March 15, 2009

Twenty Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2009

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 1:35 pm
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Here’s your chance to join me for a game that will be both fun and educational. What follows is a list of the 20 movies I’m most excited about this year, mainly based on the talents involved. They may turn out golden or they may underwhelm; right now, the point is that they have potential.

Obviously I don’t know every movie that’s coming this year, and who can predict the small, indie surprises that will rise out of the festivals or grow from humble beginnings. No one was talking about Slumdog Millionaire this time last year, or Juno this time the year before. But of the films I know about and expect to arrive in theaters this year, here’s what I’m waiting for most eagerly. Play along at home by keeping this list as a handy scorecard you can use throughout the year as I rate the results, and learn about the movies you should be excited to see based on me telling you to be.

At the end of the year, we’ll reconvene to see how many of these made my list of favorites for ’09.

Ready to play?

20. THE ROAD – Originally scheduled for release in November of ‘08, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winner was pushed to this year. I have yet to read the book, but I get excited about any movie that promises a compelling lead role for Viggo Mortensen. Let’s hope director John Hillecoat adapts this novel half as skillfully as The Coen Brothers adapted McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. (Release Date: TBD)

19. LOVE RANCH – Aside from a brief cameo in The Good Shepherd, Joe Pesci hasn’t been in a movie since 1998. I have no idea what led to his hiatus; it’s over, and that’s all that matters. The movie follows the couple that opened Nevada’s first legal brothel, and Pesci stars with Helen Mirren, making for an odd but no doubt combustible combo. I’m eager to see the movie that lured him back. (TBD)

18. NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU – In 2007, there was a great little movie called Paris Je T‘aime (which for you non-French speakers out there… like me…means Paris, I Love You). It’s an anthology film, comprised of 18 shorts, each set in a different Parisian neighborhood and telling stories of love in all its forms, from romantic to familial, blooming to fading. It featured an array of international talent both in front of the camera (including Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte, Bob Hoskins, Steve Buscemi and Juliette Binoche) and behind it (Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles, and The Coen Brothers). Some segments were better than others, but overall it was a charming exercise. Now the producers are bringing the premise to New York, with another stellar line up of talent. Actors on hand include Robin Wright Penn, Chris Cooper, Julie Christie, Orlando Bloom, James Caan and Shia LeBeouf, with directors Zach Braff, Shekhar Kapur, Mira Nair and Scarlett Johansson among the contributors behind the camera. (April)

17. THE TREE OF LIFE – Terrence Malick is one of the most enigmatic filmmakers in the mainstream, and his long, slow movies are not for everyone. But those who saw beauty and poetry in The Thin Red Line and The New World can’t help but be curious when they hear he’s got something new coming out. All I know about his latest is that it features Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Their presence bodes well, but I just want to see what Malick has up his sleeve. (TBD)

16. THE HUMAN FACTOR – In their third collaboration, Clint Eastwood directs Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Well, I guess we know who one of next year’s Best Actor nominees will be. Matt Damon co-stars…which can only help. (December)

15. A SERIOUS MAN – Joel and Ethan Coen return with a small, personal film with no stars (save for the rubbery-faced character actor Richard Kind). Their break from big name actors and high-concept stories can’t help but excite their true fans. Here’s hoping it’s great. (October)

14. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – This adaptation of the classic children’s book has had a troubled road to film, with reports last year of a disappointing test screening and a number of re-shoots. However Being John Malkovich and Adaptation director Spike Jonze is at the helm, meaning that even if it ultimately fails, it will probably fascinate. (October)

13. TAKING WOODSTOCK – You may notice that my anticipation for many of these films stems from the director. That’s the case here, as Ang Lee follows up Brokeback Mountain with the story of how 1969’s legendary summer music festival came to be. In an intruging piece of casting, offbeat comedian Demetri Martin plays the lead role, alongside Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy and Imelda Staunton. (August 14)

12. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS – Heath Ledger’s final film is not locked in for release this year, but my hope is that it will arrive in the fall. Director Terry Gilliam’s fantastical story about a mysterious theater troupe was in the middle of production when Ledger died, and in order to finish it and honor the his work, Gilliam recruited three actors to play different incarnations of Ledger’s character: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. This unusual casting aspect, and the fact that it will be the final piece of Ledger’s screen legacy, are enough to get me excited. But a new fantasy film from Terry Gilliam? Sign me up now. (TBD)

11. AWAY WE GO – The first time British director Sam Mendes stepped behind a film camera, he leveled his lens at contemporary suburbia and led American Beauty to five Oscar wins. His most recent trip in the director’s chair saw him revisiting suburbia, this time in the 1950’s, with the dark deconstruction Revolutionary Road. This year he’ll once again bring his insightful eye to a tale of life in America, with a story chronicling a young couple’s cross country journey as they seek the perfect place to settle down and start a family. Novelist Dave Eggers and his wife co-wrote the script, and John Krasinski (The Office’s Jim) and Maya Rudolph play the couple. But as always, Mendes is the biggest draw. (June)

10. THIS SIDE OF THE TRUTH – Ricky Gervais co-wrote, co-directs and stars in this comedy about a world where no one has ever lied. Gervais acting in his own material is enough to peak my interest; add in co-stars like Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor and I’m crossing my fingers for a comedy classic. (TBD)

9. UP – Is there a more trustworthy brand name in America today than Pixar? The trailers for the studio’s latest feature haven’t excited me terribly, but oddly, Pixar’s trailers never do. Whereas most previews seem to give all the good stuff away, Pixar manages to save the best for the actual movies. Just another of their consistent miracles, I guess. (May 29)

8. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX – On the heels of Spike Jonze making Where the Wild Things Are, another indie auteur takes on another children’s tale: Wes Anderson is tackling a stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl story. From Bottle Rocket to The Darjeeling Limited, all of Anderson’s previous films exist in a common (and live-action) universe. This will be a major diversion for him, and I’m dying to see what he comes up with. Voice cast includes George Clooney and previous Anderson collaborators Cate Blanchett, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Meryl Streep might lend her voice as well. (November)

7. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE – Do I really need to explain?  (July 17)

6. FUNNY PEOPLE – Though he seems to never stop producing, Judd Apatow has only directed two films: The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Praise the Lord, here comes number three. Set in the world of stand-up comedy, this one stars Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann, Jason Schwartzman and Eric Bana. Apatow is one of the few filmmakers out there who understands a raunchy comedy can also be sweet, sincere and unschmaltzy. If his previous films are any indication, this one is bound for glory. (July 31)

5. PUBLIC ENEMIES – Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, directed by Michael Mann. With that trio, the details are insignificant. But if you must know something, Depp plays John Dillinger and Bale is the FBI agent on his trail. With Mann at the reins, the stage is set for the best period gangster flick since The Untouchables. (July 1)

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – Quentin Tarantino has long been talking about his desire to make this WWII film. After years of holding only a mythical, “dream project” status, he’s finally doing it. Brad Pitt heads an eclectic cast that includes horror director Eli Roth, The Office’s B.J. Novak, a bunch of European actors I don’t know and in a small but key role, Mike Myers. He doesn’t always hit Pulp Fiction heights, but Tarantino has yet to let me down. (August 21)

3. THE LOVELY BONES – Peter Jackson adapts the best-seller about a murdered young girl who watches over her family and her killer from Heaven. The novel was a sensation, and while the plot seems stupid to me, I have great confidence in what Jackson will do with it. Atonement’s Saorise Ronan stars, along with Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Michael Imperioli. (December)

2. SHUTTER ISLAND – Martin Scorsese returns with his first feature since The Departed. Working with Leonardo DiCaprio again, Scorsese is the latest to take on a novel by Dennis Lehane, whose last two books to come to the screen were Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Not a bad track record, and it’s hard to imagine Scorsese will disappoint, especially with an absolutely killer supporting cast that features Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Elias Koteas, and Emily Mortimer. Wow. (October)

1. AVATAR – Aside from a couple of IMAX documentaries, James Cameron hasn’t directed a movie since Titanic. 12 years in the waiting, Avatar will arrive with the promise of taking 3-D not just to the next level, but to three or four levels beyond that. Actors on hand include newcomer Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez and Cameron’s Aliens leading lady Sigourney Weaver. As for the story, it concerns a soldier who becomes involved in a war between mankind and an alien race. Really though, who cares what it concerns? Cameron is back, busting down technological barriers, re-writing the rules of visual effects and guranteed to deliver something that, by all early accounts, will blow our minds out the back of our heads. (December 18…if he can finish it on time)

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