EDITORIAL: My 15 most anticipated films of 2015

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During the shift from December to January, I enjoy retracing what I reviewed and enjoyed from the previous year, but the trailers and previews for next year's films are starting to make an impact.  I can't help but look ahead.  Every year, I wrote an "Most Anticipated List."  From my 2014 selections and editorial, the triumphs outnumbered the disappointments.  My number one pick was "Interstellar" and I wouldn't take it back for a second.  There were a few on that list that I still haven't seen for one reason or another ("Fury," "Dumb and Dumber To"), a few that should have elevated from honorable mention ("Guardians of the Galaxy," "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), and even one ("Jupiter Ascending") that got bumped from last year to this year.  

I hyped way back then that 2014 was a holding pattern year for the real sluggers that were already lining up for 2015.  Other than a few departures and changes (most notably "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" extending until 2016), that bold prognostication of 2015's enormity has held true.  2015 looks wildly loaded with must-see films.  Let's make a new list for a new year.  Here are my 15 most anticipated films of this new year.  Enjoy!

THE "ALMOST" LIST OF HONORABLE MENTION:

Here are the films that just miss the cut for 15, but definitely rank as must-sees for the coming year:  Last year's #7 pick "Jupiter Ascending," Disney/Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur," Ridley Scott's "The Martian" with Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, "Get Hard" with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, David O. Russell's "Joy," "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," "Focus" with Will Smith, Neil Blomkamp's "Chappie," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Walk" starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Guillermo del Toro's "Crimson Peak," Nancy Myers' "The Intern," F. Gary Gray's "Straight Outta Compton," "Jane Got a Gun" with Natalie Portman, Joe Wright's "Pan" prequel with Hugh Jackman, the untitled Cameron Crowe film starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, Michael Mann's "Blackhat" with Chris Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson dealing with earthquakes in "San Andreas," Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." starring Henry Cavill, the pent-up conclusion of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2" and MAYBE, just maybe, seeing what all of the fuss is about with "Fifty Shades of Gray."  

Sorry, but my desire to see "Magic Mike XXL," a sure-to-be-disappointing remakes of "Vacation" and "Poltergeist," "Terminator: Genisys," Paul Feig's "Spy" with Melissa McCarthy, "Ted 2," "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4," and anything attached to Adam Sandler like "Pixels," just isn't there.  Let's get to the real list.

MY 15 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2015

15.  "The Peanuts Movie"-- Where most animated updates of cartoons in recent memory receive overly fancy CGI treatments that take away the visual simplicity of their source material, Fox looks like it has found the best of both worlds with "The Peanuts Movie."  The film is indeed computer-generated and built for 3D, but like the authentic feel of "The LEGO Movie" last year, a keen hand-drawn style is being used to keep these lovable characters familiar.  Just in time for the holidays, I think this will be a hit equal to the big comeback of "The Muppets" from 2011.  It won't matter that it's going up against James Bond.  (November 6)  (trailer)

14.  "In the Heart of the Sea"-- Other than rare instances of failure ("The Dillemma" anyone?), Ron Howard is a director I tend to have complete faith in.  "In the Heart of the Sea" touts itself as the true story of the legendary whale encounter that inspired "Moby Dick."  Howard re-teams with his "Rush" star Chris Hemsworth (who is everywhere in 2015) as the action star lead.  I'm sure it's a little far-fetched, but I'm willing to rank this a nudge or two higher than "Mad Max: Fury Road." (March 13)  (trailer)

13.  "The Revenant"-- Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably the most consistently solid actor working right now.  Everything he chooses and touches tends to be excellent.  His next film, coming out at Christmas, teams him with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director of "Birdman," and co-stars Tom Hardy.  "The Revenant" is a western thriller about a man betrayed and left for dead by his friends after being mauled be a bear.  He seeks revenge to his former companions after returning back to health.  If DiCaprio can channel even a fraction of "Django Unchained" energy back in the western genre, we're in for a treat.  (December 25)  (no trailer yet)

12.  "The Hateful Eight"-- Speaking of "Django Unchained," any Quentin Tarantino movie is going to stir attention.  "The Hateful Eight" is another post-Civil War western and stars old buddies Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, along with Tarantino newcomers Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demain Bichir, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum.  Early word had this film's script leaked and likely not to be produced, but Tarantino has circled around to make it happen.  (December 25)  (no trailer yet)

11.  "Tomorrowland"-- In the style of "Pirates of the Caribbean," Disney has taken another theme park and given it a modern movie spin.  "Tomorrowland" is directed by Brad Bird ("Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol," "The Incredibles," and "The Iron Giant") and stars George Clooney and Britt Robertson.  Details are scarce, but Clooney gains my attention and interest.  This is your annual weekend-before-Memorial-Day big hitter.  (May 22)  (teaser trailer)

10.  "The Jungle Book"-- Speaking of Disney, they've got two, count 'em two, live-action re-tellings of the animated feature classics.  Both are from former Marvel Film directors.  The March-set "Cinderella" from director Kenneth Branagh ("Thor") doesn't interest me as much as "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau taking on "The Jungle Book" in October.  First, Favreau is reinvigorated coming off of "Chef" from last year.  Second, he's assembled a slam dunk voice cast of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o, and Christopher Walken.  That's more head turning than Cate Blanchett as a wicked stepmother.  (October 9)  (no trailer yet)

9.  "The Fantastic Four"-- Speaking of superheroes, Fox is aiming to dramatically reboot their Marvel property of "The Fantastic Four" with "Chronicle" director Josh Trank stepping up to the blockbuster stage and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" author Seth Grahame-Smith and "X-Men" franchise steward Simon Kinberg penning the story.  All indications have pointed to this take being nothing like the chipper Ioan Gruffudd/Jessica Alba/Chris Evans/Michael Chiklis pair of films from last decade.  Your new cast is led by Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station" and "Chronicle") as The Human Torch, Miles Teller ("Whiplash" and "The Spectacular Now") as Reed Richards, Kara Mara ("House of Cards" on Netflix) as Susan Storm, Jamie Bell ("King Kong") underneath at CGI Thing battling Toby Kebbel ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") as a new Doctor Doom.  A daringly different take might upset hardcore fans, but grab renewed interest from casual audiences.  I'm willing to give it a fair shake.  (August 7)  (no trailer yet)

8.  "Ant-Man"-- Speaking of Marvel, their film branch under the Disney umbrella is still the untouchable genre leader no matter what Fox and Sony think they can do with their Marvel properties.  If they can manufacture and market a blockbuster out of something as obscure as the D-list heroes of "Guardians of the Galaxy" last year, then the "Avengers" connections of "Ant-Man," starring everyone's favorite Everyman lead Paul Rudd, should be an easy score.  Genre fans were itching for Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World") in the director's chair, but he left for creative differences.  We have to settle for "The Break-Up" director Peyton Reed and see what happens.  Rudd is never bad, so this one will survive just fine.  (July 17)  (no trailer yet) 

7.  "Furious 7"-- As we all have followed, the untimely passing of core cast member Paul Walker caused rewrites and rescheduling for the latest street racing franchise entry.  After half of a buttoned-up ending in "Fast and Furious 6," many (myself included) would have been fine to see this franchise retire without the pain of seeing it go on without Walker.  Director Justin Lin and the ensemble cast of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordanna Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, and upcoming villain Jason Statham have assured us that this new film is worth seeing through.  Since bringing the original cast back together and adding Johnson, each film since the fourth has gotten bigger and better each time.  I have faith that they know what they are doing and will give Walker the right send-off.  (April 3)  (trailer)

6.  "Inside Out"-- In many eyes, Pixar has been slipping from its perch of perfection since 2010's "Toy Story 3."  "Cars 2," "Brave," and "Monsters University" have all under-performed or under-impressed in one way or another.  "The Good Dinosaur" was supposed to be their 2014 feature, but it has been plagued with story rewrites and delays.  That opens the 2015 door for "Inside Out," something new and original before the chain of sequels begins again in 2016 ("Finding Dory") and 2017 (the completely unnecessary "Toy Story 4").  Directed by Pixar original Pete Docter ("Monsters, Inc." and "Up"), "Inside Out" features a humorously creative look inside the emotions of a child if they inhabited characters inside their head.  (June 19)  (trailer)

5.  "Mission: Impossible 5"-- I've always been a fan of this franchise and I don't hate Tom Cruise like everyone else.  I like that this franchise rolls like Bond films by changing directors and styles with each outing.  J.J. Abrams' "Mission: Impossible 3" and Brad Bird's "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol" were superior action films that don't get enough credit.  For the untitled fifth film, Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt and enlists his "Jack Reacher" director Christopher McQuarrie to join the fray.  Franchise teammates Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames will also return and join new faces Alec Baldwin and Sean Harris (Showtime's "The Borgias").  These films consistently entertain and I can't get enough.  (December 25)  (no trailer yet)

4.  "Jurassic World"-- I never thought I would see the day that included a new "Jurassic Park" film, but Hollywood loves rehashing old ideas.  I figured the franchise burned out with the weak "Jurassic Park III" fourteen years ago and no chance of a returning Steven Spielberg.  Universal Pictures followed the Marc Webb/Joss Whedon formula of other blockbusters by handing the franchise keys over to some indie filmmakers to raise their game to a mega-film level.  Enter the team of director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly, best known for the little-seen micro-budget gem "Safety Not Guaranteed" from 2012.  The film is set a factual 22 years after the 1993 events of "Jurassic Park" and looks at a fully-functioning dinosaur theme park.  Trevorrow's film will get a big boost from the white-hot Chris Pratt as the man-of-action lead.  He's joined by Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, and the familiar Trevorrow face of Jake Johnson.  The trailer released last November blew many socks off, including my own.  My faith is renewed and hopeful enough to put this in the Top 5.  (June 12)  (trailer

3.  "Spectre"-- 2012's "Skyfall" elevated the storied and 50-year-plus old James Bond franchise to new heights with its first $1 billion+ worldwide earner.  The film itself was outstanding and tops many peoples' lists of the best Bond film ever.  Ever since the huge success and story developments of "Skyfall," the question of what can they do next has fueled huge hype towards this 24th film.  This past November, Sony announced its cast and roles and presented us with the "Spectre" title that has everyone aligning the stars between new franchise villain Christoph Waltz and the classic character of Ernesto Blofeld.  I don't think it will be that simple.  I think director Sam Mendes has plenty of gadgets and tricks up his sleeve for Daniel Craig and us in the audience.  (November 6)  (no trailer yet)

2.  "Avengers: Age of Ultron"-- How is this not #1?  Well, when you see #1, you'll know.  In any other year, the sequel to the third highest grossing film in history would be the runaway top film.  That's how packed 2015 is.  Still, the comic book film genre rules all box offices.  Just as in Phase 1, Marvel Films has carefully and purposely built up to this moment with "Iron Man 3," "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "Guardians of the Galaxy."  If the obscurity of "Guardians of the Galaxy" can rule a year's box office, there's no reason this second team-up can't match or beat its predecessor's $623+ million domestic haul.  Expect lines around the block in May.  (May 1)  (trailer)

1.  "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"-- I'll say it again.  There is no way this wasn't going to be #1.  Even for the most casual movie fans, this is the biggest deal of biggest deals and the movie that has been, arguably, the most scrutinized and over-examined film we've ever tracked during pre-production and production.  The hotly anticipated teaser trailer from November did exactly what it was supposed to do to whet the frenzied appetite.  I couldn't be more glad that it didn't explain or show its hand, as too many trailers nowadays do.  Expect even longer lines than the ones you will see in May for "Avengers: Age of Ultron." I'll be right there with you.  (December 18)  (teaser trailer)

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