Make no mistake: these days, movies are all about anticipation. Marvel’s “Phase” announcements are staged and presented like Apple product launches – which, y’know, is basically what they are – while studios trickle out “first look” images, character posters, trailers, teasers, and (God help us) teasers for teasers. After all that build-up, the payoff can seem a touch anticlimactic; months of promises and expectations, and then the movie’s over in two hours. So looking forward to movies can be a tricky bit of business, and not always a rewarding one; this writer looked back at our most anticipated list of 2015, and not a single one of those ten films ended up in my top ten of the year. (I was looking forward to Joy. That’s how much I knew!) The truly great ones tend to sneak up on you, but nonetheless, we’ve combed through the many, many films slated or presumed for release in 2016 to pluck out the most promising of the bunch.
25. War on Everyone Director: John Michael McDonagh Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Tessa Thompson, Theo James
Too many of you have been sleeping on John Michael McDonagh. His first two films both starred Brendon Gleeson (also the MVP of brother Martin’s In Bruges), but otherwise couldn’t have been more different: The Guard was a sharp buddy action/comedy, while Calvary was a mournful, prickly meditation on matters of faith and forgiveness. His latest sounds closer to the former – it centers on two New Mexico cops trying to blackmail a crime boss – though the best thing about his work is, you never know exactly where it’s going.
24. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Release Date: March 4th Directors: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott
This writer was one of the few carrying the flag for Ficarra and Requa’s spring release last year, the snappy caper flick Focus; their latest reunites them with that picture’s co-star Margot Robbie, as well as Billy Bob Thornton (the pair wrote the script to Bad Santa). Throw in Tina Fey in another honest-to-God leading-lady role and Martin Freeman finally throwing off the shackles (or hooves, I guess?) of the Hobbit movies, and I’m sold.
23. The Neon Demon
Release Date: TBD Director: Nicolas Winding Refn Cast: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks
It would’ve been tough to follow the phenomenon of Drive with just about any movie, but Refn didn’t make it any easier on himself by directing a film as alienating and divisive as Only God Forgives. (Your film editor liked it, but seriously, it took some work.) After taking some time off to regroup, he’s back this year with a reportedly ultra-violent (no, you don’t say) story of an aspiring young model (Fanning) who is eaten alive, perhaps literally, by the vultures of Los Angeles.
22. The Light Between Oceans
Release Date: TBD Director: Derek Cianfrance Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Like Refn, Cianfrance had an indie hit with Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), while their next collaboration was a bit less warmly received (The Place Beyond the Pines, though – yet another pattern! – I’ll stand behind that one too). Cianfance’s latest finds him tackling the period story of a lighthouse keeper, his wife, and the baby girl they discover; with the white-hot combo of Fassbender and Vikander and the always reliable Weisz, this one could really sing.
21. Triple 9
Release Date: March 4 Director: John Hillcoat Cast: Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet , Woody Harrelson, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Michael Kenneth Williams, Gal Gadot
With his 2005 breakthrough film The Propositon and follow-ups The Road and Lawless, Hillcoat has proven himself to be an uncompromising creator of harsh, brutal, difficult pictures. He’s also clearly someone actors want to work with; get a load of that cast. He’s using them to shed his usual period and frontier trappings, with a contemporary, urban story of criminals and dirty cops collaborating on a heist and a murder.
Release Date: April 22 Director: Peter Atencio Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Luis Guzmán, Will Forte, Nia Long, Jason Mitchell, Method Man
Bummed about Key & Peele closing the curtain on their inventive, groundbreaking sketch comedy series? Us too. Here’s the good news: they’ve already cranked out their first showcase feature, with frequent K&P director Atencio at the helm, a sharp supporting cast (including Straight Outta Compton breakout Mitchell), and a clever premise that finds the pair masquerading as hardcore criminals to retrieve their stolen cat, Keanu.
Release Date: July 15 Director: Paul Feig Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
Your film editor made a conscious effort not to bog down this list with sequels and Marvel and Star Wars and so on, but what can I tell you, I’ve overcome my initial hesitation and allowed myself to get worked up – mostly in light of Spy, director Feig and star McCarthy’s most recent collaboration, which confirmed his ability to juggle action, effects, and laughs. The cameos we’ve heard about and glimpses thus far do seem to indicate they’re up to something special here, and even if they’re not, here’s hoping it’s a hit anyway to shut down the crybabies.
18. The Great Wall
Release Date: November 23 Director: Zhang Yimou Cast: Matt Damon, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe
Director Yimou is responsible for some of the most gorgeous movies of the modern era, with painterly pictures like House of the Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Hero pulling triple-duty as history, drama, and action. His 2011 film The Flowers of War stumbled here in the States, despite the presence of Christian Bale in the leading role; this time, he’s making an even safer bet, with a fresh-off-Mars Matt Damon joining Dafoe and Infernal Affairs star Lau.
17. The Zookeeper’s Wife
Release Date: TBD Director: Niki Caro Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Caro directed two of the most quietly breathtaking films of the 2000s – Whale Rider and North Country – but never quite got her due as an accomplished and powerful filmmaker. Maybe teaming up with real-life superhero Chastain, for this story of the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo during WWII and used their resources to shelter Jews during the Nazi occupation, will help change that.
16. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Release Date: November 11th Director: Ang Lee Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker
Lee is a director who usually zigs when you think he’ll zag, so it’s probably not surprising that he followed up Life of Pi with this post-Iraq war satire, adapted from Billy Fountain’s novel. He’s proven equally adept at drama, action, romance, and Western, so he’ll probably excel here as well, and it should be interesting to see what he does with this odd, eclectic cast.
15. War Machine
Release Date: TBD Director: David Michôd Cast: Brad Pitt, Topher Grace, Meg Tilly, Scoot McNairy
War satires – everybody’s makin’ em! This one finds director Michôd – whose breakthrough film Animal Kingdom was a chilling stunner, and whose underrated follow-up The Rover is absolutely worth your time – putting a fictional/satirical sheen on Michael Hastings’ Stanley McChrystal exposé The Operators, with Mr. Pitt going silver to play the general in charge of combat operations in Afghanistan. The film is also the latest big buy for Netflix, which plunked down $60 million to debut the film simultaneously in theaters and on their streaming service. So hey, at least we’ll all be able to see it!
14. The Disaster Artist
Release Date: TBD Director: James Franco Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver
Franco’s directorial efforts to date have been, to put it mildly, underwhelming. But this is simply a can’t-lose situation: an adaptation of Greg Sestero’s insider account of the making of the notoriously, spectacularly terrible The Room, with Franco playing (meta!) the film’s multi-hyphenate enigma Tommy Wiseau. Backed by a killer supporting cast – seriously, whoever cast Graynor as leading lady Juliette Danielle deserves a bonus – and a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer), this is a no-braner.
13. How to Talk to Girls at Parties Release Date: TBD Director: John Cameron Mitchell Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Alex Sharpe
Fresh off the smashing return of his iconic Hedwig and the Angry Inch, director Mitchell helms this ‘70s London period piece, adapted from a Neil Gaiman short story, that mixes coming-of-age story with alien tall tale. Mitchell re-teams with his Rabbit Hole leading lady Kidman, though this sounds more like the wilder films that preceded that one.
12. Nocturnal Animals
Release Date: TBD Director: Tom Ford Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon
Designer extraordinaire Ford has certainly taken his sweet damn time to put together the follow-up to his exquisite 2009 debut feature A Single Man, but he’s got an A+ cast and another terrific novel to adapt, this one a sort of Russian nesting doll about a writer, his ex-wife, and the novel that might have torn them apart.
11. The Bad Batch
Release Date: TBD Director: Ana Lily Amirpour Cast: Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna, Jason Momoa
Amirpour made one of the most stunning, stylish, and effortlessly cool film debuts in recent memory with her 2014 Iranian vampire tale A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. That low-budget powerhouse attracted the attention of a marquee cast and super-producer Megan Ellison, resulting in this story of love among cannibals in a dystopian Texas wasteland.
10. La La Land
Release Date: July 15 Director: Damien Chazelle Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Look, it’s Emma and Ryan in a new movie musical from the writer/director of Whiplash. You need me to draw you a map here?
Release Date: TBD Director: Jeff Nichols Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Nick Kroll
8. Midnight Special
Release Date: March 18 Director: Jeff Nichols Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard
In three stripped-down yet thunderously effective features (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud), writer/director Jeff Nichols proved himself one of the most formidable new talents in the indie scene. But Warner Brothers has taken so damn long to release his sci-fi/adventure story Midnight Special, he had time to go make another, very different picture: Loving, the true story of the couple whose union became a flashpoint in the fight for interracial marriage. Special’s finally slotted for a March release (Loving’s is still pending), so hopefully we’ll finally get to see it this year – and another new Nichols picture to boot.
7. Personal Shopper
Release Date: TBD Director: Olivier Assayas Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten, Lars Eidinger
Stewart’s no dummy – her first collaboration with Assayas (Carlos, Summer Hours), this year’s Clouds of Sils Maria, resulted in the best reviews of her career and an awards haul that keeps piling up. So she immediately re-teamed with the French filmmaker for this new film, a ghost story set in Paris’ fashion underworld; that’s about all we know so far, and I gotta tell you, that’s about all we need to know.
6. Everybody Wants Some
Release Date: April 15 Director: Richard Linklater Cast: Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman, Zoey Deutch, Will Brittain, Glen Powell
The latest from Mr. Linklater – his first since Boyhood – isn’t a literal sequel to Dazed and Confused, but it is a “spiritual” one, shifting from the ‘70s to the ‘80s and from the halls of high school to the houses of college. Yet much will remain: a cast of up-and-comers (they should only hope they’ll end up with the careers of their Dazed counterparts), a soundtrack stuffed with period classics, and a decidedly bong-friendly point of view.
5. The Lost City of Z
Release Date: TBD Director: James Gray Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Mcfadyen
James Gray’s The Immigrant was the best movie of the 2010s that you probably haven’t seen (though I’ll take this opportunity to remind you it’s just sitting right there on Netflix), and his latest is another ambitious period piece. Adapted from David Grann’s nonfiction book of the same name, Z tracks a crew of British explorers on their search for a missing colonel and a lost Amazon city. Gray has somehow made this one without his usual star, Joaquin Phoenix, but that hesitation aside, we can’t wait to see what this remarkable filmmaker has up his sleeve next.
Release Date: TBD Director: Jim Jarmusch Cast: Adam Driver, Kara Hayward
After the thematic complexities, vampire tropes, and all-star cast of his 2013 feature Only Lovers Left Alive , Jarmusch has gone back to basics for his latest, a simple love story between a bus driver and a poet, set in present-day Paterson, New Jersey. And luckily enough, he locked in the star of the biggest movie in the galaxy.
3. The Nice Guys
Release Date: May 20 Director: Shane Black Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger
Shane Black has experienced a second act so dramatic, even he couldn’t have written it. After burning bright and burning out as one of the most successful screenwriters of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, he disappeared for nearly a decade – only to reemerge as writer/director of the wickedly witty and savvily slippery Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That got him a gig helming star Robert Downey Jr.’s third Iron Man flick, and now he’s back in the buddy movie business with this action/comedy. Look, you can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a movie by its trailer, but that trailer’s better than half the movies I saw in 2015.
2. Hail, Caesar!
Release Date: February 5 Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand
Ditto that for the preview for the latest from the Coen Brothers, a zazzy period farce that finds the duo sending up the golden age of Hollywood – and it’s been too damn long since Barton Fink, hasn’t it – with the help of one of their finest casts and, one of their specialties, a kidnapping-gone-awry plot. Though their last three films (Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, A Serious Man) have had their comic moments, it’s nice to see them return to all-out farce, and pull Frances McDormand off the bench as well.
Release Date: TBD Director: Martin Scorsese Cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
We’ve been waiting a good long while now for Scorsese’s adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel – since this time last year, as a matter of fact. But patience is presumably key when telling a story of 17th-century Jesuit priests, so we can wait a bit longer; frankly, considering the pedigree and the talent involved, it seems pretty safe to bet they’ll hold this one until fall or winter to increase its awards chances. And that means we’ll be talking about Silence for three consecutive Januarys. See what I mean about anticipation?