1) The Theory of Everything
Were this not quite such a strong year for lead actors, Eddie Redmayne would be a sure thing for his miraculous, buckled portrayal of Stephen Hawking in this biopic based on the memoirs of his first wife, Jane. Felicity Jones takes her role, and handles it just as beautifully; James Marsh is as rigorous with the facts as he was on the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. 2 January (all release dates below UK only).
Michael Keaton gives us a career best with his performance as Riggan, an actor who became rich and famous playing a superhero called Birdman but is now trying for artistic credibility by starring in his own self-produced Broadway play. As his personal and professional life unravels, Riggan is haunted by the derisive voice of Birdman, his alter ego, telling him to forget this art nonsense and return to making commercial movies for the masses. 2 January.
Jake Gyllenhaal vies with Jake Gyllenhaal for top billing in the Dostoevskian tale of a man (Gyllenhaal) who meets and exploits his exact double (Gyllenhaal). Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve adapts Nobel prize-winner José Saramago’s posthumously published novel into a sickly story of paranoia and fatigue. Gyllenhaal(s) have rarely been better. 2 January.
4) Taken 3
Using his very particular set of skills, Liam Neeson cranks it up once again for another go-round of the French-produced, Hollywood-inspired hostage drama. Originally a flag waver for the geri-action phenomenon, the first Taken’s surprise success in 2008 turned the now 62-year-old Neeson into an improbable thug grappler. Judging by its trailer, Taken 3 has more of the same, with Neeson’s ex-special ops guy Bryan Mills pursued by every law enforcement agency known to man after he’s arrested for the murder of his wife. 8 January.
An extraordinary but still little-known true story is at the heart of this movie about toxic maleness. Steve Carell gives a superb and deadly serious performance as John DuPont, a spoiled billionaire who, in the 80s, decided to bankroll the training facilities for the US Olympic wrestling team — and tried to befriend the sport’s top stars, the Schultz brothers - Mark and Dave - played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. The atmosphere of warped mentoring and competition is compelling. 9 January.
6) Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim’s musical smash has now been adapted into a Disney movie starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt. The drama explores and reinvents the myths and legends of the Grimm Brothers’ universe, with echoes of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella. A childless couple are forced to venture into the woods to confront the witch who has cursed their attempts to have children. 9 January.
A talented young drummer (Miles Teller) shreds sticks and nerves under the monstrous tutelage of Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), his abusive music teacher. Dubbed Full Metal Juilliard on the festival circuit, Whiplash is a beats, not bombs war movie. When the kid fouls up, the general throws a cymbal at his head. Frantic, relentless, punky and fun, Whiplash is at our tempo. 16 January.
8) American Sniper
At 84, Clint Eastwood is in no mood to slow down. His new film is based on the autobiography of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the self-proclaimed “most lethal sniper in US military history”. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle himself, who later achieved celebrity in a civilian life that became as dramatic and extraordinary as anything on the field of battle. 16 January.
9) Testament of Youth
Thirty-five years after the BBC series based on Vera Brittain’s first world war memoirs comes another adaptation by Auntie: this one gorgeous and swooning, much more Euro-movie than Brit flick with Alicia Vikander as the headstrong Oxford hopeful Vera. Dominic West and Emily Watson are ma and pa and Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington is among the young men Vera knows who are dispatched to the trenches. 16 January.
Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about hiking 1,100 miles to deal with the death of her mum is taken off into the wilderness by screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). Wild is a tough road movie, a two-hour hallucinatory montage of sight and song as Cheryl (Oscar-tipped Reese Witherspoon) stamps her way to redemption. 16 January.
11) Beyond Clueless
Film essayist Charlie Lyne goes back to school with a coy examination of the 90s and 00s teen movie scenes. From exposing the frat boy comedy Euro Trip as a homoerotic odyssey, to pilloring Josie and the Pussycats as a rallying cry for consumerism, Lyne revels in analysing silliness with thoughtful sincerity. 23 January.
12) La Maison de la Radio
France’s gentlest, most compassionate documentarian returns a few years afterNénette (about an orangutan in Paris’s botanical gardens’ zoo) and a dozen after his best-known work, Etre et Avoir, with this peek behind the scenes of France’s national radio. He shot over 24 hours inside the beehive of Radio France, as music was played and fiction was created, news broke and pundits jabbered. Unique and inspired stuff. 23 January.
Johnny Depp channels his inner Englishman once again for a comedy based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Charlie Mortdecai novels, about a top-hole art dealer with a penchant for getting mixed up in unpleasant crimes. Exuding an Austin Powers meets PG Wodehouse vibe, this looks pretty funny, even if no actual English chap appears to have got anywhere near the principal credits. 23 January.
14) The Gambler
Devotees of tough, murky 70s American cinema will fondly recall The Gambler, James Toback’s fictionalised account of his years of addiction. Now the film has been remade with Mark Wahlberg in the old James Caan role as the jittery English professor mired in debt and menaced by hoodlums. Salvation or disaster is just a dice throw away. 23 January.
15) A Most Violent Year
Sidney Lumet may be dead, but his spirit lives on in the form of talented writer-director JC Chandor. A Most Violent Year is a pungent, potent tale of early 80s New York, riddled with crime and crusted with snow. Oscar Isaac shines as the ambitious immigrant entrepreneur, Jessica Chastain rides shotgun as a Brooklyn Lady Macbeth. 23 January.
16) Kingsman: The Secret Service
You wait all year for an ironic take on the bowler-hatted 60s, and two come along at once. Following hard on the heels of Mortdecai comes this deconstruction of the Ian Fleming-style gentleman spy, with Colin Firth as the veteran agentattempting to instruct his wayward nephew (Taron Egerton) in the arts of the great game. This reunites the team behind Kick-Ass - director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman, comic-book writer Mark Millar – and there’s no reason to suggest this won’t be a repeat of the earlier film’s high entertainment value. 29 January.
17) Big Hero 6
How do you follow up a generation-defining event like Frozen? Having stolen the thunder from its sister company Pixar, Disney is now set to horn in on its hipster-superhero territory by exploiting the properties of yet another company it recently bought: Marvel. A kid called Hiro, living in a futureworld amalgam of San Francisco and Tokyo and his balloon-like robot chum Baymax thwart a conspiracy with the help of a gang of friends with superpower suits. This beat Interstellar on its opening day in the US, so the portents are good. 30 January.
18) Son of a Gun
Former Home and Awayer Brendon Thwaites is the petty criminal offered a Faustian pact in jail from Ewan McGregor’s hardened robber: protection for a favour on the outside. The stage is set for a mix of mentor-mentee bust-ups, gold-oriented heist action, and steamy romance with Sweden’s Alicia Vikander. 30 January.
19) Inherent Vice
If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t actually there. And if you can explain Inherent Vice, you’ve surely been watching it wrong. Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film is a ramshackle joy, full of double agents, shifty hippies and renegade cops. Our guide through the revels is Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner PI, but he’s so glazed and befuddled that he’s shooting at shadows. Your best advice: tune in, turn on and enjoy the trip while it lasts. 30 January.
Those on the lookout for the next Slumdog Millionaire should keep their eyes on this boisterous, sentimental tour of the developing world, directed by Stephen Daldry from a Richard Curtis script. Trash spotlights a trio of teenage foragers on the rubbish dumps of an unnamed South American city. A mysterious wallet may just provide their ticket out of the ruins. 30 January.
Selma is about the 1965 US civil-rights marches led by Martin Luther King that set off from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery to protest against the insidious obstruction of voter registration for black Americans. The 600 marchers were attacked with clubs and tear gas by police. David Oyelowo plays King; Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King and Tom Wilkinson plays President Lyndon Johnson. 6 February.
22) The Duke of Burgundy
Excitement levels are high and the temperature is boiling ahead of the arrival of The Duke of Burgundy, in which a libidinous lepidopterist makes the housemaid her mistress. Director Peter Strickland burnishes his credentials as one of the UK’s most distinctive film-makers with a playful, teasing slice of erotica that aims to fire the mind as well as the loins. 6 February.
23) Jupiter Ascending
One minute Mila Kunis is playing a down-on-her-luck caretaker with no prospects. The next (apparently) she has met a genetically modified strongman (Channing Tatum) and been told she’s the intergalactic heir to the planet Earth. You can never accuse the Wachowskis of setting their sights low. Jupiter Ascending is their $200m space opera, tipped as a gaudy, ambitious marriage of Star Wars and The Matrix. 6 February.
24) Love is Strange
Ira Sachs’s snuggles-only old-age romance won a restrictive “R” rating from the US censors, presumably because the long-term couple it depicts are men. Still, US audiences have flocked to this very moving story of New York couple John Lithgow and Alfred Molina who get married after decades together, only to find themselves forced to live apart when the Catholic school at which Molina teaches fires him for coming out. 6 February.
25) Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
Shaun the Sheep has come a long way from a throwaway gag in A Close Shave. Having evolved into a highly successful kids TV series, the feisty ovine now gets his own feature film, proving there’s life post-Wallace and Gromit in the Aardman stop-motion stable. There’s a Pig in the City kind of thing going on, with Shaun and his woolly chums heading off to the big smoke to track down the hapless Farmer. 6 February.
26) Fifty Shades of Grey
“Mr Grey will see you now,” runs the tagline. And you, no doubt, will see a fair bit of Mr Grey. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s take on EL James’s bonkbuster has The Fall star Jamie Dornan on kit-off duty. He plays the mysterious business type whose relationship with a young college graduate (Dakota Fanning) heads into sexy, slappy territory. 13 February.
27) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ol Parker’s grey-pound cash cow opens its doors once more. Most of the old faithfuls are still checked in – Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie and Penelope Wilton – leaving two newcomers to squabble over the only spare room. These fresh prospective residents at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful are, rather weirdly, Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig. 27 February.
District 9 director Neill Blomkamp reunites with actor Sharlto Copley for the third time in this artificial intelligence sci-fi yarn, in which Copley provides the voice for the newly minted robot of the title. With a name like that, it ought to be a comedy, but first glimpses suggest there’s a seriousness of intent here, as Chappie grows and learns in a human-like fashion. Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel are along for the ride. 6 March.
29) Still Alice
Julianne Moore is a dead cert for the best actress Oscar for her role in this drama about a neurology professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s – it’s a devastating, immaculate performance that blows the competition out of the water. There’s strong support from Alec Baldwin as her husband, torn between caring for his wife and furthering his career, and Kristen Stewart as their apparently irresponsible offspring, who winds up saving the day. 6 March.
30) The Face of an Angel
Michael Winterbottom handles hot potato material – the murder of Meredith Kercher and subsequent trial of Amanda Knox – with deft fingers. His approach is to turn the focus inwards, exploring why a young director (played by Daniel Brühl) might find the case so interesting, and how the gathered international press (in particular Kate Beckinsale’s glam hack) feed off the story – and each other. 6 March.
31) Jane Got a Gun
Natalie Portman stars as a woman defending her home against a gang of no-good cowboys in Gavin O’Connor’s western. A rocky production saw the saloon doors hit Lynne Ramsay on the way out. Jude Law left town with her, before Ewan McGregor climbed into the saddle. Let’s see what state the film’s in now the smoke’s cleared. 6 March.
32) Suite Française
Irène Némirovsky’s novel of the same name had a belated publication: the manuscript was discovered by her daughters in 1998, 56 years after she died at Auschwitz. Its path to the screen since publication in 2002 has been fairly swift, then: Michelle Williams stars as the married woman in occupied France who becomes attracted to a German officer (played by Matthias Schoenaerts). Saul Dibb directs, and Kristin Scott Thomas is Williams’s formidable mother-in-law. 13 March.
33) In the Heart of the Sea
The Essex was a US whaling ship that was sunk by its quarry, leaving its starving survivors adrift in the ocean. Now up sails director Ron Howard, adapting the bestseller by Nathaniel Philbrick, to dredge this tragic nugget of history up from the depths. We’re seeing this one as Moby Dick meets Alive. 13 March.
34) Top Five
Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in this romcom about a washed-up comedy action star (Rock) engaged to a ghastly reality-TV star and making a bid for serious artistry with a 12 Years a Slave-style flick about the Haitian revolution. Rosario Dawson’s New York Times reporter tags along with him for the day, with predictable – but uproariously funny and irreverent – results. 20 March.
35) Wild Tales
“I see violence all over the place,” says one character in this extraordinary portmanteau movie from Argentina. This is a collection of wild tales: angry, crazy, untamed. A fashion model on a plane makes a bizarre discovery about her passengers and there is calamity. A waitress recognising a nasty customer leads to bloody mayhem. A road-rage incident culminates in bizarre farce. And lots more. 27 March.
36) Furious 7
Make vrrrrroom for chunky Vin Diesel and beefy Dwayne Johnson as they squeeze into sports cars to put the Fast and Furious franchise’s pedal to the metal once more. They’ve gained a baddie (Jason Statham playing the terrifying-sounding “Ian Shaw”), but must lose a friend. Co-star Paul Walker died in a high-speed car crash while Furious 7 was being filmed. 3 April.