Close-up on film highlights of coming year

From major blockbusters to quirky indies, Film Critic Tony Earnshaw takes a look at what we can look forward to seeing in our cinemas over the next twelve months.

Testament of Youth, featuring Alicia Vikander.
Testament of Youth, featuring Alicia Vikander.

Our new year begins with a brace of biopics as the stories of Vera Brittain, Chris Kyle and Cheryl Strayed make it to the big screen. And what very different stories they are.

Brittain was the Oxford student turned volunteer nurse on the killing fields of the Western Front whose experiences prompted her to write Testament of Youth, a devastating memoir of the First World War and a clarion call for pacifists everywhere. Alicia Vikander plays Vera in a glorious period piece helmed by Harrogate filmmaker James Kent.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Chris Kyle was the US Navy SEAL sharpshooter, known as “the Devil of Ramadi” who notched up 160 official kills and maybe as many as 100 more.

A controversial figure during the Iraq War and during its aftermath, he is played by Bradley Cooper in a movie that flits between his combat tours and his fractious home life. American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood.

Cheryl Strayed was the average lass who took herself off on a 1,100-mile journey of self-discovery as she walked the Pacific Crest Trail.

Her purpose was in part to exorcise the grief of her mother’s death. Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl in Wild; the script is by Nick Hornby. All three films are released on January 16.

Ex Machina (out January 23) is the directorial debut of novelist Alex (The Beach) Garland. It explores the links between humankind and man-made artificial intelligence – and investigates what happens when a man falls in love with a robot female.

Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp as an eccentric English aristo tasked with recovering a priceless Goya painting and getting into all manner of scrapes.

The A-list cast also includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany who all enjoy themselves in a flick that has more than a touch of Austin Powers to its mood and humour (January 23).

Another off-kilter British frolic is Kingsman: The Secret Service, with Colin Firth as 
the leader of a band of sartorial 007 types who keep the riff-raff from the shores 
of our green and pleasant land. Think “Men in Tweeds” rather than “Men in Black”. Samuel L Jackson is a lisping bad guy billionaire in Blofeld mode. (January 29)

Ewan McGregor continues his late career stab at an action career with a starring role in Son of a Gun as the hardest career criminal in Australia.

The movie is ostensibly about a gold heist but inevitably it morphs into a stand-off between McGregor and Brenton Thwaites as his protégé. Alicia Vikander (her again) co-stars. (January 30)

Inherent Vice boasts the combined talents of Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon.

Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs this adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel – a ’70s retrofest with Phoenix as the detective investigating the disappearance of a former girlfriend. (January 30)

The rest of the year cranks into gear with the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, an ordinary lass who might just be the secret to the universe. Which is why she’s targeted for assassination.

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are the long-term lovers forced to live with family and friends in Love is Strange; and David Oyelowo is Dr Martin Luther King in Selma, the site in Alabama of civil rights marches that changes America for ever. And Shaun the Sheep gets his own movie in the latest release from those lovely folk at Aardman.

Much fanfare surrounded the casting of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey. Whether the film will match the erotic intensity of E L James’s bonkbuster is anyone’s guess. It’s out on February 13.

Perhaps the most genuinely anticipated follow-up film of 2015 is The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which reunites all the surviving cast and adds Richard Gere 
and David Strathairn to the mix.

Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie stars Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver. But the real star is Sharlto Copley as a robot in a dysfunctional criminal family. Expect more oddness from the director of District 9.

Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel features Daniel Brühl and Kate Beckinsale as a journalist and screenwriter investigating a murder. Supermodel Cara Delavingne co-stars. It’s based on the book by Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Another book but on a 
much larger scale is In the Heart of the Sea, based on 
the novel by Nathaniel Philbrick and chronicling what occurs when a ship is sunk by a whale and 20 starving sailors are left to drift on the open sea.

The movie stars Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville (the story inspired Moby Dick) and is directed by Ron Howard.

Sequels and remakes include Fast and Furious 7 (April 3); Avengers: The Age of Ultron (April 24); Far from the Madding Crowd (May 1); Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 (both May 15); Insidious Chapter 3 (June 5); Jurassic World (June 12); Terminator Genisys (July 3); Ted 2 (July 10); The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Aug 14); Sinister 2 (August 21); The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (September 18); Hotel Transylvania 2 (October 9); The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (November 20); and 
Mission: Impossible 5 (December 26).

The year ends with arguably the biggest movies of the lot: Bond 24 aka Spectre (October 23) and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (December 18).

See you at the movies.