Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly, Keira Knightley, and Emily Watson
Synopsis: In May 1996, when two different expeditions attempted to scale up Mt. Everest, a 'rogue storm' enveloped them and claimed the lives of eight people. Everest dives back into this tragedy in the all-immersive IMAX format.
Why You Should Care: While he has been pretty successful in his native Swedish cinema, Kormakur has been pretty hit or miss with his English-language features. Part of the blame for that can be directed towards the scripts he has directed. Everest, on the other hand, has been written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, both Academy Award-nominated writers with a strong track record of successful films. There's also the ensemble of A-list stars like Clarke and Knightley and character actors like Kelly and Hawkes to this adventure the emotional weight it deserves.
Black Mass (9/18)
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll
Synopsis: This star-studded gangster drama from the director of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace is based on the life of James 'Whitey' Bulger (Depp), a mob kingpin in South Boston with a Massachusetts Senator for a brother, who served as an informant for the FBI for thirty years to eliminate competition from his turf.
Why You Should Care: Depp is known for his extreme transformations on screen; some, like Captain Jack Sparrow, are performances for the ages, while others, like Barnabas Collins (who?) are utterly forgettable. Depp's Bulger is instantly menacing, as seen from the film's teaser trailer, and unlike anything we've seen from him before. Cooper is a director interested in character relationships rather than behind the scenes techniques, and the actors seem to be having a field day with the material. Black Mass will premiere in this year's Venice Film Festival before releasing in theaters.
Side-note: The Bulger story also served as inspiration for the Showtime series Brotherhood, and Whitey Bulger inspired Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed.
Sicario (9/18 Limited, 9/25 Wide)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Synopsis: Sicario (slang for hit man) follows Kate Macer (Blunt), an FBI field agent tasked with cracking down on a Mexican drug cartel in an elite government task force, under the supervision of Matt Graver (Brolin) and with the help of the mysterious Alejandro (Del Toro), the hit man of the title.
Why You Should Care: Villeneuve is always an exciting filmmaker to watch, consistently teasing out superb performances from pedigreed actors and creating delicious atmosphere with every film he does. The director reteams with everyone's favorite cinematographer Roger Deakins (they previously collaborated on Prisoners); it goes without saying that Sicario will look gorgeous. Reviews from the film's premiere in the Cannes Film Festival have praised the film's take on the cross-border drug war, singling out Blunt, Deakins, editor Joe Walker and composer Johann Johannsson (who also scored Prisoners) for their work, while some detractors have lamented the straight genre exercise that it seems to be.
The Walk (9/30)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Badge Dale, Ben Kingsley
Synopsis: Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action continues with this latest film, based on high-wire artist Philippe Petit's infamous feat of walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
Why You Should Care: Onscreen, The Walk is being touted as a unique 3D experience that has to be seen on the big screen. While the first trailer hasn't got us sold, Zemeckis is a filmmaker who knows how to blend live-action and special effects seamlessly, crucial for the film's major setpiece. Offscreen, the film is an acid test for current Sony Pictures President Tom Rothman, who replaced Amy Pascal after Sony's hacking scandal last year.
Side-note: This isn't the first adaptation of Philippe Petit's jaw dropping achievement; director James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) made a documentary on it called Man On Wire in 2008 and won an Oscar for it.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri
Summary: Tom Hardy plays Reggie and Ronnie Kray, identical twins who shook the British gangster scene in the 50's and 60's with unpredictable - and very violent - antics.
Why you should care: The idea of having Tom Hardy playing twins may be more than enough for most of his fans, and the trailers certainly back up such high expectations. Coming from talented credits like L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland in the director's chair, Coen Brothers regular composer Carter Burwell and Oscar-nominated, Cannes award-winning cinematographer Dick Pope, Legend feels like the kind of British crime drama that adds fresh and exciting things to the table.
Director: Peter Sollett
Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, Michael Shannon, Josh Charles
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Laurel Hester (Moore), a New Jersey police detective who's diagnosed with terminal cancer and fights to transfer her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Page).
Why you should care: It stars Julianne Moore, one of the most talented actresses of our generation, and Ellen Page, who has another chance to explore the talent we saw in Juno. It's a passion project Page has been working on for years, and it has the support of Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner and director Peter Sollett.
The Martian (10/2)
Director: Ridley Scott Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Bridges, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Summary: Matt Damon plays Mark Whatney, an astronaut on a mission to Mars who is left behind after presumed dead, facing the challenge of surviving the extremely harsh conditions and establishing contact with Earth.
Why you should care: Ridley Scott hasn't been the talented director of classics like Alien and Blade Runner since, well, Alien and Blade Runner. With intermediate successes like Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise and American Gangster, Scott has remained actively successful in the business, but many claim he has lost his touch. Still, one cannot avoid being intrigued by the idea of the director returning once again to science fiction, especially after the wide popularity of recent releases like Gravity and Interstellar. Approach it with caution.
Steve Jobs (10/9)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg
Synopsis: Three episodes depicting three stages in the life of Steve Jobs: Macintosh, NeXT and the iMac.
Why you should care: The only weird thing about this project is how similar it feels to David Fincher's The Social Network, also written by Aaron Sorkin and also based on a computer genius' biography (curiously, Fincher was brought to direct Steve Jobs but left the project after a few disputes). Other than that, it has the thrilling trailer, the overall promising and talented cast and the talented director to be one of the films of the year, either as Oscar bait or as a genuine human story thriller. Most expectations come from what could be yet another of Michael Fassbender's brilliant performances.
Crimson Peak (10/16)
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Doug Jones
Synopsis: Young author Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) marries Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), a charming but mysterious man who seems to hide too many secrets from his wife and has them, along with his sister (Chastain), move into one house as accomplices.
Why you should care: This might be yet another chance to savor Guillermo Del Toro's incredible skills within the horror genre, one he returns to with this film after 2013's giant-robot blockbuster Pacific Rim. Besides, we're in much need of a fresh take on the haunted house trope, which will likely come from this new work from the auteur.
Bridge of Spies (10/16)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Sebastian Koch
Synopsis: A lawyer is recruited by the CIA to negotiate with the Soviet Union in order to rescue a detained American pilot.
Why you should care: Steven Spielberg is making another film; regardless of how good or great it is you should care - and we will. Besides, it's another opportunity to watch Spielberg and Hanks working together, this time with the support of a script co-written by the Coen Brothers.
Beasts of No Nation (10/16)
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Idris Elba, Ama K. Abebrese, Abraham Attah, Grace Nortey, David Nontoh, Opeyemi Fagbohunbe
Summary: The story of Agu, an African boy forced into soldiering by mercenary fighters.
Why you should care: After the mixed reception of True Detective's second season, this might be a satisfying consolation prize for fans of Fukunaga's fantastic work in the first one, which won Fukunaga an Emmy Award for his direction. Plus, it's another shot at traditional film distribution. Like the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you can watch this one is premiering on Netflix.
Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Natalie Press, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
Summary: The story of the early members of the British suffragette movement, which struggled and fought for women's rights to vote.
Why you should care: It might very well be this year's equivalent to Selma. In the least, it sounds like a very relevant film bound for the Oscar race, with plenty of space for its major actresses - all great ones - to exercise some great performances. My clairvoyant powers tell me Meryl Streep will finally unlock the 20 Oscar nominations achievement.
Director: John Wells
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Emma Thompson, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Lily James
Summary: Cooper plays Adam Jones, a misfit head over heels for gastronomy, struggling to start a 3-star restaurant in London after rehab.
Why you should care: Say what you will, but I'm currently a big fan of Bradley Cooper, even in American Sniper. From the trailer, it looks like Burnt will be an honest, engaging story of making it big with something you love. It's backed by a script by Steven Knight, who wrote for films like Eastern Promises, Locke and Dirty Pretty Things, and features a banquet of great actors and actresses.
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
Synopsis: cryptic message sets James Bond in search of a global criminal organization called SPECTRE and forces him to operate outside his purview, while the newly appointed M must fight political pressures to shut down the British secret service.
Why you should care: Skyfall director Sam Mendes returns to the helm of 007, continuing the franchise's tradition of stylish and clever storytelling while creating a Bond for the 21st century. The series's top-notch performances show some promise in the casting of Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes. From what we've seen since the 2006 reboot, we can expect action sequences that are smart and entertaining, fitting in comfortably within the James Bond canon.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup
Synopsis: Journalists from the Boston Globe's 'Spotlight' team, the oldest newspaper investigative unit in the United States, uncover child sexual abuse within a Catholic Archdiocese. Their coverage of the scandal earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Why you should care: Large ensemble casts usually pose a risk of turning the film into a vehicle for star actors and actresses, but if the film can successfully orchestrate their performances, we have a lot to look forward to. Director Tom McCarthy has received mixed reviews for his past films, from the warmly received wrestling flick Win Win in 2011 to the critically panned Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler in 2014. Having the Boston Globe's reporting as source material might guarantee an engaging plot, but it cannot substitute for compelling direction; hopefully the film will be able to stand on its own.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
Synopsis: A young clerk, Therese Belivet, falls in love with the older, married Carol in a Manhattan department store during the 1950s.
Why you should care: Given the fluency he demonstrated with '50s cinematic tropes in Far From Heaven, it is unsurprising that Haynes should adapt a Patricia Highsmith novel, whose works have previously been adapted by Alfred Hitchcock. Blanchett earned praise for her portrayal of Bob Dylan eight years ago in Haynes's last film, I'm Not There, and it is likely we will see the deconstruction of those tropes frequently in Haynes' direction as well as in Blanchett's performance. Haynes's films have become known for their sexual themes, and it will be interesting to see if he can raise the bar in this film as he did in his previous ones.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan. Tessa Thompson
Synopsis: Adonis Johnson Creed never knew his father, boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Nevertheless, he comes to Philadelphia to request his father's former rival, retired World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa, to train him.
Why you should care: There have been five Rocky films since the first once in 1976; is it necessary to have another one? Each one has attempted to put a spin on the 'boxing film' template, yet none have achieved the status of a classic as did the original. Hopefully Ryan Coogler, whose debut feature, Fruitvale Station, received glowing reviews at Sundance, can inject some life into this aging franchise.
The Night Before (11/25)
Director: Jonathan Levine Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie
Synopsis: Three childhood friends reunite in New York City to celebrate Christmas Eve together one last time and set out in search of the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
Why you should care: The reunion of three friends provides the setup of what appears to be a standard seasonal comedy. The film's screenwriter Evan Goldberg himself reunites with actor Seth Rogen, who collaborated with Goldberg on screwballs such as Superbad and Pineapple Express. If you were entertained by either of those films, there is a solid chance you will be entertained by this one.
The Good Dinosaur (11/25)
Director: Peter Sohn
Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright
Synopsis: In a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, a young apatosaurus falls into a river and must find his way back home, befriending a human boy along the way.
Why you should care: Though two Pixar films being released the same year is certainly a blessing, Inside Out will be a hard act to follow. Fortunately, this also means the studio has another chance to prove itself. Pixar appears to be on the upswing given critical reaction to the studio's previous five films, which give audiences the impression that it has run out of ideas. It it is likely The Good Dinosaur will draw comparisons to the Ice Age series of films produced by rival animation studio Blue Sky because of its saurian themes, but its original story and interesting premise, as well as the consistent aesthetic appeal and intelligence of Pixar's output, are enough to merit interest in the studio's latest film.
Midnight Special (11/27 Limited, 3/18 Wide)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton
Synopsis: After learning his eight-year-old son has special powers, a father must get him to a secret location while being hunted by religious extremists and government officials. which could have world-changing consequences.
Why you should care: While technically a 2016 release, you may yet catch Midnight Special before the year's end depending on how overseas success effects the release schedule. With only three feature films, Nichols has already established his voice as an independent filmmaker. He describes Midnight Special as a sci-fi chase film in the line of John Carpenter's Starman, but the director's penchant for unconventional dramas and characteristic realism will likely deliver something much more intense than a nostalgic homage to 1980s adventure films, which J.J. Abrams attempted when writing Super 8. There seems to be a revival of the gifted children genre now that individuals who grew up watching those films have come of age, which provides a refreshing alternative to the CGI spectacles that are released every year.
The Danish Girl (11/27)
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikrander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw
Synopsis: When asked to model for a painting by his wife, a young man in Copenhagen during the 1920s named Einar Wegener realizes he is transgender and undergoes sexual reassignment surgery. While his wife is initially supportive, their marriage is complicated by the entrance of a mutual friend, who competes for their loves.
Why you should care: The popularity of The King's Speech and Les Miserables has secured Hooper in the public spotlight as the director of large-budget period dramas, and it is thus unsurprising that he would chose to adapt a novel that is set in the 1920s. Though he has touched on the topic of stigma in his previous films, the topic of gender identity will present new challenges. Being cast as a transgender woman will put Eddie Redmayne's award-winning acting skills to the test and perhaps even the Oscars' judgment, given his Best Actor win for Theory of Everything in 2015. Whether Redmayne or Hooper are capable of replicating their earlier triumphs remains to be seen.
In the Heart of the Sea (12/11)
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland
Synopsis: Adapted from the book of the same title, In the Heart of the Sea takes on the real life events of 1820, which inspired Moby Dick. When a ship from Nantucket is attacked by a sperm whale, it's crew is stranded at sea for 90 days and must struggle to survive.
Why you should care: Notwithstanding a few missteps, Ron Howard has had one of the most remarkable careers in Hollywood, pulling off the impossible by remaining artistically productive, whether in front of or behind the camera, for almost his entire life. It's no surprise then that his latest effort makes this list. Coming off the heels of Rush, a historical feature time based around the golden age of Formula One racing, Howard has proven a knack for the adapting nonfiction to the screen. The former was noted for its uncanny actor resemblances to their historical counterparts and frame accurate depictions of the actual races, all while remaining wildly entertaining. With his new project again taking on the task bringing history to the screen, it's certainly one to keep on your radar.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (12/18)
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow (with most of the original cast also returning)
Synopsis: Picking up about 30 years after the original trilogy, Episode VII will begin a new trilogy whose plot is largely still under wraps.
Why you should care: If you have to ask, you'll never know. Like it or not, Episode VII will undoubtedly be the biggest release of 2015, eclipsing even the Marvel releases of earlier this year. Be prepared for months of Star Wars trailers, posters, snack-foods, action figures, baby bibs, christmas specials, corporate cross-promotion, and happy meal tie-ins. But will it be any good? Abrams, controversial as he's been artistically, has proved himself adept with his two prior Star Trek movies at handling anything the script - which is being penned by Episode V and VI writer Lawrence Kasdan - might throw at him. Throughout production, the team has shown their commitment to practical effects with looks at advanced puppetry and even a bewildering, real-life soccer-ball droid. The original cast returning proves another good omen, but that's not to overlook the new cast, which is full of fresh talent. Oscar Isaac as of recent seems to be on a can't-miss streak with a string of critically acclaimed films and performances. Adam driver has proven himself more than competent on HBO's Girls and seems to have a natural physicality suited for his rumored Sith role. The rest of the cast is filled out with indie staples and rising stars: Boyega, Gleeson, Nyong'o. Not to mention the inclusion of legends in their own right, Max von Sydow and Andy Serkis. It's a safe bet you're already going to see this movie, or at the very least osmos it from the cultural zeitgeist, but at the very least, you're almost assuredly in for a good ride.
The Revenant (12/25)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson
Synopsis: Based on the novel of the same name and inspired by the real life of Hugh Glass, The Revenant follows an 1820 frontiersman's quest for revenge after he is left for dead by his companions during a bear mauling.
Why you should care: Hot of the heels of last year's best picture winner, Birdman, Inarritu looks poised to compete again. But the real story here is that of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who after being shunned by the academy for so many years finally pulled off back-to-back wins with Gravity and Birdman. If the trailer is any indication, he looks ready to pull off the hat trick. Production stories tell of a special camera rig he built just for filming a purportedly breathtaking horseback combat scene (part of which is included near the end of the trailer). Indeed, after being stuck in development hell for the better part of a decade and facing on set tensions to rival Apocalypse Now (stories of the ungodly conditions continue to leak out) it seems the wait may have been worth it after all.
The Hateful Eight (12/25)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Synopsis: In antebellum Wyoming, Eight Strangers unexpectedly find themselves trapped in a stagecoach stopover during a blizzard.
Why you should care: If you liked Django Unchained, you'll probably enjoy the Hateful Eight. Tarantino, like many great filmmakers, is a voracious consumer of film, of which Westerns are his absolute favorite. What some call repeated plagiarism others call good film literacy; Tarantino's is evident among his filmography, with numerous references both conscious and unconscious scattered throughout his works, which resemble pastiche constructions of nearly a century of celluloid. The Hateful Eight again sees Tarantino returning to his self-admittedly indulgent genre, this time with a bigger cast, a bigger film print (glorius 70mm) and an original soundtrack from the legend himself, Ennio Morricone, whose Ecstasy of Gold is undoubtedly familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Westerns. The Hateful Eight looks to be another solid entry from the master of homage.
Director: Justin Kurzell
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris
Synopsis: Another take on the classical Shakespearean tragedy.
Why you should care: If you're looking to round out a Christmas triple feature headed by The Revenant and Hateful Eight, I submit for your consideration, Macbeth. Starring two true actor's actors, Fassbender and Cotillard, the pair look to give due diligence to the bard's words. On top of that, it's already received critical acclaim, having been selected to compete for Palm d'Or. The initial trailer and released stills also boast some gorgeous stills of the film that look to give new weight to the emotional strain of the story. While relative newcomer Kurzell doesn't boast the impressive filmography of previous directors to take on the tale, Kurosawa, Orwell, or Polanski, in nonetheless looks extremely promising. Rather than the inevitable soapbox of Stone's Snowden or borderline formulaic struggle of (once again) Lawrence, Cooper, and De Niro in Russell's Joy, give an openly old story new eyes and check out Macbeth this December 25th.