by Philip Price
I can't help but feel I don't know enough to be making such a list as this anymore. Every year I go through the upcoming year’s slate of planned movie releases and come up, pretty easily, with 10 or so films I'm genuinely excited to see and again, this year, that has been no problem. My issue with a list such as this is there is no way to go through each possible release or even know about every release in the way that a movie might come to light during the course of the year and becomes something you wish you might have highlighted way back when, that you knew about and held expectations for simply because it's nice to be "in the know". That sounds a little crazy and a little ridiculous, I realize, but it is easy to go through and say what blockbusters you are most excited to see in any given year, but you only wish you knew that there might be a “Birdman” or a “Whiplash” sneak up on you and blow you away. Then again, I'll just convince myself I actually enjoy the element of surprise and wait to see what gems 2015 currently has tucked away. To both points, I've attempted to go through and double check with some of my favorite directors and actors to see what, if anything, they might have on their slate for this year so as to hopefully surprise a few people with this list and not just satisfy/underwhelm folks who see another list where ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Star Wars’ take the cake. From my most anticipated list of 2014 three films made my year-end top 10. From my most anticipated list of 2013 one film made it, so I guess that could be taken as a good sign if there is any correlation to be found at all. Furthermore, 2014 seemed like a really solid year when looking back despite it feeling easier than ever to craft a top 10. There were a few exceptional films, but there seemed an abundance of more than solid features that are just as worthy for someone else's favorite films of the year. If 2015 is anything like it, we'll be in for a great crop of flicks (the best of which I likely don't even know about yet).
10. “Pitch Perfect 2”
Say what you will, but I base a lot of how much I love movies on their re-watchability factor and between my wife and I we've probably seen the first “Pitch Perfect” about eleventeen thousand times. It is a solid comedy and features more than its fair share of little moments that will make there way onto t-shirts in a few years when the next generation doesn't even fully understand the reference. The first film was something of a lightning in a bottle experience. Nobody really expected anything from it, but it amassed such a loyal following and exploded in home video sales to the point that in two short years it is already a mainstay at slumber parties and in female dorm rooms. It is simply one of those times when the stars align and everything falls into place as good as can be expected. The Barden Bellas are now a cultural mainstay while the film also allowed for Anna Kendrick to officially carve out her spot in the celebrity landscape and not to mention, score a hit song. While it feels like somewhat of a risk to possibly tarnish the reputation of the original by making a sequel there is also plenty of reasons to be optimistic about part two. For starters, Elizabeth Banks is in the director’s chair this time around making her feature debut so I fully expect there to be some wacky, left field choices made. Next, the entire cast is returning (Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp and Adam Devine while adding Hailee Steinfeld and Katey Sagal) and in the first trailer for the sequel it was clear everyone was happy to be back and seemed to be having a blast. I saw the first film with no expectation going in, but came away surprised and eager to tell others about just how much fun it was. It is one of those films you can pop in any time and everyone can agree it's entertaining. I'm excited to see what Banks and company have in store and can only hope it lives up to the awesomeness we all expect from it. (5/15)
9. “The Revenant”
If you've looked at my Top 10 of 2014 you'll see that director Alejandro González Iñárritu's “Birdman” is fairly close to the top of my list. Not only did he craft one of the more singular visions of this year though as he has been putting out beautifully depressing films stateside since 2003's “21 Grams” and so on. With his latest, “The Revenant,” Iñárritu has adapted the novel of the same name by Michael Punke that tells a story of nearly unimaginable human endurance spanning three thousand miles of uncharted American wilderness, including what is today the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. Based on the real life of fur trapper Hugh Glass, “The Revenant” recounts the toll of envy and betrayal, and the power of obsession and vengeance. Of the many reasons to be interested in the film one of the main draws will be that this was the next project Leonardo DiCaprio chose to embrace after taking an extended break after filming ‘Gatsby,’ ‘Django’ and ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ back-to-back-to-back. DiCaprio will star as Glass while being joined by the likes of his “Inception” co-star Tom Hardy (who will also have a busy 2015). As for “The Revenant” specifically, I'm excited to see how Iñárritu follows-up what will surely be an exciting awards season for both him and his film. (1/8/16 with what I assume will be a staggered release beginning in December of '15)
8. “Inside Out”
It has been an off year for animation as nothing other than “The LEGO Movie” really became a hit and while that film was immensely fun, I'd still pick “How To Train Your Dragon 2” as the best of the bunch in 2014. Besides the disappointing box office returns though a big hole was also left open by the absence of a new Disney/Pixar film. For the first time in nearly a decade we received no new movie from the once illustrious studio. It has been quite a while since we've seen an original film from Pixar as well (only one of the last four has not been a sequel), but in 2015 we are headed for change as audiences will not only get one new Pixar film, but two; both of which will feature original stories. First up is director Pete Doctor's “Inside Out.” Telling the story of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) the film goes inside her mind to explore the inner workings of her personality by creating personifications for her emotions including fear, sadness, anger, disgust and joy. As seen in the first full trailer that premiered earlier this month these personified emotions essentially run our brains and determine how we function in response to the situations and circumstances around us. Not only will we get a peak inside Riley's mind, but her parents voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as well. As exciting as it is that Pixar is delivering an original film rather than another sequel, it should also be noted that this extremely inventive concept and entertaining and funny execution truly feels like it could be the return to form for the studio desperately needs to maintain their reputation for excellence that has waned considerably in the last few years. I certainly hope “Inside Out” proves to be as good as everything about it promises it can be as even the voice cast includes greats such as Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. (6/19)
7. “Midnight Special”
There might be something of a bias in this next pick as director Jeff Nichols hails from my home state and city of Little Rock, Ark. Nichols has been making well received indie films since he broke onto the scene with 2007's “Shotgun Stories.” Following that up with the little seen, but universally hailed “Take Shelter” the director finally gained something of larger scale recognition when he took part in the McConaissance by contributing “Mud” to Matthew McConaughey’s resume. Both writing and directing each of these films Nichols made the decision to step into the ring of a major studio production next and was lucky enough to still pen his own script for what has come to be known as “Midnight Special.” While writing the script for the film Nichols described it as a yearning to make something akin to a 1980's John Carpenter movie, more specifically “Starman.” I've never seen that Carpenter film, but imagine I'll get on that soon. At first this felt reminiscent of a J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg a la the summer of 2011 and the final product that was “Super 8” (man, I'd really love to watch that again soon), but Nichols is clearly trying to give more of an example as to where his head was at while writing the script. What might have come of the story since making that statement and whatever directing filter he put the film through since shooting has now wrapped could have completely changed that comparison given they are in deep post-production. Regardless, I am eager to see what Nichols has in store for us and if you're a fan of the director and a little upset he gave into the big studio system, fear not, as he also said he was working on another script at the same time that hued closer to his other work and was, "austere, quiet, sad and beautiful." “Midnight Special” stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard. (11/25)
6. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
The first trailer for the follow-up to writer/director Joss Whedon’s record-breaking 2012 film was supposed to drop during an episode of ABC's “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” but someone from within leaked the trailer three days early. This is how much people cannot wait to see what else Marvel will give them. There is no denying the anticipation for this one is sky high and our first glance at the sequel in those trailers only added to that hype in the most positive of ways. I can remember being slightly underwhelmed by the first trailer for “The Avengers” as the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack never met with what I imagined it to be, but ultimately we know everything turned out OK and if nothing else it was a treat to finally see all of these characters in one place together. This time around that isn't going to be enough, but what Whedon has given us a glance at here is a very different, much darker tone than the original possessed. From what we've seen so far (and I hope they hold back on the marketing and avoid an ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’-like situation) I'm loving the color palette created from the broader scope of locations in this film, I enjoy the musical choice and I appreciate the vibes coming off genuinely dramatic while not taking itself too seriously. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all return to battle titular villain Ultron (James Spader) while new allies and enemies join them in the form of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and The Vision (Paul Bettany). “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will also utilize Don Cheadle, Andy Serkis, Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders. (5/1)
Martin Scorsese has been developing his next film for several decades. To call it a passion project feels like something of an understatement at this point. Having worked on an adaptation of the Shusaku Endo novel, “Silence,” for years things finally began shaping up when financing was secured near the end of 2013 and production officially began in what was reportedly July of 2014. The story concerns two Jesuit priests who, in the seventeenth century, face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and to spread the gospel of Christianity. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver will serve as the priests in the film while the likes of Ken Watanabe and Liam Neeson will also star. It is difficult to find anything real concrete on whether or not the film moved forward as intended and will stick with its planned November release placing it right in the middle of awards season, but I can only hope these facts hold steady. It will be somewhat odd to see Leonardo DiCaprio in an Oscar season film not directed by Scorsese as “The Revenant” will also be in the race for 2016, but it will certainly be something of a refresher, like “Hugo,” as we see the legendary filmmaker work outside what has more or less become a comfort zone over the last decade. What is even more exciting is that this is pretty heavy-sounding material giving the director plenty to work with and so to be able to anticipate what as talented a director as Scorsese will do with that material in bringing it to life with the passion we all know he has for it, only serves to create what will hopefully be one of the more memorable movie-going experiences of the year.
4. “The Hateful Eight”
Oh, the trials and tribulations of Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight.” First there was the script leak, then the director basically said the film wouldn't be made, but then he staged a live read of the script to which there seemed to be some inspiration to again make the film and so it was being made, but then there came delays and of course a barrage of casting rumors. All of this to say that the film is now obviously being made and has either just started production or will start next month with a full cast in place and a release date set for this November. Tarantino will again be venturing into Western territory as “The Hateful Eight” tells the story of bounty hunters trying to find shelter during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. I haven't read the leaked script nor have I looked at any videos of the live read (mainly because I can't find any), but needless to say that as a film geek I'm always excited for a new Tarantino movie. There was always the stigma around “Pulp Fiction” that you had to love it as a film student and no matter how many times I watch that film it seems coming to it later than when it first premiered takes it down a few notches for me who was unaware of what was so revolutionary about it at the time. For me, what really set the director apart as a strong, singular voice was “Inglorious Basterds.” I saw both “Kill Bill” movies in the theater as well as “Death Proof” and so I was given access to those films without prior opinion hanging over as an influence and still, it wasn't until ‘Basterds’ that I felt I finally "got" what everyone else was talking about. I enjoyed ‘Django’ in many of the same ways I did ‘Basterds,’ but to a slightly less fulfilling degree. I can only hope that while Tarantino is working in the same genre as his previous film that he and his cast that includes Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Zoë Bell, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern will continue to keep things innovative in the way the director has become known to do. (11/13)
When I think of narrowing down the upcoming year in movies to a select few I am most excited for I think of it in terms of what movies I would want to see if these were the only movies I were allowed to see that year. This train of thought really comes into play when you get down to the top five. In the last couple of years Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself to be one of the best and most versatile actors working in Hollywood today and that has not gone unnoticed by most. I can't wait to see what the guy does next. Much like other constantly rising, constantly producing quality stars like Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender, Gyllenhaal will have a busy 2015 with four films set for release. There is David O. Russell's comedy/romance “Nailed” co-starring Jessica Biel and James Marsden that sounds like fun, but not my top pick from his current crop. There is “Everest” from director Baltasar Kormákur that co-stars Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington and Emily Watson, but while I've enjoyed Kormákur's previous works as B-movie entertainment I wouldn't consider them worth having on a "must-see" list though that cast is certainly impressive. There is also Jean-Marc Vallée's next film, “Demolition,” about an investment banker struggling to understand his emotional disconnect after the tragic death of his wife that co-stars Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper, but I wouldn't be surprised if this one ended up as a 2016 release. The one I want to see most out of his upcoming films though is “Southpaw” from director Antoine Fuqua about a boxer fighting his way to the top as his life falls apart around him. I watched “The Equalizer” again yesterday with commentary from Fuqua and his passion for filmmaking along with Gyllenhaal's clear dedication only solidified this as the best choice at this given time.
2. “Furious 7”
Last year was a tumultuous year for the cast and crew of the seventh film in the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise. I wasn't overly interested in the series until Justin Lin came along and decided there was something worth investing in. While ‘Tokyo Drift’ felt like something of an audition for the director it has come to serve as a catalyst of sorts for the series. Going back in time to before the events of the third film, Lin brought us up to date with 2013's “Fast & Furious 6” and from there on out we faced the unexpected. The unexpected came in tragic form in November of 2013 though with Paul Walker's untimely death which sent the James Wan directed sequel into re-writes, delays and an unquestionable future. Through all of this it feels like the series has become more of a cultural mainstay and closer to people’s hearts which will no doubt up the interest in the seventh film, but more than anything it will be nice to have one last opportunity to see Walker portray the character he will be most remembered for. I was and am beyond excited to see Jason Statham joining the cast this time around as the brother to Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw whom Statham is now out to avenge and it will be interesting to see how this plot plays out, but more than anything the future of the entire franchise rests on this installment’s shoulders as we wonder and wait to see where the crew will take us. Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Lucas Black all return while Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Brotherton, Djimon Hounsou and Kurt Russell join the ever-expanding cast. (4/3)
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
By the time J.J. Abrams' ‘Star Wars; entry hits theaters just under a year from now it will have been over a decade since the last ‘Star Wars’ film was in theaters. This may conjure up bad memories for most seeing as George Lucas' prequel trilogy wasn't received well, but this marks a new day. It was just before I graduated high school that I waited in line for the midnight showing of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and if ‘Star Wars’ brings up anything more than the iconography of its characters it's nostalgia. These are event films in a manner no other films can strive to be. The movie will sell itself and fans and superfans alike will show up multiple times no matter what to see, to dissect and re-watch to make sure their opinion is correct. Though Abrams and company decided to release an 88-second teaser trailer in November, they could literally do no more marketing for this film and it would do gangbusters at the box office. That said, we will get a ton more marketing and with the teaser I'm at least happy to get a look at what tone, style and atmosphere we will be getting from this new film. In the teaser we get a first look at John Boyega in full storm trooper garb, Daisy Ridley riding across the desert and Oscar Isaac as a starfighter before cutting to a mysterious figure breaking out a new model lightsaber who I, for one reason or another, instinctively assume is Adam Driver. ‘The Force Awakens’ will also see the return of original stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher with other new additions that include Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Max Von Sydow and many more. I do indeed love how simply cinematic the first footage looks and while I'm more than excited to see the final product I wonder if it will ever be able to live up to the ridiculous expectations already being held for it. (12/18)