We’ve written about the best films of 2015. We’ve written about the worst. And then, it was over. And so came “that” time of year. “That” time of year where the hits of 2015 continue to dominate the box office. Where awards contenders pile back into theaters. Where Star Wars makes another billion dollars. And, most importantly, where new releases are synonymous with shite. Hello 2016 movies. The dumping ground is right over here.

As the awards season ramps up to full throttle, the cinema becomes a hotbed of rejected newcomers, eager to clog up the piping and serve as 90+ minute studio tax write-offs. Just ask Taken 3 (Jan 9, 2015), Blackhat (Jan 16), Mortdecai (Jan 23), Seventh Son (Feb 6), Jupiter Ascending (Feb 6, 2015), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Feb 20), The Lazarus Effect (Feb 27), Maps to the Stars (Feb 27), Unfinished Business (Mar 6), Insurgent (Mar 20) and The Gunman (Mar 20). Most stayed in the red and were met with green Tomatometer scores. They were the overwhelming burden of proof of winter movies’ bane.

But there are always the rays of hope. The harbingers of quality. Those exceptions to the unholy triptych that is January/February/March. Last year there was Predestination (Jan 9, 2015), Paddington (Jan 16), The Voices (Feb 6), Kingsman: The Secret Service (Feb 13),  ’71 (Feb 27), Chappie (Mar 6), Faults (Mar 6), Cinderella (Mar 13), It Follows (Mar 13) and While We’re Young (Mar 27).

So let’s cross our collective fingers and have faith that early 2016 might just have some decent stuff in store for its first quarter. After all, it’s a long time ’til summer.

Lamb (Jan 8)

We’ll start off with a sure thing here – considering that we saw Lamb at last year’s SXSW festival and were blown away by Ross Patridge‘s tender, tense exploration of two loners coming to terms with their respective places in the world and each other’s lives. Complexity comes in the form of these two being complete strangers separated by about 35 years; one is a precocious 12-year old girl; the other a 40-something man. Both are equally lost. Oona Lawrence is a knockout in Patridge’s feature and the film makes for a pitch-perfect concoction of paranoia and drama that’ll engage your empathy in ways you didn’t know it functioned.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Jan 15)

Every once in a while, Michael Bay steps back from big budgets and computer-animated toy boxes to make something he’s allegedly “more passionate about”. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi will be his second non-Transformers movies in the last decade and tells the “true” story of the 2012 Islamic militant attack on the American diplomatic compound in Libya. John Krasinski (of The Office) bulked up to play a security force officer and has been showing off his ripped new bod throughout men’s mags all month. Although 13 Hours has every chance of being an American flag-waving, jingoist war flick with no mind for emotional subtlety or international politics, Bay’s last “independent” project (Pain and Gain) was actually quite a bit of fun. Meat-headed though it was.

Jane Got a Gun (Jan 29)

Jane Got a Gun has mucked through production hell and back, aborting everything but its main star Natalie Portman in the process. But if Steve Jobs is proof of anything, it’s that these techtonic behind-the-scenes shifts can ultimately lead to massive critical success. The final talent lineup is still massively impressive with Warrior director Gavin O’Connor behind the camera and Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor stepping in for a slew of stars previously attached at one point or another (including Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper.) Sure Jane could end up as messy as it has been behind the curtain but to see so many people bend over backwards for her, you have to assume there’s something here worthwhile.

SOMM: Into the Bottle (Feb 2)

Whaaaaaat. A sequel to a documentary, you say? A documentary about wine and sommeliers, you say? This follow-up to Jason Wise‘s 2013 hit vino doc dives even deeper into the wine industry to take a closer look at the artisanal clockwork of this centuries old process. Somm was such a juicy score because it welcomed people into an often closed, perceptibly snobby world and showcased the wholly impressive might of the industry professionals and their incredibly articulate, immaculate palettes. Hopefully this sequel can do the same.

Hail, Caesar! (Feb 5)

Very likely the entry on this list that we’re anticipating most, Hail Caesar! is the Coen Bros‘ first full-blooded comedy since 2008’s Burn After Reading. Having said that, Burn After Reading is one of my personal less favorites of the Coen filmography but, hell, a lesser Coen movie is still better than most anything from anyone else. Hail, Caesar! tells the story of a Hollywood star (George Clooney) who’s kidnapped in the midst of an expensive production. Hijinks ensue. The impressive cast includes Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin, Frances McDormand and more. We’re hoping that we too will be hailing Caesar as the real deal come February though I’d be lying if I said the PG-13 rating didn’t scare me some.

Deadpool (Feb 12)

The  fanfare for this R-rated comic book movie had piqued my interest up until I saw the Christmas Day trailer which painted a very different portrait of Deadpool. A very unflattering one at that. Still yet, I’m willing to give this anti-hero excursion the benefit of the doubt and assume that all the nerdcore begging and pleading for a “true” Deadpool movie was not for, well, naught. The fact that Marvel (Fox’s Marvel, not the MCU) is willing to dust off the character after his not-at-all-successful turn in the not-at-all-successful X-Men Origins: Wolverine stands to show that they have confidence that this character could be a success if handled right. If the proof is in the trailer pudding though, this might not be the case.

Zoolander 2 (Feb 12)

It’s been a spell since Ben Stiller donned the furs and fedoras of Derek Zoolander but he’s finally set to return to the world of high fashion and fly spying in Zoolander 2. In the time since his first outing as the titular fashionista, the pea-brained comedy has become a cult favorite for many, prompting this long-gestated sequel to finally roll into production. Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell return with Penelope Cruz and Kristen Wiig joining the cast. Probability is high that Zoolander 2 goes the way of most comedy sequels and really adds nothing new to the legacy beyond a few throwaway laughs and some box office buckeroos but with Stiller back behind the camera, we genuinely do expect a little more magic than that.

Where to Invade Next (Feb 12)

Michael Moore‘s first documentary since 2009 is a playful and uncharacteristically optimistic portrait of global culture. Moore “invades” a host of foreign countries to “seize” their best practices, including Italy’s extensive mandatory vacation time and Norway’s novel prison system. Where to Invade Next is less an indictment of America and more an eye-opening (and even endearing) glimpse into the ways things could be better and Moore handles the material with a kind of pop-doc grace that’s escaped his last few efforts. The third on this list that we’ve already seen, Where to Invade Next is sure to be one of 2016’s most popular and lucrative documentaries.

The Witch (Feb 26)

Another on this list that we caught at a festival last year, The Witch is Robert Egger‘s deliciously rich Gothic fairy tale. Set in the early days of New England, The Witch is horror by way of costume drama; a decadent period piece with all the accompanying frills accented by true, serpentine terror. Whereas many modern horror movies employ hackneyed jump scares and excessive gore to accomplish their haunt, The Witch is all about mood and escalation. In terms of horror films for 2016, it will be hard to top.

Queen of the Desert (Unspecified March Release)

Werner Herzog‘s return to feature film was said to be one of the Berlin Film Festival’s most disappointing premieres but that doesn’t dissuade our interest in the Nicole Kidman-starring feature. Herzog’s latest biographies Gertrude Bell, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire who sets off into the desert to do some important stuff. An able supporting cast includes James Franco, Robert Pattinson and Damian Lewis leads us to believe that even if Queen of the Desert isn’t the Herzog knockout we want, it’ll still prove a fair measure of acting prowess.

Zootopia (Mar 4)

Disney’s Zootopia features a stellar voice cast with Jason Bateman leading the way as a fox con artist who must team up with a rabbit cop (Ginnifer Goodwin) to uncover a dark conspiracy. The likes of Idris Elba, Alan Tudyk, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Tommy Chong and Shakira herself all find themselves voicing anthropomorphized creatures in what just might be an animated adventure that the whole family can enjoy. With the creative team behind Big Hero 6 stepping up to bat, we feel it’s right to assume that Zootopia will be one of 2016’s better animated features, especially since the early year curse doesn’t apply as much to “kids” fare.

Knight of Cups (Mar 4)

Terrence Malick‘s wanderlust romantic drama has been looking to see the light of day for a good while now and though Malick’s breed of existential drama has felt increasingly self-imitating of late, Knight of Cups offers a spread of beautiful people – including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Wes Bentley, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Imogen Poots, Joe Manganiello and Teresa Palmer – in beautiful locations. So what’s not to like? The Malick feature was met with mixed reviews upon its festival run but with Malick’s tasteful techniques and Emmanuel Lubezki behind the cinematography, Knight of Cups will at least be easy on the eyes.

Hello, My Name is Doris (Mar 11)

The first quarter of the year is a good time to sneak festival hits into theaters and Hello, My Name is Doris fits the indie bill perfectly. The comedy played last year’s SXSW festival and proved a smash hit with audiences who ate up Michael Showalter‘s confident directorial debut. The film follows Doris Miller (played by a positively bubbly Sally Field) who after attending a self-help seminar gains the confidence to pursue a co-worker 34 years her junior (Max Greenfield). The result is said to be small magic even though it will likely be limited to an unceremonious release and few BO duckets.

The Little Prince (Mar 18)

This animated effort loosely adapts the work of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to tell the story of a young girl who discovers a new world within the stories of an elderly aviator. The Little Prince played out-of-competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival to mostly glowing reviews and employs a mix of stop motion and computer animation to tell the two sides of its story. The cast is as striking as it is extensive with Rachel McAdams, Benicio del Toro, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Jeff Bridges, Paul Giamatti, Vincernt Cassel, Albert Brooks, Ricky Gervais and Mackenzie Foy all providing voice work. It’s very likely that The Little Prince could be one of 2016’s most surprising and best animated features.

I Saw the Light (Mar 25)

Music biopics are a dime a dozen and prove throwaway efforts more often than naught. And though I have never been a Hank Williams fan (or a country music fan for that matter) I Saw the Light boasts the awesome talents of Tom Hiddleston as the central star with Elizabeth Olsen accompanying as second fiddle. The brief synopsis for I Saw The Light is as vague as they come, suggesting a sprawling account of the country musician’s rise to fame and the ensuing issues that come hand-in-hand with being famous and playing music. Let’s just hope that they don’t hit all the same beats we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Mar 25)

Speaking of dime a dozen, superhero films look to dominate 2016 with Marvel, DC and Fox all vying for the comic book crown. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks to continue the dark tone DC set for Man of Steel and the result looks, well, a little goofy for it. All the promotional material we’ve seen so far suggests a rather bleak vision (almost comically so); one that’s devoutly stripped of the comic relief that’s oh-so-surgically injected into Marvel’s movie fare. Whether that will harken to the beloved Nolan era of Batman or create an accidental parody of it is yet to be seen. And unlike many, we’ve no issue with the Ben Affleck casting so long as the titular showdown makes those IMAX seats worth their salt. Nonetheless, consider the jury still very much in session on this one.

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