As we cap another year in moviegoing — and as the industry prepares for its annual spasm of awards and accolades — it seems an apt time to look ahead. Here are ten films you won't want to miss in 2016.
1. The Invitation (Dir. Karyn Kusama)
The Invitation has found an ingenious setting for a psychological thriller: a dinner party, already the site of so much tension and unease. Its guests arrive for awkward small talk over food and wine — and must remain against their will for a rather alarming aperitif. The director, Karyn Kusama, proves a virtuoso of suspense, and draws from her star, Logan Marshall-Green, a performance of astonishing depth. Just be sure to avoid spoilers: You likely won't see a more shocking thriller all year.
2. Chevalier (Dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari)
The recent emergence of Greece as a cinematic superpower continues unabated, as both Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, the new wave's most prominent figures, return with much anticipated features. Lanthimos migrated to Hollywood with The Lobster, but Tsangari, ever singular, headed offshore and into the sea. Six men bored on a luxury yacht decide to compete against one another in every conceivable category — from lowest blood pressure to, yes, biggest dick — in an appealingly ludicrous bid to crown the "best in general."
3. Money Monster (Dir. Jodie Foster)
Jodie Foster's new political blockbuster Money Monster stars George Clooney as a TV personality notorious as equal parts disreputable and magnetic, which I doubt was very much of a stretch. Clooney's program advises the impressionable on risky investments; after losing his life's savings on a bung Clooney tip, one viewer (Jack O'Connell) marches over to the studio with a gun to hold the man responsible — live on air, irresistibly and shot in real time.
4. The Bad Batch (Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
Young Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour announced herself as a considerable talent with self-described Iranian vampire spaghetti western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the toast of last year's Sundance Film Festival and, more remarkably still, her debut feature. Amirpour returns with The Bad Batch, starring the unexpected pairing of Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves. If the film world's excitement needed any further stoking, she has described it as "Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink with a dope sound track." Say no more.
5. The Meddler (Dir. Lorene Scafaria)
Lorene Scafaria's previous film, apocalypse rom-com Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, was ill-served by a marketing campaign that seemed intent on selling it as broad farce. The movie bombed, and that Scafaria would soon have another opportunity behind the camera was far from assured. She's back, happily, with The Meddler, a comic drama starring Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon that premiered to great acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
6. Certain Women (Dir. Kelly Reichardt)
A new Kelly Reichardt film will always be cause for celebration. Certain Women, the follow up to her understated anarchist thriller Night Moves, looks particularly enticing: Produced by Todd Haynes, based on PEN award-winner Maile Meloy's short story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and starring Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Kristen Stewart, it's ideal material for one of the most important directors working.
7. Hail Caesar! (Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Joel and Ethan Coen are poised to follow their bleak but tender Inside Llewyn Davis with what appears to be a rather more buoyant comedy: Hail Caesar!, a period farce about the kidnapping of a '50s movie star headlined by virtually every major name in Los Angeles. Critic and Coens authority Adam Nayman insists that it will prove to be a covert Hollywood blacklist picture, and the theory sounds plausible: It's the right era, the right milieu, the right material — and you can only imagine how scathingly the Coens will do McCarthyism.
8. Operation Avalanche (Dir. Matt Johnson)
Matt Johnson is something of a mad genius. His debut feature, Slamdance hit The Dirties, staged a high school shooting as a comedy, and yet somehow wound up more serious — morally serious — than many of the somber takes on the subject that came before it. What's next promises to be even more audacious: Operation Avalanche, a "period mockumentary" supposedly captured on the set of the faked moon landings in the '60s, shot on expired 16mm film on Kubrick's soundstage from 2001. That's a special kind of lunacy.
9. Midnight Special (Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Take Shelter and Mud confirmed Jeff Nichols as a director of enviable gifts. He'll bring them to bear once again on Midnight Special, his first studio effort, made for $18 million and due out this spring. The so-called "sci-fi chase film" stars Michael Shannon — here teaming with Nichols for the fourth time — as the father of a son pursued for reasons unknown by parties unfamiliar. Nichols has said to expect a thriller in the fashion of early John Carpenter, which is encouragement enough.
10. Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
This close-quarters thriller was received very enthusiastically indeed by audiences at both Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and, like Saulnier's excellent Blue Ruin before it, Green Room is set to round off its festival-circuit run with a few early-winter stops before arriving in theaters at maximum hype levels. Patrick Stewart leads the cast as a nefarious neo-Nazi pitted against a heroic punk band.