By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 21, 2014 at 1:47PM
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Tom Felton
Synopsis: The true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, born to a British aristocrat and a slave in the 18th century, who inherited great riches but wasn't accepted by much of society.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Lord knows we don't need another British costume drama, but "Belle" is the rare one that's a cut above. Directed by Amma Asante, whose drama "A Way Of Life" won her a BAFTA a decade ago, it tells a little-known tale in British history, and it's a rather important one: bringing race into a traditionally Austen-esque costume drama gives it a whole new lease on life, a clever and potent subversion on the genre, that's well-written and well-made. And well-acted too, not least by star Gugu Mbatha-Raw (J.J. Abrams series "Undercovers"), who's likely to get a huge boost as a result of her performance here. A potential candidate for the sort of "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" counter-programming slot, this could be one of the arthouse sleepers of the year.
Release Date: May 2nd
19. "X-Men: Days Of Future Past"
Cast: Every single actor in Hollywood.
Synopsis: In an apocalyptic future where the robotic Sentinels have wiped out most of mutantkind, Wolverine is sent back to the 1970s to convince Charles Xavier and Magneto to work together to save the future.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Recent controversies aside, the return of Bryan Singer to the X-Men franchise was always a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he birthed the series, and was behind by far the best entry, in the shape of the second film. On the other, the director's been off his game almost ever since, with last year's "Jack The Giant Slayer" being a particular nadir. The initial evidence of this mega-crossover X-film was questionable, with a billion characters and some rather dodgy design work. But footage has got more and more promising as time's gone on, and the right elements are here (McKellen/Stewart! McAvoy/Fassbender! J-Law! P-Dink!) for it to exceed "X2" as the high point of the series, so long as the script is up to scratch. Fingers and adamantium claws crossed, then...
Release Date: May 23rd
18. "A Most Wanted Man"
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, WIllem Dafoe, Grigorly Dobrygin
Synopsis: A German counter-intelligence group attempt to track a Chechen Muslim who may or may not be a terrorist.
Why It's Worth Seeing: We've always been looking forward to "A Most Wanted Man," the adaptation of the John le Carré thriller from "Control" and "The American" helmer Anton Corbijn, but the film's taken on a sad tone since it premiered at Sundance. Heartbreakingly, it proved to be the one of the last roles of star Philip Seymour Hoffman, and most agree it's one of the late actor's finest performances. Otherwise, if you know Corbijn's work, you'll probably have an idea of what to expect—if you thought "The American" was lacking in thrills, this, which our Sundance reviewer described as an "anti-thriller," won't be up your street. But if your taste in spy flicks leans towards the cool and cerebral, this could scratch the right itch, being "handsomely produced," and carrying "the feel of a tense and moody European caper." But more than anything else, we'll be savoring it as one of the last chances to see Hoffman on the screen.
Release Date: July 25th
17. "The One I Love"
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ted Danson
Synopsis: A young married couple go away for a weekend together in an attempt to save their relationship, but soon weird goings-on start to take place.
Why It's Worth Seeing: One of the buzzier films from this year's Sundance, "The One I Love" marks the directorial debut of Charlie McDowell, the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, boyfriend of Rooney Mara, and author of the "Dear Girls Above Me" Twitter feed and book. But from the buzz around the film, which has one of the best-kept secrets of the festival at its heart, he's no tourist: the film won a ton of praise both for its central performances and for the writing (by newcomer Justin Lader). Our Sundance review praised "the natural chemistry" between Moss and Duplass, and the way the film "explores dysfunction through an intriguing, high-concept premise." It's one of the more original romances and sci-fi films we've seen in recent times, and should be a breath of fresh air in theaters in the next few months.
Release Date: August 15th
16. "Edge Of Tomorrow"
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Charlotte Riley, Franz Drameh
Synopsis: As Earth fights a desperate battle against an alien race known as the Mimics, an inexperienced soldier is forced into battle, only to find himself living the same day over and over again.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Tom Cruise remains in a slightly awkward point where he's a huge draw in the "Mission: Impossible" series, but slightly less so elsewhere. But the more we see of "Edge Of Tomorrow," the more intriguing it becomes. The sci-fi "Groundhog Day" set-up is always fun (see the recent "Source Code"), director Doug Liman often brings something fresh to genre fare like this, and it's a much-deserved leading ass-kicking role for Emily Blunt. Perhaps more importantly, it's a relatively new sci-fi movie in a summer as full of remakes, reboots and sequels as ever. Trailers have been increasingly impressive, and it looks less obviously derivative than last year's "Oblivion," so we're hopeful that this could be a pleasant surprise.
Release Date: June 6th
15. "How To Train Your Dragon 2"
Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Housou
Synopsis: Five years after Hiccup brought the Vikings and the dragons to peace, all is well on the Island of Berk. But a figure from Hiccup's past, and a terrifying new villain, are about to change everything again.
Why It's Worth Seeing: "How To Train Your Dragon" is the high bar of DreamWorks Animation's output so far, perhaps the one time they have stood hand-in-hand with the very finest from Pixar, and was a pretty giant hit, so a sequel was always going to be along quickly. This promises to expand the world from the original film, with co-director of the first film, Dean DeBlois, returning. There are some new additions too: Kit Harington, Djimon Hounsou and, in the key role of the Dragon Rider, Cate Blanchett. Sequels are always tricky, but from the trailers, this looks to keep the same mix of spectacular action, gorgeous visuals and giant heart that made the first one so memorable. If it's inferior, it wouldn't be the first time an animated sequel disappointed, but from what we've seen, there's no reason to expect much of a dip.
Release Date: June 13th, after a Cannes premiere next month.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz
Synopsis: A group of frat guys move in next door to a friendly suburban couple, setting off an epic turf war that crosses generational divides.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: A few years back, we saw "Bridesmaids" premiere in 'work-in-progress' form at the SXSW film festival, where it went down a storm, presaging glorious critical reception and huge box office. "Neighbors" might be the best big studio comedy since that, and looks set for very similar success. The latest from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Five-Year Engagement" director Nicholas Stoller, it takes a fairly simple conceit and milks every possible comedic avenue out of it, while maintaining a solid emotional backbone at the same time. It looks atypically beautiful for a studio comedy, and is stacked to the rafters with A-grade comic talent, not least actress Rose Byrne, who finally gets the showcase she's long deserved, and should get a real boost from the film. It's not perfect, but if there's a better comedy in the next few months, we'll do some kind of terrible frat initiation.Release Date: May 9th
13. "22 Jump Street"
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, Wyatt Russell
Synopsis: After their success in high school, Schmidt and Jenko go undercover in college to crack another drug ring. But as they start to grow apart, the pair need to see if their friendship can survive.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: There was no way that "21 Jump Street" should have worked, but it really did, proving to be a surprise critical favorite and legitimate sleeper hit. It's no surprise that Sony fast-tracked a sequel, with original writer Michael Bacall joined by Oren Uziel, and original filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller returning to direct their second movie of the year, after glorious mega-hit "The Lego Movie". The first film was one of the better studio comedies in recent years, though admittedly, "22 Jump Street" looks like more of the same, from the trailers at least. But Lord and Miller haven't phoned it in yet, so we're confident that the film will have plenty more surprises up its sleeve. Plus, it features Jonah Hill dressed in full goth gear, and that's pretty funny on its own.
Release Date: June 13th
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran
Synopsis: After being threatened during a confession, a good-natured Irish priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
Why It’s Worth Seeing: Director John Michael McDonagh, brother of the similarly talented Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), wrote and directed one of the most underseen gems of the last few years with “The Guard.” “Calvary” sees him retain the rural Irish setting, and his star, the great Brendan Gleeson, for a slightly different affair, with a much more dramatic and serious narrative. The film played at Sundance and Berlin earlier in the year, and our reviewer fell hard for it, describing it as "a modern Bresson, if Bresson were directing a particularly wordy Samuel Beckett play". It's thematically dense stuff, "reflecting soberly on mortal sin, the expiation of such iniquities, penitence, absolution and more," but still laced with black comedy, and with another astounding performance from Gleeson at its core.
Release Date: August 1st
11. "We Are The Best!"
Cast: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, David Dencik, Lena Carlsson
Synopsis: Three girls in 1980s Stockholm form a punk band together.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Ever since his delightful breakthrough "Together," Swedish helmer Lukas Moodysson appears to have been daring himself to make darker and more depressing fare each time at bat, to increasingly unsatisfying results. But his latest, an adaptation of wife Coco's graphic novel memoir, is a return to his most charming form, in its tale of a trio of pre-teens who attempt a punk revival long after most others have moved on. It's one of the sweetest coming-of-age tales we can remember in a long time, with an irresistible energy, a killer soundtrack, and three lovely central performances. This is one for anyone who ever played in a band as a kid or felt like an outsider, and that's pretty much all of us at one point or another, right?
Release Date: May 30th