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The 50 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

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    Artwork by Cap Blackard

    2015 is going to be big. Maybe the biggest ever. I don’t mean to go all Fallon here, but it’s true. Not only are we getting a sequel to the third-highest grossing film of all time with Avengers: Age of Ultron, but we’ll also have a new entry in the Star Wars franchise that may rise above them all. If that weren’t enough, there will also be a new Bond (not starring Idris Elba), a new Mad Max (not starring Mel Gibson), and a new Terminator (not starring Christian Bale). Somewhere between these blockbusters will be a collection of genuinely original works coming our way from Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick, Cameron Crowe, David O. Russell, the Wachowski siblings, and many, many more.

    The force is strong with this year…


    Blackhat

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    Release date: January 16th via Universal Pictures

    It’s been over five years since Michael Mann’s last film, Public Enemies, hit theaters. Now, the 71-year-old filmmaker returns to thrust us into the gritty criminal underworld of cyber terrorism. (How timely, right?) His leading man is Chris Hemsworth, who plays Nicholas Hathaway, a convicted hacker who’s been furloughed to assist American and Chinese agencies track down an elusive cyber criminal responsible for attacks on a Chinese nuclear reactor and the Chicago Board of Trade. Ever devoted to realism, Mann spent years researching the material, while Hemsworth was assigned to learn code, which should assuage the more computer-savvy skeptics. And given all of its filming locations — Chitown, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Jakarta — Blackhat should serve as the perfect winter getaway you can’t afford. –Michael Roffman

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    Son of a Gun

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    Release date: January 16th via A24 Films

    Between Whiplash and Foxcatcher, 2014 was a banner year for films about damaged proteges and their shitty mentors. The trend continues this year with Son of a Gun, which sees Ewan McGregor as a criminal mastermind who takes rookie Brentown Thwaites under his wing after a successful prison break. Things go sour, of course, and Thwaites finds himself in over his head. As juicy as the plot is, and as much as we’re jazzed about the trailer’s haunting caper imagery — including a bunch of hoods wearing creepy chimp masks — we’re most excited about seeing McGregor play a complex scumbag again, something that was once his bread and butter. –-Dan Caffrey

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    Jupiter Ascending

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    Release date: February 6th via Warner Bros. Pictures

    So here’s the thing: There’s a halfway decent chance that Jupiter Ascending is going to be a complete and utter mess. Setting aside Warner Bros.’ decision to quietly bump its release from last July, where it was slated to drop the same weekend as the last two Dark Knight films, to early February, there’s also the matter of this being a Wachowskis joint. But I’ll be the one to argue that this is a good thing, not the bad thing many people might naturally assume. For better (Speed Racer) or worse (the parts of Cloud Atlas concerning Hugh Grant as a post-apocalyptic tribal warlord), the Wachowskis are still making ambitious mainstream cinema like few others out there. And this, the story of a Russian space princess (Mila Kunis) and the albino bounty hunter sent to protect her (Channing Tatum), looks like it could land on either side of that equation. Wherever it lands, though, Jupiter Ascending will assuredly be a hell of a thing to watch. Plus, look on the bright side. If it’s awful, at least the “more like Stupider Ascending” headlines practically write themselves. –Dominick Mayer

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    Fifty Shades of Grey

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    Release date: February 13th via Universal Pictures

    What I like about the pre-release trailers for the 50 Shades of Grey film adaptation is that there’s no pretension, no cuteness, no whiz-bang. Cold, handsome, and proficient, the film posits itself as nothing more than a means of dampening granny panties, be it through the story’s BDSM 101 course or what star Jamie Dornan calls a “love story.” Some say Dornan, who replaced Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam in the role of sado-masochistic billionaire Christian Grey, is gambling with his career by starring in the adaptation, and maybe that’s true, but I can’t imagine the film itself not being a financial success. The sneers and chuckles of the literary cognoscenti haven’t hindered sales of E.L. James’ steamy trilogy at all, nor will the sneers and chuckles of snooty reviewers give the readers pause. It’s God’s Not Dead all over again: critics be damned, this thing’s got a built-in audience. –Randall Colburn

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    Chappie

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    Release date: March 6th via Columbia Pictures

    If there’s one thing director Neill Blomkamp knows, it’s robots. He made them sympathetic in his Academy Award–nominated debut, District 9, and he made them menacing as all hell in the post-apocalyptic thriller Elysium. For his third film, Chappie, he teams up with his wife and writing partner, Terri Tatchell, for the first time since District 9 to weave a yarn about a sentient robot (voiced by frequent Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley) who gets kidnapped by two criminals. Think Short Circuit 2 only with much better special effects — and without Fisher Stevens’ cringe-worthy portrayal of an Indian scientist. As an added bonus, Blomkamp has assembled one of the most bonkers casts of the year, including Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, and both members of the South African music duo Die Antwoord. –Adriane Neuenschwander

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    In the Heart of the Sea

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    Release date: March 13th via Warner Bros. Pictures

    It’s fair to say that Ron Howard has had a spotty career, directing critically reviled films such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Angels & Demons alongside Oscar-winning pictures such as A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13. This year, ol’ Ronnie boy looks like he’s poised to get that red-carpet tux out of storage with In the Heart of the Sea, which is based on an award-winning historical biography by Nathaniel Philbrick. The film tells the true story of the Essex, a whaling ship that sunk after being attacked by a whale who, let’s face it, had every reason to be pissed off at the boat’s crew. The disaster’s legend grew further after inspiring Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. After the wreck, the ship’s crew — portrayed by Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker, and Howard’s muse du jour Chris Hemsworth — fends off starvation, squalls, dehydration, and other sticky situations in order to survive. Early trailers suggest that, if nothing else, audiences can expect some pretty impressive visual effects, especially if screened on IMAX. –Adriane Neuenschwander

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    Cinderella

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    Release date: March 13th via Walt Disney Studios

    The Cinderella story may only be rivaled by Peter Pan in terms of the number of adaptations it has produced. Besides numerous ballets, operas, and a popular Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, the ubiquitous French fairy tale has a lengthy cinematic history, from Georges Méliès’ groundbreaking 1899 silent film to Walt Disney’s 1950 animated classic to the cheeky, modern twists of Ever After and A Cinderella Story. But the newest version, a color-saturated, live-action fantasy film directed by Kenneth Branagh (perhaps best known for his equally lush rendering of Hamlet) and starring Burton-blonde newcomer Lily James as “Ella,” appears to be both a return to form and a revitalization of it. With Disney again at the helm, Cinderella boasts the visual grandeur of last year’s Maleficent and an intriguing cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother, Richard Madden (aka Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) as the blue-eyed Prince, and Cate Blanchett looking icily perfect as Ella’s wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. –Leah Pickett

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    The Gunman

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    Release date: March 20th via Open Road Films

    Sean Penn wakes up atop of Charlize Theron, combusting with newfound testosterone that he just can’t expunge through hissy fits or blubbering monologues. He’s just about to put his boner through a wall when he gets a call from Liam Neeson. “O’Seaney, It’s yer ol’ pal Liam. My shamrock was shakin’, so I guess the force has finally awakened in you. Roll with it, man. It’ll change your life. Strangers will stop calling you ‘Sam’ and ‘Milk’ the same way nobody calls me ‘Schindler’ anymore.” And then Neeson sends Penn a care package containing the director of Taken, a script called The Gunman, a cast of ringers (Elba, Bardeem, Winstone), and a totally Neeson role of a man with a gun who has to fight other men with guns after his wife gets kidnapped and punch/kick/bang/vroom. Here’s hoping it’s good, because stunt doubles with Marlboro-tanned mugs don’t get enough work these days. –Roy Ivy

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    Get Hard

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    Release date: March 27th via Warner Bros. Pictures

    So Will Ferrell’s a millionaire prick who gets busted for fraud and is gonna go to jail for 10 years. He’s too soft for prison life, so he enlists Kevin Hart to get him hard before he’s in the pokey. Hart’s never actually been to prison (Ferrell just assumes it), but he takes on the prison-coaching role for money, and for the joy of torturing the rich prick. There’s a great chance this is gonna suck, like an overextended riff on the “we bad” scene from Stir Crazy. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because there’s enough talent on board to make this great. Sure, with this and The Wedding Ringer, 2015 is top-heavy with movies where Kevin Hart helps the hapless white guy. And Will Ferrell’s shtick has certainly worn thin. But I’m hoping writer/director Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) and co-writers Ian Roberts and Jay Martel (Key and Peele) rise above what’s bound to be endless race and prison rapes jokes. –Roy Ivy

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    While We’re Young

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    Release date: March 27th via A24 Films

    One day, Noah Baumbach will be recognized for capturing the often irrational, frequently ridiculous, totally histrionic angst of the millennials like few other filmmakers of our time. His last feature, Frances Ha, was an affecting chronicle of a sharp young woman drifting with vague aims through cities and her own life. Now, with While We’re Young, Baumbach looks to be hitting on something that’s going to ring all too true for a lot of viewers: that moment when the next generation down inherits the responsibility of determining what constitutes “cool” in life. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a couple who befriends the trendy young hipsters next door (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), only to realize that not everything is ahead of them like it once was. Imagine Neighbors if it wanted to sneakily tear your heart out. –Dominick Mayer

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    White God

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    Release date: March 27th via Magnolia Pictures

    When this Hungarian film screened at Cannes last year, it garnered two awards: the Prix Un Certain Regard and the Palm Dog, which is an actual prize given to the year’s best canine performer. Of course, since dogs outnumber human actors in White God about 10:1, this latter honor was almost a gimme. Regardless, all the awards and hype helped director Kornél Mundruczó get wide distribution for his film, including an American release in 2015 courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. The story is simple: After a stiff tax is levied on any citizen who owns a non-purebred dog, the country’s poor begin dumping their mutts in shelters. Peeved about their mistreatment, the dogs break out and rise up against their human oppressors. Even with that two-sentence synopsis, it’s clear that this clever little parable has a lot to say about race and class — all disguised in an adorable four-legged package. –Adriane Neuenschwander

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    Furious 7

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    Release date: April 3rd via Universal Pictures

    Fast Five was a revelation, the moment when a ho-hum, bro’d-out racing franchise somehow turned into America’s most reliably jaw-dropping American action series. Whether you credit director Justin Lin — who found his groove on Fast Five after directing Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious — or The Rock, a franchise saver if there ever was one, you can’t deny the thick trail of motor oil separating the films before Five with everything after. Lin topped himself with Fast & Furious 6, capping it with a post-credits sequence that escalated anticipation for the next entry to a fever pitch. But then we lost Justin Lin to other projects and, most tragically, lost Paul Walker entirely. The Conjuring director James Wan took over for Lin (ehhhh…), and Walker’s brothers stepped in to help complete his scenes, making for an altogether different sort of anticipation, one laced with traces of melancholy. Still, Furious 7 looks every bit as ludicrous as the original (pun intended), with Jason Statham, The Rock flexing his way out of an arm brace, and cars plummeting from planes. Start your engines. –Randall Colburn

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    Ex Machina

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    Release date: April 10th via A24 Films

    The trailer for the new sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland (screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine) and produced by rising indie production house A24, recalls films like Minority Report and A.I. in both its futuristic imagery and its throbbing undercurrent of paranoia. Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young programmer selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence. Caleb is invited to live in the secluded mountain home of the company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac, channeling David Krumholtz in bearded savant mode), and to visit with Nathan’s stunning A.I. creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), and evaluate her human qualities. As a female bot, does Ava’s intelligence extend to emotional manipulation? Is she using seduction to her advantage? Is she an “ex-machine” to be feared, or should we be more disturbed by her creator, whom she warns Caleb not to trust? If all of these questions are to be explored, particularly in regards to gender dynamics and personhood, then Ex Machina is sure to leave an unsettling mark. –Leah Pickett

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    Avengers: Age of Ultron

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    Release date: May 1st via Walt Disney Studios

    If you’re bothering to read a film site on the Internet, odds are you’re at least a little bit excited about Avengers: Age of Ultron. The legend writes itself: Marvel attempts to restart the public’s yen for superhero movies, releases one of the all-time greats in Iron Man to start, and spends the next four years building an untouchable empire, all leading up to the record-shattering The Avengers in 2012. Now, Cap and Thor and Iron Man and Black Widow and Hawkeye and Hulk have to take on a nigh-unkillable robot, voiced by James Spader, an inspired casting choice for a malevolent AI if ever there was one. This is a sequel that even people who don’t watch movies in theaters anymore will be turning out for on opening day. Things will go boom, one-liners will be uttered, and those who can cast aside their superhero movie burnout for a few hours will probably have a blast. –Dominick Mayer

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    Mad Max: Fury Road

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    Release date: May 15th via Warner Bros. Pictures

    Normally, I scoff at word of any replacement, remake, or reboot. However, I feel only joy when it comes to news of the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy has replaced Mel Gibson as “Mad” Max Rockatansky, and I have absolutely no problems with this whatsoever. Rumor has it the story takes place sometime between the original Mad Max and The Road Warrior (a.k.a. Mad Max 2 if you aren’t American), making it a non-remake nor a reboot but a prequel. But wait, I’ve come to loathe the word “prequel,” so why do I have so much faith in a franchise whose last entry was the a’ight Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome back in 1985? First: George Miller, writer/director of the original trilogy, has returned. Second: This answer he gave to The Los Angeles Times last summer: “There are moments of green screen mainly for some landscape, but this is not a green screen movie.” Ticket purchased. –Justin Gerber

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    Tomorrowland

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    Release date: May 22nd via Walt Disney Studios

    Brad Bird has been at it for a while despite a filmography with only four movies to his credit. But what a quartet! The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol range from “very good” to “great. What does the director have up his sleeve for his second live-action effort? We know that Disney’s Tomorrowland stars George Clooney and Britt Robertson, who just last year escaped from the clutches of the awful CBS series Under the Dome. In the teaser trailer, Robertson’s character picks up a pin and is transported to … Tomorrowland? Will they take a ride on the WEDWay PeopleMover? The possibilities are endless. The cast also includes the underused Kathryn Hahn, the underrated Judy Greer, and the underwhelming Tim McGraw, along with a script co-written by … yikes … Damon Lindelof. Hype softened for the moment. Just keep saying “Superman” and (hopefully) everything will be fine. –Justin Gerber

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    Aloha

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    Release date: May 29th via Columbia Pictures

    Cameron Crowe’s much-delayed followup to 2011’s We Bought a Zoo still doesn’t have a title, but Sony’s Amy Pascal has a good one: “Ridiculous.” Set in Hawaii, the action-adventure romantic comedy consists of a talking computer, some lost treasure, and a love story between Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone. It’s Crowe boxing up the drama and rolling up his sleeves for some good ol’ clean fun, and to his credit, he’s managed to piece together a wild cast of A-listers like Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride. While it risks being an on-screen vacay for those involved (and a celluloid hiccup for those who watch), there’s something curiously vintage about its spirited premise. After all, when was the last time audiences could laugh and chew on popcorn at a quirky production like this? Romancing the Stone? Joe Versus the Volcano? Six Days Seven Nights? Today’s couples are due for another adventure. –Michael Roffman


    Entourage

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    Release date: June 5th via Warner Bros. Pictures

    Show of hands: Who else read those embarrassing leaked e-mails between Sony studio execs and thought, This would make for a great episode of Entourage? Although I don’t think many people besides Entourage superfans were exactly clamoring for a silver screen adaptation of the 2004-2011 HBO series (we saw what they did to Sex and the City), the Entourage film could not be coming in the wake of a more perfect storm. And hey, the whole gang is back — Vincent (Adrian Grenier), Eric (Kevin Connolly), Drama (Kevin Dillon), Turtle (Jerry Ferrera), and irascible agent-turned-movie producer Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), plus recurring characters Billy (Rhys Coiro), Scott (Scott Caan), Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Dana (Constance Zimmer), Lloyd (Rex Lee), and Melissa (Perrey Reeves) — along with a couple of new players (the father-son team of Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment as Texas billionaire financiers) and a slew of cameos from the likes of Liam Neeson, Tom Brady, Kid Cudi, and producer Mark Wahlberg. –Leah Pickett

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    Jurassic World

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    Release date: June 12th via Universal Pictures

    Some of the stuff looks cool (shark-chompin’ and GMO-dinos!). Much of it looks like the same ol’, same ol’. The plot is meh: evil corporation forces waning park to create new dinos, and it goes bad because man just never stops trying to play God! Every line of dialogue in the trailer is a clunker, and Chris Pratt looks silly playing stoic. Hopefully, that lackluster teaser trailer is truly just teasing us, and Jurassic World is actually filled with wonder and terror. It has a good chance with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. He’s an odd choice for this big-ass reboot, having helmed the sweet, lo-fi time-travel romance Safety Not Guaranteed. That’s like handing the Fast and Furious franchise to the Duplass bros. But maybe he’ll teach old dinos new tricks in the same way he made time travel seem novel again. No matter how it turns out, it’s gonna bank big. Pratt’s still on a roll, people still have nostalgia for Jurassic shit, and it’s critic proof. I’m just happy B.D. Wong is in it and hope he isn’t eaten on a toilet. –Roy Ivy

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    Inside Out

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    Release date: June 19th via Walt Disney Studios

    It’s been a weird few years for Pixar. Ever since their incredible 2007-2010 run, which yielded two all-time animated gems (Ratatouille and WALL-E), followed by two of the three animated Best Picture nominees ever (Up and Toy Story 3), the company has gone in a weird direction. Cars 2 was generally agreed upon as the worst Pixar film to date, and Monsters University didn’t exactly set the world on fire. But now, with Inside Out, the beloved company looks to reclaim some of their innovative magic. Told from the perspective of a young girl in emotional turmoil, Inside Out personifies each of the voices in her head, her sadness and joy and anger. From the sound of it, this could be one of those Pixar movies that hits parents a lot harder than the kids they bring to the movies. –Dominick Mayer

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