Look, we here at The A.V. Club know we’ve been in a mood lately. The world is on fire and we’ve let the smoke seep into our little corner of pop culture appreciation. Things have definitely gotten gloomy around the offices when we frame our list of the best movies of the year around how bad everything is right now and kick off a list of our most anticipated movies of the next year with half-serious jokes about nuclear winter. We’re in a dark place. We’re sorry to drag you into it.
But hey, spring is coming! And so are a bunch of new movies! Considering that one of them is a spin-off of that brightly cheerful Lego sensation from a couple years ago, maybe we should take our cues from its irrepressibly positive theme song. In other words, maybe everything is still awesome, screaming alarm bells in our brains aside. With that in mind, we’re pleased to fix our tone, turn our frowns upside down, and present a relentlessly optimistic guide to all the major movies opening between now and the end of April. Sure, we could get hung up on how our democracy is being dismantled day by day, but where’s the fun in that? And sure, we could get really depressed that they rebooted the Smurfs franchise again, but isn’t it healthier to think that maybe this one will be great? Of course, we haven’t completely turned our backs on our nagging little doubts, fears, and anxieties. They’re down there, too, like the piece of broccoli ruining our perfect new smile.
Rings (February 3)
The super-exciting details: Samara returns for a belated second sequel to The Ring, just as her original J-horror counterpart, Sadako, reaches the Freddy Vs. Jason stage of her franchise cycle. In Rings, the cursed VHS has been converted to viral-video form, because who owns a VCR anymore? Going digital hasn’t changed the rules too much, though: The stringy-haired well-dweller still gives you seven days to get your affairs in order before she comes crawling out of the flatscreen.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: If the trailer is to be believed, Samara has some creepy new tricks up her sleeve, included grossly fusing her victims’ hands together and getting a big, soggy wad of black hair caught in the back of their throats. Also, coming to collect on an airplane is a decent twist.
Sounds great! But…: This is the third of our seasonal previews to include Rings, which was originally supposed to open in November of 2015 and has been pushed back several times since. Not a great sign.
The Space Between Us (February 3)
The super-exciting details: A rip-roaring outer space adventure about a young boy who’s born to an astronaut, then orphaned and left to be raised on Mars, The Space Between Us quickly leaves the red planet behind for another underexplored terrain: the teenage heart. Asa Butterfield plays the sensitive technically-a-Martian who sneaks off to Earth to be with his (literally) star-crossed love Britt Robertson, thus vexing Gary Oldman and the other overprotective scientists who are worried he can’t survive our atmosphere.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Finally, a story that combines sci-fi yarns like The Martian and Starman with the heartrending teen romance of The Fault In Our Stars and The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, et. al.! And what could be more universally crowd-pleasing than a movie about young lovers whose sizzling chemistry is threatened by basic biology—the meanest, most prudish of the sciences?
Sounds great! But…: Director Peter Chelsom has a history of making heavy-handed, contrivance-filled goo like Serendipity and The Mighty, and The Space Between Us trailer—featuring Oldman gravely intoning, “His heart… can’t handle… OUR GRAVITY”—suggests he’s out to put a similar ham-fisted squeeze on your own.
The Comedian (February 3)
The super-exciting details: A washed-up stand-up comic (the legendary Robert De Niro) attempting a reinvention is sentenced to community service after accosting an audience member, and makes an unlikely connection with a younger woman (Leslie Mann) that might change both of their lives. The supporting cast is stacked with experienced pros like Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Charles Grodin, and Edie Falco, plus a bunch of stand-up vets, sometimes performing brief excerpts from their acts.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Around this time last year, De Niro was chasing yuks and getting mostly yucks in Dirty Grandpa. On paper, The Comedian sounds like a companion piece to his brilliant performance in The King Of Comedy, and also a little like the classic Simpsons episode “The Last Temptation Of Krust.” After years of disappointing fans by functioning as a working actor, De Niro is poised to revitalize his own career by fusing the best of Scorsese and Krusty The Klown.
Sounds great! But…: As it turns out, this is more the classy version of Dirty Grandpa than the sentimental version of King Of Comedy (and it’s nowhere near as tight as that Simpsons episode). De Niro does his best, and while it’s novel to see him trying his hand at actual stand-up, it turns out he’s more adept playing a mediocre comic than a polished pro.
War On Everyone (February 3)
The super-exciting details: What sounds, at least by title, like a documentary about our new presidential administration is actually a chatty crime comedy about a pair of amoral Albuquerque cops (Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård). Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary) has been down this road before, but War On Everyone is his first film set in America, as opposed to Ireland, which basically just means the profanity won’t be spoken with a brogue this time.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Like his brother, playwright and fellow filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), John Michael has a reputation for wildly switching up the tone scene to scene—a tendency that keeps War On Everyone nearly as unpredictable as his previous films. Also, Peña is terrifically deadpan.
Sounds great! But…: Call us snowflakes, but this might not be the best time for a comedy about police officers that gleefully mow down surrendering pedestrians and brag about being able to murder with impunity.
Dark Night (February 3)
The super-exciting details: Okay, maybe “exciting” is the wrong word for this one. With Dark Night, writer-director Tim Sutton (Memphis) doesn’t so much dramatize the events of July 20, 2012—when a gunman opened fire on a packed crowd at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, killing 12 people—as languidly depict the run-up to them, eavesdropping on the ordinary lives of the community (including that of the shooter).
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Sutton knows how to capture the quiet beauty of middle-class American neighborhoods. As a pure mood piece, Dark Night is haunting, and would be even without the specter of violence hanging over the mundane activities it depicts.
Sounds great! But…: Is it too soon to make a movie about this tragedy? And is there something vaguely distasteful about following a bunch of characters who don’t know they’re marked for death? At bare minimum, Dark Night is an uncomfortable watch—especially in a movie theater.
The Lego Batman Movie (February 10)
The super-exciting details: Batman (Will Arnett) has always struggled with human connection, and will do so again in computer-animated (but stop-motion-looking) Lego form, as he battles a non-Leto Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and reluctantly mentors Robin (Michael Cera) and Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) while receiving gentle admonishments from his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). It’s a spin-off of the 2014 blockbuster The Lego Movie.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The Lego Movie was approximately 400 times better than anyone had any reason to believe, and Will Arnett’s take on the Caped Crusader was a major highlight. The many trailers imply that the movie will cycle through a dizzying array of references to various bits of Batman lore, including an encouragingly brazen jab at Batman V Superman.
Sounds great! But…: Lego Movie filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are only producing Lego Batman, which could be the first step of Warner Brothers bleeding that movie’s surprising magic dry.
Fifty Shades Darker (February 10)
The super-exciting details: The Fifty Shades trilogy comes one step closer to completion (pun definitely intended) with Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the series. Picking up where the last film left off, Darker follows wide-eyed ingenue Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as she attempts to mold hunky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) from a BDSM-loving bad boy into a long-term romantic prospect. Then the past, in the form of Kim Basinger, interferes.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Fan of the original movie’s slick aesthetic can look forward to two more stimulating hours of beautiful people in (and out) of silky dresses and sharply tailored suits under cloudy Seattle skies. Oh, and masks. Sexy, sexy masks.
Sounds great! But…: Original series author E.L. James is no Oscar Wilde, and with Fifty Shades Of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson dropping out of the franchise, Darker could end up being mortifyingly faithful to James’ clunky dialogue.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10)
The super-exciting details: Yeah, we’re thinking he’s back. Keanu Reeves reprises the role of a stoic, unstoppable, back-in-commission hit man in this sequel to one of the best American action movies of the last few years. This time, John Wick heads to Rome to battle some fellow assassins, new pooch in tow. “You’re not very good at retiring,” Matrix costar Laurence Fishburne tells him. Lucky us.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: If it preserves the balletic close-quarters combat, fancy wheel work, and fun alternate-reality rules of the original, that will be enough for a satisfying sequel. If it actually builds on that foundation, look the fuck out.
Sounds great! But…: Only half of the directing team behind the first film has returned to helm Chapter 2. Can one man, Chad Stahelski, reproduce the awesomeness all on his own?
A United Kingdom (February 10)
The super-exciting details: Belle director Amma Asante returns with another historical drama about race and romance, this one chronicling the marriage between the prince of Bechuanaland, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), and British office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Their relationship, opposed by both families and countries, unfolds against the looming backdrop of apartheid.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Reviews from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival were largely positive, and both leads are capable of great work. In theory, this could be the first project really worthy of their talents since their twin 2014 success stories, Selma and Gone Girl.
Sounds great! But…: A United Kingdom honestly looks like the toniest of awards bait. Trailers can be misleading. Let’s hope that’s the case here.
The Great Wall (February 17)
The super-exciting details: We all know The Great Wall Of China was built over the course of centuries to protect a dynasty and its resources against nomadic raiders. What this movie presupposes is… maybe it wasn’t? Matt Damon stars as a European mercenary and superior archer who learns the true secret of the Wall: that it was designed to keep out ravenous monsters. Alongside the leaders of various Chinese armies, the foreigner fights to slay the beasts.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Because it was directed by Zhang freakin’ Yimou, the visionary whose Hero and House Of Flying Daggers redefined the look and spectacle of martial arts epics.
Sounds great! But…: Almost from the moment this project was announced, complaints arose about the casting of Damon in a movie about defending China. When the movie comes out, expect more woke essays from Americans questioning whether the man who made Raise The Red Lantern and To Live is guilty of “whitewashing.”
Fist Fight (February 17)
The super-exciting details: Instead of two students meeting at the flagpole after school to settle their differences, Fist Fight sends two teachers—one bumbler (Charlie Day) and one hardass (Ice Cube), the hardass angry because the bumbler just got him fired. They have a single day to prepare, and only one of them needs it.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: There’s a lot of comic talent to go around these days, and Fist Fight has a bunch of it: Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, and Kumail Nanjiani all play supporting roles, alongside a gaggle of prestige-TV favorites (Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, and Dennis Haysbert).
Sounds great! But…: There are a lot middling-to-bad comedies featuring talented ensembles to go around these days, too. In fact, they’re released with clockwork regularity.
A Cure For Wellness (February 17)
The super-exciting details: Ornate imagery and dark mystery combine in Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness, a film that looks at Shutter Island and thinks, “Needs 200 percent more weirdness.” This time out, the man being sent to a remote island is Dane DeHaan’s young executive, dispatched to bring back his company’s CEO from a strange “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps. Soon enough, he begins to explore the secrets behind the facility, and faster than you can say, “swirling hordes of electric eels,” he’s caught up in a sanity-testing adventure.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Good lord, that first trailer was impressive. Gore Verbinski is long overdue to return to horror, the genre in which he’s done his best work (the American remake of The Ring), and everything about this project is catnip for fans of cinematic puzzle-box stories. If Verbinski can combine a Nolan-esque mastery of spectacle with a confident mindfuck of a story, this film could be the Matrix of 2017.
Sounds great! But…: Verbinski’s resume is far from spotless. Remember, he made those lousy Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels.
XX (February 17)
The super-exciting details: The horror genre gets an infusion of fresh blood with XX, an anthology featuring four segments all written and directed by women. Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, makes her directorial debut with a segment about a mom who is determined to throw a perfect birthday party for her daughter; the maternal theme continues in the occult horror short “Her Only Living Son,” directed by Karyn Kusama, and the Thinner-esque short “The Box,” directed by former Rue Morgue editor Jovanka Vuckovic. Roxanne Benjamin mixes things up with her segment, “Don’t Fall,” about four friends besieged by an ancient evil on a camping trip.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The talent involved. We’re excited to see Clark apply her aesthetic to filmmaking, and Benjamin directed one of the better segments in another recent anthology film, Southbound. Meanwhile, Vuckovic is another intriguing newcomer, and Kusama directed The Invitation, one of our favorite thrillers of last year. And did we mention Melanie Lynskey stars in Clark’s segment?
Sounds great! But…: It’s safe to assume that there will be some inconsistency in an anthology movie.
Lovesong (February 17)
The super-exciting details: Two estranged friends (Jena Malone and Riley Keough) reunite some four years after the impromptu road trip that forced them apart. The latest drama from writer-director So Yong Kim (Treeless Mountain) is finally coming to theaters, a year after its premiere at Sundance 2016.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Kim has made a couple of very good movies, the reviews from Sundance were positive, and the last time Keough took a road trip, it worked out pretty well. Plus, the score is by Arrival’s Jóhann Jóhannsson, so at the very least, the music will be pleasingly moody.
Sounds great! But…: For Ellen, Kim’s last movie, was a fairly generic American indie. Lovesong’s trailer, which is clearly dancing around some whopper of a plot secret, looks closer in spirit to that film than the “couple of very good movies” mentioned above.
Get Out (February 24)
The super-exciting details: All those scary-movie spoofs from the Halloween episodes of Key & Peele were apparently a dry run: Jordan Peele flips the ratio of comedy to horror for his directorial debut, in which a black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya, from Sicario and Black Mirror) meets the wealthy suburban parents of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams). Spoiler alert: Hijinks involving Ben Stiller, volleyball, or the family cat do not ensue.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: This is about as socially/politically charged as Hollywood cinema, horror or otherwise, ever gets. Peele takes on everything from police bigotry to neighborhood-watch vigilantism to appropriation of black culture by white America—all within the context of a fun Friday-night thriller.
Sounds great! But…: Get Out is more provocative than it is terrifying, at least on a scare-by-scare basis.
Rock Dog (February 24)
The super-exciting details: You’ve seen dogs playing poker. You’ve seen dogs playing basketball. But have you seen dogs playing… guitar?! You will, assuming the kids somehow catch wind of this Chinese-American co-production about a Tibetan mastiff who defies family tradition to chase his rock-and-dreams in the nondescript big city. Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Mae Whitman, Matt Dillon, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, and Sam Elliott all spent at least an afternoon lending their voices to primitive animal avatars. Presumably, they were paid well for the trouble.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: It’s a dog… who rocks. We’d have to really hate fun not to be delighted by that, right?
Sounds great! But…: To put it generously, the animation doesn’t look quite ready for multiplexes. Or primetime. Or Nick Jr. At least Luke Wilson appears to have found his own plucky, crummy cartoon franchise to match brother Owen’s Cars series.
Tulip Fever (February 24)
The super-exciting details: In the early 17th century, the introduction of the tulip spawned a brief craze and economic boom. Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, Tulip Fever paints a love triangle against that period of blossoming then wilting demand, with Alicia Vikander torn between her husband (Christoph Waltz) and the artist (Dane DeHaan) hired to paint her.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The script is penned by none other than Tom Stoppard, the British playwright behind Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, whose film credits also include Brazil and the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love. In other words, there’s a good chance the dialogue will be as pretty as the flowers.
Sounds great! But…: Justin Chadwick directed. His previous credits include The Other Boleyn Girl, The First Grader, and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. Plus, this thing was supposed to open last summer, but has since gone through reediting at the behest of Harvey Weinstein—meaning that if it even opens at all, it may be in a severely butchered version.
Logan (March 3)
The super-exciting details: Hugh Jackman rocks the sideburns and CGI claws one last time for what the actor has promised will be his final appearance as the toughest, saltiest, and most Canadian of the X-Men. Drawing inspiration from Mark Millar’s post-apocalyptic “Old Man Logan” story arc, Logan finds an aged Wolverine agreeing to come out of retirement to protect the first new mutant spotted in ages. Patrick Stewart also drops by to reprise the role of Professor Xavier, who somehow survived whatever wiped out the rest of the super-powered community in this grim, dusty future.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Have you seen that first trailer, set to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”? It makes the movie look like superhero cinema’s answer to Unforgiven! James Mangold has also returned to direct this closing chapter in the trilogy; the bullet-train fight in his The Wolverine is one of the coolest comic-book-movie set-pieces in recent memory.
Sounds great! But…: Aren’t these X-Men movies all kind of the same? Even the good ones?
Before I Fall (March 3)
The super-exciting details: At last, an answer to the question, “What if Groundhog Day was about teenagers, instead?” Before I Fall follows high schooler Sam (Zoey Deutch) as she goes about another day in her charmed life—school, friends, and a rocking party—until a car accident seemingly puts an end to her life. That is, until she wakes up and repeats the same day over... and over, and over, until she “untangles the mystery around her death and discovers everything she’s in danger of losing.”
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Who needs Bill Murray to anchor a movie about repeating the same day? This one has a mystery! And Jennifer Beals! And a cast of CW-ready ingénues! And, uh, the director of Nobody Walks! That’s the dream!
Sounds great! But…: Okay, fine. Even discounting the lukewarm notices from Sundance last week, this one has warning bells hung all over it. Still, we’re suckers for a good time paradox, so we’ll probably end up seeing it regardless.
Table 19 (March 3)
The super-exciting details: A wedding comedy with a pleasingly limited frame follows Eloise (Anna Kendrick), a guest who finds herself at the titular table with other attendees the bride and groom maybe didn’t actually want to show up. Moviegoers, though, may not mind getting stuck at a back table with Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, and Tony Revolori.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Writer-director Jeffrey Blitz made the underrated 2007 indie Rocket Science, featuring an excellent early performance from Kendrick. They’ve reunited for a comedy based on a story idea from the prolific Duplass brothers and hired a capable, likable bunch of actors to carry it out.
Sounds great! But…: Not everyone loved or even liked Rocket Science, which exiled Blitz to TV work in the decade or so since its quiet release, and Table 19’s premise certainly flirts with the kind of indie cuteness that bears suspicious resemblance to bad studio movies.
The Shack (March 3)
The super-exciting details: After a horrific and seemingly unforgivable tragedy, Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) questions his faith. But the terrible realities of real life are no match for a mysterious shack with a connection to his past, where a trio led by Octavia Spencer tries to help him heal.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The Shack has engendered some controversy in religious circles, as has its source novel by William Young, through its depiction of a higher power appearing as a black woman (Oscar-winner Spencer). It sounds a lot more open-minded than the average Easter-season release.
Sounds great! But…: This is also a movie that plot-engineers a horrific tragedy so its protagonist can go to a magic shack and presumably learn to not turn his back on God. Like Collateral Beauty, it seems like the kind of movie that Manchester By The Sea tried to warn us about.
Catfight (March 3)
The super-exciting details: It’s Anne Heche versus Sandra Oh in this dark comedy about a pair of estranged college friends whose passive-aggressive sniping erupts into a knock-down, drag-out physical confrontation at a swanky birthday party. That the film got picked up by Dark Sky Films, which normally specializes in horror, gives you a pretty good idea of how brutal the catfighting gets.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Word from the festival circuit has centered on the wickedly funny performances of the two leads, who reportedly work overtime to sell the class-warfare satire of the premise.
Sounds great! But…: Writer-director Onur Tukel’s earlier work, like Richard’s Wedding and Summer Of Blood, didn’t inspire a wellspring of confidence—though, admittedly, everyone has to start somewhere.
Kong: Skull Island (March 10)
The super-exciting details: The eighth wonder of the world, the biggest ape of them all, is back to battle the prehistoric monsters of his home turf, along with the human explorers (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, etc.) that dare invade his kingdom. This latest round of primate mayhem isn’t a sequel to Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Instead, it exists in the same universe as the recent Godzilla remake, and hence is probably just prelude to some future crossover event. (Presumed title: Godzilla V Kong: Dawn Of Smashery.)
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Giant monsters whaling on each other is rarely not totally amazing. And if Skull Island is anything like Gareth “Rogue One” Edwards’ Godzilla movie, it will use scale to its advantage, building some nifty set-pieces out of the size difference between Kong and his puny human guests.
Sounds great! But…: Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has no experience in making things go boom, unless you count the emotional fireworks of the You’re The Worst episodes he’s directed.
The Wall (March 10)
The super-exciting details: Not to be confused for that movie where Matt Damon defends China from monsters (see above), The Wall casts Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena as American soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper, with only—you guessed it—a crumbling wall for cover. Doug Liman (Edge Of Tomorrow) directs from a script off of Hollywood’s annual rundown of acclaimed but unproduced screenplays, the Black List.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The sniper scene in the first Bourne movie, which Liman also directed, is super cool. So is the idea of a claustrophobically contained, psychologically scaled war film.
Sounds great! But…: Trainwreck and Nocturnal Animals aside, these aren’t the two actors with which we’d necessary prefer to be stranded for 80 minutes.
Personal Shopper (March 10)
The super-exciting details: Kristen Stewart teams up for a second time with French auteur Olivier Assayas, who previously cast her as a famous actor’s personal assistant in Clouds Of Sils Maria. This role sounds superficially similar—Stewart’s character, Maureen, makes her living buying clothes and other luxe items for a German supermodel (Nora Von Waldstätten)—but the dishy details of working for a celebrity wind up playing second fiddle this time to a bizarre ghost story, as Maureen repeatedly wanders around a mansion in the dark, trying to communicate with the spirit of her dead twin brother.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Stewart’s typically low-key yet impassioned performance in Sils Maria was one of that year’s very best—so great that she became the first American actor ever to win a César (the French Oscar). Here, she gets to be front and center throughout, and be stalked by a ghost to boot.
Sounds great! But...: The ghost in question mostly haunts Maureen via text message. (Though that does result in a truly inspired set piece structured around intermittent cell phone reception.)
Raw (March 10)
The super-exciting details: An exciting new talent emerges with Raw, a stylish bit of body horror from 33-year-old French writer-director Julia Ducournau. Garance Marillier stars as Justine, a lifelong vegetarian who starts experiencing some disturbing urges after she’s forced to eat meat for the first time during a hazing ritual at veterinary school. A hilariously nauseating accident forces Justine to confide her cannibalistic secret to her sister, ultimately culminating in a knockout final reveal.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Ducournau shoots Raw with a refined artistic eye, lending grotesque sights like jars full of animal fetuses an eerie beauty. Her treatment of the movie’s themes is similarly profound, using cannibalism as a jumping-off point to explore complex issues of sibling rivalry and sexual awakening. Fans of Ginger Snaps, take note.
Sounds great! But…: While the movie isn’t as gross as rumor would suggest, it’s not not gross, either.
My Scientology Movie (March 10)
The super-exciting details: Taking down Scientology has become all the rage in popular culture, thanks to Alex Gibney’s popular documentary exposé Going Clear and the dishy hit A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath. That may explain the belated U.S. release for this 2015 U.K. doc, in which journalist Louis Theroux feuds with the organization’s covert saboteurs in between dramatic recreations of some of the higher-level Scientology abuses.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: After so many years of this American-grown religion being cloaked in secrecy, the truth is finally starting to come out about how the group controls its members and spends its vast stockpiles of money.
Sounds great! But…: After a certain point, is there anything more to unearth about Scientology? Aren’t these critiques starting to get a little redundant?
Frantz (March 15)
The super-exciting details: In the immediate aftermath of World War I, a young Frenchman named Adrien (Pierre Niney) visits the grave of a dead German soldier, Frantz, where he meets Frantz’s former fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer). Despite lingering anger toward Germany, Anna and her parents become deeply attached to Adrien, who claims that he and Frantz were close friends in Paris before the war. Anna, indeed, gradually starts to fall for this dashing foreigner. Adrien, however, harbors a dark secret—one that was made abundantly clear in the title of the 1932 film that inspired this one: The Man I Killed.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The Man I Killed, better known by its alternate title Broken Lullaby, was directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, The Shop Around The Corner, To Be Or Not To Be, etc.). And this remake is the work of the gifted French filmmaker François Ozon (Under The Sand, 8 Women).
Sounds great! But…: Ozon has made quite a few clunkers over the years, and Broken Lullaby is generally considered to be one of Lubitsch’s weakest films.
Beauty And The Beast (March 17)
The super-exciting details: It’s a tale as old as time: the one where a classic Disney animated musical gets a live-action remake. The plot, songs, and basic character designs of the Oscar-winning 1991 film are reportedly being repeated here almost verbatim, with just a little more padding to make this latest Beauty And The Beast feel more like a prestige motion picture. The biggest question will be what the cast can do with this material now that they can use their faces and bodies as well as their voices. Tackling that challenge will be Emma Watson as the good-hearted, strong-willed villager Belle, Dan Stevens as her beastly captor, Luke Evans as the villainous Gaston, and Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Audra McDonald, and other stars as the anthropomorphic castle fixtures.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Watson and Stevens are two of our most likable screen stars, and while director Bill Condon’s work has been spotty, his job here is pretty simple: Just hit all the same beats that worked 26 years ago, except with flesh-and-blood actors instead of cartoons.
Sounds great! But…: We already have two movie masterpieces with the name Beauty And The Beast: Disney’s, and Jean Cocteau’s impressionistic 1946 take. Won’t a third be too confusing?
T2 Trainspotting (March 17)
The super-exciting details: Some 20 years after Ewan McGregor’s Renton chose life—and to fuck over his junkie friends—director Danny Boyle returns to Scotland for another dose of his druggy blast of a black comedy that got a generation hooked on Iggy Pop (and at least a few of them on heroin). Loosely based on Porno, Irvine Welsh’s follow-up to his Trainspotting novel, T2 opens on its own Judgment Day, as Renton must confront the fallout from his betrayal while he relapses into the lives and schemes of his old pals.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Boyle has been incredibly cautious about making a sequel to his zeitgeist-defining hit, waiting for all his stars to age appropriately, and even acknowledging that Porno is, frankly, “not a great book,” which necessitated an almost totally new script. The first trailer—full of Boyle’s kinetic visuals, his ensemble’s same crackling rapport, and the instant nostalgia hit of Underworld’s “Born Slippy”—suggests the wait will have been worth it.
Sounds great! But…: Decades-later sequels have to move things forward while avoiding being dragged down by their references to the past, a cocktail that can often be as toxic as a speedball.
Song To Song (March 17)
The super-exciting details: Terrence Malick continues his unexpected late-period productivity streak with his fifth feature in six years. This Austin-shot music-centric drama was shot a few years ago. While there are characteristically few plot details available, it’s said to focus on two couples, pairing Rooney Mara with Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman with Michael Fassbender. Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, among others, will appear for somewhere between a substantial supporting role and a 30-second cameo.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: There’s no one else like Malick, and maybe no better cast in any movie coming out this spring. Plus, a movie shot largely at Austin City Limits could root the reclusive workhorse in a more concrete reality than his semi-autobiographical spiritual-searching trilogy of Tree Of Life, To The Wonder, and Knight Of Cups.
Sounds great! But…: No one actually said that Life, Wonder, and Cups formed a finite trilogy. One is a masterpiece and the others have their rewards, but Malick’s unique poetry feels less special when it becomes an annual recitation.
The Belko Experiment (March 17)
The super-exciting details: Corporate team-building exercises get transformed into their exact opposite The Belko Experiment, a bloody thriller directed by Wolf Creek’s Greg McLean and written and produced by Guardians Of the Galaxy’s James Gunn. Employees at a corporate HQ stationed in South America are in the middle of another day on the job when the building suddenly goes into lockdown, a voice comes over the loudspeaker, and the co-workers are instructed to kill their fellow cubicle dwellers or be killed themselves. Suffice it to say, things go downhill rather quickly.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Gunn and McLean have assembled a fantastic roster of character actors (Michael Rooker, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Adria Arjona, and John Gallagher Jr., to name a few) to bring to life this tale of literal corporate headhunting. It’s a perfect premise for fans of hard-R bloodshed, but given the upgrade of a script from black comedy maestro Gunn (Slither, Super), whom young fans of Groot probably don’t realize has an expert knack for gratuitous violence. Shoot ’em ups rarely get such a solid pedigree.
Sounds great! But…: It’s been a decade since McLean last helmed something good (his killer-croc movie Rogue). Let’s hope he roars back with this bloodbath of a project.
After The Storm (March 17)
The super-exciting details: Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with another of his gentle family dramas, in the vein of Still Walking and Our Little Sister. This one focuses on a divorced father (Hiroshi Abe) whose relationships with his pre-teen son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) and his mother (Kirin Kiki) are complicated by his general inability to get his life together, due to a gambling addiction and other personal failings. As the title suggests, a big storm plays a key role, though it’s mostly raw emotions from which the characters, temporarily trapped together while they ride it out, truly need to take shelter.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Kore-eda excels at this sort of extremely low-key melodrama, and fans of Still Walking can look forward to watching Abe and Kiki explore a slightly more contentious variation on the memorable mother-son relationship they crafted in that film.
Sounds great! But...: While Kore-eda’s films are reliably good, they’re rarely what you’d call exciting, and After The Storm (which got a mildly favorable response at Cannes last year) is no exception to the rule.
Power Rangers (March 24)
The super-exciting details: Another big-budget revival from the nostalgia industrial complex that brought the Transformers, the Ninja Turtles, and the G.I. Joe to contemporary multiplexes, Power Rangers presents an origin story that should be familiar to any card-carrying ’90s kid. Five teenage outcasts stumble upon alien technology that transforms them into an elite team of super-powered, color-coded, robot-controlling martial artists. Their chief adversary: space witch Rita Repulsa, played here by a severely overqualified Elizabeth Banks.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The modern makeover assures that this Power Rangers will jettison some of the cheesiest elements of the original Fox TV series: the bad acting, the worse dubbing, the dreadful special effects, the half-assed integration of the American material with the recycled Japanese footage. Also, the puddies don’t look like guys in skin-tight gray polyester anymore.
Sounds great! But…: Wasn’t cheesiness always part of the (very limited) appeal of the Power Rangers? A sleek new model seems to defeat the purpose of this East-meets-West, Ultraman-meets-90210 nonsense. Maybe the hilariously gritty Joseph Kahn fan film was the only reboot we required.
Life (March 24)
The super-exciting details: It’s neither a remake of that Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence comedy from the ’90s nor a big-screen spin-off of that Damian Lewis cop show. Instead, this sci-fi thriller from director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) finds a team of astronauts on a space station studying what could be proof of life on Mars. Naturally, it’s vicious as hell.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: With everything that’s happening on Earth right now, a trip to the cosmos looks downright relaxing—even with hostile alien species roaming around. You could also do worse for space company than Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds.
Sounds great! But…: Life mostly just looks like a highfalutin Alien clone—like Prometheus, in other words. And Child 44 was one of our least favorite movies of 2015.
CHiPs (March 24)
The super-exciting details: Writer-director-star Dax Shepard revives the ’70s/’80s TV traffic-cop melodrama, playing Officer Jon Baker to Michael Peña’s Officer Frank Poncherello. They’ll be joined by an ace comedy cast, including Shepard’s real-life wife Kristen Bell (playing his onscreen wife), Maya Rudolph, Jane Kaczmarek, Ben Falcone, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The aim is pure farce, in the mold of the recent 21 Jump Street movies—but with a lot more gay panic humor, at least judging by the trailer.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The 21 Jump Street blueprint is a good one to follow when it comes to turning an exercise in nostalgia into actual entertainment.
Sounds great! But…: The original Ponch, Erik Estrada, is reportedly none too pleased with how Shepard and company are turning his pop-culture legacy into a big joke. And he may have a point. Why buy the rights to ChiPs if you don’t want to make CHiPs?
Wilson (March 24)
The super-exciting details: In this adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, Woody Harrelson jettisons his laid-back charms to play the title character: a foulmouthed, middle-aged divorcee who’s bloviating and blunt to a fault with everyone around him. Wilson’s lonely, miserable existence takes on new purpose after he learns about the teenage daughter he never knew he had with the ex-wife (Laura Dern) who, quite understandably, hates his guts.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Nobody writes lovable-ish misanthropes like Daniel Clowes, and director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) captures the episodic nature of the source material well. Really, though, this is a showcase for Harrelson, who transforms Wilson into an oddly likable misfit, even while never letting us forget how awful it would be to get stuck next to him on a long bus ride.
Sounds great! But…: Johnson isn’t the perfect fit for Clowes that Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff was. There are times when Wilson threatens to swerve into cuddly indie-dramedy territory.
Ghost In The Shell (March 31)
The super-exciting details: In this live-action adaption of the famous anime classic, Scarlett Johansson takes on the lead role of Major, a human-cyborg hybrid who’s the first of her kind, and leads a special ops task force dedicated to taking on the most dangerous criminals and terrorists. But she soon confronts an enemy intent on destroying the very company that gave birth to her, just as she begins to suspect her past isn’t what she thought it was.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The trailer assured fans the film has indeed managed to recreate the astonishing visual language of the source material. And Johansson has proven herself a pro at big-budget action spectacles, from the inspired silliness of Lucy to her superb Black Widow work in the MCU. If the film can translate even half of the Ghost’s magic to the live-action world, it’ll be damn good.
Sounds great! But…: The unfortunate problem of its whitewashing casting aside, director Rupert Sanders only has one other feature film under his belt, the uninspiring Snow White And The Huntsman. That’s not exactly a calling card for quality.
The Boss Baby (March 31)
The super-exciting details: Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book about a demanding infant—beloved by tired, passive-aggressive parents everywhere—gets the full, 3-D animation treatment from DreamWorks. Alec Baldwin voices the titular baby, a suit-clad, briefcase-carrying bully who treats his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) like employees and runs their household like any backbreaking CEO, much to the annoyance of his 7-year-old brother (Tobey Maguire).
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Frazee’s book is a mere 36 pages, but fortunately, DreamWorks has fleshed things out with all-new characters, while also scrapping her simple, relatable tale in favor of a much bigger plot—one where Boss Baby has to thwart a puppy (Steve Buscemi) who’s threatening to steal all the love in the world! Who doesn’t love epic, high-concept, world-saving plotlines grafted onto charming little children’s stories? Hey, did we mention that the baby has Alec Baldwin’s voice and wears teeny neckties?
Sounds great! But…: Don’t we already have enough tyrannical, executive man-babies who are occasionally played by Alec Baldwin to deal with right now?
The Zookeeper’s Wife (March 31)
The super-exciting details: A little-known chapter of history is illuminated in The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on the true story of Polish zookeepers Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by hiding them among the exotic animals in the Warsaw Zoo during World War II.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Jessica Chastain is awesome. We can all agree on that, right? And watching her cuddle a baby lion dressed in a lavish period dressing gown and sporting a Polish accent is even more awesome.
Sounds great! But…: Balancing cute animals and the Holocaust is going to take some serious finesse. Does the director of Whale Rider and North Country have it?
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (March 31)
The super-exciting details: After almost a year and a half and a title change, Osgood Perkins’ directorial debut February finally makes its way to theaters as The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka and Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton star as the only two students stuck at a snowbound boarding school over winter break, along with Emma Roberts as a mysterious young woman who’s slowly making her way toward the school on foot. Connecting all three characters is a sinister—Satanic, even—presence in the school’s boiler room, leading to an emotionally devastating final act.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Festivalgoers loved the film for its chilly atmosphere, slow-burn horror, and unique take on demonic possession tropes, all of which come together for a film that’s haunting in more than one sense. For the curious, Perkins’ second feature, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, is available on Netflix streaming now.
Sounds great! But…: It appears that, in the time in between festival showings and its release, Perkins has been tinkering with The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Whether the changes are positive has yet to be seen.
Smurfs: The Lost Village (April 7)
The super-exciting details: After two live-action/CGI, manic/lazy hybrids, Sony abandons its rebooted Smurfs universe for another reboot—this time as a completely unrelated, fully animated film. Demi Lovato takes over for Katy Perry as the perpetually identity-crisis-suffering Smurfette, whose persistent search for a purpose beyond merchandising leads her to the titular Lost Village. Finally, we’ll learn the origin story of Smurfette! In a slightly different version than the one already established in the previous Smurfs movies, TV series, and comic strip!
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Leaving behind both the superfluous human actors and the fish-out-of-water jokes from the first two Smurfs movies can only be a good thing, as the series can now return to more natural, less self-consciously referential storytelling. The cast is also plenty loaded, with Danny Pudi, Jack McBrayer, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, and Mandy Patinkin all lending their cartoon-ready voices.
Sounds great! But…: It’s still 90 minutes of “smurf” jokes.
Going In Style (April 7)
The super-exciting details: Combining two popular trends—remakes and broad comedies about cranky old people—this caper picture has Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin playing retirees who rage against the boredom and injustices of old age by planning and executing an armed robbery. There’s an element of social commentary, too, as the trio of old friends turns to crime to make up for being screwed over by their bank. Think Hell Or High Water, but with more jokes about impotence and joint pain.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: It’s hard to beat the cast, and with a script by Hidden Figures scribe Theodore Melfi and direction by Garden State whiz adult Zach Braff, there’s a chance this movie will be as heartwarming and whimsical as it is slapstick-heavy.
Sounds great! But…: Braff’s last film, 2014’s Wish I Was Here, was a real stinkeroo. Surely there’s a better way to use talents as formidable as Freeman, Caine, and Arkin than to make them into gun-toting coots.
Wonder (April 7)
The super-exciting details: A 10-year-old boy (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) with severe facial deformities teaches his classmates the true meaning of beauty with the help of his artist mom (Julia Roberts). With The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky in the director’s chair, it’s a feel-good story designed to make you cry as well as warm your heart.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The world we live in today is sorely lacking in empathy, and Wonder has that quality in bulk. Maybe if we all learn that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, then we could finally all come together as one. Could Wonder bring about world peace? Maybe.
Sounds great! But…: It could also be treacly as hell.
Colossal (April 7)
The super-exciting details: Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo sinks his teeth into the kaiju genre with Colossal, a monster movie that doubles as a thoughtful statement on jealousy and misogyny. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an unemployed writer whose life has devolved to the point that she’s living on an air mattress in her parents’ empty house. After moving back home, Gloria falls back in with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and soon starts working at his bar. Meanwhile, giant monsters are appearing in Seoul every night around the time Gloria walks home from the bar, a detail that turns out to be not at all coincidental.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Vigalondo is known for his unique takes on genre tropes, and Colossal has ingenuity to spare. Hathaway and Sudeikis are both clearly enjoying playing against type as drunken assholes, making their whiskey-fueled playground rumbles a lot more fun than they might sound on paper.
Sounds great! But…: Godzilla fans hoping for fire breath and precocious kids in bucket hats will be disappointed to learn that this film has neither.
Their Finest (April 7)
The super-exciting details: Gemma Arterton plays a writer who works her way up in the British film industry during WWII, rising from educational short subjects to a huge-scale propaganda picture about Dunkirk. Along the way she juggles relationships with a dirt-poor painter (Jack Huston) and her cynical boss (Sam Claflin), while trying to find a way to get some of the voices of everyday Englishwomen into a project that’s supposed to be about brave soldiers. Director Lone Scherfig (An Education) and screenwriter Gaby Chiappe adapt Lissa Evans’ lightly comic novel Their Finest Hour And A Half, focusing on the parts having to do with how the U.K. home front contributed to the war effort.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: An audience favorite on the fall festival circuit, Their Finest will be a must for movie buffs who want to look back at a fascinating time and place in cinema history. It’s also a rousing, old-fashioned salute to the power of storytellers, and to the unsung women who often toil behind the scenes.
Sounds great! But…: Notice how we used the phrase “old-fashioned?” Others would use the word “corny.” This is a broadly appealing crowd-pleaser which some might find overly sentimental.
Graduation (April 7)
The super-exciting details: Cristian Mungiu, whose Palme D’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days helped to kick-start the Romanian New Wave a decade ago, returns with another tale of moral reckoning. This one involves a middle-aged doctor (Adrian Titieni) who finds himself forced to grease various wheels after his teenage daughter (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is sexually assaulted—not because of the assault per se, but because the trauma it induces threatens to affect her performance on a crucial exam, which she needs to ace in order to maintain a scholarship to a university in London.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Though Graduation didn’t win the Palme D’Or, it did win Mungiu the Best Director prize at Cannes last year (in a tie with Olivier Assayas, for Personal Shopper—see March 10). And this film is very much of a piece with his previous work, detailing the various ways in which one bad decision, made in the service of an ostensibly good cause, gradually snowballs into outright ugliness.
Sounds great! But...: It’s perhaps a little too much of a piece with Mungiu’s previous work, to the point where it feels overly familiar, and even somewhat predictable.
Sleight (April 7)
The super-exciting details: The world of street-level drug dealing gets an encounter with the magical in J.D. Dillard’s feature film debut as writer-director. A young street magician (Jacob Latimore) turns to selling drugs in order to care for his younger sister following the death of their parents. Unfortunately, he quickly gets in over his head, and after his sister is kidnapped, has to rely on more than just sleight of hand to get her back.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: The premise, which suggests a magic version of FX, was already intriguing enough. But as the trailer makes clear, things soon take a turn for the decidedly sci-fi, as the hero’s powers seem to extend beyond “normal” magic. That twisty genre mashup could make for terrific fun.
Sounds great! But…: Dillard, again, is an unknown quantity. Let’s hope the project itself isn’t just a bunch of sleight of hand.
The Case For Christ (April 7)
The super-exciting details: Rejoice, faith-based audiences, for the producers of God’s Not Dead have returned! In their latest cinematic mission to reassure insecure believers, The Help’s Mike Vogel plays real-life investigative journalist Lee Strobel, an atheist who set out to prove that the deeply held Christian beliefs of his wife (Erika Christensen) were laughably wrong, presumably as some sort of anniversary present. You’ll never believe what he found, unless you read the title of this film!
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Jesus will raise the true believers from the dead to sit before him at his father’s right hand, where we shall live in everlasting peace and sing hosannas to His name, forever and ever amen. Also, Robert Forster’s in this!
Sounds great! But…: There is no God.
Gifted (April 12)
The super-exciting details: A girl (McKenna Grace) living with her just-plain-folks uncle (Chris Evans) is discovered as a math prodigy by her elementary school teacher (Jenny Slate). Conflicts arise between raising her as a genius and as a regular kid.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Director Marc Webb returns to his smaller-scale roots following his failed attempt to reboot Spider-Man, and the result made superhuman charm generators Chris Evans and Jenny Slate fall in love! With each other! Like a goddamn fairy tale!
Sounds great! But…: This sounds like an unearthed Dakota Fanning movie, released into a post-Elle Fanning world.
The Fate Of The Furious (April 14)
The super-exciting details: Dominic Toretto is back—and he’s baaaaaad. That’s the ostensible premise of The Fate Of The Furious, the eighth installment in the more than 15 years running Fast And The Furious franchise. The trailer teases a dark turn for the series, with The Fate Of The Furious’s mumbly protagonist seeming to turn against his crew (sorry, “family”) and join the employ of a sinister new antagonist played by Charlize Theron and some serious hair extensions. In order to win the day, our heroes have to resort to surprising tactics, including teaming up with Furious 7’s villain, Jason Statham.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: It’s the new Fast And Furious movie! How can you even ask that question? Until it’s eventually revealed that he’s been blackmailed or brainwashed or whatever, watching Diesel attack the rest of his team is going to be—to quote another legendary action film—100 percent pure adrenaline. (Also, cars versus submarine! What more do you people want?)
Sounds great! But…: Incoming director F. Gary Gray has the most uneven resume of any installment helmer since 2 Fast 2 Furious’ John Singleton. Hopefully he’s been prepping for some inventive car mayhem since he wrapped The Italian Job in 2003.
The Lost City Of Z (April 14)
The super-exciting details: Writer-director James Gray (We Own The Night) gets in touch with his inner Werner Herzog for this adaptation of David Grann’s non-fiction tome about the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared with his son and a whole expedition party while searching for a fabled Amazonian city. Charlie Hunnam, of Pacific Rim and Sons Of Anarchy fame, leads a cast that also includes Sienna Miller, current Spider-Man Tom Holland, and Robert Pattinson (continuing his post-Twilight winning streak of working with major filmmakers).
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Gray’s last movie, The Immigrant, is one of our favorites of the decade so far. And word from the New York Film Festival, where The Lost City Of Z premiered in the fall, was mostly ecstatic. Need more convincing? All-star cinematographer Darius Khondji shot the film; bet the Amazon (and parts of Ireland, standing in for the Amazon) looks positively exquisite through his lens.
Sounds great! But…: Positive though the advance word has been, we’re still a little skeptical about Hunnam’s ability to carry a movie. Will he and Gray prove as drift compatible as the director has been with Joaquin Phoenix?
A Quiet Passion (April 14)
The super-exciting details: Cynthia Nixon is Emily Dickinson! As biopics of famous writers go, this one is fairly unusual, in that Dickinson was by no means celebrated during her lifetime. (Nearly all of her more than 1,700 poems were published posthumously.) Instead, the film concentrates on the various ways in which she challenged 19th-century American orthodoxy, especially as it related to women, romance, and religion. The top-notch supporting cast includes Jennifer Ehle as Emily’s sister, Lavinia, and a barely recognizable Keith Carradine as her somewhat understanding but oft-befuddled father.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Terence Davies is the writer and director of this movie! Bouncing back from his soporific Sunset Song, Davies (whose career highlights include The Long Day Closes and The Deep Blue Sea) has imagined Dickinson as a font of dry wit, giving her dialogue that calls to mind a more acrid Whit Stillman. And Nixon, given a rare vehicle role on the big screen, takes full advantage.
Sounds great! But...: It’s still a biopic.
Spark (April 14)
The super-exciting details: Spark (Jace Norman), some kind of space monkey, teams up with Vix (Jessica Biel), some kind of space fox, and Chunk (Rob DeLeeuw), some kind of space warthog, to embark on a planet-rescuing quest.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Disney and DreamWorks no longer have a stranglehold on American animation, which means there’s room for newer, scrappier voices to be heard without military-scale ad campaigns.
Sounds great! But…: From Space Chimps to Escape From Planet Earth to Ratchet & Clank to Fly Me To The Moon, the track record for upstart animation houses tackling kid-friendly sci-fi is nearly a perfect zero.
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer (April 14)
The super-exciting details: New York hustler and people’s person Norman (Richard Gere) finds his life turned upside down when a young politician (Lior Ashkenazi) he befriended several years earlier becomes prime minister of Israel. Previously titled Oppenheimer Strategies, this by-all-appearances faintly comical political thriller comes courtesy of Joseph Cedar, whose Footnote was up for the Best Foreign Language Oscar a film years ago.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Footnote was excellent, and it seems to have bought Cedar a dream cast; besides Gere, the ensemble here also includes Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, and Hank Azaria. At Tribeca, where the film premiered, critics were mostly kind.
Sounds great! But…: The last time Gere played a New Yorker of limited means, it was in the unconvincing lament-for-the-homeless, Time Out Of Mind. Whether this life-long playboy star can really do down-on-his-luck remains to be seen.
Unforgettable (April 21)
The super-exciting details: The reliable ladies-be-crazy thriller gets another iteration when Julia (Rosario Dawson) marries David (Geoff Stults) and incurs the wrath of his tightly ponytailed ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl), in the directorial debut of producer Denise Di Novi, who knows dark obsessions from having worked on several Tim Burton movies and also The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: In recent years, Katherine Heigl has shown interest in playing into her media-generated image as a chilly control freak, and it should be fun to watch her go wild as a tightly wound stalker—especially in a woman-in-peril movie directed by an actual woman.
Sounds great! But…: Heigl has only ever appeared in one or two good movies, depending on how you count Bride Of Chucky. That’s not a track record that inspires confidence in the quality of an entry in a genre even Beyoncé couldn’t freshen up.
Free Fire (April 21)
The super-exciting details: High-Rise director Ben Wheatley stages a feature-length Mexican standoff in this future dorm-room staple about an arms deal gone wrong. Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, and Jack Reynor are among the game actors decking themselves out in ostentatious ’70s fashions to fire bullets and banter at each other in an abandoned warehouse.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Martin Scorsese produced this comic shoot-’em-up, which maybe helps account for some of its live-wire energy; if you cherry-picked the loudest mouths from Marty’s gallery of Irish and Italian gangsters, then pitted them against each other in a game of paintball with live rounds, you might come close to the manic appeal of Free Fire.
Sounds great! But…: Even gun nuts may wonder if 90 minutes is too long to spend watching a bunch of morons play human target practice in real time.
The Promise (April 21)
The super-exciting details: A sweeping historical epic of legitimately world-changing proportions, The Promise tracks the dying days of the Ottoman Empire from the focal point of Constantinople, and the global realignment of powers that unfolded in the wake of that shift. Into this setting comes young medical student Michael (Oscar Isaac), who stumbles into a love triangle with the aristocratic Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale). As the early days of the Armenian genocide begin, Michael finds his entire world unraveling, as political upheaval puts his life and the life of everyone around him at risk.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Terry George, the writer and director of films like Hotel Rwanda and Reservation Road, has a proven knack for bringing a sure-footed hand to thorny and tempestuous period pieces. The subject matter is inherently compelling and wrenching, and with abundant talent in front of the camera, The Promise has a lot going for it.
Sounds great! But…: George’s last directorial outing was the little-seen and even less-loved Brendan Fraser crime comedy Stand Off, whichThe A.V. Club has never seen but which is currently sitting pretty with a 30 percent audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s hope that was just a misstep.
How To Be A Latin Lover (April 28)
The super-exciting details: Following the success of Instructions Not Included, the most successful Spanish-language film ever to hit the U.S., Mexican sensation Eugenio Derbez completes his Hollywood breakthrough with a starring role in this Ken Marino-directed comedy. Derbez plays a Latin lothario who’s gone to seed after years of seducing wealthy older women, and who’s forced to move in with his disapproving sister (Salma Hayek) when his most lasting conquest finally divorces him for a younger man. As he copes with his waning powers while also trying to find another elderly benefactor, he unexpectedly bonds with his adorable nephew.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Instructions Not Included proved that Derbez has winning chemistry with cute kids, and having him spar with the ever-fiery Hayek seems like another gimme. Marino, making his feature directing debut, also has an oddball comic sensibility that makes an otherwise rote story just slightly unpredictable—as seen in the casting of people like Kristen Bell, Michaela Watkins, Rob Riggle, and Rob Huebel, plus Rob Lowe as a testosterone-crazed cop.
Sounds great! But…: Most of the trailer’s punchlines involve Derbez in a Speedo, Hayek smacking him in the face with tortillas, and the aforementioned cute kid cutely misunderstanding adult things. All that’s missing here is an “Ayyyyy, dios mio!”
The Circle (April 28)
The super-exciting details: In an adaptation of the 2013 Dave Eggers novel, a recent college graduate (Emma Watson) is ensnared by the Google-like technology firm The Circle, with enigmatic founders played by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. End Of The Tour’s James Ponsoldt directs, raising hopes that Hollywood might actually make a corporate techno-thriller that’s more thrilling or eerie or thought-provoking than downright laughable.
Why it’s going to be totally amazing: Tom Hanks seems to be making an annual spring event of appearing in a thoughtful movie from an independent-minded director, with Ponsoldt picking up where Tom Tykwer left off. Plus, Emma Watson is an enormously promising young performer who will get to play in less family-friendly territory following her Beauty And The Beast remake.
Sounds great! But…: It sounds strange to call Tom Hanks untested in any way, but he hasn’t really spent much time as a supporting actor, give or take a Cloud Atlas. Will it be distracting to see an American icon lurking in the Google-esque shadows?