A new year is upon us, and a peek ahead at 2015’s cinematic offerings is… well, kinda depressing, I gotta tell you. As you peruse the many 2015 preview pieces on movie and pop-culture sites, there’s a noticeable sameness — namely because they’re chock full of sequels. And some of those sequels (The Avengers, Mad Max, The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect, Magic Mike, Mission: Impossible, and, yes, Star Wars) might be great! But their domination of said lists speaks to the weakness of said lists; we’re banking anticipation almost exclusively on known quantities, from earlier films and filmmakers (there’s a new Nancy Meyers called The Intern, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro, but he’s playing the intern CAN YOU IMAGINE IT). And with Sundance and the rest of the spring festivals still on the horizon, we can’t yet guess at the smaller sleepers. BUT, nonetheless, we present this look at a few slightly off-the-grid and out-of-the-box movies that might be worth talking about this year.
Release Date: February 6 Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne
The latest sci-fi mind-bender from the Matrix creators was originally pegged for a summer release, before being shuttled off at the eleventh hour to a comparatively low-profile February slot. The official excuse was visual effects, but nobody bought it; word was the Wachowski’s had followed up Cloud Atlas with another weirdo exercise that would alienate mainstream moviegoers. To which I say, more power to ‘em — the action/sci-fi tentpole movie has grown tired and repetitious, and these two are bananas enough to give it a much-needed shot of gonzo peculiarity.
Release Date: TBD Director: David Gordon Green Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine
After a bizarre interlude directing dopey comedies like Your Highness and The Sitter, Green has thankfully returned to his indie-drama roots — and is apparently making a specialty of reminding us that once-revered actors who’ve taken too many paycheck roles can still deliver the goods. Following last year’s excellent Nicolas Cage reconsideration Joe, he casts Al Pacino as a small-town locksmith in Manglehorn, which received positive notices at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and will hopefully serve as one of those wonderful, occasional reminders that there’s a natural, riveting actor lurking underneath that scenery-chewing Jack and Jill co-star.
Release Date: July 17 Director: Judd Apatow Cast: Amy Schumer, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Barkhad Abdi, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, LaBron James, John Cena, Method Man
Following the indifferently-received This is 40 and a bit of a public feminist awakening, director/comedy brand Apatow is, for the first time, directing a feature film written by someone else: star Amy Schumer. That combination, along with one of the most gloriously bizarre supporting casts in recent memory, could make for a truly great comedy — or, at the very least, an interesting one.
While We’re Young
Release Date: March 27 Director: Noah Baumbach Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Baumbach reunites with Greenberg star Stiller for this tale of a filmmaker and his wife, reinvigorated from their yuppie stupor via their encounters with a pair of twentysomethings. (Surely unconnected footnote: the film follows Baumbach’s personal and professional pairing with Greta Gerwig, who was in her late ‘20s when they met.) Baumbach’s been on a real hot streak lately, Driver’s pretty much stealing everything he’s in, Watts is never not great, and Grodin is long overdue for an Albert Brooks-style character actor rediscovery.
Release Date: December 25 Director: David O. Russell Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
You gotta give Russell this: if he likes working with you, you’re apparently set for life. Here, he reunites his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle co-stars for the true story of Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the Long Island single mother-turned-inventor who created such products as the Miracle Mop and the Huggable Hanger. We’ll apparently have to wait until December to find out how good she was with a Science Oven.
The Last Five Years
Release Date: February 13 Director: Richard LaGravenese Cast: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan, Natalie Knepp
“Anna Kendrick singing” may not be the sure-fire formula we thought it was, but this indie musical offers up a juicy structural gimmick — a romance told from two points of view in opposing chronology — from one of the most underrated screenwriter/directors in the game: LaGravanese, who penned The Fisher King and The Ref and helmed the woefully underseen Living Out Loud. Add in a February 13 release date and you’re looking at the Valentine’s Day movie to beat.
Straight Outta Compton
Release Date: August 14 Director: F. Gary Gray Cast: Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Paul Giamatti
And on to a very different musical… Director Gray made his feature film debut helming Ice Cube’s Friday before going on to the likes of The Negotiator, Set It off, and The Italian Job; now he’s come full circle, dramatizing the rise of N.W.A. in this official biopic. Casting Cube’s son as his father smells a little stunt-y, but hats off to whomever though to bring in Giamatti as controversial manager (and, later, lyrical subject) Jerry Heller. Gray’s always been an undervalueddirector; here’s hoping the guns, gangstas, and FBI elements of this story result in something more than the standard musical biopic.
The Hateful Eight
Release Date: TBD Director: Quentin Tarantino Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bachir, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum
Quentin Tarantino. Ensemble Western. 70mm. What else do you need to know?
Release Date: TBD Director: Martin Scorsese Cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
This 17th-century tale of Jesuit priests, adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel, has been one of Scorsese’s passion projects for years (he’d initially intended to make it back in 2009, after Shutter Island, but had to postpone while waiting for funding). And while its premise may sound like a stretch for those who only know Scorsese from the likes of GoodFellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, this world is as much in his wheelhouse as the gangster’s; aside from the religious undertones of films like Mean Streets and Raging Bull and the overt faith of Kundun, Scorsese famously almost entered the priesthood himself before choosing the artist’s path in his youth.
The Other Side of the Wind
Release Date: TBD Director: Orson Welles Cast: John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg
Us Welles fans have long adopted an “I’ll believe it when I see it” stance, but this report from the New York Times seems pretty iron-clad: the long-lost, unseen, final film of the renowned auteur may finally hit screens this year, after decades of whispers and tantalizing clips of a dazzlingly experimental multi-media mélange, indicating (once again) a filmmaker working years ahead of his peers. May 6 is the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth; if that date is marked by the unveiling of his final work, then we’ll forgive all the braindead sequels, comic book movies, and horror reboots the rest of the year may yield.