By Calum Marsh
As critics busy themselves drawing up lists and handing out awards, it seems time to look ahead. Here are the ten films to get excited about during the year to come.
1. Jauja (Dir. Lisandro Alonso)
Revered Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso returns after 2008's exquisite Liverpool with Jauja, his most astonishing film yet. While no less oblique than its predecessors, Jauja finds Alonso working for the first time with an international star: Viggo Mortensen, an intriguing wrinkle in Alonso's minimalist approach. Mortensen plays a Danish general adrift in the badlands of 19th-century Patagonia, and his wearying travails form the bulk of the action. A cryptic and formidable work, to be sure, but an altogether mesmerizing one.
2. Hard to Be a God (Dir. Aleksei German)
Aleksei German's staggering, singular film, his sixth and last, premiered at the Rome International Film Festival in 2013, several months after the Russian director's death. Now another year has elapsed, and it has finally secured distribution and the promise of an early-winter theatrical release. Hard to Be a God tells the story of Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), a scientist from the near future on a fact-finding expedition to another planet -- one that resembles Earth as it was 800 years ago, at the cusp of the Renaissance. A genius among barbarians, Rumata is doomed to endure the savagery of the Middle Ages. But his pain is our pleasure.
3. Blackhat (Dir. Michael Mann)
Michael Mann returns this January with his first feature since 2009's poorly received gangland caper Public Enemies. Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth as Nicholas Hathaway, a jailed "blackhat" hacker offered a reprieve in exchange for his help against a notorious cyber criminal. That's a rather ludicrous premise for a thriller, perhaps, but the main attraction of a Mann film has always been aesthetic: The film's announcement trailer offered a glimpse of the spectacular digital vocabulary he began to develop with Collateral and mastered with Miami Vice, and we eagerly await a better view.
4. Queen of Earth (Dir. Alex Ross Perry)
Alex Ross Perry follows up this year's tremendous Listen Up Philip with Queen of Earth, a psychological thriller produced by indie veteran Joe Swanberg. Described by the director as his "miserable women" counterpoint to Philip's story of volatile men, Queen of Earth stars Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss and Inherent Vice's Katherine Waterston as two beach-bound vacationers whose cottage idyll soon becomes a flashpoint of anxiety and paranoia. Perry has cited Roman Polanski as an influence; the premise, irresistibly, suggests Knife in the Water by way of Bergman's Persona.
5. Mommy (Dir. Xavier Dolan)
Since his debut, 25-year-old Québécois prodigy Xavier Dolan has proven a magnet for equal vitriol and praise, and Mommy, his fifth feature in as many years, has scarcely dampened either. The film shared the Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language at Cannes -- a provocative decision, but not without merit. Mommy, while perhaps incomparable to the work of the nouvelle vague master himself, is nonetheless a sprawling, vigorous film, dazzling in its formal abandon, and in its drama deeply felt.
6. Eden (Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
Mia Hansen-Løve's rich and expansive Eden, her fourth feature, spans two decades in the life of Paul, a moderately successful French DJ closely based on the director's brother, Sven, who co-wrote the film. Tracing the rise and fall of the Chicago garage scene in Europe through the 1990s and beyond -- and colliding with an upstart duo called Daft Punk on the way -- Eden is a gentle, nuanced portrait of dance culture at the height of its vibrancy, as well as of the adolescent revelers who grew up with it.
7. High-Rise (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
"Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months." So begins J.G. Ballard's unforgettable High Rise -- and the novel only gets weirder from there. Long regarded as unadaptable, the book arrives onscreen at last courtesy of British director Ben Wheatley, whose film Kill List, encouragingly, boasted a certain Ballardian flair for the disturbing and drolly macabre.
8. Clouds of Sils Maria (Dir. Olivier Assayas)
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart co-star in this story of intergenerational friction by stalwart French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. As middle-aged actress Maria Enders, Binoche seems the embodiment of world-weariness, a class act resigned to waning stardom in an era of blockbusters and superhero films. Stewart plays the diligent assistant whose youth her boss regards as both tonic and depressant; the two play off one another with a fizzy dynamism. Assayas erects layers of artifice that demand and invite close reading, and Stewart, enjoying a rare opportunity for autocritique, delivers the performance of her career.
9. It Follows (Dir. David Robert Mitchell)
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David Robert Mitchell's previous feature, Myth of the American Sleepover, was a quiet, sensitive coming-of-age story. It Follows, by contrast, is a relentless widescreen horror film made in the spirit of John Carpenter -- quite a surprising change of tone and style. More remarkable still is Mitchell's deft command of the genre: This is horror at its most artful and rigorously disciplined, arousing fear not through jump scares or gimmicks, but rather through nimble editing and precise compositions.
10. Heaven Knows What (Dir. Josh and Benny Safdie)
Heaven Knows What, the latest from New York-based filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie, emerged as one of the standout American films at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, as audiences will see when it opens in early 2015. Following the euphoric highs and perilous lows in the ever-tumultuous life of Arielle Holmes -- a homeless heroin addict in her twenties the brothers met on the street -- Heaven Knows What offers a blistering look at a routine of pain and addiction.