Here’s the thing. Believe it or not, this is a very difficult piece to write each year. I started breaking it down into two parts several years ago so I could highlight more movies and hopefully have a chance to get a real look at some of the later release movies before endorsing them. But inevitably, the first half of the year leaves me searching for random movies to fill the final few spots on the list while the second half of the year always leaves me feeling like I’ve excluded too many deserving movies. Such is the life of the movie blogger.
A couple of notes/disclaimers before we move on. The back half of the year is typically full of awards-y films and festival darlings that haven’t received confirmed release dates yet and will pop up to surprise us as the year winds to a close. I tend to shy away from those movies because they tend to come and go without any fanfare and I try to deal in movies that most (or at least some) of you will actually have a chance to see. Also, I won’t list anything that doesn’t have a trailer yet. A good trailer doesn’t always result in a good movie, obviously, but you can gain an understanding of tone, look, and feel from those brief glimpses and that’s important for a list such as this. (As such, films like La La Land, Loving, Patriot’s Day and more were excluded.) Finally, it should go without saying and yet I have to say it every year: this is MY list and therefore, it’s MY opinion that matters. You may be very excited about Suicide Squad. That’s great! I’m cautiously optimistic about that one and hope it works out. But it didn’t find a spot here because, personally, I may never trust another DC movie again for the rest of my life. So while I’m hopeful it turns out well, I’ll have to see it to believe it. Now on with the show.
HONORABLE MENTION: Moana (November 23) – Auli’I Cravalho, The Rock, Alan Tudyk
Since Jon Lasseter took over Disney Animation, there’s been a dramatic shift in the Pixar-Disney relationship. Nothing again Finding Dory but creatively, Moana looks like a strong bet to outclass its fishy predecessor. If the promise of the teaser trailer holds true, I can’t imagine Moana won’t be a triumph. Also: The Rock.
10. Star Trek Beyond (June 22) – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Jon Cho
Consider this the beginning of the, “I like the property but if we’re being honest, I’m sorta nervous” section of the list. I very much enjoy this universe and will happily return to it whenever Paramount gives me the opportunity. But the first trailer was horrible. In fairness, it looked like it was all pulled from one early scene and the second trailer is a vast improvement but that first look, combined with rumblings of a choppy production, leaves me uneasy. Again, though, the property is viable and Justin Lin knows how to direct an action movie so I’m holding out hope.
9. Doctor Strange (November 4) – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen
I think Doctor Strange constitutes an actual risk for the Marvel conglomerate and that excites me even if the property itself doesn’t, truthfully. The casting is a bit of a departure from the norm for the MCU, the property calls for a heavy emphasis on magic which Kevin Fiege has doggedly avoided to this point, and there isn’t much name recognition to draw on for general audiences. (Most of that also applies to Ant-Man, of course.) I don’t love the trailer but I do love the assemblage of talent and I think it’s fair to expect some chances to be taken that typically aren’t in an Avengers movie.
8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11) – Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin
I don’t want to be excited for this movie, if I’m being candid. I do not like being pandered to and if Billy Lynn goes a’ panderin’, it will play out like a bro country anthem. Thus, it’s a dangerous selection for a list such as this. But Ang Lee is a fabulous filmmaker, of course, and maybe more to the point, he knows how to make heady event films that feel (especially in the moment) bigger than they actually are. Life of Pi isn’t a film I personally think about very often but in the moment, it felt HUGE. I’m hoping Billy Lynn finds that mark.
7. The Magnificent Seven (September 23) – Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
My first viewing of this trailer caught me completely off guard. Probably because of Training Day, I didn’t expect The Magnificent Seven to be fun. I admit I was a little turned off by that presentation. But after a second (and third) viewing, I’ve got a better sense of what Antoine Fuqua’s vision for the movie is and I rather dig it. It’s always risky taking on the remake of a classic (and that term should not be taken lightly in this case) but with this cast and an outstanding source material to draw upon, The Magnificent Seven has a real shot at being something special.
6. The Founder (August 5) – Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Linda Cardellini
Consider this the end of the “sorta nervous” section of the list. I’m not the biggest fan of biopics in general but I am a big fan of American Treasure Michael Keaton LOCKED AND LOADED in the midst of an absolute renaissance. The only iffy thing about The Founder is its release date. In what looks like a weak awards year, dropping this in August seems short sighted or indicates that it isn’t the Oscar contender the studio expected. But worst case scenario, this is a good movie, right? Not great but good. I’ll take it if it means getting to watch Keaton do his thing again.
5. The Birth of a Nation (October 7) – Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Junior
You can pretty much mark this down right now for a Best Picture nominee and it’s likely the heavy favorite at this point. Birth CRUSHED at Sundance and has a tremendous surge of momentum propelling it forward. The trailer feels like a less pandering Free State of Jones mixed with 12 Years a Slave with a little gospel thrown in for good measure. Count me in.
4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 16) – Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Mille
When the original Harry Potter series (collectively a set-in-stone top 10 favorite movie of all-time for me) ended in 2011, I was thoroughly satisfied with the conclusion but bummed that I wouldn’t get to spend more time in its world. Like Star Wars, there’s such a vast universe to play with here and I wanted more. Wish granted. I’m not sure Beasts can live up to its predecessor but it doesn’t have to; it just has to have the same charm and sense of wonder that made the Potter movies so endearing. Moreover, I’m excited that we’re going to finally force Kent to watch these movies. High five.
3. Jason Bourne (July 29) – Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jone
(Note: I am currently watching a Bourne movie while I write and I’m having a hard time figuring out why I only have this movie listed at number three.) I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie. I mean, I really dig the Damon trilogy and really pretend hard that the Renner one isn’t a thing. But I didn’t know I needed another Bourne movie until that trailer dropped around the Super Bowl. OH MY. Suddenly my life seemed somewhat incomplete having not yet seen this new cinematic masterpiece. We’re so close to this one I’m starting to actually foam at the mouth a bit, that’s how much I can’t wait for Jason Bourne. Or I might have rabies. We’ll see.
2. Passengers (December 21) – Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Martin Sheen
So I’m breaking my no trailer rule here because, gosh darn it, I just can’t keep Passengers off the list. I wrote around it a couple of times but I’m just so psyched for this one, I’m willing to endorse it sight unseen. Chris Pratt plus Jennifer Lawrence in a high concept sci-fi piece IN SPACE? Is this real life? That sounds like a fake movie someone would make to lure me into trap.
1. Rogue One (December 16) – Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitake
Too much was made about the re-writes and re-shoots taking place on Rogue One. These things happen on a big budget movie. Call me when we get confirmation that Jar Jar is involved; then I’ll get worried. I think this is the perfect story to kick off the Star Wars anthology spin-off movies. It’s not an origin story (there’s time for those later) but rather an exploration into the wide world of the Star Wars universe that happens to tie into the known story quite closely. I’m obviously an easy mark for pretty much any Star Wars property but if this works with mass audiences (it won’t be Force Awakens big but it should top $800 million) it opens up a thousand possibilities for upcoming movies.