2015 is a year set to be dominated by huge blockbusters, many of which mark highly anticipated returns to huge film series. My 2014 top ten was dominated by smaller independent pics, several of them in a foreign language, but I am not necessarily expecting this year’s list of favourites to mirror that. With so many big American movies, often with very impressive pedigrees, I am expecting a few of them to really show us what cinema can do.
The film with the highest profile and greatest levels of anticipation is undoubtedly Star Wars: The Force Awakens but let’s be realistic, there is absolutely no way it is going to live up to the hype. Nonetheless I am pretty excited. It is literally as though the prequel trilogy never happened. Like many I was bitterly disappointed by Episodes l – III, but really I have learnt very little from this; Star Wars is coming back again and I can’t wait.
Actually that’s not quite true, there is no way one can live through such times and come out totally unscathed. Deep down I can see there is a chance that this new instalment might not be wonderful but that’s a good thing. Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith did me a favour in that sense because I no longer expect a new Star Wars film to be an incomparable cinematic experience that will miraculously transport me back to my childhood. All I am really hoping for with The Force Awakens is that it will be an enjoyable sci-fi adventure. Surely it can manage that.
The one I am really holding my breath for this year is Avengers: Age of Ultron. Clearly expectations could kill this one for me too and Marvel are bound to drop the ball sooner or later but I trust Joss Whedon. I know he has famously suffered studio interference before (the original Buffy stands as the best evidence of this) but I think he has now earned the right to do things his way. What with the first Avengers being the third highest grossing movie of all time and everything.
The whole Marvel Cinematic Jigsaw is becoming an increasingly impressive series of movies and the Avenger films stand to be the best of the lot. All of the studio’s films are character driven and it doesn’t matter which personalities you like best because they are all here. They are a great blend of spectacle and story, giving us great adventures that thrill adults and children alike. Simply put, this is the Star Wars for the new generation.
Of course, Marvel are in the habit of producing two films a year and following Avengers 2, phase three of their domination of superhero cinema kicks off with Ant-Man. This could be where they fumble it. A film about a guy who can shrink to the size of a bug might seem a little bit silly but these are the people who gave us a talking raccoon and got away with it so I think it’ll be okay.
Speaking of brilliant computer generated creatures, Spielberg’s dinosaurs are back this year too. Jurassic World is not being directed by him though, the shots are being called by one Colin Trevorrow. He may not have the series originator’s track record but his single previous film, Safety Not Guaranteed, did something new and interesting with the time travel trope so hopefully he’ll surprise us with this one as well. If he uses the same basic DNA he could nicely bring this once extinct film franchise back to life.
Of course the blockbusters of decades past are not the only things to mine for new ideas. Disney did quite well turning one of their theme park attractions into a hit movie a few years ago with Pirates of the Caribbean and they are trying it again. Tomorrowland introduces us to two disparate people who team up to search for the titular mysterious location.
Not much more has been announced but the teaser trailer for this one is a good example of how to tantalise without giving anything away. A young woman is returned a few small belongings, presumably after some time in a detention cell. Among them is a small metal token which she says is not hers. On touching it she is apparently transported to a field and sees a futuristic city in the distance, on releasing it she is back where she started. Curiouser and curiouser.
Another trailer that’s got my attention is the one for Insurgent, the Divergent follow up. The first film was fine but the fifty second promo they’ve released for this one has really got my attention. In it we get an excellently choreographed action dream sequence and if the rest of the movie can show the same invention it might be something else. It certainly needs to up its game to compete with the other dystopian teen movies out this year: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials. There are probably another dozen in the works too. Do you remember when teen movies were just about high school and relationships? It was a simpler age. Watch the Insurgent clip here.
While I’m talking of trailers I also need to mention Clint Eastwood’s latest movie as director, American Sniper. The preview for this is a really tense scene where Bradley Cooper’s Navy SEAL marksman has to make a call on whether or not to open fire on a child or not. If this clip is an accurate representation of the whole film it should be another to watch.
There’s also a film named Project Almanac on my radar. Two years ago a young director named Josh Trank took two highly over used ideas, superhero origin stories and found footage movies, mixed in some teen drama and came up with the excellent Chronicle. The odds of someone doing the same thing are slim but this has got me thinking they might. This time its teens and time travel.
The film was actually on my movies to look forward to list last year when it was called Welcome to Yesterday but its had a delay and a name change. Neither of those things are a great sign but I’m still stubbornly optimistic.
Trank in the meantime, following on from his interesting low brow superhero pic has been given control of a Fantastic Four reboot. (They have to keep making films otherwise the rights revert to Marvel. It’s the same with Spider-Man.) We had this same situation last year where a bright new director debuted with a great little genre movie and was asked to make something similar on a larger scale. Then it was Gareth Edwards who made Monsters (a superb giant monster film) and then Godzilla (a pretty rubbish giant monster film) so now we’ll see if Trank can succeed in keeping his artistry in the face of managing a huge budget.
It isn’t all reboots and sequels this year (although there are others which I’ll get to in a second). Of the new properties on the horizon, Ex Machina stands out. The first film directed by writer Alex Garland, this one is all about robots and artificial intelligence. Anna Karenina co-stars Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson come face to face again only this time her face is grafted on to a special effects body. Oscar Isaac is there too, arguing over the ethics.
It won’t just be twelve months of sci-fi though, we are also getting a run of spy films. As you may have heard 007 is back and so is the director of Skyfall, Sam Mendes. Not the best of the Craig Bonds (that is still Casino Royale) but certainly the most celebrated and successful of perhaps the whole series, Skyfall was a good balance of old and new. If these two men call pull off the same trick again we are in for something special with SPECTRE.
This year also sees the return of 60s spooks Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This was going to be a Steven Soderbergh film with George Clooney and Matt Damon at one stage but actually, I’m glad that never happened. As it is the movie is being directed by Guy Ritchie with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. If they play it tongue in cheek like the original films then it should be fun. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sensibility could be just what it needs.
Another espionage film that doesn’t look to be taking itself too seriously is Kingsman: The Secret Service. Colin Firth is the perfect Brit to play a gentleman spy and he’ll have the gadgets and the sharp suits to match his clipped tones and dry expressions. The film comes from Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, the duo behind Kick Ass, so expect some serious ass kicking too.
There is one secret agent returning this year who doesn’t have a Bond complex. Diminutive Ethan Hunt is back in Mission: Impossible 5. It is almost twenty years since the first of these films but it doesn’t feel like a stretched out franchise in the same way as Die Hard or Terminator (which is also back this year). All of them have been gripping thrillers. Nothing has been announced about the plot yet but cast members Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner are all returning alongside Tom Cruise. The real question has to be what will Tom find to climb up this time? He did Dubai’s Burj Khalifa Tower in number four so it’s hard to know where he can go from there. Maybe he’ll be scaling a rocket as it leaves the earth’s atmosphere. I expect Cruise could do that without stunt doubles or CGI, the little nutter.
Someone who doesn’t currently seem to be going for bigger than last time is Guillermo delToro. After the behemoth battles in Pacific Rim he is going creepy and atmospheric again with Crimson Peak. I’m hoping that by stepping away from the bombast for a while he can give us something more akin to his brilliant fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth. Crimson Peak is a period ghost story in which Mia Wasikowska has recently married Tom Hiddleston and they are returning to his large English mansion. Pretty soon she has to contend with the secrets of his past and it sounds a little like a cross between Rebecca and Jane Eyre where the long dead wife is also the mad woman living in the attic.
A little less scary but possibly just as gothic is the next of Disney’s live action updates of their classic animations. Kenneth Branagh, no less, is directing Cinderella for the studio with Downton Abbey’s Lily James as the title character and Cate Blanchett as the step mother. This shouldn’t really make me excited and maybe it’s all those princess films I’ve watched with my daughters but I’m quite looking forward to it. Working with the director once again, after being Elizabeth to his Victor Frankenstein, is Helena Bonham Carter playing the fairy godmother. I don’t imagine they’ll play with the story too much here, unlike Maleficent where they ignored the whole original narrative. As long as they’ve made Cinders a slightly more empowered female this time round that will be enough.
If you want to see true feminist heroes though, you should turn to another Bonham Carter picture. She is in Suffragette, the Emmeline Pankhurst biopic, starring Meryl Streep. It’s an important story and if they get it right it could be an important film. Something else to watch with my daughters, my choice this time.
Of course it won’t be wall to wall blockbusters from January to December. We have Whiplash coming out in a couple of weeks. The film tells the story of a young drummer and his instructor and while that doesn’t sound instantly riveting it has generated a huge amount of praise doing the rounds at the film festivals, including the one in our own capital.
I didn’t see Whiplash at the London Film Festival but there are two excellent movies that I did catch. First off there’s Foxcatcher which is a brilliant true drama about what happens when wealth and power meet mental illness. Steve Carrel’s performance is just brilliant. Clearly he is a gifted funny man but here he finally proves undeniably that he is also an actor of great depth. An Oscar nomination is certain.
I was also fortunate enough to catch the Alan Rickman directed A Little Chaos. It is a lovely faux history surrounding a female gardener in the court of Louis XIV. It is the best thing Kate Winslet has done since 2008 when she had that incredible double whammy of Revolutionary Road and The Reader.
I haven’t mentioned any animations yet and there are three coming up that look particularly good. There hasn’t been a Pixar film since 2013 and there hasn’t been a really good one for longer than that but they are back this year with two movies, The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. The second is a story told from the perspective of the emotions living inside a little girls head. An interesting idea from an interesting animation house.
Disney are giving us the computer animated Big Hero 6 which is actually an adaptation of a lesser known Marvel Comic (no crossovers with this one apparently). The trailers and posters have all featured a young boy and his inflatable robot but they are only two of the six in the crime fighting group that gives the film its name.
None of these look as much fun as Aardman’s stop motion Shaun the Sheep movie though. You just know this one is going to be an hour and a half of charming British humour, by gum!
Starting everything off we have two great looking films, released in UK cinemas today 1st January. When writing about the documentary Hawking, I argued that, due to his physicality, no one could convincingly play Stephen Hawking other than Stephen Hawking. Well it looks like Eddie Redmayne is having a go in The Theory of Everything. I, like many, am a huge admirer of the English theoretical physicist, as much for his sense of humour as his intelligence, and I hope both are adequately captured in this film.
Then there is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). They have been talking about this one in the film press for months and the word is good, very good. Michael Keaton plays an ageing Hollywood actor most famous for playing the superhero Birdman. (See what they’ve done there?) The movie is an examination of fame, ego, family and identity and will probably be how I start my film going year.
All in all then it looks 2015 will be another good year and that’s without any sign of the long promised Jaws 19. (The shark still looks fake.)