The Hateful Eight
What it is: Quentin Tarantino's latest is a bloody western ensemble drama, with eight nasty gunslingers forced to hole up together in the same small inn during a blizzard.
Why you should care: The Hateful Eight is far from Tarantino's best movie — in fact, it's probably his worst — but there are fleeting glimpses of brilliance in Tarantino's characteristically sharp dialogue and twisty narrative structure. The premise is solid, and the performances are uniformly strong, with actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern relishing the chance to spit out their venomous monologues. And if you happen to live near one of the 100-plus movie theaters playing it, the "road show" version — screened on 70mm film, and complete with an intermission — is novel enough to be worth the price of admission alone.
What else is coming out: Yosemite, a drama about a bunch of suburban kids who want to kill a mountain lion, based on a short story by star James Franco.
What it is: A grim period drama based on the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who struggles to survive after being left for dead in the wilderness by his companions.
Why you should care: It's no secret that Leonardo DiCaprio has been chasing an Oscar for the better part of a decade, and The Revenant is positioned as his most forceful bid yet. Hugh Glass' story is legendary among survivalists, and The Revenant seeks to tell it in bloody and uncompromised detail. With that in mind, it's fitting that the film landed a director with ambitions to match. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, fresh off his Best Director Oscar for last year's Birdman, made every effort to bring The Revenant to harrowing life, avoiding CGI, using natural lighting, and shooting in sequence — even as the budget reportedly rose from $60 million to a whopping $135 million.
What else is coming out: The Forest, a horror-thriller about a young woman (Natalie Dormer) who tracks her missing sister to a Japanese forest infamous for its number of suicides; Anesthesia, a star-studded drama about the people affected by the mugging of a college professor (Sam Waterston); The Abandoned, a horror flick about a security guard (Louise Krause) who endures a terrifying night at an abandoned apartment complex; Lamb, an envelope-pushing drama about the unlikely and possibly criminal relationship that develops between a sad-sack businessman (Ross Partridge) and a young girl (Oona Laurence); Diablo, a western attempting to make Scott Eastwood into a star on par with his father Clint; The Masked Saint, a Christian-themed drama about a pastor-luchadore-vigilante (Brett Granstaff).
Band of Robbers
What it is: A modernized riff on the writing of Mark Twain, with Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) and Huckleberry Finn (Kyle Gallner) as a pair of adult ne'er-do-wells at the center of a crime caper.
Why you should care: Due in large part to the wonders of public domain, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have been so thoroughly milked by popular culture that it's hard to find anything new to say about them — but by all accounts, brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, working as both co-writers and co-directors, have found a way. Band of Robbers' offbeat blend of tones looks to give Mark Twain the Wes Anderson-by-way-of-Ocean's Eleven treatment, with a capable cast of ringers — including Hannibal Buress as Ben Rogers and Supergirl star Melissa Benoist as Becky Thatcher — to move the story into the modern day.
What else is coming out: Ride Along 2, a broad sequel starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube as a pair of mismatched cops on a Miami task force; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay's take on the storming of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, as told from the perspective of a group of soldiers; Norm of the North, an animated children's comedy featuring the vocal talents of Rob Schneider; The Fifth Wave, a sci-fi flick about a young woman (Chloe Moretz) caught in the midst of an alien invasion; Moonwalkers, an indie comedy about the U.S. government's purported plan to fake the moon landing; A Perfect Day, a dramedy about a group of humanitarians (Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko) working in the Balkans in the mid 1990s; The Benefactor, an indie drama about an eccentric philanthropist (Richard Gere) who insinuates himself into the lives of a newlywed couple.
What it is: A self-absorbed actor (Garrett Hedlund), camping alone in the desert, has a bizarre and fateful encounter with a drifter who hints that he might be the devil (Oscar Isaac).
Why you should care: Let's get this out of the way: Mojave is a weird, weird movie, and not an entirely successful one. William Monahan, best known for writing The Departed, directs his own screenplay, and the result is so elliptical that it sometimes feels incoherent. But even if the sum of Mojave's parts doesn't quite add up, there are some great parts here: A creepy premise, some gorgeous desert scenario, and a small collection of fun and surprising cameos. And hey — if you just saw Oscar Isaac in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and are hungry for more, you'll find plenty to admire about the sinister drifter he plays here.
What else is coming out: Dirty Grandpa, a raunchfest starring a slumming Robert De Niro as the titular septuagenarian, opposite Zac Efron as his party-boy grandson; The Boy, a goofy-looking horror flick about a nanny (Lauren Cohan) hired to watch over a creepy porcelain doll that might be alive; Monster Hunt, a family-oriented epic fantasy that rode a state-mandated blackout on Hollywood movies to become China's highest-grossing movie ever; Ip Man 3, the latest installment in the popular martial arts franchise, with Mike Tyson as the new big bad; JeruZalem, a found-footage horror movie about the biblical apocalypse; Exposed, a thuddingly generic thriller about a cop (Keanu Reeves) investigating the death of his partner.
Jane Got a Gun
What it is: A western about a young woman (Natalie Portman) who reluctantly turns to an ex-fiancé (Joel Edgerton) when her homestead is threatened by a cruel gang of outlaws.
Why you should care: Since appearing on a list of the hottest unproduced screenplays in 2011, Jane Got a Gun has endured a notoriously troubled production, with Michael Fassbender, Jude Law, Bradley Cooper, and director Lynne Ramsay all quitting the project. But the cast that did end up starring in the movie is reliably talented: Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich, Edgerton, and star Portman, who has been attached to Jane Got a Gun from the very beginning. Westerns are a relative scarcity in contemporary Hollywood, and female-driven Westerns even more so, so let's hope Jane Got a Gun lives up to all that early potential.
What else is coming out: Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest installment in the Dreamworks animated series about a bunch of wacky animal martial artists; Fifty Shades of Black, a Fifty Shades of Grey spoof starring Scary Movie alum Marlon Wayans; The Finest Hours, a dramatized version of a real-life 1952 Coast Guard mission to save ships caught in a brutal nor'easter.