Ten Unmissable Films Still to Come This Year
From Matt Damon on Mars to Tom Hardy's turn as East London's evil twins, the big screen has much more to offer before 2015 is out
Legend (September 11)
Anyone familiar with the BBC’s Peaky Blinders will have a hard time forgetting Tom Hardy’s over-the-top turn as Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons, a performance that was both tremendous fun and totally bonkers. It was, perhaps, a dry run for his newest leading role, or roles, as infamous London crime twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray.
Set in the stylish 1960s, Legend features a fine ensemble (Armagh’s own Colin Morgan included) but it is Hardy who will no doubt steal the show playing two distinct, but equally lethal, individuals with all the twitchy intensity that is now expected of his singular talent. With veteran screenwriter Brian Helgeland on directing duties — steeped once more in the genre that made him famous — Legend could be this Autumn’s surprise package.
Everest (September 18)
Craggy everyman Jason Clarke heads up a party of intrepid mountaineers in Everest, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur's visceral portrayal of the 1996 disaster on the slopes of the eponymous peak. Preview footage promises the usual tropes of intense CGI and magnificent scenery, along with the kind of high-stakes and life-and-death decisions that make scaling Everest the most dangerous pursuit on Earth.
Besides Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington and the always solid John Hawkes fill out the two expeditions attempting to conquer the treacherous mountain, while Keira Knightley and Robin Wright worry on the home front. Given that Kormákur’s last film was the forgettable 2 Guns, subtlety cannot be described as his forte. This newest offering is unlikely to creep under the radar.
The Walk (October 2)
Robert Zemeckis long ago established himself as one of Hollywood’s true all-rounders, an A-list filmmaker adept at turning his hand to myriad genres and subjects, a less fantastical Steven Spielberg, if you will. That said, the Flight and Back to the Future director’s latest project is especially fascinating.
Featuring the ever brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt — complete with unlikely French accent — in the role of Philippe Petit, the man who conspired to cross the chasm between the towers of the World Trade Centre on a lone wire in 1974 (see the superlative documentary Man on Wire for context), The Walk balances drama, derring-do and heist-movie elements to depict the events that preceded Petit’s seminal stunt. Not one for the acrophobes.
The Martian (October 2)
With the release of The Martian, Ridley Scott adopts the story-over-spectacle approach that has punctuated a back catalogue otherwise replete with breathtaking visuals and period epics. Its space setting notwithstanding, this adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel is more focused plot than special effects.
Matt Damon portrays astronaut Mark Watney, left behind, and presumed dead, following an abortive mission to Mars. When his crew (including, amongst others, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Chiwetel Ejiofor) find out that he is still alive, they resolve to rescue him, battling distance, time and his own dwindling life support.
Scott is no stranger to the sci-fi theme, having given the world Alien and Blade Runner, but his work here carries something more humane, an exploration of those profound motivations that drive our species to excel and to survive.
Crimson Peak (October 16)
Mexican visionary Guillermo del Toro established himself as one of the most creative filmmakers in cinema when he unleashed the deliciously twisted Pan’s Labyrinth on the world. Mixing high fantasy with children’s fairytales and historical fiction, it is undoubtedly his signature film.
Now, nine years later, and having previously stepped away from his preferred milieu to direct the outrageously muscular Pacific Rim, del Toro arrives with Crimson Peak, a gothic horror that has generated significant early buzz thanks to the positive reaction of one Mr Stephen King.
Anchored in a rotting 19th-century English mansion, Mia Wasikowska’s delicate ingenue marries a charming aristocrat (Ben Hiddlestone) only to discover that he possesses more than a few secrets in the closets back home. Del Toro has employed the same dazzling palette that made Pan’s Labyrinth so evocative, his dark stylings being deployed for maximum terror.
Spectre (October 23)
In Daniel Craig’s three outings as James Bond to date, he has reinvigorated a character that had, with all due respect to Pierce Brosnan, become a tired cliché. Bond was, until 2006’s Casino Royale, a vaguely interesting centre point in a series of rote – maybe even ridiculous – actioners that no longer inspired widespread enthusiasm.
With Craig in the lead, however, 007 has morphed into something much edgier: a sleek, gimlet-eyed, hard-drinking tool of Her Majesty’s Government, as much at home in the loving embrace of Tom Ford’s sartorial elegance as he is slugging it out with bad guys atop speeding passenger trains.
Considering the excellence of Skyfall in 2012, expectations are high that Spectre will follow a similar path, one exploring the protagonist’s tragic, lonely backstory. With a high-end auteur like Sam Mendes staying on as director, Bond’s post-millennial cool will continue to draw us in.
Black Mass (November 13)
When notorious Irish mob boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was arrested 2011, it brought to a close a 16-year manhunt and signalled his removal from the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As the king of a South Boston criminal empire, Bulger wrought terror on his community, forming sordid alliances with allies as varied as the IRA and the federal government in the process.
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Bulger in the upcoming Black Mass feels like an Oscar-baiting tour de force, complete with a physical and vocal transformation that will surely see him in contention come awards season. Brooding, violent, and with the wildly gifted Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) directing, this has the look of Scorsese in his swaggering pomp.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (November 20)
Young adult literature hardly symbolises fertile soil for recent cinematic adaptations, with the Twilight, Divergent and Maze Runner franchises setting few pulses racing beyond their niche audiences. The Hunger Games trilogy, on the other hand, has proved hugely successful, garnering critical acclaim and huge takings. It has also transformed Jennifer Lawrence into a star capable of opening a blockbuster movie.
Now, as the fourth instalment comes into view (the final book has been split into two films), the dystopian travails of Katniss Everdeen and comrades seem set to conclude in bombastic fashion. While each chapter has managed to exhibit a distinctive identity, becoming bigger and louder along the way, the charm of The Hunger Games is in its human moments, not least the inscrutable, stereotype-eschewing heroine. Its last hurrah should be suitably spectacular.
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (December 18)
Perhaps the most anticipated movie event of recent years, The Force Awakens continues to generate a level of hype in keeping with its status as the newest chapter in the Star Wars saga. This should benefit from a fresh approach – Star Trek helmer JJ Abrams has long displayed both the pedigree and style to outdo George Lucas’s ropey direction of the prequel trilogy – and a revamped story that remains, at this stage, closely guarded. Such mystery may well aid Abrams as he attempts to move away from the increasingly melodramatic plotlines that rendered latter instalments so silly.
The available images appear typically exciting, carrying the mark of the series’ familiar space opera leanings, but the hope is that Star Wars will now appeal to a new and more cynical generation, largely inured to expensive visual effects. Aside from already planned sequels, the prospect of a grittier, grimier and now confirmed spin-off, Rogue One, suggests that there is much more to come from Skywalker Ranch.
In the Heart of the Sea (December 25)
Based on the events that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, In the Heart of the Sea represents a return to the silver screen for a director, Ron Howard, whose resumé continues to be as varied as it is lengthy. This period piece charts the struggle for survival of a band of whalers rammed and left to die by the very bull sperm whale they were hunting.
Chris Hemsworth leads an impressive cast as the heroic first mate forced to marshall a ragtag group adrift in the vast ocean, but it is the unsavoury subject of cannibalism that looms largest. The desperate sailors were forced to feed on each other for sustenance during their ordeal, something that Howard has been unafraid to address. This is far from the average men-against-the-elements adventure yarn.
Also worth noting are Being AP, High-Rise and A Patch of Fog, three films with roots in Northern Ireland which currently don't have theatrical release dates but are due to screen at September's prestigious Toronto Film Festival.
Being AP, directed by BAFTA-winner Anthony Wonke is the story of horseracing great AP McCoy while High-Rise adapts JG Ballard’s classic 1975 British thriller. Psychological thriller A Patch of Fog is the feature directorial debut from Northern Ireland film-maker Michael Lennox, who, earlier this year picked up a BAFTA award and an Oscar nomination for his short film Boogaloo & Graham. Stay up to date with Culture NI for future coverage of all three.