In which Ron Swanson goes a little mad and finds himself wishing for the comfort of the past, rather than the unknowable future. About FILMS!
Yeah, yeah, Star Wars, but, well, I don’t know about you, but I wince a little every time I read that 2015 is going to be a great year for movies because of all the huge titles due for release. What I assume people are trying to say is that it will be a great year for The Movies. Everyone involved in the business of films, from the studios to the cinemas, should be about to have a very lucrative year, as title after title is aimed at its target demographic like Arnie diving headfirst out of a helicopter. One of those films, of course is the spellcheck-busting Terminator: Genisys, which seems set to reinvent the franchise by changing the events we saw in the first film some 31 years ago, in a similar way to how JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot cast everything off and headed ingeniously/inconceivably (delete as appropriate) into a parallel universe. With Arnie starring alongside a quintessentially C-list cast (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Jason Clarke, Live Free or Die Hard’s Jai Courtney), and direction handled by Thor: The Dark World helmer Alan Taylor, the very reputation of this franchise is at stake.
As with any year that Hollywood is confident about, 2015 is awash with franchise movies. We have sequels and spinoffs (deep breath)… Furious 7, Avengers 2, Star Wars Episode VII, Spectre [Bond 24], The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Minions Movie, Jurassic World, Ted 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. We also have adaptations of existing properties, novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, comic books like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Fantastic Four and Ant-Man and reboots of earlier films like Mad Max: Fury Road. I wanted to root a bit deeper than that, and pick out some films that maybe haven’t had quite the hype of those titles, nor the coverage on MostlyFilm that many of last year’s festival darlings, still awaiting UK releases (Mommy, The Tribe, It Follows, Girlhood, etc), have enjoyed.
So, where to start? Well, how about one of the big awards contenders that we haven’t written about here yet? If Selma gets the Oscar™ recognition that it deserves, then Ava DuVernay will be the first woman of colour to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. DuVernay’s Selma is released in cinemas in early February, and is one of the year’s best films. It tells the story of the planning and execution of a Civil Rights march between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 by Dr Martin Luther King (a superb performance by David Oyelowo) and his supporters. It’s a film that attempts to provide us with a flavour of the political landscape in 1960s America, but is more concerned with the impact on the ground that is felt by Dr King and his friends and colleagues as they carry out their non-violent protests in the face of huge provocation and physical assault.
It’s impossible to watch Selma, an uncommonly powerful and focused film, and not find it amazing that 50 years after the scenes portrayed by DuVernay and her excellent cast that the USA is still undergoing crises of abuse, of race and of power. It’s impossible not to think of modern-day protesters and their ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ slogan. Of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and the rest. It’s to DuVernay’s immense credit that her anger powers the film without overbalancing it, and what she’s delivered is a stunning tribute to a great man’s acts of great courage fifty years ago, and a call to action for a community still under attack from their countrymen and women.
Another of this year’s awards contenders is A Most Violent Year, one of the most handsome films of the year, with two staggeringly good performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain (who each should have won an Oscar in the last couple of years, and are incredibly worthy of nominations, at least, for their work here). They play a married couple, who own an oil company in New York in 1981 (the most violent year in the city’s history). Throughout the film, they and their company are seemingly under attack from rivals attacking and stealing their trucks and from an ambitious DA (another pretty impressive performance from David Oyelowo) attempting to prove ties to organised crime. It’s an exceptional character study, a tense relationship drama and an inveigling, unsettling thriller, establishing JC Chandor as one of the most promising directors of his generation. After a strong debut with Margin Call, Chandor proved his class with All is Lost, and takes another step forward with A Most Violent Year, which is released on January 23rd.
Released the following week is Paul Thomas Anderson’s weed-burnt Inherent Vice. It’s a film that is probably best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible in advance, but it’s another brave, ambitious, distinctive, masterful film from a truly great director. Whether it’s a masterpiece will probably take another couple of viewings to determine, but until then, it’s a beautiful companion piece to Boogie Nights, baggy and dopey instead of desperate and frenetic, reflecting the drugs that dominate them.
The first part of the year isn’t only for auteurs and well-reviewed adult films, though. There are also a couple of very appealing animations due for release in time for the first school holiday of the year, Shaun the Sheep: The Movie and Big Hero 6. The former is the latest big-screen adventure for Aardman, a follow-up to the much-admired The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists. Given the huge success the company had with their other existing property to make it to the big screen – Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – it would be reasonable to expect great things of Shaun the Sheep, who was recently voted the nation’s favourite kids TV character.
Big Hero 6 meanwhile is a Disney animation, based on a Marvel property about a young boy and his friends who team up to fight crime in San Frantokyo, their home city. It’s a charming, lovely, funny and brilliant film, one which should appeal to just about everyone, and another success from a studio who have certainly recaptured their animation mojo in recent years. Big Hero 6 is just as much fun as either Tangled or Frozen.
The most exciting family film of 2015 though, is Inside Out, the new Pixar movie. Directed by Pixar Hall of Famer Pete Docter (writer of Toy Stories 1 and 2 and Wall-E and the writer-director of Monsters Inc and Up), Inside Out is the story of a young girl and the five emotions that control her brain (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust). Early footage is funny, and just as emotional as the first ten minutes of Up. Docter is a born storyteller, and everything seen on Inside Out, so far, suggests that he’s hit another home run.
Another Pixar luminary, Brad Bird, the man behind the company’s greatest film, Ratatouille, brings us a second live-action blockbuster (after his terrific Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) with Tomorrowland. Like the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, this is a film based on a theme park ride. It doesn’t necessarily seem like that should make for great art, but with Bird involved, I’m pretty confident that we’re going to see something of the highest quality. The film tells the story of a young girl who becomes friends with a reclusive genius inventor (George Clooney), and the two team up to make their way to the legendary world of Tomorrowland. With Clooney and Bird in unison, it’s fair to say that this could be something pretty exciting. The film is released in May.
One of Clooney’s best pals Matt Damon stars in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Andy Weir. There’s certainly an audience for intelligent sci-fi, as evidenced by both Interstellar and Gravity in previous years. While there’s nothing in Scott’s recent filmography that suggests he could make a film that would even bear comparison to those two, I have to admit that every time I hear he’s making a film set in space, my hopes are raised. The film is released in November.
I’m more excited by Triple Nine, a thriller directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition and The Road). A group of corrupt cops, in over their heads, are blackmailed into committing a seemingly impossible heist, which will involve them murdering a rookie officer. It’s an interesting enough idea, but the cast elevates it to something very exciting. The film will star Kate Winslet, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Gal Gadot (soon to play Wonder Woman), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck. It’s set for release in September.
What could be better than reuniting two of Hollywood’s most enduring talents, 58-year-old Tom Hanks and 68-year-old Steven Spielberg (68!). They will team up for a spy thriller tentatively titled St. James Place. Hanks will play James B. Donovan, a lawyer tasked with securing the release of an American pilot, whose plane crashlanded in the Soviet Union in the early days of the Cold War. Spielberg’s last great film, Munich, took a look at a period of political unrest in our recent history, and I’m certainly excited by the thought of him returning to the same sort of period that he created so effortlessly in Catch Me If You Can. Munich proved that he could handle politically charged subject matter, and St. James Place should reinforce that.
A rather different sort of spy film is, well, Spy. Directed by Paul Feig (The Heat, Bridesmaids) and starring among others, Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart (also Jason Statham, Jude Law, 50 Cent and the great Allison Janney), this is perhaps unlikely to have the gravitas of Spielberg’s effort, but some early word on the internet suggests that it is an absolute knockout: a smart and silly comedy, which sees McCarthy play a little against type as a timid CIA analyst thrust into field work when her partner goes missing, presumed dead. The Heat was one of 2013’s most enjoyable films, and if Feig and McCarthy can recreate that magic, then Spy could be perfect counter programming to the portentous summer blockbusters it will be released against.
I have a soft-spot for every one of the headline talents involved with Focus. Will Smith is still an incredibly charismatic and likable star and a terrific actor, Margot Robbie has all the star quality in the world while directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have deserved much more success with each of their last two films (the underseen and underrated I Love You Philip Morris and Crazy, Stupid Love). When I add in that Focus exists in one of my favourite genres, as a confidence trick movie, then I could not be more hopeful that it adds up to a sexy, funny and smart ride.
One of 2014’s star-making performances came from the great Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. She takes the lead role in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, playing a cop determined to bring down a drug lord at the head of a Mexican cartel. The film takes her from Texas across the border and into an uneasy alliance with two shadowy government agents played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Blunt’s transformation into an action star in Edge of Tomorrow certainly suggests that she’ll be a convincing presence in a high-calibre thriller. Villeneuve’s last two films (his Gyllenhaal double bill, Prisoners and Enemy) have been hugely acclaimed, and he reteams with the great DoP Roger Deakins here, whose skills should add another layer of class to a thoroughly intriguing project.
Gyllenhaal has, himself, been busy as you can see below, beefing up after his superb turn in Nightcrawler to take the lead in Southpaw, directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day). He’s on a pretty incredible run of form since Source Code, and Southpaw will certainly see him stretch himself, playing a boxer whose life begins to fall apart once he reaches the top. Fuqua certainly isn’t a slam-dunk director, but he’s assembled a great supporting cast to surround Gyllenhaal, including Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker and Naomie Harris.
Gyllenhaal also stars in Everest, directed by Contraband’s Balthasar Kormakur. It’s the story of two ill-fated simultaneous expeditions up the world’s most famous mountain. An adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, this Working Title production has assembled an incredible cast including John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson. Shot in 3D and IMAX, this is set to be a dizzying, terrifying spectacle, which if the filmmakers can marry with an emotional core, could deliver huge thrills, and box-office to match.
In spite of 2015 being certain to be dominated by the bigger films, there are several small projects that I’m champing at the bit to see. I’ve written here before about the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda, so news of a new project for him is particularly thrilling. Umimachi Diary is an adaptation of a Manga about three sisters who team up to adopt their teenage brother when their father dies. Kore-eda is a master of emotionally potent story telling about families in trouble and the mysteries and sadness inherent in childhood, as evidenced by the likes of I Wish, Nobody Knows and Like Father, Like Son. It may not pick up UK distribution, (although his last two films have), so the best chance to catch it may be at a festival at some point this year.
Joachim Trier’s past two films Reprise and Oslo August 31 had a huge impact on me – intelligent, troubling dramas about intelligent and troubled adult characters which built to be quietly devastating. Louder than Bombs, Trier’s English-language debut sees Isabelle Huppert play a war-photographer, whose death begins to destroy her family. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan, Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and David Strathairn.
Lenny Abrahamson has a couple of great films on his record – Garage and Adam and Paul. His last two films What Richard Did and Frank have seen him appeal to a wider audience, while maintaining his edge (What Richard Did was a slight misfire, in my mind, but Frank was terrific). He returns to our screens this year with Room. The film is an adaptation of an acclaimed novel written by Emma Donoghue about a young boy raised by his mother (Brie Larsen) in a small shed. The story is bleak, but Abrahamson is a filmmaker who can handle and subvert bleakness. This could see him breakout yet further, as a director of some repute.
Joe Swanberg’s last film was Drinking Buddies, a likable character piece starring Jake Johnson. His new film Digging for Fire appears to have few plans to subvert that formula, with Johnson’s character and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) being given a break from new parenthood, when they’re asked to house-sit for a friend. The mumblecore movement may have moved on, now, but Swanberg’s naturalism is always welcome. He’s assembled a huge cast, here, too, with Anna Kendrick, Brie Larsen, Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina and Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate co-starring.
Giorgios Lanthimos’ Dogtooth was one of the most remarkable films of the last decade, and his follow-up, Alps, damn-near repeated that trick. The Lobster, his third film, was highlighted as a 2014 film to watch at this time last year by MostlyFilm’s Philip Concannon. I won’t go into much detail beyond what Philip wrote then, but cannot fail to share this official synopsis: “In a dystopian near-future, lonely people are obliged to find a matching mate within a 45-day period in a hotel. If they fail, they are transformed into animals and sent off into the woods, but one man escapes and finds love”. Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux and Olivia Colman star.
Meanwhile, there are a number of other films that could end up competing for the major awards next year, such as Trumbo, in which Bryan Cranston will play the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who refused to inform at Joseph McCarthy’s HUAC hearings. Cranston’s never had the film role to launch him into the stratosphere, but playing a Hollywood legend could see that change.
Another potential awards contender for late 2015 is Todd Haynes’ Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, with a starry cast including Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. A period romance, Carol is Haynes’ first film in 8 years, since I’m Not There. David O. Russell will be hoping to strike the same chord with voters as he has with his last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) with Joy, the story of a New Jersey housewife who made a fortune inventing household products, such as the Magic Mop™. Jennifer Lawrence stars, naturally.
Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Two Oceans, which stars Michael Fassbender (who is on the verge of a potentially huge year) will also hope to contend. Cianfrance, whose two previous films Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines have lots of fans, is working with his biggest budget yet, adapting M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same name about a soldier (Fassbender) who returns home to Australia after WWI, and is convinced by his wife (Rachel Weisz) to keep the abandoned baby she finds.
Fassbender will also star in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth alongside Marion Cotillard. The film appears to be incredibly vivid and intense, and with such a charismatic leading pair could be a completely different and new telling of the tale. He also appears as Steve Jobs, in Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle from a script by Aaron Sorkin, which should, again, be a strong awards contender, based on Sorkin’s work on The Social Network.
I’m a little guilty of neglecting some of the other more famous films, such as Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, Scorsese’s The Silence and Inarritu’s The Revenant, but I’ve gone on for quite long enough. One final thought, though, maybe those people, the ones going on about how great 2015 is going to be for movies aren’t too wide of the mark after all.