Winter movie preview: 10 films to watch in early 2015

'Inherent Vice'

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in "Inherent Vice." (Warner Bros. / July 7, 2013)

Originally announced for a summer 2014 release, Andy and Lana Wachowski's science fiction epic "Jupiter Ascending" opens Feb. 6, following a few reshoots and several months of postproduction effects work. So it won't be long before moviegoers learn the answer to the most pressing cinematic question of the moment: Can Channing Tatum pull off the pointy-eared get-up for a full two hours?

I have not seen "Jupiter Ascending" nor most of the other noteworthy titles coming this winter and early spring. "Fifty Shades of Grey," for example, due a week after "Jupiter Ascending," has many built-in talking points. For example: Can the film version of the spankin' big E L James best-seller find an effective cinematic equivalent to sentences from the novel like this one: "My hands stay in his hair, pulling gently as I try to quiet my too-loud breathing. He gazes up at me through impossibly long lashes, his eyes a scorching smoky gray." The prose gets more purple than that, of course, as Anastasia Steele submits to the desires of the sleek control freak Christian Grey. The movie starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan and various bondage implements arrives just in time for Valentine's Day.

Here are 10 on the horizon, divided into the have-seens and the have-nots. As always, dates are subject to change.

Seen: "Selma," wide release Jan. 9. Director Ava DuVernay's fine, stirring, thoughtful story of Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights marches is miles ahead of the average historical biopic, maintaining a tight focus, steering clear of triumphalist blather and allowing us to see the maneuvers and counter-maneuvers in a heated political process. David Oyelowo's performance provides the calm, concentrated center of the storm.

Haven't seen: "Taken 3," Jan. 9. Liam Neeson's sullen killing machine returns, this time for a story in which the CIA operative is framed for murder. With the "Taken" franchise, the underrated survivalist tale "The Grey" and others, Neeson has grown into a reliable screen presence this time of year, when the blood looks especially scenic against midwinter skies.

Seen: "Inherent Vice," Jan. 9. A brain-bender, a fragrant evocation of 1970s Los Angeles, a Paul Thomas Anderson movie: This adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon private-eye jape is many things, many of them fascinating. Joaquin Phoenix plays the gumshoe with the need for weed and a nose for corruption.

Haven't seen: "Jupiter Ascending," Feb. 6. One cast member described the Wachowskis' latest as a cross between "The Matrix" and "Star Wars," and wouldn't that be something! The story concerns an alien dynasty known as the House of Abrasax, an earthling (Mila Kunis) who's next in line and the half-man, half-wolf interplanetary warrior (Channing Tatum, in pointy ears and a prosthetic jaw) who becomes her guide and protector.

Haven't seen: "Fifty Shades of Grey," Feb. 13. From the novel:

"What's the music?"

"'Villa Lobos,' an aria from Bachianas Brasileiras. Good, isn't it?"

"Yes," I murmur in total agreement.

And later:

He shows me the crop. It's brown plaited leather. My eyes jerk up to meet his, and they're alight with fire and a trace of amusement.

Seen: "The Last Five Years," Feb. 13. The Jason Robert Brown musical about the unwinding of a romance between an aspiring actress (Anna Kendrick) and an ambitious songwriter (Jeremy Jordan) never was bound for big-budget, big-screen glory. What we have, instead, in director Richard LaGravenese's hands, is a shrewd and pungent small-scaled success, buoyed in particular by Kendrick, fresh off her performance as Cinderella in "Into the Woods."

Haven't seen: "Focus," Feb. 27. Is Will Smith still a major-league international movie star? This vehicle, co-starring Margot Robbie as the fledgling grifter taken under the wing of an old pro, should provide the answer to that one. And then the movie after that will provide another answer. And so on. Hollywood's funny that way.

Seen: "Maps to the Stars," Feb. 27. At the Cannes Film Festival last year, director David Cronenberg's acidic black comedy about dirty dealings and queasy familial relations in Hollywood provoked an astonishing variety of opinions. But even those who liked it less than I did went for Julianne Moore's fearless, artfully flailing portrayal of an actress of bottomless shallowness, if you'll permit the contradiction. Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and John Cusack co-star.

Haven't seen: "Cinderella," March 13. Disney goes out on a limb and makes … a new version of a fairy tale about a princess! The director is Kenneth Branagh; Lily James stars as Cinderella, with Cate Blanchett dining out on the scenery and ordering seconds, plus dessert and a coffee, as the wicked stepmother.

 Haven't seen: "Insurgent," March 20. The first in this franchise, "Divergent," disappointed but ended up a solid global success; here's hoping the second installment, again starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as heroes of the post-apocalyptic revolution, provides a little more juice.

mjphillips@tribpub.com

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