The Top 25 Must See Movies of Fall / Winter 2015

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         As with every year, it's hard to imagine we've already moved past the season of summer blockbusters and drive-ins and into the time of Oscar Movies and Biopics. And, wonderfully, James Bond, Star Wars, and Quentin Tarantino. This season is particularly diverse and also well paced: we'll get a few terrific films a month up to the end of the year, with enough diversity of choices to keep the hardened cinephiles happy as well as the average joe movie goer. Somewhere in this list might be the future best picture winner for 2015, or at least quite a few nominations. Without further ado, here are the 25 must see movies for fall and winter 2015! 

25.) Suffragette (Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep

Release Date: October 23rd

            While we’ve already had the handsome Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd, adding another period feminist film to 2015’s oeuvre next to the sequels and spinoffs is downright refreshing. Like Crowd, Carey Mulligan stars as the feminist fighter to be, this time less via allegory and more through provocative action. Suffragette tells the essential story of the women’s suffrage movement begun in England in the early 20th Century, the type of social issue relevancy film can sometimes fall into the trap of portraying paint by numbers. Or, in other words, Oscar Bait. But with the extremely capable Mulligan leading, who’s had a diverse career ranging from meek to seething with anger, it’s another role that just might win her an oscar nomination. 


24.) Pan (Joe Wright)

Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Garret Hedlund, and Cara Delevinge

Release date: October 9th 

        From Hanna to Atonement, English filmmaker Joe Wright’s handsome filmography is full of eclectic visual choices and an artful flair absent in films of a similar subject. Pizazz is a word to accurately describe the famous single take shot in Atonement or Pride and Prejudice, so when he signed on for the live-action version of Peter Pan, it’s no wonder his imagination ran wild. Too wild, perhaps, in the case of the new look of  Blackbeard (Jackman) or Tiger Lilly (Mara). Terry Gilliam’s surrealist movies seem to be a primary influence on this kid’s movie, and downright curiosity for how this all turns out is the driving force behind my interest. Wright’s not really had a stinker yet, but not even his well-built trust can convince me some of these visual choices will sell. 

23.) Trumbo (Jay Roach

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Louis C.K. 

Release Date: November 6th 

The plot of a blacklisted screenwriter in the 1950s is attractive to begin with, especially one who penned the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in the 40s for his supposed political leanings and associations to Marxist thought, i.e. being a communist, and Trumbo chronicles that truly fascinating story. But for me, an unabashed fan of Breaking Bad (who isn’t?) my excitement comes from two words: Bryan Cranston. It’s his first meaty leading role since that show’s excellent (if just slightly underwhelming) finale, and trailers promise a character of complexity not a damn thing like Walter White. His range as an actor, displayed already by going from Malcolm in the Middle to meth manufacturer, will be proven yet again.    

22.) Everest (Baltasar Kormákur

Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Kiera Knightley, and Robin Wright

Release Date: September 25th 

Coming out wide this weekend, this event movie spectacle boasts an ensemble cast to match the ambition of scaling such a high peak. Recalling the great disaster movies of the 70s ala Towering Inferno, Everest follows the real-life story of a team of climbers who get caught in a disastrous storm. It’s a terrifying plot—in a story built around the hope of accomplishing the impossible, Nature has its way. The effects are gorgeous, the cinematography on-key, and with a cast led by Jason Clarke, who after a supporting role in Zero Dark Thirty has had quite the career blow-up, deserves a chance in the spotlight. Until Spectre hits theaters in November, this might be the hottest IMAX ticket in town. 


21.) Youth (Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Jane Fonda

Release date: December 4th 

        Michael Caine, amongst one of the most beloved actors working today, stars in the sophistic’s answer to those dreadful ‘older actors are having fun’ movies that never seem to be any good. Read: Last Vegas. Playing a retired music composer vacationing in the Alps, he’s joined by still working film director Mick Boyle—played amusingly by Harvey Keital. Slip in a Rachel Weitz and Paul Dano and it’s a rounded out cast for this dramedy. But what’s the key factor in Youth’s buzz is writer and director Paolo Sorrentino, hot off the heels of 2013’s spellbinding The Great Beauty, which won foreign film of the year at the 2014 oscars. Early footage shows every shot is gorgeous, and with a cast this right and a director this brilliant, excitement follows. 

20.)  The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn)

Starring: Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliot

Release Date: November 25th 

Inside Out marked the triumphant return for Pixar studios, and a what a year it’d be if they made not just the best animated movie of the year, but the best two. The Good Dinosaurs visually striking trailers of dinosaurs roaming the Earth are eye-catching, but the premise of dinosaurs and man co-existing hasn’t yet sold me on its necessity. Honestly, that’s fine. My main trepidation is Pixar’s inability to stay consistent, so no matter how beautiful the marketing may be, getting over-excited is a cause for pause. 

19.) Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (Frances Lawrence)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson 

Release Date: November 20th

        Mockingjay Part I was a low point in this uneven YA franchise that stumbles in adapting the diminishing returns of Suzanne Collins’ book series. Catching Fire is an impressive bar to try and aim past, a film that took what we saw in the first Hunger Games and impressively expanded it, into a huge scale action movie with expansive world building and Lawrence at her series best. Mockingjay Part II seems to take itself as disastrously self-seriously as the first of the finale’s parts, dour, bleak, and boring. This last entry will bring the action, I’m told, and the promise of a rousing climax—even if it’s not seen in the marketing so far—has my ticket bought. 

18.) Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam

Release Date: October 16th 

         Once upon a time, Guilermero Del Toro’s horror opus would’ve ranked very high on this list indeed, however lackluster trailers and muted buzz has me skeptical. But the talent is all but impossible to ignore. The cast alone is a striking boon of confidence, and seeing that group of performers play against each other for two hours will be an absolute delight in and of itself—Hiddlestons impressive range will be put to great use, hopefully acting as a successful heir to Mr. Rochester. The mise-en-scene of the Jane Eyre, House on Haunted Hill-like haunted mansion is outstanding, and the typically beautiful visual sense will drive this movie forward. I’m not sold, but I’m curious nonetheless. This is a ghost story, following a young girl (Wasikowska) married into a creepy family with, of course, deep-dark secrets. 

17.) By the Sea (Angelina Jolie)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Melanie Laurent 

Release Date: November 13th 

        I admit, it’s more curiosity driving my interest than genuine confidence in how Jolie’s second movie is going to turn out. The risky premise alone demands a double take, risky not just because she’s directing a romantic drama, but because she’s directing a romantic drama where she and her husband Brad Pitt are cast in the parts of a couple violently falling apart. The last time a couple this high-profile signed onto a sexual psycho-drama it ended in a black hole of tabloid headlines and heartbreak. But Jolie and Pitt seem to have avoided the same mistake Cruise and Kidman made by joining Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut, and the trailer spells a classically Euoropean chamber drama with lavish visuals as rich as the complex characters. Jolie’s talent behind the camera has yet to be proven, however, but this is dramatically fertile ground to do it. 

16.) Black Mass (Scott Cooper)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Dakota Johnson

Release Date: September 18th 

       It came out just this past weekend and I’ve still yet to see it, Black Mass by all accounts should be higher up on the list. The trailers are steeped in the wrong kind of retroism, selling imitation Scorsese instead of something with its own identity. Maybe I’m wrong but early buzz only reinforces my fear. One thing everybody can agree on is that this is Johnny Depp’s best performance in ages as Boston’s gangster king Whitey Bulger. After falling into a trap of Tim Burton mediocrity, Depp seems to have remembered he once upon a time loved to act, and seeing his performance in the trailers sent shivers down my spine. Distracting makeup sure, but his performance seems to shine through it in a way that can’t be missed.  


15.) Room (Lenny Abrahamson

Starring: Brie Larson, William H Macy, Joan Allen, and Megan Park

Release Date: October 16th 

      Brie Larson is one of the most underrated commodities in Hollywood, an actress who for any number of speculated reasons—like the bogus idea that she doesn’t have the ‘conventional’ Hollywood look or body type—hasn’t hit it big yet. In a plot similar to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a woman and her son escape the captivity of a small room and are forced to adjust to what to them seems a strange even terrifying world. It’s a narrative turn that in the right hands can be an effective mirror of society at large, and Frank director Lenny Abrahamson has the talent to do it.

14.) The Walk (Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kinglsey, and James Badge Dale

Release Date: September 30th 

       Zemeckis surprised everyone with 2012s excellent Flight, a return to live action after pioneering cutting edge mo-cap films like Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol. Flight was mature, smart, but still delivered a jarring plane crash sequence that’s possible the best rendition of that type of scene in movie history. The Walk sees him in live action once again, telling the story of Philippe Petit's hair-raising high wire attempt to cross the twin towers of The World Trade Center in 1974. The goofy makeup on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s face aside, all signs point to a thrilling drama that’s destined to make your belly drop, and early trailers demonstrate the rare appropriate use of 3D—from the wire that supports Petit’s crossing, it’s a long, long way down. 


13.) In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard)

Starring: Frank Dillane, Chris Hemsworth, Charlotte Riley, Cillain Murphy, Ben Wishaw, and Brendan Gleeson

Release Date: December 11th 

           Release date delays usually sing a spell of doom, but this is a case where the exception proves the rule. Moving the followup to Howard’s nail-biting Formula One racing flick Rush from March to December was a boost of confidence, a decision made out of expecting audiences—and honestly, probably Oscar Voters—to love it. It’s the kind of studio-driven confidence that gets me giddy, a noted 180 from studios who often are stuck doing damage control for troubled productions. The last collaboration between Howard and Chris Hemsworth reaped high rewards, and here’s hoping the real life story that inspired Moby Dick is as visceral. When Howard’s on, he’s a cinematic commodity, and all signs point to Heart of the Sea being a gripping sea-fairing tale of man vs nature. 

12.) Spotlight (Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci

Release Date: November 6th 

          Investigative journalism films can sometimes get mired in obsessing with facts and figures, losing the heart of the story and its subject. The opposite appears to be the case here; everything about Spotlight feels right. The diverse cast is terrific, including the second well-picked project in a row by Michael Keaton following his tremendous performance in Birdman. The real hook is the story the Boston Globe team controversially uncovered, the spotlight of Spotlight: the massive and systemic cover up of child molestation, concealed tragically by the Archdiocese. The ramifications shook the world, the ripples of which are still felt today. Early Festival buzz says the tragic but dramatically rich subject matter pays off and then some—this might be the best picture winner for the year.       

11.) Beasts of No Nation (Cary Fukanaga)

Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, and Ama K. Abebrese

Release Date: October 16th 

      True Detective’s first season is a cult favorite, and with reason. I love it in all its flawed complexity, but controversy arose among fans when the last few episodes left some disappointed. But one universal facet of praise was Cary Fukunaga’s startling cinematic eye. The famous tracking shot that caps off episodes four is already obsessed over by film geeks on Reddit, and this is his first feature since. That alone deserves attention, but more, fan favorite Idris Elba stars in this poignant tale of child fighters in Africa, a tragic subject cinema already covered to some effect in Blood Diamond.

        Comparisons already compare the dream-like war violence to early Herzog or Apocalypse Now, making this one of the most anticipated films of the year. And crucially, another dividing line with Beasts of No Nation is that it’s the first film Netflix put out on its own, the movie equivalent to House of Cards or Orange is the New Black

10.) Joy (David O. Russell

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper 

Release Date: December 25th, 2015 

        Writer and director David O Russel has had one of those all time great streaks—The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle have collectively garnered 25 oscar nominations, each of them nominated for best motion picture of the year. Two out of three have Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the former of whom who won her oscar in Silver Linings, and is back for more in Joy, their third collaboration and a film inevitable to continue the streak of Oscar Glory. Cooper’s back too along with De Niro, and in a story imdb summarizes as “Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.” Joy is bound to be another zany, kinetically directed ensemble piece with nothing but amazing performances. There’s been a soft backlash to Russel’s career resurgence, saying he’s a great imitator and less a great artist. Let Joy prove them wrong. 

9.) The Martian (Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Eljiafor, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara

Release Date: October 2nd 

        As chief Hitfix film critic Drew McWeeny summarizes in his rave review of The Martian, following Ridley Scott’s tumultuous career has been frustrating, and for his fans most of all. The man behind two of the greatest films ever made: Blade Runner and Alien and plenty of other accomplishments in Gladiatior, Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut and others, has also made countless career flubs. But by all accounts his adaptation of best selling sci-fi novel The Martian, a sort of Cast Away on Mars where an astronaut is stranded on the red planet and has to survive long past his mission end date, is a long-awaited return to form. A super high Rotten Tomatoes score of 97% almost confirms it.

        Starring a well-equipped Matt Damon and seemingly playing to all of his strengths, there’s multiple Oscar categories this can compete in, from best picture to actor. The trailers hook you with comedy and the massive sense of scale Scott’s known for, and watching Damon ‘science the shit out of this’ is going to make for essential fall watching. A sure hit as a blockbuster, I honestly can’t wait. 

8.) Macbeth (Justin Kurzel

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, and Paddy Considine

Release Date: December 4th            

        Two actors have never been a finer choice for the leading roles in Shakespear’s second most famous play than film world darling Michael Fassbender or Oscar beloved Marion Cotillard. Macbeth has been radically reconceived as a violent fantasy, sort of a Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising meets something totally new, and the result looks spellbinding. Down and dirty and visually splendid, the emmy winning cinematographer behind Top of the Lake and True Detectives first season imagined Macbeth in bleak Earth tones and  color drenched tableaus, and that level of artistry appears to have saturated every level of production. 

7.) Sicario (Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jeffrey Donovan, and Daniel Kaluuya

Release Date: Wide on October 2nd      

After blazing his way into becoming one of the hottest directors today, Villenueve’s Incendies, Enemy and Prisoners are as potent an exercise in cinematic craft as they are diverse, and clearly what netted him the in-demand gig for Blade Runner’s skeptically anticipated sequel. Sicario has been (lazily but accurately) described as Zero Dark Thirty for the war on drugs, with a cold-gazed female lead (Blunt) calling the shots on the Mexico-American border. The thriller, already having won significant buzz from the Festival Circuit, has been called taut and intense, two believable descriptors for this powerhouse filmmaker. Combining pulpy genre thrills and relevant themes, Sicario’s destined for top ten lists and audience applause. 

6.) Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, and Austin Stowell

Release Date: October 16th 

            The only thing stopping Bridge of Spies from being in the tops is the paint by numbers feel of the trailer, and while reuniting with Tom Hanks is exciting on one level, it’s an obvious choice for an obvious project. But in a career with shockingly few stinkers, Spielberg’s latest is sure to hit hot on the oscar trial, especially if it’s as good as some say. British playwright Matt Charman penned the screenplay and sharing a credit with The Coen Brothers, and with theater star Mark Rylance playing supporting, the talent involved is of the higher caliber. The spy-movie plot is an exciting genre for Spielberg to tackle, but with the predictable moralizing: a Brooklyn lawyer (Hanks) is thrown into a Cold War dispute to negotiate the release of downed spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviet Union. Contemplating truth, justice, and the American way follow, which might appeal to Oscar Voters more than audiences. 

5.) Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogan, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Katherine Waterson

Release Date: October 23rd 

        I admit to this choice being something of a cheat. Before this long-coming biopic’s debut just a few days ago at The Telluride Film Festival, it would’ve ranked significantly lower on the list. But I didn’t write this before its premiere or before swaths of buzzing reviews raved Michael Fassbender’s apparently electric turn as the titular character, and lauded the 200 word screenplay by wordsmith mastermind Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s kinetic direction. I’m pumped, not just because I’m an Apple fan (I am), but because the film seems as aesthetically radical, as thematically potent, all the things I want out of an awards contender. Word is Fassbender can snag best actor and nominations for the rest of the cast, best picture, best screenplay and others don’t seem far out of view. In other words, amazing buzz makes Steve Jobs a categorically safe and even exciting bet. 

4.) The Revenant (Alejandro G. Inarritu)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, and Lukas Haas

Release Date: December 25th 

       As one of the few that didn’t anoint Innaritu as cinema’s savior for his all-in-one-take tour de force Birdman, I confess a certain skepticism for The Revenant. This movie looks amazing. Amazing. The two minute trailer alone is packed with gorgeous (digital) 65mm compositions and creative visual choices, and DiCaprio, in what we’re told is a mostly wordless performance, seems downright feral in the role of Hugh Glass, a betrayed bear hunter left to die. In what sounds like a revenge film by way of Warner Herzog, he exacts vengeance on his betrayers, led by Tom Hardy. An insane pairing. These merits alone demand that The Revenant is seen and on the biggest screen possible, but when you aim so high, as he did with Birdman, there’s further to fall. 

3.) The Hateful Eight  (Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russel, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and Bruce Dern

Release Date: 70mm Exclusive on December 25th, Wide on January 8th        

        Admittedly having read 2/3rds of the leaked Hateful Eight screenplay, I can say with confidence (the unknown last third aside) that his second western is one of his best screenplays. As a high wire act of closed quarters claustrophobic plotting, eight people, the hateful eight, are locked inside a small habberdashy in a helluva blizzard. It’s somewhere between Django Unchained and Reservoir Dogs, or a western by way of the dinner table scene in Inglourious Basterds. It’s tense, to be sure, but the script was also more thematically powerful than Unchained, and with a typically terrific cast and glorious 70mm ultra-widescreen cinematography (that’s getting an early release this Christmas), The Hateful Eight is begging to be one of his best. 

2.) Spectre (Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, and Christoph Waltz

Release Date: November 6th 

       Equal part bringing Bond back to his roots and pushing him into the modern age, Skyfall was everything James Bond had to be at that moment. Spectre, with its added mood, action, comedy, and a rumored deeper look into his past, seems to be more of the same rich filmmaking from director Sam Mendes. Craig’s Bond is already secured as one of the best, new Bond-girl Lea Seydoux is both glamorous and competent, and Christoph Waltz is a born actor for a scheming Bond villain mastermind. The trailers aren’t as attention grabbing as Skyfall’s nearly perfect marketing campaign, but all signs point to another iconic entry in the beloved series. 

1.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, and Andy Serkis 

Release Date: December 18th 

             In the same way that Mad Max: Fury Road topped “best of 2015 so far” lists, Star Wars is topping every most anticipated list for the rest of the year’s movies. Almost beyond a matter of opinion, it has to. The Force Awakens is the widely, universally, inter-galactically most anticipated movie, an honest to Yoda cultural event, the kind we maybe have once every decade. I get asked all the time what my favorite movie is, with people expecting “the film critic” to rattle off some Godard or Tarkovsky. It’s The Empire Strikes Back, and while I don’t expect The Force Awakens to be so powerful it jumps me into hyperspace from the theater, that the first two trailers found a genius balance between fan service and a new call to adventure is a Jedi-oath we won’t leave theaters disappointed. Don’t dissapoint me Captain Abrams