Category Archives: Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2019 (so far)

We’re at the mid-point of the year (give or take a couple weeks…) and now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the standout films of 2019 so far.

I’ve heard some hot takes about this not being a great year for film (although I’m pretty sure that’s a semi-common opinion EVERY year) but I have to disagree. I’ve seen more movies in the first half of 2019 that I love than I typically do in the first six months of the year. And that includes one that’s planted firmly in best-of-the-decade territory. But more on that in a minute.

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10. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé

Am I a Beyoncé stan? No, actually. With the exception of the odd single (“Crazy in Love”, namely), I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to her career, admiring her ambition more than flat-out loving her music. But with Homecoming, Beyoncé (and the large team of people who help to make “Beyoncé” happen) have carefully crafted a testament to her significance as an artist. Documenting the now-famous “Beychella” set from Coachella 2018 and the months of preparation that went into it, the film is fascinating both as a concert doc and as a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to pull off a performance of that scale. And yes, it is a carefully curated (and, if anything, a bit too guarded) look at Beyoncé the person. No doubt this is skewed to the side of things Beyoncé wants her fans to see, but it’s a compelling look nonetheless. You don’t need to be a fan to find the whole 2-hour performance exhilarating.

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9. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

This one was a big surprise, coming from first-time director Henry Dunham. A modestly-scaled, slow-burning thriller, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek follows a small-town militia that discovers one of their own is responsible for a recent mass shooting at a police funeral. James Badge Dale shines in a rare lead role, playing an ex-cop member of the militia who takes matters into his own hands to find the perpetrator. On the whole, it’s a well-paced, beautifully shot thriller that makes the most of its single-location structure. An under-the-radar gem worth seeking out.

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8. Us

Jordan Peele had quite a task set out for himself in attempting to follow up the massive success of his directorial debut, Get Out. He proved to be up to the task with Us. Everyone here is perfectly cast (more of Winston Duke in everything, please) and Peele’s sharp writing finds the perfect balance of genuine thrills and thoughtful social commentary. This is one that stuck with me more than I was expecting, its message and implications shifting in my mind for days after watching. I can’t wait to see what Peele has in store for audiences next.

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7. The Last Black Man in San Francisco 

Another directorial debut, this time from Bay Area native Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was made in close collaboration with his long-time close friend, Jimmie Fails. And the intimate working relationship shows in excellent ways. Fails (the star and co-writer) based this gentrification story closely on some of his own experiences growing up, and the personal touch and raw emotion behind it shows. This is not a perfect film, but its flaws can largely be overlooked due to the specificity and creativity it exudes. This is the sort of bold, clear vision we need more people to approach filmmaking with.

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6. Giant Little Ones

This year has seen a spate of acclaimed Canadian coming-of-age indies. To name a few: Genesis, The Fireflies are Gone, Firecrackers, and Roads in February. (Is this the Xavier Dolan effect?) And admittedly… I haven’t seen any of those others. But I did really like this one, which tells the story of teenage Franky (played by an excellent Josh Wiggins) who is struggling with his sexuality, a complicated family situation, and the harsh social politics of high school. In some ways, it’s the usual stuff we’ve seen before, yet writer/director Keith Behrman allows for a remarkable and rare ambiguity to exist around Franky’s sexuality. It’s a film less concerned with labels than capturing what it feels like to live in the liminal space around them.

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5. Climax

This was my first foray into Gaspar Noe’s work, and from what I understand this is a comparatively “restrained” entry in his filmography. Which is…wild. Telling the story of a party gone VERY wrong, this is at many points a horrifying and bizarre film. But Noe seems like someone who delights in his own gratuitous decisions, and that boldness unexpectedly pays off here. This colourful, feverish horror vision is also somehow beautiful. And its first act (before shit really hits the fan and when dance sequences abound) is maybe the strongest stretch of filmmaking I’ve seen all year

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4. Apollo 11

I can sometimes find documentaries constructed solely from archival footage a bit dull, but Apollo 11 made me reconsider that stance. Though it’s depicting an extremely well-known historical event, the footage here is so vibrant – and so expertly edited – that it almost feels like something that is being seen for the first time. Truly, the look of the film (the clarity, the colours, the film grain) are so stunning that it’s worth witnessing just for that. But the narrative, too, is compelling, providing insight and realism to an achievement that is often heavily romanticized. Even if you think all there is to know about the moon landing, don’t miss Apollo 11.

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3. Rocketman

I had tolerance for one more musical biopic this year, and I’m certainly glad I made the time for Rocketman. Led by a truly astonishing performance from Taron Egerton (the moment where he bursts onto the screen to take the reins in the middle of “Saturday Night’s Alright” is among the year’s most exhilarating), the film takes a more creative approach than your usual rock biopic, embracing the decadence and flair of Sir Elton himself. The musical numbers are an utter delight, and while not EVERYTHING else in between them works quite as well, the film’s focus on emotion and introspection help to make it unusually impactful.

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2. Booksmart

Smart-mouthed, hilarious, and sweet, Booksmart is everything I want a female coming-of-age comedy to be. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are a joy to watch and totally believable as best friends. And while you’ve likely seen the “one crazy night” formula in teen movies before, I’ve rarely seen it delivered with so much wit and genuine heart. This is one that I can’t wait to watch again.

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1. Mouthpiece

This list is full of movies that I found moving and creative, yet none were quite so bold as Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece, an adaptation of the 2015 Canadian play co-written by the film’s two stars, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. The film follows Cassie, played by… both Notbakken and Sadava, and often at the same time. That dual performance could have been an awful gimmick, but instead it feels perfectly balanced, poetic, and (somehow) subtle. The performances are lovely and veteran director Rozema creates a perfect, steady balance to the story’s delightfully rabble-rousing energy. A true “I laughed, I cried” film through and through, and definitely the best film I’ve seen (so far) this year.

10 Films Directed By Women Coming Out in April 2019

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While there’s obviously still a lot of work to be done in terms of diverse representation in filmmaking I do find it encouraging, when looking at the upcoming film releases for April, to see how many are directed by women. Even five years ago, I highly doubt there were ever 10 female-directed films in total coming out in a month, let alone 10 that look great.

Here are some suggestions for what to look forward to next month.

High Life (April 5)
It would feel wrong to start this list with any other movie when April features the release of a new film from French master Claire Denis. High Life marks Denis’ first filmmaking foray into the English language, and stars Robert Pattinson as an astronaut (!) who finds himself in a rather unorthodox situation out in space. The somewhat befuddled (but mostly positive) response from last fall’s festival circuit only makes me more excited.

Edge of the Knife (SGaawaay K’uuna) (April 5)
Co-directed by Helen Haig-Brown and Gwaai Edenshaw, Edge of the Knife (SGaawaay K’uuna) is the first film made solely in the Haida language. (Haida is an endangered language spoken by the Haida people who live in Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia in Canada.) It tells the story of a Haida man wracked with guilt who begins a supernatural transformation, and it takes inspiration from traditional Haida folklore.

It’s been wonderful to see attention drawn to Edge of the Knife here in Canada, as art made by and about Indigenous people is often vastly underrepresented. I’m not sure what sort of release it will get internationally, but Edge of the Knife opens in Toronto on April 5.

The Wind (April 5)
All I needed to read was the first part of The Wind’s description on Letterboxd: “A supernatural thriller set in the Western frontier of the late 1800’s”. It’s directed by first-timer Emma Tammi, and based solely on its promotion, it’s given me vibes akin to The Keeping Room and Brimstone. That said, female-directed horror films about women often have a very unique feel, and I’m certainly intrigued to see what Tammi has crafted.

Unicorn Store (April 5)
Though Unicorn Store started playing festivals in 2017, I suppose Netflix has picked a strategic time to release this directorial debut from Brie Larson (who also stars in the film). Initial response was a bit mixed, with some critics dismissing the film as too cutesy for its own good. But Larson has proven to be savvy and bold in her role choices as an actress, so it’ll be interesting to see how that will translate for her behind the camera as well.

Little (April 12)
Starring Issa Rae and Reginal Hall, Little looks to follow a long tradition of body swap/age-change comedies like Big, 13 Going on 30, etc. This one following Jordan (Hall), a stressed-out adult who transforms back into her younger self (played by Black-ish’s Marsai Martin). With any luck, it’ll be just the sort of vehicle its leads deserve.

Girls of the Sun (April 12)
Girls of the Sun, from director Eva Husson, played as part of the Official Competition at Cannes last year and finally makes its way to North American theatres this April. Following an all-female Kurdish battalion defending their town from extremists, it looks to be a powerful and harrowing tale of female resistance.

Rafiki (April 19)
Having undergone an extensive battle in her home country of Kenya (where officials at first banned Rafiki for its lesbian content, but ultimately reversed the decision), director Wanuri Kahiu finally gets the opportunity to bring Rafiki to North America in April. It was a favourite on the festival circuit last year and looks to be a must-watch on all fronts.

Fast Color (April 19)
I adored Julia Hart’s debut feature Miss Stevens, and she now returns with what looks to be a low-key sci-fi indie. Starring the wonderful Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Fast Color is about a woman who possesses special powers. This one looks great, though in fairness, I’d probably be jazzed for Hart’s next film no matter what it was. 

Little Woods (April 19)
Starring the power pairing of Tessa Thompson and Lily James, Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods earned strong notices out of last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It tells the story of two working-class sisters who’ve taken up illegal practices to earn a living. Trying to leave it all behind them, they find it more difficult than expected to get back on the straight and narrow.

Someone Great (April 19)
Also coming straight to Netflix this month is Someone Great, an ensemble lady-led comedy starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. Coupled with a supporting cast that includes Lakeith Stanfield and Rosario Dawson, there’s certainly going to be a lot of talent on display, if nothing else. This sort of comedy doesn’t always hit, but when it does, you can get something great like Bridesmaids.

My Top 10 Films of 2018

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10. Andy Irons: Kissed By God

Don’t let the “sports doc” packaging fool you – this is much more than a collection of cool surfing shots (though there are plenty of those to be found, too). Instead, Andy Irons: Kissed By God tells the wrenching personal story of Andy Irons, a world champion surfer who died in 2010 at the age of 32. No prior surfing interest is necessary (I’d never heard of Irons before), as the film’s main focus is on Irons’ battle with mental illness, addiction, and family tensions. It’s extremely difficult content told in a way that feels digestible, but it also deftly avoids over-simplifying or exploiting. Powerful, straightforward documentary storytelling at its finest.

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9. Blindspotting

As 2018 unfolded, it became clear that one of the major themes of the year in film was a socially-minded focus on racial and class inequality. And perhaps no film contended with those vast themes in a more freewheeling, vibrant way than Blindspotting. Considering the gravity of some of its subject matter, this tale of two Oakland, California friends (played by co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) is an extremely funny and enjoyable film. (Though it’s certainly not without its intense moments.) It’s a faithful ode to Oakland, and an important film that I truly believe almost anyone could enjoy.

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8. Annihilation

Alex Garland followed up his promising directorial debut (2014’s Ex Machina) with this year’s philosophically intriguing and visually dazzling Annihilation. Fleshing out Jeff VanderMeer just-okay sci-fi novel of the same name, Annihilation follows an all-female expedition heading into an unusually vegetated and almost certainly dangerous quarantined zone. Things don’t go well. But as a viewer, this strange, heavy film was totally engrossing. Garland expertly blends beauty with horror in his storytelling, subtly expounding on some of the more difficult sides of human nature along the way.

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7. Eighth Grade

If there was one film this year that warmed my heart, it was Eighth Grade. Which is not to say that it’s treacly or entirely feel-good by any means. But writer/director Bo Burnham has crafted his debut film which such warmth that I found it virtually impossible not to fall for it. And were there three more likeable performances this year than Elsie Fisher (Kayla), Josh Hamilton (Kayla’s dad), and Jake Ryan (the nuggets kid)? I think not.

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6. BlacKkKlansman

Truthfully, my #6-2 rankings are pretty interchangeable, since I adored all of them. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman took a rightfully impassioned and forthright perspective on racism in America, drawing very clear parallels to the bigotry and hate that still thrive today. It’s full of style (as you would expect from Lee), but also a propulsive story and genuine tension that made the 2.25 hour runtime breeze by. BlacKkKlansman is masterfully constructed and far more entertaining than anything about this subject matter has a right to be.

The Rider

5. The Rider

Chloe Zhao’s semi-biographical sophomore feature tells the story of Brady (played, appropriately, by Brady Jandreau), a seriously injured rodeo cowboy who must now find new meaning in his once hyper-focused life. It is a quiet and quietly sad film, but Zhao’s strong sense of humanity comes through her highly observant camera, lending The Rider some qualified uplift. Jandreau, for his part, makes a highly compelling and charismatic lead, no doubt drawing from his parallel life experience. The sum of these unusual parts is a subtle but impactful film that has definitely stuck with me during the many months since I first saw it.

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4. Transit

What if Waiting for Godot was a thriller? That’s the question that came to mind for me while watching Christian Petzold’s German thriller about a non-specific invasion of Europe. Franz Rogowski plays Georg, a man stuck in France and desperate to find safe passage to North America, but without the means or paperwork to do so. Watching the characters in Transit make mostly fruitless attempts to flee definitely brings on the existential dread and could have become tedious, yet Petzold’s assured direction instead ensures that the film never stops feeling tense.

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3. Recovery Boys

One of the best Netflix-released movies of the year was one that unfortunately got almost no attention. Following her excellent Oscar-nominated short, 2017’s Heroin(e), documentarian Elaine McMillion Sheldon made the leap to the feature-length format but stuck with similar subject matter with Recovery Boys. The film spans roughly a year in the life of four young opioid addicts in West Virginia who find themselves at Jacob’s Ladder, a long-term farming-based rehab. Sheldon doesn’t use “talking head” interviews in her filmmaking, instead capturing moments and reactions as they happen, which makes for a very human and personal approach to subject matter that can often be sensationalized. In both Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, I loved McMillion’s empathetic filmmaking perspective — I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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2. First Reformed

First Reformed may be the film I thought about the most this year. Because while Paul Schraeder’s latest, about pastor beginning to heavily question his faith, may be cynical (he did write Taxi Driver, after all), it’s definitely not short on ideas. Combine that with artistry, atmosphere, and fantastic performances and you definitely have one of the most memorable entries of the year. It’s a movie that is difficult to describe in words, but once you see it for yourself, you can’t get it out of your mind.

Roma

1. Roma

There has been so much praise for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma that it may start to sound like hyperbole, but in this case it’s safe to believe the hype. Primarily focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young maid working for a family in Mexico in the 1970s, Roma tells its deeply personal story in ways that are both intimate and grand. With stunning black and white cinematography, Cuaron creates a whole film’s worth of frame-worthy images. Yet, he also never forgets about the human element of the story. And thanks also to Aparicio’s wonderful first-time performance, the emotional stakes of this small story are sky high. Captivating from the opening long take to its final moments, Roma is not only the biggest cinematic achievement of 2018, but a film I suspect we’ll be talking about for many years to come. 

Honourable Mentions: Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Widows, Green Book, Kodachrome, A Star is Born, Burning, First Man, Support the Girls

10 Modern Horror Movies for People Who Hate Horror Movies

Not everyone likes horror films, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re wimpy or a film snob (y’know, unless you are), and maybe it’s just not your thing. But like any genre, there’s enough diversity that you can probably still find something you like, so long as you’re looking in the right place.

So, I’ve assembled a list of 10 films that I’d recommend to people who don’t typically like horror films. Most of these are films that really value character development, which is something that I need in order to get invested in a horror film. They’re artfully made while still being thrilling and suspenseful, and who knows? Maybe they’ll work for you as an entry point into the genre.

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The Mist (2007)

The horror genre is full of Stephen King adaptations, but if The Shining or It don’t appeal, try The Mist, an adaptation of a 1984 King novella. The film is about a small town that becomes enveloped by a thick, monster-filled mist (the worst kind!) and the group of survivors who get trapped inside a grocery store and must fight off the encroaching threat from outside. Written and directed by Frank Darabont, The Mist is as much about the interpersonal dynamics going on inside the store as it is about monsters destroying everything in their path, and the film is all the stronger for it. Darabont perfectly combines B-movie camp with more thoughtful filmmaking here, and viewers who appreciate a helping of character development alongside their gory kills (which The Mist also offers, though not in completely gratuitous quantity) will likely appreciate this eerie sci-fi gem.

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Funny Games (1997)

Sometimes the scariest thing of all doesn’t come in the form of alien invasions or werewolves, but in learning exactly what other human beings are capable of. And boy, does Michael Haneke dive headfirst into that concept with Funny Games. The film follows a family that get visited at their vacation home by two seemingly polite young men who invite themselves in and proceed to subject the family to a string of sadistic “games” just because they can. And as you can probably guess, Funny Games is pretty disturbing. However, Haneke doesn’t go overboard on the gore, keeping the worst of the violence off-screen. Instead, he offers a deconstruction of the horror film genre that’s actually extremely thoughtful and clever. Haneke also directed a shot-for-shot English remake in 2007 that stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt, which (since it’s basically the same movie) is also quite good.

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Let the Right One In (2008)

This creepy, chilly Swedish vampire flick was a surprise crossover hit among critics and arthouse crowds in the United States, and with good reason. (It also inspired the 2010 English-language remake, Let Me In. And an upcoming TV reboot on TNT. But let’s not talk about either of those things.) Director Tomas Alfredson combined coming-of-age tropes with some quietly shocking vampire violence, and the result is something that feels unique and artful within the often repetitive horror genre.

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28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic zombie-outbreak thriller is just pretty much perfect from start to finish. It takes the hearty DNA of Night of the Living Dead and adapts it to the 21st century, creating a gritty sci-fi tale with a surprising emotional core. It’s career-best work for Cillian Murphy and as far as Boyle’s filmography goes, I’d put it right at the top of the list – yes, even above Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. If you’re squeamish, know that while the film doesn’t pull its punches, it also doesn’t go overboard with the gore. Instead it puts the focus on its characters, its social allegory, and its bleakly beautiful art direction.

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Frozen (2010)

Not being a huge horror fan myself (hence the creation of this list), I find that one horror subgenre that I’m uncharacteristically drawn to is “survival horror”. A lot of films can arguably fall under heading, but one that pretty much defines the label is 2010’s Frozen. (Insert your “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” jokes here.) The film follows three friends who, through an unfortunate string of human errors, find themselves trapped on a ski lift and must use their (sometimes really questionable) brainpower to try and survive. That’s it. And it’s actually really interesting. Granted it’s not perfect – the tropes are a little too plentiful and the dialogue could use some work – but at its heart, it’s a tightly constructed little one-location movie. I’m not sure if any of its three leads are actually good actors, but they sell the material, and I’ll applaud the guts of any horror filmmaker that makes their film without supernatural elements or, hell, even an antagonist.

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Near Dark (1987)

Vampires and Tangerine Dream! Yeah! Kathryn Bigelow’s first film has aged just the right amount in the nearly 30 years since its release. Though the film plays it straight, I didn’t find it particular “scary”, but it’s moody as heck and it has a nice sense of atmosphere that feels simultaneously very ‘80s and very ephemeral. It’s a good entry point for non-Twilight vampire films, and also a nice opportunity to glimpse what Bigelow was up to before she started winning Oscars.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods is a film that a lot of horror buffs love, but while it certainly rewards a thorough knowledge of the genre, I think it’s also quite accessible to horror neophytes. Everyone is familiar with at least some of the clichés that the film takes aim at, and its satirical nature helps to offset some of the “horror” that’s being presented on screen. It’s a bit scary and definitely a bit gory, but The Cabin in the Woods is mostly fun. It’s also so madcap that it deserves to be seen if for no other reason than to experience the wonderful, bizarre directions that Joss Whedon’s screenplay takes.

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The Awakening (2012)

A distinct, well-executed atmosphere can make a film. And The Awakening has atmosphere in spades. The film is set in the 1920s and follows a female ghost-hunter (played by Rebecca Hall) who is out to debunk rumours of a little boy who haunts an English boarding school. While The Awakening may not offer much that hasn’t already been explored in the “ghost story” genre, its story is engaging and its visual style is absolutely stunning. Hall, too, is fantastic, turning in the sort of confident, captivating performance that helps to elevate the film’s sometimes silly story. I will throw in a disclaimer that of all the films on the list, this might be the most standard “horror” film. So if you really can’t stand jump scares, maybe stay away (though for the most part here they’re executed well and don’t feel cheap, and the film also has the bonus of being light on gore).

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Dead Ringers (1988)

After his gross-out early days but before his union with Robert Pattinson, Cronenberg had the wise idea to cast Jeremy Irons in a dual role as creepy twins in this twisted psychological thriller. Being a Cronenberg film, it’s hard to really describe Dead Ringers, and it’s actually probably best to go in as blind as possible. This one might be a good option for those who maybe don’t like the classic horror tropes but like films with a creepy atmosphere. Because Dead Ringers fits the bill. Gynecology has never been scarier, and that’s saying a lot.

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The Invitation (2016)

Is this a horror film? Is it just a thriller? Doesn’t matter! The Invitation is tense and creepy, building to an inevitable finale, but making the ride to get there feel narratively rich in the process. This is a film that takes its sweet time, carefully setting up the interpersonal dynamics between a group of people who have been invited to a dinner party that gradually gets more and more unsettling. Logan Marshall-Green can finally stop just being known as “Wait, Is That Tom Hardy?”, turning in an unexpectedly nuanced performance here as the film’s severely troubled protagonist. If you’re easily frightened by traditional horror movies and don’t like jump scares, this could be a really good alternative, because while it is suspenseful, it’s not really ~scary, per se. Instead, it’s an interesting character drama that relies largely on character reveals and misdirection for its thrills, rather than a lot of outright horror elements.

Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Out with 2013, and in with 2014 (finally). There are so many great-looking movies coming out this year that I had trouble narrowing down my list (hence why you’re getting a top 15 instead of a top 10), but here are the ones I’m most excited about.

(Note: I’ve already seen Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves and David Gordon Green’s Joe, or else they would definitely be on the list.)

15. The Skeleton Twins

It feels like I’ve been hearing about this Kristen Wiig/Bill Hader family drama for a long time now, but it’ll finally make its debut this year at Sundance. I think director Craig Johnson‘s previous film, True Adolescents (starring Mark Duplass, who executive produces here with brother Jay), was an overlooked little gem, so I’m excited to see what he’ll bring with this sophomore feature.

14. 99 Homes

I thought director Ramin Bahrani‘s last venture into Hollywood territory, At Any Price, was a bit of a disaster. However, I still have hope for this family drama, which stars Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern. After all of this Spider-Man fanfare, it’ll be nice to see Garfield get back to low-key dramas. (Unless this turns out like At Any Price. Then it won’t be nice.)

13. Mojave

William Monahan has written films like Kingdom of Heaven and The Departed and now he steps behind the camera for the second time with this trippy-sounding thriller about a man who meets his dangerous doppelganger in the desert. It also stars two of the most interesting young actors working (and Inside Llewyn Davis co-stars), Garrett Hedlund and Oscar Isaac, which is reason enough to pique my interest.

12. Posh

Lone Scherfig‘s An Education was a delectable study of, among other things, class divisions and the education system in England. Now, it looks like she’s back at that familiar territory with Posh, a tale of students at Oxford University who join the school’s legendary Riot Club. It also happens to star all of your favourite young, classy Brits, including Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, and Max Irons.


11. A Most Wanted Man

One of my favourite movies of the past decade was the moody Joy Division biopic, Control. Now director Anton Corbijn is back with this moody thriller that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Bruhl, Robin Wright, and Willem Dafoe. It’s based on a John le Carre novel, who also penned Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, so get ready to pay attention.

10. Unbroken

Angelina Jolie makes her directorial follow-up to In the Land of Blood and Honey with this intense-sounding drama about an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces at the height of WWII. With the Coen Brothers contributing to the script and Roger Deakins as cinematographer, it’s got a nice pedigree. However, Deakins’ camerawork won’t be the only nice thing to look at on screen, as the up-and-coming young cast includes Garrett Hedlund, Jack O’Connell, Jai Courtney, Domhnall Gleeson, Alex Russell, Luke Treadaway, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock.

9. Sils Maria

Olivier Assayas is a director that I really respect, and my admiration only grew with last year’s Something in the Air. Now, he returns with this mysterious project that stars Chloe Moretz, Kristen
Stewart, Juliette Binoche, Brady Corbet, and British folk singer Johnny Flynn. The plot is still undisclosed and I’m not even much of a fan of Moretz, but I’m certainly interested to see how Assayas will handle his first film with such a high level of star calibre.

8. Transcendence

Wally Pfister has made a name for himself as the DP on all of Christopher Nolan’s recent films, and now he’s stepping in as director for the first time for this Inception-like movie about artificial intelligence. With a top-notch cast that includes Rebecca Hall, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman, it looks like a moody and intelligent thriller. I’m excited to see Pfister’s directorial chops, and this will also provide the first opportunity to see Depp in a “serious” role in what feels like a very long time.

7. Suite Francaise

Based on the acclaimed WWII-era novel, this drama by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) stars Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone), Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Sam Riley (On the Road), Ruth Wilson (Luther), and Kristen Scott Thomas. I tend to trust Williams’ role choices, and I’m intrigued by this one.

6. Godzilla

I’m surprised this is on here, too. But the trailer really impressed me, making it look as though the film will take a more serious, somewhat character-driven taken on the “monster movie” trope. Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Strathairn also give me hope.

5. Brooklyn

Based on the Colm Toibin novel and with a screenplay by Nick Hornby, Brooklyn tells the tale of a young Irish immigrant who comes to New York in the 1950s. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and Domhnall Gleeson, and if that’s not a likeable cast, I don’t know what is. Also, since seeing Beneath the Harvest Sky (and, to a lesser extent, The Place Beyond the Pines) I sang the praises of Emory Cohen and here he’ll have a chance to show his stuff once again. Also working in Brooklyn‘s favour is that it’s directed by John Crowley, the director of Boy A, a wonderful little underseen gem that helped launch Andrew Garfield.

4. Interstellar

I’ll admit that the teaser trailer didn’t fully capture my interest, but this latest space-themed project from Christopher Nolan still sounds very intriguing. Like Inception, it has a top-notch cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. Now, it’s possible that all that starpower could cause the whole thing to self-destruct, but Nolan has proven to be one of the few directors who can actually handle a huge, star-studded cast successfully.

3. Midnight Special

As soon as I saw “Jeff Nichols” and “Michael Shannon“, I knew this was going to fall right near the top of my list. The director and actor have teamed up several times before and their last project, Mud, was my second-favourite film of last year. This time, they explore the story of a man who goes on the run when he finds out that his son has special powers. Who knows if Nichols will be able to keep his impressive directorial streak going, but with a film that also stars Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Adam Driver, I’d say there’s a good chance he will.

2. Untitled Cameron Crowe Project

Cameron Crowe is one of my favourite directors, so he was guaranteed a spot on the list. However, the cast here is what really put it over the top: Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Jay Baruchel, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, and Danny McBride. (Personally, I could take or leave Rachel McAdams and Alec Baldwin.) Not much is known about the film at this point, but apparently it’s a comedy about a military man re-connecting with a former love while also falling for an Air Force watch-dog who has been assigned to cover him.

1. Inherent Vice

In just about any other year, Cameron Crowe’s movie would take the top spot on this list, but when there’s a new Paul Thomas Anderson film on the horizon, you can’t deny it. (Especially so soon after his last project!) The movie is based on the book of the same name by the great Thomas Pynchon and it stars Joaquin Phoenix as a drugged-out 1970s detective. The supporting cast includes Owen Wilson, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Reece Witherspoon, and Maya Rudolph. If PTA’s past work has been any indication, we’re in for a pretty interesting ride.

This is just a small selection of the great-looking movies on tap for 2014. I’ll give honorable mentions to Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah which looks kind of awful but could turn out to be spectacular, Maleficent for bringing a spat of interesting actors (Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, and Angelina Jolie) into a dark Disney world, and Slow West for giving us these magnificent set photos (and for pairing up Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn).

There are tons of other intriguing projects slated for 2014 release, and these are just my personal selections, so feel free to sound off in the comments about which upcoming movie you’re most looking forward to!