by Gabriel Valdez
Once more unto the breach. Let’s dive right in:
20. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
You could also call this Most Anticipated Bodice Ripper. Let me just quote the IMDB summary for a second: “In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.”
The Thomas Hardy novel on which it’s based was a fairly early piece of feminist literature that examined the social and personal pressures put upon women to choose a suitor. Far too often, these sorts of adaptations turn a complex work of literature into a breathy, steamy potboiler. That sort of simplicity would be a first for Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, however. His last film, The Hunt, concerned the ruination of a teacher’s life after a rumor about his sexuality is started.
Vinterberg is not one to dumb material down. His films are stories that beautifully present the rough edges of society we pretend to ignore. While Far From the Madding Crowd looks like a prettier presentation of your typical period romance, the talent behind it – including lead actress Carey Mulligan – hints at something more complex. May 1.
When you read H.P. Lovecraft, you’re meant to be horrified at the realization of ancient societies that worshiped dark, insane gods. But here’s the thing: any society that lasts for any real extent of time, and the people living in it are worried about picking up food for dinner, meeting someone special, and trying to remember to do the laundry on time.
So what happens when a man unwittingly starts a romance with a woman who’s half Italian femme fatale, half Lovecraftian beastie? Where does the horror end and just living out your life begin? Aren’t we being a bit judgmental if we assume someone’s a crazed psychopath just because she sprouts tentacles?
Spring has been described as a horror romance about an Italian town that’s perfectly comfortable with its alternative nature. Can a romance survive the judgments we make against that nature, however? April 17.
18. WHITE GOD
And here we go. How do you tell Europe a story of marginalized people treated like outcasts when certain European countries go so far as to legislate the clothing of certain religions and races of people (hi, France, Britain, Netherlands), when some countries wage violent political battle to kick those people out (hi, Sweden, Hungary, Turkey), and even when some countries enforce laws so differently for different races that the prisons are 80% minority-filled despite a civilian population that’s only 20-30% minority (hi, well, almost all of Europe). How do you tell a story about entire peoples kicked around and treated like mongrel dogs to a continent that doesn’t want to hear it?
Well, you can actually tell that story with mongrel dogs. The same way the original Planet of the Apes examined racism in a way that would never have made the big-screen in 1968 if it had actually been about Caucasians and African-Americans, a film like White God can face Europe and convince it to watch a movie about an ethnic revolt and, well, cheer for those rioting in the streets.
It’s important to note the obvious danger when a film does this. The key is in making it its own story, not a straight analogue. The goal after all is not to compare marginalized people to animals, but rather to compare the treatment of those marginalized people to the treatment of animals. It must be a judgment on the culture, not on the subject itself, or you start doing the very damage you’re speaking against. March 27.
There’s not much known about this film other than the talent behind it: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in a David O. Russell film. He previously teamed them in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. And, oh by the way, the screenplay’s written by Annie Mumolo. You may know her better as the writer (with Kristen Wiig) of Bridesmaids.
The film follows a single mother in Long Island who starts her own business and makes it big. Beyond that, not much is known. The turnaround on the film is going to be very quick, so let’s hope it makes its intended release date of December 25.
16. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
At some point, everyone’s going to get over themselves and recognize Kristen Stewart is a risk-taking actor with a rare nose for intriguing and challenging projects. Until then, we consider her here, in the words of Vanessa Tottle, “Our Patron Saint of Go F*ck Yourself.” (Asterisk added.)
Teaming her up with Juliette Binoche and Chloe Grace Moretz makes for the kind of film we almost never see – a serious drama centering around the relationship between three women, in this case taking place during the production of a film that challenges Binoche’s concept of how the people in her life fit into it.
I’ve been looking forward to this one for ages, as it’s meandered through the festivals and struggled to find an American distributor, despite Stewart having set a box office record for an actress her age just three short years ago. Shows you what happens when a man twice your age with a wife and kids takes advantage of you. You get blackballed from an industry, he gets a $200 million film. That’s why she’s our Patron Saint of, well, you know. No date set.
15. EX MACHINA
Alex Garland has written some of the most beautifully screwed up screenplays of the last two decades, many of which were immediately snapped up by director Danny Boyle (The Beach, 28 Days Later…, Sunshine). My favorite might be a non-Boyle project, Never Let Me Go.
This has also allowed Garland the opportunity to train under one of the most versatile and adaptive filmmakers in modern history, so when he makes his own directorial debut with Ex Machina, it’s worth noticing.
I also don’t pay much heed to studios, but at this point, I’ll watch anything that A24 decides to fund or acquire. Their nose for projects gave me two of my top 5 films of 2014, the Scottish horror Under the Skin and the Australian post-apocalypse tale The Rover, as well as a host of stellar comedies and psychological thrillers. Garland and A24? Two names I trust, with a story that looks pretty compelling. April 10.
14. THE REVENANT
After this year’s Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pulls a complete 180 and makes a revenge Western. It will follow none other than Leondardo DiCaprio as protagonist Hugh Glass. Left for dead, he goes off in search of John Fitzgerald, played by…
Look, you guys, this isn’t funny anymore. Who is really playing John Fitzgerald? It can’t be Tom Hardy, not unless he found David Bowie’s cloning machine from The Prestige. Wait, what!?! Tom Hardy played the cloning machine in The Prestige? Oh for god’s sake…
So, in The Revenant, DiCaprio goes after Tom Hardy, and I really hope he gets him because this is getting ridiculous. How is Tom Hardy in all the films this year? He’s appeared three times in two films already on our list. That doesn’t even make sense. It’s like he’s a secret plan so that the Academy doesn’t even have to bother nominating 20 white actors in a year and just nominates 20 Tom Hardys. There’s no one that can stand against that, except…the Chosen One.
The one actor who’s always nominated but never wins…. Leo, this is your purpose, your calling, your reason for being! This is why you’ve suffered all those years, why you had to watch Matthew McConaughey get up there and say he’s most grateful to himself when he looks in the mirror. Go get Tom Hardy, Leo, and save the world for the rest of us. We’ll find out who wins – Tom Hardy or Leo, and therefore the world – in December.
(Above photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly…obviously.)
13. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
I’m just going to leave the trailer up there. You can tell me if you like it, and are therefore telling the truth, or if you don’t like it and are lying for some reason. Because I don’t know anyone who sees those two minutes and says they don’t want to see the full movie. February 13.
12. MCFARLAND, USA
This might seem like a funny one to have this high, but Niki Caro is a special director, able to capture the small-town dynamics of various cultures and make otherwise cliché stories feel fresh again. She’s best known for the dreamy New Zealand inspirational Whale Rider. Kevin Costner’s unique talent lies in capturing an audience’s goodwill the moment he steps onto the screen. That was misused in action films in 2014, but here he plays a P.E. Coach who starts an unlikely and underdog cross country racing program. I’ll look forward to seeing Costner in a more comfortable mode again, but I’ll most look forward to how Caro presents this town and its people. February 20.
The jury’s still out on director Neill Blomkamp. Excitement over his unexpected sci-fi success with District 9 was tempered by the beautifully designed but incredibly uneven Elysium. Chappie takes place in a near-future world where a decommissioned military robot is salvaged by a family who raise him like a toddler. When his former masters come to claim him, Chappie is forced to grow up through the rite of passage that is eight bazillion explosions. Still, this is the kind of story Blomkamp tells best, focusing on the personal inside of the epic. Hopefully, he can keep his eye on the smaller picture. March 6.
Allow me to also link my own thoughts on why the burgeoning slate of films about artificial intelligence give us characters who strive to be more human at a time when humans strive to be more vicious.
Keep an eye out for out Top 10 most anticipated movies of the year.