With 2015 very nearly over and done, it's time to look forward to all the offerings the cinema of 2016 will provide for movie-goers hungry for something new. Luckily, we've already caught a fair bit of "new" films on the 2015 festival circuit and beyond, and here are the best ones.
Of note: This list only includes films we have already seen that have a set 2016 release date (or a new appearance on the festival circuit). If you're looking for more bonafide favorites that have yet to snag an official release date, check out our annual Critics Poll, especially the Most Anticipated list and the Best Undistributed Film list, or head on over to our dedicated review page to read up on some great films we've seen already that might still be looking for homes.
"Sweaty Betty," opening January 8
Our Eric Kohn wrote at SXSW: "Improvised around a mixture of real and imagined circumstances, 'Sweaty Betty' maintains an ingenuity that outshines its uneven production values. Cutting between a pair of teen single parents attempting to sell their new dog and an older man who hopes to make a buck off his pet sow, the movie has a scrappiness that fits well with its characters' peculiar goals. However, despite a meandering pace and sometimes amateurish craftsmanship, the filmmakers generate a curious degree of engagement from the sheer unpredictability of each scene."
"Embers," screening at Slamdance in January
Reporting from New Orleans, Kohn wrote: "'Embers,' which envisions a post-apocalyptic world in which survivors have been stricken with short-term memory loss, snuck into festival lineups at Oldenburg, Chicago and New Orleans this past month (it won best narrative feature at the latter gathering, where — full disclosure — I served on the jury). The directorial debut of New York-based filmmaker Claire Carré, 'Embers' has a sneaky appeal on par with its unexpected arrival on the scene. An elegant, brooding drama with a sprawling international cast, the movie presents its haunting premise with barely any explanation, leaving viewers to steadily make sense of the chaos along with the confused protagonists."
"The Witch," opening February 26
Before it became one of the most anticipated films of 2016, Kohn caught "The Witch" at Sundance, writing of it: "On the one hand an elegant period piece about the dissolution of a New England family circa 1630, it's also a genuinely unsettling horror movie about possession. Almost exclusively set at a drab cabin and the ominous woods surrounding it, the movie's minimalist approach doesn't lack for authenticity, as Eggers relies on court records and other documents to script the dialogue along with costumes from the period in question. The effect is a haunting narrative of otherworldly forces made especially scary due to the realism surrounding them."
"Cemetery of Splendour," opening March 4
Kohn caught up with filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul at TIFF, where the pair discussed his latest film: "At its center is Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), a lonely, aging woman tasked with running a relief center housing soldiers stuck in comas all day long. Initially, Jen and some of the other nurses spend their quiet days talking amongst themselves, but eventually they find greater companionship from addressing the sleeping men. Jen's melancholic routine is briefly complicated by the arrival of an American man who she meets online, though he drifts out of the picture almost as quickly as he arrives. No matter what, she's on her own — until one of her comatose patients wakes up. Or does he?"
"The Lobster," opening March 11
Yorgos Lanthimos' newest film has played all over the festival circuit this year, but we caught it early at Cannes, where Kohn wrote: "It doesn't take much to synopsize the fundamental weirdness of 'The Lobster,' a movie set in a world where being single is a crime and subordinates get transformed into animals of their choosing. Perhaps understanding as much, Lanthimos gets that high concept premise out of the way upfront, establishing the plight of leading man David (Colin Farrell, mustachioed and pot-bellied, submerged in a wonderfully unglamorous turn), one of the unlucky bachelors in question. David is a hapless anti-hero less interested in rebelling against the system than unsure of what it wants from him — a brilliant encapsulation of the romantic loner, and the ideal agent for setting Lanthimos' allegory in motion."
"Hello, My Name is Doris," opening March 11
At SXSW, Kohn wrote of the Sally Field-starring charmer: "Directed by 'Wet Hot American Summer' co-writer Michael Showalter, who wrote the script with Laura Terruso, the movie follows the titular 60-year-old Staten Island residen in the wake of her mother's dead as she explores an unlikely courtship with much younger co-worker John (Max Greenfield, 'New Girl'). The ensuing bittersweet tale touches on the themes of loneliness and aging that might seem at home in Alexander Payne's universe, and while Showalter's broad comedy approach never burrows that deep, Field's performance is a different story."