With awards season soon approaching its long-awaited close, it is time to look forward to the upcoming year in film. 2015 appears to offer a fairly significant lineup of summer blockbuster titles. While that could (and will likely) be said for each subsequent year ad infinitum, this summer marks the beginning of a new era of sorts in franchise-fare. It’s an era where release dates are scheduled five years in advance, and during that time span over 50 titles that are either sequels, comic book movies, or young adult adaptations will be vying for our wallets. In the meantime we tweet about the teaser to the teaser trailer and devour it with the kind of voracity more appropriately seen amongst a termite population.
The films that need to be promoted in places like this site are those that don’t carry an event-like status or accompanying toy lines and video games. The experimental indie, the cult favorite, and the potentially groundbreaking documentary are what “Most Anticipated” lists are meant for, or it’s at least what you will see in this list. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t eagerly anticipating movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, I am very excited to see them both, but since they qualify as almost a “given” on the hypothetical anticipation scale, I am not including them on my list. Also excluded is Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the director’s long in-the-works passion project about an expedition by two Jesuit priests to Japan. The film was slotted to be released in 2015 until about a week ago when it was pushed to 2016. This list includes some familiar directors, actors, and characters, but there are also a few surprises. Get your calendars ready, and enjoy.
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
What makes the continuation of this beloved series so encouraging is the return of director George Miller, who helmed the original Mad Max back in 1979. It also includes a solid cast, headlined by Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as the eponymous road warrior. Rounding out the cast are Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Hunstman, Young Adult) Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies), and Zoe Kravitz (X-Men: First Class). Set in a post-apocalyptic desert with humanity far past its last shred of sanity, survival means doing whatever it takes to get oil, water, and the rest of life’s necessities. A lone survivor, Max, opts to wander alone as he comes to grips with his tragic past, but he is soon swept up with a rebel group traveling across the desert, led by an elite Imperator, Furiosa (Theron). There likely won’t be a shortage of car stunts in this one. Fans have waited years for this film as it slogged through development hell, but by the looks of the trailer above (arguably the best trailer of 2014), it was well worth the wait. Mad Max: Fury Road is set to come out May 15th.
9. The Look of Silence
A spiritual successor to the groundbreaking 2013 documentary The Act of Killing, director Joshua Oppenheimer returns to the aftermath of the Indonesian Genocide that began in 1965 and lasted until 1966. What made The Act of Killing such a haunting film was that it observed the present day lives of the leaders of the killings, who are viewed as heroes, and Oppenheimer filmed these men re-enacting the killings in the vein of their favorite genres of film. In The Look of Silence, a family that survived the genocide confronts the men who killed one of their brothers. Even if this follow-up doesn’t carry the shock value of The Act of Killing, you still won’t want to miss this documentary. The film is tracking for a July release date.
8. The Lobster
In a dystopian near-future, singles are forced to find a matching mate at a hotel within 45 days. Failure results in being transformed into an animal and sent off into the woods. However, one man escapes and finds love. With a plot like this, it’s hard not to be intrigued, and with a cast that includes Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths), Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea, The Fountain), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas), and John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), director Yorgos Lanthimos looks poised to follow up critical darling Dogtooth with a bang. The film is likely to premiere at Cannes in May and will probably release stateside sometime after.
7. That’s What I’m Talking About
That’s What I’m Talking About could be well sought-after if Richard Linklater’s Boyhood comes away with a significant number of Oscars. Not much is known about Linklater’s follow-up except that it revolves around a college freshman that falls in with a group of baseball players. Said to be a spiritual successor or sorts to his well regarded 1993 movie Dazed and Confused, the film features a no-name cast, but with financing from indie mogul Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures, it could see a wider release than Boyhood. No release date has been set, but it will likely premiere at one of the late-year festivals.
Having already premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, Phoenix tells the story of a concentration camp survivor returning to post-war Berlin in search of her husband that may have betrayed her to the Nazis. Being so disfigured from her time in the camps, she is unrecognizable to her husband after undergoing reconstructive surgery. However, he recruits her for a job to pose as her wife, not knowing that she is actually his spouse. This mistaken-identity picture features an all-German cast and is directed by Christian Petzold (Barbara). The film’s American debut is set for February 2 at the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival.
5. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s latest western has built a decent amount of unintended hype when the script for the film was leaked last summer. At one point Tarantino was set on scrapping the project after the leak, but he has since decided to move forward with production after a live-read of the screenplay was well received. Reteaming with Tarantino stalwarts Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction), Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs), and Michael Madsen (Kill Bill)—as well as a number of newcomers—Tarantino sets his sights on post-Civil War Wyoming where a group of characters converge and end up trapped from a blizzard. The film is set for a November 13th release date.
4. The Revenant
Based on a Michael Punke novel of the same name, a 19th century fur trapper named Hugh Glass is attacked and mauled by a bear while hunting in the wilderness. Believing him to be a dead man, his companions rob him and leave him to die, but Glass survives and sets out to exact his revenge on those who abandoned him. Alejandro G. Iñárritu follows up the beloved awards magnet Birdman with a film that could be poised for another Oscar run, and it could finally be the vehicle that delivers Leonardo DiCaprio his first gold statue. Emmanuel Lubezki, arguably the best cinematographer working today, is also rejoining Iñárritu after his one-shot wonder in Birdman. Look for this film on Christmas Day; perfect placement for awards season.
3. Sea of Trees
The next episode of the McConaissance looks to be Sea of Trees, the story of a suicidal American who travels to Japan to the infamous “suicide forest” near the foot of Mount Fuji, where he meets a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe, of course) also contemplating suicide. Director Gus Van Sant, known more for delivering unique slices of Americana such as Good Will Hunting and Milk, appears to be aiming for something a little more universal. Sea of Trees also seems like the perfect next step in Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence, offering the existential angst of “True Detective” and the life-or-death struggle of Dallas Buyers Club. Don’t be surprised if we hear his name called on nominations morning for the 2016 Oscars. No release date has been set, but a film like this could easily end up at Cannes.
2. Midnight Special
Midnight Special is a film that appeared on my 2014 Most Anticipated List, but a long post-production process has bumped it to a 2015 release. Very little has been revealed about the movie, but we do know it centers on a father and son running from government officials after discovering the boy has supernatural powers. Imagine this to be a more intimate, American folk-tale chase movie similar to 2012’s Chronicle, but without the found footage aspect. Director Jeff Nichols is on a roll after two fantastic films in 2011’s Take Shelter and 2013’s Mud, both featuring Michael Shannon who returns for Midnight Special. Filling out the cast are Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia, Bachelorette), Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby), and Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down, Out of the Furnace). Look for this film around Thanksgiving, releasing November 25.
1. Knight of Cups
Following arguably the greatest film of the decade in 2011’s The Tree of Life is no small task, so it was not much of a surprise that director Terrance Malick’s 2013 film To the Wonder did not make the same impact, mostly because they had very different scopes. But when the trailer for his latest movie, Knight of Cups, took the internet by storm, the level of anticipation that comes with any Malick film was elevated to a fever pitch. Christian Bale (American Hustle) stars as Rick, a Hollywood screenwriter who becomes a slave to the debauchery-filled, self-indulgent lifestyle of the City of Angels. He interacts with his lovers, his father, and other acquaintances as he navigates Malick’s signature existential quandaries. The cast also includes Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Antonio Banderas (The Legend of Zorro), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), and many others. The film will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and will likely get a wider release near the end of 2015.
David Cronenberg’s Hollywood family drama Maps to the Stars, starring Robert Pattinson (The Rover), out February 27; Benicio del Toro’s eagerly awaited horror film Crimson Peak, starring Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive), out October 16; Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterson in friendship drama Queen of Earth, debuting in Berlin; Paolo Sorrentino follows-up his Oscar winning The Great Beauty with The Early Years, no U.S. release date; Canadian phenom Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners, Enemy) latest crime thriller Sicario, no release date; M.L. Stedman adaptation The Light Between Oceans, directed by Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Valentine) starring Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave), no release date; Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) Tomorrowland, based on the Disney attraction starring George Clooney (The Monuments Men), out May 22; “True Detective” director Cary Fukunaga’s return to the silver screen with Beasts of No Nation, no release date.