When people ask me which movie I’m most looking forward to, my usual answer is, “The one I haven’t been expecting.”
Discovery is the greatest pleasure for movie buffs, critics included. It’s the thrill of finding a wonderful film you want to tell people about, either by a new director or a seasoned one who found fresh inspiration.
I didn’t anticipate, for example, the delights that were the Sundance discovery Tangerine or the Star Wars franchise reboot The Force Awakens, both of which ended up on my Top 10 list for 2015.
The former wasn’t on my radar; the latter I feared as another disappointment like the dreaded prequel trilogy. Happy surprises in both cases.
But some films you can see coming, and remain hopeful about. So here are 10 movies among the 2016 arrivals that I’m most looking forward to seeing, or viewing again as the case may be. Release dates are subject to change:
The Russian Woodpecker
(Doc Soup Jan. 6-7)
This documentary winner from Sundance 2015, directed by first-timer Chad Gracia, makes conspiracy dramas such as The X-Files seem like cheap thrills. Fedor Alexandrovich, a Ukrainian artist turned sleuth, ominously links mysterious radio blips to the Chernobyl nuke plant disaster and brutal Russian politics. Gracia will introduce and answer questions at these Doc Soup screenings at Bloor Hot Docs cinema, details at bloorcinema.com.
(Sundance premiere Jan. 22, release TBA)
This space-race thriller of U.S. versus Russia espionage by Toronto’s Matt Johnson (The Dirties), world-premiering at Sundance 2016, adds intriguing authenticity to its speculative premise of Apollo 11 fraud. It was filmed in the studio where Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey, a connection that figures into conspiracy theories that the 1969 moon landing was faked.
The Coen Bros. skewer Hollywood’s Golden Age (1930-’60), with a period comedy sparked by the kidnapping of a difficult movie star, played by the dapper George Clooney. Drawn into the mayhem are a director (Ralph Fiennes), a studio fixer (Josh Brolin), a singing sailor (Channing Tatum), a manoeuvering mermaid (Scarlett Johansson) and gossipmonger Hedda Hopper (Tilda Swinton).
When a baby is kidnapped from the clutches of a hardworking family on the outskirts of a 17th-century village, is a wolf to blame or something far more sinister? Another Sundance 2015 prize winner finally arrives, but again the wait is worth it, especially if you count the shudders. First-timer Robert Eggers exhibits complete mastery of form and menace behind the camera while newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy excels in front of it.
Knight of Cups
No recent year would be complete without at least a rumour of a new Terrence Malick film, since the monkish auteur has been uncommonly busy. This drama of Hollywood alienation premiered at last year’s Berlinale, but it’s finally hitting local screens. Christian Bale plays a Tinseltown screenwriter who is aroused by financial and carnal pleasures but haunted by death and family dysfunction. Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas and Teresa Palmer co-star.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
There will be a slew of comic book and superhero movies in 2016, as usual, but this one promises an interesting combination of old and new ideas. Henry Cavill gets a second shot at playing Superman and Ben Affleck takes over the role of Batman that Christian Bale departed following The Dark Knight Rises. Will Affleck make a convincing Caped Crusader? Jesse Eisenberg plays supervillain Lex Luther, potentially great casting.
Purists may squawk — and many have been — but who can resist this gender-flipped take on the spook-tacular 1984 comedy of rentable ghost wranglers? Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones star as the new Ghostbusters, donning the jumpsuits and grabbing the proton packs as they do battle with recalcitrant spirits. Paul Feig directs and co-writes (with Katie Dippold), Ivan Reitman produces. For a conceptual shakeup like this, who you gonna call?
Superheroes can get awfully predictable, which is why this assembly of semi-virtuous super creeps looks promising, even if it is a contradiction in terms. Filmed in Toronto with Fury’s David Ayer at the helm and pen, with Jared Leto’s vibrantly unsettling Joker leading a colourful cast that also includes Will Smith, Margo Robbie and Viola Davis, this has solid franchise potential. Can villains get on the good foot while doing the bad thing?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Ever wonder how Princess Leia got the plans to Darth Vader’s Death Star? That’s the reported premise of this Star Wars spinoff. The word “prequel” is grounds for concern, after the three non-masterpieces series creator George Lucas foisted upon fans. But this one is directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), with a top-flight cast that includes Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker. As Yoda might say, a new hope we have.
Not much is known about this sci-fi romance starring Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy), directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). But with this cast and director, I’m already in line and so are many other curious people, I expect. Lawrence has been describing this in interviews as her first movie with a sex scene, but let’s hope it has more going for it than just that.