I drove by a four-screen neighborhood theater the other day, and the marquee said, simply: STAR WARS. Playing on all four screens. There was a time, before the Force awakened, when other movies existed.
Friends, that time has returned. It soon will be 2016, and while "The Force Awakens" will be around for a while, other promising options (some excellent ones, already seen in limited release late last year, for awards consideration) are coming our way, in all sorts of genres.
Some examples follow. Note that all release dates are subject to change and may vary by region.
"Anomalisa," Jan. 8. This was my second-favorite for 2015 (behind "Spotlight," which you should also see), though I suppose I should recommend it advisedly. It's not for kids, or for adults who need unabashedly happy endings rather than profoundly bittersweet ones. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman directed this unnervingly intimate stop-motion animation feature with Duke Johnson, about a customer service expert who looks up an old flame in Cincinnati and then meets another woman. She manages to pull him at least halfway out of his middle-aged malaise. Sounds like a drag, but it's the strangest, wittiest film I've seen in months with a beautiful musical score by Carter Burwell.
"Son of Saul," Jan. 29. A great Holocaust film, on an entirely different plane than the comforting Hollywood humanism of "Schindler's List." This feature film debut from Hungarian writer-director Laszlo Nemes is set in 1944 Auschwitz, where a member of the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoners forced to work for the Nazis) decides to rescue one boy's body from the ovens. Throughout the film the camera remains alarmingly close to Saul, played with fierce conviction by Geza Rohrig. Nemes co-wrote "Son of Saul" with French novelist Clara Royer.
"Hail, Caesar!" Feb. 5. In Hollywood's era of sword-and-sandal epics, MGM studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, playing a fictionalized version of the real Mannix) must locate an AWOL movie star (George Clooney) and deal with various studio assets (Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, et al.) in this comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen. It looks like great fun from the trailer, though the Coens' broader comic instincts don't always pay off. Remember the "Ladykillers" remake?
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," Feb. 5. The literary sensation, combining Jane Austen, petticoats and a fetching collection of the undead, comes to the screen starring Lily James (from the recent live-action "Cinderella"), Lena Headey, Sam Riley and Charles Dance. Let the early 19th-century decorum be well and truly obliterated.
"Where to Invade Next," Feb. 12. Michael Moore travels around the world, stealing socially progressive ideas about health care, gun control, public school lunches and the like, from various unsuspecting politicians and ordinary citizens in this amiable plea for a better America. Gone is the screechy tone of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and, for the most part, the factual elisions and generations of his lesser work; this movie proves Moore has much to say and a big heart.
"Eddie the Eagle," Feb. 26. A true story of courage, embodied by a pasty Briton flying high above the snow. In 1988 Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. How it all went down gets the impish docudrama treatment. The cast includes Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken; no word at press time whether The Eagle attempts to jump Walken's hair.
"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," March 4. Tina Fey stars in this adaptation of Kim Barker's 2011 comic memoir "The Taliban Shuffle." Barker spent seven years covering the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Chicago Tribune. (She now works for Pro Publica.) Glenn Ficarra and John Requa co-direct Fey and her co-stars Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Alfred Molina.
"Midnight Special," March 18. This one comes from one of America's most reliable writer-directors, Jeff Nichols, who gave us "Shotgun Stories," "Take Shelter" and "Mud." With "Midnight Special" he ventures into the realm of the supernatural, with a story of a father (Michael Shannon, a Nichols regular) and a son (Jaeden Lieberher, the kid from "St. Vincent") fleeing authorities who are very, very interested in the boy's special powers. Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard add support.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," March 25. People change; Greeks don't. That's the sell line for this sequel to the monster 2002 hit. Nia Vardalos wrote and stars in this screen reunion of the Portokalos clan, bringing back a slew of wily scene-stealers. The director Kirk Jones did "Waking Ned Devine" and "Nanny McPhee," so that's a start.
"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," March 25. Ben Affleck is the new Batman; Henry Cavill returns for his second shot at Supe; Jesse Eisenberg plays a gabby, hopped-up edition of Lex Luthor; and judging by the trailers, director Zack Snyder unloads another round of his patented, pummeling, gargantuan action. I suppose we can handle it.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.