It's not easy being a snob in the information age.
Many years ago, before I was about to lead my first post-film discussion in a real live theater, I asked a former teacher for help. I did not know the film very well, and I was woefully ignorant about its genre and nationality. My teacher told me not to worry -- that in order to be an expert, I just had to know five more facts than anyone else in the room. I studied up and got through the screening.
Today, when everyone has all the facts they could ever want tucked conveniently into their pockets, ready to be whipped out at a moment's notice, sounding smart is harder than ever. So, for instance, I eschewed writing a typical "ten best" list this year because there are so freaking many of them out there, and mine wouldn't be all that different from most of them.* But when I began reading all the "anticipated films of 2015" lists, it became pretty clear pretty quick that my own version of that list would differ greatly from most of what I was seeing. And that has "snob potential" written all over it.
Therefore, here is a list for those of you who are not waiting with bated breath for the newest Marvel superhero, for Mad Max or Mission Impossible sequels, for another Jurassic Park or another Star Wars. I expect I will see all of those movies in 2015, and I expect I will really like some of them. But I'm not exactly counting the days. Instead, I'm waiting for...
Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog): Legendary German director Herzog is teaming up with Nicole Kidman to bring the story of Gertrude Bell to the screen. Don't know who Gertrude Bell is? Google her. She had a life in politics and international relations that would have been considered monumental were she a man. Oh, and she also climbed mountains.
Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap): With genre-busting movies like No Smoking (2007)and Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Kashyap has been the harbinger of a new, grittier Bollywood. This neo-noir looks like it could further redefine Indian film.
Life (Anton Corbijn): Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man (2014) proved to be a worthy finale for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, he has Dane DeHaan (the best thing about Kill Your Darlings) and Robert Pattinson (as good a young actor as there is today) in a movie about Life photographer Dennis Stock and James Dean.
La La Land (Damien Chazelle): Chazelle made the best movie of 2014 (Whiplash). Now, he's back with Miles Teller in another story built around music. This time, Teller's main relationship is with Emma Watson, and not with J. K. Simmons. So I'm guessing this one may be a little more fun.
99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani): 99 Homes has already played at Telluride and will be at Sundance. Bahrani, who made the magnificent Chop Shop (2007) along with several other fine movies, is still waiting to be discovered. Perhaps this feature, with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon will do the trick.
War On Everyone (John Michael McDonagh): Those McDonagh boys (John and Martin) sure can write. This follow-up to the excellent Calvary has Garrett Hedlund and Michael Pena, and may just have Guy Pearce. Without Pearce, I'm seeing it opening day. With Pearce, I'm first in line.
Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle): Don Cheadle as Miles Davis. Directed by Don Cheadle. Written by Don Cheadle. Fortunately, Don Cheadle is really, really good.
Gangnam 1970 (Ha Yoo): This is NOT Gangnam Style. It IS an action crime story from Ha Yoo, director of A Dirty Carnival, among the most stylish of the Korean action films.
Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier): Blue Ruin was one of the biggest surprises of 2014. Saulnier's follow-up stars Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin, and for those of us born before the Berlin Wall came down, Patrick Stewart. I assume Saulnier's next movie will be called Red Rooster and I expect it to be great.
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi): Farhadi is one the best writer/directors in the world today. About Elly, which he made in 2009, before the acclaimed A Separation (2011) and The Past(2013), has finally been picked up for proper distribution in the USA. It is scheduled to open in New York in April.
The Bronze (Bryan Buckley): Sublime to ridiculous. But when the ridiculous is the first feature from commercial innovator Buckley, and when it stars Melissa Rauch (of Big Bang Theory fame) in a role modeled on Tanya Harding, that's some ridiculous I can get excited about.
In the Company of Women (Kahlil Silver): Know nothing about it. But Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn has delivered two small gems with This is Martin Bonner (2013) and Land Ho! (2014) so I'll roll the dice on this one.
Bessie (Dee Rees): This is an HBO film. Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith (with Mo'Nique as Ma Rainey). The fact that Dee Rees, director of the outstanding movie Pariah (2011), has not had a theatrically released feature since, is a prime example of how American film gives very little voice to women directors, and especially to women directors of color. One day, that will change. For now, we have to enjoy her work on television.
There are plenty of other titles to look for -- new movies from Lav Diaz and Cary Fukunaga and Thomas Vinterberg -- but I'm cutting it off at a baker's dozen. No guarantees they will all be worthwhile, but can you really promise me that the new Star Wars won't suck?
Did I sound like a snob there? Good, it's working.
*Oh, and I was most likely lying about that "ten best" thing. We snobs can't resist lists.