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Movie Reviews

Preview of 2015 films and best 2014 films

Hollywood will be rolling out the spectacles, like Jupiter Ascending due out in February. photo: © village roadshow pictures

A new year can mean rebirth and renewal, although in today’s movie business, those words tend to actually mean resuscitation, regeneration, and retread. The concept of “new” is apparently mutable in Hollywood, as prequels, sequels, and remakes tend to get the studio green light over untested original content. If there were a way that the decision makers in the entertainment sector were compelled to make New Year’s resolutions, I’d hope they would take more chances, foster previously unheard voices, and vow to go beyond the need for proof-of-concept over fresh and exciting ideas. But that’s wishful thinking.

Unconvinced? In January, we’ll see The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death and Taken 3; in February, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 will show up; in March, expect The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Insurgent (the second movie based on the Divergent books), and Disney’s live action version of Cinderella. April means the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious series, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and on and on and on and on into the year with a new Avengers film in May, followed by Mad Max: Fury Road (a return to a familiar post-apocalyptic world), Pitch Perfect 2, ad nauseam.

All that aside, here is a preview of some significant or promising feature films on the horizon for 2015. In selecting the titles to tout, I kept it to the first third of the year. Movies are postponed, and release dates change. And keep in mind that sometimes the most highly anticipated project will turn out to be a stiff.

2015 CONTENDERS

The earlier part of the year will see wide release for a few highly regarded Oscar contenders that received awards-qualifying runs in Los Angeles and/or New York in December to assure 2014 eligibility. They include Selma (Jan. 9), the stirring docudrama concerning Martin Luther King’s conflict-fraught leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, fueled by a vivid, multifaceted performance by David Oyelowo as King; American Sniper (Jan. 16), director Clint Eastwood’s tense evocation of the struggles and dangers faced by a real-life Navy SEAL marksman in a Middle Eastern war zone and how it impacts his life back home; and Mommy (Jan. 23), the painfully intimate story of a heedless, self-centered single mother’s dysfunctional relationship with her emotionally stunted, willfully destructive teenage son from French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan.

STAR POWER

Familiar screen stars — rising, falling, and everywhere in-between — will be well-represented (for better or worse) by the premieres of the aforementioned Taken 3 (Jan. 9), with Liam Neeson reprising his vengeful black-ops character in another rescue/revenge mission; Vice (Jan. 16), a sci-fi action film featuring Bruce Willis in a lead role; The Boy Next Door (Jan. 23), a psychological thriller headlined by Jennifer Lopez; Mortdecai (Jan. 23), an action comedy with an impressive cast led by Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, and Gwyneth Paltrow; Black or White (Jan. 30), a drama of racial and familial conflict anchored by Kevin Costner; Seventh Son (Feb. 6), a fantastical, mystical adventure that includes turns by Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges; Focus (Feb.27), a mix of romance and criminal chicanery revolving around a con artist played by Will Smith; and Serena (March 27), reteaming Silver Linings Playbook leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in a turbulent period drama of empire building that gets started in the late 1920s.

AUTEURS

Big-name directors (in addition to Eastwood) are on the docket as well with Michael Mann’s Blackhat (Jan. 16), an international cyber-crime caper flick; Barry Levinson’s The Humbling (Jan. 23), based on a Philip Roth novel about an aging actor (Al Pacino) facing a personal crisis; David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (Feb. 27), a dark-hued ensemble drama set in Los Angeles with John Cusack and Julianne Moore among the players; Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea (March 13), a fact-based oceanic adventure about an imperiled whaling ship in 1820; and Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (March 13), the classic fairy-tale once again, given a new coat of paint and some sure-to-be-palpable bad vibes courtesy of Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother.

FREAKY AND FUN

And those looking for the amazing and otherworldly can anticipate Jupiter Ascending (Feb. 6), an intergalactic odyssey with Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, and Eddie Redmayne, created by Andy and Lana Wachowski of The Matrix fame; Kingsman: The Secret Service (Feb. 13), from director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kickass), an over-the-top romp into the world of espionage starring Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, and Colin Firth, based on the comic book series about a street kid recruited to be a superspy by a global peacekeeping agency; Chappie (March 6), a science-fictional look at the growth and development of a sentient robot with free will and emotions, directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame, with Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver; Goosebumps (April 15), a family-friendly metatextual diversion inspired by the monster-populated kid-oriented book series by author R. L. Stine, with Jack Black as a fictional version of Stine; The Age of Adaline (April 24), with Blake Lively and Harrison Ford in the strange and possibly poignant tale of a woman who appears a youthful 29 years old for almost eight decades.

Yes, there will be animated romps, unexpectedly accomplished indie features, stunning foreign-language offerings, must-see documentaries, and best-seller adaptations (Fifty Shades of Grey is on the way) — although there’s no room to list all of them here. When it comes down to it, you pays your money, and you takes your choice.

MICHAEL’S FINE FIFTEEN FILMS OF 2014

(listed in alphabetical order)

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Big Eyes
  • Big Hero 6
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Citizenfour
  • Convergence
  • Foxcatcher
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Mommy
  • Nightcrawler
  • Selma
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Two Faces of January
  • Whiplash
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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's David Feldman Show and Thom Hartmann Show and on Michael Snyder's Culture Blast, available online at GABroadcaster.com and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster

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