Now that the Oscars have wrapped, we can officially put the nail in the coffin for 2015’s movie year. And now it’s time for something completely different, right? Maybe not on the surface, but look closer and you’ll see this time of year is often an exciting one for new movie releases. Sure, there are plenty of big blockbusters coming (some of which I highlight in the list below) and the usual springtime Hollywood releases, some of which look great. But this month and April are almost always laden with great specialty, indie and foreign releases, several of which you can bet will make many Playlisters’ year-end best-of lists. Just look at our staff poll from 2015: Our #3 from last year was the wonderful “The Duke Of Burgundy,” which opened in January but slowly made its way to other theaters in the country in the following months; and the same applies for “The Tribe” (#15), while the Oscar-nominated “Ex Machina” (#11) came in April. Same goes for our collective number one in 2014 (by a wide margin) “Under The Skin.” Suffice to say, this is a sneakily good time of year at the movies, at least for the curious, diligent and burgeoning cinephile, or, you know, for someone who just wants to see good films.
While many industry folks were no doubt celebrating after all the awards bluster came to an end Sunday, there is nonetheless some sad news to share. Independently minded distributor Alchemy is in trouble, and has sold off their most prized possession “The Lobster,” now under the auspices of A24, who hopefully can turn it into a crossover hit. This latest piece of demented brilliance from Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth“) would’ve easily been the highlight of this month’s new releases, and was on the final list until recent official news came that its original March 11 limited release has now changed for a soon-to-be announced new one. Whatever month it comes out, though, do yourself a favor and see the damn thing, because we love it so! We mourn any time a good distributor — especially one that’s given love and care to such challenging and cinematic fare as “Evolution” (which I desperately hope still gets a U.S. release) and Gaspar Noé‘s “Love” in 3D — goes through tough times. Here’s hoping Alchemy can pull through.
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For now, there’s reading to do and movies to see. Let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing in the comments. Happy moviegoing!
“Cemetery Of Splendour”
Synopsis: A lonely middle-age housewife tends to a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms, and romance.
What You Need To Know: This latest from Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives“) will no doubt leave most audiences scratching their heads at what they just saw. But that didn’t stop our own Jessica Kiang form gushing about it in her A-grade review from Cannes ’15 — for good reason, because despite its many challenges to moviegoers, it’s still an absolutely beautiful reverie and as beguiling a film as any by the Thai master director. “Most films are domestic animals: cats or dogs. Some particularly beautiful ones might be horses or dolphins. But amongst the Fidos, the Fluffys and the Flippers, ‘Cemetery of Splendour‘ is a Northern White Rhino, the most endangered species in the world. This is not just because Weerasethakul is utterly unique among filmmakers, the kind of director who makes films so singular it’s impossible to think of how you would even go about mimicking his style. It is also because the mood ‘Cemetery’ evokes, a sense of alien wonder that seems not to sink in from the outside but to spring from the bass-deep pit of your own stomach, came to me as perhaps the purest expression of cinema as it was meant to be seen: in a theater, in the dark, in the quiet, inspiring and requiring a quality of distraction-free attention that is simply disappearing as a mode of interaction with art.” Yep, lots to chew on there and in the film itself, and one can surmise pretty much anything as to what this film is actually about, or even saying. That’s always part of the fun with Weerasethakul’s work (though your mileage will vary, I must admit), as is the overall mood and tone, where the viewer can easily lapse into a dream state while watching, only to have the images and moments remain in your memory clear as anything. Though it’s not as immediately embraceable as the Palme d’Or-winning ‘Uncle Boonmee’ (a masterpiece in my opinion), it is one worth seeking out if you’re one of the few and proud who’s actually seen and liked his work in the past.
Release Date: March 4th (Limited)
Synopsis: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a fugitive con-artist fox and a rookie bunny cop must work together to uncover a conspiracy.
What You Need To Know: Believe it or not, there are Disney movies still being made that do not involve “Star Wars,” Marvel, Pixar, a sequel, or a remake. Yes, original films still happen at the mouse house from time to time, and the latest is “Zootopia.” While nobody can really argue that an animated movie with talking animals is original, this one does have a neat premise that looks to be executed with some heart. Helping things out in the feels department are directors Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”), who’ve both helmed successful animated pictures in the past and hopefully make a good team together for this one. The voice cast is also nothing to sneeze at, with Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, and John DiMaggio all doing work behind the mic to help bring the characters to life. Will it be more than just a forgettable kids’ flick? We hope so.
Release Date: March 4th
“Knight Of Cups”
Synopsis: A man reflects upon some of his past relationships.
What You Need To Know: “When you look at a beautiful thing, do you ponder its electrons? Have you ever tried to take love apart to see how it works? When you think of the world, do you ache for all the moments of meaning that must go unseen? If so, you are already a Terrence Malick fan, ‘To the Wonder’ was probably a masterpiece, and his latest film, ‘Knight of Cups’ will delight you, as it has many.” That’s according to our own Jessica Kiang, who reviewed this latest Malick opus after its world premiere at Berlin last year. The ever fascinating and whispery/poetic auteur has become more prolific of late, with his “Voyage Of Time” (two different versions no less) and “Weightless” also set for release sometime in the near-ish future. But this latest release probably has even the director’s biggest fans curious if this new era of multi-tasking from Malick is for good or ill, with the muted (at best) response from “To The Wonder” a few years back and what looks like an even deeper dive into that film’s style with this latest, LA-set story following Christian Bale as he wades through his memories and past relationships. We’re obliged if not still excited to see what Malick is up to with every new release, but some of us are more cautiously optimistic than others.
Release Date: March 4th (Limited)
“10 Cloverfield Lane”
Synopsis: Waking up from a car accident, a young woman finds herself in the basement of a man who says he’s saved her life from a chemical attack that has left the outside uninhabitable.
What You Need To Know: You just can’t keep J.J. Abrams‘ mystery-box obsessions down for long, can you? Though the director is coming off the gargantuan success of his “Star Wars: The Forces Awakens,” he still had time to help produce another film with “Cloverfield” in the title. He recently made it clear, however, that this movie is “not Cloverfield 2.” But, “…the association is clear and there are multiple connections — and there is a bigger idea at play for us with these movies and this connection.” To clarify (or confuse) even further, this doesn’t take place at the same time as the events of 2008’s “Cloverfield,” “but there’s a larger thing at play with these connections,” Abrams said of the Dan Trachtenberg-directed movie. “And the fun of it is that some of these connections — and there’s a lot of them — are not the kind of connections you might think. So if you’re approaching it as a literal sequel, you’ll be surprised to see what this movie is. But while it’s not what you might expect from a movie that has the name ‘Cloverfield’ in it, I think you’ll find that you’ll understand the connection when you see the whole thing.”
Trachtenberg should be a familiar name to podcast fans and readers of movie blogs. He used to be part of the Totally Rad Show, has been many times a guest on the /Filmcast, and made a huge splash with his online short adaptation of the video game “Portal,” which broke down doors for the young director and essentially got him this job (though he was at one point slated to direct the long-brewing “Y: The Last Man” adaptation). Here he gets to make his feature debut, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. making up the cast. As for future sequels or side-quels, Abrams is again playing his cards close to the chest. “…I would be lying if I didn’t say there was something else that, if we’re lucky enough to do it, could be really cool that connects some stories,” he told EW. Hinting that there’s a “larger conceit,” the producer added, “this is just this movie, and it’s only two films that we’re talking about right now. There is something else that we’d like to do, and hopefully we’ll get a shot.”
Release Date: March 11th
“The Brothers Grimsby”
Synopsis: A new assignment forces a top spy to team up with his football-hooligan brother.
What You Need To Know: The last comedy to star and feature the comedic talents of Sacha Baron Cohen was “The Dictator,” a movie that really doesn’t resonate so much four years after its release. Looking closer at Cohen’s filmography, there are a few nice small role appearances in Oscar-nominated prestige films like “Hugo” and “Les Misérables,” but it’s most relevant to judge him on his spotty track record when starring and writing in his more personal creations (since the same applies to “The Brothers Grimsby”): There’s “Ali G Indahouse” (terrible); ‘Borat‘ (brilliant); “Brüno” (a mixed bag that’s too similar to ‘Borat’ in style and form) and the aforementioned ‘Dictator’ (I’m not a fan, but it has its defenders around here). All that is to say that, with this new movie directed by Louis Leterrier (“Now You See Me“) and co-starring the great Mark Strong (the most exciting X-factor involved here), I’d love to see a return to actual funny and incisive comedy again from Cohen. It’s not entirely fair to shoulder all the blame or praise on one man for what looks like a fun, dumb comedy, but I just want to be reminded again of Cohen’s particular skills. When he’s on, it has a lighting-in-a-bottle effect that makes his best work seem dangerous and hilarious at the same time. I’d at least be happy with some good old-fashioned consistent laughs, to be honest.
Release Date: March 11th
Synopsis: A father and son go on the run after the dad learns his child possesses special powers.
What You Need To Know: Writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter,” “Mud“) is already one of the strongest voices of his generation, and though we’ve liked all his pictures to date (I had the above two in my top-10 lists their respective years of release), “Midnight Special” is his biggest production so far, and his first for a major studio. Even with the genre elements plus a bigger budget to play around with, this still looks like a Nichols film through and through. When it premiered last month at Berlin, Jessica Kiang reviewed it and confirmed as much. “Great science fiction is almost always founded on such simple but paradigm-shifting what-ifs, and the fourth feature from director Jeff Nichols brings this premise thrumming and throbbing to life. Structured as a low-key chase movie, unfolding with the dark urgency of a conspiracy thriller, living mostly not in your heart or even your mind but in the hairs on the back of your neck, ‘Midnight Special‘ actually emerges most resonantly as a mournful homage, or maybe a psalm, to the primal instincts of fatherhood.” Jessica’s review was positive enough to excite those of use clamoring for our next fix from this gifted director, even if she didn’t fully embrace the whole film (though she did still grade it a B+). I can’t wait to see it, regardless.
Release Date: March 18th
Synopsis: Krisha returns for Thanksgiving dinner after 10 years away from her family, but past demons threaten to ruin the festivities.
What You Need To Know: Here’s just one of those fascinating little films that comes along in the spring, the kind I alluded to in the introduction. This feature debut from Trey Edward Shults won the Grand Jury Prize plus the Audience Award at last year’s South By Southwest Film Festival. It also played in Critics’ Week at Cannes soon after and then played the circuit the rest of the year, to wide acclaim. It was only the year before last that Shults won a SXSW award for the short film version of this story, with the same title. Now that the full-length version has been picked up by A24 and is getting a limited release, more of us can finally see what all the fuss is about. We called it a “stunner of a directorial debut” in our SXSW review and also put to rest any surface level comparisons to the films of Terrence Malick, who Shults worked for on three of his projects, including the upcoming “Voyage Of Time” and “Weightless” (for even more random crossover this month, he was camera PA on Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special”). So this young up-and-comer has certainly worked with the right people so far, but also appears to have his own exciting, new voice. He even cast his own family in most the roles. “Shot and paced like a thriller, the film is a dreamlike view into a woman’s inner life that ensures a tragic end. Based on his work here, [Shults is] set to continue further into the realm of features, intertwining the intimate and formal with a stunning ease,” we said in our review. Track this one down.
Release Date: March 18th (Limited)
Synopsis: The true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed people in the ’80s.
What You Need To Know: Argentine filmmaker Pablo Trapero (both Ricardo Darín-starring films “White Elephant” and “Carancho“) is a strong up-and-coming genre voice in the foreign-film world. His latest, which Jessica Kiang reviewed at Venice last year, won the Silver Lion (aka Best Director) at the festival and another award at TIFF. Kiang went so far as to invoke the mighty Martin Scorsese in her opening paragraph: “A story so nuts it could only be true, Trapero’s ‘The Clan’ is the second of two heavily Scorsese-influenced tales of real-life gangsterism to crop up in Venice this year. But it’s a superior film to Scott Cooper‘s ‘Black Mass‘ in its examination of the mechanics of tribalism and loyalty within an organized criminal enterprise… That award is somewhat surprising, as the film feels more slick and capable than necessarily hugely inspired, but the sensationalist story it tells and its fascinating setting in Argentina mere moments after the 1983 collapse of the military dictatorship more than compensate. Best of all, the film is about the wider society of the time and the political corruption and ruthlessness that lingered like a hangover to mar the nascent democracy, but it is also the incredible story of a single family — the ‘clan’ of the title — and so it has both sprawl and intimacy, as well as a certain degree of allegorical power, in which the family’s corruption mirrors that of Argentina in those unstable years.” Francis Ford Coppola‘s ‘Godfather‘ films are also referenced in her review, so consider this one a high priority for fans of the crime genre.
Release Date: March 18th (Limited)
“The Little Prince”
Synopsis: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to make sure she’s prepared for it. Her neighbor, The Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of The Little Prince.
What You Need To Know: When Oli Lyttelton saw this at Cannes last year, he complimented the “gorgeous” visuals and called the film an “extremely moving adaptation of the children’s classic.” The book he’s referring to is of course “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which has become a children’s classic across the globe. “The tale of a downed aviator who meets a small monarch who lives on an asteroid and fell in love with a rose is universally beloved, but the strange, semi-allegorical nature of the book means that a truly satisfying screen translation has never been made (Stanley Donen’s 1974 musical version is perhaps the best known),” Oli wrote. “This new animated feature is intended to be the definitive film rendition. Made with French money by Canadian animators, directed by American helmer Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”), and featuring a glittering cast of voice actors, it’s not quite successful enough to succeed on the that score, but it’s still a visually glorious, extremely moving film that proves that top-grade animated fare doesn’t just come from the U.S. or Japan… The book is so counter to our contemporary narrative demands that liberties would need to be taken for a movie version, and for the most part Osborne takes the right liberties, ending up with an extremely beautiful, very charming, thematically rich take that’s sure to be one of the better animated movies this year.”
Release Date: March 18th (Limited)
“My Golden Days”
Synopsis: Paul is preparing to leave Tajikistan while thinking back on his adolescent years: his childhood, his mother’s madness, the parties, the trip to the USSR where he lost his virginity, the friend who betrayed him and the love of his life.
What You Need To Know: If that synopsis confused more than elucidated, we apologize, but there’s a reason for that. This latest from beloved French auteur Arnaud Desplechin (“A Christmas Tale“) is actually a prequel to his 1996 film “My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument.” We understand if you didn’t know this, and it almost seems besides the point in whether or not you enjoy “My Golden Days.” It’s a film that stands on its own, so packed full of narratives within narratives and plenty of cinematic verve to make the act of watching it well worth your time, regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with its precursor film. When Oli Lyttelton saw it at Cannes last year, he called it one of the director’s best films and a return to form after his misbegotten English-language debut “Jimmy P.“ came and went a few years back. “The film doesn’t reinvent the wheel: it is, ultimately, a middle-class-white-boy coming-of-age tale of the kind that the cinema of France, and elsewhere, has never been lacking. But it’s written, shot, cut and performed with such palpable joy, intelligence and warmth that it ends up feeling entirely fresh. Welcome back, Mr. Desplechin.”
Release Date: March 18th (Limited)
“Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice”
Synopsis: Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes him on, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.
What You Need To Know: Well, despite this being the first mega movie of 2016 to hit theaters, there’s an awful lot of consternation online and from Warner Bros., perhaps, with this launching-pad movie that’s supposed to set up their big Justice League universe of films. First and foremost, it’s important to note that were “Man Of Steel” a much bigger hit (it fell short of $700 million in worldwide grosses), then this “sequel” would’ve probably been a much leaner, different tale, not one that’s now stuffed to the brim with other big franchise characters and Superman’s most famous arch enemy. Regardless, this still has potential to be exciting and maybe even kinda cool (I for one thought “Man Of Steel” was enjoyable enough, despite plenty of problems). There’s a lot riding on this film, so much so that Warners is following suit from recent comic-book-movie super-success “Deadpool” by declaring an R-rated director’s cut will surface on Blu-ray. And don’t forget, we recently wondered if this movie is in trouble, after reports of early screenings have been less than enthusiastic. We’ll find out soon enough.
Release Date: March 25th
“Born To Be Blue”
Synopsis: A re-imagining of jazz legend Chet Baker’s musical comeback in the late ’60s.
What You Need To Know: We saw this latest music biopic at TIFF last year, and found it not without the typical biopic conundrums despite going for something fairly new. “Robert Budreau‘s ‘Born to Be Blue‘, which revolves around legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, falls somewhere in the middle of the genre’s eternal problem,” Sam Fragoso wrote. “The movie catches up with Baker after he had fallen into a downward spiral of heroin and despondency. Come 1967, after he had essentially jettisoned every person in his life that cared about him, Baker wanted to make a comeback. Budreau aims to chart his return in all of its idiosyncratic beauty. Cast in the movie of his life, Chet (Ethan Hawke) is hired to be an actor. His inability to act, however, is a problem that is short-lived. The movie is shelved after Baker’s beaten to a pulp by one his many pusher men. Toothless and broken, Baker has no one but Elaine (Carmen Ejogo) by his side. It takes a matter of minutes to see that Elaine, an aspiring actress, is the driving force behind Chet’s gradual recovery… But on the whole, ‘Born to Be Blue’ does right by its central subject. Hawke especially flourishes as the afflicted artist, desperate to put the pieces of his life back together… [he] manages to breath new life into the incomparable trumpeter. The signature features of a Hawke performance are not found here. He’s doesn’t play the part as the comforting father or hip adult.” The Playlist of course prizes music in films as our bread and butter, so this one looks just interesting enough to get us onboard.
Release Date: March 25th (Limited)
Note: “The Lobster” just got pulled from its March date so we’re taking it out of this feature for now. Knock on wood it finds a regular release date soon.
Now that he’s become a favorite to film lovers and critics across the globe, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi‘s (“A Separation“) 2006 film, “Fireworks Wednesday,” will get a re-release for US theaters this month. This comes after “About Elly,” his 2009 effort, resurfaced for release last year. This is great news and gets us even more excited for his upcoming effort “The Salesman,” which we declared one of the most anticipated films of the year. Also of note on the repertory-cinema front is the restoration and re-release of another Playlist favorite’s debut feature: Kelly Reichardt‘s “River Of Grass” will get a new lease on life. Now that she has a new film out (“Certain Women“) that just debuted at Sundance, it should help give this little film a chance at finding an audience.
Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti‘s latest “Mia Madre” is another film from Alchemy to which its fate is unknown at the moment. It was set for release this month but now may come in April. Stay tuned for more details. We called the starry production “Eye In The Sky” “the kind of earnest picture that does require some courage to make.”
“Baskin” is a small horror picture from Turkey that made the genre-festival rounds. I hear good things from sources I trust, and also that it’s a nasty bit of business that should be catnip to fans of the genre. Indie release “Creative Control” looks like a cool bit of indie sci-fi, though we’ve yet to review the film. “The Wave” is Norway’s version of a disaster pic; can you guess what will bring the CGI destruction in it? Rounding out the smaller corner of world genre cinema is “Desierto,” starring Gael García Bernal in a revenge tale directed by Jonas Cuarón (son to Alfonso and co-writer on “Gravity“).
There are always more biopics, right? Yes, apparently that’s true. Just look at “The Program,” from Stephen Frears and starring Ben Foster as cyclist Lance Armstrong. Then there’s “I Saw the Light” which saw its initial 2015 release in prime Oscar season shifted for this month and year, which may or not keep you from seeing it. It does star Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams and Elizabeth Olsen as long suffering wife.
There’s always room for documentaries, especially when they feature food porn on the level of “City Of Gold,” which follows Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold on his noble mission to seek out and highlight the tiniest, dingiest but greatest food holes in LA.
We called “Take Me To The River” “genuinely peculiar” when we saw it Sundance last year. “Lolo” is the latest directorial effort from our beloved Julie Delpy, which we called funny and flawed. “Hello, My Name Is Doris” stars Sally Field and is oddly (maybe?) directed by “Wet Hot American Summer” co-creator Michael Showalter. Probably one of the smaller new releases to go for a 35mm-only release, “Too Late” stars the great John Hawkes as a private detective lost in a Tarantino-homaging film fetishist’s dream come true.