Well didn’t that go fast? In the blink of an eye, 2014 has flown past. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it took Richard Linklater under three hours to whip through a decade. As the past year is put to bed in a never ending torrent of best of lists, let us pause for a moment to look forward optimistically to what the next 365 days has to offer.
And the winner is…
The year opens with endless awards ceremonies. Praise overflows and snubs abound as every film body under the sun rushes out to proclaim their champions. Unlike previous years when the results seemed decided before the race even began, it currently looks pretty open. A number of contenders have hit UK shores already from The Imitation Game to Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s plenty more to come.
So what have you got to look forward to? Birdman is leading many races at present, picking up the most Golden Globe nominations. Michael Keaton plays an actor famous for playing a superhero (see what they did there) who’s desperate to gain credibility on Broadway. Watch out for more stunning long take cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity). Steve Carell is another actor seeking (and so far gaining) high praise. His turn as sinister millionaire and wrestling coach John du Pont in Foxcatcher, complete with fake nose, is well worth a look.
Stepping past recent bland race relations Oscar winners like The Help and The Blind Side, Selma, based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches promises a deeper and more powerful exploration of a difficult topic. British actor David Oyelowo is receiving a lot of love for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s also the biopic of a certain British physicist in contention (see Best of British section below).
As for best actress, Julianne Moore is likely to feature at most ceremonies. Her turn as a university professor dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice is heart-breaking and about the closest we have to a sure-fire winner this year. Reese Witherspoon trekking through nature in Wild and Jennifer Aniston dealing with chronic pain in Cake hope to join those bidding to stop her though.
There are also new efforts from acclaimed directors to look out for. Paul Thomas Anderson is back with Inherent Vice, the first ever adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel that throws Joaquin Phoenix’s trippy PI down the rabbit hole in 70s California. Then we go from hippy to gritty in both J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain trying to make good in crime ridden early 80s New York, and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, in which Bradley Cooper transforms himself into the US military’s most deadly marksman.
For those more musically inclined, an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods is picking up buzz and laden with stars. And then comes Whiplash which deserves to be competing for the top prizes, not least because of J.K. Simmons stunning performance as a brutal music instructor pushing Miles Teller’s jazz drummer beyond breaking point.
More often than not we find ourselves disappointed with the annual onslaught of big-budget blockbusters, but it’s hard not to look upon the 2015 slate with feverish anticipation.
Many perspective big-hitters set to grace our shiny multiplex screens over the next 12 months are sequels to already established franchises. And the film fans are most eager to lay their eyes on is J.J. Abrams’ continuation of George Lucas’ supersonic saga Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Very little is currently known about this new instalment. However, the much-talked about teaser trailer released in late November suggests Abrams has taken great care to recapture the spirit of the original trilogy, with the use of practical effects, classic compositions and John Williams’ superb score.
Much more is known about the next part of Marvel’s ferociously popular superhero franchise Avengers: Age of Ultron. With the original cast returning and Joss Whedon once more calling the shots, expect the action dial to be cranked up to 11 as Tony Stark, Thor, Captain America et al. once more join forces to take on the villainous robot Ultron, who’s hell-bent on World domination.
Another threat to humanity is the genetically modified dinosaurs running wild on Isla Nublar in Colin Trevorrow’s long awaited Jurassic World. Set 22 years after the events of Spielberg’s original, the tropical island is now host to a fully functioning dinosaur theme park. However, when one of the genetically modified beasts escapes, both the visitors and the park’s employees find themselves at the mercy of these natural killing machines. Again.
The future is bleak in more than one blockbuster next year. John Connor is back fighting the machines in the ridiculously titled (read: spelt) Terminator Genisys. Here Connor (now played by Jason Clarke) must thwart Skynet’s latest plans by sending Kyle Reese back in time to help protect his mother. Also trying to avert apocalypse is Katniss Everdeen, preparing for war in the final part of the Hunger Games franchise Mockingjay – Part 2. Standing in her way is the evil President Snow, who will stop at nothing to hold on to his autocratic rule of Panem.
Meanwhile, in a stark desert setting at the furthest reaches of our planet, Armageddon has already occurred. This barren landscape provides the setting for Mad Max: Fury Road, the long gestating sequel to the cult classic trilogy of the 70s and 80s, which finds the eponymous man of few words (Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson) hoping to find his own peace in a world rife with conflict. If you like your follow-ups to have a more modern flavour, then look no further than the next instalment in the billion dollar Fast & Furious franchise, Furious 7. Delayed from 2014 following the untimely death of Paul Walker, this next chapter in the pedal to the metal series sees Vin Diesel battling Jason Statham.
Thankfully, not everything’s a sequel. Director Matthew Vaughn teams up again with screenwriter Jane Goldman to bring you Kingsman: The Secret Service. Based upon the acclaimed comic book series, the film follows Colin Firth’s veteran secret agent as he trains up a juvenile delinquent to take on Samuel L. Jackson’s twisted techie. Equally determined to save the world is Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum in Jupiter Ascending. This space opera from the minds that brought you The Matrix follows Kunis’ eponymous heroine Jupiter as she discovers that she is next in line to a throne at the furthest reaches of our cosmos.
Back on earth, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke (again) are at the mercy of the elements in Everest, which depicts the tragic events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Mia Wasikowska finds herself at the mercy of the more intimately threatening Tom Hiddleston in the latest from visionary director Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak, while Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele is bound to her boss in more ways than one in Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in the highly popular ‘Mommy Porn’ franchise.
Those of you looking for more family orientated fare should stick with the House of Mouse. On paper, Disney looks set for a good year. Pixar returns with Inside Out, following a young girl named Riley from the perspective of the five humanoid emotions living within her head, as she tries to adjust to a new life in San Francisco. Hopefully it will banish the blues from a slightly ailing studio. Also set in The City by the Bay is Big Hero 6, a comedy adventure from the team behind Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph. Taking place in the near future, BH6 tells of the special bond that develops between a young computing genius and his loveable plus-sized robot Baymax, as they tackle an evil masked villain.
Finally, Tomorrowland is an intriguingly secretive prospect. With the excellently enigmatic trailer revealing very little, all we really know here is that it stars George Clooney and finds two people, bound together by a shared destiny, embarking on a mission to discover the secrets behind the mysterious titular realm.
Around The World
Not everything has to blow up and cost a king’s ransom of course. There’s a world of cinema spanning the globe, hidden beneath overexposed blockbusters. If you want something completely different from standard superhero fare, look out for Swedish director Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. The best film at Venice last year (don’t take my word for it – the film walked away with the Golden Lion), it’s a wonderfully surreal comedy with novelty joke salesmen, a popular wartime bar, and an old king just some of the attractions.
If you want to really go out there, try The Tribe. This Ukrainian marvel is set in a boarding school for deaf children where all communication is conducted in sign language without subtitles. We’re a long way from Michael Bay. Eastern Europe also brings White God. This Hungarian effort follows a mixed breed dog, but don’t mistake it for a family film. The kids might not like it when they rise up against humanity. To be fair, neither might you.
Sticking in bleak territory, Argentine black comedy Wild Tales presents six standalone shorts dealing with stylish violence and revenge. Another film veering between bursts of humour and bouts of depression is American indie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Based on a true story, it follows a mentally ill Japanese woman who mistakes Fargo for a documentary and sets out to retrieve the money buried by Steve Buscemi.
Back to Sweden and Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund’s intense drama. Exploring the dark recesses of family dynamics, it shows the impact a decision to save his own life first has for a husband and father. Just across the bridge, Denmark brings The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing. Slightly more conventional, it sticks with the Indonesian killings of 1965-66 and is no easier, or less compelling than its predecessor.
Finally, if you’re looking for a bit of action, there’s American western Jane Got a Gun and Australian thriller Son of a Gun. The former pits Natalie Portman against Ewan McGregor in a battle for survival. McGregor pops up again in Julius Avery’s debut feature, also in villainous mode, leading a young protégé into a dangerous gold heist. It’s a film that puts many of its big budget counterparts to shame.
Best of British
British Film continues to punch much harder than the naysayers suggest. Just a quick glance over the upcoming roster shows how varied the work of British filmmakers can be. James Bond is one of our nation’s greatest cinematic institutions, and he’s back to battle Spectre, the terrorist organisation once run by the series’ greatest villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes both return, joined by the likes of Christoph Waltz and Léa Seydoux. Shaun the Sheep is another great British character, and he’s heading to cinemas this year for the very first time in the aptly titled Shaun the Sheep Movie. Here the adorable Aardman character sets off in search of adventure in the big city, only to find the rest of the flock have followed him. Naturally, chaos ensues.
2015 sees a wealth of great films from established, as well as up and coming directors. Ben Wheatley turns his attentions to the work of writer J.G. Ballard for his latest film High-Rise, which observes the isolated inhabitants of a tower block as their lives slowly begin to crumble around them. Meanwhile, Peter Strickland once more delves into the darkest pits of the human psyche to tell a story of domination and desire from the perspective of a lesbian S&M relationship in the haunting and hypnotizing The Duke of Burgundy.
Like Burgundy, Snow in Paradise is one of the picks from 2014’s festival circuit. Film editor Andrew Hulme’s directorial debut tells the story of a petty criminal in London who tries to free himself by embracing Islam. Hoping to establish himself as a filmmaker is Alex Garland, the writer/director of Ex Machina. Starring Oscar Isaac (clearly a very busy man) and Domhnall Gleeson, Garland’s film follows a computer coder named Caleb who inadvertently participates in an experiment involving a new brand of Artificial Intelligence. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for Claire Leona Apps’ And Then I Was French, an intense psychological thriller starring Joanna Vanderham that promises to twist and turn more than once before the conclusion arrives.
His reputation sullied in the critically panned I, Frankenstein this year, Mary Shelley’s iconic monster is taken back to his roots in Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein. Here the legendary tale is told from the perspective of Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor, Frankenstein’s assistant who witnessed the scientist’s descent into madness and the creation of his fabled monster.
And then there are some films that could just have easily slotted into the awards section. Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones look to be in with shot for their performances as Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane in The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s tender account of Hawking’s battle against motor neurone disease. Keep an eye on Alicia Vikander (also in Son of a Gun), who brings to life Vera Brittain’s sombre story of great loss in James Kent’s Testament of Youth. Meanwhile, striving for glory at the 2016 awards season is Suffragette, Sarah Gavron’s long awaited drama that tracks the story of early feminist movement foot soldiers.
Not everything has to be new. It’s hard to turn down the chance to revisit old favourites in their natural environment. So what can you expect to return to the big screen? Blade Runner: The Final Cut will be getting a proper run-out after a brief one day showing across the country this month. Ridley Scott’s final, final version restores the bits that make this Harrison Ford starring science fiction film one of the best ever made.
There will be the opportunity to revel in the best of British with Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann returning alongside a tribute to the sadly departed Bob Hoskins in his best film, The Long Good Friday. And for lovers of classic comedy, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup brings endless one-liners and beautifully choreographed chaos while The Philadelphia Story throws Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart together for screwball comedy at its very best.
That should give you enough to get started on and they’ll only be more to come as additional titles find release slots. You better start scheduling now if you’re going to fit it all in. 2015 isn’t looking too bad at all.