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A look ahead to the must-see films in 2016.

Now that we’re nearly out of the barren wasteland that is major studio January releases (excepting this week’s The Finest Hours, which is actually a very accomplished piece of entertainment) we can start looking forward to the Dirty Grandpa-free zones that lie ahead of us. As has been custom for the past couple of years, I’ll point out eight movies worth keeping on your radar in 2016 – 7 out of 8 of my choices for 2015 turned out to be on the money (more on that in a bit), so my efficacy rate is high. And I’m going to avoid talking about Marvel or Star Wars or Batman v. Superman, those movies don’t need any promotional boost from the likes of me. Let’s instead focus on some off-the-beaten-trail selections (and one big budget children’s film because how can I deny Spielberg?) and get you nice and lathered up for the year in film to come.

Hail, Caesar! (opens nationwide Feb. 5)

We’re only a week away from the first movie I’ve been hotly anticipating in 2016. The first week of February is not known as a release date for the year’s best cinema, but I remain confident that the latest work from the Coen Brothers will live up to expectations. Their more comedic output (Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading) has often bewildered wider audiences, but it has never neglected to hit me in my comedy sweet spot. Add to that the genuine cavalcade of stars they’ve lined up and this will hopefully be more O Brother Where Art Thou? than The Ladykillers.

The Witch (opens nationwide Feb. 19)

After reaping superlatives at every stop of the way on last year’s festival circuit, director Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is making its way to all of us in just a few weeks time. A horror movie set in 1600’s New England, a family is torn asunder by an evil that lurks both inside themselves and the woods surrounding them. Dyed-in-the-wool horror fans have spoken to this film’s uncanny ability to unnerve and frighten even the most jaded movie buff, and the promotional material to this point seem to support such claims. Make belated Valentine’s Day plans to scare yourself half to death!

Midnight Special (opens nationwide March 18)

The one of out of my eight that didn’t quite come true in last year’s column wasn’t due to an issue of quality, but was due to Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special getting moved off of its November release date and pushed into March 2016. That normally is not a sign of extreme confidence in a movie’s prospects, but given that this is the first leap into larger budget filmmaking for Nichols (whose Mud, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter were all phenomenal) it could just be that he turned in something far more esoteric and personal than the sci-fi chase picture the studio was expecting.

Green Room (opens nationwide April 22)

If you have yet to see Jeremy Saulnier’s exquisite slow-burn revenge thriller Blue Ruin, this is something you must rectify immediately, and if you’ve already seen it, you know why his latest effort Green Room is one of my most anticipated films of 2016. Saulnier proved marvelously adept at mining tension through sound design and shot selection, and the idea that he’s turning those talents in the direction of a story about a punk rock group having to fight its way through a white supremacist nightclub in order to survive is music to my ears.

Keanu (opens nationwide April 29)

Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key spent five seasons delving into the potential minefields of racial identity and masculinity on their titular sketch show, so it should come as no surprise that they would continue to follow that thread with their first foray onto the big screen as a duo. Add to that director Peter Atencio’s (their co-conspirator throughout the show’s existence) supreme visual polish and you’re in store for what will likely be one of the best comedies of 2016.

The Nice Guys (opens nationwide May 20)

It’s been a decade since we’ve had our last original Shane Black film experience (the tremendous Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), so the knowledge that we’re due for a stridently R-rated 70’s-set buddy noir chock full of the comedic violence and vulgar quips that Black staked his career on will sustain me through the coming months. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling look like an inspired pairing, and hopefully this will prove successful enough that we can get another original Shane Black property much sooner (say, 2017?).

Top Secret Untitled Lonely Island Movie (opens nationwide June 3)

The other comedy I’m most looking forward in 2016 has been pretty much kept under wraps – but knowing the comedy minds that helped to bring Hot Rod and MacGruber (two of the most underrated comedies of the last decade) to life are collaborating on a project is enough to pique my interest. Rumor has it that the film revolves around a boy band reuniting after the lead singer’s attempt at going solo falls flat, and The Lonely Island have repeatedly proven themselves in the realm of comedic songwriting, putting this comedy directly in their wheelhouse.

The BFG (opens nationwide July 1)

I know that a Disney-released Spielberg-directed adaptation of a beloved Roald Dahl story is as far away from “far from the beaten path” as it gets, but just watch this trailer and tell me you aren’t excited to see one of the greatest living filmmakers tackle this source material. The additional fact this is the last work from the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison (whose last collaboration with Spielberg is a little movie you might have heard of called E.T.) only adds to my anticipation.

ON THE MARQUEE

Wednesday, January 27: Reuse! – Because You Can’t Recycle the Planet

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Wednesday, January 27: Hairspray 

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres ($5, purchase tickets here)

Wednesday, January 27: Roxie Hart

7:30 p.m. @ Charles Allis Art Museum ($7/$5/free for seniors/students/museum members)

Thursday, January 28: The Nightmare Before Christmas

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Thursday, January 28: Best of Rifftrax Presents: The Room

7:30 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres (Purchase tickets here)

Friday, January 29: 45 Years, Kung Fu Panda 3,***CRITIC’S CHOICE*** The Finest Hours, Jane Got a Gun, Fifty Shades of Black, The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation & The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action all open in local release

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing

Friday, January 29 & Saturday, January 30: Sicario and Nasty Baby

1/29: NB @ 7 p.m. & Sic @ 9 p.m.; 1/30: Sic @ 5 p.m., NB @ 7:30 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Sunday, January 31 & Monday, February 1: Moulin Rouge

1/31 @ 12 p.m. & 2/1 @ 7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres ($5, purchase tickets here)

Monday, February 1 & Tuesday, February 2: Groundhog Day

9:30 p.m. @ The Avalon Theatre ($5!)

Tuesday, February 2: Excellent Burrowers, Accomplished Swimmers: Working from Emerging Artists in the Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (FREE)

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