20 to See in 2016
My 2015 picks included, as usual, several that fell by that year’s wayside or simply weren't ready. Or which arrived at festivals but not for the general public. As such, I haven’t re-included Our Kind of Traitor, Triple Nine, The Sea of Trees, High Rise, Knight of Cups (or added that prospective Seattle music scene Terrence Malick picture; one can only anticipate for so long without any sign of life), Money Monster and Blood Father (I won't over-egg Mad Mel’s comeback trail, and his directorial effort is fairly certain to be more interesting).
Of 2015 releases proper, I’ve yet to see Carol, Anamolisa, Bone Tomahawk, Life, Selfless, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. The rest of the bunch were the expected mixed bag; Jupiter Ascending and Child 44 proved fairly atrocious, Blackhat was even worse, and Tomorrowland was an idea stuck for a viable narrative. Mortdecai was generally savaged as one of the worst of the year, but I had a reasonably good time with it. Others, Black Mass, Agew of Ultron, Bridge of Spies, The Martian and The Force Awakens were merely good rather than great. But at least a few were surprising in some shape or form; Kingsman, uneven but invigorating, MI:5 proved its director could handle high-stakes blockbusters, and Fury Road exceeded even my high expectations, some feat in an age of resounding over-hype.
As usual there’s a strong director-led flavour to the picks, and choices 11, 12, 13 and 16 in particular could well prove to be wild shots in the dark. There are also four rather obvious picks of superhero fare, but in one form or another they should all at least be interesting – or discussion-worthy, for better or worse – examples of the current reigning, and dictating, Hollywood genre.
20. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
It’s difficult to gauge just what is expected of WB/DC’s attempt to make a play for the superhero legendary line-up market in one foul swoop. Much of the response to this seems to be borderline, if not full-on, ridicule, from that title to a trailer that has already announced the “vs” ain't going to last long and Bats and Supes will be up against a BIG CGI monster villain (exciting, eh?) Zack Snyder is undoubtedly a talent, but an eye for a story he hasn't got (see Sucker Punch), and the generally doom-laden, fun-free visuals suggest an entire team of people who don't recognise the fine line between over-seriousness and unintentional self-mockery. The only person here who looks like he has a grip on the proceedings is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther. As a set up for Justice League, and any number of subsequent solo outings, this has a lot of heavy lifting to do and it’s sure to have at least a smattering of strong set pieces, but I rather doubt it’s going to cement the DC comic book kingdom on the big screen, which in a world where Man of Steel was seen as a disappointment, could seriously louse up WB’s big plans. (25 March)
19. Nine Lives
It’s a long time since Barry Levinson has put his name to anything good. Okay, MIB3 was decent enough, but he’s mostly restricted himself to TV work in the last decade, perhaps wary of an increasingly indifferent touch on the big screen. The premise of this one is a great high concept, as an uptight businessman finds himself trapped in the body of the family cat, and presumably it had enough in the script to get Kevin Spacey to sign on. Christopher Walken shows up too, as a mystical pet shop owner. On the trepidation side, none of the writers have much to shout about on their resumes, and the ones who do include Four Christmases on their resumés. (27 May US, 27 April UK)
18. Captain America: Civil War
The Marvel juggernaut chunders on, but will it continue to reach new heights or will Age of Ultron be seen retrospectively as the moment the tide began to turn, when the tight ship run by Kevin Feige began to wear the stifling of creativity on its sleeve? Hopefully not, but, while I appreciated the scripting for the most part, I wasn't quite as won over by the directial chops of the Russo brothers on The Winter Soldier as many, and I’m nervous of their abilities when it comes to going ever bigger (as they will be, with the forthcoming Infinity Wars).
The premise of Civil War is a no-brainer, with Tony Stark and Cap butting heads, but key aspects of the execution raise question marks. Like, eight people in silly costumes running at each other across a car park doesn't really scream “epic”. At very least, it will be fun to see the likes of Ant-Man and Vision integrated with the Avengers line-up. Oh, and Spidey, whatever they have in store for him (let's hope it’s a bit more than a Luke Skywalker style tease). (US: 6 May, UK: 29 April)
17. Star Trek Beyond
I had higher hopes for Star Trek Beyond before the first trailer broke. Not that I didn't like the 2009 reboot (I did) or Star Trek Into Darkness (I did-ish, despite some horrendously ill-judged fan service that merely inflamed tempers); Simon Pegg and Doug Jung coming board as writers had a certain guarded promise, particular as the former isn't an die hard fan. And Justin Lin, arriving from a completely different genre, also promised a break with the established tone. So why does it all look a bit Insurrection? Rather so-so, with Luther caked in sub-TV prosthetics and a half-arsed attempt to imbue the material with discussions of ethics and principles amid the explosions. Hopefully I’m wrong, and the attempt to wash away the general bad taste of Into Darkness has succeeded rather than self-detonated. Karl Urban’s McCoy, at least, continues to be spot-on. (22 July)
16. A Hologram for the King
This was on last year’s list, where I (mostly) wrote…
Tom Tykwer is an always-interesting director. Well, maybe not so much on Sense8. His English language pictures (The International, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Cloud Atlas) have been intriguing and different, even if box office success has been elusive. Tom Hanks is the lead here, but his star is on the wane, and I’m doubtful 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.
15. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I’m yet to be convinced of the value of the first batch of Star Wars spin-offs, since every idea seems to be entirely devoid of inspiration (now, a Ewan McGregor/Obi-Wan trilogy would make sense, but doesn't seem to be brewing). Indeed, it’s only really the caliber of the filmmaking talent that lends this and the Han Solo movie a modicum of interest.
Gareth Edwards is a talented up-and-comer, but his first Hollywood foray (Godzilla) stumbled because its script and characters were crummy. Can his Jedi-free tale of an attempt to secure the Death Star plans learn from that? The screenplay contributors don't necessarily invite confidence, nor does Andre Desplat (toss a coin on whether his scores are inspired or dirges). But Felicity Jones heads up an eclectic cast, and it will at least be interesting to see if Rogue One can divest itself of the evil spectre of fan service (that word again) and deliver something surprising. (16 December)
14. Finding Dory
Much as this and the also forthcoming The Incredibles 2 are entirely redundant, there’s a sense with both that a quality cash-in is at least preferable to a straight cash-in. So while Monsters University and Cars 2 were awaited by few and venerated by fewer, they lined the Pixar coffers without pause for trivialities like creative acumen. Finding Nemo was the big post-Toy Story success for the studio, a high water mark in terms of quality and box office. If it doesn't seem like there’s much story left to tell (hence the reversal of the title), that shouldn't dim its prospects and, with Andrew Stanton having something to prove following the disaster (albeit not so much in terms of quality) of John Carter, this could well be every bit as enjoyable as the original. (US: 17 June, UK: 29 June)
13. Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson, vilified by Hollywood for saying not very nice stuff. Rather than actually, you know, doing not very nice stuff. Which isn't to defend the not very nice stuff he said, but it is to draw a line between the double standards of a town accustomed to closing ranks and protecting doers of not very nice stuff. Gibson as an actor still has it when he’s drawing on the rage machine (of which Blood Father may well be an under-the-radar gem, even if it’s unlikely to put bums on seats in any great numbers). As a director, his personal trials arrived just as he appeared to be peaking creatively. Apocalypto may not have endeared itself to anyone seeking historical authenticity (see also Braveheart) but it was unanimously recognized as a masterful piece of visceral, adrenalised filmmaking.
His latest, following Leo pulling out of, and so kyboshing, a Viking pic (who believed Leo would make a good Viking anyay? Probably the same people who think he makes a convincing wilderness man) and the disappearing Maccabes movie, boasts a cast including Andrew Garfield (and, er, Vince Vaughn, and, er, Sam Worthingon) and concerns a World War II conscientious objector who received the Medal of Honor for saving 75 of his fellows. So it’s a blend of deep conviction and entrails, which sounds about as pure Mel as you can get. This could well be one of the most interesting of the year (on the other hand, his last war movie We Were Soldiers, from fellow God botherer and frequent collaborator –as here – Randall Wallace, was criticised as a pro-Vietnam Christian paean).
12. A Cure for Wellness
Gore Verbinski’s had a rather unsettled time of it of late, what with BioShock falling through and The Lone Ranger going belly-up (a more interesting movie than the takings and critical response might suggest, though). This supernatural horror features Dan DeHaan, and was written by Justin Haythe (who rewrote The Lone Ranger). More suggestive of The Ring remake than Verbinski’s Depp blockbusters, this is a smaller scale affair in which DeHaan searches for his boss, who has gone missing at a Swiss wellness clinic, and finds himself trapped there. Jason Isaacs brings some menace. (23 September)
11. The Neon Demon
I’m a bit on the fence with Nicolas Winding Refn. His pictures are arresting and visually compelling, but I’m non-comittal about how much is really going on under the hood. The Neon Demon sounds like it could be out of the Lynch scrapbook of arcane plots, as an aspiring model in Hollywood finds herself preyed upon by a gaggle of beauty-obsessed women. The cast features Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks and Keanu.
Given Refn’s rep, The Neon Demon is sure to be a talking point even if it falls into the less accessible category of Only God Forgives (as opposed to the audience-friendly Drive). One thing seems guaranteed with his pictures, though; expect some particularly unseemly violence to figure into the proceedings somewhere. With regard to Keanu, he’ll be quite busy this year, including a cannibal movie with Jim Carrey from Ana Lily Amirpour (The Bad Batch) and a science fiction excursion as a scientist (Keanu as a scientist!) attempting to bring his family back from the dead (Replicas).
10. Suicide Squad
It isn't as if David Ayer has a track record to shout about, so it certainly isn’t him fueling anticipation for Suicide Squad. Rather, despite the prerequisite DC moodiness, it's the sense that he’s actually out there making something a bit different, unrestricted by a mandated style or approach the way Marvel fare is. That’s not to say it will be any good. It could be an End of Watch (so pretty good) or, perhaps more likely given the team dynamic, it could be another Sabotage. But with a cast of less-shining-of-late stars (Will Smith) wackos (Jared Leto), bright young things (Margot Robbie) and who-thes (Jai Courtney, a man with an outstanding agent), Suicide Squad is at least the second most interesting sounding superhero movie of 2016, and more so than the year’s other franchise spin-off (Rogue One). It it’s a mess, it won't be because Ayer didn't have lots of tools to play with (and Jai Courney). (5 August)
Jim Jarmusch directs Emo-Ben Solo Adam Driver as a bus driver and poet in Pateron, New Jersey. I suspect it probably had most interested parties at “Jarmusch”.
8. Doctor Strange
The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular marvel magician and former surgeon, who turns to super heroism after his hands get mangled, might be the least inspired piece of casting of the last decade (if in doubt, offer it to Cumberbatch). And there’s a possibility that, this being Marvel supermodel Kevin Feige’s personal favourite property, it will be proportionately much less distinct than its outré premise promises; he will no doubt be looking over Scott Derrickson’s shoulder, a not untalented director but one with a determinedly middle-of-the-road, populist spook-show approach. An ideal fellow to submit to Feige whispering in his ear, essentially. It will be a pity if this turns out to be more standard-issue Marvel, reluctant to really stretch the envelope of what the audiences might accept, even after Guardians of the Galaxy, rather than taking the properly riskier tack of, say Hulk, and daring viewera to engage with something different. (US: 4 Nov, UK: 28 Oct)
This one has been doing the rounds for a while, with Game of Thrones’ Brian Kirk attached as a director, and Keanu and Reese Witherspoon/Emily Blunt involved. I’m not sure it's current incarnation is one to savor exactly, as it reeks of convenient agent deals at the expense of a really robust creative team. I liked Headhunters, but The Imitation Game was just another mediocre biopic. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are a team fashioned from box office figures rather than, necessarily, chemistry or suitability for the parts. But this still deserves to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, an original science fiction effort, character rather than spectacle-led (well… we’ll see about that), and from a writer (Jon Spaihts, see also Doctor Strange above) who also currently gets the benefit of the doubt (his Prometheus screenplay was rewritten, although those who credit it as superior to the finished product seem to be about 50-50). (US: 21 Dec, UK: 23 Dec)
6. War on Everyone
The return of Jon Michael McDonagh, following The Guard and Cavalry. No sign of Brendan Gleeson this time, as the writer-director transfers to New Mexico in a tale of two crooked cops encountering someone who may or may not be more dangerous than they are. With the new Tarzan Alexander Skaarsgard, Ant-Man’s best bud Michael Pena and, er, Theo James. First responses shouldn't be too far off, since it arrives at the Berlin Film Festival in February, but if past form is any indication this should be funny, twisted and even occasionally a little bit profound.
5. The Bourne legitimacy
It’s difficult to gauge where Paul Greengrass is coming from at times. On the one hand he’s a liberal moviemaker with great acumen as a kinetic storyteller. On the other, he’s prone to servicing fictionalisations of recent history with a dubious veneer of propaganda. He might reliably claim he isn't responsible for people regarding his United 93 and Captain Phillips as the last word on those cases, but he’s smart enough to understand the way a dramatisation can become the salient text in the popular consciousness.
As such, he’s on more reliable ground bringing his sensibility to a wholly fictional character, and none more so than Jason Bourne, the fourth pairing between the director and Matt Damon. It will be nine years since Jason’s ultimatum, and the duo believe enough water has passed under the bridge to provide juicy pickings for commentary on the changing state of the US in the global scheme of things. It’s a respectable approach to take in terms of sucking the franchise teat; they continue to look credible while making big bucks, only compounded by the mediocre business of The Bourne Legacy. So Bourne 4.1? Our hero will be doing more heroic stuff, positioned once more against the system that once fed him, and you can bet it will be post-Snowden relevant and wholly thrilling. Must-see, basically. (US: 29 July, UK: 28 July)
4. Zoolander 2
The sorry spectacle of Walter Mitty (well, content rather than spectacle; visually it was a feast) might have raised questions of whether Ben Stiller’s comic facility had left him. Certainly, three Night at the Museums have at least meant his bank manager is jolly happy. It did confirm, however, that he’s a far more reliable director than necessarily performer or writer (in good company with another director on this list, Mel Gibson, although it’s doubtful they’d want to share a pint). Prior to Mitty, both the first Zoolander and Tropic Thunder made for two of the funniest and (a rarity) best shot comedies of the last 15 years.
So there’s good reason to expect Zoolander 2 to be better than the (similarly, in some quarters) much-awaited Anchorman 2. The first trailer looked promising, with jokes at the expense of Justin Bieber and the return of Will Ferrell (Mugatu is still possibly his best big screen role). I’m doubtful this will make a whole lot of money for Paramount, but I’d be surprised if it hasn’t been worth the wait. It has to be. Billy Zane is back, and he’s a cool dude. (12 February)
Scorsese’s priestly tale was on my list last year, enthusiastic as I was to see it. This is what I wrote:
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 story 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 other Scorsese pictures influenced by his spiritual questing and questioning (Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun).
The chances are it won’t be hugely commercial, then, 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 Emo-Ben Solo Adam Driver.
2. Hail, Caesar!
The Coens do period, Clooney does comedy mugging and the assembled cast is as rich as ever. Hail, Caesar! finds the brothers easing back into broad strokes mode, which isn't to everyone’s taste; most prefer their more serious, less funny movies (so, the reverse of Woody Allen, then). A tale of a dim-witted, ‘50s Hollywood fixer (Brolin) attempting to recover a kidnapped, dim-witted Hollywood actor (Clooney), everyone and anyone appears to have been the given the chance to climb aboard this excursion, from Channing Tatum to Christopher Lambert and Dolph Lundgren. Sure not to receive the kudos that greeted the likes of No Country for Old Men and Inside Lewyn Davis, fingers crossed this is closer to O Brother Where Art Thou? than The Ladykillers (although even The Ladykillers is better than most Hollywood comedy fare). (5 Feb US, 6 March UK)
1. The Nice Guys
The first trailer for Nice Guys has already arrived, and it bears all the semblance of a thoroughly Shane Black affair; a hardboiled crime tale stuffed with jet black humour, colourful dialogue, delightful twists, memorable characters and it’s Christmas. Set in the ‘70s, the movie pairs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and looks like they could rival Kilmer and Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for chemistry. Black himself has more than proved his mettle as a director in the wake of the best Marvel movie to date (Iron Man Three). The only question is, will anyone want to see Nice Guys? The picture will be released peak summer, amid an overcrowded field, and could get rather lost in the scrum. Which would be a great shame, as we need as many Shane Black movies as possible, and sooner rather than later. (20 May)