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The year ahead will feature the deafening sirens of sequels and superheroes, reboots and remakes – but there’s cinematic life outside the franchise machine

Meet the new multiplex, same as the old: 2019 will be flush with sequels (Toy Story 4, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Lego Movie 2), reboots (a new Charlie’s Angels, a back-from-the-dead-and-still-frustrating-copy-editors Pet Sematary) and more superheroes than even Thanos could vanquish (The New Mutants, Hellboy, Glass and the Mad Titan’s big bonanza of them all, Avengers: Endgame). But it will also be a year of exciting, potentially game-changing cinema, if you know where to look. Here are 10 of 2019′s most intriguing, under-the-radar films (all release dates subject to change).

The Globe’s guide to 2019′s biggest coming superhero movies and franchise films

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Stop laughing. Yes, I’m anticipating a film that’s opening in January, the movie world’s equivalent of a dumpster fire. Yes, it’s also a film whose release date has been punted around a few times. And yes, it stars Matthew McConaughey, whose plans for a McConnaissance 2.0 (or is it 3.0?) haven’t quite materialized. But Serenity contains enough enticing elements that, tied together, promise at least a curiosity worth braving the dead-of-winter winds to witness. First, there’s the fact it’s directed by Steven Knight, the man behind the man-behind-the-wheel drama Locke. Second, Serenity comes equipped with a bananas trailer that promises all manner of extremely sweaty, extremely sultry film-noir shenanigans. Then there’s the cast, which in addition to McConaughey (sweatier than ever!) features Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou and Jeremy Strong (the best part of HBO’s Succession, and it’s not easy competition). Plus, there’s the trailer’s intimation that Serenity may or may not take place in literal hell. This won’t be an Oscar contender, but I’m all in, every sweaty bit of me. (Jan. 25)

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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Zac Efron, Macie Carmosino and Lily Collins in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.Brian Douglas/Courtesy of Sundance Institute via VVS

The world needs another serial-killer movie like it needs another serial killer, but if a Ted Bundy biopic had to be made, perhaps it’s good that director Joe Berlinger is the one to helm it. As a documentarian, Berlinger has long been fascinated with murder and concepts of evil (see his Paradise Lost trilogy), and there’s a decent assumption to be made that he’ll find a worthy window into Bundy’s reign of terror. If nothing else, Berlinger’s stunt casting has already piqued my interest. How, exactly, will the Western world react to Zac Efron as America’s most handsome psychopath? (Jan. 26 premiere at Sundance; theatrical release TBD)

Gloria Bell

For those who caught Sebastian Lelio’s 2013 Chilean dramedy Gloria, Gloria Bell might seem like an exceptionally strong case of déjà vu. Which is apt, given that Gloria 2.0 is Lelio’s beat-for-beat remake of his own earlier film, albeit in English this time and starring Julianne Moore instead of Paulina Garcia. Having two Glorias in this world is hardly a huge problem, though, given how touching, hilarious and energizing Lelio’s heroine is, whatever her incarnation. And as the title character, a lonely woman seeking love in all the wrong places, Moore offers a performance that will be talked about all year – when everyone isn’t also busy yakking about her co-stars John Turturro and Michael Cera. (And, yes, you better believe Laura Branigan’s still-excellent hit single makes an appearance.) (March 15)


I’ve already spilled a few hundred words on why everyone’s eyes should be trained on Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out, but now that the exceptionally creepy trailer has been released, it seems as great a time as any to remind you: This might be the movie to beat this winter. Focusing on one family (led by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and a vacation that goes straight to hell, Us appears to continue Peele’s trend of finding new pockets of horror nestled within the reality of everyday suburban living. Although the marketing seems to promise a whole lot of madness – including evil doubles, a pair of exceptionally frightening scissors and so many creepy bunnies – there’s almost certainly more to Us than currently imaginable. And that’s the most delightfully terrifying thing of all. (March 15)

Birds of Passage

Judging by my Netflix home page, drug-trafficking films are all the rage right now. But there are stories to tell about the rise of cartels before even Pablo Escobar entered the scene, and ways to do so that don’t evoke cheap American thrillers. Enter Birds of Passage, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s drama that knocked out Toronto International Film Festival audiences in September. The film looks at the rise of Colombia’s drug business through the eyes of the country’s Indigenous Wayuu people, focusing on one man (Jose Acosta, in a devastating performance) who’s desperate to impress the love of his life (Natalia Reyes). Gallego and Guerra, who teamed up previously for the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, deliver a fresh and captivating spin on a tale told too often before. (Theatrical release TBD)

Ad Astra

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Brad Pitt stars in Ad Astra.20th Century Fox

As a filmmaker, James Gray excels at intimacy – at suggesting there’s nothing more important in the world than the slow-boil tension building between two people in some small, tiny room, likely located in one of New York’s outer boroughs. So it will be fascinating to see how Gray transfers his sensibilities to outer space with this new sci-fi epic. Granted, Gray already proved he can tackle big, David Lean-esque dramas with 2017′s The Lost City of Z, but Ad Astra sounds like something completely different and wildly larger. And Gray gets to partner with a long sought-after star in Brad Pitt (once upon a time Z’s lead jungle adventurer), with Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga along for the Interstellar-sounding ride. (May 24)

High Life

It seems cruel to describe High Life after only one viewing, especially if that screening was during TIFF, when it’s difficult to process much without convulsing into a panic-sweat. But if I had to name the best film I saw in 2018 that doesn’t actually open until 2019, it would be Claire Denis’s outer-space epic. By twisting around assumptions of what this kind of film should be, the French auteur returns to the fertile ground of her Trouble Every Day era, using genre to dig beneath themes that others would treat as only skin deep (here’s hoping James Gray’s Ad Astra takes a similarly idiosyncratic approach, though). With High Life, Denis tracks a black-hole-bound vessel full of criminals (led by Robert Pattinson) and the doctor (Juliette Binoche) entrusted with taking care of them – or the exact opposite. I recall the ending of High Life arriving too suddenly, but that’s only incentive to seek out a second, third and fourth viewing as soon as it lands a proper release date. (Theatrical release TBD)

In Fabric

Peter Strickland’s films seem beamed from another world, or perhaps whisked away to an alternate reality where morality standards are lax and every household item comes draped in velvet and splashed with blood. Watching The Duke of Burgundy, Berberian Sound Studio and now In Fabric are seductive and often transformative experiences – and trying to articulate their contents to the inexperienced is akin to describing a fever dream while under the influence of too many Tylenol 3s. If this all sounds like hyperbole, it’s only because my mind is still trying to sort itself out after watching In Fabric’s lurid, sensual ghost story during TIFF. Ostensibly about a haunted dress (yep) but really a canvas for Strickland to revel in his most extreme obsessions (sex, death, satin, Satan), In Fabric is a beautiful nightmare for those drawn to the dark. It’s also quite hilarious – honest. (Theatrical release TBD)

The Kitchen

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Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, and Tiffany Haddish in The Kitchen.New Line Cinema

On its surface, Andrea Berloff’s directorial debut sounds like a too-close riff on Steve McQueen’s Widows: In 1970s New York, the wives of jailed mobsters team up to continue their husbands' operations. But Berloff’s film, which she adapted from Ollie Masters’s Vertigo comic and comes after years of penning other directors’ genre spins (Straight Outta Compton, Sleepless, Blood Father), promises a darkly comedic spin. And while it will be hard to top the cast of McQueen’s film, The Kitchen (as in Hell’s Kitchen) offers an ensemble nearly as strong, with Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy as the lead mafiosos, and Domhnall Gleeson, Common, Bill Camp and James Badge Dale as the various men in and out of their lives. (Theatrical release TBD)

The Last Thing He Wanted

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Anne Hathaway in The Last Thing He Wanted.Netflix

Fulfilling the dream of every journalist working today, The Last Thing He Wanted follows a newspaper reporter (Anne Hathaway) who becomes an arms dealer. (Okay, not every journalist. Also, please don’t report me to the FBI.) Based on Joan Didion’s 1996 novel, The Last Thing He Wanted marks director Dee Rees’s latest partnership with Netflix after 2017′s excellent Mudbound – as well as co-star Ben Affleck’s second dance with the streaming giant (his action film Triple Frontier will also make its way to Netflix queues March 15). Willem Dafoe, Toby Jones and Rosie Perez co-star. (Netflix release TBD)

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