A few notes on this piece before you jump in:
1.) Part I of this list (January through June) can be found here. It is iffy at best but keep in mind, the first half of 2015 was pretty weak, if we’re being honest, and I didn’t have a lot to choose from. But yes, I let my love for Cameron Crowe blind me and I’m sorry.
2.) The back half of 2015 is packed, leaving me with far too many choices that I knew what to do with so if you’re stoked about a movie I didn’t list here, just know it was considered. (Unless you’re stoked about Ricki and the Flash; in that case, just know it was NOT considered.)
3.) The second half of the year always brings with it a dozen or more surprise films we know nothing about that come out of nowhere/the festival circuit to jump into Oscar contention. As such, this list is mostly studio fare.
4.) Having been burned too many times in the past, I toss out any movie that doesn’t have a definite US release date or for which we have yet to see a trailer. (Exception: number six, which got a pass because it’s part of an existing franchise I know and trust.) This eliminated films like The Revenant, MacBeth, and The Hateful Eight, though I’m sure they’ll all be great.
5.) SPOILER ALERT: Star Wars makes an appearance.
Honorable Mention: The Good Dinosaur (November 27) – Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn
Pixar just gave us one, if not the, best movie in their considerable catalog so why has The Good Dinosaur fallen out of my top 10, you ask? There are SO MANY bad signs on this one that even I, one of Pixar’s biggest apologists, must acknowledge that this could be a big misstep. You don’t often see a movie turn out well after it’s A) been pushed back a couple of times (this was supposed to be Pixar’s 2014 studio release) and B) replaced virtually its entire cast during production, not to mention the director. (See this story for more details.) Of course, if anyone can pull it off, it’s these guys and I’m looking forward to a dinosaur movie that won’t scar my toddler but we’re in wait-and-see mode as of right now.
10. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31) – Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
Maybe you’ve grown tired of the “Tom Cruise hangs from inanimate objects” genre (if that’s not a Netflix category by the end of the week I’ll be furious) but I’m still more than willing to give Cruise two hours every year to thoroughly entertain me. The most recent Impossible (Ghost Protocol if you’ve forgotten) was, by my estimation, one of the best action films in years and I think as long as Cruise is willing to risk his life for my entertainment, I’ll keep coming back happily. (About that title though…)
9. The Peanuts Movie (November 6) – Noah Schnapp, Francesca Capaldi, Hadley Belle Miller
I have run the gamut of emotions on this one: I loved Snoopy and the gang as a kid but couldn’t see the need for a new film, then the teaser trailer was outstanding, and then the full trailer was…decent? So I’m not totally sure what we’re getting here but at the end of the day, it’s probably high time we reintroduce Charlie Brown to the younger generations and the animation looks stellar. I’m in.
8. Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot (July 10) – Dirk Nowitzki
I considered removing this entry from my list partly because I tend to think of documentaries as almost a different medium than a traditional film and partly because this is likely to be less of an actual film and more, “Two hours of Brian weeping and yelling “DIIIIIRRRRKKKKKKKK” at the top of his lungs.” I realize this is an incredibly micro film in an otherwise macro list but it is, after all, my list and Dirk will always have a place on whatever list I happen to make.
7. Bridge of Spies (October 16) – Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan
This one was probably second on my list heading into the first trailer. If there are three non-Star Wars things I love in this world, it’s Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and the Cold War. Seriously, how can that go wrong? Well…first trailer…not the best. Bridge of Spies is starting to look a little too feel good-y inspirational and less actual good movie. That said, the trailer could be a lie and the pedigree for this thing is so good that I’m hoping the good will win out. But from that first glimpse, it’s veering a little too close to War Horse to leave me totally optimistic.
6. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (November 20) – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
I can’t exactly call the Hunger Games franchise underrated or underappreciated given that each of the previous three films have been wildly successful and they’ve helped turn Jennifer Lawrence into arguably the biggest female movie star in the world. And yet, I don’t feel like this series quite gets its due. These are really stinking good blockbuster movies and while the third entry was a step down from its predecessor (Catching Fire found a place in my Top 10 films in 2013), it’s still a solid film that gave Lawrence an opportunity to do a little more actual acting and set things up for Part II quite nicely. Here’s hoping the film version can bring it all home in better fashion than the books, which were uneven at best.
5. Black Mass (September 16) – Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson
I can’t tell you when the last time was that I got excited about a Johnny Depp movie. Actually, I can. 2009, Public Enemies. And we saw how that turned out. “Starring Johnny Depp” just doesn’t do anything for me anymore, and quite frankly, more often than not, it fills me with dread. But a locked in, “I’m really trying here instead of just hanging out with Tim Burton all year”, Johnny Depp as notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger? Now THAT interests me. From the looks of it, Black Mass has a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination and I can’t wait to check it out.
4. In the Heart of the Sea (December 11) – Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
This is the rare case where a movie getting pushed back from its original release date is actually a good thing. It always seemed like an odd fit for March and clearly the studio agreed, instead shifting In the Heart of the Sea to a prime time spot in the Oscar race. Great cast, great director (Ron Howard), and great source material. Can’t wait.
3. Spectre (November 6) – Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Coming off what I would consider to be the best Bond film ever, Spectre has a lot to live up to. But with all the principals returning and the addition of Waltz (in possibly but maybe not but probably the iconic Bond villain role), there’s no reason to believe we won’t be treated to yet another spectacular entry. The teaser trailers have been extraordinarily teaser-y but for me, this has done nothing but further pique my interest.
2. The Martian (November 27) – Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
It’s been a rough few years for Ridley Scott, once one of the most trustworthy directors in the business. But with a cast like this and a fantastic book from which to draw inspiration (I read The Martian earlier this year and absolutely loved it), I have to believe that he can’t screw this up. Or at least, I choose to believe he can’t screw this up. Likewise, Damon has been on a mediocre run for a few years and I feel like this might be the perfect role to reassert his place in the movie world. The Martian would’ve found a place on this list no matter what but the outstanding trailer pushed it this high.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18) – Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver
I almost titled this list my, “Top 10 Anticipated Films of 2015 Part II Not Counting Star Wars” because honestly it’s not even fair for the rest of these movies to have to compete with Star Wars. How could any movie compete with competent new Star Wars, really? I’ve watched that trailer maybe a hundred times and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. This is like the completion of some sort of life goal which probably speaks to both the pop cultural significance of this franchise and the sadness of my life. If The Force Awakens is even decent (and at this point, I think that’s the low end of what we should expect), this is going to be the biggest movie of all-time and I’ll only account for like one, maybe two million dollars of that total gross myself.