Top 15 – Films not to miss in January 2015

Birdman is one of the most highly anticipated films of January 2015

So that’s it. 2014 is in the books and a part of cinema history. The good and the bad of the year gone by are now consigned to DVD shelves and there is going to be a whole new set of film releases coming to UK cinemas.

January 2015 is set to be a stacked month as the major awards season contenders start to make their presence known on this side of the Atlantic. Michael Keaton will battle his superhero alter ego, whilst Eddie Redmayne grapples with a huge role as a British intellectual heavyweight.

In fact, January 2015 is so packed with huge releases that, instead of the usual ten, this list will showcase 15 films that you should really try to see this month.


15. A Most Violent Year (Jan 23)

Jessica Chastain stars in Oscar hopeful A Most Violent Year

One of 2014’s breakout stars – Oscar Isaac – warms up for a ride in an X-wing with this crime drama, also starring Jessica Chastain, who is receiving her fair share of awards buzz.

Isaac and Chastain play an immigrant family trying to expand their business in the corrupt world of 1981 New York City. The title comes from the fact that the year was statistically one of the most violent periods in the history of the city.

It’s another atmospheric movie from director JC Chandor, who was widely praised for seafaring survival story All Is Lost. Don’t bet against it bagging a few Oscar noms.


14. American Sniper (Jan 16)

Bradley Cooper takes aim in war drama American Sniper

Off the heels of musical sidestep Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood returns to what he knows best as the director of gritty actioner American Sniper. The film depicts the tour of duty of sharpshooter Bradley Cooper, who struggles to reconcile his military work with family life.

The first trailer was widely praised for its minimalist approach to the material and how well it created tension from a largely static scene. If the rest of American Sniper can match up to that brief clip, the film stands a chance of being genuinely excellent.

Given the success The Hurt Locker managed despite being a dull film, the signs are good for Eastwood’s latest.


13. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (Jan 1)

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death brings cinema audiences back to Eel Marsh House

British horror got a real shot in the arm with James Watkins’ adaptation of The Woman in Black in 2012. The film was the first big post-Potter effort from Daniel Radcliffe and did solid box office business, ensuring that work began on the inevitable sequel.

With a script based on an original story by original author Susan Hill, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death follows a group of evacuated schoolchildren who end up at the haunted Eel Marsh House.

Horror sequels don’t exactly have a high success rate, but The Woman in Black thrived due to how well it worked within the existing conventions of the genre. If the new film can stick to that blueprint, it could work well.


12. The Gambler (Jan 23)

Mark Wahlberg stars in crime thriller The Gambler

Rupert Wyatt is perhaps best known for being the director who brought credibility back to the Apes franchise with the terrific 2011 blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He quit work on the sequel, which became Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and instead made crime thriller The Gambler.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a hidden other life as a high stakes gambler. His balancing act begins to falter when he borrows money from a loan shark and starts a relationship with a student.

With Wyatt’s slick directorial style and John Goodman in a supporting role, this could be an early frontrunner in terms of 2015’s crime thriller releases.


11. Mortdecai (Jan 23)

Johnny Depp goes characteristically offbeat as the flamboyant lead in Mortdecai

Johnny Depp, making the first of a few appearances on this list, is set for another of his increasingly common oddball leading roles in crime caper Mortdecai.

Depp’s eponymous art dealer is tasked with recovering a stolen painting that is said to contain the codes to a bank vault full of Nazi gold. Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor also appear.

Trailers suggest Depp in a role that’s fun and quippy, but markedly different from his near-identical performances in recent blockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lone Ranger.

And, let’s face it, it has to be better than Transcendence.


10. Son of a Gun (Jan 30)

Ewan McGregor and Brenton Thwaites form a father-son bond in Son of a Gun

Aussie director Julius Avery makes his feature debut in this sun-baked thriller that goes from prison drama to heist movie, with plenty of action beats on the way.

The film, which premiered at the London Film Festival last year, follows Brenton Thwaites young prisoner, who makes a deal on the inside with veteran armed robber Ewan McGregor. They agree to help each other in the outside world, but Thwaites’ relationship with Alicia Vikander complicates matters.

Avery based the core of the film on his own experiences as a youngster who fell in with a criminal crowd and there’s a real authenticity lurking underneath the action movie gloss.

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does a great job of spinning it.


9. Inherent Vice (Jan 30)

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Paul Thomas Anderson's latest Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson never picks the same project twice. His follow-up to ponderous, dream-like drama The Master is set to be psychedelic Thomas Pynchon crime-com Inherent Vice.

Star of The Master Joaquin Phoenix is private investigator Doc Sportello, charged with looking into the disappearance of a former girlfriend. Set against the backdrop of 70s style, the film is far from an ordinary crime movie, aided by an ensemble cast as varied as Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph and Owen Wilson.

Anderson’s films are always divisive, but one thing is for certain – it’s a film you’ll want to talk about afterwards.


8. Big Hero 6 (Jan 30)

Disney's latest animation is Marvel property Big Hero 6

Disney Animation is on fire after uber-hit Frozen, which has been an omnipresent cultural juggernaut for over a year now. Their newest film, Big Hero 6, is the first animated attempt to milk Disney’s acquisition of Marvel.

Cuddly robot Baymax and a team of nerds must become high-tech superheroes in order to battle a masked villain.

Early reviews for the film have been largely positive and there’s certainly plenty to love about Baymax, who has been at the centre of the film’s marketing from day one. This could be in with a shot for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.


7. Foxcatcher (Jan 9)

Steve Carell goes dark in Golden Globe-nominated drama Foxcatcher

Steve Carell has gone very dark indeed for Foxcatcher. Carell plays real-life billionaire John du Pont, who took two wrestling brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) under his wing in his attempts to form a team for the 1988 Olympic Games.

Those familiar with the surprisingly little-remembered true story will know the tragic ending to that dream, but for those who don’t, the film from Moneyball director Bennett Miller is a tense ride.

Tatum and Ruffalo are terrific, but it’s Carell who is the true star of the film and elevates Miller’s ethereal, methodical film into an emotional journey that winds towards a dark climax.


6. Into the Woods (Jan 9)

Meryl Streep and James Corden star in fairytale-inspired musical Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a huge movie musical, adapted from a stage play by Stephen Sondheim, starring Meryl Streep as a witch and Johnny Depp as a wolf. That’s just bizarre enough to sell it to me.

Inspired by a series of Grimm fairytales, Into the Woods follows a baker and his wife who are cursed into childlessness by Streep’s old crone. It brings in elements from different stories to create an enormous ensemble crossover.

As long as director Rob Marshall is not overwhelmed by the scale of the work, Into the Woods could be a genuine contender to join the pantheon of classic musical films.


5. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Jan 29)

Gentleman spy Colin Firth kicks arse in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Matthew Vaughn evokes memories of Kick-Ass with his return to comic book adaptation. Working again from a Mark Millar source, Vaughn has produced Kingsman: The Secret Service – a spy spoof with teeth.

Colin Firth stars as the gentleman agent who recruits chavtastic youngster Taron Egerton as the latest recruit for the titular organisation. Egerton’s recruitment coincides with the emergence of Samuel L Jackson’s villain, who has a rather terrifying technological plot in mind.

If it’s anything like Kick-Ass, Kingsman is going to be the perfect marriage of comedy and action. With bloodshed and banter to spare, this could be one of the more overlooked highlights of January 2015.


4. Ex Machina (Jan 23)

Alicia Vikander plays an AI in sci-fi Ex Machina

Little is known about the directorial debut of Dredd screenwriter Alex Garland, but sci-fi Ex Machina has plenty of intrigue around it without showing its hand.

Domhnall Gleeson – no stranger to sci-fi, having appeared in an episode of Black Mirror – plays a computer coder. He wins a competition to test the latest artificial intelligence (Alicia Vikander) created by Oscar Isaac’s scientist.

Garland has held the pen behind a number of exciting British films (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) and has a real eye for subtle sci-fi. It’s not going to blow up the box office, but Ex Machina could show that directing is another string to his bow.


3. The Theory of Everything (Jan 1)

Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in British biopic The Theory of Everything

British physicist Stephen Hawking has lived a truly extraordinary life. He has been a pioneering figure in the study of black holes and is still around fifty years after doctors told him motor neurone disease would kill him in two.

Eddie Redmayne portrays Hawking in The Theory of Everything, which is set to make a big splash during awards season. Felicity Jones is receiving equal plaudits for her work as Hawking’s wife, Jane. The film focuses on their love story, as well as Hawking’s initial diagnosis with ALS.

Critics are showering The Theory of Everything with lavish praise. Awards bodies have followed suit, with the film picking up four nods in the Golden Globes 2015 nominations. It seems likely that the Academy will be hot for the film too. Hopefully, audiences will be the same.


2. Birdman (Jan 1)

Michael Keaton leads the cast of ambitious drama Birdman

Of all of the films in the 2015 awards race, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is comfortably the weirdest. It led the field in the Golden Globes 2015 nominations, with seven, and could repeat that feat at the Oscars.

Put together as if in a single take, Birdman follows Michael Keaton’s washed-up actor, still haunted both literally and figuratively by the superhero part that made him famous. There’s a cracking ensemble cast alongside him, including Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts.

Despite its odd black comedy setup and its high concept production, Birdman has been met with near universal acclaim. It drops in UK cinemas on New Year’s Day and is a real must-see.


1. Whiplash (Jan 16)

JK Simmons is hoovering up awards for his role in Whiplash

Whiplash isn’t a film. It’s an experience. When I had the opportunity to see it at the London Film Festival in October, I immediately wanted to go back and watch it again.

Damien Chazelle’s tale of a driven young drummer’s struggle to impress JK Simmons’ brutal maestro is a top-drawer marriage of sight and sound on the big screen. From its brilliantly tense practice room scenes to the cacophonous climax, Whiplash is note perfect.

It was unforgivably snubbed in most of the Golden Globes 2015 nominations, but JK Simmons is well in the mix to sweep the board with all of the Best Supporting Actor prizes.

This terrific film deserves all of that and more.


What do you think of the films hitting UK cinemas in January 2015? Which ones will you be seeing? Are there any other films coming out this month that should have made this list?

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