By now you’ve probably realized that 2016 looks like a massive year for the movies. We’ve got about 10,000 superhero films, major sequels, and other blockbuster projects on the way (slight exaggeration), and it seems as if there are about a dozen projects that could top $500 million or so at the box offices. These are the movies we’ll be talking about through most of the next year, at least until the late fall when the award contenders start to trickle in.
But in the meantime, it’s worth pointing out some of the subtler releases we’ll be seeing in 2016 – the indie movies, Netflix titles, etc. that won’t dominate the cinema but could quietly assume places among the year’s best films. Let’s take a look at five movies that could ultimately fit this description.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny
Yes, this sounds like a blockbuster sequel the likes of which I alluded to up above. But strangely enough, 16 years after the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was something of a sensation, there’s been very little hype or fanfare regarding this sequel. In part that’s because it’s not going to regular theaters or ordinary On Demand services, but instead going straight to Netflix as a new original film for the company. This might have seemed strange even six months ago but given that fellow Netflix original “Beasts Of No Nation” enjoyed enormous success, “Sword Of Destiny” seems pretty exciting.
We don’t know a great deal about the specifics of the plot, but the film is due out in February and will star Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh (reprising her role as Yu Shu Lien) among others. It will be released to some IMAX theaters once it appears on Netflix.
2. The Circle
Author Dave Eggers is known for a quirky brand of fiction that combines his own unique voice and imagination with real social and geopolitical issues. His works include books like “What Is The What,” “Zeitoun,” and “A Hologram For The King,” and cover everything from the lives of Sudanese refugees to the trials of frustrated IT salesmen. But while a lot of Eggers’ work can be described as somewhat “out there,” his 2013 novel “The Circle” hit pretty close to home for many of us with its unsettling portrayal of a hugely influential tech company.
Now the book is being adapted as an indie movie that sounds more like a major blockbuster. James Ponsoldt – who’s on quite a roll after directing “The Spectacular Now” and “The End Of The Tour” in the last few years – will be in charge, and Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and newly anointed “Star Wars” hero John Boyega will headline the cast. Watson takes the lead role as Mae Holland, a college graduate who gets a job with the aforementioned tech company (which is indeed called The Circle).
3. Swiss Army Man
“Swiss Army Man” has been counted as one of the Indie films that could rule 2016, and it’s pretty clear why folks are getting excited. To begin with, the premise – about a young man forming a bond with a dead body he finds – is delightfully bizarre, if somewhat creepy. But looking past the premise it’s the cast that really makes this one interesting. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are set to star and they’re two of the most interesting (and possibly most eccentric) young actors in the business.
Dano in particular has essentially become the Prince of indie over the years, and while he can sometimes overdo his own weirdness a little bit, he’s always compelling. 2015’s drastically underrated “Love And Mercy” was just the latest example.
4. The Last Poker Game
Expected out some time in 2016, “The Last Poker Game” is set to be the first film from Long Road Films, a recently launched indie outfit. The producers behind Long Road Films have some pretty impressive credits to their names in recent years, including “Blue Valentine,” “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby,” and even “Beasts Of No Nation.” And the cast for this first indie venture is pretty intriguing, with Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino leading the way as friends (and gamblers) who both wind up claiming to be the father of a mysterious young woman.
It’s intriguing because it’s a first for a promising company, but also because poker films were given new life on the indie scene with 2015’s Mississippi Grind.” That film was elevated by the performances of its co-stars (Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn), but it also excelled by respecting the intelligence level of 21st century viewers who know the ins and outs of poker gambling. Nowadays we can learn about the game online through polished, professional sites, and that means poker movies have to be a little more careful with their content. The audience is smarter, and “Mississippi Grind” respected that fact, establishing itself as the best gambling flick in a decade in the process. So “The Last Poker Game” is also fascinating as a sort of genre follow-up.
5. Special Correspondents
It’s back to Netflix for our final selection, and the only comedy on this list. “Special Correspondents” is something of a pet project for British comedian Ricky Gervais, who wrote, directed, and will star in the film. He’s also indicated a certain pride in being part of the changing future, as Netflix continues to disrupt the production industry. To be clear, that means the decision to go the streaming route with this film was very much intentional, and not due to a lack of faith in the film from traditional studios.
As for what it is, exactly, it sounds pretty brilliant and quite timely. Gervais and Eric Bana will play two radio hosts faking war region journalism from an apartment in New York City. Evidently, they go far enough to convince the French government that they need rescuing on the front of a real war.
The great thing about indie films (and now streaming originals) is that they often sneak up on us out of nowhere. There are sure to be a few surprises in these genres over the course of the year, but for now these five look like potential impact movies.