ending is kind of a dud, but in the meantime it’s Groundhog Day meets a sort of demented Tom Cruise snuff film. If you enjoy watching the smile get wiped off his face, congratulations – this is the movie for you. It happens dozens of times.

24 Noah
There’s never been a Biblical film quite like this before, and it’s very much a movie of two halves. In the first part, Russell Crowe builds his ark with help from giant rock monster fallen angels, then then defends it from Ray Winstone’s warrior tribe in a massive fantasy battle just as the deluge hits. That part’s pretty good. In the second half, Russell Crowe is sailing along with Emma Watson and threatening to kill her unborn children if they turn out to be girls. That half is less good, even once you factor in the secret twist – down in the bowels of the ark, Ray Winstone is slowly eating all the animals.

23 Maps To The Stars
Cronenberg’s acid satire of Hollywood families has the pH dialled right down to 1. Ultimately the storytelling doesn’t quite flow right, but in the meantime Juliane Moore is phenomenal.

22 Interstellar
Some great sequences. Beautiful effects. Workmanlike acting. Terrible plot.

21 The Babadook
Effective domestic chiller with a stressed-out mother, repressed emotions, and a child who can “see” something crawling from the depths of their subconsciouses via a mysterious children’s book. But lord oh lord is the child annoying. I started to identify very strongly with the mum.

20-11: Very good

20 The Guest
First it’s a mystery, then its a thriller, then it’s an action movie, then a horror. In something like Gone Girl that could be unsatisfying, but in a schlocky movie like The Guest, it works. An ex-soldier (or is he?) comes to offer comfort to a family who lost their own son in the war. They were comrades (or were they?). A nice throwback to late-80s straight-to-VHS fare, in the best possible way (or is it? Yes, it is).

19 Foxcatcher
Prestige cinema, and great acting, but it’s the same darn tone throughout. Wintery and bleak. Easy to admire but hard to love.

18 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Some people found this too talky, but there’s airstrikes, commando raids, someone is brainwashed to kill, and a hospital explodes. Plus, as ever, Jennifer Lawrence sells the hell out of it.

17 Snowpiercer
Fun, stupider-than-it-thinks action-packed Marxist fable. Amazing sets, and some lovely surreal moments.

16 Nymphomaniac
Lars Von Trier hasn’t failed me yet. Deadpan ridiculousness.

15 The Lego Movie
The best realisation of Batman for decades, and an ending that made a little bit of dust land in my eye. Dust!

14 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Features Toby Jones trapped inside a 1970s computer. Job done.

13 The Raid 2: Berendal
If you wanted highly choreographed violence, this is the movie for you. Blazing lay intense action that puts its foot on the pedal and never lets up, until it slams into the credits.

12 22 Jump Street
No apologies – there are a lot of apparently dumb comedies around these days, but this was the funniest, smartest stupid movie of the year.

11 Gone Girl
Almost every part of Gone Girl is great, as are all the performances. But as a whole it seems uncertain about what kind of movie it wants to be – mystery, thriller, high-camp melodrama – and as a result it never quite gels. That said, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike both give career best performances, and it’s the only Tyler Perry movie worth watching.

10-1: Excellent!

10 Whiplash
Does Miles Teller have what it takes to be one of the trio great jazz drummers? JK Simmons thinks… maybe, but probably not. As the need to prove himself slides into dangerous obsession, Whiplash delivers the most intense final half-hour of the year.

9 Nightcrawler
Lean, keen, pop-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal will do anything for success in the tightly competitive world of chasing down crime scenes and selling the gore-strewn footage, in this searing tale of obsession and manipulation. Rene Russo guards the gateway to a total moral void. But how far is Jake willing to go? (Spoiler: right off the edge).

8 Guardians of the Galaxy
Probably the best Marvel movie to date, albeit with their traditional problem of a bland villain. Chris Pratt’s dancing is a particular highlight.

7 Frank
Michael Fassbender rocks a paper mâché head, in a bittersweet tour of creativity and madness.

6 We Are The Best
Swedish punk teen girls in the (other) great coming-of-age movie of the year. Not nearly enough people went to see this, but it really was lovely.

5 Only Lovers Left Alive
Deadpan vampire poets in one of Jim Jarmusch’s greatest films. The ruins of Detroit prefigure the coming end of human civilisation. But in the meantime, Tilda Swinton is a Stax girl.

4 Boyhood
There’s nothing else quite like Boyhood, the anti-coming-of-age-film coming-of-age-film. As much about being a parent as it is about growing up; Patricia Arquette gives the performance of the year.

3 Birdman
This had all the bells and all the whistles. Working within self-imposed limits – almost the entire film has the appearance of a single take, despite taking place over several days – Iñárritu delivers a spinning catherine wheel of a movie, supported by a fantastical cast with Keaton, Norton and Stone the highlights.

2 Under The Skin
Jonathan Glazer defamiliarises Earth and its civilisations, watching Glasgow through the eyes of Scarlett Johanssen – and watching Scarlett Johanssen through the eyes of Glasgow. From the shopping centres to the slip roads to the nightclubs to the sub zero beaches and wintery forests she moves; an absence behind a human mask. This movie contained both the most haunting moment and biggest shock of the year. Unforgettable.

1 The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s grand return to form, this had as much heart and depth as Boyhood, but through some kind of alchemy achieved it via stylised comedy rather than earthy drama – a far harder trick to pull off. Just as one indicator of how much of a return to form this was, it featured – like The Darjeeling Limited – a dead child. But whereas in that film it was a cheap plot device, here it’s the hidden heart of the the whole thing, lost in a throwaway remark in the folds of the history.

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London Film Festival 2014

Another October, another LFF. I was at a wonderful wedding in Philadelphia for the first half of this one, which meant I had to leave ’71, It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and Leviathan for another time. And I decided to forgo Whiplash for the Surprise Film. But, for what it’s worth, here is my roundup of what I did manage to catch.

4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
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This was essentially “The Seven Stages of Grief – The Movie”.

Originally this was going to be a film about a guy whose wife disappears after a tragedy [spoilers available upon request], and his attempts to find her/win her back. Then Jessica Chastain talked writer/director Ned Benson into turning it into two movies, back to back: “TDOER: Him” and “TDOER: Her”, each following one half of the couple. That’s what they shot, but a double-length whammy of grief is a tough sell. So outside of the art circuit, they’re releasing “TDOER: Them”, an edited-together single movie cutting between their perspectives – and that’s the version we saw.

If you think “hey, if they ‘found’ this version in the editing room, I bet it’s a bit of a mess”, you’d be right. There’s no real storytelling structure here, it just cuts back and forth between James McAvoy being torn apart by frustration and Jessica Chastain being torn apart by grief, for what feels like three hours. Sometimes it’s very affecting, but more often it feels like someone playing a Coldplay song into your face VERY LOUDLY.

Too often it doesn’t amount to much more than “look at these people being sad”. But it’s nicely shot on New York locations, and the amazing cast (including Bill Hader, William Hurt, Viola Davis, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert) is consistently excellent. In particular, the movie just soared right up whenever McAvoy was chewing the fat with best friend Hader, or Chastain was mulling the meaning of life with her university lecturer Davies. These was some actual playfulness and energy in those scenes that were eagerly devoured by the audience.

Sadly, strong female roles for actresses to really sink their teeth into are as rare as ever. So if you need your fix of that, this movie delivers. On that basis, it might be worth a recommend. I just wish it was less of a depiction, and more of a story.

Grade: C-

3. White Bird In A Blizzard

Shailene Woodley narrates the story of her mother (Eva Green), her decent into apparent madness, and the day she disappeared. This movie marries a Lynchian sense of “darkness behind the curtains”, Eva Green giving it her best crazyeyes Eva Green acting technique, and the Gregg Araki “hip teenagers ponder the dark ennui of life” school of late-night dialogue.
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For all these reasons, I loved White Bird In A Blizzard – right up until the ending. In the last five minutes, it completely falls apart as a genre film. We’ve loved the satire on suburban life. We’ve loved the seduction scenes and the dry, arch dialogue. But this is a mystery movie, and we demand a satisfying resolution to the mystery! Instead Araki ties it off with what amounts to little more than a montage and a quick voiceover. It’s like the end of Unbreakable, only ten times more annoying.

This could have been great, but, alas… fans of Woodley, Araki or Green will enjoy the ride but maybe not so much the destination.

Grade: C+ Available on VOD now.

2. Foxcatcher

Easy to admire. Hard to love. Not-too-smart gold medalist wrestler Channing Tatum gets an offer from ultra-rich eccentric (in real life a diagnosed schizophrenic) John DuPont to set up a wrestling team at his Foxcatcher farm, then draws his smarter brother into the circle too. A dark, bleak satire on The American Dream, and what if means to have “meaning” in your life – or to try and add it where it’s missing. Foxcatcher is very good, but I doubt I’ll ever really want to watch it a second time.
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Mark Ruffalo as the elder brother is phenomonal. Steve Carrell as DuPont is mesmerising, but you never quite tune out the nose.

Grade: B+

1. Surprise Movie: Birdman

THIS MOVIE WAS GREAT.
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The trailers play up the Birdman/Batman angle, and even cram in a whole bunch of effects shots from towards the very end of the movie. So, ignore/avoid the trailers. This is mostly NOT that movie, and it’s a shame to have that late-blooming element spoiled.

Instead, Birdman is mostly an acidic, flip satire of backstage shenanigans in the run-up to a play’s opening night. It shifts wonderfully back and forth between actorly shade-throwing, knockabout action, narcissistic acting-out, delirious melodrama and hallucinatory fantasia.

The disguised edit technique (see Gravity, Children of Men, The Secret In Their Eyes) is used here to represent almost the entire movie as one unbroken shot. In other movies that’s used to ramp up tension. Here it’s used to give events a woozy, up-all-night vibe – more than once the action progresses a day or two in the space of a few seconds as the camera moves down a corridor and into a room, taking us from a rehearsal into a backstage argument into the next day’s formal preview, all without an apparent break. By the time reality seeps away, the audience is ready.

Micheal Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, and Andrea Riseborough are all great. Norton especially.

Grade: A

Best Performances based on these four movies:

Lead Actor: Michael Keaton. Basically a defining Keatonesque performance. Not a 180 turnaround from previous roles (like Steve Carell in Foxcatcher), but more of a distillation of his essence. This might be the movie by which he is remembered. Or the *other* movie by which he is remembered, anyway.

Lead Actress: Jessica Chastain. It’s a great performance, and so much better than the script deserves.

Supporting Actor: Edward Norton or Mark Ruffalo. I suspect people will go for Ruffalo (who is GREAT in Foxcatcher), but Norton is just as good. But it’s a comedy role, and they just don’t get the recognition.

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis. She’s just such a pro. Lifts the entire film. Which does need lifting.

TL;DR: go see Birdman. Out in the UK in Jan, in NY and LA now.