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2018 Winter Movie Preview: 25 Films We're Excited About

We’re not even done giving out all of the awards to 2017 films, and yet the new film year has started. With the likes of last weekend’s “The Commuter,” “Proud Mary” and “Paddington 2,” we’ve already got a few films that have lead to big discussions, if not excitement. I’m sure that will carry over into this new year, which sees an exciting mix of intriguing new screenplays, promising reboots, curious sequels and a few enticing comedies. We’ll be covering these films and many more throughout the year, so be sure to come back for our reviews of these movies and more. Release dates are subject to change, and we're using "winter" to describe the January-April movie season. 

25. “Pacific Rim Uprising” - I was not a huge fan of “Pacific Rim,” despite being awed by its scope and special effects detail, but my indifference for a sequel changed when John Boyega was brought into the mix. He leads this second story in a world of giant robots fighting kaiju, and is joined by Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing, Rinko Kikuchi, Adria Arjona, Charlie Day, and more. It’ll be interesting too, to see how a big-budget sequel built from an authorship (that of original director Guillermo del Toro) tells its own story with only his involvement as a producer. (March 23) 

24. “12 Strong” - I admit that this one is on the list more for morbid curiosity. Its placement in the middle of January is not particularly promising, but the cast is hard to deny: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky, Michael Pena, Austin Stowell, and Trevante Rhodes. There’s a faint hint of lazy jingoism, and not even the casting of the prolific Shannon can help indicate whether this will be one of the better ones in his filmography. (January 19) 

23. “Game Night” - It’s the cast that has me hoping this movie will offer some type of fun, even if it’s the kind of sporadic enjoyment like last year’s “The House.” Included in this comedy about friends solving a murder mystery on their regular titular event is: Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Jesse Plemons, Lamorne Morris, Kyle Chandler, Kylie Bunbury and Sharon Hogan. Sure, it might be directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (previously of that forgettable “Vacation” reboot), but with all of the pieces set up, maybe “Game Night” will be a charismatic surprise, at the least. (February 23) 

22. "The Road Movie" - Of the many black holes that YouTube has to offer, fans of schadenfreude will enjoy the bounty of footage collected by dashboard cameras, often operated by Russians. It seems like director Dmitrii Kalashnikov has harnessed the narrative potential of these beguiling videos for “The Road Movie,” which is said to be made up entirely of this type of footage. I’m especially curious in sense of form of how Kalashnikov will assemble everything, but also in what overall narrative he’ll create. This sounds like a documentary that could help push filmmaking norms, and all from witnessing car crashes. (January 19) 

21. “Red Sparrow” - Joining the welcome trend of women kicking butt is “Red Sparrow,” which reunited “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” director with Jennifer Lawrence. It’s the campiness of this movie that has me curious, with Lawrence playing a Russian ballerina who is, according to IMDb, “forced to use her body as a weapon.” Huh. Well, you can’t beat this supporting cast: Joel Edgerton, Mary-Louise Parker, Joely Richardson, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ciaran Hinds and the almighty Charlotte Rampling. (March 2) 

20. “Tomb Raider” - Along with “Rampage,” a “Tomb Raider” reboot isn’t exactly what we’d call high in demand. But that changes somewhat when you consider that the great Alicia Vikander will be leading the action adventure, under the direction of “The Wave”’s Roar Uthaug. While it’s certain that Vikander has the dramatic chops (she won an Oscar for “The Danish Girl” in 2015) her morphing into an action star should be an event itself. Video game movies are notoriously messy, but maybe Vikander will be supported by one that’s special in a good way. Hannah John-Kamen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Nick Frost and Daniel Wu also star. (March 16) 

19. “The Party” - One of Roger’s favorite writer/directors, Sally Potter, returns after 2012’s “Ginger & Rosa” with this 71-minute, black-and-white comedy that premiered last year at the Berlin International Film Festival. While the film received considerable buzz from that festival and others, it will be exciting to see how the latest Sally Potter joint plays out on a bigger scale, especially with she the talent she is working with: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall. That would be quite a guest list for any occasion. (February 16) 

18. “Blockers” - This is one of those studio comedies in which you have to trust the talent going in, even if the previews have been a bit groan-worthy. Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz star as parents who are trying to stop their kids from getting laid on prom night. The combination of those three actors is encouraging, especially with Cena settling into a stable comedic presence after the likes of a couple scene-stealing jokes in “Trainwreck,” and this is exciting as the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, previous writer for “Pitch Perfect,” “New Girl,” and “Girlboss.” Graham Phillips, Kathryn Newton, Ramona Young also star. (April 6) 

17. “Rampage” - No one really wanted a “Jumanji” remake, and yet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was able to prove this past December (along with Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and others) that it wouldn’t be the worst idea for a blockbuster. The same goes for “Rampage,” hopefully, an adaptation of what’s basically a pizza store arcade game, but with Dwayne Johnson inserted among monster battles and the destruction they bring. While this movie may indeed offer some dumb fun, we can at least trust that his previous collaborator, director Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”) will bring the destruction and giddy Johnson machismo. Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello, Jake Lacy and Marley Shelton also star. (April 20) 

16. "Overboard" - Eugenio Derbez did not get the massive breakout he might have hoped with last year’s “How to Be a Latin Lover.” In his second leading role for a Hollywood production he remakes the Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn movie “Overboard,” this time starring opposite Anna Faris. From the looks of the trailer this project appears to follow the same type of plot of his previous movies, in which he’s a wealthy, spoiled guy who goes through a type of emotional awakening. Here’s hoping that the movie is a bit more complicated, and funny, than just another retread, regarding either the original film or Derbez’s filmography. Eva Longoria and Emily Maddison also star. (April 20) 

15. "Early Man" - It’s hard to believe that animation god Nick Park hasn’t directed a feature since “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” in 2005, given the involvement he’s had with “Shaun the Sheep” and other Aardman projects. This new project, about cavemen (which one hopes won’t be another “The Croods,”) has promise for wit and adventure with his name alone. Special bonus is the voice cast, which includes the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Miriam Margoyles, Richard Ayoade, Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon. (February 16) 

14. “The Final Year” - An “insiders’ account” documentary about President Obama’s last year in office, working members of his administration, trying to make good with foreign policy before leaving the office. How could you not want to see that? “The Final Year” is directed by Greg Barker. (January 19) 

13. “Winchester” - I have been to the Winchester House in San Jose, CA and it is indeed a freaky place, emotionally concerning at least and disturbing at most with its constant construction and literal staircases to nowhere (to confuse the ghosts, it’s believed). The Spierig Brothers (who we prefer to remember for “Predestination” than the recent “Jigsaw”) are a strong pick for this genre film that will use a historic psychological horror house, and some heavyweight talent—Helen Mirren will play the heiress to the Winchester fortune, who is haunted by ghosts killed by her husband’s rifles. I’m not entirely sure where the Spierigs can go with the plot from this pitch, but the setting, star and talent has enough to make this seem like more than jump-scare of the week. Bonus: the supporting work of Sarah Snook, who was fantastic in “Predestination.” Here’s hoping she gets another role to sink her teeth into. Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren and Laura Brent also star. (February 2) 

12. “Isle of Dogs” - The Michael Bay of bougie comedies returns to the world of stop-motion animation with “Isle of Dogs,” a star-studded follow-up up to his previously massive “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Here, he has a huge cast voicing an assortment of dogs, including: Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johnansson, Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Kara Hayward, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Courtney B. Vance and Ken Watanabe. With a story co-written by Roman Coppola, Kunichi Nomura and Jason Schwartzman, this one will premiere to eager audiences next month at the Berlin Film Festival. (March 23) 

11. “The 15:17 to Paris” - Clint Eastwood makes movies his way, dammit. He’s not known for doing many takes even for the most important scenes, and he doesn’t get fussy about casting big actors when he sees more truth in non-actors. Such was the case with “Gran Torino” and is now the key selling point to “The 15:17 to Paris,” about a trio of American soldiers who prevented a terrorist attack on a train. Here, the men will be playing themselves, while Eastwood (presumably) also tells us of where they came from and what they mean to America. Hey, it made Eastwood a big box office name again with “American Sniper,” and very well could happen with this “Sully” follow-up. Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Jaleel White, Tony Hale, Lillian Solange Beaudoin also star. (February 9) 

10. “Cloverfield Movie” - The only thing we really know for sure about this third “Cloverfield” movie is its exciting cast: Elizabeth Debicki, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, David Oyelowo, John Ortiz, Aksel Hennie and Roger Davies. There have been some speculations thrown out there, including the timeframe related to “Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” but who knows? As long as this film is finally released, after being pushed and still unnamed, we’ll be thrilled to open up the franchise’s latest mystery box. (April 20) 

9. “A Quiet Place” - John Krasinki is hard at work proving that he’s more than a Jim or just a generally likable guy, given his attempt at establishing himself as a gritty performer (“13 Hours,” “Detroit”) and as a serious director. While his previous effort, the Sundance dramedy “The Hollars,” did not leave the most amount of promos for his career behind the camera, there’s a great amount of curiosity for his followup, a horror movie called “A Quiet Place” that has a mostly silent trailer about a family that lives in quiet, and fear, in the woods. The genre shift from drama to horror is but one interesting element, along with his casting of real-life spouse Emily Blunt and “Wonderstruck” star Millicent Simmonds. I should admit, though, that part of my curiosity about this film concerns just how similar it is to last summer’s slow-burn, woodsy horror movie, “It Comes at Night.” At the very least, I am sincerely interested in how this movie takes advantage of the art of sound design. (April 6) 

8. “Acrimony” - After ending his unofficial hiatus from filmmaking with “Boo!: A Madea Halloween” and then following it up with this past October’s “Boo 2!: A Madea Halloween,” writer/director Tyler Perry has his first non-Madea movie since 2014’s “The Single Moms Club.” While this one promises more Taraji P. Henson goodness (following up this past weekend’s “Proud Mary”), it also has an intriguing plot synopsis: a woman fed up with being cheated on her husband (Lyriq Bent). If Perry’s past interviews are to be believed, he has seen the light on better filmmaking (thanks to watching the likes of David Fincher), so here’s hoping that this is also one of his most composed films yet. Danielle Nicolet, Tika Sumpter, Bresha Webb, Jazmyn Simon, Jay Hunter also star. (March 30) 

7. “The Upside” - 2011 French film “The Intouchables” was one of those international comedy hits that didn’t exactly translate to a big success in America, despite the universal concept of unlikely friends from different racial and economic backgrounds. And while even the directors of that movie have previously stated they don’t want to work in Hollywood, American filmmaker Neil Burger takes on the task of remaking the film with a cast that catches your eye: Bryan Cranston as a paralyzed millionaire, who becomes friends with a worker played by Kevin Hart in what is essentially his first dramatic role. Buzz about the film has been mild since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but the event of seeing the hyperactive Hart play a role that requires as much drama as it does comedy (of which Omar Sy practically perfected in the original) sounds worth the trip. Nicole Kidman, Golshifteh Farahani, Julianna Margulies and Amara Khan also star. (March 9) 

6. “You Were Never Really Here” - Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has not made a feature since 2011’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” So, her follow-up would be a big event even if it were “Sherlock Gnomes,” but, to make things even more exciting, this new project boasts an intriguing premise: Joaquin Phoenix playing a hired gun caught up in a world of revenge. Adding to the excitement is that the film is apparently quite good: Ramsay tied for Best Screenplay at this past year’s Cannes Film Festival, and Phoenix won the award for Best Actor. While this sounds like a wholesale Liam Neeson script pitch, it will be particularly interesting to see what entertainment, and humanity, Ramsay and Phoenix brings to this genre. Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette and John Doman also star. (April 6)

5. “Tully” - One of Jason Reitman’s best films, the underrated and painfully true “Young Adult,” said a great deal about returning to the people and places of high school years later, and overall emotional immaturity. Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron, reunite for this story about a mother raising three children with the help of a nanny (played by Mackenzie Davis). This is one of the most exciting collaborations of the year, if for the promise of recreating the Cody-scripted biting humor and down-to-Earth storytelling that made “Young Adult” so striking. Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston and Elaine Tan also star. (April 20) 

4. “Unsane” - Steven Soderbergh has officially returned to film directing with this past year’s “Logan Lucky,” and now he has the indie “Unsane,” which little has been shared about. While this project is set to go wide, it has the air of something more obscure in his oeuvre like “Bubble” (remember "Bubble"?). Reportedly, Soderbergh shot this thriller on an iPhone and within a week, a dream type of creative challenge for those who wants to see what the filmmaker can do next. Claire Foy, Juno Temple, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharaoh, Aimee Mullins and Amy Irving also star. (March 23) 

3. “Annihilation” - One of the most anticipated sophomore efforts of the year, “Annihilation” has rising writer/director Alex Garland proving his sci-fi chops on a studio’s scale after creating the fascinating 2016 sci-fi indie, “Ex Machina.” Working from a novel (by Jeff VanderMeer) of solid reputation, it’s curious most of all as to how Garland will navigate a sci-fi vision that is both bigger and not entirely his own. Along with promising work from Natalie Portman, let’s hope that this sci-fi film is equally, if not even more, primed for discussion than “Ex Machina.” Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac also star. (February 23)

2. “A Wrinkle in Time” - It’s hard to believe that Ava DuVernay hasn’t made a narrative feature film since 2014’s “Selma,” given that she’s been so busy with documentaries (“13th”) video shorts and TV programs (“Queen Sugar”). She returns to the director’s chair in a big way with massive Disney project “A Wrinkle in Time,” which has a to-die for cast: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Michael Pena, Mindy Kaling, Andre Holland, and Rowan Blanchard. Storm Reid stars in the movie as the girl who goes to space in search of her father, in this story based off the classic children's book.  (March 9) 

1. “Black Panther” - Part of my excitement for this movie has to do with my simple anticipation of the “moment” this movie is bound to create, as in what it will be like to be a moviegoer when something as massive and important as this film finally drops. It’s already the highest-selling presale movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which guarantees that it’s going to be a hit, but it’s the trusted talents of co-writer/director Ryan Coogler, and actors Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Dana Guriria, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown and many others that have me thinking this could be great. Anticipating “Black Panther” is like getting ready for a new chapter in history to start, and I can’t wait. (February 16)

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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