Here’s what to expect at the theaters this month.
The big one: Taken 3
Liam Neeson is an actor with a very particular set of skills. Skills he has acquired over a very long career. Skills that have made him a top-draw action star in recent years, and a nightmare to those who prefer his earlier work in Oscar-winning dramas. If you refuse to go to Neeson’s latest tough-guy picture, that’ll be the end of it. He will not look for more roles like this. He will not pursue them. But if as many of you go see the third Taken as saw the first two, Neeson will look for more of this kind of work, he will find it, and—like it or not—he will kill it.
- Beloved Sisters*… This acclaimed German historical romance stars Florian Stetter as late-18th-century writer Friedrich Schiller, who reportedly had a romantic relationship with two sisters, one of whom became his wife, and the other his biographer.
- Predestination*… The Spierig brothers follow their futuristic vampire film Daybreakers with an adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s 1959 short story “All You Zombies,” starring Daybreakers lead Ethan Hawke as a time-traveler tasked with stopping major crimes before they happen.
- The World Made Straight*… Ron Rash’s 2006 novel about Civil War-obsessed rural drug dealers comes to the big screen, with stars Noah Wyle and Haley Joel Osment.
And: Black November*, Boys, Dark Summer, Something, Anything*
The big one: Blackhat
It’s been six years since Michael Mann’s outstanding, underrated Public Enemies, and while it doesn’t bode well that Mann’s new film, Blackhat, is being dumped in January, the good news is that all of Mann’s movies to date have been innovative, engrossing, or both. His latest is an international caper picture, starring Chris Hemsworth as a cybercriminal sprung from prison to hunt one of his own. That plot makes Blackhat sound like it could be of a piece with Mann films like Manhunter, Heat, and Collateral, so even though it didn’t sneak into this year’s Oscar race (as had been rumored for a while last summer), it could still be a bright spot in an otherwise-bleak cinematic winter.
- Appropriate Behavior… Writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan gives a personal spin to the “hip twentysomethings enjoying NYC decadence” indie-comedy genre, describing what it’s like to be young, libertine, and from a conservative Persian-American family.
- Human Capital*… This bleakly funny, award-winning Italian melodrama loops back and forth through time to show how a hit-and-run accident affects two intertwined families.
- Match… Patrick Stewart stars as a dance teacher being interrogated by his dinner guests (played by Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino) in Stephen Belber’s adaptation of his own play.
- Paddington… The early reviews have been very strong for this take on Michael Bond’s classic children’s books from The Mighty Boosh director Paul King; the story follows a friendly bear who comes to live with a London family. (American audiences, please look after this movie. Thank you.)
- Son Of A Gun*… Ewan McGregor plays a veteran criminal who protects a younger thug (Brenton Thwaites) in prison, and later imposes himself onto the kid’s life on the outside, as his mentor/boss.
- Still Life… Eddie Marsan gets a rare leading role, as a government employee who tracks down the next of kin for the recently deceased.
- Vice… Part Fantasy Island, part Westworld, the science-fiction thriller Vice stars Bruce Willis as the designer of a robot-populated pleasure resort and Thomas Jane as the cop who tries to bring him down when an “employee” escapes.
- The Wedding Ringer… Making a preemptive bid for the most depressing-sounding comedy of 2015, this long-in-development project (first bought by Dimension Films in 2002) has Kevin Hart playing an entrepreneur hired to help a friendless groom (Josh Gad) populate his half of a wedding party.
And: Little Accidents*, Loitering With Intent*, The Phoenix Project*, Spare Parts*, Three Night Stand
The big one: The Duke Of Burgundy*
A sensation on the festival circuit last fall, Peter Strickland’s follow-up to his cult favorite Berberian Sound Studio replaces the previous film’s giallo motifs with an extended riff on 1970s Eurosmut, examining the nuances of a sadomasochistic relationship between two women. More than just a fetishistic genre homage, The Duke Of Burgundy is about fetish, as both an expression of self and as something that binds people together, sometimes literally. Funny, romantic, gently surreal, and beautifully shot, this is an early contender for the best of 2015.
- Black Sea*… Jude Law plays a treasure-hunting submarine captain in a lean thriller from director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Dennis Kelly.
- The Humbling*… In this adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel, directed by Barry Levinson and scripted by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede, Al Pacino stars as a fading actor who develops a strange relationship with a mysterious young woman played by Greta Gerwig.
- Mommy*… Precocious Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan uses a 1:1 aspect ratio to tell another raw story of intense familial dysfunction.
- Mortdecai… Kyril Bonfiglioli’s series of eccentric pulp novels about an adventurous art dealer are finally making it to cinemas, thanks to producer-star Johnny Depp and ever-quirky director David Koepp.
- R100*… The reliably strange Japanese director Hitoshi Matsumoto follows his cult favorites Big Man Japan and Symbol with a pitch-black comedy about a man who can’t figure out how to cancel his membership to an S&M club that sends women out to beat and humiliate him in public.
- Song One*… This indie musical-drama about the romance between a singer-songwriter and a grieving young woman barely registered with critics and audiences when it debuted at Sundance last year—which isn’t a good sign, given that it stars Anne Hathaway and features songs by Johnathan Rice and Jenny Lewis.
- Strange Magic… Oscar-winning sound man Gary Rydstrom makes his feature-directing debut (following a couple of excellent Pixar shorts) with this musical fairy tale, dreamed up by George Lucas.
- Veronika Decides To Die… Emily Young’s adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s internationally popular novel (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a seemingly contented woman whose life changes after she spontaneously attempts suicide) played around the world in 2009 and 2010, and now gets a belated Stateside release.
And: The Boy Next Door, Killers, The Loft*, Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter*, We’ll Never Have Paris*
The big one: Girlhood*
Compared to Céline Sciamma’s Water Lilies and Tomboy—two beautiful, surprising, sensitive films about adolescence and gender identity—her latest feature, Girlhood, is a little overbearing, trying too hard to turn the story of one teen gangster into a larger comment on race and crime in Parisian housing projects. But like Sciamma’s earlier work, Girlhood is dotted with quietly revealing moments of young women just hanging out and interacting. It also builds to a third-act twist that takes the film somewhere genuinely unexpected and ultimately moving.
- Backstreet Boys: Show ’Em What You’re Made Of… In and of itself, a vanity doc about the comeback album and tour of an aging boy band doesn’t sound so enticing, but given that this one was directed by Stephen Kijak, who previously made Cinemania, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, and Stones In Exile, maybe it’ll be a welcome surprise?
- Black Or White*… Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer play grandparents on opposite sides of a custody battle in Mike Binder’s melodrama, described by some critics at TIFF as “didactic,” “obtuse,” “offensive,” and “race-baiting.”
- Coming Home*… Zhang Yimou reunites with one of his greatest collaborators, Gong Li, in an adaptation of a Geling Yan novel about a traumatized woman (played by Gong) who doesn’t recognize her husband when he returns from a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution.
- Project Almanac… Remember when this found-footage time-travel adventure was called Welcome To Yesterday, and was in The Dissolve’s February 2014 movie preview? Where will this nutty, possibly unreleasable film time-jump to next?
- Timbuktu*… Abderrahmane Sissako’s latest—about a rural Malian community struggling with the fundamentalist edicts of their government—recently made the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
- Wild Card*… Jason Statham takes on the Burt Reynolds role in a remake of the 1986 action picture Heat, based on a William Goldman novel about a Las Vegas tough-guy-for-hire.
And: Above And Beyond*, Alien Outpost*, Amira & Sam, Cyber-Seniors, Supremacy*