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Best movies of 2015 that you don't know about yet: Tim's list

Posted Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 4:48 PM Central
Last updated Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 5:08 PM Central

by Tim Briscoe

Picking out "sleeper movies" from a year-long release schedule is not an easy task. I'm always proud of the selections that Dannette, John, and I put forth. It's (more or less) our jobs to know what films are coming out and my cohorts always surprise me with great looking movies I didn't realize existed. Hopefully I've done the same for them -- and you.

My favorite genre is comedy but I attempted a varied roster of movies. I failed when I saw how many solid sci-fi films are coming out in 2015. There is a supernova level of science fiction here. And again, that doesn't even include the big hitters like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Avengers: Age of Ultron. These are the little guys that you really should look for as the year advances.

Ex Machina

Alex Garland, the writer of Sunshine and 28 Days Later, makes his directorial debut with this sci-fi thriller. Fellow Star Wars: The Force Awakens stars Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Issac are two thirds of a psychological triangle with an female A.I. named "Ava," played by Alicia Vikander. Is Ava real enough? Or maybe she's too real for both men?

Why it might fail: It's pronounced maak-en-uh. A difficult to pronounce title is never easy to sell. Despite its stars, this isn't populist sci-fi like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is hardcore sci-fi. Finding an audience may be hard.

Opens in theaters on April 10, 2015.

Cameron Crowe Untitled

Cameron Crowe is all I really need to write here. This guy gets a free pass in my book. Vanilla Sky, Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous -- one of my all-time favorite films -- puts Crowe in the must-see category. The icing on the cake is the stellar cast: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride -- I could go on. OK, I will: John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Jay Baruchel, Edi Gathegi. Seriously, buy your tickets now.

Why it might fail: May is a busy month for big movies. This one may get lost in the shuffle. And come up with a title for Pete's sake! Just as long as we can all pronounce properly.

Opens in theaters on May 29, 2015.

Love & Mercy

"Lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did." The lyric from the Barenaked Ladies song is about all I know about the former Beach Boys' leader Brian Wilson. I know he had some kind of mental and creative meltdown. I'm looking forward to learning more of this true story through portrayals by Paul Dano and (older Wilson) John Cusack. The film is directed by Bill Pohlad, a longtime producer behind the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Into the Wild, 12 Years a Slave, and Wild. Wilson's journey is joined by Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks, Jake Abel, and Kenny Wormald.

Why it might fail: Do people -- especially younger audiences -- remember Brian Wilson's music? I surely hope so.

Opens in theaters on June 5, 2015.

Absolutely Anything

Like lots of Americans, I have a fondness for British comedy. Historically that means Monty Python. As of late that means Simon Pegg films. This movie has both. Pegg stars as a school teacher who receives the power to do anything he wishes from a group of aliens. The movie was co-written and directed by Python member Terry Jones. He directed (or co-directed) all their classics including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. His mates John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle provide the aliens' voices. The voice of Pegg's dog is Robin Williams in his final film role. Kate Beckinsale is the love interest -- of Pegg, but probably also the dog.

Why it might fail: Yeah, the extended clip above isn't spectacular but I have faith. Also, Pegg's recent imports haven't really set the colonies on fire, if you get my drift. A Fantastic Fear of Everything and Hector and the Search for Happiness have made zero impact in America.

Opens in theaters in July 2015 -- if you travel to London. No word yet on U.S. distribution but I'd expect it in early autumn.


This is another movie based on a true story. It's a tale we are probably aware of but know little about. Chris O'Dowd is David Walsh, a journalist convinced that Lance Armstrong's Tour de France wins are aided by the use of banned substances. The very underappreciated actor Ben Foster plays Armstrong. Icon is directed by the great Stephen Frears, he of Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, and Philomena fame. The cast also includes Lee Pace and Dustin Hoffman.

Why it might fail: Frears can be hit-or-miss. His films Hero, Mary Reilly, The Hi-Lo Country, Tamara Drewe, and Lay the Favorite were less than great.

Expected in theaters in August 2015.

Triple Nine

Yet again, it's the massive and amazing cast that caught me. But every list of movies needs at least one good crime drama. Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Casey Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Clifton Collins Jr. star in this one. It's from Aussie director John Hillcoat. He's an underrated talent who gave us The Proposition, The Road, and Lawless. I think he could really break out with this one. The story involves criminals and corrupt cops who team up to murder a police officer and pull off a huge heist. Triple Nine is the code for a down officer.

Why it might fail: Like a dream team in basketball, there are only so many balls with which to play. Trying to get all these stars their requisite screen time could dilute the story and be distracting.

Opens in theaters on Sept. 11, 2015.

Midnight Special

X-Men movies hardly develop the story of the mutants' parents. How would a mother or father react to learning their child has special powers? Apparently writer-director Jeff Nichols wondered exactly that. Nichols received a lot of acclaim for 2012's Mud. Oh yeah, he's also directing a little movie for 2018 called Aquaman. Nichols said he wanted Midnight Special to be a road movie like John Carpenter's Starman. I call shotgun for that ride. This one is also dripping with talent: Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Sam Shepard.

Why it might fail: Will we all be tired of sci-fi by this point in the year? The next movie in this list (also a sci-fi flick) is opening the same day. One of them is bound to get lost. I wouldn't be surprised if this one got bumped into 2016.

Opens in theaters on Nov. 25, 2015.

The Martian

Andy Weir's novel has been read -- and loved -- by millions. It's described as Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Not literally that 1964 B movie but you get the idea. It's like a sci-fi version of Cast Away. The movie is helmed by Ridley Scott. Once again, the cast is top notch. Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain lead with Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in support. This was the first movie I selected in draft between Dannette, John, and myself. I think it has the best chance to be great.

Why it might fail: Yep, more potential for sci-fi fatigue. Ridley Scott is spotty too. Will this be tremendous like his early films Blade Runner and Alien or will it fizzle like Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Opens in theaters on Nov. 25, 2015.

Z for Zachariah

Ah, what the hell? Let's go for another sci-fi movie! Margot Robbie plays a woman who thinks she's the sole survivor after nuclear war. Her little world is crashed by two strangers played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (his third appearance on my list) and Chris Pine. It's based on a teen novel first published back in 1974. The movie is directed by Craig Zobel. He did Compliance and Great Wall of Sound. Completely unrelated, Zobel also co-developed the comedy site Homestar Runner. For that he has my undying devotion.

Why it might fail: I'm afraid we're all growing tired of post-apocalyptic distopias.

Opens in theaters Fall 2015.

Get a Job

To the moon with sci-fi! This one is a pure comedy. It's about a recent college grad doing what recent college grads do -- try to get a job. Like many of these selections, I picked Get a Job based mostly on the principals involved. Director Dylan Kidd gave us Roger Dodger and P.S. The cast is tremendous; some of my favorites: Anna Kendrick, Alison Brie, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Marcia Gay Harden, Miles Teller, Brandon T. Jackson, Nicholas Braun, among others.

Why it might fail: This is Kidd's first feature film in a decade. Not only that but this movie has been in a Knights of Badassdom-like limbo for quite a while. That's never a good sign.

Opens in theaters... Who knows?