25 Must-See Films of 2015


2015-genre-filmsPreston Barta & Cole Clay // Film Critics

Picking your most anticipated films for the year is sort of liberating. There isn’t as much pressure as creating a top 10 list, and it gives film writers the chance to gush about their expectations.

It’s difficult to look at a calendar year like 2015 on paper and not to completely – for lack of a better term – geek out over the next AVENGERS or STAR WARS film. Those films are going to be there, we know that, but the upcoming year has such a rich schedule mix of classic auteurs, emerging independent talents and even, dare I say, some incredible looking sequels.

It will be interesting to look back twelve months from now and compare this list with the year that was 2015. I can guarantee that many of these films below will not live up to the kind words we are going to attach to their namesake, but that doesn’t deter from the sheer excitement that comes from writing about these projects.

With most lists we rank the said projects are in order of how excited we are for each film, but there’s no need for that here because each of these films that make an appearance here made an impact on our sentiments for a myriad of reasons, each even more eclectic than the other. So, instead, we are listing each film in order of their release – with the TBA (to be announced) films going at the bottom. Enjoy!

Release date: March 6
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley and Dev Patel

If you’re like me, then you thought DISTRICT 9 was one of the best and most original sci-fi flicks to hit the silver screen in a long time. But if you’re also like me, then you were rather disappointed with Niell Blomkamp’s cliche-storm that was ELYSIUM. Nevertheless, the sheer love for imaginative sci-fi seems to shine more through with CHAPPIE.

CHAPPIE sees Sharlto Copley as a robot stolen by Hugh Jackman’s character and raised by his dysfunctional family. Throw in a supporting cast that includes Dev Patel (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and Sigourney Weaver, and you got something that is sure to kick off the year on the right foot. – P.B.

635489050853520002-whale-HEART-SEA-MOV-jy-3338-.1IN THE HEART OF THE SEA
Release date: March 13
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw and Paul Anderson

Director Ron Howard and People‘s Sexiest Man Alive, Chris Hemsworth, collaborated together on the under-appreciated Formula 1 racing biographical drama RUSH back in 2013, and this year we’ll see them working together again in another film inspired by real events, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA.

Howard’s ocean-set dramatic thriller details how the Nantucket whale-ship Essex undertook a voyage that ended up going horribly wrong due to an encounter with an 80-foot sperm whale in 1819. This may sound like familiar material with having read MOBY DICK of course, but this is actually the incident that inspired Herman Melville to write those words. And from the looks of it, Howard is set to make big waves in 2015, boasting some stunning visuals and an impressive cast. – P.B.

it-followsIT FOLLOWS
Release date: March 23
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Jake Weary, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe and Ruby Harris

If you been following our articles since last fall, you know that we are quite the fans of IT FOLLOWS. We saw it at Fantastic Fest (and then once again at the Lone Star Film Festival), and we haven’t been able to control our flapping gums about it. It’s just that good. The film has both a fun premise (entities that follow a group of teens) and a John Carpenter look and feel that will make for an exciting opening to the 2015 year in horror. – P.B.

true-story-5260TRUE STORY
Release date: April 10 (Sundance)
Director: Rupert Goold
Stars: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee and Gretchen Mol

I’m sorry, but I love James Franco, even through all the experimental William Faulkner adaptations and in the slight political commentary. Franco and Jonah Hill star opposite of each other playing a FBI Most Wanted and a journalist respectively. We know that these two possess a chemistry, but who knows where that will lead. Maybe they will play a chilling game of cat and mouse game, or just smoke spliff. Either way, this has got my ears perked from jump street. – C.C.

Release date: May 1
Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris EvansChris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and James Spader

By this point, there isn’t much else to say about the mounting suspense leading up to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, which will cap off phase two in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER taught us anything, it’s that the MCU is moving in a different direction that won’t skimp out on fan service, but will provide smarter, more intricate plotlines. If this lives up to the hype, it will be the most badass superhero movie to date. Oh, and Joss Whedon is back behind the camera. – C.C.

Release date: May 15
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

The much-anticipated steampunk desert apocalypse remake is finally coming to theaters, and with Tom Hardy in the title role.  If you saw the trailer from San Diego’s Comic Con, you know that it made a fiery splash on the internet, as it is one the best cut teasers in quite some time.

Director George Miller has returned to his Outback hellscape once again to prove no one can find the beauty in the barren like he can. Having described this film as a two-hour chase scene, Miller’s return to old school spectacle will certainly be getting all MAD MAX fans in full pursuit. – P.B.

pitch-perfect-2PITCH PERFECT 2
Release date: May 15
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Katey Sagal and Elizabeth Banks

In no way did I EVER think that 2012’s PITCH PERFECT would emerge as one of my most beloved comedies of the past five years. It was fun, the music was astounding, and the entire cast was absolutely adorable. This was truly a personal pick for me, and nothing will stop me from singing along again with the Bellas come its May 15th release date. – C.C.

Release date: May 22
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key

The idea of director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindeloff teaming up while employing J.J. Abrams mystery box marketing technique raises suspicion that we may have an original sci-fi adventure on our hands. Get ready, as this one is going to be good. – C.C.

Release date: June 5
Director: Doug Ellin
Stars: Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Jerry FerraraKevin Dillon and Mark Wahlberg

Finally, after a long promised big screen adaptation of the show, the boys are back! And after the trailer recently hit the cyber-streets, all we can say is damn glad to have ’em back. Oh yeah, it’s always great to kick it with Vinnie Chase, E, Turtle and Johnny Drama, but this movie could literally have been just about the scene-stealing Ari Gold and we would have been just as happy. But since this is about continuing the story where we left off with its final season, we sure hope it improves upon what was a lousy and rushed finale. However, with show creator Doug Ellis in the directing and co-writing chair, we’re willing to bet we don’t have much to worry about. – P.B.

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - June 30, 2014TRAINWRECK
Release date: July 17
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Randall Park, Brie Larson, Daniel Radcliffe, Tilda Swinton, Marisa Tomei and Amy Schumer

Judd Apatow is a fabulous director, producer and writer who has played papa-bear to some of the biggest names in comedy over the past decade, but his last two films, FUNNY PEOPLE and THIS IS 40, were self-indulgent, over-long fodder for noone. However, he has given the writing duties to the amazingly filthy comedienne Amy Schumer (who will also star) while Apatow assumes the role as director. It says a lot about Apatow’s influence that we as film fans can still get excited about his directorial projects after he has routinely pooped his pants over the past five years. – C.C.

jessica-chastain-tom-hiddleston-dark-crimson-peakCRIMSON PEAK
Release date: October 16
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Doug Jones

Guillermo del Toro wets his whistle in big-budget haunted horror with an all-star cast consisting of Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam and Tom Hiddleston. Not really sure what the rating of this film is going to look like since no footage has been released, but let’s hope it’s R for gore, creature violence and suggestive language just for kicks. – C.C.

Black+Mass+Johnny+Depp+(1)BLACK MASS
Release date: September 18
Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Joel Edgerton, Juno Temple and Kevin Bacon

I’m hoping that BLACK MASS (and no, this is not a video game) will be the kick in the ass that Johnny Depp needs to get his career back on track both artistically and professionally, because the story of Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger is simply too good to pass up.

With Depp playing Bulger from gangster to fugitive, this is exactly the part that should have Depp hamming it to the sky. But it is with my hope that with Scott Cooper’s direction (CRAZY HEART) this won’t end up like the mess that Michael Mann and Depp’s PUBLIC ENEMIES was. – P.B.

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 3.42.49 PMTHE JUNGLE BOOK
Release date: October 16
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o and Neel Sethi

Actor-filmmaker Jon Favreau has gone through multiple creative phases in his career, from crafting adult indie fare (SWINGERS, MADE) to churning out family-fun entertainment (ELF, ZATHURA) and blockbusters (IRON MAN, COWBOYS & ALIENS). However, after making last year’s deliciously adorable CHEF, Favreau is now ready to jump back into the world of larger-scale studio filmmaking with THE JUNGLE BOOK.

The film is said to be a mix of both live-action and animation, and will have the celebrated characters singing and talking again (that’s if you saw 1994’s live action, realistic telling starring Cary Elwes). With screenwriter Justin Marks (STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI), the film doesn’t hold as much promise as Andy Serkis’ motion-capture origin story that is coming in 2017, but maybe all we need is the bare necessities. – P.B.

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 07, 2014UNTITLED COLD WAR SPY THRILLER
Release date: October 16
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Billy Magnussen and Amy Ryan

Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks. Reuniting. This has quality written all over it, given Joel and Ethan Coen have been commissioned with the screenwriting duties. There has only been one image release from the film so far, but something tells me it will be in the same vein as the brilliant effort CATCH ME IF YOU CAN – perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. It hasn’t been confirmed, but the title of the film just may be ST. JAMES’ PLACE. – C.C.

Release date: November 6
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw

After the infamous Sony hacking, parts of SPECTRE‘s plot were revealed, but that shouldn’t suppress our anticipation, especially since SKYFALL director Sam Mendes is back behind the camera. In addition to that, we have the always devilishly charming Christoph Waltz as the villain. I know what you’re thinking: don’t we always see Waltz as a villain? Yeah, while this may be true, Mendes made Javier Bardem’s Silva in SKYFALL a far different villain from NO COUNTRY‘s Anton Chigurh, and we’re expecting something far different from what we’ve previously seen Waltz do in a villain role. So for now, we’re arching our eyebrows in delight. – P.B.

MV5BMTY4MTMxNTMxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcyNjMzMjE@._V1._CR4,4,554,751_SX640_SY720_-1THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Release date: November 13 (not confirmed)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum and Samuel L. Jackson

For a while it looked as if Quentin Tarantino’s next, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, wasn’t going to happen after the original script made its way online, but thankfully, Tarantino had a change of heart and decided to go forth with production. Tackling the western genre, Tarantino aims to wow with his new film about a group of bounty hunters who are transporting prisoners through 19th-century Wyoming. Shooting started this month, and from Samuel L. Jackson’s tweets, I’m sure it’s going to be another Tarantino instant classic. – P.B.

kirsten-dunst-michael-shannon-film-bloody-tearful-midnight-special-scenesMIDNIGHT SPECIAL
Release date: November 25
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael ShannonJaeden Lieberher, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard

Jeff Nichols is the best filmmaker the mainstream has yet to fully discover. His first three films have all blown me away telling the tales of unsung anti-heroes stuck in small town life. This guy has heart and his latest film stars Nichols’ favorite and resident scenery-chewer Michael Shannon in a father-son sci-fi adventure. Nichols is a great writer of characters, so let’s sit back and marvel in what he does next with a larger scale to tinker with.  – C.C.

untitled-christmas-eve-project-08292014-01-435x580UNTITLED CHRISTMAS EVE PROJECT
Release date: November 25
Director: Jonathan Levine
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lizzy Caplan, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie

I guess we put this one on the list because the holiday spirit is still whisking through the air, OR it could be that the thought Jonathan Levine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt collaborating again (50/50) has my heart fluttering a bit. Levine is a filmmaker that has the ability to maneuver from raunchy to heartfelt with finesse and with the addition of Seth Rogen and Lizzy Caplan to the cast I have no doubts this holiday film will do just that. – C.C.

Release date: November TBA
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver

The Martin Scorsese 17th Century period piece is not only a mouthful to say, it gets in by default, well, because it’s Scorsese. SILENCE certainly doesn’t have the inherently kinetic subject matter has Scorsese’s last feature THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, but Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as priests and the thought of Liam Neeson using a different set of skills shows a lot of promise based on talent alone. – C.C.

Forum-menace---an-image-f-011STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS
Release date: December 18
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford

Should anyone doubt just how much excitement there is about the seventh STAR WARS installment? After the Thanksgiving teaser that lasted just over a minute was watched more than 15 million times within 24 hours of its online release, you can color us all just a little more excited.

THE FORCE AWAKENS, the first of a new trilogy set 30 or so years after the defeat of the Empire and the death of Darth Vader, not only brings back the beloved original characters, but it also brings in some new and rather curious characters to take this franchise far beyond we had ever hoped. And it’s only better that George Lucas is sitting this one out and J.J. Abrams is leading the charge. Expect less green screen and bad acting, and more fun and nostalgic moments that will remind you why you fell in love with the franchise back in 1977. – P.B.

Photo-05-Alejandro-Gonzalez-InarrituTHE REVENANT
Release date: December 25
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson

Alejandro González Iñárritu has been mused by a creative force to be able to not only helm one of the most technically brilliant films of 2014 in BIRDMAN, but to be able to have a year turn around with a film as seemingly ambitious as a 1800s period piece starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy. Not too sure what THE REVENANT is going to be about, but the IMDB log-line mentions a bear mauling. – C.C.

digging-for-fireDIGGING FOR FIRE
Release date: TBA (Sundance)
Director: Joe Swanberg
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Jake Johnson, Jenny Slate and Sam Elliott

I’m not really concerned with the plot of Joe Swanberg’s latest film, and really, why should we be when he thrives in a filmmaking environment that produces an oasis of improvisation for his actors? Who knows how many films the prolific director will produce this year, but this is the one to check out with my personal favorite person from 2014 Jenny Slate appearing in a small role. Also, Orlando Bloom dips his Elvish toes in the indie pool with Swanberg favorites Anna Kendrick and my man Jake Johnson. – C.C.

Release date: TBA (Sundance)
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack and Ron Livingston

James Ponsoldt, the exceptional filmmaker who directed 2013’s touching feat THE SPECTACULAR NOW, returns to direct what may be one of the year’s finest, THE END OF THE TOUR. Ponsoldt assembles a talented ensemble to captures the true story of the five-day 1996 interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). Through their road trip and shared laughs, we will explore the fine yet extreme relationship that develops between a journalist and his (or her) subject. – P.B.

Release date: TBA
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz and Alicia Vikander

Derek Cianfrance is an interesting filmmaker. He captures a rawness that is rarely seen in movies today. He captured the beginning and ending of a relationship in the haunting BLUE VALENTINE, and he showed us the unbreakable bond between father and son in the powerful THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. With the adaptation of M.L. Stedman‘s novel, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, Cianfrance is set to challenge his audience once again with a story of a couple (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who face a moral dilemma when they find an infant and raise her as their own. The material may be heavy, but with Cianfrance’s steadfast hand, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is going to be a film to never forget. – P.B.

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 3.37.08 PMTHAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT
Release date: TBA
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ryan Guzman, Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin and Wyatt Russell

No movie this year, not even STAR WARS, has me more excited than Richard Linklater’s THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Of course, I am biased because Linklater is my all-time favorite filmmaker, but in reality, there is no modern filmmaker that makes me love my job as a film critic more than Linklater.

He has directed quiet, stunning films such as DAZED AND CONFUSED (chronicling the ‘70s teenage youth); the BEFORE (SUNRISE, SUNSET and MIDNIGHT) trilogy and BOYHOOD (showing how the passage of time affects and changes people in the most profound ways); and BERNIE (a terrific character study). Linklater is not a household name like Tarantino, a highly outspoken director who is prompt to self-promote. He plays it rather cool and quiet instead. He doesn’t make movies for money; he makes them for himself. He makes the kind of movies that are relatable, timeless, and that can be universally treasured. Linklater deserves to be credited as one of the best auteurs in film history.

THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT is supposedly his spirit-sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED. While DAZED AND CONFUSED focused on his high school days, THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT will chronicle his college days. So, alright, alright, alright. – P.B.

Others to Consider:

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the sexy, seductive novel-turned-movie is finally coming to the big screen and is sure to get some couples all hot and sweaty. I may not be excited, but I am sure there are plenty of people out there who are.

FAST & FURIOUS 7 (April 3)
Horror filmmaker James Wan comes in to steer the franchise in a new direction.

CHILD 44 (April 17)
Focusing on a series of unspeakable child murders in Stalin-era Russia. While the material is heavy, I am willing to bet that the re-teaming of Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman will make it something worth while.

The trailer had me feeling kind of meh about it, but it has a hell of cast, including our favorite, Chris Pratt. Plus, it’s dinosaurs. So eh, what the hell. Bring it!

The one movie of the year that every guy will never admit he watched with his girlfriend.

He’s back! Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the movie that launched his career in this new revival of the Terminator. This could be the next TERMINATOR since JUDGMENT DAY to actually be excited about, but the whole messing with what happened in the early films has me kind of disappointed. Personally, I wished they had just made up a new story instead of revisiting ones that have been done and putting a twist on them. Oh, well. Maybe it will still be fun and surprise us.

PAN (July 24)
Hugh Jackman and director Joe Wright (ATONEMENT) put a new spin (an origin story) on the celebrated story of Peter Pan. Quite curious to know how it will turn out. Could be fun.

The story of NWA’s rise to fame with their songs about life in the hood.

PART I was a disappointment in my eyes, mainly just because it’s half a movie and it feels like one, but PART II might make up for it.

99 HOMES (TBA – Sundance)
Starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield. Enough said.

Angelina Jolie stars and directs her husband, Brad Pitt, in a story about fading love. UNBROKEN was pretty solid, and Jolie shows a lot of promise as she continues her directing career.

David O. Russell (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE) is always a filmmaker to watch. Now, he’s taking on two films in one year. But if you ask me, one might move over to 2016.

Noah Baumbach’s films may be a little too artsy for general audience members, but he sure does tell damn good stories. No plot details yet, but hey, it’s got Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA) in it, and she’s delightful.

Gus Van Sant directs Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe in a story about two men who get lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji and search for a way out.

Bradley Cooper plays a Michelin-starred chef and LOCKE‘s Steven Knight is penning the script? In.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.