While 2015 may eventually reap more buzz, thanks to the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the first-ever George Lucas-less Star Wars movie, there won't be any shortage of films to check in the coming year.
Problem is, a lot of those are sequels.
Check out any list of the "most anticipated movies of 2014" and the titles are depressingly familiar: new installments of the X-Men, Captain America, Planet of the Apes, Transformers and Amazing Spider-Man franchises figure prominently, while others will still inexplicably insist on checking out the next Hobbit or Transformer flicks.
There are several billion reasons Hollywood keeps churning out sequels. The Top 10 movies of 2013 grossed $2.85 billion domestically, with sequels capturing six of those spots (to the tune of $1.87 billion). Given all that, it's easy to lose sight of (possibly) worthy standalone films that don't have the benefit of brand familiarity and massive marketing campaigns.
The Monuments Men (February 7) — Originally slated for a 2013 release, this (based-on-a-true) story of efforts by the Allies to rescue artwork from the Nazis in the waning days of World War II has several things going for it: a powerhouse cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin; it's written by Clooney and Grant Heslov, who previously teamed up on Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March; and it reminds me of the "Fighting Hellfish" episode The Simpsons. Now mach schnell mit der art things.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (March 7) — I'm not sure why I'm including this, since I haven't really enjoyed a Wes Anderson movie since Rushmore, but that cast (Ralph Fiennes! F. Murray Abraham! Tilda Swinton!) and the relatively twee-free trailer give me some hope.
Veronica Mars (March 14) — Congratulations. You made the Kickstarter for this movie the fastest to $1 (and $2) million. I'm sure the return of the entire cast justifies the money spent that could've been pledged to projects that actually needed it.
Noah (March 28)/Exodus (December 12) — I'm cheating somewhat by including two big-budget Old Testament epics as one item, but only because of the very real likelihood both may turn out to be disasters of, well, biblical proportions. Will it be Noah, featuring a brooding Russell Crowe as an antediluvian ass kicker and the promise of the Great Flood rendered in the lovingest disaster-porn style imaginable? I think so, simply because Exodus — with alpha Anglos Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton playing Moses and Rameses II — just sounds too hilarious. And how can you not want to see Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul as Joshua? "Yeah, Ten Commandments, bitch!"
Interstellar (November 7) — Christopher Nolan's first non-Batman film since 2010's Inception takes place on a near-future Earth where climate change and overpopulation have led humanity to seek a radical new means to save itself. As long as the words "Soylent Green" aren't involved, I'm game.
Godzilla (May 16) — Japan's Kaiju Emeritus has been rebooted so many times, it's hard to get overly excited...UNTIL NOW. I don't know if you saw the trailer featuring HALO jumpers, extreme urban renewal and a dismayed Bryan Cranston, but this version (directed by Gareth [Monsters] Edwards) looks to be about as removed as humanly possible from that 1998 Matthew Broderick atrocity. Which we will never speak of again.
Under the Skin (TBD) — Normally a movie about an alien babe sent to Earth to kill hitchhikers would sound like a straight-to-cable Species sequel. Except for the fact that it was directed by Jonathan (Sexy Beast) Glazer and debuted at last year's Telluride Film Festival to rave reviews. It also doesn't hurt that Scarlett Johansson plays the alien, because be honest: How could you not give her a lift?
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Jupiter Ascending (July 18) — Say what you want about Cloud Atlas, it wasn't boring. Have Andy and Lana Wachowski finally learned their lesson after two terrible Matrix sequels? Can Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum carry a mega-budget science fiction epic on their own? Have we really reached the point where Tatum is taken seriously as a leading man?
Gone Girl (October 3) — The books I read tend toward two subjects: military history and fantasy series that never end. However, I understand Gillian Flynn's bestseller was quite the rage, and you've got David Fincher coming off The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and House of Cards, and that nice boy Ben Affleck killing time before some Bat-thing or other. At the very least, there should be one literary adaptation we check out in the next year or two that doesn't involve hobbits or 50 shades of some color or another.
20,000 Days on Earth (TBD) — I love documentaries, so I'd be remiss if I didn't include this one, slated for release at the Sundance Film Festival next month, about Nick Cave, one of this generation's greatest yet most underappreciated musicians. For an added twist, this doc is apparently not entirely nonfiction. Sounds sufficiently "Cave-y."
Want to read more of our Movies 2014 coverage? Check out The Spectacular Next – Ten Movies to See in 2014 and Why You Should Be Excited for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.