Whether because it feels more workhorse-y, having the enormous European Film Market run alongside it, or because it takes place just when the Sundance Film Festival has already exhausted the hell out of everyone, or because slushy, grey Berlin in February just doesn't yield the same Red Carpet photo ops as the South of France in May or the Floating City in early September, the Berlin Film Festival (aka Berlinale) historically seems like the least glamorous of the major European film festivals. But its relative lack of pretense belies just how much its profile has risen in the last few years, with last year's lineup featuring the World Premiere of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and the international bow of "Boyhood," delivering probably the biggest-ever boost to the festival's cachet. Until this year, that is, when this festival can boast maybe its most mouthwatering slate ever for devoted cinephiles. And "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Snaffling the new films from Terrence Malick, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, along with a host of auteur titles that might have previously been rumored for Venice or Cannes, Berlin 2015 is a pretty exciting prospect, featuring many of our most anticipated titles of the year. And "Fifty Shades of Grey." So here are the ten titles we're most eager for, along with a long list in the outro of others that have caught our eye and that we'll be hoping to catch up with over the next few treat-filled weeks. The Berlinale runs from this Thursday, February 5th, to Sunday February 15th, so stay tuned for coverage of these ten anticipated titles and lots more.
"Knight of Cups"
Synopsis: Rick is adrift in a Hollywood predicated on fame and hedonism. As he searches for meaning, his father, various acquaintances he meets along the way, and the women in his life who symbolize polar opposite desires, all become entwined in an existentialist modern-day moral fable.
What You Need To Know: It's our no 1. Most Anticipated film of 2015. It stars Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, Imogen Poots and who knows who else. It is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, with production design by the great Jack Fisk. But all you really need to know is it's directed by Terrence Malick, and the trailer is among the most beautiful 2m 16s of film footage we've seen recently. Alternating punchy and dreamy imagery, the film looks to show Malick bringing his familiar concerns into a different milieu and environment, scooping up the vapidity and excess of Hollywood and taking it in his grand philosophical stride. If it yields a work that even partially combines his themes of longing, fulfillment, faith and faithfulness with the urban, punkish edge we see a little of here, the results are bound to be spectacular. It's surely destined to be derided as pretentious by a certain segment as well. We can't wait.
"Queen of the Desert"
Synopsis: A chronicle of the fascinating life and tempestuous loves of Gertrude Bell, a novelist, historian, explorer, archaeologist and political attache with the British Secret Service who helped redraw the map of the Middle East in the wake of the First World War.
What You Need To Know: For the last few years, Werner Herzog has been more occupied with documentary than narrative features (outside of gamely hamming it up as the "Jack Reacher" villain), and we can't urge you enough to check out his "On Death Row" series if you haven't already. Still, any return to fiction would be big news for diehard, follow-him-to-the-ends-of-the-earth fans like us, even if it did not feature the biggest, starriest cast Herzog has ever worked with (Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Damien Lewis and Jenny Agutter) animating an irresistible story of the pioneer spirit that unusually for Herzog this time resides in a female protagonist. Which could provide the kind of dramatic real-life heroine role for Kidman that will expunge the the awful "Grace of Monaco" from our memories.
"Every Thing Will Be Fine"
Synopsis: In the aftermath of a tragic car accident that claims the life of a young boy, the driver, the brother of the dead boy and his mother attempt to deal with blame and guilt. For twelve years following the event, the driver Tomas tests his relationships, attempts to build a sort of family and disappears into his work trying to expiate his guilt, before the boy's brother engineers a meeting again.
What You Need To Know: Once Berlin ends, barely a fortnight into February, we will already have seen five James Franco films debut in 2015: his two high-profile Sundance titles, one in Slamdance plus "Queen of the Desert" and this Wim Wenders film bowing in Berlin. But if Franco is everywhere, the reverse is true for narrative features from Wenders (this is his first since 2008's misfire "Palermo Shooting") with the revered director of "Paris, Texas" and "Wings of Desire" working more in documentary format recently, studying dance ("Pina"), architecture ("Cathedrals of Culture") and photography ("The Salt of the Earth"). These often very beautiful docs have us anticipating his return to narrative, with this 3D (!) drama, as does the team he's assembled around Franco, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rachel McAdams and Peter Stormare, with Benoit Debie as DP and Alexandre Desplat scoring.
Synopsis: The story of ambitious Hollywood photographer Dennis Stock, who pitches a series of photographs for LIFE magazine featuring then rising star James Dean, resulting in some of the most iconic and endlessly reproduced images of all time.
What You Need To Know: The second big Berlin title after "Queen of the Desert" to feature Robert Pattinson, in a bigger role here as the photographer Stock alongside Dane DeHaan as Dean, Anton Corbijn's fourth film is his most ambitious. The director has steadily and quietly become a favorite of ours with his meticulous, unshowy but elegant style of filmmaking, but this feels like a broader canvas than he's worked with before —it's a period piece (though admittedly so was his debut, "Control") and one that will find him tackling one of the great icons of the 20th century, all set to a score by Owen Pallett who did such great work with Arcade Fire on Spike Jonze's "Her." But it may also be very personal —Corbijn is responsible for some potent image-building in the famous photographs he used to take of rock bands, as anyone who's seen "Anton Corbijn Inside Out" can attest, and surely has a very specific perspective on this story.
"Queen of Earth"
Synopsis: Two women travel together to a lakeside cabin for a weekend of bonding. But once there, the tensions in their relationship bubble to the surface, and the idyllic surroundings take on a menacing aspect.
What You Need To Know: Even casual Playlist readers must know what cheerleaders we were for Alex Ross Perry's last film "Listen Up, Philip," which was made with DP Sean Price Williams and with the great Elisabeth Moss, one of the leads here. 'Queen' sees him move into thrillerish territory, though it's the dynamic between two female friends that he is exploring here. And the key thing that has happened since this film was announced and immediately landed on our Most Anticipated 2015 list? More of us have seen "Inherent Vice" and fallen completely under the spell of co-lead Katherine Waterston, making this a white-hot two-hander even before you factor in supporting players like Patrick Fugit and Kate Lyn Sheil.