Another year, another 600-700 cinematic releases in the UK and US. Oh, what to watch? It simply isn’t possible to see every worthwhile film that comes out in any given year, and 2016’s release schedule is already filling up. I am certain that I will reach 2017 with dozens of movies from this year still languishing on my “To Watch” list. At the very least I would like to catch each of the English language releases mentioned here, whether for the pedigree of the director, the consistently sound choices of the stars involved or the novelty of an unbroken 140-minute take.
To make my selection for this list a little easier, I’ve only chosen films that have a release date scheduled for British or American cinemas (if not both). Werner Herzog, John Michael McDonagh, Kelly Reichardt, Martin Scorsese, Taika Waititi, and Nicholas Winding Refn all have films heading to festivals this year, but there can be no way of predicting whether or not these films will receive distribution in 2016. Bearing this in mind, I’ve decided to stick with those films already placed on the calendar and I’m picking up the calendar from February.
A MONSTER CALLS (Spain/USA, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
Between the trailer for A Monster Calls and the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The BFG, it would seem that the film industry has a warning for children that like to hang out by open windows. Novelist-turned-screenwriter Patrick Ness adapts his own book, in which a lonely young boy is told three stories by a monster that lives nearby his house. In exchange for these three stories the boy must tell the monster about the nightmare he has each night. A psychological fairytale that recalls the tradition of spoken fables, A Monster Calls comes across as a dark fantasy drama that should pique the curiosity of gothic genre fans. The presence of Spanish genre maestro J.A. Bayona behind the camera and an all-star cast, led by the gravelly baritone of Liam Neeson, inspires a great deal of confidence in this left field piece of family programming. UK release on 21st October / US release on 14th October.
ANOMALISA (USA, dir. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson)
Already given a limited release in the US and expanding wider this month, Charlie Kaufman’s return to the director’s chair has been greeted with giddiness and swoons by American critics. Based on a play that Kaufman wrote for a series by composer Carter Burwell (who provides the score here) Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation directed by Kaufman in collaboration with seasoned animator Duke Johnson. Character actor Tom Noonan voices the entire supporting cast, whilst David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh voice the two leads, and the result is reportedly an astonishingly humane story about the nature of being human. This is partly what animation exists to achieve. It sometimes takes a certain remove from the characters on screen for us to see facets of ourselves in their actions (hence the enduring popularity of anthropomorphised animals in film and literature) and if ever there was a humanist that could maximise the potential of synthetic humanity, it’s Charlie Kaufman. UK release on 11th March.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (USA, dir. Richard Linklater)
After twelve years shooting a child coming of age for Boyhood, fifteen years making the Before… trilogy with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, and releasing roughly one film each year since he turned forty, you would think that Richard Linklater had earned himself some time off. Apparently not, but at the very least he’s earned himself the right to make a bawdy campus comedy. Returning to a world of vintage cars and baseball diamonds, Linklater’s 18th film follows a gang of college freshmen as they negotiate keg stands and hazing ceremonies in the 1980s. It doesn’t exactly look like high art - more like a playful cross between Dazed & Confused and National Lampoon’s Animal House. In other words, it looks like a shitload of fun. UK release on 13th May / US release on 15th April
GHOSTBUSTERS (USA, dir. Paul Feig)
Director Paul Feig scored himself seemingly bottomless good will from critics and audiences alike with the surly, women-behaving-badly comedy Bridesmaids (2011), which launched Melissa McCarthy to stardom. Columbia Pictures’ re-tooling of the beloved Ghostbusters series with an all-female crew will be the toughest test yet for Feig and McCarthy’s reputation as shining lights of American comedy. The principal draw here is not the revival of the Ghostbusters concept but the prospect of seeing four very funny female comedians run riot in a film world built on pithy one-liners, cartoon shocks and funky special effects. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones will be donning the proton packs as the titular crew of blue collar heroes, and fans of the original films will be treated to appearances from original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver. The real question in my mind is not how reverent this film will be to the nature of the 1984 original, but what the filmmakers will do with the theme song. Do you remix Ray Parker Jr’s original tune or come up with a new song that might run the risk of not being as joyously catchy? UK/US release on 15th July.
GREEN ROOM (USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Jeremy Saulnier’s pensive, touching and extremely nasty revenge thriller Blue Ruin quite rightly scored near-universal critical acclaim in 2014. His follow-up, Green Room, confirmed Saulnier as a critical favourite after its debut in Cannes last May. Breaking out the fake blood and viscera once again, Saulnier stages a siege thriller in a Portland music venue, where a hardcore band must battle for their lives against a violent crew of local white supremacists, led by none other than Patrick Stewart. Seeing Stewart in a rare bad-guy role is enticing enough and the cast is made all the more attractive by young stars-in-waiting Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots (the woman with the best goddamned name in show business). UK release on 13th May / US release on 15th April.
HAIL, CAESAR! (USA, dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
Screwball comedy has always been a significant part of the Coen brothers’ filmography and the characters they have created. From Raising Arizona to The Big Lebowski to O Brother Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty, the Coens have been the only American filmmakers to consistently work within this genre and Hail, Caesar! could be their most manic, purely entertaining screwball comedy since The Hudsucker Proxy in 1994. Josh Brolin leads as a studio fixer in 1950s Hollywood, who is trying to locate a matinée idol (George Clooney) after he is abducted from the set of the studio’s latest epic. The ensemble cast is made up of performers with an excellent comic pedigree and includes the welcome return of Scarlett Johansson to Coenland, fifteen years after they launched her career with a plum role in The Man Who Wasn’t There. UK release on 4th March / US release on 5th February.
HIGH-RISE (UK, dir. Ben Wheatley)
Anticipation is running high for Ben Wheatley’s first American film, the Boston-set crime drama Free Fire, which is expected to surface on the 2016 festival circuit. But let us not forget that Britain’s premiere director of dark thrillers has an even more highly anticipated film coming to UK theatres this year: the long gestated adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. Starring Tom Hiddleston (who else?) as an upper-middle-class doctor, who moves into a self-contained ecosystem for London’s elite, High-Rise received mixed reviews after festival screenings last year. Nonetheless, who can deny the allure of seeing a talented director like Wheatley working with his biggest budget yet to adapt a beloved classic of anarchic, extreme literature? If the trailer is anything to go by, this will be a film that requires a towering screen and broad, luxurious seats in which to squirm about. UK release on 18th March / US release TBA.
KNIGHT OF CUPS (USA, dir. Terrence Malick)
Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic poem premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival to mixed reviews, but the fact that there’s a new film from one America’s greatest living storytellers coming to the unwashed masses (hopefully a UK release date will soon be set) is always cause for celebration. Malick was completely absent from filmmaking for twenty years and since 2005’s The New World he has steadily approached something like a prolific output. Fuck the plot, fuck the all-star cast - we’re getting a new Malick film every two to three years! Jump for joy! Not only does Knight of Cups see its release in 2016, but it looks more than likely that Malick’s next film Weightless, which was shot partly on-the-fly in the milieu of the Austin music scene, may appear at one of the major film festivals this year. UK release TBA / US release on 4th March.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (USA, dir. Travis Knight)
Travis Knight, the co-founder and CEO of LAIKA Inc. takes to the director’s chair for the beloved stop-motion animation studio’s fourth feature film, a fairytale adventure set in ancient Japan. Kubo is a young boy, who must find his father’s magical suit of armour to help him fight back against the monsters and spirits that are pursuing his family. The all-star voice cast and luscious design suggest that, at the very least, this will be a sold piece of family entertainment. Given LAIKA’s pedigree as one of the world’s premiere animation studios (rivalled only by Aardman in the stop-motion field), Kubo and the Two Strings may well transcend the trappings of the animated blockbuster genre to be a fantasia par excellence. UK release on 9th September / US release on 19th August.
LA LA LAND (USA, dir. Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle, the 30-year-old writer-director of Whiplash, has made a new film and it’s a musical. That’s all you need to know. BE EXCITED! You need more? Alright, it stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and JK Simmons, who won an Oscar for his terrifying performance as an abusive band leader in Whiplash. Excited yet? You should be. It will surely be a pleasure to watch Chazelle try to clear the impossibly high bar that he set himself with his sophomore film, even if his romance about a jazz pianist and an actress trying to make their careers in Los Angeles doesn't soar to the giddy heights that made Whiplash the most talked about indie of 2014 and 2015. UK/US release on 15th July.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (USA, dir Jeff Nichols)
As if John Carpenter weren’t already getting enough love from today’s young filmmakers (2015’s It Follows being the most outstanding recent example) American filmmaker Jeff Nichols decided to use his first studio outing for Warner Bros to make a Carpenter-style "sci-fi chase film". Midnight Special will see its premiere in-competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It stars Michael Shannon as a father trying to get his son to safety and evade the attentions of a religious cult and a government task force, both of which want the boy for his supernatural powers. Jeff Nichols is fast becoming one of America’s foremost filmmakers and will soon be releasing yet another film, Loving, about the real-life story of Mildred and Richard Loving, who were jailed in Virginia in 1958 for their interracial marriage. To see a rising talent like Nichols keep one foot in indie cinema, whilst edging towards bigger budget fare, is comforting and exciting. UK release on 15th April / US release on 18th March.
MILES AHEAD (USA, dir. Don Cheadle)
Don Cheadle was considered by Erin David and Vince Wilburn (Miles Davis’ son and nephew, respectively) to be the ideal choice to play Miles Davis on film. Not only did Cheadle agree to play Davis, he chose to direct the film himself. What emerged from the process (with a helping hand from crowdfunding site Indiegogo) is a film that pays tribute to Davis by taking its visual and narrative cues from the modal jazz form that Davis pioneered in the late 1950s and would make him into the music legend he is known as today. The film also stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Davis’ long-suffering wife Francis and Ewan McGregor as music journalist Dave Braden, who finds himself riding along with Davis on an odyssey through New York City to find a stolen session tape. Taking this as his framing device, Cheadle explores Davis’ past and his turbulent relationship with his wife. Early reviews indicate that Cheadle essentially sets out to blow the doors off the period biopic format and capture the invigorating energy of Davis’ life and music. Though Cheadle is a first-time director, the prospect of seeing him portray Davis in a bold, rule breaking film is immediately compelling. UK release on 22nd April / US release on 1st April.
TALE OF TALES (IL RACCONTO DEI RACCONTI, Italy/France/UK, dir. Mateo Garrone)
If there is a more eccentric film coming in 2016, then I have yet to see any sign of it. Based on tales collected by Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile, Matteo Garrone’s latest film adapts three tales, each playing-out in a pre-Renaissance setting with a cast that includes Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Vincent Cassel and a man who appears to be a dead ringer for Dobby from the Harry Potter films. I could not be more excited to see Garrone’s juicy, visceral take on the kind of folktales and fables that are the connective tissue between modern storytelling and the mythologies of old Europe. and the dash of Fellini-esque imagery in the trailer only makes Tale of Tales that much more seductive. UK release on 1st July / US release on 22nd April.
VICTORIA (Germany, dir. Sebastian Schipper)
This one-take marvel has already finished many of its theatrical runs in the rest of the world but comes better-late-than-never to UK screens this spring. Victoria won the Achievement in Cinematography award at last year’s Berlin Film Festival for the obvious but astonishing reason that it was shot in an unbroken 140-minute single take, which took three attempts on three consecutive nights of shooting on location in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Only Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark has achieved such a feat before. If the positive critical response is anything to go by, Victoria (like Russian Ark) transcends the novelty of its production to deliver a pulse pounding heist thriller that literally rides along with a Spanish expat as she becomes embroiled in her friends’ plans to rob a bank. Certainly it is a film that demands to be seen in the cinema, where hitting the pause button is not an option. UK release on 29th April.
THE WITCH (UK/Canada, dir. Robert Eggers)
The trailer for this period horror promises one very reassuring thing for 2016: there will be at least one nightmarishly terrifying film this year. It Follows filled this space in 2015 but the general lack of hair-raising, jump-out-of-your-fucking-skin horror in UK cinemas is an unfortunate state of affairs in this otherwise rich era of contemporary cinema. But between The Witch and Austria’s Goodnight Mummy we should be in for at least one really good scare at the cinema this year. Production-designer-turned-writer-director Robert Eggers took the Best Director award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for his story of a family of British Puritans, whose infant child is abducted by a mysterious evil force in 17th Century New England. Ralph Ineson (a.k.a. Chris Finch from the original series of The Office) and Kate Dickie play the parents, who suspect their daughter of witchcraft, played by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. UK release 11th March / US release 26th February.