Despite my limited productivity on the good ol’ Chicago Cinema Circuit in 2015, it amounted to a banner year, cinematically. Between the assured and reliable releases of auteur works from Todd Haynes, Don Hertzfeldt, and Frederick Wiseman, it was also a year that produced an incredible amount of feature debuts. My top films of 2015 saw no fewer than four first features, along with several microbudget filmmakers composing significant works. Which is to suggest that the films that I anticipate, at least at this early juncture, are often the ones we know about well in advance; the bold new voices that will come in 2016 are complete mysteries.
For now, though, here’s a collection of the films of 2016 that I’m most eagerly anticipating. Please note that I have omitted Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, and Ti West’s In the Valley of Violence as they were featured in last year’s addition.
Picked up by distributor A24 following its Sundance premiere in 2015, The Witch is the most vetted and road-weary of all the films on this list. With an extensive festival tour in 2015, traveling from Karlovy Vary to Toronto to London, Eggers’ film will see its release in the first quarter of 2016 with an unusual, though ultimately promising, wave of support from its distributor – the film is opening wide right out of the gate. For a film detailing a 17th century Puritan farm family’s confrontation with witchcraft, The Witch may initially look like every other (forgettable) commercial lobs made by distributors in the early winter months(The Forest, The Woman in Black, etc.). But the few critical authorities that have managed to catch the film during its festival trek suggest that this debut offers much more.
(Joel and Ethan Coen)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s last film, Inside Llewyn Davis, topped my list of the Best Films of the Decade last year, so it goes without saying that I anticipate any new addition to their filmography. This first quarter release appears comparatively breezier to some of their more recent work, operating in the overtly comic tone of films like Burn After Reading and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Between lambasting the Hollywood machine while indulging in all the excesses of the system, Hail, Caesar! would initially appear to be the Coens take on Robert Altman’s The Player. With an incredible cast (George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Josh Brolin and, and, and) along with Roger Deakins shooting the film on 35mm, this is the kind of enterprise that inspires so much promise that you begin to doubt how it can possibly meet such lofty expectations.
Three years removed from his English-language debut, Stoker, Park Chan-wook’s follow-up sees the Korean auteur return to his native tongue in The Handmaid. An adaptation of Sarah Waters’ historical crime novel Fingersmith, Chan-wook shifts the source’s Victorian setting to 1930s colonial Korea. As someone who wasn’t convinced by Stoker, this return to his roots strikes me as especially vital, especially given the particulars of Waters’ lurid plot, which more or less jive with Chan-wook’s sensibilities. Anticipated for a Cannes bow, one would hope that a distributor is quick to get the film released before the end of the calendar year.
Premiering later this January at the Sundance Film Festival, the Todd Haynes-produced/Kelly Reichardt-directed Certain Women is one of the most intriguing titles of the lineup. Not just because of Haynes’ involvement or the welcome return of Reichardt following her excellent previous film, Night Moves, but rather it’s the intrigue of the material that’s being explored. In what is Reichardt’s seventh film, she adapts the short stories of Malie Meloy, anchoring three different narratives around women, notably played by Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Reichardt’s stalwart, Michelle Williams. Set in an American community, my immediate reaction is that this work represents something of a small town rendition of Robert Altman and Raymond Carver’s collaboration in Short Cuts; there’s a lot of promise here.
The logline of “an Olivier Assayas ghost story staring Kristen Stewart” may not have seemed particularly exciting two years ago. But we’re in a post-Clouds of Sils Maria world and as such, the perpetuated collaboration between Assayas and Stewart is the kind of gift you never you knew you wanted. Details on the new film, Personal Shopper, are sketchy, though it apparently finds Stewart led astray in the underground Paris fashion scene. Whatever that means, it comes from an original screenplay penned by Assayas himself, which, if rumors are to be trusted, will bare similarities to Clouds. So yes, it’s all a thinly drawn concept at this point, but that should, if anything, indicate how promising the prospects are of Assayas and Stewart working together again.
Things to Come
Just added to the Berlin Film Festival’s lineup, Mia Hansen-Løve’s follow-up to last year’s Eden stars Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy professor contending with the departure of her son and husband. Hansen-Løve has quietly emerged as a distinguished voice in international cinema, possessing the formal acuity of her husband Olivier Assayas with the thematic preoccupations of someone like Richard Linklater. Working with one of the greatest living actors in Huppert, Things to Come immediately strikes me as a game-changer for the Hansen-Løve. She’s encroached upon international notoriety for some time now, with each subsequent film achieving an increasing amount of effusive praise, from her Cannes-winning The Father of My Children to adoration showered on Goodbye First Love and Eden. Working with a veteran actor of Huppert’s stature is significant and one hopes that the upward trend in Hansen-Løve’s career continues.
The Alchemist Cookbook
When Buzzard was screened at the Chicago International Film Festival in October of 2014, I knew that director Joel Potrykus was someone to watch out for. Here was a filmmaker with a distinct worldview, someone with a punkish wit, intending on pushing back rather than posturing. It’s been something of a personal victory seeing the film generate a measure of notoriety in its post-festival life, getting a digital release and even screening exclusively at the Music Box Theatre for one night only. It comes with some relief to see that Potrykus has a follow-up in post-production, the curiously titled The Alchemist Cookbook. Like with many of the smaller productions on this list, details are limited beyond being a story about a young hermit driven to insanity in his quest to uncover an ancient mystery. Like with Buzzard where Potrykus’ grave existential concerns were concealed through well-deployed observational witticisms, I’m certain that The Alchemist Cookbook has more bubbling underneath what its synopsis posits – and that certainty makes the prospect of a new Potrykus all the more exciting.
Everybody Wants Some
How do you come back from Boyhood? I’m sure that’s the question at the tip of everyone’s tongue, as Linklater’s opus on Life Itself served as such a definitive period/endpoint/exclamation point on a filmmaker’s work. The answer is not to scale back, but to look forward. Conceived as a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some follows a cadre of freshman college students in the 1980s. As with any Linklater film, the writer/director’s penchant for studying our relationship with time is explicitly noted in the film’s synopsis, but press material suggests a much more lighthearted effort. Linklater really doesn’t get enough credit for his comic sensibility, but the guy can write dialogue of self-reflective existential musings and crass, snappy quips with equal bravado (see: Bernie). Everybody Wants Some looks to lean on the latter, but it’s Linklater so it’s easy to have faith in his work.
Manchester By the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret was so embroiled in controversy upon its release – hacked to pieces by its distributor, held up since 2007 before its release, where it was quietly dumped in two theaters in late September of 2011 (a death knell for any picture) – that it’s no surprise that it has taken nearly a decade for Lonergan to bother making another film. Early details suggest Lonergan’s tendency for dramaturgy to remain intact, with a plot involving a man returning home to his estranged wife in the wake of his brother’s death. What Lonergan did in Margaret is nothing short of a miracle: he captured a very specific sense of isolation following a cataclysmic event. He took the macro effect of September 11 and examined it with sensitivity and genuine humanity that, frankly, didn’t seem possible. And I think that’s what makes his films so profound: his micro examinations and observations of macro events possess a breathless and intelligent quality. That’s a lot for Manchester By the Sea to live up to. Here’s hoping it does.
Right Now, Wrong Then
Voted by Film Comment as the best undistributed film of 2015, it has become an embarrassing reality that Chicago is peripheric to screening any of Hong Sang-soo’s films. And it’s unfortunate that there still remains doubt that Right Now, Wrong Then will even screen in the Chicagoland area or any place other than Los Angeles and New York City. It’s a peculiar situation. Despite Hong Sang-soo’s global presence (winning awards from virtually every major festival imaginable), persistent output (composing a new feature roughly once a year), and being an alumnus from Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, the director hasn’t really broken through American audiences beyond the aforementioned major markets.
Yet as I’ve become increasingly familiar with Hong’s work – typically picking up a copy of whatever film of his I can find at a local specialty video store - the more persuasive I find his worldview. And surprisingly, I think a lot of his films would play well in other metropolitan markets. Fundamentally his films find academics confronted with grand existential concerns. But there’s typically a whimsical quality to his work, as he often provides subtle variations of the same situation in his pictures. Whether it be the temporal displacement of Woman is the Future of Man, the quizzical sense of correcting the past in The Day He Arrives, or the epic deconstruction of everyday minutia in Night and Day, Hong’s films and his characters all fundamentally attempt to ascribe some meaning to life. Which is a piece of cake compared to actually living it. Whenever Right Now, Wrong Then makes its way to Chicago, whether it be in the form of an actual screening (hint, hint Gene Siskel Film Center) or release on DVD/Blu-ray, the one certainty is that Hong’s riffing on the familiar will yield something expectantly profound.