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20 to see in 2015

As usual, I’ve still yet to see some of my picks from last year (A Most Wanted Man, Maps to the Stars, Inherent Vice, Big Eyes) while yet others were held over and crop up below, or beneath below  (Jupiter Ascending, Knight of Cups, Mortdecai, Our Kind of Traitor). Then there were 2014's big fizzlers (Transcendence, The Monuments Men). I expect there'll be a couple of stinkers in the following countdown.  Nevertheless, these are the movies I’m most excited to see, most intrigued by, or just plain curious to discover whether an unmitigated car crash may have occurred.


20. Mortdecai
(23 January)

A maybe last year, I’ll admit that, as much as I rate David Koepp as a director and Johnny Depp doing silly voices (yes, I’m his remaining fan), the trailers haven’t sold me on this slapstick farce concerning art dealer Charlie Mortdecai. The Kyril Bonfiglioli novels aren’t nearly as good as the PG Wodehouse comparisons suggest, so it may be just as well that they’re merely a jumping off point.


19. Child 44
(17 April)

Anything featuring Tom Hardy is de facto worth seeking out, even if he ends up being the only good thing there. This thriller, adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 novel by Richard Price (Sea of Love, Clockers, Ransom) is based on the case of the Rostov Ripper, who committed 52 murders in part thanks to a Soviet system unwilling to admit one in their midst had a propensity for such crimes. This case previously formed the basis for HBO’s Citizen X with Donald Sutherland.

As with most films today, Ridley Scott was attached at one point, but it was passed to Daniel Espinosa, director of the serviceable Safe House. Providing more than substantial support are Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Charles Dance, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine and Tara Fitzgerald.


18. Black Mass
(18 September US)

There is reasonable cause to be dubious about this on-again-off-again biopic of Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger. The long-since tepid Barry Levinson was attached for a time, vacating the picture in favour of Scott Cooper, who did a complete rewrite. Cooper is big on atmosphere, but both his previous pictures (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) had their content issues.

Depp wrangled over his fee, before presumably getting what he wanted. The last time he went gangster (Public Enemies) the box office and reviews weren’t so stellar (but then, there’s Donnie Brasco), and there’s a general feeling that if he’s going natural no one much wants to see him. It remains to be seen if his bald pate here is closer to his fake nose in Blow or the chrome dome triumph of Fear and Loathing.

The greater spotted Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey’s senator brother, and there is no doubting the cast is filled out commendably; Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll (hopefully naturally bald), Kevin Bacon, Julianne Nicholson, Joel Edgerton and Jesse Plemons.


17. Mission: Impossible 5
(26 December UK/25 December US)

Can 5 top Ghost Protocol? I’ve had a good time with this series, the sophomore outing aside, and Christopher McQuarrie proved himself as a clean, precise action director with Jack Reacher. I’m still a bit cautious about his aptitude for the scale involved here, however, and I’m expecting reliability rather than necessarily great things.

Drew Pearce (Iron Man Three) is credited with the screenplay but I’d be surprised if McQuarrie didn’t perform a polish and see to onset revisions.  Sean Harris can be relied upon to bring the uber-nasty, even if he’s a bit of an obvious choice (his bank manager and agent will be ever-so grateful). Most of the rest are returnees; Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner (dreams of leading man-dom forever tarnished), Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames (well, that’s good at least; there can never be enough Ving Rhames). With an additional sprinkling of Alec Baldwin. A shame there’s still no Maggie Q back.


16. Blood Father

Has Mel been out in the wilderness for long enough? Has he served his time? Can he ever serve his time? He’s on familiar ground in this crime flick (an ex-con saving his daughter from some fiendish drug dealers), and working with Jean-Francois Richet (Mesrine, the so-so Assault on Precinct 13 remake). Mel's beard alone makes Blood Father worth a look, if his mere fact of getting work doesn’t offend your sensibilities.


15. The Sea of Trees

It’s hard to forsee if this will just sort of sit there pontificating earnestly, without reaching any level of profundity, or cross over and fulfil the promise of its premise. Gus Van Sant hasn’t exactly set the world on fire lately, with worthy but unremarkable Milk and most recently the unremarkable but worthy Promised Land. Matthew McConaughey, so hot right now, journeys to Mount Fuji’s “Suicide Forest” (so known for obvious reasons) with the intention of offing himself. There, he meets Ken Watanbe, present for the self same purpose (topping himself, not McConaughey) and the two men set forth on a process of self-discovery. Naomi Watts also stars.


14. High-Rise
(Autumn 2015)

I haven’t been quite as sold on Ben Wheatley’s work thus far as everybody else, it seems, but there’s no denying he has vision aplenty (not enough to overcome terrible scripts during his Doctor Who stint, unfortunately).

Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons star in this adaption of JG Ballard’s novel of societal breakdown amid the titular edifice. Nicolas Roeg was going to direct it at one point during the 1970s (someone should interview him about his great maybes, including Flash Gordon), and more recently Vincenzo Natali attempted to get it off the ground.


13. Knight of Cups

Terrence Malick invokes the tarot with his title, and dives into the waters of Christian Bale awakening from a bout of Hollywood hedonism. The trailer hasn’t been especially illuminating, other that showing Christian partying it up and standing on a beach, but that’s par for the course with Malick. This was 17th in last year’s list, but didn’t materialise. I’m still optimistic it will be more rewarding than To the Wonder. If you were led to wonder, the post title comes from this movie.


12. The Hateful Eight
(13 November US)

Quentin Tarantino assembles a bunch of indescribable bastards as he scratches his latest western itch. I’ve liked all Tarantino’s movies, Death Proof aside, but I’m no acolyte. For me, none of his pictures have subsequently attained the classic status of Pulp Fiction. Still, I enjoyed the historical cheekiness of Inglourious Basterds, although Django Unchained suffered from its creator’s self-indulgence (too long, making it’s lead character less interesting than the support).


11. Kingsman: The Secret Service
(25 January UK/13 February US)

Matthew Vaughn’s take on British spy craft, with a hat tipped in particular to Bond and The Avengers (Patrick Macnee, that is). So Colin Firth is a new version of a very English spy, the upper crust kick-ass mentoring a young chav (Taron Egerton) in a bone-crunching riff on Pygmalion. Reportedly it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Mark Miller’s comic book, which is probably a good thing. Whether this was worth dropping Days of Future Past for remains to be seen (First Class is easily the best X- movie), but there is no argument that the title stinks.


10. Blackhat
(20 February UK/16 January US)

Michael Mann’s movie doesn’t have a great deal of buzz (strange that Universal hasn’t sought to capitalise on Sony’s misfortune), cyber-crime being the theme of the moment. The trailer makes much of its dangers. It could lead to the next Pearl Harbour! The next nuclear meltdown! And yet, it’s all just a game to the bad guy. These movie villains.

This is Mann’s first film in six years, and it’s a decade since he last had a film out that was generally well regarded. I’m partial to Mann (even the Miami Vice movie), but the trailer hasn’t been especially convincing (maximum clichés) and the film appears to have been abandoned in a mid-January slot. The worry might be; this is an old guy trying to write the current world of computers (the former title Cyber certainly had a mid-‘90s cheese factor), drafting in an unsuitable star (Chris Hemsworth as a computer genius?) but countering that is a director who pays meticulous attention to detail.


9. A Hologram for the King
(November)

Tom Tykwer is an always-interesting director. His English language pictures (The International, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Cloud Atlas) have been arresting and different, even if financial success has eluded them. Tom Hanks is the lead here, but I’m as doubt this adaptation of Dave Eggers’ satire will reach a broader audience (shades of Charlie Wilson’s War?) Hanks plays a broke businessman attempting to sell an IT contract to a member of Saudi Arabian royal family.


8. The Martian
(27 November UK/25 November US)

Ridley does hard science (so poles apart from Chariots of the Prometheans, then), stranding poor Matt Damon on Mars (Matt’s the title character, which may mislead and cause indignation from those expecting aliens). Scott is all over the map, mainly because his scripts tend to be all over the map. Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods) penned the adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel, which is promising at least. If nothing else, science fiction brings out the best in Scott as a visual stylist.


7. The Revenant
(16 January 2016 UK/25 December US)

DiCaprio in a western revenge flick directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, with Tom Hardy as an antagonist. This is another one that has seen a number of personnel changes in its path to production (John Hillcoat with Christian Bale, Park Chan-wook with Sam Jackson). Hugh Glass, the real life trapper and frontiersman Di Caprio portrays, has also been played by Richard Harris (on one of those occasions during the 1970s when he wasn’t being a horse). DiCaprio’s been making very strong choices of late, and has crucially grown into the adult roles he struggled with for a while (the failures of J. Edgar can’t be laid at his door). If there’s a something to be wary of, it’s the director’s tendency to self-important conflation.


6. Silence

Martin Scorsese’s long-in-development adaption of Shusaku Endo’s novel Chinmoku. There was even a lawsuit over the delays in bringing it before cameras. Previously adapted in 1971, the plot concerns two Jesuit priests seeking out their mentor in seventeenth century Japan, where Christians are undergoing persecution. An examination of faith and suffering (Neeson’s character has committed apostasy, and similar doubts face his protégés), Silence promises to be as personal and compelling as Scorsese’s other pictures influenced by his spiritual quest and questioning (Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun).

The chances are it won’t be hugely commercial, but it is likely to provoke many column inches in discussion of its themes. Originally (back in 2009) to have starred Daniel Day Lewis and Benicio Del Toro, Silence now features Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.


5. Tomorrowland
(22 May)

Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof team for a utopian (or is it?) sci-fi puzzle based on the Disney theme park ride. In which a teenage girl escapes a society in a state of upheaval and arrives in the shiny world of the title, where anything is possible. Plenty of interest in just what this is all about has been sparked (not least the rather desperate attempts to paint the movie as an objectivist tract). It looks like Lindelof through and through, however; a quasi-mystical/mythological approach to science, the teasing of historical artefacts (a big thing in Lost, here we had the “1952 box”) and no doubt some “BIG” questions will be asked regarding what it’s all about, anyway.

George Clooney provides the star power, although Britt Robertson is the young lead. Bird is coming off the back of the success of Ghost Protocol (he spurned Star Wars for this), and shares the screenplay credit with Lindelof (so the latter can’t take all the blame if this misfires). Bird also performed script duties on The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Lindelof’s big screen work hasn’t been its best when in tandem with Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (Star Trek into Darkness, Cowboys and Aliens) or when scribbling at the behest of others (Prometheus) so maybe with this he’ll claw back some respect? Probably not, as his naysayers will credit Bird if Tomorrowland works.

As for Tomorrowland’s status as original science fiction, we can but hope it is closer in quality to Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat/All You Need is Kill) than the likes of Elysium and Pacific Rim.


4. St James’s Place 
(untitled Spielberg Cold War thriller)
(9 October UK/16 October US)

Not likely to be the final title; it isn’t very dramatic, and that apostrophe is likely to cause no end of headaches. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident, hopefully the ‘berg will be balancing authenticity with the need to include the requisite Cold War suspense and thrills. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the old Spielberg magic, unimpaired by self-importance and presumed respectability. Maybe he hasn’t got it any more, but his Tintin movie proved he could make a fun movie (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was apparently intent on convincing otherwise). 

Hanks is the lawyer (James B Donovan) asked by the CIA to help out securing the release of their pilot, whose plane has been downed over Soviet airspace. With a script spruced up the Coen Brothers (they’ve been doing a bit of high profile doctoring lately) this ought to be a very classy affair. It’s certainly the most intriguing Spielberg project in a decade. I'm rarely have much anticipation for anything he announces, but this is an exception.  


3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
(24 April UK/1 May US)

There are no strings on me. Just Spader’s voicing of Ultron in the trailer was sufficient testament that this is going to live up to the original. The mass destruction is a given, but my favourite edit in there is the ballet pose intercut with the crunchy musical action beats. Joss Whedon successfully pulled together the strings of the Marvel franchises with the first Avengers outing, and he looks to be having more fun here. If anyone can handle more main characters than any self-respecting 2 hour-ish movie should have, it’s Whedon.


I don’t count myself as a Marvel fanboy, and my knowledge of the intricacies of characters and the various iterations thereof is peripheral at best. As such, I’m not going to get too excited when I hear such-and-such is going to be the big bad, or that a particular story leads to a main character’s death (as with one of the upcoming pictures). But this kind of thing does ring bells; much of it is the same kind of juggling Whedon was engaging with on his TV series.


The area the Marvel movies have struggled with, not uncommonly to most blockbusters, is the third act. These tend to devolve into pixelated spectacle shorn of investment (both Iron Man Three and Avengers avoided this to an extent). Guardians of the Galaxy, despite its acclaim as completely fresh, was just the latest of these (even given the Groot-ing), so I’m doubtful about the advocates of Gunn or the Russo Brothers coming on board for Avengers 3, I & II. There’s a formula to be applied, and very few can succeed at it without the joins showing. I can quite see why Whedon would want to bail; he has other ideas cooking that actually come from his own noggin rather than remixing those of others, but I suspect the Marvel universe won’t truly value him until he’s gone.


2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
(18 December)

The Star Wars teaser trailer didn’t have quite the same “wow” factor as the number one on my list, but then, it’s a very different beast; merely a flavour, a few glimpses of iconic forms and themes. Reportedly it was a struggle to get JJ to even surrender that much. It did an important job, however, as it sold the return to a physical galaxy far, far away, albeit one with extravagant lens flares.


While I’m dubious that JJ Abrams can imbue The Force Awakens with an elusive sense of substance, the deceptively difficult balance between sincerity and sheer mythical portentousness that permeates the original trilogy, much of that would require putting the genie back in the bottle. If that is the case, his Mystery Box approach may be the next best thing. If you can manufacture a facsimile of the originals’ appeal, audiences might not realise the essence is absent until afterwards. Presumably he also has Kasdan there to reassure him that what he’s doing is what Star Wars is really all about. If this ends up rather fanfic-looking, that may be an inevitable consequence of the copious fanfic (and formerly-canon fic) of the past three decades.


The danger is, all we get is a continuing Sith-ness and young rebel stand-ins (the next gen) without anywhere new or interesting to go. The Empire has to be resculpted, and a new rogue, hero, princess etc. earmarked. Lucas may have messed up the prequels, and committed a cardinal error by having them informed by the originals’ characters at every turn, but in terms of plot he did at least have something distinctive and defined. The real challenge for Abrams and his successors is not getting the audience to bite, it’s coming up with a different story.


1. Mad Max: Fury Road
(15 May)

George Miller’s return to the genre that made his name, after dabbling in family movies to variable effect, most certainly gave us the trailer of 2014. Will Fury Road also be the movie of 2015? Advance word is positive, and, by handing Tom Hardy the mantle of Max from the disgraced (and a bit too old, by Miller’s reckoning) Mel, he’s given the actor the role that could make him a bona fide star.


Yes, this is cleaner, more stylised and much flashier, but it also looks like the natural sequel to Mad Max 2, the one we’ll have waited nearly thirty five years fro. And there may be CGI involved (the sandstorm, obviously), but we’re promised fully physical stunts. Accompanying the emphasis on spectacle is a pared down, energised, kinetic narrative; Fury Road is one long chase, with minimal dialogue. And the existential crisis (crises?) is there announcing itself too (everybody, not just Max, is out of their mind).


After the false dawns (a Mel version in the early part of the century went south) and the sense that Max unfairly faded away with Thunderdome, rather than going out in a blaze of glory, I doubt that anyone much expected this to happen. That it has, and has overcome doubts over a Mel-less Max (tantamount to someone else playing Han Solo, Indiana Jones or The Man with No Name), makes Fury Road even more impressive. So many weak continuations or reboots of ‘70s/’80s franchises have occurred since that generation grew up, any anticipation is understandably plagued by doubts. If this lives up to the footage, Miller will have an instant classic on his hands, In which case, let’s hope he gets to make his sequel(s).



Nine more to note:

29. Jupiter Ascending
(6 February)

Ever since first glimpse of dogboy Channing Tatum, I’ve been expecting this latest from the Wachowskis to be lousy. I think everyone is, but I still have to witness it for myself.

28. Triple Nine
(11 September)

John Hillcoat heist movie with an interesting cast (Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Chiwetek Ejiofor, and Aaron Paul desperately clinging to some kind of Breaking Bad afterlife), but as yet he hasn’t quite made good on the promise of The Proposition.

27. Carol

Todd Haynes adapts ‘50s-set Patricia Highsmith, with Cate Blanchett. Seems like a perfect fit for the director, whose Far from Heaven might be his best film.

26. Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman co-directs the latest mentalisms of his mind with Duke Johnson. Jennifer Jason Leigh may be back in the spotlight this year with this and The Hateful Eight. May arrive in 2016.

25. Our Kind of Traitor

One from last year’s list, a John Le Carré adaptation with Ewan McGregor and concerning the defection of a Russian oligarch.

24. Bone Tomahawk

Kurt Russell in his second western of the year, as a sheriff rescuing good Christian folk from cannibals. Yes, it could be crap, but I have a yen to see Kurt Russell battle cannibals. And the title is great.

23. Selfless
(31 July)

I always find myself wowed by Tarsem Singh’s visuals but wishing he could better marry his narratives to them. This finds a dying billionaire transferring his consciousness to a younger man’s body, but then being given pause by the memories of former inhabitant. Like The Hand, then, but with box office draw Ryan Reynolds. Also worth investigating for offbeat Reynolds movies no one will see; The Voices.

22. Life
(25 September UK)

The latest from photographer turned filmmaker Anton Corbijn’s, a based-on-fact piece about a photographer (Dennis Stock, played by Robert Pattison) who photographed a filmmaker (well, film actor; James Dean played by Dane De Haan).

21. Money Monster

These sounds right up the respective streets of bleeding heart liberals George Clooney and Jodie Foster. Clooney is TV show tipster held hostage on air by a man who loses everything on a bad tip, demanding Clooney gets the stock up beyond a certain point, and ratings for the show surge accordingly.

There’s potential for a Network-esque satire, although whether it can be as canny and disturbing as last year’s Nightcrawler is debatable. Clooney has had some success in this field but one always feels he’s too damn charming to be out-and-out savage, and Foster’s directorial career has been patchy, although I liked The Beaver. (This hasn’t started filming yet, so its appearance is not a dead cert).


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