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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story The first film in Star Wars’ so-called anthology series is a perfect example of the giant, throbbing brain trust behind the Disney studio machine. If you (somehow) loathed The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One offers something completely different – a gritty space drama centring not on the further adventures of Luke and Leia, but focusing on the smugglers who stole plans for the original Death Star. And if you loved The Force Awakens, well, then this should more than satisfy that Star Wars itch, which won’t be scratched properly till Episode VIII comes out in May, 2017. Plus, it stars the wonderful Felicity Jones and a trio of the hardest-character actors working today: Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker and Hannibal Lecter himself, Mads Mikkelsen. (Dec. 15)
Ghostbusters The fanboys can whine as much as they’d like, but is there any reasonably intelligent person out there who truly cares that this reboot is stacked with women? Didn’t think so. With a cast that includes Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, plus direction from comedy all-star Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids), this is one attempt at nostalgia-mining that actually looks promising. (July 15)
Suicide Squad Although the biggest DC Comics event this year is technically Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice, it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for a film whose trailers make it a) look unrepentantly silly and b) spoil every narrative beat, down to the generic CGI monster the foes must inevitably team up to fight. Instead, the DC battle royale to truly anticipate is this wacko-looking production from director David Ayer, which focuses on a team of supervillains who must inevitably team up to fight some mysterious force, likely a generic CGI monster. The antihero concept is intriguing, but it’s the cast that seals the deal: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne and, yes, even Jared Leto as the Joker. (Aug. 5)
Untitled Jason Bourne project As the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy didn’t exactly set the world on fire (even if it did prove that Edward Norton makes an excellent villain), Universal has gotten the old band back together for this fifth superspy outing. Star Matt Damon and writer-director Paul Greengrass are returning, and will likely find new ways to torture Jason Bourne and whomever he dares to fall in love with (Alicia Vikander, this time out). Expect lots of shaky-cam cinematography and hard-ass dialogue from new series addition Tommy Lee Jones, who’s something of an expert in tracking down highly skilled fugitives. (July 29)
Star Trek: Beyond After director J.J. Abrams departed the USS Enterprise for a more high-profile space opera, Fast and Furious mastermind Justin Lin plopped himself down in the captain’s chair – and he may be the first filmmaker to actually understand what the franchise is all about. While the first two “new” Star Trek films were all dark grit and unnecessary twists, this third outing seems to emphasize the fun, inquisitive spirit of the original series, with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the gang actually exploring new worlds and civilizations, rather than dealing with predictable villains close to home. Is it too much, though, to hope for a Vin Diesel cameo? (July 22) – Barry Hertz
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#Shakespeare400 It was just two years ago that the world celebrated the 450th anniversary of his birth. Now, in 2016, screw your courage to the sticking place for an even bigger bloat of Bardolatry as the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare is marked – and marked, and marked. From a major Shakespeare + Canada symposium at the University of Ottawa in April to the release of Margaret Atwood’s new novel inspired by The Tempest in October, it’s going to be difficult to shake anything without running into the man from Stratford. Not least of all, of course, at our Stratford Festival – where I’m most eager to see Macbeth (opens May 3), starring the excellent young actors Ian Lake and Krystin Pellerin.
Matilda Back in 2013, Matilda went head to head with Kinky Boots at the Tonys – and when the latter walked away with the best musical award, I, like many critics, was disappointed the more original show didn’t win. So I’m thrilled Mirvish Productions is backing a Toronto production to open in July. Roald Dahl’s 1988 kids’ book – about a girl who develops telekinesis – is beloved in Canada. But the musical adaptation is its own marvellously mischievous beast – with deft dialogue by Dennis Kelly, a well-regarded British dramatist, and satirical songs by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin.
Jim Mezon and Fiona Reid Before Long Day’s Journey into Night, before Private Lives, before Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, there was August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death – the urtext of the modern miserable-marriage play. This July, two of Canada’s, nay, the world’s finest stage actors – Jim Mezon and Fiona Reid – will take it and each other on in the most intimate space at the Shaw Festival. I can’t imagine any true theatre aficionado wanting to miss seeing the fireworks up close and personal.
Weyni Mengesha A year of multipart epics – classic and contemporary – lies ahead of the woman behind such hits as the premieres of Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience and Nicolas Billon’s Butcher. First, in June at Stratford, comes Breath of Kings – which shrinks four of Shakespeare’s history plays down to two sittings. Splitting the directorial duties on this six-hour saga with Mengesha is the inventive young buck Mitchell Cushman. Then, in July, Mengesha is in Toronto, shepherding the first three parts of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Father Comes Home from the Wars to the Soulpepper stage. She’s flying solo on this Obie winner – described as “a new American Odyssey that examines America’s ongoing and turbulent relationship with race.”
Jordan Tannahill Tannahill is one of the most lauded young playwrights of recent years – but his work has largely premiered outside our major theatres. That changes in 2016 when Toronto’s Canadian Stage launches not one, but two new works by the Governor-General’s Literary Award winner in April: Botticelli in the Fire, which centres on the early Renaissance painter and his young apprentice Leonardo da Vinci; and Sunday in Sodom, inspired by the story of Lot’s wife. Meanwhile, Concord Floral – Tannahill’s most stylish and substantial script to date, described (by me) as Degrassi meets The Decameron – will reach a wider audience through new productions in Ottawa and Calgary. His collaborators Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner tackle it with local teens at the National Arts Centre in March, then Raphaele Thiriet does the same at Theatre Junction GRAND in April. – J. Kelly Nestruck
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Drake Toronto’s very own managed to hold court over both rap and pop in 2015. This past February’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late spawned months of earworms, as did What a Time to Be Alive, his collaboration with Atlanta rapper Future. Hotline Bling, meanwhile, was a weapon aimed at pleasing the dad-dancing masses. But those mixtapes and singles are overshadowed by what Drake didn’t release: Views From The 6, his supposed next official record, which he’s teased for well more than a year. The Globe’s wildly unlikely prediction for a release date? Jan. 6: his fourth official album, in the first month of the year, and the sixth day of that month. 4. 1. 6.
Weaves Buzz Records is one of Toronto’s funnest new developments: a label from the DIY world putting out records by bands who aren’t afraid to get weird and noisy, including one of 2015’s best releases – Dilly Dally’s debut Sore. Weaves basks in that same fun, having put out songs such as Tick and Buttercupin the past couple of years that manage to sift out hooks from an ocean of offbeat influences. Ahead of Weaves’s debut full-length coming this year, vocalist Jasmyn Burke told VICE that her approach to music is like hair: “It’s always growing and evolving, and you can chop it off and change it if you want.”
Japandroids Rumours of a new Japandroids album have been floating around ever since they backed Dan Boeckner’s new band Operators at Canadian Music Week in May, 2014. A little bird told The Globe and Mail a few months ago that the adrenalin-fiend garage-rock band was definitely working on its third proper album. Vancouver’s Brian King and David Prowse are masters of tension and release, and given it’s been nearly four years since Celebration Rock earned them global acclaim, it’s about the right time for them to break the tension and unleash that next fist-pumping project. Keep that in mind in a few months when you start prematurely declaring 2016’s song of the summer.
Sky Ferreira Amid all the hand-wringing over Carly Rae Jepsen’s career when her new album, Emotion, became a commercial flop, Buzzfeed offered the smartest prognosis: “Jepsen leaned into pop’s shifting center of gravity, aligning herself with other progressive, self-styled major-label artists like Sky Ferreira.” The two already share a common taste for producers – both have tapped Ariel Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes – but if Jepsen wants to take more cues from Ferreira, that’s a wonderful thing. Ferreira’s bouncy songs feel more personal and relatable than other mainstream (ugh) pop, yet remain insatiable, commanding endless listening. And she just revealed on Instagram that she’ll be releasing a single from her forthcoming sophomore album, Masochism, any day now. That’s a very good thing.
Frank Ocean It says much that two of the biggest names in music in 2015 – Adele and One Direction’s Liam Payne – both turned to expletives to express how badly they want Frank Ocean’s next album to drop. A songwriter and affiliate of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, Ocean’s 2012 record Channel Orange helped cast the contemporary template for R&B album as event. He’s been hinting at a follow-up, potentially called Boys Don’t Cry, all year. There are rumours that the album will come out in the final days of 2015, during which these words were written; if that does come true, this reporter will happily eat those words, and maybe his hat, too, because the world will be a better place with more Frank Ocean. – Josh O’Kane
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The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery The story of a melancholy preteen girl and the brilliant concierge of her upscale Paris apartment building, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog came out of nowhere in 2006 (it was translated into English in 2008) before eventually selling more than six million around the world. Taking a page from the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, her long-awaited follow-up is more fantastical in nature: Two 12-year-old girls born with magical abilities face off against a malevolent force called Aelius. (February)
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin The ambitious trilogy that began with 2010’s The Passage and continued in 2012’s The Twelve reaches its much-anticipated conclusion. A drug, harvested from a South American bat and tested on death-row inmates, morphed into a global pandemic that turned its victims into vampire-like creatures. (I mean, what did they expect?) But the novel really bared its teeth when it jumped a century ahead, introducing readers to a world struggling to survive the ongoing threat while, at the same time, attempting to rebuild. If I can only read one novel this year, this is it. (May)
Zero K by Don DeLillo In his 17th (!) novel, one of the United States’ most esteemed writers explores the concept of mortality. The story concerns Jeffrey Lockhart, who joins his estranged billionaire father at a mysterious compound home to an organization called the Convergence where, if you have the money, you can cheat death. Basically, bodies are placed in a state of suspended animation until advances in science and medicine can cure whatever is killing them. The two men are there to say “goodbye” to Jeffrey’s stepmother. Zero K is a novel that looks to answer big questions, and wonders if we can live if we never die. (May)
Barkskins by Annie Proulx This 800-page dumbbell of a novel begins with two young men, Rene and Charles, venturing from old France to New France in the late 1600s to earn their fortunes. One eventually marries an aboriginal woman, while the other establishes a logging empire. Proulx’s novel, which I’m envisioning as The Orenda meets The Son, follows their descendants through the years and around the world. Early reports say this is the best book of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s career, which is saying a lot. (June)
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer It’s somewhat surprising to learn this is only the third novel of Jonathan Safran Foer’s career; he was just 25 when the delightful Everything is Illuminated was published, and it’s been more than a decade since Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close arrived in bookstores. Here I Am – the title is taken from Abraham’s reply to God in the Book of Genesis – chronicles the collapse of a Washington family, set against a massive earthquake in the Middle East and the invasion of Israel. (September) – Mark Medley