Ten must-see films left in 2016

HOLLYWOOD blockbuster season has come to an end with more a whimper than a bang, yet 2016 has a few cinematic tricks left up its sleeves.

These are the 10 must-see movies this year still has in store ... And, give or take a couple of big deal spin-offs, there’s not a sequel among them!

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

When: December 15

Stars: Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed

Pedigree: It’s Star Wars, people! Reports may paint a picture of a troubled production (speculation including, but not limited to, Disney brass deciding it was too dark, almost half the film being reshot, and a new director being brought in to finish it), but much of that went out the window when a certain heavy breathing dude in a black helmet popped up at the end of the second Rogue One trailer.

Story: Sitting somewhere between Revenge Of the Sith and A New Hope on the Star Wars timeline, spin-off Rogue One follows a ragtag band of rebel fighters — with the anti-authoritarian Jyn Erso (Jones) leading the way — who unite to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Watch for: Darth Vader! Also keep an eye/ear on Kaytoo, voiced by Alan Tudyk — this droid with attitude is the anti-C-3PO.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

When: October 27

Stars: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Dale Dickey

Pedigree: Though Westerns haven’t been in vogue for some years, that hasn’t stopped the movie biz from throwing ideas at it: Aliens! Will Smith! With few frills, little fuss, and an even lower budget, Hell Or High Water is the Western that’s finally cracked it. Headlines in the US have declared it the “best film of 2016” of the US summer, “the Western we need” and, more frighteningly, “Donald Trump’s America on the big screen”.

Story: Pine and Foster play brothers whose family farm is being repossessed by a heartless bank. They get their own back on ‘the man’ by staging a series of small-town bank robberies. Bridges is the wisecracking Texas Ranger on the boys’ tail. The “Trump’s America” line of thinking stems from the brothers representing the country’s disenfranchised white working-class.

Hell or High Water trailer

Watch for: The film’s original score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who already have fine form in this field (See: The Proposition).

A MONSTER CALLS

When: December 1

Stars: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell

Pedigree: One of the most acclaimed children’s novels in recent times, A Monster Calls deals with childhood fears and trauma in heart-crushing, beautiful ways. The fact the movie adaptation is directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spaniard behind The Orphanage and tsunami drama The Impossible, strongly suggests it won’t be softening the terrors of Patrick Ness’s book.

Story: Conor (newcomer MacDougall) is losing his mum to cancer. He barely knows the grandmother (Weaver) he’s sent to live with, his dad’s not around and he’s being bullied at school. His unlikely saviour is a monster (a motion capture performance by Liam Neeson) in the form a giant yew tree who emerges from the garden one night declaring he’ll tell Conor three stories. When he’s done, Conor must tell a story of his own.

A Monster Calls

Watch for: Jim Kay’s stark black and white drawings in the book were an integral part of Ness’s book. Early glimpses of the film’s special effects and art bode well for doing this part of the story justice.

DOCTOR STRANGE

When: October 27

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong

Pedigree:Doctor Strange has long been a pillar of Marvel’s comic book universe, if not a fan-favourite a la peers Captain America and Iron Man. How to immediately remedy that potential hitch on screen? Cast one of the most fan-geeked actors alive, Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch. The good Doctor’s world is also a tad more far out than the average superhero movie, involving mysticism, time manipulation and alternate dimensions — cosmic, man. Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige is promising it will “bend people’s minds”.

Story: After a car accident, a surgeon loses his ability to operate, but gains insight into hidden dimensions. Training with The Ancient One (Swinton in monk mode), he becomes a sorcerer tasked with protecting the world from an aberrant mystic (Mads Mikkelsen).

Marvel's Doctor Strange trailer

Watch for: Links to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. Photos of Thor: Ragnarok filming in Brisbane this month showed Thor holding a card bearing the address of Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. And the card looked a lot like the one Strange is handed by Mordo (Ejiofor) in the Doctor Strange trailer ... (Though it turns out that’s just the Wi-Fi password.)

ARRIVAL

When: November 10

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Pedigree: Denis Villeneuve is on a hot streak of dark, intense dramas: Prisoners, Sicario and he’s now working on the Blade Runner sequel. Arrival seems to be his most ambitious film yet. Though not a particularly heralded sci-fi property, it packs the element of surprise: the trailer quickly became one of 2016’s most talked-about online.

Story: After giant, shell-shaped UFOs land across the globe, linguistics expert Dr Banks (Adams) is recruited by the army to attempt to communicate with the alien beings on board. When the creatures take mankind’s actions as a declaration of war, the Doc makes a highly inadvisable last-ditch effort to talk to them.

Watch for: Sci-fi hasn’t traditionally made for Oscar bait. But with five-time nominee Adams in what is a meaty lead role and Villeneuve’s reputation only rising, Arrival could break the pattern.

I, DANIEL BLAKE

When: November 17

Stars: Natalie Ann Jamieson, Dave Johns

Pedigree: Not everyone agreed that 80-year-old Brit Ken Loach’s latest slice of kitchen sink realism — an anti-austerity tale of a little guy taking on big bureaucracy — was worthy of winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes. What all could agree on was that the drama had them in tears. “Criticise the (Cannes) jury all you want,” wrote Vulture’s Jada Yuan, “but can you really fault them for picking the film that turned entire theatres of people into sobbing wrecks?”

Story: After suffering a heart attack, widower Daniel (Johns, best known in the UK as an improv comedian) is not fit enough to return to work as a carpenter. But trying to make that clear to a welfare system mired in red tape proves almost impossible and frequently humiliating. Along the way, he befriends a young single mother navigating just as tough a path.

Cannes top prize winner I, Daniel Blake

Watch for: Whatever you can make out from behind the tears. It’ll be hard not to feel for, or relate to, Daniel’s plight.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS

When: December 26

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz

Pedigree: Based on the novel by Australian author M.L. Stedman, adapted and directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) and starring two Academy Award winners (Vikander and Weisz) and a nominee (Fassbender), The Light Between Oceans is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of Oscar voters. Fassbender describes the movie simply as “an old fashioned tale about good people that make bad decisions and how they deal with it”.

Story: Lighthouse keeper Tom and his wife Isabel live in idyllic isolation off the coast of Western Australia — all they’re missing is a child. When a rowboat washes ashore, carrying a dead man and a crying baby, Isabel convinces her husband they should raise the child as their own. Their finally-perfect life begins to crumble when they meet a woman (Weisz) on the mainland who would appear to be the girl’s mother.

Watch for: The spectacular homegrown scenery. Standing in for the fictitious WA setting is the postcard-perfect coastline and pink sunsets of Stanley in Tasmania, parts of Dunedin and several other locations on New Zealand’s South Island.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

When: November 17

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler

Pedigree: Presenting a sneak preview of Fantastic Beasts at CinemaCon in April, leading man Redmayne described making the movie as akin to “entering J.K. Rowling’s imagination”. Indeed, this will be as close to pure, unfiltered Rowling as cinemagoers have ever come: while the author was a consultant on the Harry Potter films, she penned this spin-off script herself. “This is a new level of involvement,” Rowling said at CinemaCon. “I feel very, very close to this project.”

Story: Set 70 years before Potter, Fantastic Beasts centres on Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, a favoured student of Dumbledore. Cast out of Hogwarts, the magizoologist travels to 1926 New York. What is only meant to be a stopover is disrupted when some of Newt’s creatures are accidentally freed from his magical suitcase and he catches wind of a tense anti-wizarding movement in the United States.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trailer

Watch for: The nifty array of ‘beasts’ the movie will introduce: like the Niffler, a cheeky, pick-pocketing cross between a mole and a platypus, and the Bowtruckle, which could be a distant relative of Groot from Guardians Of the Galaxy.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

When: October 6

Stars: Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans

Pedigree: Eleven million sales worldwide and frequent comparisons to Gone Girl made a quick-smart movie adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train (released in January 2015) a given. Like Gone Girl, it’s a thriller where the women’s motives are just as sketchy as the men’s. It also offers Emily Blunt a role to die for as a fantastically flawed female. “I love that your heroine, your lead character, is the most unreliable witness in the world because she’s a drunk,” Blunt told Deadline.

Story: On her daily commute, Rachel (Blunt) passes both the house of her ex-husband, now remarried, and a young couple, Scott and Megan, whose life she imagines as perfect. Her obsession with the couple is jolted when Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing ... and Rachel herself can only recall flashes of the night it happened.

Watch for: From top to bottom (Allison Janney as the detective, Edgar Ramirez as the therapist) The Girl on the Train’s cast is killer ... and any one of them might be THE killer!

HACKSAW RIDGE

When: November 3

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths, Hugo Weaving

Pedigree: The rehabilitation of Mel Gibson takes a great leap with Hacksaw Ridge, his first film as director in 10 years. It would appear to be a film like they don’t make ’em anymore — maybe that’s why it’s already picking up awards buzz. Its true story is certainly packed with the kinds of themes Academy voters flock to. Gibson has called it a “100 per cent Aussie film”; a US/Australia co-production is perhaps more realistic, but it was shot at Sydney’s Fox Studios and in the rural outskirts of Sydney, with a largely Australian crew and a big contingent of locals in the cast.

Story: Virginia farmboy Desmond Doss’s refusal to touch a gun saw fellow soldiers brand him a coward, but his actions on the battlefield — he saved 75 men in a night during one of WWII’s bloodiest battles — proved his worth time and again. “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to want to put a little bit of it back together,” says Garfield’s Doss in the movie.

Trailer for Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge

Watch for: Anyone who’s seen Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto knows that he doesn’t flinch from blood and gore. So expect Hacksaw Ridge’s war scenes to hit brutally hard.

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