"The Light Between Oceans" (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
Derek Cianfrance broke out in 2010 with his harrowing marital drama "Blue Valentine," which showed the visceral power in which he could depict the soaring highs and crippling lows of an intimate relationship. After taking an ambitious detour with the triptych drama "The Place Beyond the Pines" in 2013, it looks like Cianfrance will be flexing his initial strength once more in "The Light Between Oceans," based on the bestselling novel by M. L. Stedman. Featuring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, the drama centers on a lighthouse keeper and his wife after they find a child washed ashore on a lifeboat and raise it as their own. Pairing Fassbender and Vikander at this point in their careers is simply too good to be true, and with some top talent behind the scenes, including "Macbeth" cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, "Oceans" has everything in place to be a masterpiece. If rumors of a Cannes debut are to be taken seriously, than we’ll hopefully have this drama in theaters before the end of the year, most likely in the thick of awards season.
"Story of Your Life" (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve has become one of the most exciting filmmakers currently working, landing stateside with the knockout hat-trick of "Prisoners," "Enemy" and "Sicario." Fortunately for audiences, the director isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Before we get his highly anticipated "Blade Runner" sequel, Villeneuve has this intriguing science-fiction drama waiting in the wings. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist expert who is recruited by the military to determine whether or not alien invaders have come to bring peace or destruction. The movie is based on an award-winning short story and co-stars Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg. Villeneuve’s "Sicario" composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is back on board, and although Roger Deakins had to sit this one out, "Selma" cinematographer Bradford Young is quite the exciting replacement. Here’s hoping the drama follows in "Sicario’s" footsteps, bowing at Cannes in May and opening in the fall.
"A United Kingdom" (dir. Amma Asante)
Amma Asante brought a timeless urgency to her 18th century period drama "Belle," and it’s a similar sense of racial contemplation and topical immediacy that should serve her well in "A United Kingdom." The drama has a heavyweight pairing in David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, but it’s the extraordinary true story and the cinematic potential Asante should be able to mine from it that has us most anxious to see it. Oyelowo stars as Seretse Khama, the Botswanan prince whose interracial marriage in the 1940s proved both controversial and impactful for his country’s political future. With the 50th anniversary of Botswanan independence taking place in 2016, we’re more than likely to see "A United Kingdom" in theaters before the end of the year.
"The Commune" (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Considering "The Commune" will have its international premiere at the 66th Berlin Film Festival in February, we may be seeing Thomas Vinterberg’s new movie sooner than expected, though the drama still doesn’t have a U.S. distributor lined up and might not see a release until the end of the year (similar to last year’s Berlin breakout "45 Years"). The Dogme 95 co-founder adapted Thomas Hardy’s "Far From the Madding Crowd" into a lush, Carey Mulligan-starring romance last year, though "The Commune" looks to be a return to his more psychologically subversive dramas. Based on his own experiences growing up in a commune, the drama centers around a couple as they start a close-knit society in their Copenhagen home. Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Helene Reingaard Neumann and Lars Ranthe star.
"American Honey" (dir. Andrea Arnold)
Andrea Arnold has remained relatively quiet in the years since emerging as a directional force thanks to her break out, 2009’s "Fish Tank." Her 2011 adaptation of Emily Bronte’s "Wuthering Heights" didn’t make much of an impact outside of the festival circuit, but something tells us that shouldn’t be the case with "American Honey." Seeped in the long tradition of road movies, "Honey" follows a young woman who joins a traveling magazine sales crew on their trip across the Midwest, slowing absorbing their love for drinking, partying and law breaking. "Heaven Knows What" breakout Arielle Holmes and Shia LaBeouf are the biggest names in the cast, though something tells us newcomer Sasha Lane will be the real breakout in a story that sounds like a rusty "Almost Famous" meets "Badlands." The movie has been in development since 2013 and filming wrapped in 2015, making 2016 the ideal year to finally see what Arnold has up her sleeve.
"The Discovery" (dir. Charlie McDowell)
Charlie McDowell proved himself more than worthy of his father Malcom’s cinematic legacy by directing the 2014 Sundance smash "The One I Love." The romance, starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, was a transfixing and mysteriously twisted science-fiction romance that owed much to "The Twilight Zone," and it seems McDowell is operating in excitingly similar territory for his new project. Co-written with Justin Lader, "The Discovery" is a love story that takes place a year after the afterlife has been scientifically verified. The news comes as a shock to the son of the scientist who made the discovery, especially as he begins to fall in love with a woman trying to move on from a tragic past. With McDowell’s confidence behind the camera already a proven strength, "The Discovery" should only get an added boost from stars Nicholas Hoult and Rooney Mara.
"Queen of Katwe" (dir. Mira Nair)
Those of us hoping Mira Nair’s fresh ingenuity and vibrancy hasn’t been lost after disappointing efforts like "Amelia" and "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" have a lot riding on "Queen of Katwe," a biopic about Ugandan champion chess player Phiona Mutesi. The drama hails from Disney and ESPN Films, which might suggest a watered down, overtly safe and by-the-numbers true story, though Nair’s involvement and the casting of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in the lead role certainly has us thinking otherwise. Even if the story is somewhat routine, we’re betting these talented ladies can make tired underdog stories feel excitingly new. Plus, chess has proven time and time again to be a rare sport with serious dramatic chops on the big screen (see "Searching for Bobby Fischer," "Pawn Sacrifice").
"Paterson" (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Jim Jarmusch’s upcoming movie stars indie mainstay and "Star Wars" baddie Adam Driver in the lead role, is set in Paterson, New Jersey and somehow revolves around a bus driver and poet. That’s about all we know right now concerning the project, but new Jarmusch will always find itself at the very top of an indie-cinephile’s wish list. The director went retro for his stylish vampire romance "Only Lovers Left Alive," so something tells us he might be more grounded for this modern story. "Moonrise Kingdom" star Kara Hayward is also in the cast, which suggests some kind of sensitive friendship movie instead of a romance (her and Driver have a pretty wide age gap), though anything plot related is mere speculation at this point. Regardless, Driver should prove a natural to Jarmusch-style cool, and we can’t wait to see what these two have come up with.
"The Unknown Girl" (dir. The Dardennes Brothers)
The Dardennes Brothers changed things up considerably in "Two Days One Night" by casting an international movie star in the lead role, but having Marion Cotillard on board did nothing to diminish the unrelenting realism of their directing style. In their upcoming drama "The Unknown Girl," they’ll most likely make an international star out of lead Adèle Haenel, who is a two-time Cesar Award winner in France but hasn’t made an impression stateside yet. In typical Dardennes fashion, "The Unknown Girl" is a minimalist story of a doctor who succumbs to guilt after a patient she refused to see winds up dead. The passing inspires the doctor to find out who the deceased was, and it’s a simple story that should result in the powerful humanism the Dardennes are known for. The brothers have been favorites at Cannes for quite some time, so a May festival premiere seems likely, followed by a fall release to give it some Foreign Language Oscar traction.
"Things to Come" (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
Mia Hansen-Løve’s "Eden" was one of last year’s most overlooked foreign releases, so here’s hoping "Things to Come" gets a little more traction among domestic audiences when it’s released stateside. Considering the film finds the French director teaming with the esteemed Isabelle Huppert, we’re hoping the release is as soon as possible. The movie only started shooting in June, but Hansen-Løve is a festival darling, particularly at Cannes, so we may see a quick turnaround here. Huppert plays Nathalie, one of two philosophy teachers who have been married for many years and who have two grown-up children. Nathalie devotes her time to the books she publishes, to her former students who have now become her friends and especially to her over-possessive mother, but her life is upended when her husband tells her he has fallen in love with another woman.
"Personal Shopper" (dir. Olivier Assayas)
Kristen Stewart turned in her most accomplished performance yet in Olivier Assayas’ critically acclaimed "Clouds of Sils Maria," and the two could very well be back at Cannes this year for their second collaboration, "Personal Shopper." Plot details have been kept under wraps, but producer Charlies Gillibert has said that similar themes from "Clouds" will be explored and that the movie has a fantasy hook to it in which a ghost story is set within the underworld of Parisian fashion. Stewart has been flexing some serious acting chops with each new role, and we can’t wait to see what Assayas does with her next. Let’s just hope we get to see it this year.
"Nocturnal Animals" (dir. Tom Ford)
Tom Ford impressed the entire filmmaking community with his devastating directorial debut "A Single Man," proving he could provide all of the emotional substance needed to bring great drama to his gorgeous style. In the nearly seven years since his debut, Ford has left audiences desperate for what he will do next on the big screen. Fortunately, 2016 could see his big return with "Nocturnal Animals." The dramatic thriller boasts a star-studded cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Kim Basinger, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher and Armie Hammer, and a twisted story-within-a-story conceit, in which a woman receives a book manuscript from her ex-husand and slowly becomes entwined in its violent story. Sold for $20 million at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, many are hoping it will be finished for this year’s festival. Whatever festival it does end up landing at, you can rest assured it will be one of the most anticipated titles of the event. "Nocturnal Animals" sounds like Ford by way of Lynch, and we are truly salivating for even the slightest peek.
"The Circle" (dir. James Ponsoldt)
James Ponsoldt has made a name for himself in recent years as a master of sensitive human connection (see "Smashed," "The Spectacular Now," "The End of the Tour"), though he is set to kick things up a notch with "The Circle," which is easily his most ambitious outing yet. Based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, "The Circle" follows a young woman who joins a powerful Internet company, a job that begins as a promising work experience but eventually starts ruining her life. Part business drama, part corporate conspiracy thriller, "The Circle" will be a huge test for Ponsoldt as he takes on his most complex story yet, one where story matters as much as characters. Luckily, the director has assembled one starry cast, including Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt and Karen Gillan, meaning by this time next year Ponsoldt could be a totally elevated filmmaker.
"Salt and Fire" (dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog didn’t exactly blow audiences away last year with his Nicole Kidman-starring biopic "Queen of the Desert." The movie received largely negative reviews out of various festivals and hasn’t even landed North American distribution yet. No wonder all eyes have so quickly turned to the director’s next project, which stars quite the power duo of Gael García Bernal and Michael Shannon. The two play a scientist and a company CEO who must band together despite their ideological differences in order to avoid a potential disaster from an erupting volcano. Eschewing the sluggish romance of "Queen of the Desert" for a ticking-time-clock environmentalist thriller, we hope "Salt and Fire" has everything to give Herzog a much-needed return to form this year.
"It’s Only the End of the World" (dir. Xavier Dolan)
Xavier Dolan can do no wrong in our book. Whether he’s crafting ambitious coming-of-age dramas ("Mommy") or intimate genre thrillers ("Tom at the Farm"), Dolan has found a way to blend personal artistry with cinematic vision to create movies that are equals parts innovative and provocative. There’s a chance we could be spoiled this year with two new Dolan features — he’s currently working on his English-language debut with Jessica Chastain and Kit Harington ("The Death and Life of John F. Donovan") — though chances are this French drama lands first, most likely at Cannes in May. Starring France’s biggest stars (Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel), "End of the World" follows a terminally ill writer as he returns home after 12 years to tell his family about his impending death. A cast rich with talent, a story ripe with drama and a director who is always at the top of his game, "End of the World" is the foreign film we’re looking forward to the most this year, now if only it could get a release date.
"The Bad Batch" (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
Few debut films dazzled us quite like Ana Lily Amirpour’s "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night," a confident tonal mashup that could only be partially summarized as a black-and-white Iranian vampire Western (but that’s not even the half of it). How’s that for originality? Amirpour’s next feature was always going to be high on our wish list, but two things have us especially excited: The involvement of Megan Ellison’s Annapurna production company and one hell of a synopsis that describes the plot as a "love story set in a community of cannibals based in a Texas wasteland." Once again we must ask: How’s that for originality? With "Girl Walks Home" proving to be a huge critical hit two years ago, we expect "The Bad Batch" to make the festival rounds this year (maybe Cannes?) and hopefully land a prime release date (this seems like a perfect summer genre indie).
"Loving" (dir. Jeff Nichols)
We’re already getting one Jeff Nichols movie this year thanks to the supernatural drama "Midnight Special," which will be stopping at Berlin and SXSW before opening on March 18, but would anyone seriously complain if the celebrated director double dipped? Nichols has become one of most exciting voices in cinema after "Take Shelter" and "Mud," and while "Midnight Special" is set to be the most ambitious project he’s tackled yet, "Loving" looks to be the smallest and most intimate. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in the true story as Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were sentenced to prison in 1958 Virginia for getting married. The feature is inspired by the 2011 doc "The Loving Story," and Nichols should prove adept and translating a similar sense of grounded realism to his narrative retelling.
"Seller" (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has emerged as one of the preeminent international film directors after earning accolades for "A Separation," "About Elly" and "The Past." Word has it he is currently in production on a film that will be produced by Pedro Almodovar, though he’s shot a tiny drama that will hopefully be released sometime this year at one of the major international film festivals. Not much is known about the film — even its title has appeared differently on various websites (IMBd has it listed as "Seller") — though it’s confirmed to star Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti and to be associated somewhat with Arthur Miller’s "The Death of Salesman." Whether it’s an experimental adaptation or something far more different, Miller’s story of social disillusionment seems right up Farhadi’s ally.
"Free Fire" (dir. Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley has been rising over the past several years as one of the industry’s most original genre filmmakers, though he has yet to become a household name among American audiences. 2016 will hopefully change all of this by offering up a Wheatley double feature. We already know his 2015 festival favorite "High-Rise" will be released at some point this year under Magnet Releasing, but fans are already clamoring for more Wheatley since we know that his crime drama "Free Fire" started filming last summer. Starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Noah Taylor, the movie is set in a Boston warehouse in 1978 where a violent game of survival unfolds between two rival gangs. "High-Rise" proved the director can handle a thrilling genre chamber piece, which makes "Free Fire" a followup with a ton of potential. If both of these find a release this year, Wheatley could find himself at the very top of Hollywood’s blockbuster demand list.
"The Lost City of Z" (dir. James Gray)
James Gray’s masterful period drama "The Immigrant" didn’t get much love from The Weinstein Company when it was released in May 2014, nearly a year after it first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, so here’s wishing Gray much better luck on his ambitious next feature, "The Lost City of Z." Re-teaming with the great cinematographer Darius Khondji, Gray is adapting the novel by David Grann, which describes the true story of a British explorer who made several attempts to finds an ancient lost city in the Amazon and disappeared during a voyage in 1925. Filming on the drama took place over the summer and fall, meaning "The Lost City of Z" should find its way to festivals this year. Given its adventure-driven plot, Gray could have some crossover potential here like never before.