Here’s what to expect at the theaters this month.
The big one: Interstellar
Given that Christopher Nolan has made billions of dollars with thematically heavy, narratively complex action-adventure movies, it’s hard to know what to make of early Interstellar reactions that call it Nolan’s most audience-friendly film yet. The marketing has sold it as a heart-warmer, emphasizing the story of a rugged astronaut and family man (Matthew McConaughey) who leaves his kids behind to travel through a wormhole on a mission to save a dying Earth. Comparisons to 2001 and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind—coupled with Nolan saying he set out to make something broadly appealing—have Interstellar close to the top of the year’s most-anticipated releases. (If nothing else, it should provide some closure to Nolan’s “films that begin with the letter I” trilogy.)
- Actress*… Robert Greene beguilingly blurs the lines between documentary and fiction in this impressionistic portrait of Brandy Burre, a middle-aged, semi-retired actress trying to get back into the business after spending a few years trying (and mostly failing) to play the part of a good suburban wife and mother.
- Big Hero 6… Walt Disney Animation Studios gets into the superhero business, bringing an obscure Marvel Comics team to the screen in a brightly colored family adventure.
- Elsa & Fred*… Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine make sweet senior love in New Orleans and Rome in Michael Radford’s remake of a 2005 Argentine romance.
- The Homesman*… Tommy Lee Jones returns to the director’s chair for the first time since 2005’s The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada for a Western starring Hillary Swank as a wealthy spinster who hires a drunken outlaw (Jones) to help her transport three brutalized women to a safe place back East.
- A Merry Friggin’ Christmas… One of Robin Williams’ last films stars Joel McHale as a family outcast who goes on a road trip with his dad (played by Williams) to retrieve his son’s presents before Christmas morning.
- National Gallery*… Frederick Wiseman’s latest fly-on-the-wall documentary spends three hours quietly studying the artworks, curators, and tour-guides of London’s venerable museum.
- On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter*… Sports documentarians Bruce and Dana Brown return to the world of motorcycle-racing for their second sequel to one of the best sports-docs ever made.
- Rosewater*… Comedian Jon Stewart makes his writing and directing debut with this solid political drama, about an Iranian journalist (played by Gael García Bernal) whom Iran imprisoned for months in part because of his appearance on The Daily Show.
- Sex Ed*… Haley Joel Osment stars as a virgin named Ed who’s hired to teach human reproduction to inner-city middle-schoolers. (No, seriously.)
- The Theory Of Everything*… Eddie Redmayne plays physicist Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones plays his first wife Jane, in James Marsh’s biopic/romance.
- 21 Years: Richard Linklater… Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood turn their cameras on a young director, and watch him grow up on film.
- Why Don’t You Play In Hell?*… Japanese cult filmmaker Sion Sono makes a bloody, super-meta crime picture, about a band of movie-mad friends who get caught in the middle of a gang war.
And: An Evergreen Christmas*, Fugly*, I Am Santa Claus*, Jessabelle, The Lookalike*, The Tower, Viva La Liberta*, The Way He Looks*
The big one: Foxcatcher*
An unusual, haunting true-crime story, Foxcatcher is about a pair of Olympic wrestling brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) who are lured into a training program run by an insecure, erratic millionaire (Steve Carell), and then find their lives and careers at risk. Director Bennett Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman purposefully avoided making Foxcatcher lurid or violent, instead opting for a muted character study that explores the root causes of a tragedy. The real culprit? Lingering family rivalries, which serve as a metaphor for America’s centuries-old Cold War between the haves and the have-nots.
- Beyond The Lights… Underrated auteur Gina Prince-Bythewood has been drawing some of her strongest reviews since 2000’s terrific Love & Basketball for this contemporary backstage romance, about a rising pop/R&B diva who finds a sympathetic policeman to help her with her depression about her overly sexualized image and grueling workload.
- The Canal… Rupert Evans plays a film archivist who uses the tricks of his trade to prove that some supernatural force is responsible for his wife’s disappearance.
- Dumb And Dumber To… Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, and the Farrelly brothers celebrate Dumb And Dumber’s 20th anniversary by making a whole new movie.
- Miss Meadows*… Writer-director Karen Leigh Hopkins casts Katie Holmes as a sickly-sweet substitute elementary-school teacher who murders vulgarians.
- Penance… Modern Japanese suspense master Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns with a four-and-a-half-hour psychological drama (originally a TV miniseries) about four young women still grappling with the trauma they experienced when they were kids.
And: Bad Turn Worse, Beside Still Waters, Butter On The Latch, Point And Shoot*, Thou Wast Mild & Lovely, Wolves*
The big one: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1
The Hunger Games movie series made a level-jump in quality with Catching Fire, and although Mockingjay continues the annoying trend in fantasy “trilogies” of breaking the final film into two parts, it still has the potential to be something special. The reason? Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence is back at the helm, and the final two parts of the series feature Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen performances. The trailers have been promising, too, balancing epic, worlds-colliding action with small, personal moments for heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). There’s every reason to expect Mockingjay will be another monster hit.
- Bad Hair… The complicated relationship between a gay pre-teen and his conservative working-class mother offers a way into a study of life in modern Venezuela.
- Death Metal Angola… True to its name, Jeremy Xido’s documentary follows an Angolan metalhead’s attempts to mount a major concert in his ravaged country.
- A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night*… A sensation at Sundance, Ana Lily Amirpour’s deliberately paced, heavily metaphorical film is set in an Iranian underground of criminals and vampires.
- Happy Valley*… One of America’s best working documentarians, Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That, The Tillman Story), turns his attention to the recent Penn State sex-abuse scandal, and comes out with a heartbreaking film about irrational loyalty.
- The Imitation Game*… Benedict Cumberbatch is being touted as a likely Oscar nominee for his performance as secretly gay World War II codebreaker Alan Turing.
- Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, And Supermarkets*… In this unusual rock-doc, Florian Habicht intercuts footage from the final concert of legendary Britpop act Pulp with an ethnographic study of its hometown.
And: Extraterrestrial*, Hotline, The King And The Mockingbird, Monk With A Camera*, Reach Me*
The big one: The Babadook*
Ever since Jennifer Kent’s feature debut won raves at Sundance 2014 in January, horror fans have been waiting to see what critics have called one of the scariest and most emotionally resonant haunted-house movies in years. Those fans are in for a treat. Essie Davis gives a riveting performance as a grieving widow driven to exhaustion by her emotionally disturbed son, and dealing with the shadow-creature that one of her child’s picture-books seems to have conjured into existence. The Babadook bears similarities to The Exorcist and The Shining, in that it’s as much about dysfunctional family dynamics as about terrifying audiences. But The Babadook delivers that terror, too—early and often.
- Escobar: Paradise Lost*… This story of a surfer’s relationship with a notorious drug lord drew merely okay notices at the Telluride and Toronto festivals, but the words “Benecio Del Toro as Pablo Escobar” make this a must-see anyway.
- Horrible Bosses 2… Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis try kidnapping again when their new business goes south.
- The Penguins Of Madagascar… Apparently realizing that everybody over the age of 6 has been suffering through the Madagascar movies to get to the penguins, DreamWorks finally gives the flightless aquatic birds their own movie, complete with Werner Herzog as the narrator, Benedict Cumberbatch voicing a wolf, and John Malkovich as an octopus. (After reading that cast list, you’re about 2,000 percent more interested than you were before, aren’t you?)