Still from "Fresh Dressed"
Still from „Fresh Dressed”Courtesy of the filmmaker

Dozens of great and hundreds of not-so-great films will unspool before 2015 draws to a close, but these 25 titles should already be on your radar. There’s a clandestine lesbian love affair, a spiritual sequel of sorts to Dazed and Confused, punk rockers trying to survive a Nazi skinhead rampage and the much-hyped N.W.A. biopic.

99 HOMES – RAMIN BAHRANI

In this terrific Faustian thriller, which hit a raw nerve with audiences at the Venice/Telluride/Toronto trifecta last fall, Andrew Garfield loses the skin-tight Spidey suit to sink his teeth into something far grittier than Peter Parker could ever handle: the Florida foreclosure crisis. Set in the Disney-playground-town-gone-wrong of Orlando, Garfield plays a well-meaning young papa who goes into the ethically iffy business of foreclosure with the same shady real estate broker (master villain Michael Shannon) who evicted his family.

In UK cinemas October 16

BROOKLYN – JOHN CROWLEY

Buzz coming out of Sundance was strong for this sweet period romance based on a Colm Tóibín novel and adapted by Nick Hornby, who’s fast becoming the go-to scribe for gutsy female empowerment narratives, following last year’s Wild. A young Irish immigrant on the hunt for a better life (Saoirse Ronan, shining in one of her heftiest parts yet) travels to New York in the early 1950s, falling hard for a charming Italian American kid (Emory Cohen). But a forced return trip to Ireland provides temptation in the form of intimate beach strolls with Domhnall Gleeson. So, which suitor will it be? Mark us down for team Emory.

In UK cinemas November 6

Brooklyn

CAROL – TODD HAYNES

Come awards season, pay close attention to this wrenching 2015 Queer Palm prizewinner from Todd Haynes. Here, the master of stylized melodrama taps into his special affinity for female-powered narratives as well as the Fifties (Far From Heaven) by way of a clandestine, New York-set lesbian love affair. Critics are hailing Blanchett’s turn as a moneyed and miserable housewife pining for a pretty shop clerk (Cannes winner Rooney Mara) as a career high mark – high praise considering the Oscar winner’s mighty track record. If anyone could do justice to Patricia Highsmith’s underground lesbian classic (1952’s The Price of Salt) and deftly convey the couple’s repressed emotional longing, it’s Haynes.

In US cinemas December 18

CRIMSON PEAK – GUILLERMO DEL TORO

Just in time for haunted house season, genial monster masher Guillermo Del Toro drops his long-gestating slice of romantic gothic horror, set in a crumbling aristocratic mansion in remote, 19th century Cumbria. Like GDT’s previous haunted fairy tales, expect this supernatural mystery about an aspiring author (Mia Wasikowska) who falls for a magnetic mystery man (Tom Hiddleston) to subvert ghost genre conventions. Del Toro has said that Crimson’s tone would be more akin to his Spanish-language fare, teasing fright enthusiasts with promises of a profoundly disturbing, character-driven, “kinky and violent” oeuvre. But he had us at “gothic horror”.

In UK cinemas October 16

DOPE – RICK FAMUYIWA

The 90s hood film is in the midst of a full-blown renaissance, and writer-director Rick Famuyiwa’s subversive Dope is leading the charge. With its tsunami of references to the Golden Age of rap and its clever send-up of outdated notions of “blackness”, Dope comes as a breath of fresh, polyracial air in the homogeneous coming of age department. This LA-set action-comedy profiles Nigerian-American senior nerd Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who’s obsessed with getting into an Ivy League, while grappling with losing his virginity and geeking out with his punk band BFFs (which includes a brilliantly poker-faced lesbian drummer). That’s all before the funky bunch hits minor road blocks involving an MDMA-stuffed backpack and an Inglewood drug dealer (A$AP Rocky). A teen flick that’s turbo-charged, flamboyant, empowering and, quite frankly, pretty dope.

In UK cinemas September 4

THE END OF THE TOUR – JAMES PONSOLDT

Unpacking the myth surrounding revered American author David Foster Wallace, who took his own life in 2008, is no easy feat. Sundance MVP James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) takes a stab at it, adapting Rolling Stone scribe David Lipsky’s memoir about his iconic five-day interview with Wallace around the time of the 1996 publication of his epic 1,000-page brick, Infinite Jest. What to expect from this wholly-unendorsed-by-the-DFW-estate undertaking: Jesse Eisenberg’s quintessential quirkiness, a soul-baring turn from Jason Segel and, hopefully, some fresh insights into this literary great’s tormented genius.

In US cinemas July 31

EQUALS – DRAKE DOREMUS

A strange sci-fi romance about a new breed of emotionless humans who live in harmony and go by the very-PC label of ‘equals’, directed by indie darling Drake Doremus (Like Crazy), starring marquee heartthrob Nicholas Hoult, brooding Bella Kristen Stewart, and scored by German electronic maven Apparat? Yup, still got our attention. When Equals’ sedate utopia is disrupted by a new disease that activates its victims’ emotions, they become pariahs and must go on the lam. Oh, and K-Stew’s claim that the film was inspired by George Orwell’s 1984? Categorically untrue, just for the record.

equals

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME – RICHARD LINKLATER

How does a director follow up his most critically lauded achievement in storytelling? To find the answer, Richard Linklater returned to square one to pen a “spiritual sequel” to his cult film about bored teenage stoners – Dazed and Confused. Unfolding over the course of a weekend of “unsupervised adulthood” in 1980 (four years post-Dazed), this college party picture takes its name after the Van Halen classic and promises a score featuring the likes of Devo, Blondie and Talking Heads. Speaking with Creative Screenwriting, Linklater said: “it’s also a continuation of Boyhood, believe it or not. I don’t know if one film can be a sequel to two different movies, but it begins right where Boyhood ends with a guy showing up at college and meeting his new roommates and a girl. It overlaps with the end of Boyhood.”

FRESH DRESSED – SACHA JENKINS

From baggy pants and designer bling to the latest kicks and Kangol hats, music journalist Sacha Jenkins’ doc tells the story of hip hop culture through its oft-splashy sartorial cues, charting how certain trends first took shape in the South Bronx, before finding their way into the retail racks of corporate America. Featuring fashion wisdom by heavy hitters such as Diddy, Pharrell, Kanye andNas, this compelling doc makes the case that style was always about dignity and self-respect first, no matter how disenfranchised the wearer may be. It was all about projecting that “fresh to death” swagger.

In UK cinemas October 30

GREEN ROOM – JEREMY SAULNIER

Every down-on-their-luck indie rock outfit should welcome this future midnight movie classic as a cautionary tale. A struggling Oregonian punk band (fronted by Anton Yelchin) takes on a last-minute gig in a backwater venue teeming with rabid white supremacists (led by Patrick Stewart) out for blood. Their homicidal impulses may or may not have to do with the band’s decision to cover the Dead Kennedys’ delightful little ditty, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” This barricaded punk rockers survival tale came to director Jeremy Saulnier (of Blue Ruin acclaim) upon recalling the Nazi skinheads that hovered around punk show venues in his youth. Vigorous mosh pits will forever seem innocuous by comparison.

Green Room

HIGH-RISE – BEN WHEATLEY

The luxurious, high-tech high-rise as a microcosm of humanity’s seedy underbelly? Author JG Ballard called first dibs on the concept via his prescient 1975 novel. Now, filmmaker Ben Wheatley brings this claustrophobic, bacchanalian breakdown to the big screen with Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller. A thrillingly bleak projection into the future, High-Rise finds the angry tenants of a London tower block – with lower classes renting out floors closest to ground level, while upper classes reside nearest to the penthouse – rattling around the building, erupting into unfathomable violence and depravity, and giving into their most animalistic, bloodthirsty impulses. Many would argue we now live in that future. Make of that what you will.

High-Rise

I AM MICHAEL – JUSTIN KELLY

Religious extremism doesn’t get much more queer than Michael Glatze (James Franco), a former Castro-based editor of gay youth magazine XY, and a prominent LGBT activist in the 1990s who lived with a long-term boyfriend (Zachary Quinto). Then, shockingly, Glatze jumped ship, becoming a born again Christian pastor and calling out homosexuality as an ungodly lifestyle choice. The tidal turn was apparently spurred on by a string of heart palpitations that found him fearing for his life. Who better to take a shot at this provocative real-life premise than “gay-in-his-art” James Franco?

I Am Michael

LIFE – ANTON CORBIJN

Anton Corbijn dazzled with his devastating Ian Curtis biopic Control in 2007. Given his dual occupations as photographer and filmmaker, he’s the perfect candidate to cast light on the complex real-life rapport between a still-unknown James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and Life Magazineshutterbug Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), which gave way to some of the most striking iconography of America’s utmost rebel without a cause. The film got mixed notices out of Berlin, but we’re on board if only for Dane DeHaan, who was singled out for his magnetic read on the Indiana-born man and myth.

In UK cinemas September 25

THE LOBSTER – YORGOS LANTHIMOS

Yorgos Lanthimos’s savage dystopia sounds like a hoot. In this Orwellian and Kafka-esque future, singledom is strictly forbidden, people crossing borders must show proof of coupledom and the punishment for masturbation involves the offending hand being stuck in a toaster. Newly single citizens must head to an oppressive hotel compound, where they’re given 45 days to find their match or be turned into an animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell’s freshly dumped architect opts for the titular lobster, as he’s fond of the sea. As always, Lanthimos (Dogtooth) is fully committed to seeing his highly absurd ideas through. This may or may not involve Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly’s kooky characters buying themselves some extra time in the hotel by hunting down loner-escapees “who only listen to electronic music.” Fret not, Lanthimos is telling us: the EDM fugitives will be apprehended.

In UK cinemas October 16

LOUDER THAN BOMBS – JOACHIM TRIER

We were relieved to hear that knockout Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s first English-language film still delves into unspeakable emotional baggage and sinister stuff lurking just beneath the surface. Louder unpacks three shifting, New York-set narratives about a father (Gabriel Byrne) and two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) who are at a loss to grieve their wife/mother’s suicide. The sons barely knew Isabelle, an acclaimed war photographer (the brilliant Isabelle Huppert, who clearly thrives on prickly family dynamics). As with Oslo, August 31, Trier’s social realism nevertheless makes room for some stunning visual poetry.

In US cinemas October 2

louder than bombs

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL – ALFONSO GOMEZ-REJON

By snagging both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance this year, this refreshingly sardonic coming-of-age crowd-pleaser is bound to follow in the footsteps of last year’sWhiplash and 2013’s Fruitvale Station. The poignant, Pittsburgh-set high school dramedy chronicles the blossoming friendship between reserved film buff Greg (the titular “Me”) and sprightly Rachel, who’s just been slapped with a leukemia diagnosis. Greg and his buddy Earl escape the classroom battleground by spending their downtime parodying their favourite movies – from “A Sockwork Orange” to “2:48 Cowboy” – and our protagonist gradually comes out of his shell as a result of his new, imperiled platonic bond. Sure, it’s at times a little too self-aware for its own good, but you’d never think Me and Earl was yet another YA adaptation.

In UK cinemas September 11

MISTRESS AMERICA – NOAH BAUMBACH

This latest from director Noah Baumbach and his fearless on/off-screen muse Greta Gerwig should establish them as a creative tandem to be reckoned with. Building on Frances Ha’s celebration of female friendships and its embrace of eager young adults and their at times rose-coloured optimism, Mistress America sounds bloody brilliant. A spirited screwball comedy about Brooke, a larger-than-life, transplanted New Yorker (Gerwig) who shows her visiting stepsister-to-be (Lola Kirke) how to grab the Big Apple by the horns, Gerwig’s Mistress – in all her ebullient, naïve glory – will have us all wishing we had a Brooke in our lives to run around New York with.

In US cinemas August 14

SICARIO – DENIS VILLENEUVE

Prior to Prisoners, French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s taut psychological thrillers were flying way under the radar. His ambitious tragedies are rife with rapidly escalating moral quagmires. Following his twistedly dark take on Jake Gyllenhaal doppelgangers (Enemy), Sicario finds the director reuniting with DOP demigod Roger Deakins (with whom he’ll also be shooting the Blade Runner sequel) for this highly critical look at the U.S. drug policy along the Mexican border. Emily Blunt, playing “an idealistic FBI agent” (those exist?), establishes peak badass action hero cred.

In UK cinemas November 6

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT – KYLE PATRICK ALVAREZ

If the idea of prison has always sent chills down your spine, you’ll want to skip this excruciating big screen rendering of an infamous 1971 psych-study-gone-wrong by a Stanford prof. The experiment – since described as one of the most controversial in the history of psychology – cast 24 student volunteers as either prisoners or prison wardens in a simulated jail. After being intentionally subjected to sleep deprivation tactics, strip searches and a grab bag of degradation procedures, a few hysterical participants lost their marbles and the study had to be cut short after a mere six days. The film’s been riding a wave of Sundance raves, with the measured intensity of Ezra Miller’s prisoner-in-revolt leading the pack.

In US cinemas July 17

STONEWALL – ROLAND EMMERICH

The choice of Hollywood schlockmeister Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) to direct the most high-profile feature yet about this key civil rights moment of the 20th century concerns us. Gravely. So does the gay rights drama’s uniformly Caucasian-looking male ensemble (Jeremy Irvine, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Caleb Landry Jones among them). But who would we be to cast the first stone? Let’s suspend further speculation until we see how Emmerich frames the period of widespread political awakening set off by a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. Fitting tribute or missed opportunity?

Stonewall

TANGERINE – SEAN BAKER

No feature film in 2015 will match Sean Baker’s Tangerine for its uniquely seedy, hyper-kinetic, outrageously sassy, trap-scored slice of hooker life. Shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, this ferociously funny L.A. joyride acquaints us with BFFs Sin-dee and Alexandra, two foul-mouthed, wise-cracking (and crack-smoking) transgender ladies of the night. As they catch up at their favourite doughnut joint after Sin-dee gets out of the slammer, Alexandra lets slip that Sin-dee’s pimp of a beau has been bumping uglies with another girl. And so commences a daylong mistress hunt up and down Santa Monica, giving way to countless quotables of the “You didn’t have to Chris Brown the bitch” variety. A big plus: the characters’ (on and off-screen) trans identities are handled totally matter-of-factly.

In US cinemas July 10

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON – F. GARY GRAY

The upcoming N.W.A. biopic is in and of itself a major news story, but the hyped project has also made headlines for a variety of other reasons: there was a gang-related drive-by shooting on the Compton set of the film, seven days into production; Suge Knight’s ongoing hit-and-run murder trial, which occurred during the production of the film’s trailer; and a recent announcement by Ice Cube that Tupac would appear in the movie. As for the on-screen drama, expect it to chart the rise and fall of the pioneering, controversy-courting Cali hip-hop crew that popularized gangsta rap. Save for Paul Giamatti playing the group’s manager, the cast is comprised of little-known actors, including Ice Cube’s own progeny, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who’s playing his father. (“A role he had to audition for”…is how the story goes.) The film, which is being released just over 20 years after Eazy-E’s untimely death from AIDS, highlights how little has changed since Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella and Eazy-E first stormed the airwaves in the mid-80s with “Fuck Tha Police”, “Gangsta Gangsta” and their angry anthems of hood life and institutionalized racism. With music as their sole weapon, N.W.A. made sure their message was heard loud and clear: Black. Lives. Matter.

In UK cinemas August 28

TEN THOUSAND SAINTS – SHARI SPRINGER BERMAN & ROBERT PULCIN 

Set in the grittiness of late-80s Alphabet City, this adaptation of Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel about angst-ridden lost souls feels like a time capsule of pre-Giuliani New York. There are squat dwellings galore, straight-edge punk rock, Krishnacore, teen pregnancies, yuppie encroachment and the Thompson Square Riots. A coming-of-age story about messed-up teens (namely, Asa Butterfield as a punk rocker whose best bud winds up dead one morning) and their messed-up parents (including Ethan Hawke as an aloof pot-dealing dad, obvi), Ten Thousand Saints ushers us into a broken-down bohemia in dire need of a little TLC.

In US cinemas August 14

ten-thousand-saints

THE WALK – ROBERT ZEMECKIS

Let’s get this out of the way: people have been giving Joseph Gordon-Levitt a hard time about the accent he tailored for his fictionalized portrayal of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit. As a native French speaker myself, JGL’s Gallic elocution sounds entirely convincing to me. So voilà. As for Petit’s high-flying achievements, this artistic daredevil remains the only man to have ever tightrope-walked across the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (in 1974). The Walk revisits the spine-chilling 2008 Oscar-winning British doc Man on Wire through the prism of technologically enhanced fiction, offering an even more visceral, vertigo-inducing vista on the historic stunt. Back then, people climbing to the top of skyscrapers not only did their homework, but they didn’t give a damn about staging that perfect selfie. #instalike.

In UK cinemas October 2

THE WOLFPACK – CRYSTAL MOSELLE

In 2010, a petite blonde filmmaker named Crystal Moselle spotted six long-haired, shades-sporting, Reservoir Dogs-esque brothers walking down First Avenue. Mesmerized, she ran after them and struck up a friendship. Fast-forward five years: her documentary about the six Angulo brothers’ eccentric upbringing recently won the top prize at Sundance and is now captivating the whole world. The Wolfpack explores the boys’ sheltered, arguably traumatic upbringing: their father, an overprotective Peruvian immigrant, locked his kids in the family’s NY flat, homeschooled them, and let them peer beyond the confines of their four-bedroom apartment only a handful of times annually. To cope with their isolation, the boys binged on movies and recreated their favourite scenes with DIY sets and crafty costumes. Happy to reflect on their childhood with the press, Narayana Angulo recently told Dazed: “That’s what I hope people take away from Crystal’s documentary. I hope they leave the cinema knowing that movies really do change people’s lives.”

In UK cinemas August 21