While our recent trip to Sundance afforded us a preview of some of 2015’s best films, it’s back to that treacherous arena that is the early months of the year. While a few major studio releases are vaguely on our radar (Jupiter Ascending, which is far from the disaster some predicted) and others have us running away from the theater (Fifty Shades of Grey), there are promising options, as well as a bevy of notable independent dramas and comedies. Check out the ten we’re most excited about below, many of which will be available on VOD.
Matinees to See: 1971 (2/6), Jupiter Ascending (2/6), The Last 5 Years (2/13), Gett (2/13), Queen & Country (2/18), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2/20), All the Wilderness (2/20), Wild Canaries (2/25), Everly (2/27), and Focus (2/27)
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn; Feb. 13th)
Synopsis: A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing.
Why You Should See It: Although I’ve often found Matthew Vaughn‘s films to be entertaining but ultimately forgettable, his latest, Kingsman: The Secret Service, looks to be one of his more well-received features. A send-up of the spy genre, it also seems like the closest we’ll get to his take on Bond, specifically with Colin Firth in the lead role. While the trailers have yet to impress, we can hope that the buzz is to be believed.
9. Ballet 422 (Jody Lee Lipes; Feb. 6th)
Synopsis: From first rehearsal to world premiere, Ballet 422 takes us backstage at New York City Ballet as emerging choreographer Justin Peck crafts a new work.
Why You Should See It: A quick glance at films such as Afterschool, Tiny Furniture, and Martha Marcy May Marlene will reveal a distinct visual style from cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes. While his work has likely been most-seen in HBO’s Girls, he’ll be hitting nationwide theaters next summer, having shot Judd Apatow‘s next comedy, Trainwreck. Before that project, he helmed a new documentary, Ballet 422, which arrives this week — and we’ve already named it one of our favorites of the year.
8. The Salvation (Kristian Levring; Feb. 27th)
Synopsis: In 1870s America, a peaceful American settler kills his family’s murderer which unleashes the fury of a notorious gang leader. His cowardly fellow townspeople then betray him, forcing him to hunt down the outlaws alone.
Why You Should See It: Following up his Best Actor win at Cannes for The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen returned to the festival in a far different genre. The western The Salvation, also starring Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, appears to be a handsomely crafted period piece. As we said in our review, “Pulpy, violent, exploitative and trashy, The Salvation harkens back to the spaghetti Western era before the genre became introspective with the likes of Unforgiven or No Country For Old Men.”
7. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Spike Lee; Feb. 13th)
Synopsis: Dr. Hess Green becomes cursed by a mysterious ancient African artifact and is overwhelmed with a newfound thirst for blood…
Why You Should See It: We found Spike Lee‘s latest, already available on VOD, to be one of his best in years. Our review claims it’s his “freest-feeling endeavor in a spell, the full-forced reminder that, after years divided by safe hits (Inside Man and, yes, Oldboy) and personal duds (Miracle at St. Anna, the aforementioned Red Hook Summer), he’s yet to lose sight of how both the personal and the lively might flow together. Weighed with regard to a place amongst the Lee canon, it stands as a work equally divided by divergences and conformities nevertheless united, forcefully, by a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool insanity.”
6. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Liv Corfixen; Feb. 27th)
Synopsis: Portrait of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn during the filming and release of Only God Forgives.
Why You Should See It: While we imagine Nicolas Winding Refn‘s next feature will be out by next year, 2015 brings us a look inside one of the man’s most divisive films, Only God Forgives, as captured by his wife, Liv Corfixen. We said in our review that the documentary “gives us intimate, day-by-day access to their life together during the six-month trip to Thailand with their two children and the way Refn tries to blend being an artist and having a family. Challenging and engaging, it’s a documentary that is perhaps more interesting and deep than the film it is about.”
5. ’71 (Yann Demange; Feb. 27th)
Synopsis: A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.
Why You Should See It: In terms of its awards hopes, Unbroken was dead on arrival, but this month we’ll get one of Jack O’Connell‘s most acclaimed turns. After earning much praise at Berlin Film Festival last year, ’71 will finally arrive in a few weeks. We said in our review, “Although violence, both actual and threatened, permeates almost the entirety of the movie, there are a small handful of moments that are elevated substantially by the shocking and abrupt ways in which they unfold. Demange and director of photography Tat Radcliffe (who also shot 2014’s Pride) do not shy away from showing the brutality of these moments, forcing us to confront not only broad notions about the devastation of war, but also the way these moments intimately impact Hook. The emotional resonance of these moments will make ’71 tough to shake.”
4. Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón; Feb. 20th)
Synopsis: A story about love deception, the return of the past, a tragedy, or even the violence contained in an everyday detail, appear themselves to push them towards the abyss, into the undeniable pleasure of losing control.
Why You Should See It: While the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar batch includes great titles such as Ida, Timbuktu, and Leviathan, Argentina’s entry could give them a run for their money. Wild Tales, which is produced by Pedro Almodóvar and directed by Damián Szifron, strings together a handful of vignettes that inject hilarity into our social anxieties. One of our top 50 films of 2014, we said, “Playing with a touch of the pulp ghoulishness of Tales of the Crypt, Tales features plenty of darkly comic surrealism that’s been subtly grafted onto modern social anxieties. Whether it’s a plane full of strangers learning of the demented connection that bonds them, a waitress at a road-side diner forced to serve the author of her family’s misery, or a demolitionist waging a war against an impound lot, Wild Tales finds a deeply entertaining catharsis in isolated fragments that begin as revenge, only to crossover to examine ideas about justice and human morality.”
3. Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg; Feb. 27th)
Synopsis: A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
Why You Should See It: After rumors that it might arrive last fall, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is unfortunately getting a smaller release this month, landing on VOD and in limited theaters on the same day. We were curious about it at Cannes, saying in our review, “The result is something of a fascinating misfire, still shot and edited with the precise authority that has defined Cronenberg’s recent period, but jumbled in the search for narrative control and originality.” I was a slightly bigger fan, enjoying its go-for-broke satirical (or possibly not) exploration of Hollywood. If Julianne Moore‘s much acclaimed Still Alice performance is a bit too reserved, then look no further than this.
2. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi; Feb. 13th)
Synopsis: The adventures of a group of vampires living under one roof.
Why You Should See It: It’s only February, but we have a contender for one of 2015’s funniest films: a New Zealand vampire comedy that actually premiered over a year ago at Sundance. From writers and directors Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), we said, “The duo makes sure to start small and amp up the scope with each new sequence. With a slim running time and considerable chemistry, What We Do in the Shadows is proof that the vampire genre is alive and well as long as it’s in the right hands.”
1. The Voices (Marjane Satrapi; Feb. 6th)
Synopsis: A mentally ill factory worker is guided by his evil talking cat and benevolent talking dog.
Why You Should See It: One of the best experiences I had at least year’s Sundance was going in blind to Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, knowing it starred Ryan Reynolds, and virtually nothing else. Consider my surprise when it was one of the best films of the festival. It’ll now, finally, get a release this week in theaters and on VOD. I’d encourage one to know as little as possible going in, but I said, in my review, “The Black List script has shifts between a hysterically goofy tone and deeply unsettling sequences, a delicate balance that could have easily fallen flat under other direction. But Satrapi’s exuberant approach — in both the colorful palette of lighter scenes and the dingy style of, we’ll just say, their opposite — leads to a film in which every frame was clearly thought out.”
What are you watching this month?