As we enter into the Australian Summer and 2015 cinemas are decked out with a mix of family films for the holidays and all of the Oscar hopefuls, launching later than the U.S so that distributors can take advantage of the marketing opportunity. Quite often, it is the time for some of the best cinema of the year. Here are twelve films to keep an out for this Summer.
The Congress (Dec 4) – More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. Ari Folman’s feature follow up to Waltz With Bashir looks trippy and visually splendid, and I have been eagerly awaiting it since it started on the festival circuit at Cannes 2013.
Big Hero 6 (Dec 26) – With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 is an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius – thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion – a robot named Baymax – and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. There was a giddying sense of wonder to this film. Disney has brought a Marvel-y influence to the story of a boy dealing with loss and his loveable robot pal, and a visually inventive fusion world.
The Imitation Game (Jan 1) – Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts, which the country deemed illegal. The Imitation Game has been an Oscar favourite ever since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the audience award. Director Mortem Tyldum’s last film Headhunters was a cracking dark comedy/thriller and Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are being widely praised for their roles.
Birdman (Jan 15) – A black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. I was in as soon as I discovered that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) was helming the ambitious production, but Emmanuel Lubezki’s unbroken-shot premise, and a showcase for the near-forgotten talents of Keaton is very exciting indeed.
Unbroken (Jan 15) – Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s enormously popular book, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit. The pedigree is powerful – Roger Deakins is the DOP, and the screenplay was re-written by the Coen Bros. Plus Jack O’Connell is responsible for one of the year’s best performances in prison drama Starred Up so there is no doubt he can lead this.
American Sniper (Jan 22) – Directed by Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread; he earns the nickname “Legend.” Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq. But upon returning home, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. Eastwood hasn’t made a decent film for a while, but I am optimistic about this one. With Cooper in the lead – he has been terrific recently – there is a lot of potential here.
Foxcatcher (Jan 29) – A psychological drama directed by Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. It tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who sees a way out from the shadow of his more celebrated wrestling brother Dave (Ruffalo) and a life of poverty when he is summoned by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carell) to move onto his estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Desperate to gain the respect of his disapproving mother, du Pont begins “coaching” a world-class athletic team and, in the process, lures Mark into dangerous habits that break his confidence and drive him into a self-destructive spiral. Based on actual events, Foxcatcher is a gripping and profoundly American story of fragile men who pinned their hopes for love and redemption on a desperate and tragic obsession for greatness. There is so much one can praise about this film, but I’ll stick with the performances, which are the best of their respective careers.
Still Alice (Jan 29) – Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family find their bonds thoroughly tested. Her struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Moore is stunning (but so is Alec Baldwin) in this authentic and sensitive study of a debilitating illness and how Alice’s mental decline affects not just herself, but her family around her.
Inherent Vice (Feb 5) – The seventh feature from Paul Thomas Anderson and the first ever film adaption of a Thomas Pynchon novel. Private eye Doc Sportello’s (Joaquin Phoenix) ex-girlfriend suddenly shows up out of nowhere with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic `60s and paranoia is running the day and a wild cast of characters cross Doc’s path including surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang. I am a BIG fan of PTA’s films and he has reunited with Phoenix (The Master). Pynchon’s novel is so rich and unruly full of crazy characters – it is perfect for Anderson.
Selma (Feb 5) is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. This is going to be a big deal, and the first reports are enormously positive. I love the fact that it is covering a three month period of Martin Luther King’s legacy, and isn’t a life-spanning biopic. If Ava DuVernay is nominated for Best Director she will become the first black woman ever to be.
Clouds of Sils Maria (Feb 26) – Stars Juliette Binoche as Maria, a celebrated actress who is traveling with her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to accept a lifetime achievement award for the playwright and director who launched her career. On the way, they learn that the celebrated artist has passed away. At the gala, a talented young director offers Maria the chance to star in a revival of the play that made her famous, this time portraying the part of the older woman that the young woman in the play seduces and destroys. Maria tentatively accepts, and as she attempts to find her way into the other character, she learns more about her new young co-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), a talented but troubled teen the tabloids have made a fixture for her tantrums and bad behavior. This is a very pretty, very Meta and very bonkers look at performance as role (Stewart’s role is blurred every which way), textual interpretation influenced by age (and how measures of age in the business have changed) and 21st Century ‘celebrity’, and the opposition of personal privacy vs. public openness. All three women excel.
A Most Violent Year (Feb 26) – Set during the winter of 1981 – statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history – A Most Violent Year is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. If I wasn’t won over by J. C Chandor in Margin Call I certainly was by the incredible All is Lost. Add in two of the in-form actors of the moment in Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain and there is no way you should miss this.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
By Andrew Buckle