10. “20th Century Women”
Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Elle Fanning, Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Alia Shawkat
Synopsis: A story of three generations of very different women living in 1970’s Santa Barbara.
What You Need to Know: With 2011’s unforgettable “Beginners,” Mike Mills took everything that was charming and promising about his terrific and idiosyncratic debut “Thumbsucker” and built and expanded upon it. Clearly Megan Ellison was a fan, as she’s bankrolled his next project, a deeply personal seriocomic passion project called “20th Century Women.” Ostensibly an ode to the women who helped to raise Mills himself, “20th Century Women” promises to be an interesting period piece — the film unfolds in the sleepy Southern California beach town of Santa Barbara, sometime in the late 1970s — in addition to another one of Mills’ indelible character portraits. Bening will play the single mother who serves as the focus of the story, with Gerwig as her daughter, an earthy artiste whose return to her hometown doesn’t sit well with her worldly ambitions, and Fanning as a teenager who learns the ins and outs of love.
Release Date: TIFF seems like the best bet.
9. “The Lost City of Z”
Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Mcfadyen
Synopsis: A group of British explorers search for a colonel who goes missing trying to find a lost city somewhere in the Amazon.
What You Need to Know: Although he frequently earns comparisons to his New Hollywood buddies Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, it’s easy to forget that James Gray is only five films into an already-impressive career. “Little Odessa,” “The Yards” and “We Own the Night” are moody, classicist crime dramas indebted to the work of Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola, while “Two Lovers” and the mesmerizing “The Immigrant” respectively tackled the romantic melodrama and the grandiose period epic. His newest, “The Lost City of Z,” looks to be his biggest, most ambitious and perhaps strangest film yet. The unforgiving jungle locale hearkens back to the early, dangerous cinema of Werner Herzog, and something about the juicy-sounding premise evokes the naturalist brutality of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and the inarguable classic film the novel inspired, “Apocalypse Now,” which is one Coppola classic that Gray’s never borrowed from. As far as we’re concerned, Gray is five for five at this point, and we can’t wait to see what the director has up his sleeve with this epic-sounding drama.
Release Date: Gray’s a favorite at Cannes, so if it's done in time, expect it there.
8 “The Story Of Your Life”
Director: Denis Villeneuve (“Enemy,” “Sicario”)
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Synopsis: After a number of alien spacecraft crash on Earth, a linguistics expert is recruited to discover the purpose of the creatures’ journey.
What You Need To Know: Since his Oscar-nominated “Incendies,” Denis Villeneuve has become a Playlist favorite, thanks to “Prisoners,” “Enemy” and “Sicario.” 2016 will see him begin production on the much-anticipated sequel to “Blade Runner,” but first he squeezed in this sci-fi warm-up, an adaptation of a novella by Ted Chiang. In theory, it's an alien invasion movie, but Villeneuve’s already shown that his remarkable command of tone and image can elevate tired-seeming premises, and this has a lot going for it —this is essentially a movie about language, which is pretty bold. As ever, he’s assembled a strong cast, and while Roger Deakins, busy with the Coens, sat this one out, he continues to show exemplary taste in cinematographers, with Bradford Young (“Selma,” “A Most Violent Year”) behind the viewfinder this time.
Release Date: Paramount haven’t given it one yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Villeneuve return to Cannes after “Sicario” screened there in 2015.
7. “ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Director: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla,” “Monsters”)
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk
Synopsis: Set just before the events of "Star Wars: A New Hope," the story follows a motley band of Rebel fighters who launch a desperate bid to steal the plans for the Death Star and thereby prevent Emperor Palpatine from gaining ground.
What You Need To Know: With 'The Force Awakens' still stomping through the record books as predicted, it's hard to see through to when the dust clears at the end of 2016 and there will be another "Star Wars" film to check out —with a whole new time period, cast of characters and apparently a distinct look and feel. But this leftfield, potentially confusing move from Disney is what has us so interested in "Rogue One" (apart from the stellar cast, of course). It promises a different vibe than the had-to-please-everyone JJ Abrams incarnation, and while Edwards' "Godzilla" may not overall have worked for us, it was one of the more beautiful blockbusters of recent years. If the success of 'Force Awakens' buys him and writer Chris Weitz (with rumored input from Christopher McQuarrie) the grace to put a different spin on the Star Wars universe, one evidently closer to a war movie, then all the better.
Release Date: December 16th
6. “The Neon Demon”
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcoate, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks
Synopsis: An up-and-coming model in Los Angeles becomes prey for a gang of beauty-obsessed peers who wish to drain her of her vitality and beauty.
What You Need to Know: “Only God Forgives,” the last film directed by mad Dane Nicolas Winding Refn, took such a critical drubbing that a great deal of the luster lingering from Refn’s magnificent previous feature “Drive” was ultimately lost in the hubbub. Refn’s ultra-stylized, ultra-violent films have always been an acquired taste, and “Only God Forgives” is decidedly more in line with the slow-burning, somewhat indulgent dread of earlier work than the gloriously cinematic dreamscape in which “Drive” unfolded. But with “Neon Demon,” Refn looks primed to deliver another electric, hyper-surreal masterwork in the vein of his best efforts. This time ‘round, he's assembled a killer cast of (mostly) women to bring to life a ghoulish-sounding tale that is said to be indebted to the Countess Bathory myth, Christian cinema and the catty black comedy “Drop Dead Gorgeous.”
Release Date: TBD. Amazon Studios acquired the rights to the film in November of 2015, and they’re likely rooting for a Cannes premiere like the director’s last two films.
5. “The Salesman”
Director: Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation,” “The Past”)
Cast: Sahahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Synopsis: Two actors perform in Arthur Miller’s “Death Of A Salesman.”
What You Need To Know: Though a few savvy festival-goers picked up on his earlier work, for most of us Iranian helmer Asghar Farhadi is maybe the most exciting filmmaker to emerge in this decade. His Oscar-winning melodrama “A Separation” topped our list of the best of the decade so far last year, and the France-set follow-up “The Past” was terrific too. There's been a gap of a few years since the latter, but Farhadi is lining up projects: he’s apparently going to shoot a movie produced by Pedro Almodovar in Spain later this year, but he quietly shot a film back home in Iran last month. Details are thin on the ground, except that it’s apparently linked to “Death Of A Salesman.” Some kind of theatrical-life drama? Or something more experimental? Either way, consider us there.
Release Date: Though it only shot in November, Farhadi’s apparently already submitted it to the Fajr International Film Festival in Iran. That takes place in early February —could we also end up seeing it in Berlin?
4. “Hail, Caesar!”
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen.
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum
Synopsis: A “fixer” in 1950s Hollywood finds himself entrenched in a cesspool of misunderstanding when the harebrained star of a Roman gladiator picture is kidnapped by a shadowy organization known as The Future.
What You Need to Know: Any new film from cinema’s reigning pair of court jesters is reason enough to celebrate. The Coens have a habit of following up their more grave and soulful pictures with works of fevered comic lunacy, and “Hail, Caesar!” looks to be very much a retreat into mannered slapstick silliness following the somber lyricism of 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”. The cast here is one of the best the brothers have ever assembled, including returning Coen favorites like George Clooney (once again playing a mealy-mouthed idiot), Brolin as fixer Eddie Mannix and Frances McDormand in a supporting turn. There’s also some new faces being brought into the fold in the form of Channing Tatum, whose gift for conveying blissful stupidity makes him an ideal fit for the Coen-verse, a vampy-looking Scarlett Johannson and Jonah Hill. The trailer is also a treat, promising the kind of colorful, high-velocity hijinks that characterize the brother’s broader efforts, while also hinting at the potentially darker themes that the movie may have in store. Will “Hail, Caesar!” be a tongue-in-cheek Tinseltown farce played in the Coen’s signature morbid key —or will it be something more? Just a few more months until we find out for ourselves.
Release Date: February 6th
3. “War Machine”
Director: David Miçhod (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover”)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Topher Grace, Meg Tilly, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter
Synopsis: A veiled biopic of Stanley McChrystal, the so-called Runaway General who was put in charge of the war in Afghanistan by President Obama but who quickly alienated his allies and bosses.
What You Need To Know: It might not be a sea change that one of the movies in our top five most anticipated of 2015 is funded and will be distributed by streaming service Netflix, but it’s certainly notable. “Beasts Of No Nation” certainly made a splash, but this is Netflix’s biggest endeavor to date, with the company stepping in to fund David Miçhod’s darkly comic “M.A.S.H.” style look at the war in Afghanistan, starring one of the planet’s biggest stars, after New Regency and Ratpac took issue with the budget, to the tune of $60 million. Miçhod’s an enormous talent, the subject matter is vitally important, and the supporting cast —which along with Poulter, also includes other fast rising stars like “Brooklyn” breakout Emory Cohen, “Short Term 12” standout Keith Stanfield, “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”’s RJ Cyler and “The Big Short” actor John Magaro— is killer.
Release Date: None yet, but look for it at a fall festival (perhaps a Netflix return to Venice?) before it hits theaters and Netflix.
2. Untitled Terrence Malick Austin Music Scene Project
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Haley Bennett
Synopsis: A romantic drama set in the music industry.
What You Need To Know: Unless you happened to be at Berlin last year, you haven’t yet seen “Knight Of Cups” (BECAUSE YOU DON’T PIRATE MOVIES, DO YOU?), but nevertheless, we’re likely to see something from Terrence Malick sooner rather than later, given that he shot this still-untitled film —originally called “Lawless,” presently rumored to be named “Weightless”— virtually back to back with the last one back in 2012. Promising to do for Austin and the music world what “Knight Of Cups” did for Hollywood, this film seemingly has Ryan Gosling in the lead role and should feature live performances from some or all of Fleet Foxes, The Black Lips, Neon Indian, Arcade Fire, Lykke Li, Patti Smith and Florence & The Machine. As ever, details are few, but it’s Malick, so we’ll be there.
Release Date: Who knows...
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano
Synopsis: Two 17th-century Jesuit priests face violent persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and to spread the gospel of Christianity.
What You Need To Know: Scorsese has been threatening to make this passion project for several years, and it finally got before cameras early last year. Sadly, Daniel Day-Lewis (the original lead) is no longer on board, but the cast is otherwise terrific and it’ll be nice to see Neeson do something other than beat people up for a change and remind audiences he can act when he's asked to. File this one likely under: much closer to “Kundun” or “The Last Temptation Of Christ,” religion-based Scorsese projects that don’t always light up the box-office but are nonetheless usually among his finest work. Though the cast alone will surely make it some kind of awards contender, and it sounds like it may almost be the antithesis of Scorsese's last picture, the brash, gleefully excessive "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Release Date: Producer Gaston Pavlovich has said that if it's done in time, they're aiming for Cannes. Interestingly, it’d be the director’s first fiction film there since his segment of “New York Stories” in 1989.
Special Mention: We’re Not Sure If This Is Still Happening in 2016, But It’s Highly Anticipated If It Is
Director: Harmony Korine (“Trash Humpers,” “Spring Breakers”)
Cast: Idris Elba, Benicio Del Toro, Robert Pattinson, Al Pacino, James Franco
Synopsis: A gangster rapper is targeted by an ex-con recently released from prison.
What You Need To Know: As far as candidates for mainstream crossover status go, we’d have had indie world enfant terrible Harmony Korine fairly low on the list, and yet “Spring Breakers” proved to be a substantial hit in 2013, proving the eternal appeal of James Franco, as well as young women partying in swimsuits. It’s taken a little time for Korine to follow it up, but “The Trap” could end up making even more of a splash —if it’s still happening, as word’s been very quiet since the summer. A crime thriller, the director called it “sensory bombardment… a super propulsive, pretty highly violent revenge movie,” which sounds alright by us. He’s got a great cast lined up (assuming everyone’s still involved: schedules change, and if it is keeping to the original plan, it would clash with Benicio Del Toro’s “Star Wars” shoot), and we can’t wait to see what kind of bonkers fever dream he cooks up this time. If we were 100% sure that this was definitely going to be released this year, it’d undoubtedly be in our top five.
Release Date: The film was supposed to get before cameras this month. Assuming that holds, it could be ready for a Venice premiere, as “Spring Breakers” did.
There’s plenty more where the above came from, and other movies that could have made this list on a different day. We deliberately didn’t include too many Sundance titles, as we’ll be doing a full Sundance preview in a week or two, but among those we’re keeping an eye on are Nate Parker’s slavery drama “Birth Of A Nation,” Chad Hartigan’s “Morris From America,” Ellen Page/Allison Janney reunion “Tallulah,” a rare drama from “Amy” and “Senna” director Asif Kapadia with “Ali & Nino,” Viggo Mortensen dramedy “Captain Fantastic,” future “Thor 3” director Taika Waititi’s “Hunt For The Wilderpeople,” James Schamus’ directorial debut with Philip Roth adaptation “Indignation,” Joshua Marston’s “Complete Unknown” starring Rachel Weisz, another musical from “Once” director John Carney with “Sing Street,” and “Southside With You,” which is basically “Before Sunrise,” but with Barack and Michelle Obama.
Other movies that nearly made our list include comedy sequels “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and “Bad Santa 2,” Clint Eastwood’s latest “Sully,” the biopic of the hero pilot starring Tom Hanks, James Franco and Bryan Cranston in comedy “Why Him?,” Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey in Amazon Studios pic “Elvis & Nixon,” Tom Hanks in Tom Tykwer’s Dave Eggers adaptation “A Hologram For The King,” Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth in the Berlinale-bound “Genius,” Terence Davies’ latest “A Quiet Passion” starring Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson, Ben Affleck/Anna Kendrick thriller “The Accountant,” long-delayed Natalie Portman Western “Jane Got A Gun,” John Le Carre adaptation “Our Kind Of Traitor” with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Harris, and David Yates’ “The Legend Of Tarzan.”
From the international side, we’re hopeful that Diego Luna’s “Mr. Pig,” Christi Puiu's “Sierra Nevada,” Andre Techine’s “When I’m 17” (written by “Girlhood” helmer Celine Sciamma), Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Umi yori mo mada fukaku,” Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay,” Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” Tran Anh Hung’s “Eternite” and Jan Svankmajer’s “The Insects” will each arrive this year. Don’t hold your breath for new films from Michael Haneke, Ruben Ostlund or Abbas Kiarostami, though: they don’t appear to have filmed yet, so will likely be headed for Cannes 2017. The same is true for Benh Zeitlin’s “Wendy,” which we don’t think has been shot, and Channing Tatum X-Man movie “Gambit,” which has finally found a director in Doug Liman, but seems unlikely to make its October release given shooting hasn’t started yet. Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” doesn’t shoot til the summer, so that’s another strong Cannes possibility for next year.
There are plenty of bigger movies that are definitely arriving, but are question marks to one degree or another, even if we remain hopeful that they’ll turn out well. They include Jon Favreau’s live-action “The Jungle Book” re-do, Ricky Gervais-directed Netflix pic “Special Correspondents” starring Eric Bana, Idris Elba actioner “Bastille Day,” M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” with James McAvoy, Edgar Ramirez/Robert De Niro boxing drama “Hands Of Stone,” Mel Gibson’s return to directing with the Andrew Garfield-starring WW2 pic “Hacksaw Ridge,” Greg Mottola action-comedy “Keeping Up With The Joneses” starring Jon Hamm, Zach Galafianakis, Isla Fisher and Gal Gadot, Jim Sheridan’s “The Secret Scripture” with Rooney Mara, and James Franco’s Hollywood satire “Zeroville.”
And let’s not also forget Bryan Cranston in based-in-fact thriller “The Infiltrator,” Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan and Christoph Waltz in period drama “Tulip Fever,” sci-fi “The Space Between Us” with Asa Butterfield and Gary Oldman, Timur Bekmambetov’s big-budget “Ben Hur” remake, sci-fi actioner “Spectral” starring James Badge Dale and Emily Mortimer, virus thriller “Patient Zero” with Matt Smith and Natalie Dormer, rom-com threequel “Bridget Jones’ Baby,” Gore Verbinski’s low-budget palate cleanser “A Cure For Wellness” starring Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth, the return of Tom Hanks as whatever he’s called in “Da Vinci Code” follow-up “Inferno,” Tom Cruise cracking heads again in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” and Owen Wilson/Ed Helms comedy “Bastards.”
And there’s Sean Penn’s aid worker drama “The Last Face” with Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, Woody Allen’s latest with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell, Woody Harrelson in neo-western “By Way Of Helena,” Jesse Owens biopic “Race,” Sacha Baron Cohen spy-comedy “The Brothers Grimsby,” J.J. Abrams-produced thriller “Valencia” with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, potential future How In The Name Of Whatever Deity You Worship Did This Get Made favorite “Gods Of Egypt,” delayed Nicholas Hoult/Felicity Jones car-chase actioner “Collide,” Taron Egerton in ski-jump biopic “Eddie The Eagle” and Melissa McCarthy as “The Boss.”
Finally, there’s also unnecessary fairy tale sequel “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” with a killer cast of Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, Michael Bay’s sure-to-be-controversial “13 Hours,” animated sequel “Kung Fu Panda 3,” Chris Pine and Casey Affleck in coast guard drama “The Finest Hours,” period horror-rom-com “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies,” obnoxious-looking Ryan Reynolds meta-superhero pic “Deadpool,” Dakota Johnson rom-com “How To Be Single,” Johnny Depp back in a gaudy wonderland for “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” horror sequel “The Conjuring 2,” The Rock and Kevin Hart teaming for “Central Intelligence,” Zac Efron and Adam Devine teamed for “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates,” and animation “The Secret Life Of Pets,” from the makers of “Minions.”
Whew! We’re sure there will be plenty more surprises to come. What are you most looking forward to? Let us know below. — with Nicholas Laskin