The film industry may be in a moment of crisis—the American independent wing certainly is—but we should not forget what a golden age we’re enjoying.
Most of the directors below are established “heavyweights.” Even more exciting than these ten films is knowing that there are at least ten more by directors we’ve scarcely (or never) heard of that will be just as wonderful.
The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Poll a thousand serious cinephiles and The Assassin is likely to win a “Most anticipated 2015” survey running away. Hou has one of the greatest bodies of work in film history and there’s no evidence to suggest his powers have diminished as he approaches his 70s. A martial arts film is a risk for a director known for his quiet lyricism, but expect this film to be thoroughly Hou.
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
Strangely under-appreciated, Miller is perhaps the best living action director (The Road Warrior) and has a deft emotional touch as well (Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe 2). He even manged to take an apparent cash-in kiddie film and make something strange and moving (Happy Feet). Of all the popcorn directors of his generation, Miller is the least compromising. Expect Mad Max #4 to be visceral, violent, and weird.
Tomorrowland (Brad Bird)
The track record of animators migrating to live action is a spotty one. Bird’s live-action debut (Mission Impossible 4) was competent but a far cry from his greatest films (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille). Unlike the Cruise franchise project, Tomorrowland appears to be a labor of love for Bird. Let’s hope he shoots for the moon and sticks the landing.
Silence (Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese has described his adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s beautiful novel Silence as his “next project” for over a decade. Something else (usually involving DiCaprio) seems to get in the way. No longer—Marty is finally on his way to realizing this dream project. The material (Catholicism, torments of the soul and the flesh, internal monologue) is perfect for him. But his last admitted dream project was the very mixed Gangs of New York, and there remains the little issue of an existing, excellent film adaptation of the novel by Masashiro Shinoda (Silence, 1971). Catholicism aside, can Marty adapt a Japanese novel better than a great Japanese director? I’m eager to find out.
Untitled Cold War Thriller (Steven Spielberg)
For an icon, Steven Spielberg is hard to pin down. On one hand, he is a household name, the once-in-a-generation director as famous as the biggest stars. His middlebrow liberalism and frequently clumsy narrative instincts (see: endings) have marred numerous films. But he remains an astonishing talent and one of the few American hold-outs against TV-style shooting and editing. His treatment of history is mixed but Munich was a recent standout. This Cold War movie was written by the Coen Brothers. If there’s any antidote to Spielberg’s instinct for “shhh, it’ll be okay,” it’s these foremost American pessimists. Keep your fingers crossed.
Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog)
Herzog is a magician. Without ever having a true box office hit, he’s been immensely prolific, worked with some of the biggest stars in the world, and become something of an ironic pop culture icon. If there were separate halls of fame for documentary and narrative filmmaking, he’d easily be enshrined in both (the Wilt Chamberlain of cinema?). This is his first narrative work since 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: POCNO. That it could just as easily be a masterpiece as a complete dud is why he’s such an exciting artist.
Cemetery of Kings (Apitchapong Weerasethakul)
Apitchapong has made two towering masterpieces (Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee) and he’s just 42. He is one of the great poets of the cinema, a close kin to Cocteau, Tarkovsky, Bunuel, and Griffith. He is also fiercely political in a deftly subtle way. Expect Kings to comment on the Thai monarchy through entirely unexpected methods.
Horizontal Process (Abbas Kiarostami)
Kiarostami’s second international career is both heartbreaking and edifying. That this profoundly Iranian director must now work abroad to make his formally radical but hardly blasphemous work is deeply sad. But that he’s the rare director whose mastery of his medium can successfully navigate enormous language and cultural obstacles is a great gift to filmgoers. Set in Italy (like the recent Certified Copy), Horizontal Process will no doubt fuse deep, warm humanism with an intellect that defeats all comers.
Umimachi Diary (Hirokazu Koreeada)
Based on an apparently popular manga—a flag of concern for me, since the manga-based Air Doll is Koreeda’s weakest mature work. There are few directors of acting better, though, and knowing this is a female ensemble piece is very intriguing.