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Jean-Marc Vallée and Jake Gyllenhaal during the filming of ‘Demolition’


By T.T. Stern-Enzi

As soon as the ball dropped in Times Square, I (and every critic with a print outlet, blog or podcast) began thinking about what the year might have in store for film fans, once the awards season high fades. The holidays offered up a mixed bag of the usual prestige pictures—from the recognized favorites like “Carol” to hopefuls like “Joy” and even “The Danish Girl” (which feels like it has fallen from the glorious heights anticipated early on)—and more mainstream crowd-pleasers like the box office record breaking new “Star Wars” installment and the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy “Daddy’s Home.” But enquiring minds, especially in this tweet and move on culture, want to know what’s next.

On the indie front, everyone looks towards Sundance and SXSW for signs, but neither of those festivals gives audiences and/or prognosticators any real indication of what we might see in the first quarter of the year, which back in the day was considered a dead zone in the release schedule. January through March used to be a black hole, with the Oscars providing the only tiny glint of light. But my 2016 crystal ball, which wisely snatches a few samples from the last-2015 festival season, reveals an art house assault on our sensibilities.

“Jane Got a Gun” (February 2016)

I don’t want to raise any false alarms about the return of the Western—we’ve heard that one before—but I’m definitely curious about this new release from Gavin O’Connor (“Pride and Glory” and “Warrior”) because he has a knack for exploring the elemental conflicts between characters, without simply reducing them to easy polar opposites (black hats versus white hats), and this time he enlists Natalie Portman as a woman desperate enough to seek aid from her ex-lover (Joel Edgerton) when an outlaw gang formerly led by her husband (Noah Emmerich) targets her. I sure want “Jane” to be a quick draw.

“The Lobster” (TBD)

One of the few missed opportunities that haunts me after the 2015 anniversary celebration at TIFF, “The Lobster” garnered favorable buzz on a more cult-based level, rather than the kind that could lead to a mainstream or awards season run. The premise offers all the explanation needed. Co-writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos’s film is set in an indiscriminate near-future world where single adults are forced to meet at The Hotel, choose a mate in 45-days, or face expulsion into the woods after being transformed into animals. From all accounts, “The Lobster” bears the distinction of being a love story, just not like the rom-coms we’re used to, which makes it sound like a gift from the movie gods.

“Triple Nine” (March 4, 2016)

The new film from John Hillcoat (“The Road”) sounds like a Hollywood version of a Luc Besson action-fantasy. “Triple Nine” follows a gang of criminals and corrupt cops who plan to murder a police officer, as part of a bait and switch, while they execute a huge heist across town, and of course, things will go wrong. But not with a cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kenneth Williams and the aforementioned Hillcoat, who has grit and darkness pumping all through his veins.

“Knight of Cups” (March 4, 2016)

It would have been easy to dismiss Terrence Malick after “To the Wonder,” the meandering contemporary existential love story somewhat loosely based on his own experiences that “starred” Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams, but I’m such a fan that even such a tragic narrative miscalculation couldn’t make me lose faith. So, I’m on board for “Knight of Cups,” his latest project about an LA screenwriter (Christian Bale) attempting to hold onto his sanity and his grip on reality with assistance from the women in his life (Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman). The gifted are always on the edge of madness, right?

“Demolition” (April 8, 2016)

Speaking of living on the edge, Jake Gyllenhaal continues to dance along the precipice in the new release from Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée (“Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club”) as an investment banker who bottoms out after losing his wife in a car accident, and seeks solace from the customer service representative (Naomi Watts) of a vending machine company. The film, which I caught at TIFF, captures the expert demolition of a life, with none of the heartwarming elements that normally lead to the anticipated happily-ever-after endings that we know cannot and should not happen. “Demolition” opened the festival, but since it refused to make audiences feel good, got bumped from the 2015 schedule. Now, it gets to bracingly close out the first quarter of the New Year!