By now, you’ve hopefully pored your way through our epic list of the 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2015 (and if you haven’t, what the hell are you waiting for?). But you might have noticed a few notable titles that you’ve been reading about for a while that were absent. Well, there’s a very simple explanation for that: we’re not anticipating them, because we’ve already seen them.
Between the various Playlist team members dotted around the globe we’re lucky enough to have access to many of the major film festivals, and as such, get to see many of the films that premiere at Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice, TIFF or elsewhere that, for one reason or another, don’t get a theatrical release until the following calendar year.
Handily, this means that, alongside our anticipated list, there’s a host of movies that we can give a solid seal of approval to across the next twelve months, and because we love you so, and because we did it last year too, we’ve collected them all in one place. Read on below for the 25 best 2015 films that we’ve already seen (as well as 5 bonus notable ones that turned out less well), and let us know which of them are on your must-see list.
Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Killian Scott, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sam Reid, Charlie Murphy
Synopsis: During the Northern Ireland Troubles, an inexperienced British foot soldier is left behind enemy lines and has to find his way back to safety.
Verdict: For all intents and purposes a chase movie, as a cat-and-mouse thriller, “’71” is incredibly rich and textured, but it is also a political and humanist drama that grips but evinces a human heart. If you weren’t convinced of Jack O’Connell’s acting prowess — even as he runs for his life during half the picture — you are now. And we’d never heard of director Yann Demange before, but we were so impressed with his engrossing picture, we placed him on our Directors On The Rise list of last year. An impressive supporting cast helps out too: Sean Harris (“Prometheus,” “Southcliffe”), Sam Reid, Richard Dormer and Killian Scott. Oh and welcome back, David Holmes (“Out of Sight,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy), who delivers another moody and pulsing score, that plays a particularly key role in one woozy, impressionist scene that lingers long in the mind after the credits roll.
Our Review: Here’s Jessica Kiang’s A- grade review from Berlin.
Release Date: Roadside Attractions releases the film on Feb 6th.
Director: Damián Szifrón (“El Fondo del Mar,” “Tiempo de Valientes”)
Cast: Ricardo Darín,Óscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas
Synopsis: An anthology black comedy composed of six standalone shorts united by a common theme of violence and vengeance.
Verdict: Omnibus movies are almost always a mixed bag. But this wildly entertaining and darkly funny collection is one of the shining examples of the genre — some are better than others, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. A kind of immensely impressive demo reel of all that director Szifrón is capable of (we’d love to see him take on a pure horror story on the basis of this, among other things), it’s a terrific showcase for his wide-ranging talents, with the opening chapter featuring one of the best uses of the freeze frame in recent memory, one that had our audience cheering before the opening credits even started. Accessible and fun enough to have a great shot at becoming a relatively big crossover foreign release, “Wild Tales” could be a little tighter than it is, but it undoubtedly heralds an exciting new voice in Szifrón.
Our Review: Oliver’s B Cannes review
Release Date: Sony Pictures Classics is giving it a February 20th limited release.
Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Cast: Grigory Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy
Synopsis: A shy boy arrives at a boarding school for the deaf. There he tries to find his place in the hierarchy of the school community, which operates like a Mafiosi group ungoverned by the outside world.
Verdict: We need more bold, purely cinematic films like “The Tribe.” Playing like an even more disturbing combination of “City of God” and “Lord of the Flies,” debut Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy takes a potentially gimmicky conceit — all dialogue is spoken through sign language with no subtitles — and infuses it with dread, political subversion (it directly comments on current Ukrainian politics) and incredible filmmaking bravado. Nearly all scenes play out in impeccably choreographed long takes, with a camera that rarely stops moving — its style is akin to Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and features a similar foreboding, disquieting sense that things are going to end badly. And what’s so impressive is that although its formalism is so rigid, it rises well above gimmick to become a truly great, unique piece of cinema (and a very fine crime movie to boot), conjuring its own world, commenting on ours and giving the audience something actually, palpably new.
Our Review: Jess’ A grade Cannes review
Release Date: Will play Sundance prior to a theatrical release and VOD via Drafthouse.
“While We’re Young”
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Synopsis: A struggling documentarian and his wife find themselves spiritually rejuvenated by a younger, vibrant, happy-go-lucky creative couple.
Verdict: Writer/director Noah Baumbach — who is on a serious creative tear of his own of late — shoots and scores yet again. One of his most accessible, funny and yet thought-provoking films, his latest pits Stiller and Watts (the older 40-something couple) against Driver and Seyfried (the hip young pair), in a film that’s essentially a distillation of the humorous and sharply observed LCD Soundsystem song, “Losing My Edge.” Naturally, LCD’s James Murphy scores the movie and he and Baumbach have very much been thematically in sync over the last ten years, constructing songs and stories about aging, what it means to be forty, the arrested form of adult-lescence and “what happens when I’m no longer cool?” concerns, thrown into contrast with the vitality of youth. Thankfully, Baumbach’s film is no midlife crisis: both points of view are explored, making “While We’re Young” quite the opposite of a “get off my lawn” picture. Sharply observed, amusing and with lots on its mind, “While We’re Young” is one of Baumbach’s most pleasurable pictures.
Our Review: Here’s Kevin’s A- grade review from Toronto
Release Date: March 27th
Director: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Alan Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernard Pruvost
Synopsis: In a small, idyllic coastal French town, a bumbling detective tries to solve a series of grisly murders while a young rascal child comes of age.
Verdict: Wow. Who would have thought that punishing miserablist Bruno Dumont had a wicked sense of humor? Hilariously absurd with a dark underbelly that creates something verging on existential comedy, “Li’l Quinquin” could be described as “True Detective” meets Inspector Clouseau mixed with some “Twin Peaks” strangeness. A three-and-a-half-hour mini-series, Dumont’s picture was shot in Cinemascope and meant for the big screen, and while it is somewhat chaptered up, the narrative plays out like a long-form movie. The twitchy, odd-duck lead is another one of Dumont’s non-professional actors (like most of the cast) and his series of weird facial tics is a laugh-out-loud symphony that we could watch on a loop all day. Super deadpan, extremely dry humor mixed with a Bresson-ian dispassion that taps into Dumont’s affinity for religious themes — here, the true nature of evil — juxtaposed with the life of a young scallywag shit-disturber, “Li’L Quinquin” might be the most wonderfully baffling and original work we’ve seen in some time. In short, there’s nothing like it out there and it’s fantastically good.
Review: Here’s Nik’s capsule rave review and Q&A from Cannes.
Release Date: The long-form movie/series is currently streaming on Fandor and the limited theatrical run began Jan 2nd in New York.
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve (“Father of my Children,” “Goodbye First Love“)
Cast: Felix de Givry, Pauline Etienne
Synopsis: A young DJ comes of age during the halcyon days of the French techno/disco scene that launched Daft Punk.
Verdict: Like an “Inside Llewyn Davis” for the ‘90s French touch scene, “Eden” centers more around failure than it does success. But maybe that’s being a bit too glib. Filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s semi-autobiographical film (her brother and co-writer Sven was an up-and-coming DJ during this period) is long and sprawling, covering nearly a decade of the protagonist’s life, and it feels more like a bittersweet recollection, ending on the melancholy autumnal note of time that’s passed us by when we’ve been busy doing… stuff. If it sounds narratively unconventional, that’s because it is, but there’s a cumulative power to the vignette/slice-of-life approach to the film which in some ways is similar to the approach in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Whatever the comparison, it’s a strikingly memorable picture that will inevitably compel you to consider and look back on your formative years, back when the party seemed to last forever.
Review: Here’s Nik’s B+ review from TIFF.
Release Date: Broad Green Pictures will release the film sometime in May.
Director: David Robert Mitchell (“The Myth of the American Sleepover”)
Cast: Maika Monroe, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Synopsis: A young teenager becomes the latest victim of a mysterious, supernatural force that follows her around after she has sex with her boyfriend.
Verdict: If horror is your thing, you’ve got something pretty damn endearing coming your way in the form of Mitchell’s “It Follows.” And if the word “endearing” has you scratching your head, let us be clear: it’s the sweetest horror film we’ve seen in a while, mostly built around, as Jess points out in her review, “the artistry and atmospheric richness of the endeavor.” While the film didn’t leave our spines tingling in terror, or raise too many hairs on our necks (unless you count Rich Vreeland’s bombastically smothering Carpenter-esque score), it certainly won us over with its unique take on the teen horror sub-genre. It’s also proof that Mitchell is progressing quite nicely in terms of taut direction, and that Maika Monroe (one of our breakout stars from 2014) has a fantastic career ahead of her as the girl who can do suspicious and vulnerable in one single, captivating glance.
Our Review: Jess’ B grade review from Cannes
Release Date: March 27th
Director: Riley Stearns
Cast: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Beth Grant, Chris Ellis
Synopsis: A washed-up TV guru/cult expert decides to de-program a young girl from a cult called Faults, in order to pay off the remainder of his debt.
Verdict: Riley Stearns writes and directs his first feature like a man who’s been making compelling, darkly funny, and unpredictably twisted films for years. Films about cults tend to either veer towards undiluted horror (“The Wicker Man,” “Children of the Corn”), eerie drama (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “The Master”) or strict genre-fare (“Kill List”), so it’s a testament to Stearns’ talents that he manages such a formidable balancing act of a spooky genre story masquerading as a suburban drama of horrors. Crumbling societal values and power trips with identity make for some of the blackest humor we’ve seen recently, and with the underused Leland Orser absolutely ripping it in a spectacular lead performance, followed so closely by the excellent and instinctive Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Faults” is likely to end up as one of the year’s very top directorial debuts.
Our Review: Here’s William’s B grade review from SXSW
Release Date: March 6th
“Love & Mercy”
Director: Bill Pohlad (“Old Explorers”)
Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Erin Darke
Synopsis: The story of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, split between the making of Pet Sounds in the 1960s, and the older Wilson in the 1980s as he struggles with mental illness.
Verdict: News about an approaching musical biopic of a legendary rock star normally gives us shivers of fear rather than anticipation, but “Love & Mercy” always seemed a more intriguing proposition than most, and our hopes were fortunately met when we caught the film at TIFF. Directed by Bill Pohlad, best known as the producer of films like “The Tree Of Life,” and penned by “Rampart” helmer Oren Moverman, the film “isn’t a standard celebration nor a traditional music biopic,” but instead proved to be “a survival story,” dealing both with Wilson finding his own artistic feet, and his later attempt to free himself from a manipulative psychiatrist (Giamatti). All the performances across the board are strong, but it’s Dano and Cusack, playing the younger and older Wilson, who are the stars of the show, the former “doing a stellar job,” while the latter “hasn’t been this good in ages.” With “unfussy” direction from Pohlad and a strong score from David Fincher favorite Atticus Ross, this is a musical tale that breaks from the now-familiar “Ray”-style formula, and actually does justice to its subject.
Our Review: Kevin’s B+-grade verdict from TIFF.
Release Date: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions are releasing on June 5th.
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”
Director: Roy Andersson (“Songs from the Second Floor,” “You, the Living”)
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Charlotta Larsson
Synopsis: The third and final installment of Andersson’s “trilogy about being a human,” the film follows various characters through various vignettes as they live out their banal, tragicomic existences.
Verdict: It was Christmas come early for us in Venice, as Jess so fittingly declared at the start of her review, after Roy Andersson capped off his seminal trilogy with his gloriously titled existentialist masterpiece. Its sense of humor is so dry it will leave you feeling thirsty; a thirst only quenched by the film’s grand artistry and intellectual bravado. “Each locked-off camera shot is a mini masterpiece of set design, choreography and perfectly offbeat timing unto itself, but the great joy of Andersson’s movies always comes from picking up on the breadcrumb trail of recurring motifs and skewering side details” writes Jess in her review, and it’s among the many reasons Andersson was honored with the Golden Lion. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the tenacious banality that digs into the very core of what it truly means to be human (and really, who hasn’t done that?), this one’s for you.
Our Review: Jess’ A- verdict from Venice
Release Date: Scheduled for April 25th in the U.K., Magnolia Pictures (who has U.S. distribution rights) is still to finalize a date stateside.
Director: Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio,” “Katalin Varga”)
Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna
Synopsis: A middle-aged lepidopterist continues to role-play with her younger lover, until the passion in their relationship begins to strain, and their love for one another is tested.
Verdict: We saw this tantalizingly intoxicating jewel at TIFF last year, and loved every insatiable minute of it. Peter Strickland made us stand up and pay attention back when we saw his ‘Sound Studio’ in 2013, but this new venture, with all its silky filth and bottomless passion, is an altogether different beast. He’s conjured up a certain kind of cinematic magic here, inspiring two brilliant (yet wonderfully different and opposing) performances from Danish veteran Knudsen and Italian dilettante D’Anna, and “created an exotic, perverted, endangered species of a film. To call it overwhelming and self-indulgent is to compliment it, since overpowering indulgence is one of the core motifs of the film and orchestrates the remarkable style.” So says Nik’s gushy review from TIFF, before listing all the major behind-the-scenes contributors who’ve helped make this film such a unique and unforgettable experience. Don’t you dare think that we’re toying with hyperbole here; “The Duke of Burgundy” will more than likely feature highly on many-a-critic’s year-end lists, including our own. Check out the official trailer and poster (which we’re pretty chuffed to be a part of) here.
Our Review: Nik’s A verdict from TIFF
Release Date: January 23rd
Director: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Marius Kolbenstvedt, Vera Vitali
Synopsis: A housebound, recently blinded woman attempts to come to terms with her loss of sight and suspects her husband may be being unfaithful, while a lonely man obsesses over a solitary neighbor as the connections between all four characters are gradually revealed.
Verdict: A deliciously sensuous experience, largely due to “Dogtooth” DP Thimios Bakatakis’ utterly lovely and wildly evocative shallow-focus cinematography, Norwegian director Eskil Vogt’s debut film (he’s best known as the screenwriting partner of Joachim Trier) is a wholehearted recommendation for fans of expressive, mischievous cinema. The screenwriting winner at Sundance 2014, the film’s joys are not just on the craft level — the storytelling (much of it told in voiceover narration) is superb, unfolding gently, mysteriously, peppered with sudden flashes of insight and wit. Petersen is remarkable as the newly blind Ingrid, one of the warmest, realest heroines we can remember, struggling to accept her loss and what it means for her new life with calm fortitude, an impish sense of humor and a terrifically fertile, creative imagination. Tonally sure yet always surprising, and building to a lasting, resonant feeling of genuine optimism, “Blind” is definitely of that Scandinavian school of cool-paletted, observant cinema, but tempers its irony with real humanism and empathy.
Our Review: Here’s Jess’ A- review from Berlin
Release Date: No U.S. date yet, but a March 20th U.K. release bodes well.
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing”)
Synopsis: In his follow-up documentary to “The Act of Killing,” Oppenheimer turns the focus from the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide to its victims and its survivors, via the story of Adi’s quest to meet his brother’s killers face to face.
Verdict: “The Act of Killing” fell like a sledgehammer blow (our dumbstruck original A+ review is here), but wisely, Oppenheimer, who is clearly in this for the long haul, didn’t try to emulate that film’s heartstopping, lurching horror this time out. Instead, he finds a very different tone, yet no less intelligent and no less profound, in the story of Adi and his family, whose lives were forever scarred by the murder of his brother during the purges of the 1960s. In seeking to address unhealed wounds, a lesser filmmaker might have turned in a relentlessly backward-looking film, but Oppenheimer never neglects the complex humanity of the present, and “The Look of Silence” becomes as much a character study of the remarkable Adi, as it does an expose of the near-inhuman terrors of that decade. Adi, the optician, wants to look into these men’s eyes, and neither vengeful nor forgiving, he wants to understand how one human can visit such degradation on another. There is maybe no aim more noble, and no filmmaker more suited to exploring it than Oppenheimer.
Our Review: Here’s Jess’s A grade review from Venice
Release Date: July 17th
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako (“Heremakono,” “Bamako”)
Cast: Ibahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri
Synopsis: When the titular region falls into the hands of Jihadists, cattle herder Kidane and his wife Satima brave it out until Kidane strikes and kills a neighbor in a heated dispute and has to face the unending consequences for him and his family.
Verdict: That bare bones synopsis does scant justice to the mosaic-like structure of Sissako’s tremendously powerful, and deeply necessary film, because while Kidane emerges as the central character, there are incisive pen portraits drawn throughout of a people, themselves nominally of the same religion as their persecutors, living under the shadow of extremism. Strikingly shot by “Blue is the Warmest Color” DP Sofiane El Fani, the film is by turns lyrical, brutal and even occasionally comical, yet its power is never diminished, and its value in presenting an insider’s eye look at the corrosive, horrific effects that Sharia law can have on ordinary people cannot be overestimated. Featuring a soulful performance from newcomer Ahmed, and a few near-unwatchable scenes of violence and punishment, “Timbuktu,” after perhaps a slightly disjointed start, builds gradually to a vital and moving illustration of one of the most badly misrepresented and misunderstood issues of our time.
Our Review: Read Jess’ B+ review from Cannes
Release Date: January 28th
Director: David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche,” “Joe“)
Cast: Al Pacino, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine, Holly Hunter
Synopsis: An aging, isolated locksmith attempts to reconnect with the world he was once so vitally a part of, but his obsessive ties to the past hold him back.
Verdict: We should probably point out we seem to be in a minority in liking Green’s latest picture as much as we do. While there’s no real rebuttal to its critics’ accusations of on-the-nose symbolism and self-indulgence (it has lots of both) there was a genuineness to its navel gazing, offset by some actually brave, experimental storytelling decisions that means if you go with its flow it can be surprisingly enriching. Plus there’s the not-small-fact that it’s a performance from Pacino in which he actually seems to be trying something new, and when was the last time we could really say that? Couched in Tim Orr’s expressive, floaty camerawork and a strong score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo, “Manglehorn” is yet another odd alley of investigation for the magnificently eclectic Green, and while it’s by no means flawless, and its maximalist approach can be messy and overwrought at times, we’d much rather watch a filmmaker try something so patently risky and partially fail, than watch him second-guess himself into a safer, more conventionally tasteful movie.
Our Review: Here’s Jess’ B+ review from Venice
Release Date: August 7th in the U.K., U.S. date to be confirmed.
“The Postman’s White Nights”
Director: Andrei Konchalovskiy (“Tango & Cash,” “Runaway Train”)
Cast: Aleksei Tryapitsin
Synopsis: In an isolated Russian community scattered around a massive Archangelsk lake, the postman, for many the sole point of contact with the rest of the world, makes his rounds and occasionally dreams about a cat.
Verdict: After a dalliance with Hollywood back in the ’80s, one-time Tarkovsky collaborator Konchalovskiy returned to Russia and embarked on a new phase of his career, pursuing social realist dramas with a documentary bent. And ‘Postman,’ must surely be the culmination of that improvised, bedded-in way of working, as the story’s astonishing authenticity in illuminating humdrum, lonely life in this forgotten corner of the world is undeniable. Yet there’s much more to the film, which netted the Best Director award in Venice, as, in addition to some striking photography and the deeply real performances from the non-professional cast, the narrative takes on weirdly skewed, ominous, and dreamlike tinges—nothing overt but like something always glimpsed in the corner of your eye. It’s a terrific, tricky, uncanny effect that requires patience and investment on the part of the viewer, but rewards it tenfold with a film quite unlike anything else you’ll see all year.
Our Review: Here’s Jess’ A grade review from Venice
Release Date: None yet, and it’s not a hugely commercial offering, so look for it on the festival circuit and hopefully a limited arthouse release later in the year.
Director: David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises,” “Cosmopolis“)
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson
Synopsis: Mega-dysfunctional Hollywood power family the Weisses find their ambitions endangered when potentially criminally insane daughter Agatha comes back to town to work for a middle-aged movie star who is desperate for a comeback and who happens to be a client of Agatha’s analyst father.
Verdict: Soapy to the point of lunacy, overwrought to a near-camp extreme, and atypically messy from the usually hospital-corners Cronenberg, “Maps to the Stars” is also a huge, almost sinful truckload of fun. Assembling a wonderful cast who take delight in ripping to shreds the folly and hubris of the vacant Hollywood lifestyle, the film is a riot of inside-baseball winks about the film industry, and the deeply narcissist, rotten-to-the-core sellouts who populate it. Julianne Moore’s titanic performance as the fading star facing encroaching middle age (and therefore irrelevance) is so good that it won her Cannes’ Best Actress award, and in one go ensures that she herself will never suffer her character’s fate. But all of the cast do sterling work: it’s a, “Hey, where you been?” to John Cusack, and a, “Hello, we’ll be seeing a lot more of you,” to Evan Bird, especially. It’s may simply be a gonzo gothic telenovela (so much soap can only ever generate so much froth), but it’s a giddy good time at the pictures.
Our Review: Here’s Oli’s B+ take from Cannes
Release Date: February 27th
Director: Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis,” “Chicken With Plums”)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith
Synopsis: A mentally ill man stops taking his medication, causing him to imagine that his pets are telling him to become a serial killer.
Verdict: After the brutal one-two punch of “Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D,” Ryan Reynolds has been after some of that Matthew McConaughey-style comeback magic, taking a lot of smaller projects with interesting roles, and the Ryan-aissance got off to a good start with “The Voices.” A hot Black List script from a few years ago, marking the English-language debut of “Persepolis” creator Marjane Satrapi, it’s a bright colorful, comedy about mental illness and gruesome murder that, somehow, works brilliantly. As our review from Sundance last year said, the film “navigates the line between the gruesome and the goofy with a step as nimble as a tight-rope walker going over a sea of broken glass.” Immaculately designed to an almost Burton-esque degree (but with a point to the heightened look, as you discover after a while), carefully walking the line by being button-pushing without being offensive, and featuring a career-best turn from Reynolds, it’s an unexpected treat, and one that we’re glad is soon to see the light of day.
Our Review: James Rocchi’s B grade review
Release Date: February 6th, in theaters and on VOD.
Director: Kim Seong-hoon (“How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men”)
Cast: Lee Sun-kyun
Synopsis: A crooked cop gets trapped in an ever-escalating series of misadventures following a car accident and his attempts to cover up the results.
Verdict: A terrifically fun and entertaining cop thriller marked with mordant flashes of black humor and a very welcome, confident sense of its own utter absurdity, “A Hard Day” cannot really be considered an arthouse movie by any stretch of the imagination. Thankfully it is subtitled (being in Korean), which gives us an excuse to feel like cinephiles while in fact indulging in the popcorniest of escapist films. Showing an inventive, irreverent, and totally go-for-broke attitude toward the tropes of this played-out genre, director Kim Seong-hoon’s nearest equivalent might be early Tarantino, though this is not at all a homage or a me-too, being a dizzy, witty blast all its own. Best of all is how Kim keeps the tension and the stakes escalating and tightening throughout a 111-minute runtime full of enough plots and twists to fuel ten films, yet feels lean as a whippet, and just as streamlined.
Our Review: Jess’ A- review from Cannes
Release Date: None yet, but it’s gone down like gangbusters wherever it’s played, so fingers crossed it’ll land in 2015.
Director: Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo,” “At Any Price“)
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon
Synopsis: After losing his beloved family home during housing crisis, a desperate man turns to the very greedy real estate broker who evicted him for work.
Verdict: As director Ramin Bahrani continues to grow as a filmmaker, his narratives begin to broaden and more stars come along for the ride. This time, the filmmaker has Andrew Garfield as the soon-to-be compromised young man who makes a deal with the devil—in his only non-‘Spider-Man’ screen appearance since joining that franchise—and Michael Shannon as one of the most loathsome and oily bottom feeders to ever hit the screen. Preying upon the ignorant and the cashed-strapped, Shannon’s tanned and blonde Adonis sold his soul long ago, but it’s a matter if Garfield will cross that line into the moral abyss. It’s a little melodramatic in spots, but it’s dynamically acted and angry as hell—the indignation flashed like bared teeth at these various travesties certainly resonates.
Review: Here’s Jess’ B+/A- review from Venice
Release: Broad Green Pictures will release the movie sometime in the spring.
Director: Olivier Assayas (“Summer Hours,” “Something In the Air“)
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Moretz Grace
Synopsis: An aging actress is faced with the challenge of reappearing in the play that made her famous, but this time as the older, more insecure and self-doubting character, which precipitates a discord with her faithful personal assistant.
Verdict: Let it be said that French filmmaker Olivier Assayas has never been particularly wedded to conventional narrative, and so “Clouds of Sils Maria” is one of his more amorphous pictures. While it didn’t work for everyone, some Playlist writers found its thematic and immersive metatextual musings—about role playing, time, identity, desire and control—quite compelling to watch. A top-notch cast certainly didn’t hurt, and perhaps a much less confident cast might not have elevated the somewhat shapeless material to such captivating heights. Stewart in particular is more at ease than we’ve ever seen her, going toe-to-toe with Binoche in a manner that makes it easily one of the most enjoyable face-offs we’ve seen in some time. Not for everyone, but still of great value, especially to see the maturing of Stewart into such a fine actress.
Review: Jess wasn’t as keen on it as some of us (though she also thought Stewart was great), but here’s her review from Cannes.
Release: March 27th
Director: Daniel Barber (“Harry Brown”)
Cast: Brit Marling, Muna Otaru, Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller
Synopsis: In The dying days of the Civil War, three women are forced to defend their home from a pair of Union scouts with murder and rape on their mind.
Verdict: We’ll address this upfront: the Playlist staff who’ve seen “The Keeping Room” are split on the film. Kevin’s review from TIFF was a middling C+, saying that the film “attempts a blend of sexual curiosity, home invasion horror and elegiac drama that doesn’t quite work, but whose ambitions are nonetheless compelling.” But Oli was much more taken with the film, putting on his Top 10 of the year after seeing it at the LFF. Guess which one of us is writing this feature?… It’s a sparse, beautiful film, a big step up from Barber’s debut (it’s much closer to his short film “The Tonto Woman,” which was Oscar nominated), that’s effective both as a look at the lives of women at a time that didn’t value them and as a stripped-down thriller. At its center are a quintet of great performances: Brit Marling entirely fulfills her promise, Muna Otaru is a striking breakout, and even Sam Worthington does an excellent job. You’ll be able to make your own mind up about it later in the year.
Our Review: Kevin’s C+ take from TIFF, and Oli’s counterpoint from his Top 15 of the year.
Release Date: Drafthouse Films has picked it up and will release it on an as-yet-unnamed date in the fall.
Director: Paul King (“The Mighty Boosh,” “Bunny & The Bull“)
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw
Synopsis: A family befriends a talking bear at a London train station.
Verdict: Based on the popular children’s book character Paddington Bear, which has spawned cartoons, toys, and all kinds of ephemera, one might cynically think from the outset that Paddington was simply another children’s toy brand to leverage on the big screen. But handled with loving care and affection, Paul King’s movie is a tremendously enchanting delight that nails the books and is genuinely winning in all kinds of ways. Color us surprised. “Paddington” also rallied hard after a bump in the road this summer—replacing the lead voice with Ben Whishaw (Colin Firth was the original choice). It might have spelled trouble at the time, but evidently it was the absolutely correct move as the fragility, wonder, and humor Whishaw expresses just makes the endeavor all the more delightful. Inventive, charming, and legitimately hilarious, it means that the first great family movie of the year will have arrived barely two weeks into January. Your move, Pixar.
Review: Here’s Oliver Lyttelton’s deeply impressed A- grade review from the U.K. late last year.
Release Date: January 16th
Director: Céline Sciamma (“Tomboy”)
Cast: Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Marietou Toure, Lindsay Karamou, Cyril Mendy
Synopsis: Oppressed by her older brother and dead-end school prospects, a young black girl in France starts a new life after meeting a group of three free-spirited girls.
Verdict: Nope, sorry, this isn’t a quasi–sequel to Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” but in our minds it’s arguably better. Part of the pleasure of film festivals, which can be a grind it must be said, is discovery. Director Celine Sciamma had been a rising name with her last few pictures (“Tomboy” was her last, and probably best known), but even given that, “Girlhood” is still that special kind of find, a vibrant, brassy, and utterly infectious movie that captures the spirit of young women looking for acceptance, trying to forge an identity and a life for yourself. The film, as our Cannes review acknowledged, is maybe a touch overlong, but even so, it’s one that “teems with life,” proving both “hugely uplifting and melancholic.” Sciamma probably should have been more on our radar before, but after “Girlhood,” she’s never coming off it.
Review: Jessica Kiang flipped for this one, so you can read her Cannes review here.
Release: Date: January 30th
Director: Christian Petzold (“Barbara“)
Synopsis: Disfigured and unrecognizable after facial reconstruction surgery, a concentration-camp survivor searches ravaged postwar Berlin for the husband who might have betrayed her to the Nazis.
Verdict: While he’s never been invited to Cannes yet (Venice and Berlin are his playgrounds for now) German filmmaker Christian Petzold, who was behind underrated international efforts like “Barbara” and “Jerichow,” begs for auteur status (if he doesn’t have it already) with a clean, straightforward, super-controlled approach that is often politically and socially charged, and always leaves a lasting impact. Here, he has his German muse once more, Nina Hoss (who was perhaps a little bit more visible this year thanks to working alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man”) and his “Barbara” lead, Ronald Zehrfeld. A seductive thriller, and utterly compelling film noir steeped in post-war German allegory, “Phoenix” is both ingenious and arguably his most watchable picture to date, with a spellbinding ending that will leave you haunted for days.
Review: Here’s Nikola Grozdanovic’s A- review from TIFF.
Release Date: Sundance Selects picked up the movie up for a TBD 2015 release.
…and here are 5 we hoped would be a lot better than they were
Director: Ryan Gosling
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes.
Synopsis: Ryan Gosling makes a movie, it all goes wrong. Or: A single mother is swept into a dark underworld and her teenage son also gets drawn onto a dark path.
Verdict: Outside of many two/three other heavy hitters, there was probably no more anticipated movie at Cannes than Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, but something went amiss. Like a David Lynch movie with strange visuals, but no coherent connective tissue to transform it into a compelling piece of surreality, Gosling’s picture was booed off the stage as a total and utter mess. Still, it’s a “wtf happened?” must-watch for those of us that haven’t seen it yet.
Our Review: While there was a minority of supporters for the film (including its exec producer Nicolas Winding Refn, natch), Oliver Lyttelton was not one of them. Here’s his review.
Release: Warner Bros. will give the picture a limited NY/LA release in April, with VOD likely to follow soon after.
Director: Fatih Akin (“Head-On,” “The Edge of Heaven”)
Cast: Tahar Rahim
Synopsis: Family man Nazaret, conscripted by the Ottoman forces during World War I, barely survives the Armenian genocide, is rendered mute, and left for dead. He eventually discovers that his twin daughters are alive and embarks on an epic journey across continents to find them.
Verdict: There were few more dramatic disparities between expectation and experience in 2014 than with Akin’s hotly anticipated, but outright poor, “The Cut.” Absent any evidence of the director’s usual energy and irreverence, this turgid, emotionally unengaging would-be epic was, for us, a complete misfire from the off, with an almost comically episodic and repetitive plot (yet again Nazaret gets somewhere only to find his daughters aren’t there) unfolding against world events of whose import we have no real sense of whatsoever. Add to that a distracting linguistic muddle, and you have one of our biggest disappointments in recent memory, in which a couple of decent sequences and some nice photography from Rainer Klausman cannot redeem the bloat of a 138-minute runtime that feels much, much longer. This largely unmemorialized genocide is a desperately worthwhile subject on which Akin seemed well-placed to deliver a definitive take, but alas, the only truly good things about “The Cut” are its unimpeachable intentions.
Our Review:Here’s Jess’ C-/D+ review from Venice
Release Date: Strand reportedly has a spring release planned.
Director: Susanne Bier (“After The Wedding,” “In A Better World”)
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik
Synopsis: After marrying his enigmatic new bride, a North Carolina timber tycoon returns to the heart of his empire, only to find it soon put at risk by blackmail.
Verdict: After “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” the pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper seemed like a bulletproof one, but then came “Serena.” Long-delayed, said at one point to “make no sense,” and eventually have its unceremonious world premiere in a sticky-floored multiplex in a quiet slot at the London Film Festival rather than among the glittering lights of Cannes or Venice, the film isn’t 100% terrible, but it’s pretty close. As a sort of heightened, crazy melodrama, it might have been entertaining, but per our review, “Bier’s too tasteful to let the film off the chain… instead it’s a mess, and one that never finds a reason to justify its own existence.” It’s handsome enough, but even the leads can’t save it. Lawrence gives “the least effective performance she’s given to date,” while Cooper “seems visibly uncomfortable.” So yeah, unless you’re really curious, probably skip this one.
Our Review: Oli’s D- take from the LFF.
Release Date: March 27th, via Magnolia, with a VOD release the month before.
“She’s Funny That Way”
Director: Peter Bogdanovich (“Paper Moon,” “The Last Picture Show“)
Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Lucy Punch, Rhys Ifans, Debi Mazar, Jennifer Esposito
Synopsis: A theater director with a penchant for “rescuing” call girls by giving them life-changing sums of money faces wacky shenanigans when one of the girls is cast in a play he’s directing, opposite his wife and her ex-lover.
Verdict: There are genres they just don’t make like they used to, and “She’s Funny That Way” makes a compelling case as to why screwball comedy is one of them. To be fair, Bogdanovich’s film tries for a faithful facsimile of the kind of dizzy pizzazz that the classic screwballs demonstrated so effortlessly, but pesky stuff like modern gender politics and some rather shopworn gags conspire to make the film feel not so much a classic homage as dated throwback. One of those farces in which everyone in the overstuffed main cast separately decides to dine at the same restaurant on the same night, the film is also hampered by Poots’ unconvincing casting as Brooklynite, and by having at least two superfluous subplots that only serve to make the wrap-up even more contrived. Saddest of all though, is that a film that boasts this many key roles for women (and Hahn is reliably terrific, while Aniston has against-type fun) is overall so dismissive of them as anything but people to be adored, despised, validated, or rescued by a bunch of very silly men.
Our Review: Jess’s C+ Venice take is here
Release Date: March 20th
Director: Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz, Ellen Barkin
Synopsis: A humble New York cobbler discovers a magical stitching machine that allows him to become the owners of any shoes he puts on.
Verdict: As much as we were looking forward to a new film from Tom McCarthy, who’d been behind three lovely, low-key humanistic comedy-dramas over the past decade or so, the premise of “The Cobbler” was always suspiciously whimsical. An under-the-radar debut late during TIFF didn’t bode well either, and so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the film turned out to be, well, a load of cobblers. “The first anti-gentrification, magical shoe, Jewish fable in the history of cinema,” according to our review, the film “sets a wacky tone early, and never deviates from it,” taking its conceit “to gratingly literal and weirdly fantastical lengths,” and proving to be “a baffling misfire” from the director. It’s a fine cast (though Sandler is “playing weary, rumpled, and sad-eyed again”), but it “boggles the mind” that McCarthy was able to get them with this material, with only “Fruitvale Station” star Melonie Diaz being a silver lining. Hopefully McCarthy will be back in form with this year’s “Spotlight,” which made our Most Anticipated of the year list.
Our Review: Kevin’s D-grade verdict from TIFF.
Release Date: March 6th
Gluttons for cinema that we are, there are of course many, many more 2015 titles that we’ve already reviewed than we have space to call out above. Here’s a further list of selected 2015 potentials, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, with grades and links to our original reviews:
“Heaven Knows What” [B+/A-]
“Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” [B+]
“The Lesson” [B+]
“Testament Of Youth” [B+]
“Red Army” [B+]
“War Book” [B+]
“In The Crosswind” [B+]
“Adult Beginners” [B+]
“Time Out Of Mind” [B+]
“Pawn Sacrifice” [B]
“Welcome to Me” [B]
“Project Almanac” [B]
“Self Made” [B]
“What We Do In The Shadows” [B]
“Amour Fou” [B]
“3 Hearts” [B]
“Return To Ithaca” [B]
“A Second Chance” [B]
“Welcome To Me” [B]
“Ned Rifle” [B-]
“Little Accidents” [B-]
“Good Kill” [B-]
“Hill of Freedom” [B-]
“The Price Of Fame“[B-/C+]
“Black Coal, Thin Ice” [C+/B-]
“1001 Grams” [C]
“Black Sea” [C]
“Son Of A Gun” [C]
“Stations of the Cross” [C]
“I Am Not Lorena” [C]
“The Sound and the Fury” [C]
“The Last Five Years” [C]
“A Little Chaos” [C-]
“The Face Of An Angel” [C-]
“The Riot Club” [C-]
“Elephant Song” [C-]
“The New Girlfriend” [D+]
“American Heist” [D+]
“The Forger” [D]
“Before We Go” [D]
“Monsters: Dark Continent” [D]
“Beauty and the Beast” [D]
“Big Game” [D]
“Kill Me Three Times” [D-]
“The Smell of Us” [F]
Feel free to add your tuppence in the comments, and let us know which if any of these you’re most looking forward to in 2015.
–Jessica Kiang, Oli Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Nik Grozdanovic, Erik McClanahan