The past 12 months were not Hollywood’s best.
The divide between major blockbusters, with budgets in excess of $150 million, and thought-provoking and well-crafted indie films seemed even greater than before.
You had to look very hard for memorable movies in 2015.
Take, for example, science fiction drama The Martian’s inclusion in the “Best Comedy or Musical” category at the Golden Globe Awards.
The Ridley Scott flick actually won, despite being void of humour or song-and-dance numbers.
Clearly the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which nominates and votes on the Globes, was scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Subsequently, the race for the Academy Awards this month could be one of the most bland in recent memory.
But never fear, cinephiles.
There are a number of promising movies to hit our big screens this year.
Here’s 10 flicks to get excited about.
Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation but it is definitely not for children.
It’s the latest work from the vivid and wildly original mind of Charlie Kaufman, writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Anomalisa follows Michael Stone, an author and expert on customer service, as he spends a night in the Fergoli Hotel before speaking at a conference.
Stone has descended into an existential crisis, overcome with the mundanity of life to the point of mental breakdown.
But he meets Lisa, a woman staying at the hotel who is a fan of his, and feels an immediate love for her that could remedy his angst.
Anomalisa won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe.
It is both a bleak and beautiful experience.
Release date: February 4, 2016
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
The movies of the Coen Brothers shift between twisted black comedy (Fargo, No Country for Old Men) and off-beat, playful slapstick (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty).
Hail, Caersar! appears a return to the latter, a comical crime caper set in the Hollywood film industry of the 1950s.
Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, is a “fixer” helping the production of a new prestige film in the vein of Ben Hur.
The film’s star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped by a group called The Future, who demand $100,000 for his safe return.
The cast is one of the Coen Brothers’ very best, with Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton all joining in the mayhem.
Release date: February 18
Director: John Hillcoat
If there’s one thing you can be sure of before watching the latest John Hillcoat movie: there will be blood.
The talented Australian director has built a big fanbase with gritty movies such as The Proposition, The Road and Lawless.
Triple 9 is a thriller about a group of criminals and corrupt cops who want to pull off a near-impossible heist.
Part of the plan is to create a distraction by way of a “999”, which in cop code means “officer down”.
This will mean murdering an innocent policeman (Casey Affleck) on the other side of the city, drawing away all the good guys.
The all-star cast includes Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.
Release date: March 3, 2016
THE NICE GUYS
Director: Shane Black
If Hollywood wants an entertaining buddy action movie, Shane Black is the go-to man.
As a screenwriter his hits include Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Last Action Hero.
Black stepped into big budget territory with the very entertaining Iron Man 3, but most impressive was his stylish 2005 neo-noir crime caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The Nice Guys pairs up Russell Crowe as a stand-over man and Ryan Gosling as a bumbling private eye, who join forces to investigate a girl’s disappearance.
Black’s sense of humour is just as his name suggests, so The Nice Guys shapes up to be a wild and mischievous ride.
Release date: April 6, 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
American writer-director Jeff Nichols has been a quiet achiever in mainstream cinema, releasing the unpredictable sci-fi flick Take Shelter and coming-of-age thriller Mud.
His upcoming “sci-fi chase film” Midnight Special has an ’80s retro vibe and, as Nichols has stated, is inspired by movies like John Carpenter’s Starman.
Michael Shannon (star of Take Shelter) is on the run with his son, who has super powers.
He is pursued by a religious cult led by Sam Shepherd and a government task force headed up by Adam Driver.
The impressive cast also includes Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst.
It has been selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Release date: to be confirmed (second quarter 2016)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Dystopian futures of enforced social structure have been standard fodder throughout science fiction, and the resulting tension and violence is explored in J.G. Ballard’s book High-Rise.
The classic 1975 novel has finally been brought to the screen by the formidable British husband and wife pairing of director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump.
With charismatic Tom Hiddleston in the lead role of Dr. Robert Laing, the film follows the exploits of the inhabitants of a luxury tower block that is isolated from the rest of society.
The mild oppression of those living on the lower levels begins to erode the harmony of this architect-designed microcosm, descending into orgiastic mayhem.
High-Rise looks to be a deliciously dark and brutal comedy.
Release date: second quarter 2016
Director: Steven Spielberg
Roald Dahl fans could breathe a sigh of relief when it was announced that none other than master craftsman Steven Spielberg would bring a live action Big Friendly Giant to the silver screen.
The director has re-teamed with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial screenwriter Melissa Mathison for this Disney production.
The key to its success will be finding a balance between the heart-warming friendship between The BFG and pint-sized heroine Sophie, and the horror of the child-eating giants.
Two of those monsters, The Bloodbottler and The Fleshlumpeater, are played by chameleons Bill Hader and Jemaine Clement respectively.
Older kids are sure to love it, though it might scare the tiny tots.
Release date: July 22, 2016
WAR ON EVERYONE
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Irish writer-director John Michael McDonagh has not put a foot wrong in his cinematic career.
The brother of the equally talented filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) wrote the screenplay for Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly flick and, more recently, wrote and directed two immaculate black comedies in The Guard and Calvary.
War On Everyone follows Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard as corrupt cops in New Mexico who blatantly blackmail and frame any criminal that crosses their path.
Things take a sinister turn when they attempt to blackmail someone far more deadly than them.
Expect War on Everyone to be a bloody and twisted good time.
Release date: third quarter 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Director Martin Scorsese long had plans to direct an adaptation of Japanese and Roman Catholic author Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, and production began in January 2015.
The movie follows two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who face violent persecution when they travel to Japan to seek out their mentor (Liam Neeson) and spread Christianity.
Scorsese remains a force in cinema and no matter what genre or era of history he turns his eye to, you can be sure it will be an experience – and in all likelihood a compelling one.
Release date: to be announced
STORY OF YOUR LIFE
Director: Denis Villeneuve
French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has been superb since crossing over into English-language movies, with three impressive works, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, cementing his profile as a must-see director.
His next two projects are science fiction.
One is the sequel to Blade Runner, which will be released to monumental expectation.
But next we will see Story of Your Life, an adaptation of the award-winning Ted Chiang novella.
The story takes place after alien spacecrafts have landed on Earth.
A linguistic expert named Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is employed by the Government to decipher the aliens’ language and determine if they are friend or foe.
With Villeneuve at the helm, you can expect a tense and intelligent piece of science fiction.
Release date: to be announced