As much as the Academy Awards have never (and will never) be an honest showcase of the best of contemporary American cinema, all studios save their most ambitious and politically “radical” films for the end of the year to qualify. At the end of the day, Oscars, as well as Saturn Awards and Independent Spirit Awards and so on, have more to do with marketing and employment than anything else: winners are seen as prestigious and bankable, especially considering that Oscar-winning movies always show a nice bump in box office and in home video/digital realms. The actors who win these awards are promised major attention from big studios, filmmakers and producers can demand higher budgets, and writers secure more high-profile gigs with larger paychecks. Well, actually, all of them get a bit of a pay-hike.
And yet, even beyond obvious early Oscar favorites (Spotlight, which Adam said “exploded” into the Oscar discussion at TIFF, The Danish Girl, Steve Jobs, etc.), big-time event films (Star Wars VII, Mockingjay – Part 2, Spectre, etc.), and New Hollywood throwbacks (Black Mass, Joy, The Revenant, etc.), the fall and winter months house a cadre of bonafide oddities, ranging from inventive genre workouts to challenging, mystical foreign features. For every The Martian, there’s a Cooties, a grotesque horror-comedy, or, more importantly, something like The Assassin, a famed international auteur’s passion project finally landing stateside. The schedule of release gets more packed, sometimes seeing some 16 films opening in a major market in one weekend, but the hash of offerings remains essentially the same as any other time of the year. Hell, even January offered a wide variety of delights and masterworks, including Paddington, Red Army, Li’l Quinquin, Hard to Be a God, and Timbuktu.
Even so, it’s hard to not have a bit of romance for the end of a movie year. For me, it goes back to years of anticipating end-of-year lists from the likes of Roger Ebert or J. Hoberman, looking to be pointed in the right direction from cinephiles I admired. There’s also something deeply comforting and uniquely nostalgic about hiding from the colder elements in a movie theater, even more than using a theater’s air-conditioning to take respite from a particularly sweltering summer afternoon. Not unlike the winter of 1997, in which I spent my Christmas morning watching Pam Grier introduce Robert Forster to the Delfonics in Jackie Brown, 2015 looks to have a promising line-up of could-be classics, topped off by the Christmas Day release of The Hateful Eight, the latest release from one of the few American directors who still makes you want to go see a film on the big screen. Not surprisingly, Tarantino’s second Western secured a place in our most anticipated movies of Fall-Winter 2015, the entire list which you can view below.