Somewhere along the line, we got it wrong: we decided that summer — season of warmth, of greenery, of long days and sunlight — is the appropriate time to release all the best movies.
Today, we hope to reverse that trend, with a compendium of 21 potentially great films to see this winter.
That’s two for each weekend — one studio-backed blockbuster, one sleeper indie or foreign flick — between now and April 1st. Including something called The Man Who Killed Hitler Then Bigfoot.
Good luck not seeing that.
The Blockbuster: The Kid Who Would Be King
Alex, (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) thinks he’s a nobody until he discovers the mythical sword Excalibur and joins forces with a band of knights and the legendary wizard Merlin (Sir Patrick Stewart). Their mission: to save mankind from the evil enchantress Morgana. It’s The Sword in the Stone for the Instagram generation.
The Sleeper: Serenity
Steven Knight impressed with his 2013 directorial debut, Locke, a tense one-man show involving Tom Hardy, a BMW M5 and a series of increasingly tense phone calls. While early reviews for Serenity — which stars Matthew McConaughey as a forlorn fisherman who receives an unexpected visit from his ex-wife and her abusive husband — have been far less flattering, Knight’s penchant for drumming up suspense appears to be intact. We’re getting shades of Nocturnal Animals and Cape Fear … though not holding our breath for it to measure up to either.
The Blockbuster: Velvet Buzzsaw
After an unknown artist dies, his work is discovered — thus awakening a supernatural force hellbent on punishing the money-obsessed power players in the contemporary L.A. art world. Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to Nightcrawler sees Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo return among a heavy-hitting ensemble that also includes Toni Colette and John Malkovich. Expect equal parts terror and satire.
The Sleeper: Arctic
Not many leading men can carry a two-hour film about a guy trying to escape the grim fate of being stranded in the Arctic. But Mads Mikkelsen is one of them, and he’s the star of the show here.
The Blockbuster: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
It’s been five years since everything was awesome, and the citizens of Bricksburg are now facing a huge new threat: LEGO DUPLO® invaders from outer space. If the second installment is anything like the first, we’ll be treated to a killer cast, clever, adult-friendly writing and a tidy ending that moralizes without going too far into Danny Tanner territory.
The Sleeper: Everybody Knows
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem star in a thriller-meets-melodrama about a well-heeled Spanish family with some serious skeletons in their closet. When the prodigal daughter (Cruz) returns from overseas, said closet opens. Asghar Farhadi — best known for the breathless Iranian class drama A Separation — writes and directs, which is what makes this one a must-see.
The Blockbuster: Happy Death Day 2U
Two years after the events of the first film, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) re-enters the Groundhog Day-esque time loop to figure out why she entered in the first place. The original was a surprisingly clever addition to the slasher canon; hopefully the sequel can reach for something more than a mere imitation of it.
The Sleeper: Birds of Passage
Colombian director Ciro Guerra has quickly risen through the arthouse ranks with dense, visually astounding parables about colonialism and class. On the surface, Birds of Passage is the story of a multigenerational narcotics empire, but Guerra has warned in interviews that this gangster film will be “something completely different from any gangster film that you have ever seen.”
The Blockbuster: The Rhythm Section
Move over James Bond, there’s a new international superspy in town. Stephanie Patrick (Lively) seeks revenge against those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family in this British-American action thriller film that also stars Jude Law (hopefully playing the Bond-girl role). No trailer available
Image via TIFF
The Sleeper: Donnybrook (February 15)
This one divided opinion at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival thanks to its brutal — some might say gratuitous — depiction of white rage in a depressed, opioid-afflicted Rust Belt township. The film chronicles the parallel journeys of a drug dealer and an ex-soldier as they prepare for what may be the only way out of this place: a bareknuckle boxing tournament that will leave the winner with $100,000. No trailer available
The Blockbuster: Greta
“We’re more than friends. We’re connected.” On the surface, the story of a young New York woman (Chloe Grace Moretz, who seems to elevate any movie) who befriends an older French woman after returning her handbag. From there, it turns very, very dark. Twists, turns, dark secrets abound. And hopefully director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) returns to form.
The Sleeper: Climax
Gaspar Noé has made a career of shocking audiences, his 2002 vengeance film Irréversible having caused one of the greatest walkouts at Cannes in recent memory. But where the gritty subjects he portrays can feel tired in the hands of lesser filmmakers, Noé’s work is marked by a lush visual style that seems to grow more singular with each passing film. And Climax may be the zenith of that: the film follows a troupe of young dancers into an abandoned school in the countryside, where they plan to rehearse … only they’re drugged, and descend into mass hysteria instead.
The Blockbuster: Captain Marvel
Marvel’s first solo female superhero flick mines ‘90s nostalgia and a CGI-youthified Samuel L. Jackson (and, of course, Brie Larson) while setting up the next and final Avengers flick. Plus, origin stories are always the best hero flicks, and this has a Guardians of the Galaxy fun vibe to it.
The Sleeper: Gloria Bell
Sebastián Lelio might be the hardest working man in film right now: Gloria Bell is his third feature in as many years, having picked up an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film along the way for A Fantastic Woman. This film is actually an English language retelling of Gloria, the film that put Lelio on the map. Julianne Moore stars as the titular character, a 50-something divorceé determined to reinvent herself as a fun-loving bachelorette.
The Blockbuster: The Hummingbird Project
If you read Flash Boys, you pretty much get the idea behind this drama, where two high-frequency traders/hustlers (the always shifty Jesse Eisenberg, a surprisingly bald Alexander Skarsgard) attempt to build a fiber-optic line across half the country to make money and one-up their old boss (Salma Hayek).
The Sleeper: An Elephant Sitting Still (March 8)
Not for the faint of heart or heavy of eyelid, this slow-burning Chinese drama checks in at just under four hours. Set in the kind of small, desolate town that no one ever leaves or seeks out, the only hope for the four characters at the center of it is a pilgrimage to the zoo in a nearby city, where a famous elephant is said to hold court.
The Blockbuster: Us
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out looks equally disturbing. Here, a family’s vacation to a beach house turns into a bizarre home invasion flick, complete with dopplegangers and, based off the trailer, lots of scissors. Also, any movie with Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker wins on casting alone.
The Sleeper: The Beach Bum
It may not be a sequel, but The Beach Bum appears to pick up right where Korine’s Spring Breakers left off, churning through Florida’s vibrant (if sometimes seedy) underbelly with a cast of misfits and scoundrels led by Matthew McConaughey’s cannabis-loving Bum. A long, strange trip surely awaits.
The Blockbuster: Captive State
What if aliens came down, took everything over … and, at least on the surface, made things better? That’s the premise behind this promising, decidedly grounded sci-fi flick from Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), which evokes more District 9 than Independence Day in the trailer.
The Sleeper: Her Smell
Indie world It Girl Elisabeth Moss stars as the self-destructive, Courtney Love-esque frontwoman of a punk band in Alex Ross Perry’s latest film. It’s a surprising turn for Moss, but until proven otherwise, she can simply do no wrong.
SPECIAL BONUS: The Man Who Killed Hitler Then Bigfoot (February 8th)
Fresh off his first (and long deserved) Oscar nom for A Star Is Born, Sam Elliott returns as a war veteran with one famous scalp to his name and another on his to-do list. Don’t let the title fool you: this is an action movie that skews more straight than camp.
Additional reporting by Kirk Miller and Logan Mahan
Main image via The Beach Bum / Neon
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