Monday, December 28, 2015

Updated Oscar Predictions


The 2015 awards season is well underway now that the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Golden Globes have announced their nominees. While this has given us a better shape of the field, the selections by both groups demonstrate that this year is unusually wide open. Let's examine some of the key takeaways from both groups. 

The SAG nominations were, quite frankly, a little baffling. The Best Ensemble category featured "Beasts of No Nation", "The Big Short", "Spotlight", "Straight Outta Compton" and "Trumbo". Of those films, only Spotlight was an expected nominee, while expected nominees like "Carol" and "The Martian" fell to the wayside. Meanwhile, the Best Actress category saw the inclusion of two contenders (Sarah Silverman in "I Smile Back" and Helen Mirren in "The Woman in Gold") that nobody saw coming.

Bryan Cranston has unexpectedly become a solid bet for a Best Actor Oscar nom now after his lead performance in "Trumbo" received recognition from both bodies, as well as recognition from the Critics' Choice. Similarly, the expected choices of Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Revenant"), Michael Fassbender ("Steve Jobs") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Danish Girl") have all also secured nominations by each of these branches. However, the other expected choice of Matt Damon ("The Martian") didn't faire as well. While Damon received nominations from both the Globes and Critics' Choice, he failed to register with SAG, often the most indicative of the eventual Oscar nominees. 

On the Best Actress side of things, it appears as though the only solidified contenders at this point are Brie Larson ("Room"), Saoirse Ronan ("Brooklyn") and Cate Blanchett ("Carol"). The other two spots were occupied at SAG by the aforementioned Silverman and Mirren, while the Globes opted instead for Rooney Mara ("Carol") and Alicia Vikander ("The Danish Girl"), both of whom are campaigning as supporting at the Oscars. While Jennifer Lawrence ("Joy") has received nominations from both the Globes and Critics' Choice, her film, which is just starting to be seen widely, has gotten poor reviews (58% on RT) which could leave her vulnerable. 

Although "Spotlight" has seemingly solidified its place as this years frontrunner, it's notable supporting players have struggled to garner the nominations they were expected to receive. Both Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo were perceived favorites to receive nominations for their performances in the film but between the two of them, the only major nomination received so far has been a Critics' Choice Supporting Actor nom for Ruffalo. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams, seen as a less likely contender for her performance in the film, received a Supporting Actress nomination from both SAG and the Critics' Choice while missing with the Globes. She appears to be the films' best chance at an acting nomination now.

In the supporting categories, Supporting Actor feels wide open with the consistent absence of expected nominees Keaton and Ruffalo. The two most consistent nominees have been Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies") and Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation"). Michael Shannon has become a surprise contender in this race as his performance in "99 Holmes" has received nominations from all three groups. In Supporting Actress, the category fluctuations of Mara and Vikander have made things trickier to predict, but a group of six major possibilities has started to solidify with Kate Winslet ("Steve Jobs"), Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight"), Rachel McAdams ("Spotlight") and Helen Mirren ("Trumbo") also in the mix. 

So now, my updated Oscar predictions in all major categories...


  1. "Spotlight"
  2. "Carol"
  3. "The Martian"
  4. "The Revenant"
  5. "Brooklyn"
  6. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  7. "The Big Short"
  8. "Inside Out"
  9. "Bridge of Spies"
  10. "Room"


  1. Ridley Scott "The Martian"
  2. Thomas McCarthy "Spotlight"
  3. Todd Haynes "Carol"
  4. George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  5. Alejandro G. Inarritu "The Revenant"


  1. Leonardo DiCaprio "The Revenant"
  2. Michael Fassbender "Steve Jobs"
  3. Eddie Redmayne "The Danish Girl"
  4. Matt Damon "The Martian"
  5. Bryan Cranston "Trumbo"


  1. Brie Larson "Room"
  2. Saoirse Ronan "Brooklyn"
  3. Cate Blanchett "Carol"
  4. Alicia Vikander "The Danish Girl"
  5. Jennifer Lawrence "Joy"


  1. Sylvester Stallone "Creed"
  2. Mark Rylance "Bridge of Spies"
  3. Idris Elba "Beasts of No Nation"
  4. Michael Keaton "Spotlight"
  5. Michael Shannon "99 Homes"


  1. Rooney Mara "Carol"
  2. Jennifer Jason Leigh "The Hateful Eight"
  3. Kate Winslet "Steve Jobs"
  4. Rachel McAdams "Spotlight"
  5. Helen Mirren "Trumbo"


  1. "Spotlight"
  2. "Inside Out"
  3. "Bridge of Spies"
  4. "The Hateful Eight"
  5. "Ex Machina"


  1. "Steve Jobs"
  2. "The Martian"
  3. "The Big Short"
  4. "Room"
  5. "Brooklyn"


  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  2. "The Martian"
  3. "Spotlight"
  4. "The Big Short"
  5. "The Revenant"


  1. "The Revenant"
  2. "Sicario"
  3. "Carol"
  4. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  5. "Bridge of Spies"


  1. "Carol"
  2. "Bridge of Spies"
  3. "The Martian"
  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  5. "Mad Max: Fury Road"


  1. "Carol"
  2. "Cinderella"
  3. "Brooklyn"
  4. "The Danish Girl"
  5. "Crimson Peak"


  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. "The Revenant"
  3. "Black Mass"


  1. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  2. "Inside Out"
  3. "Bridge of Spies"
  4. "The Hateful Eight"
  5. "The Danish Girl"


  1. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  3. "The Revenant"
  4. "Sicario"
  5. "Spectre"


  1. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  3. "The Martian"
  4. "Straight Outta Compton"
  5. "The Revenant"


  1. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  2. "The Martian"
  3. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
  4. "Jurassic World"
  5. "The Walk"

Monday, November 2, 2015

Early Oscar Predictions (Supporting Acting Races)


  • Michael Keaton in "Spotlight" - This is the category with the largest number of legitimate contenders, and, therefore, the one that's the hardest to nail down. That being said, Keaton has a lot going for him here, both as a potential nominee and even winner, that will help him stand out from the pack. "Spotlight" is the BP frontrunner at this point and Keaton came very close to winning last year for his "comeback" performance in "Birdman". He's been singled out with raves amongst the impressive "Spotlight" ensemble and might be seen as due for recognition after failing to win last year. 
  • Samuel L. Jackson in "The Hateful Eight" - It's tough to say who will pop in the ensemble of Tarantino's latest, but my bets are on his longtime collaborator Samuel L. Jackson. There's some suggestion that this is a borderline leading performance, but given how tough that field is to penetrate, I think the campaign would be smart to place him in supporting instead, as borderline lead performances have done well here before.
  • Mark Rylance in "Bridge of Spies" - Rylance is not a name familiar to most, but he's a highly esteemed English theater actor and he's received stand-out reviews for his rare screen turn in Spielberg's latest. Given the overall popularity of the film, I think Rylance should be able to get nominated. What's working against Rylance is that he doesn't appear to be campaigning for it, which, could hurt him given his relative obscurity in Hollywood.  
  • Harvey Keitel in "Youth" - I'm betting on Keitel here because of the film's obvious appeal to an older demographic, the borderline lead quality of the performance and the fact that Keitel has only received one nomination to date for his supporting turn in "Bugsy" back in 1991.
  • Tom Hardy in "The Revenant" - Hardy has delivered many acclaimed and high-profile performances over the past few years and an Oscar nomination seems a question of "when" rather than "if" at this point. While "The Revenant" looks like it might register more as a one-man-show for DiCaprio, if Hardy gets enough to do here, this could be just the right combination of role and film to get him that elusive first nomination.
  • OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation", Seth Rogen in "Steve Jobs", Benicio del Toro in "Sicario", Robert De Niro in "Joy"

  • Rooney Mara in "Carol" - After winning Best Actress at Cannes, surprisingly over her more esteemed co-star Cate Blanchett, (in an equally acclaimed performance) Mara appeared to be the favorite to win here so long as the campaign chose to go supporting. Since they have officially pushed her for supporting, I see no likelier alternative.  
  • Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl" - Like Mara, Vikander benefits from what is more a co-lead performance being pushed here as supporting. This has also been something of a breakout year for Vikander, with other high-profile roles in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "Ex Machina", so this nomination would also be representative of that. 
  • Kate Winslet in "Steve Jobs" - Winslet's supporting turn as Joanna Hoffman will very likely earn the once-perennial nominee her a first nomination since winning for "The Reader" in 2008.
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh in "The Hateful Eight" - Tarantino tends to write strong female characters and the fact that Leigh is the only woman amongst this male heavy ensemble should help her to stand out.
  • Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight" - The film is a major contender and McAdams is a very well liked actress who has yet to receive a nomination. She's received strong notices for her performance here, along with strong notices for her work in "Southpaw" and the second season of "True Detective", which could accumulate into a body-of-work nomination vis-a-vie Vikander. 
  • OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Jane Fonda in "Youth", Joan Allen in "Room", Julie Walters in "Brooklyn", Rachel Weisz in "Youth"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Early Oscar Predictions (Lead Acting Races)


  • Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs" - Though there's no runaway front-runner as of yet in this category, it appears as though Fassbender is out in front right now for his stunning work as Steve Jobs. Though I suspect he will be the winner when all is said and done, the next name on this list might have something to say about that.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant" - With "The Wolf of Wall Street", the "give Leo and Oscar" campaign rose to a fever pitch. If this performance delivers on its on-paper potential (and that trailer certainly looks impressive), this just might be the one.
  • Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl" - This performance from the reigning champion in this category had high expectations which some felt it failed to meet coming out of the fall festivals. Regardless, most reviews were strong or at the very least for Redmayne and his popularity combined with the transformative nature of the role should carry it over the top. 
  • Matt Damon in "The Martian" - Still not sure if Oscar support for this film will amount to support for Damon, but it's a meaty central role in a hugely popular film and he's well-liked enough that I could see him getting in.
  • Michael Caine in "Youth" - Don't know much about this film, but Caine is a living legend and has gotten solid reviews for this film and looks to have a good chance at a nom here. Also, the subject matter should play well for the older-skewing Academy.
  • OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Johnny Depp in "Black Mass", Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo", Tom Hanks in "Bridge of Spies", Jake Gyllenhaal in "Southpaw"

  • Brie Larson in "Room" - From the film's debut at Toronto, she appeared to be a strong contender, and the popularity of the film has only seemed to increase since then. Also, her main competitor has very recently won her own trophy in this category which could work to Larson's benefit.  
  • Cate Blanchett in "Carol" - Seemingly a lock for a nomination, but with two wins under her belt already and one having come very recently for "Blue Jasmine", she seems unlikely to win again. Though there's been some suggestion that her other acclaimed performance this year in "Truth" could overtake "Carol" as her best shot at a nom, but "Carol" seems to be a stronger contender overall.
  • Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy" - Whatever else happens to "Joy" this season, I would be very surprised if Lawrence doesn't get a nomination here. Her track record for Oscar noms under David O. Russell is still a perfect 2 for 2 (including 1 win), and after playing second fiddle in those previous outings, she appears to be fully front and center in "Joy".
  • Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn" - She's been getting strong reviews for her work in this film since Sundance, and this looks to be two-time reigning BP winner Fox Searchlights' strongest contender overall. The previous nominee for "Atonement" should be in.
  • Emily Blunt in "Sicario" - I think most people who make Oscar predictions are woefully underestimating Blunt's chances of scoring a nomination. "Sicario" is currently the highest-grossing Indie of the year and the film has gotten terrific reviews (93% on RT), many of which single her performance out. This is combined with the fact that she is a very well-liked and popular actress who has yet to receive a nomination and this is her most acclaimed and unexpected work to date.
  • OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years", Carey Mulligan in "Suffragette", Cate Blanchett in "Truth", Lilly Tomlin in "Grandma"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Early Oscar Predictions (Best Picture)


While it's still early in the Fall movie season, the Oscar season has really started to take shape in the past few weeks. Many of the big contenders have started to play for audiences, giving us a better sense of who will be in the conversation come February. While there are still a handful of on-paper contenders that have yet to play for either audiences or critics ("Joy", "The Hateful Eight", "The Revenant"), films which will be included in these predictions below, I feel comfortable in taking a stab at who some of the front-runners might be for a nomination. These predictions will likely change a great deal as the season moves along.


  • "Spotlight" (Open Road Films) - This was the big audience favorite coming out of the fall film festivals. I haven't seen the film and don't know whether it will be able to maintain its front-runner status as the season goes along and the inevitable backlash sinks in, but for right now it appears to be at the top.
  • "Steve Jobs" (Universal) - I've offered up my enthusiastic thoughts about the film, and it is setting the box-office on fire in limited release. How it plays in wide release for mainstream  audiences is yet to be seen, but "Steve Jobs" appears to be in the thick of the conversation.
  • "The Martian" (20th Century Fox) - On-paper, "The Martian" wasn't seen as a major Oscar contender, but with some of the best reviews of the year and outstanding Box-office, the film has forced itself into the conversation in a big way. If the Academy can overlook their bias towards sci-fi (which they nearly did with the similarly low-key "Gravity"), then this populist, uplifting film has a real chance for the win.
  • "The Revenant" (20th Century Fox) - The first of the sight-unseen contenders in my predictions. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the helmer of reigning BP champ "Birdman", and this looks to be a similarly ambitious film, if not even more so. If the film delivers on expectations, it will be a major awards player.
  • "Bridge of Spies" (DreamWorks) - The reviews have been very strong and, like much of Spielberg's work, this looks like it will play very well to the old-fashioned Academy audience. Don't know if it's a potential winner, but it's definitely a contender. 
  • "Carol" (The Weinstein Co.) - There have been suggestions that the film might be a bit chilly for audiences, but this looks like actors fodder with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara's performances. Also, this looks like the Weinstein's best play at the moment, and Harvey Weinstein is a pro at getting his horse in the race. 
  • "Room" (A24 Films) - The winner of the audience prize out of Toronto, which has been a benchmark for several previous Best Picture winners ("Slumdog Millionaire", "The King's Speech, "12 Years a Slave"), this has been a surprise entry into this Oscar season, given that it's a relatively small scale indie. 
  • "The Danish Girl" (Focus Features) - Received mixed responses out of the film festival circuit, but looks like it will play better to mainstream audiences. Mixed reviews certainly didn't hurt Tom Hooper's last Oscar contender, "Les Miserables".
  • "Inside Out" (Pixar) - Easily the best reviewed Pixar film since "Toy Story 3", the last one to receive a nomination in this category. Will likely depend on how well the late entires play, but this looks like a strong possibility for a nomination. 

  • "Joy" (20th Century Fox) - David O. Russell's recent Oscar track record suggests I should put a lot of faith in this as a contender, but I'm still a little reserved on this one. With "The Martian" and "The Revenant" also on their slate, will Fox really be able to get 3 films in? And is this maybe more of a Best Actress play for Jennifer Lawrence.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Steve Jobs": Review


It's hard to think of the last time I anticipated a movie as strongly as I did "Steve Jobs", and there are numerous reasons as to why that is. First, there's the presence of writer Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the brilliant, Oscar-winning script for "The Social Network", which is easily one of my favorite films of the last five years. Second, there's director Danny Boyle, who much like David Fincher, Sorkin's directorial collaborator on "Social Network", has a distinct visual style which makes an unlikely yet fascinating pairing with Sorkin's more verbose sensibilities. There was also the draw of an impressive and eclectic ensemble, featuring Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and the great Michael Fassbender in the title role. This is to say that I was drawn to "Steve Jobs" mainly because of the various pieces involved in the larger puzzle.

It shouldn't be surprising then that while watching "Steve Jobs", I was drawn into the individual components and the interplay between them more so than the overall product. That isn't to say that the overall product isn't satisfying, but "Steve Jobs" is such a unique film experience that you can't quite help but experience it through the pieces rather than the whole, which I actually found to be the films' greatest strength. 

The bottom line, all of the raw talent on paper brings their absolute A-game here, and it's just a thrill watching all of this talent at work. Though I hesitate to say this is a better script than "The Social Network", Sorkin has truly outdone himself here with this daring, one-of-a-kind approach to structure (more on that later). Boyle, who's films include "Trainspotting", "127 Hours" and Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire", was an unlikely choice to direct this material, but he serves it beautifully without his signature style ever becoming diluted in the process. This is truly his best work as a director to date. Last but certainly not least, Fassbender, who's had a remarkable career trajectory in recent years with films like "Shame" and "12 Years a Slave", delivers the performance of his career here, tearing into this meaty role with unwavering commitment and focus. He is equally matched by his supporting cast, with Seth Rogen, in a role which requires the funny man to play it very straight and sincere, the unlikely standout as Steve Wozniak. 

Sorkin's much talked about approach to this material, which was to present a portrait of Jobs through a three act structure with each act taking place in real time during three different Apple product launches, works like gangbusters. Though that framework would seem dramatically limiting, under the energetic direction of Boyle, it makes for an exhilarating cinematic experience. By stepping outside of his comfort zone with this material, Boyle demonstrates that the quality which makes him a great director isn't his visuals, but his humanist instincts. Jobs is not a warm character, but the film doesn't work without him registering some semblance of a human pulse, which Boyle manages to pull out of him by the end. 

I was nervous while watching "Steve Jobs" that, as entertaining as this all was, the structure wasn't working towards a satisfying dramatic conclusion. This fear was alleviated by the time the last act rolled around, where the revolving door of personalities in Jobs' life all seem to converge on him at the moment where he seems to have finally achieved true success. Having been characterized through the entire film as a visionary who would bulldoze over anyone to achieve his goals, these characters force Jobs to confront the realities of his cruelty in getting to where he is. It is in these moments where Sorkin, Boyle and especially Fassbender let us see a more vulnerable side of Jobs. Through just a handful of escalating face-offs with Fassbender, Rogen delivers a performance of great empathy and pathos as Wozniak. Without spoiling the moment itself, his final confrontation with Jobs is the dramatic highlight of the entire film.

Regardless of one's conclusions about the film, this is if nothing else a brilliant conceptual work. For me, I found this to be both immediately absorbing and, ultimately, a dramatically satisfying film experience. Easily one of my favorites of the year so far. 

Grade: A

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Martian": Review


This is a late review, as Ridley Scott's "The Martian" has been in theaters for two weeks now (and is setting the Box Office on fire), but I wanted to take this opportunity to offer my two cents on what is the best film I've seen so far this year. 

A lot has been said about how surprisingly great "The Martian" is given Scott's recent trend of misfires ("Exodus: Gods and Kings", "The Counselor"), and I think a lot of the credit for that ought to be given to Drew Goddard for his impeccable script. It was never that Scott, first and foremost a visual stylist, lost his touch, but there'd only so much even the most sophisticated technician can do when working with lousy material. 

Beyond the overall quality of the screenplay, what also helps to separate "The Martian" from other recent Scott films, as well as similar entries into the sci-fi genre like "Interstellar", is the undeniably light and surprisingly witty approach to what is essentially a survival story. At it's best, science fiction tends to be a pretty grim and cerebral genre (something Scott has demonstrated on his own two genre masterpieces, "Alien" and "Blade Runner"). In that sense, the tone of "The Martian" has less in common with Scott's previous sci-fi films, but is instead closer to something like Ron Howard's "Apollo 13". The film rides a fine line between sincerity and corniness, but it remarkably maintains that balance and never dips over into the later. 

While I've already sung the praises of the script in selling the humanism of "The Martian", a lot of credit is also due to Matt Damon, who gives one of the best performances of his career in a role that requires some dramatic heavy lifting while acting opposite only himself. He is tasked with playing a character with an almost absurd level of optimism in the face of dire circumstances, but he sells that aspect of his character every step of the way through both his intelligence and charisma. The rest of the large, diverse supporting cast are also uniformly solid in the moments where the film shifts away from Damon's one man show and onto what's happening back on earth. "The Martian" is a perfect example of how casting big names in what amount to smaller roles can help give us a sense of the characters as fully formed people and not just plot points. Every actor here is playing to type; Jeff Daniels is stern and authoritative, Jessica Chastain is determined with a maternal side, Kate Mara is bright-eyed and inquisitive, Chiwetel Ejiofor (perhaps the closest thing to a stand-out) projects empathy and intelligence and Donald Glover provides some springy physical comedy. That being said, nobody feels underutilized in these roles, marking this as a true ensemble cast, with every role working towards the larger story. 

If I had any reservations while watching "The Martian" it would be that it has such a light touch that I felt a lack of tension at times in what should be a tense premise. That being said, the optimistic, uplifting tone of the film felt authentic to me in so far as anybody in the position that Damon's character finds himself in would likely need that type of determination of spirit to survive that situation in the first place. The film also throws just enough curveballs our way in key moments to remind us of the true peril our protagonist finds himself in without ever becoming grim. "The Martian" is a survival story where the main tool our character has to survive is his own intellectual resourcefulness. As cheesy as that description sounds, "The Martian" sells it through a refreshing mixture of humor and humanism. 

Grade: A

Friday, August 28, 2015

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of the Fall Season


With the big fall festivals like Venice, Telluride and Toronto soon to be underway (and Awards season to follow soon after), I wanted to offer up my thoughts on my 10 most anticipated movies to be released in this last third of 2015. For me personally, anticipation for a movie is built off some combination of these factors:

a) I like the actors/cast
b) I’m a fan of the directors' work(and, sometimes, occasionally the writers')
c) The subject matter is intriguing to me
d) The trailer peaked my interest

Though there are certainly a few titles coming out in the next few months that tick some of those boxes, I’m also finding that there are few films that I’m wholly anticipating without any skepticism (at least more so than in previous years). While my perception of the offerings this yearwill change drastically as these films start screening and a consensus starts to form around them, here are the ten titles that as of now, on paper, intrigue me the most, listed alphabetically.

Black Mass-
Director - Scott Cooper 
Cast- Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, ect.

Premise: A biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) a notorious organized crime boss in Boston who served the FBI as an informant. 

Why I’m Intrigued: The third trailer for the film was very solid and the supporting cast is formidable. The subject matter has cinematic potential and this has the potential to be a return to form for Depp.

Why I’m Skeptical: Cooper’s previous features, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, indicates a competent but not great director who benefits from having impressive ensembles. Also, between the look and the voice of the character, I’m still not entirely sold on Depp as the right casting choice for Bulger.

Bridge of Spies-
Director - Steven Spielberg (Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen) 
Cast- Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda ect.

Premise: A Cold War thriller based on the 1960 U-2 incident.

Why I’m Intrigued: Spielberg’s last film, Lincoln, was rather unexpectedly my favorite film of that year and this one finds him in similar historical territory. The Cold War setting is an interesting historical backdrop.

Why I’m Skeptical: As much as I loved Lincoln, Tony Kushner’s script deserves a lot of the credit for that and Spielberg can be hit or miss with this type of prestige drama. Though the Coen brothers are great writers and inspired choices for this type of material, the same was said for Unbroken last year, so who knows?

Director - Ryan Coogler 
Cast- Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, ect.

Premise: The son of Apollo Creed seeks to be trained by Rocky Ballboa. 

Why I’m Intrigued: After Coogler’s first feature Fruitvale Station (also starring Jordan), I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. The announcement that his follow-up would be a Rocky feature struck me at first glance as an indie talent selling out big time. However, after the impressive first trailer, Coogler seems to be trying to reinvigorate this tired franchise and harken back to the scrappier roots of the 1976 original. 

Why I’m Skeptical: It’s very possible that what we saw was just a very nicely put together trailer, and I suppose this could end up being a fairly routine boxing picture.

The Hateful Eight-
Director - Quentin Tarantino 
Cast- Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, ect.

Premise: Eight strangers are stranded in a stagecoach stopover during a blizzard. 

Why I’m Intrigued: I don’t automatically flock to whatever Tarantino does, but of his more recent output, Inglourious Basterds was my favorite film of that year and, though it had it’s flaws, I thought Django Unchained was also a triumph. The Western facade of The Hateful Eight suggests a common DNA with Django, but the bottle episode premise to me is more suggestive of his first feature, Reservoir Dogs

Why I’m Skeptical: While I’m hoping the stripped down narrative abates some of Tarantino’s more indulgent sensibilities, there’s also the possibility that this is minor Tarantino and won’t resonate as his more ambitious outings. 

Director - David O. Russell 
Cast- Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, ect.

Premise: A biopic of Joy Mangano (Lawrence), a single mother and entrepreneur who builds her own business empire. 

Why I’m Intrigued: Following a string of modern classics with The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Russell is on one hell of a hot streak. After a secondary lead performance in Silver Linings and a smaller supporting turn in Hustle, it’s nice to see Russell put his muse Lawrence front and center this time, especially given his knack for crafting strong female characters. 

Why I’m Skeptical: While it’s hard for me to complain about Russell casting actors as good as Lawrence, Cooper and De Niro, their appearances in his movies might soon start to have diminishing returns. Russell’s gifts as an actors director shouldn’t exclusively extend to such a small handful of actors. 

The Martian-
Director - Ridley Scott (Screenplay by Drew Goddard)
Cast- Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, ect.

Premise: An Astronaut (Damon) becomes stranded on Mars after a failed mission and is forced to survive in the harsh and inhospitable climate. 

Why I’m Intrigued: Damon is a reliably strong leading man and the supporting cast is just as impressive. Goddard showed a knack for inventive genre filmmaking with The Cabin in the Woods and Scott has the craftsmanship to make this type of science fiction sing on screen.

Why I’m Skeptical: Many of the same qualities that look good on paper for this film (great ensemble, good screenwriter) were also true of previous Scott misfires The Counselor and Prometheus.

The Revenant-
Director - Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cast- Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, ect.

Premise: A fur trapper (DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear and left to die by his men. He is forced to survive in the harsh wilderness. 

Why I’m Intrigued: After last year’s Birdman, Iñárritu has shown himself to be a truly visionary director. The central role will give DiCaprio a lot to chew on as an actor.

Why I’m Skeptical: Even in his best work, Iñárritu has a tendency towards pretension. There have also been reports of a turbulent production, which can often be a bad sign. 

Director - Denis Villeneuve
Cast- Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, ect.

Premise: An FBI agent (Blunt) joins a task force tracking down a Mexican drug kingpin. 

Why I’m Intrigued: I was very impressed with Villeneuve’s film Prisoners two years back. I’ve heard good things about the film overall and particular praise for the performances by del Toro and the frequently underrated Blunt. Also, the great Roger Deakins, who was DP for Prisoners, is back again for this one.

Why I’m Skeptical: Not all of the reviews out of Cannes for the film were positive, with suggestions the direction is a lot stronger than the script.

Director - Thomas McCarthy
Cast- Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, ect.

Premise: Follows the investigation of the Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal by the Boston Globe “spotlight” team. 

Why I’m Intrigued: This is a compelling true story and I’m a fan of movies centered on investigative journalism (All the President’s Men, Zodiac, ect.). The ensemble is deep with great actors.

Why I’m Skeptical: Director Thomas McCarthy is coming off of the first critically panned film of his career with The Cobbler, but he looks to be in better territory here. 

Steve Jobs-
Director - Danny Boyle (Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin)
Cast- Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, ect.

Premise: A portrait of the life and career of Steve Jobs told through the behind the scenes of three apple product launches. 

Why I’m Intrigued: Sorkin did amazing work on The Social Network and he looks to be in that mode again here. Boyle is one of the best directors of his generation and this looks to be a wonderful showcase for the talents of Michael Fassbender.

Why I’m Skeptical: Honestly, not really skeptical for this one at all. This is easily my most anticipated film of the year. Although I was slightly disappointed when David Fincher (my favorite director) and Christian Bale (one of my favorite actors) left the project at various points in its troubled production, Boyle and Fassbender aren’t exactly slouch replacements, though.