by Philip Price
As always, there is a lot to look forward to this year at the cinema. In attempting to look through all of the major releases for the upcoming year that are already on the calendar I've come across more than enough movies to keep a variety of audiences entertained, but what follows is not just a list of films I'm most excited to see (though that is surely the bulk of it), but also commentary on just how difficult it's become to both look forward to and be excited about the onslaught of super hero films I know we will inevitably receive. I'm a fan of comic book movies and am looking forward to seeing all seven of the major ones that will be released over the course of 2016, but to allow them to take over seven individual spots on my list seems ridiculous and something of a waste. Everyone who's been to the movies in the last two months (and if you've seen the ‘Star Wars’ numbers coming in you'll know that's a lot of people) know there is a new “Batman V. Superman” movie coming out and another Marvel movie where Captain America and Iron Man face-off. They may even know that Ryan Reynolds is playing some kind of version of Ryan Reynolds in a red suit, but while I'm as hopeful as the biggest fanboy that “Deadpool” turns out to be as great as the wonderful marketing campaign has led us to believe-it's an obvious choice, an obvious movie to anticipate. Does that mean every film on my list is a smaller film that you probably haven't heard about yet? No, not at all. There are, of course, films like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Star Wars: Rogue One” sprinkled throughout because, guess what? I like ‘Harry Potter,’ director Justin Lin and ‘Star Wars’ so I'm genuinely excited to see how those movies turn out. By stating the obvious at the beginning though, by saying that, "Look, there are going to be this many super hero movies this year and yes I'm pumped for all of them, but here are a bunch of other movies that might interest you that I'm excited about," this list might provide insight to a film you didn't know was coming down the pipeline prior.
And so, we'll begin by talking about the ones that you've all likely heard about already: the mega-blockbusters, the ones where you'll wait in line to see them at midnight (or 7 p.m.), so that you're among the first to see the movie everyone will be talking about. We will approach these super hero films chronologically. I repeat: this is not the order in which I am excited about them, but more the order in which they will come out. Of course, at this point, that may as well mean the same thing due to the fact that as we get closer to each release date for a super hero film I will undoubtedly get more excited about that specific one and convince myself it is, in fact, the one I'm most excited for (but really “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” easily takes top billing this year). Anywho-let's get on with it...
The Super Hero Dilemma
“Deadpool” (2/12) – “Deadpool” tells the story of a former Special Forces operative turned mercenary who is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and no choice but to adopt his titular alter ego.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (3/25) - In what is supposed to be the "sequel" to “Man of Steel,” but is really the set-up for the eventual ‘Justice League’ movie, this Zack Snyder helmed follow-up follows Batman (Ben Affleck) as he fears the actions of Superman (Henry Cavill) will be left unchecked, thus forcing him to confront the supernatural being. While the world wrestles with what kind of a hero the world really needs Batman and Superman fight each other. That is, of course, until the second trailer for the film ruined everything and let us know a new threat in the form of Doomsday (apparently created by Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor) will take both caped heroes to task. It becomes the responsibility of both Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.
“Captain America: Civil War” (5/6) - In what is essentially ‘Avengers 2.5,’ Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. return as political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” (5/27) - Returning for his fourth ‘X-Men’ film, director Bryan Singer follows up 2014's ‘Days of Future Past’ by taking the ‘First Class’ cast in to the ‘80s and introducing the world's first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). With his emergence, the ‘X-Men’ (including Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Lucas Till) must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.
“Suicide Squad” (8/5) - With the one-two punch of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and director David Ayer's “Suicide Squad” the DC comics universe is more than ready to stake their claim in today's cinematic landscape. Starring the likes of Jared Leto as the The Joker, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Will Smith as Deadshot, Jai Courney as Captain Boomerang, Cara Delevingne as Enchantress, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller the film follows a secret government agency that recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.
“Gambit” (10/7) - It is with some concern that I even place “Gambit” on this list as, despite star Channing Tatum being more than ready to move forward with the project, things have not been smooth for this production thus far. The film was set to begin shooting this past fall, but then director Rupert Wyatt dropped out and the cast and crew were left with no leader. Since, director Doug Liman has taken over and Lea Seydoux has been enlisted to play love interest Bella Donna Boudreaux. With ‘Days of Future Past’ and “Fantastic Four” writer Simon Kinberg on board to produce here's to hoping this year’s other ‘X-Men’ spinoff is finished in time for its planned release date.
“Doctor Strange” (11/4) - The other Marvel movie this year will introduce a new hero into the fold, this time dealing with some seriously strange magic or so we've been told. With director Scott Derrickson at the helm I expect this project about a brilliant but arrogant surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who gets a new lease on life after his career is destroyed when a sorcerer takes him under his wing to be a serious departure from the typical Marvel mold.
25. “The Jungle Book”
I am both concerned and intrigued by these live-action adaptations of the Disney classics I watched as a child. When I would watch these films as a kid I always wondered what they might look like were they made with real people rather than hand-drawn, but as I grew up I chalked those imaginings up more to something that was greater in theory than in reality. As of late though, studios have begun churning out adaptations and unique takes on the age old fairy tales the current generations know mostly from the Disneyfied versions. Whether you prefer “Mirror Mirror” over “Snow White and the Huntsman,” whether you enjoyed “Cinderella” more than “Alice in Wonderland,” or whether you thought “Malificent” was a missed opportunity there is something that still resides that makes you intrigued by the idea of these movies we viewed as epics when we were children come to life and with director Jon Favreau's take on “The Jungle Book” I'm more than intrigued. I'm looking forward to “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017 and I'm certainly interested in how Favreau's film will affect the planned “Jungle Book: Origins” that Andy Serkis is directing for a 2017 release from Warner Bros. While I imagine ‘Origins’ will hew closer to Kipling's original text, Favreau's film is from the Mouse House itself and so, like last year’s fairly wonderful “Cinderella,” I imagine this version will be a family-friendly adventure taken straight from the sketchings of the 1967 version if not slightly more grounded in reality. Here's to hoping the final product is a fine piece of reality even if it will never be able to measure up to those childhood imaginings. (4/15)
I've been a fan of The Lonely Island since first seeing "Lazy Sunday" over 10 years ago now and will forever be a fan not only of their digital shorts, but of their 2007 feature effort, “Hot Rod.” “Hot Rod” is one of those singular movie-going experiences where I went with a large group of friends and we all laughed our asses off consistently. “Hot Rod” is one of those movies I could watch over and over again and I have. I could quote you any line from the film if you asked me to and would happily recite both the "Cool Beans" jingle as accurately as possible while testifying to how much I like to party or that the necessary safe word while speeding down a hill is whiskers. My point is this-I'm freakin' excited for a new Lonely Island movie and apparently there is one coming out this year. Since hearing whisperings about “Conner4Real” this past summer and that it was already shooting in Los Angeles I've been anxious to learn more about the film. While there have been no stills, posters or trailers released for the film as of this writing what we do know is that Andy Samberg will play the titular Conner who tries to get the members of his old boy band back together for a reunion after his latest solo album bombs. Fellow Island members Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer will both star as the former boy band members as well as helm the project. According to a report from Deadline the film is intended to be, "a potshot at fluffy music documentaries including ‘Justin Bieber: Never Say Never’ and ‘Katy Perry: Part Of Me.’" This doesn't sound too unlike last year’s “7 Days in Hell,” in which Samberg also starred and was able to mine some great comedy from. (6/3)
23. “Star Trek Beyond”
Last month, just prior to the release of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” we were treated to a barrage of new trailers and naturally one of those was a quick minute and a half sizzle reel from Abrams’ previous space opera franchise- ‘Star Trek.’ This time around, the new adventures of the Enterprise crew would be led by director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 3-6). The script was also co-written by Simon Pegg (who looks to have given himself a more substantial part) after taking over for original writer and director Roberto Orci. The film is said to follow Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew after they get stranded on a strange alien planet, but little more is known of the actual plot. What we gleaned from the first trailer though was that director Lin would certainly be bringing to this franchise what he seemingly excelled at in the ‘Fast’ films and that is a ton of action. The majority of the audience for “Star Trek Into Darkness” was split on really enjoying the popcorn entertainment value of it all while the diehard fans essentially hated the re-writing it did of ‘Wrath of Khan.’ Given the fact I'm not a diehard Trekkie I was able to more or less enjoy Abrams’ second installment with zero qualms. With Lin at the helm it seems as if Paramount is keen on changing the direction of where this franchise was headed by giving it a full makeover in the creative department. As much as I really loved Abrams’ 2009 film and enjoyed ‘Into Darkness’ I'm really optimistic and hopeful for what new energy Lin might bring to this property and the idea that it will be fueled more by what apparently made the original series so appealing is, well...appealing. (7/22)
22. “The Light Between Oceans”
Michael Fassbender is certainly one busy guy as 2016 will see Fassbender not only return as Magneto in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” but at least two other films, maybe (possibly) even three. With an Untitled Terrence Malick project still sitting on the shelf, “Trespass Against Us” (directed by Adam Smith and co-starring Brendan Gleeson) and his re-teaming with “Macbeth” director Justin Kurzel for the video game adaptation “Assassin's Creed” that is set for a December release there will be plenty of Fassy to go around this year. Still, it is the latest from director Derek Cianfrance that really entices me. Cianfrance has previously made the gut-wrenching “Blue Valentine” and the family epic “The Place Beyond the Pines,” the latter of which was one of my favorite films of 2013, and so to have another of his films on the horizon is a real treat. “The Light Between Oceans” is the debut novel of author M.L. Stedman about a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia who raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat. Fassbender will play the lighthouse keeper while Alicia Vikander will play his wife. Rachel Weisz has also joined the cast and while, at the present time, the film doesn't have an exact release date it is the one book I will add to my ever expanding "to read" list that I would hope to finish before seeing the film. I am a big fan Cianfrance's previous effort and enjoy the emotional weight he packs into every aspect of his films and while I have no familiarity with this source material I imagine he wouldn't have chosen to adapt it did it not have a strong emotional effect on him and one he'd like to parlay through his visual medium. (N/A)
At first glance, another re-make of another classic ‘80s property seems like another tired idea, another strike against Hollywood for going back to the well and another sign of the impending doom for any such original material ever break out as a stand-alone blockbuster again. It's a fair assessment-it seems everything these days is somehow based on some pre-existing source material that will at least guarantee the studios there will be some modicum of interest in the final product. That said, once you pair director Paul Fieg with the project and give him free reign to make his new version of the 1984 Bill Murray/Dan Aykroyd film an all-female version that not only stars the likes of marquee names such as Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, but current SNL standouts like Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones (not to mention Chris Hemsworth in the Janine role) and there is something to be excited about. Not only am I looking forward to this new, re-imagined “Ghostbusters” based purely on the presence of McKinnon and Jones (though that is a big factor), but I'm generally excited to see what a film like “Ghostbusters” will look like in the modern world. Looking back on the original films there is such an atmosphere, such a sense of place and time and those movies are very much of the era they were born out of and so I look forward to seeing what Fieg does to give his new film its own sense of place-which seems especially critical given the legacy it will be joining. (7/15)
20. “Deepwater Horizon”
Co-written and produced by J.C. Chandor, “Deepwater Horizon” is one of those films that initially seems to be as generic as one can imagine. The title sounds like something you've probably seen on a VHS from the ‘90s while the idea that it stars Mark Wahlberg and some type of ocean rig immediately sends thoughts to the already forgotten “Contraband.” What separates the film for me, and makes me rather excited to see it, is both the involvement of Chandor and director Peter Berg. Granted, Berg hasn't had the best streak of directorial efforts (2012's “Battleship” sticks out sorely on his resume), but he did team with Wahlberg once before to create the truly brutal and truly moving “Lone Survivor.” “Lone Survivor” was one of my favorite films in 2013 and with a story revolving around the titular oil rig that exploded in 2010 off the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a catastrophic oil spill it seems there is great potential here. Wahlberg will play the second manager in command on the oil rig as the film will apparently follow what happened in the 48 hours leading up to the explosion and what happened immediately after. The film also stars Kurt Russell, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson and John Malkovich. (9/30)
Speaking of original films that have the potential to break out and become a stand-alone blockbuster- “Passengers” seems to be the best shot of such happening that we will have in 2016. From an original screenplay by Jon Spaihts (who famously wrote the first draft of “Prometheus”) the film tells of a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people that has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 60 years early. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger. If that doesn't sound familiar that's probably because you haven't heard of this movie for reasons of its promising premise, but more for who it will star. Shoot, you probably don't even know you've probably heard of this movie until you realize it's the one that will star both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. While this will certainly propel the film toward several headlines given the publicity around both high profile stars over the last few years thanks to huge turns in different Marvel properties, “The Hunger Games” and “Jurassic World” what is almost more engaging is the inclusion of director Morten Tyldum. While it is something of a no-brainer to try and recruit stars of such value for an original property in a day and age where the idea of the "movie star" is dying, Sony could have essentially given this directing gig to anyone that was on the rise, but with “The Imitation Game” and almost more impressively with 2011's “Headhunters,” Tyldum is a solid choice that I can't wait to see flourish on this scale. (12/21)
18. “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiars”
It is with some hesitance that I place the latest from Tim Burton on my most anticipated list. I want to believe in the once unique director who ushered in a voice all his own and a visual style to match, but it seems for some time now that the director has more or less been operating on autopilot. While his last film, 2014's “Big Eyes” seemed like a step in the right direction and one that was out from under the ultra-stylized world he'd been sulking in for quite some time, but it seems the director is incapable of staying away from such an environment for too long as his next project was quickly decided to be the adaptation of Ransom Riggs best seller. The rather engaging novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, was originally intended to be a picture book featuring photographs Riggs had collected, but on the advice of an editor, he used the photographs as a guide from which to put together a narrative. That resulting narrative follows teenager Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) as he gathers clues that take him to a mysterious island where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children. With Eva Green in the titular Miss Peregrine role and other heavy hitters such as Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens filling out the rest of the cast I can't wait to see Riggs story brought to life. It should also be noted that the inclusion of this film on my most anticipated list is likely due in part to the fact I've read the novel and genuinely enjoyed it. So much so that I'm rooting for this film to work so that we might also see the rest of Riggs' series, Hollow City and The Library of Souls, turn up on the big screen eventually. (12/25)
17. “Hail, Caesar!”
Just as the Oscars will be readying their 2016 broadcast, a place where the Coen Brothers have accepted their fair share of statues, the writer/directors will be releasing their latest upon the world with little to no interest in what the Academy seems to think of their film. In fact, given the film’s subject it might just be the Coens are making something of a larger statement about the industry in general, but we'll have to wait for the final product to see what's really going on. It seems strange that a new Coen Brothers movie would not be included in the end of the year Oscar hopefuls, but that's where we're at with “Hail, Caesar!” comfortably settled into its early February release date. Per usual, the directors have lined up quite a roster of talent and per usual they look to have used them to great effect by zeroing in on what type of movie stars today's movie stars would be if they were movie stars of another era. Distributed by Universal and led by Josh Brolin (who is really picking up steam lately after a few lackluster years) the story tells of a Hollywood fixer in the 1950's who works to keep the studio's stars in line. The film is said to take place all within the span of a single day, a day where the fixer's biggest problem to solve is that of locating the missing star (George Clooney) of the studio's latest epic. The first trailer for the film certainly gives off the distinct comic touch of the Coens as the film overall looks to be something of a hybrid of “Barton Fink” and “The Big Lebowski.” Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum also star. (2/5)
16. “The Nice Guys”
The anticipation for the return of Shane Black must have been at fever pitch given the guy directed his first feature a decade ago and didn't return until eight years later and for a Marvel movie at that. I feel in the minority when it comes to “Iron Man 3” given I rather enjoyed much of it, but the following “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has amassed since it's quiet release in 2005 is somewhat incomprehensible. I saw the film then, as an 18-year old and remember liking it, but don't remember too much about the actual film. I'll certainly need to go back and re-visit it soon given the fact anyone I tell that to will tell me the same thing, but if the debut of the trailer for Black's third feature directorial effort last month did anything it was remind me of the noir-ish/irreverent tone his debut featured in spades. I wasn't sure what to expect from the film given the standard sounding premise, but leads Ryan Gosling (who will show up again later on this list) and Russell Crowe look to be having a great time while the ‘70s setting paired with the outlandish brand of everything...the comedy, the violence, the dialogue, even the look of the film is somewhat over the top in its homage to that decade...makes this feel like a lot of fun. After seeing “The Big Short” several times and adoring it at this point it is clear the extent to which Gosling can stretch his comedic skills (there's no end in sight, by the way). Gosling looks in especially funny form here as he seems to more or less be playing the relief while Crowe is the straight man. Getting a nice, big summer release date and also starring Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley and Ty Simpkins, “The Nice Guys” feels like one to watch. (5/20)
15. “Everybody Wants Some”
Richard Linklater's third feature film, made in 1993 just two years prior to “Before Sunrise,” was something that not only broke him out into the mainstream, but the likes of Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey (where his, "alright, alright, alright" catchphrase originated), Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg and Joey Lauren Adams, as well. “Dazed and Confused” became and has remained something of a cult hit and one of the most well-regarded comedies and high school films of the last 30 years. The idea of crafting some sort of "spiritual sequel" as Linklater has called “Everybody Wants Some,” would seem to have been a daunting task, but given the glimpse we received after the first trailer debuted a couple of weeks ago it seems as if Linklater had no trouble getting back into that adolescent frame of mind. Rather than following an ensemble on their last day of high school in 1976 though, “Everybody Wants Some” is about a group of college baseball players who navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood during the ‘80s. While I was too young to have seen “Dazed and Confused” when it originally premiered I've certainly grown to appreciate the film, but more it is Linklater's writing and his ability to capture small truths in his screenplays that I admire most. As I've somewhat grown up watching Linklater's career progress I've only become more infatuated with what the diverse director might tackle next and that he's now returning to a place, time, and tone that he clearly knows well is nothing short of exciting. (4/15)
14. “The BFG”
While a fan of Roald Dahl and the many movie adaptations of his work, including ‘90s-staples “James and the Giant Peach” and “Matilda,” I never happened to read “The BFG.” While, given the synopsis, I can imagine how this might have been just as fascinating a stop-motion film as ‘James’ or just as thrilling a live action family film starring Mara Wilson as Sophie it is somewhat refreshing the film hasn't had a big screen adaptation as of yet (not counting the 1989 animated made for TV movie, that is) and has now received the big blockbuster treatment while still being in lovable, capable hands. After another dip in the more serious waters that was “Bridge of Spies,” director Steven Spielberg has seemingly returned to the world of wholesome material where he is able to strike a chord with both children and adults alike. While the first trailer for the film is a teaser in the truest sense of the word we did get something of a glimpse at the titular Big Friendly Giant who will be played by ‘Spies’ stand-out Mark Rylance. Given his subtle, but highly nuanced performance in that film I am anxious to see what he does with this type of material. Otherwise, Ruby Barnhill looks to be a perfect leading young lady as she seems to possess a great sense of innocence and wonder with the overall tone playing up the fantastical elements of the story in every nook and cranny of its frames. While the likes of J.J. Abrams have tried to capture this type of Amblin tone before in films like “Super 8” and Jeff Nichols will do the same thing in “Midnight Special” this year it will be fun to once again see the master try his hand at making a film that embodies the PG summer blockbuster extravaganza. (7/1)
13. “The Bourne Untitled”
By the time this next, as of yet untitled, Jason Bourne film premieres it will have been almost nine years since we last left Bourne swimming into the abyss. Of course, there was that one ‘Bourne Legacy’ film about chems that attempted to have Jeremy Renner carry on the series after it seemed Matt Damon was firmly opposed to returning to the character, but alas here we are. For the record, Damon never said he wouldn't return to the world of Bourne, just that he wouldn't do it without the guidance of director Paul Greengrass, but once Greengrass committed himself to return Damon signed on as well. It's unclear if they will attempt to tie in the events of ‘Legacy,’ but either way the fact the major creative team (minus Tony Gilroy) from both ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Ultimatum’ have returned is a hugely promising sign that we're in for what will hopefully be an exceptional spy thriller that will carry on the legacy those aforementioned sequels began rather than tainting it as there is always that danger. Both Damon and Greengrass along with the directors frequent collaborator, Christopher Rouse, have scripted this fourth installment in the Jason Bourne series and given their seeming investment in this world and in this character I can only imagine they'd agree to return if they had something they felt was worth telling. It's crazy to think that Damon was only 32 when he made “The Bourne Identity” and will turn 46 in October of this year while presumably still going strong, but if this is done right he will be able to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, "The Bourne Legacy." (7/29)
12. “Money Monster”
For years now George Clooney has been attempting to reinvigorate the genre that has kind of graciously been labeled "movies for grown-ups" with the likes of “Michael Clayton,” “Up in the Air,” “The American,” “The Ides of March,” “The Descendants” and “The Monuments Men.” Sure, he's thrown in a few guarantees like “Gravity” and the what seemed to be a home run “Tomorrowland,” but he largely likes to star in, produce and direct films made explicitly for the more mature crowds. While he will once again be seen alongside the Coens in “Hail, Caesar!” this year I'm more excited to see what he and “Ocean’s Eleven” co-star Julia Roberts (who's been doing her part for grown-up movies as well with last year’s average, but still underrated “Secret in Their Eyes”) are up to in “Money Monster,” the latest directorial effort from Jodie Foster. The film follows Clooney's Lee Gates who is a TV personality whose insider tips have made him the money guru of Wall Street. Things get tricky when Kyle (Jack O'Connell), who loses all of his family's money on a bad tip, holds Lee and his entire show hostage on air threatening to kill Lee if he does not get the stock up 24 and a half points before the bell. Naturally, Lee's ratings soar as the entire country tunes in to the media frenzy while at the same time shedding light on a possible scandal involving the company in question. While Foster's last feature, “The Beaver,” was more interesting for its connections to the real-world breakdown of star Mel Gibson she has directed a handful of episodes of both “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” that, along with this rather incredible cast, have me interested to see how good this project might turn out. (5/13)
11. “The Free State of Jones”
Opening on the same date as “Money Monster” is the latest from director Gary that stars Matthew McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. “The Free State of Jones” tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newton Knight (McConaughey), and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Opposed to both slavery and secession, Knight launched an uprising of poor white farmers that led Jones County, Mississippi to itself secede from the Confederacy, creating a "Free State of Jones." His relationship and post-war marriage to a former slave, Rachel Knight (Mbatha-Raw), effectively established the region's first mixed-race community. Knight continued his fight into the post war period, resisting Klan activity throughout the Reconstruction. His legendary rebellion distinguished Knight as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War. With an undeniably moving story and Ross both at the helm and behind the screenplay (from a story by Leonard Hartman) along with a stellar cast that also includes Keri Russell, Jacob Lofland, Mahershala Ali, Sean Bridgers and great character actor Gary Grubbs there is much to be excited about here. While we have little to go off of other than a few production stills the film looks to be a gorgeous period piece that tells of an unconventional love story. Based purely on the credentials, it seems clear the McConaissance will continue in 2016. (5/13)
10. “Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them”
Director David Yates is a busy man. Not only is he in post-production on his first post-Harry Potter feature, “The Legend of Tarzan,” but he is also in the midst of production on Warner Bros. return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter with the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's 2001 novel Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. The book was published under the pseudonym Newt Scamander and purports to be Harry Potter's copy of the textbook that was on his list of necessary school supplies in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Given our protagonist here is Scamander himself (Eddie Redmayne) I'm assuming this is an original story that will give audiences insight into how Mr. Scamander came to be experienced enough to pen an entire textbook on the magical creatures of the wizarding universe. While this new film won't deal with "The Boy Who Lived" exclusively, the idea of being able to return to such a world, and in November no less, is something of pure bliss for my generation in particular. Without having much to go on I can't really tell whether I should necessarily be excited for the film, but with Yates, who helmed “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” all the way through the finale in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” once again in charge of things I have a large amount of faith in the fact I will enjoy this new adventure very much. Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Colin Farrell also star. (11/18)
9. “Zoolander 2”
2015 was a generally weak year for comedy. While there were some that I enjoyed there wasn't anything that stood out or broke any ground or had the potential to become a pop culture mainstay like something along the lines of say, “Zoolander.” With 2016 in full swing my hope is that the return of Derek Zoolander will put this year on a fresh track in delivering more promising and innovative comedies rather than middle of the road blips like “Daddy's Home” or “Sisters.” As the once budding stars of “Zoolander” (Vince Vaughn included and God, I hope he has a cameo here) have each gone on to have successful comedic careers this sequel is something of a fitting conclusion to the The Frat Pack era while also being something of a re-energization. While I was always nervous that a sequel 15 years in the making would turn out to be little more than a cash grab or an attempt from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to simply re-live their glory days the full trailer for the film relinquished any such worry. Packed to the brim with great cameos, awesome gags and a genuinely funny and equally outlandish premise that concerns Derek and Hansel returning to modelling when an opposing company attempts to take them out of the business all points toward being promising. I can't wait. (2/12)
8. “A Cure for Wellness”
I'm somewhat taking a shot in the dark here as not much is known about “A Cure for Wellness,” but based simply on its credentials alone-I'm supremely intrigued. When I was 15-years old I went to a nine o'clock show for “The Ring” at our local theater not knowing much of what the film was about. As I arrived at the theater, my mom dropping me, my brother, and sister off, a couple of friends from school ran up to our vehicle after getting out of the seven o'clock show proclaiming it as the scariest movie they'd ever seen. From that moment on I was genuinely scared to enter the theater and my friends weren't lying-it was indeed the scariest movie-going experience I'd ever had and have still ever experienced to this day. Of course, that I experienced such fear and anxiety during my initial screening of the film, but still went back to the theater to see it a second time has always spoken volumes to me. Why, after being legitimately terrified by what the movie conveyed would I wander back in to a large, dark theater to re-live that experience? Over the years I've re-watched “The Ring” countless times and it still holds up and it still sticks with me each time I see it. Of course, that film’s director, Gore Verbinski, would go on to make three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and the fact he made this little horror film that was based on a Japanese original would be soon forgotten. Verbinski, since leaving ‘Pirates’ alone, has made “Rango” (one of the best films of 2011 period) and “The Lone Ranger” (an admittedly bloated, but hardly horrible action/adventure film that is gorgeous to look at). What I'm getting at is that the man is a good if not great filmmaker, but what makes his latest venture most intriguing is that he is returning to the horror genre. Starring Jason Isaacs and Dane DeHaan I don't expect Verbinski to replicate the success of “The Ring,” but I do hope that he can match the effect it had on audiences. (9/23)
7. “Midnight Special”
Jeff Nichols’ latest, “Midnight Special,” was easily one of my most anticipated of 2015 and then, unfortunately, this past summer it was delayed from its original release over Thanksgiving weekend until this March. Typically, delaying a movie is a bad sign as far as the quality of the final product is concerned, but with Nichols there isn't the slightest hint of doubt in his skill. The move, while mainly fueled by rumors of reasons that additional work was needed after test screenings, was probably for the best financially, as well, given the film would have been facing off against ‘Mockingjay-Part 2’ and “Creed” as well as a new Pixar film that would have certainly buried what could potentially be a great family film. In discussing the film before even beginning production Nichols was quoted as saying, "I want to make a 1960's biker film. I want to make a big, PG summer blockbuster family film, kind of like I want to revamp ‘Tremors.’ I've got an idea for that. That kind of movie." Given that “Midnight Special” tells the story of a father and son who go on the run after learning the child possesses special powers it seems Nichols might have captured a story that could convey such a tone and with the release date change it takes Nichols idea of being a "big, PG summer blockbuster" one step closer to becoming a reality. Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, Sam Shepard and Jaeden Lieberher. On the other hand, if you're not a fan of this move and a little upset with Nichols for giving into the temptations of 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." (3/18)
6. “The Founder”
Director John Lee Hancock can be rather hit or miss as “The Rookie” I remember hitting it's inspirational notes nicely, while his follow-up, “The Alamo” was universally panned. Of course, he then followed that up with “The Blind Side,” which was universally praised, but seemingly hasn't aged as well as most expected. The reverse happened with his 2013 feature, “Saving Mr. Banks,” as it initially seemed to underwhelm crowds who expected a lot from the story it was telling, but in my eyes anyway has become something of a treasure that gives me something new to discover each time I catch it on TV. Why then, you might ask, is the director’s next film this high on my most anticipated list? Well, a few reasons-the first being that it is once again Hancock taking on a true story with a very specific protagonist and in this territory the man seems to flourish. Second, the screenplay was written solely by Robert D. Siegel who has previously written “The Wrestler” and “Big Fan” without any source material to pull from. And third, there is the fact that Michael Keaton stars and to say that guy is on something of a hot streak lately would be an understatement. “Birdman” won for Best Picture at last year’s Academy Awards where I also think the Best Actor statue should have gone to Keaton rather than Eddie Redmayne, but Keaton stands a very good chance of also leading the ensemble of this year’s Best Picture front-runner, “Spotlight.” Whatever has changed about his project selection over the last few years seems to have been for the best and that he found Siegel's screenplay about McDonald's founder Ray Kroc intriguing enough to take on the titular role can only mean good things for this 2017 Oscar hopeful. (11/25)
5. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
At Disney's CinemaCon in 2013 the company stated they were planning to release a new ‘Star Wars’ movie every year, beginning with J.J. Abrams ‘The Force Awakens’ in 2015. In case you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks that little film has been dominating the domestic and global box office and headlines since its premiere and even today has smashed the “Avatar” record of being the biggest domestic earner of all time. So, while it is no surprise that Disney plans to make as much money from their $4 billion investment as they can it will undoubtedly be interesting to see where these spin-off movies take them and how they are received by a general audience that will seemingly take anything Star Wars-related that we're given at the moment. All of that said, Disney and head of the LucasFilm division, Kathleen Kennedy, have certainly gathered a promising creative team to bring these intervals of films to life. With the first of these films being about the rebels who set out on the mission to steal the plans for the Death Star Disney has recruited director Gareth Edwards to helm the project with Chris Weitz writing the screenplay and a cast that includes Felecity Jones in the lead, with support from the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker and Diego Luna. Given all we know so far and what Disney has delivered so far with the ‘Star Wars’ property there is no reason to be pessimistic about this franchises future. (12/16)
4. “Arms and the Dudes”
Todd Phillips is an interesting director. The guy has exclusively made broad comedies since “Road Trip” in 2000, but it was with “The Hangover” in 2009 that he became something of an institution and by the time he'd finished crafting the third, darker, ultimately rebellious chapter in that men behaving badly franchise he was a comedy auteur. Phillips has a persona that screams the fact he thinks he's cooler than you and all of the best characters in his movies seem to replicate that state of mind. Whether it be Beanie in “Old School,” Hutch in “Starsky & Hutch,” or Phil in the ‘Hangover’ films-they are self-assured assholes who know they're funny and they wear that quality on on their sleeves. I am among the (very) few that might call themselves fans of “The Hangover Part III” if, for nothing else, the lush photography and the inherently cinematic quality of the production. While the content was confused in its attempt to still be a comedy while at the same time rally so hard against the criticisms of ‘Part II’ that it ended up doing neither in a particularly effective fashion and yet there is an alluring quality about the film for me. I love spending time with those three main characters and that the mentality of the filmmakers was as clear as ever was appealing. They weren't afraid to let us know their intentions and while many will say it didn't work, for me, it might be the most interesting comedy I've ever seen because of it. That said, it was always going to be interesting to see where Phillips took his career after putting the kibosh on his signature franchise. This year, that question will be answered with a movie starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller (both who know how to play an asshole really well) as two young men who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan. And yeah, it's based on a true story. (8/19)
3. “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk”
Ang Lee is a master filmmaker and there is no reason that any year a film of his is released for it not to be at the top of any film lover's most anticipated list. Based on the novel written by Ben Fountain that was published in 2012, the story follows Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who is part of a unit called the Bravo Squad who's been fighting in Iraq. After a brief but intense fight anointed as "the Battle of Al-Ansakar Canal", Lynn and seven other surviving members return to the U.S. and are hailed as war heroes. These war heroes are sent on a "Victory Tour" by the government and as part of this tour, Bravo Squad are invited as guests of the Dallas Cowboys to their annual Thanksgiving game. The squad is also set to make an appearance during the halftime show with Destiny's Child. However, it is soon revealed that following the Victory Tour, the government has not relieved the men of their duty for their achievements and that they are to return to Iraq. Lynn begins to express disenchantment with the treatment of supposed war heroes from American citizens who have seen nothing of war. Though I haven't read Fountain's novel the power of the story is evident in this short synopsis. It doesn't hurt that Lee has enlisted Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) to adapt the novel as well as a cast that includes Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker and Tim Blake Nelson to bring it to life. While my instinct is that this will be a major contender next awards season I guess there is the off chance this could also be another “Taking Woodstock” situation which, still, was a solid film if not one that is remembered among Lee's impressive filmography. Here's hoping to one that makes its mark. (11/11)
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. There were rumors at the beginning of last year that post production might be completed in time for a planned November release date that would have placed the film in the middle of this awards season, but clearly that didn't happen. It is difficult to find any more concrete facts about the film as there is still no planned release date for the film, but there was talk in November of 2015 that Scorsese was in the middle to end stages of the editing process and there were hopes that the final edit would be done in time for a premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Whether that happens or not we'll have to see, but at the very least we can conclude we'll likely be seeing “Silence” in the second half of 2016 at some point. What is even more exciting is that this heavy material undoubtedly gave the director plenty to work with and so to be able to anticipate what as talented a director as Scorsese will do with material we already know he's extremely passionate about only serves to create what will hopefully be one of the more memorable movie-going experiences of the year. (N/A)
1. “La La Land”
Damien Chazelle directed what might be one of the best movies of the past 15 years with 2014's “Whiplash” and whatever it was the 31-year old director would choose to do next there was sure to be a great amount of anticipation around it. Working again from an original screenplay that tells the simple story of a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles it is difficult to imagine what Chazelle might be doing to attempt to follow-up his more than impressive debut. Of course, he could not be thinking about the inevitable comparisons at all and is instead simply making a light. modern-day romance about a relationship between two creative people based on a script he wrote before even making “Whiplash.” From the limited amount of information we've gleaned from the film thus far those qualities seem to be true. Based simply on the small collection of stills we've seen from both the set and of the actual film there seems to be a tone that elicits the magic of music and old Hollywood that is inherently noteworthy. While it was originally planned for Miles Teller to reunite with his “Whiplash” director, the lead male role eventually went to Ryan Gosling who would once again pair up with Emma Stone after starring in two previous films together (“Crazy Stupid Love,” “Gangster Squad”). This, on its own, is enticing as Gosling and Stone have a rather palpable chemistry while the fact they'll be surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend and Jason Fuchs is all the more encouraging. While we may not know much of what “La La Land” has to offer at the moment there are one too many golden factors in play here for this to not be the movie I'm most excited about seeing in 2016. (7/15)