I know that I keep raising the number of movies on this list each year, but I suppose that given the point I made in my best of 2013 post about how many movies are released every year and how many I see, 30 isn’t such a big number. The list below doesn’t even include the two holdovers from last year’s list that ended up getting pushed: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (out August 22), and Foxcatcher (release TBA), a true life drama from Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller in which Steve Carell goes against type as the paranoid schizophrenic millionaire who sponsored the training of U.S. Olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz, with tragic results. The list also excludes Knight of Cups, the next movie from Terrence Malick that seems likely to show up this year, though you never really know with Malick. Its large cast is supposed to include Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, but by the time he finishes editing it, it might feature just a bunch of trees and rocks and fields of tall grass. Hopefully it will show up at Cannes or one of the fall film festivals and get picked up for distribution in 2015.
Anyway, enough about what isn’t on the list. Let’s get to what is. I wanted to have this posted a few weeks ago, since by now one of the movies included has already opened. But I couldn’t get to it in time, and since I haven’t yet seen the movie in question, it still qualifies as one I’m looking forward to.
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Writers: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Barry Corbin, David Dencik, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, Evan Jones, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Jesse Plemons, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld
Release Date: TBA
Jones, a Texas native with a natural affinity for and understanding of the American West, pulls triple duty as director, co-writer and star of this story about Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank), a strong-willed woman in the 1850’s who teams up with a claim jumper (Jones) to escort a group of supposedly insane women across the plains from Nebraska to a sanitarium in Iowa. It seems like an intriguing premise, offering some rewarding roles for a range of talented actresses.
A MOST WANTED MAN
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Andrew Bovell
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Brühl, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Martin Wuttke
Release Date: TBA
One of the final leading roles we’ll get to see the gifted Philip Seymour Hoffman play will be in this adaptation of the John le Carré novel about a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who arrives illegally in Germany and arouses the interest of both the American and German governments when he lays claim to a fortune held in a private bank. I’m sure it will be more interesting than it sounds. Corbijn, best known as a photographer whose work includes the album art for U2’s The Joshua Tree and R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, is quietly building a strong reputation as a director; I enjoyed his gripping 2010 thriller The American, which starred George Clooney as an assassin on assignment in Italy. Like most of le Carré’s work, this one deals with international espionage, and will hopefully offer a meaty story to be chewed on by this fine cast…and by the audience; I’m still trying to puzzle out what the hell happened in the recent Gary Oldman-starring adaptation of le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If nothing else, this will be a chance to savor new work from Hoffman…a prize that is sadly more valuable than ever.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, W. Earl Brown, Laura Dern, Brian Van Holt, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin, Thomas Sadoski
Release Date: TBA
Reese Witherspoon seems to be taking a cue from her Mud co-star and attempting a McConaissance of her own. Since the critical and box office failure of her last romantic comedy, This Means War, she’s been choosing more interesting projects that, when taken together, may be a reminder of what a fine actress she is. In addition to Mud, she’s completed filming Devil’s Knot, a fictionalized account of the Robin Hood Hills murders that have been so exhaustively explored in the Paradise Lost documentaries; and The Good Lie, in which she plays a woman who takes in four young Sudanese refugees. She’s also in the #2 movie on this list, which could offer a chance to keep her comedic skills sharp while still working with high quality material (as opposed to, let’s say, Four Christmases). Wild, however, could be the one that brings the Oscar-winning actress back to the awards circuit. Adapted from the memoir by Cheryl Strayed and directed by (fittingly, perhaps) Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Vallée, Witherspoon will play a woman who impulsively decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, without any wilderness or hiking experience. With The Young Victoria and Dallas Buyers Club under his belt, Vallée is fast becoming a director to watch, and I’m excited to see Witherspoon front and center in a role that stands to demonstrate her range.
Director/Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Garry Shandling, Sofia Vergara
Release Date: May 9
Jon Favreau has become so well-known for directing big movies like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens that it would be easy to forget his roots are in small independent films, as the writer and star of Swingers. He returns to lower budget, more character driven filmmaking with his newest project, in which he plays a chef who gains fame at a Los Angeles restaurant, only to have his success evaporate after a string of personal and professional disappointments. He ends up restoring an old food truck and getting back to his roots, while also reconnecting with his family. I’ve always enjoyed Favreau as both a director (yes, I even liked Cowboys & Aliens) and an actor, though his on-camera appearances have mostly been brief as his directing career has flourished. Seeing him take on a leading role once again, in a smaller scale movie with a tasty cast, should be fun.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Steven Zaillian
Cast: Christian Bale, Hiam Abbass, Joel Edgerton, Emun Elliott, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Indira Varma, Sigourney Weaver
Release Date: December 12
Spoiler Alert: So there are these people in Egypt called the Israelites, and the Pharoah Ramses enslaves them and makes them build his pyramids and shit. But there’s this guy Moses, see, and he’s an Israelite too, but he’s been secretly raised as an Egyptian. One day, he sees an Egyptian beating a Jew. He kills the guy, flees the country, and eventually sees a bush on fire, but the bush is actually God, who tells Moses to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites, which he does, but not before God unleashes ten plagues on Egypt. Moses leads his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, and along the way the Red Sea is parted and God delivers Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Because of all this, every year there’s a week in April when your Jewish friends can’t go get pizza with you because they’re not allowed to eat anything except matzoh and macaroons. This movie, from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Kingdom of Heaven, will cover at least some of this. Starring Batman, Gandhi, Ripley and Jesse Pinkman. It’s biblical, bitch!
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Bill Dubuque, Nick Schenck, David Seidler
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Balthazar Getty, Ken Howard, David Krumholtz, Melissa Leo, Leighton Meester, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Grace Zabriske
Release Date: October 10
I recall reading somewhere that after the box office disappointment of the 2009 drama The Soloist, Robert Downey Jr.’s wife and business partner, producer Susan Downey, insisted that he stick to high concept material and franchises. I don’t know if this was true or just Hollywood gossip, but as much as I love Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, I’ve wished he would balance such roles with more grounded material. Since then, the only movie he’s made outside of the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes series was the bad, lazy comedy Due Date. So because it promises a more down to earth Downey, I’m looking forward to The Judge, in which he plays a lawyer who returns to his small hometown for his mother’s funeral and finds out that his father (Duvall), the local judge, is suspected of killing her.
The director, David Dobkin, is known for comedies like Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and The Change-Up, and when a director primarily known for broad comedies or action tries to stretch into more dramatic material, it doesn’t usually go well. The Judge has been described as a dramedy, so there should be some comedic elements, but still…with Dobkin at the helm, my expectations are tempered. I really like the cast though, and I’m hoping that this is a showcase role for Downey that reminds us how much he’s capable of outside the franchise machine. I’m especially excited about the promise of him and Farmiga working together; that seems like a great pairing.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Cast: Russell Crowe, Douglas Booth, Jennifer Connelly, Marton Csokas, Kevin Durand, Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, Logan Lerman, Mark Margolis, Nick Nolte, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone
Release Date: March 28
When this project first came to my attention, I was skeptical: a Noah movie without Bill Cosby? That didn’t sit right. But I felt Darren Aronofsky deserved the benefit of the doubt, so I went with it. I imagined the director’s take on the biblical story would involve Noah slowly going mad from cabin fever as the flood waters rage, causing him to question what’s real and what isn’t as he and the animals onboard the ark form alliances and animosities. Meanwhile, his wife starves herself in an effort to fit into an old tunic, and is eventually reduced to providing entertainment for the animals by sitting back-to-back with a female chimp as they both endure anal penetration from opposing ends of a sex toy, the raging lightning outside the ark creating a strobe effect through the slats of wood to give the whole scene an even more sickening effect. I could see the arrival of the trailer, which would open with a booming voice declaring, “The imagination of Darren Aronofsky meets the word of GOD” and close with “From the Divine Creator of the Universe….and the director of Black Swan.” Then just a few months ago, I saw the actual first trailer as well as the teaser poster, which presented the movie as if Noah was the newest member of The Avengers. I would probably have been laughing derisively at both, but once again I choose to remain open-minded. As Noah put his faith in the Lord, so shall I put mine in Darren Aronofsky.
As the movie approaches, so does the controversy, with Paramount twisting itself in knots trying to make sure the movie — which is said to feature countless creative flourishes and embellishments — doesn’t offend religious audiences who expect to see the story of Noah told faithfully and respectfully. I wonder if they’ve seen Requiem for a Dream.
Sidenote: the film marks a whole bunch of reunions. Aronofsky and Connelly are together again after Requiem, and Connelly and Crowe are back as husband and wife after A Beautiful Mind. Crowe, Lerman and Durand appeared together in 3:10 to Yuma, and Durand worked with Crowe again in Robin Hood. Lerman and Watson were together in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and while Nick Nolte is only providing a voice here, he and Connelly previously crossed paths in Hulk. Hopkins and Winstone got their motion capture on with Beowulf, and Winstone appeared with Lerman in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lighting Thief, as well as with Douglas Booth in a recent Masterpiece Theatre production of Great Expectations. I guess when God is about to destroy the world, it’s good to be among friends.
So let’s see…we’ve got Russell Crowe in Noah and Christian Bale in Exodus…maybe these two movies should have been combined into one dusty epic called 3:10 to Jerusalem.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper
Cast: Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schwartz, Dax Shepard, Abigail Spencer, Corey Stoll
Release Date: September 12
Jonathan Tropper adapts his own best-selling novel about the Foxman family, a (surprise!) dysfunctional clan (is there any other kind?) who must spend a week together sitting shivah after the death of the family patriarch. For you gentiles out there, sitting shivah is the Jewish custom in which the immediate family of the deceased gather at home for the week following the burial to receive visitors. Bateman’s character is the novel’s central figure and narrator, with Fey, Stoll and Driver as his siblings and Fonda as their mother. (Stoll is the only Jew among those actors, interestingly.) Dysfunctional family stories are always great fodder for drama, and I expect this terrific cast will expertly deliver on the humor of the family’s dynamic.
My reservation about the movie is similar to the one I mentioned above about The Judge. Shawn Levy is a capable but unexciting director whose movies include the Night at the Museum series, Date Night, The Internship, Real Steel and The Pink Panther remake. Some of those are entertaining enough and some are certainly box office hits, but they’re all safe, mass-appeal studio fare that could have been made by a dozen other directors with the exact same results. Although I haven’t read Tropper’s book, I gather that it has some bite to it, and I worry that Levy will push it to the middle of the road. But I can’t help being excited to see it; I love a good messed-up family story, and the cast is first-rate.
JANE GOT A GUN
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Brian Duffield
Cast: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro
Release Date: August 29
This is one of those movies which stands to be overshadowed by the drama that unfolded behind the scenes. Portman plays a woman forced to enlist the help of an ex-lover to protect her gravely injured outlaw husband from a gang trying to kill him. Her former paramour was originally to be played by Michael Fassbender, but he had to drop out a week before production due to scheduling conflicts with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Joel Edgerton, who was set to play the villainous gang leader, was recast as the ex-lover, and Jude Law came onboard to play the bad guy. Then on the Monday that was to be the first day of shooting, director Lynne Ramsay didn’t show up. The acclaimed indie director whose last film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, garnered strong reviews and several award nominations for Tilda Swinton, had abandoned the project over the weekend, apparently due to last-minute negotiation disagreements. Determined to keep the cast and crew together and forge ahead, the producers (who include Portman) managed within two days to hire Gavin O’Connor, director of Miracle and the underrated Warrior, to replace Ramsay. Then Jude Law left the project, supposedly because working with Ramsay was what drew him to it in the first place. Bradley Cooper was hired to replace Law, but he too left within days, also citing a scheduling conflict. Ewan McGregor came onboard to fill the gap, and shooting finally began. Some of the producers — Portman not among them — sued Ramsay in November, at which time she made her only public comments about the fiasco: that the allegations against her, which included showing up to work under the influence of alcohol and being abusive to crew members, were untrue, and that she would respond in court rather than in the press. Just this week, the lawsuit was settled.
So that all happened. It’s a dramatic saga that itself might form the basis for a movie. But in the end, all that will matter is whether Jane Got a Gun is any good or not. I have high hopes for it. Despite the revolving door of actors, the cast remains strong, suggesting that the script (which was on the 2011 Black List) was compelling enough to attract A-list performers. (The involvement of Portman, McGregor and Edgerton also makes it a Star Wars prequel reunion…for whatever that’s worth.) Independently financed films are never easy to package, and can be especially difficult to hold together in the face of adversity, so the fact that these producers managed to keep the project going is impressive. It’s too bad that Portman, a champion of women in the film industry, has now had two films in a row on which female directors have ended up replaced by men for reasons that remain a mystery. (Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct Thor: The Dark World.) Jane Got a Gun will surely be a different movie under the direction of O’Connor than it would have been under Ramsay, but hopefully it will all come together and work out for everyone, including the audience.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Director/Writer: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Christopher Abbott, Jerry Adler, Albert Brooks, Glenn Fleshler, Peter Gerety, David Margulies, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo
Release Date: November 12
Margin Call and All is Lost have established J.C. Chandor as an exciting writer/director, so I await his third feature with great interest. Set in New York City in 1981, which was one of the most violent years in the city’s history (hence the title, not to be confused with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s A Most Wanted Man), the movie follows an immigrant couple who start an oil company, then must protect their business and their family from competitors who try to ruin them through a variety of corrupt and violent means. Javier Bardem was originally set to play the husband, but left the project due to that generic Hollywood factor called “creative differences.” He was replaced by Isaac, whose profile has risen thanks his superb lead performance in Inside Llewyn Davis. Isaac and Chastain are old friends and classmates from Julliard, so they should generate good chemistry. And no movie was ever hurt by having Albert Brooks onboard.
Director: Wally Pfister
Writer: Jack Peglam
Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Clifton Collins Jr., Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Cole Hauser, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy
Release Date: April 18
These days, any movie with Johnny Depp that doesn’t involve him hiding behind wigs, contact lenses and a thick layer if makeup or jewelry is worth noting, because there’s a chance we might rediscover the Actor who was so compelling in movies like Donnie Brasco, Finding Neverland and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. (Not that he can’t be enjoyable when disguised, but it’s starting to get old.) So I cast my eye toward this sci-fi drama, which looks like it might share some ideas with recent Academy Award winner Her, but with less romantic yearning and more paranoia. Depp plays a scientist working in artificial intelligence whose consciousness is uploaded into a computer, where it grows in power and begins to pose a threat.
In addition to an unfettered Depp, the movie is high on my radar for marking the directorial debut of Pfister, the cinematographer who has shot all of Christopher Nolan’s movies since Memento (earning an Oscar for Inception along the way). This could be an especially important movie for Depp. The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger were critical and commercial failures, so the guy could use a hit…preferably (to me) one where he isn’t slathered in makeup. Here he’ll be playing a more normal character in an intriguing sci-fi project that should have no problem appealing to an intelligent fan base. I hope it delivers, and restores his box office credibility.
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karazewski
Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp
Release Date: TBA
Speaking of Johnny Depp (sort of), I’m not sure what to make of a movie that lists Tim Burton as its director yet doesn’t include his favorite actor among the cast, or appear to involve lead characters sporting heavy makeup. While I try to make sense of it, here’s what we know. Waltz plays Walter Keane, an artist who became known in the 1950’s and 60’s for paintings of children with large eyes, which he mass-produced and sold inexpensively. Adams plays his wife Margaret, who was actually creating the paintings herself only to watch her husband take the credit and become famous. The result of his deception was a divorce and a high-profile court case.
It’s encouraging to see Burton return to oddball material like this, and to re-team with the screenwriting duo behind one of his best films, Ed Wood. Alexander and Karazewski specialize in biopics of unusual figures (they also wrote The People vs. Larry Flynt and the Andy Kaufman film Man on the Moon), and the story of Margaret and Walter Keane sounds like perfect material for them, and pretty good for Burton too.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Rick Elice, John Logan
Cast: Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Steve Schirripa, Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young
Release Date: June 20
At 83 years old, Clint Eastwood continues to tackle new challenges as a director. He’s made films about music and musicians before, like Honkytonk Man and Bird, but now he’s flexing his muscles with his first actual musical, based on the 2006 Tony Award winner. Jersey Boys cleverly uses the rich song catalog of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to tell the story of how the band came together and rose to the top of the charts despite challenges posed by one of the member’s mounting debts to a loan shark, not to mention the usual strain that success and fame puts on personal relationships. The production makes use of all the band’s beloved songs, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry” and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” so prepare for annoying texters in the movie theater to be replaced by annoying people singing along with all the hits. Eastwood enlisted John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Valli on Broadway (and won a Tony), to reprise the part here, and since the cast is primarily unknown, he drafted Walken to add some star power as a mob boss with ties to the band. The material seems like an odd fit for Eastwood, so I’m eager to see what he does with it.
Directors/Writers: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Doona Bae, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, James D’Arcy, Eddie Redmayne
Release Date: July 18
Mila Kunis as a janitor? Channing Tatum as a warrior who has been genetically engineered as half-wolf and half-albino? Welcome to the most improbable movie of 2014. But it’s all good; improbable is where the Wachowski’s live, eat and breathe. It’s nice to see the sibling creators of The Matrix back in action so soon after the underappreciated 2012 opus Cloud Atlas. Hopefully whatever creative juices served them so well on that project will be at work here too. I suspect that the less I know about the movie’s specifics, the more rewarding my viewing will be. All I know is that the sci-fi adventure casts Kunis as the target of an assassination plot by a galactic queen, and Tatum as her protector. Tale as old as time.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Brady Corbet, Adam Horovitz, Charles Grodin
Release Date: TBA
Despite the glowing reviews it earned, I was not a fan of Baumbach’s last film, Frances Ha (though I love its star, Greta Gerwig). Nor was I crazy about his previous effort Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and Gerwig. But I love The Squid and the Whale and think Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances in Margot at the Wedding, so I’m hoping that his latest hews closer to those earlier films. I like the cast and the premise, which finds Stiller and Watts as an uptight couple who strike up an unlikely friendship with a younger, free-spirited couple (Seyfried and Driver). That’s all we have to go on right now, but there’s potential all over this. And how great will it be to see Charles Grodin again? Aside from one-shot guest starring roles on Law & Order: SVU and The Michael J. Fox Show, Grodin hasn’t been onscreen since 2006. I can’t believe he’s almost 80!
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Cast: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Glenn Close, Bradley Cooper (voice), Benicio del Toro, Vin Diesel (voice), Karen Gillen, Gregg Henry, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, John C. Reilly, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana
Release Date: August 1
This new venture from Marvel Studios expands their universe beyond The Avengers by introducing a new gallery of characters based on a 2008 series of comics about a team of space-traveling misfits. That team includes a smart-ass human pilot named Peter Quill, who tries to pass himself off under the name Star Lord; a genetically engineered, talking raccoon with a mean streak; and a tree-person. Like…a person…who’s also kind of a tree. Or something. Sorry, did I label Jupiter Ascending “the most improbable movie of 2014?” I may have to reassign that label.
I’ve really enjoyed what Marvel has been doing on film, beginning with Iron Man. To varying degrees, the movies have been fun and engaging (if not always entirely logical) action-adventures with a lot of humor. Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be playing up the humor even more, with its tongue firmly in cheek concerning its bizarre array of characters. The presence of Chris Pratt in the lead role only reinforces that tone. (I’ve recently come to decide, by the way, that Chris Pratt should be in everything.) Part of the pleasure I’ve found in the Marvel films is the little ways they all connect to each other (and when it comes to The Avengers, the big ways). How much Guardians of the Galaxy will connect with the stories of Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and the rest remains to be seen, but it seems entirely possible the two crews will meet up eventually, or at least that the stories will intersect. Several of the characters in the Guardians comics have ties to the villain Thanos, who made a teasing appearance during the end credits of The Avengers. And the end credits of Thor: The Dark World were similarly interrupted by a teaser that introduced Benicio del Toro’s character The Collector, described as “an outer-space Liberace.” (So perhaps Michael Douglas signed on for the wrong Marvel movie.) Whatever Marvel has in store down the line, for now I’m just really curious to see if Guardians of the Galaxy is as much fun as it looks like.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson
Cast: Adam Sandler, RoseMarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Timothee Chalamet, David Denman, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Dennis Haysbert, Dean Norris, J.K. Simmons, Emma Thompson
Release Date: TBA
Adam Sandler is an unusual case study of the modern movie star. His self-developed vehicles tend to be sophomoric, clichéd and simplistic. And often hilarious…though not so much lately. Yet he also continues to inspire more high-minded commercial filmmakers, and has been given more opportunities than most primarily comic actors to explore more serious roles. Paul Thomas Anderson, Mike Binder, James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow have all cast him in parts with more depth than the ones he creates for himself. The results are mixed, but it’s still cool to see filmmakers of that caliber continually seek out his talents. Given his recent output, he could use a few more of these opportunities. This year, he gets two.
The first is Jason Reitman’s latest, and offers hope of a return to form after the recent detour of Labor Day, which was better than it might have been…but still not so good. Men, Women & Children, adapted from the novel by Chad Kultgen, follows a group of teenagers and their parents, exploring how internet culture affects their relationships, communication abilities and sexual frustrations. That description suggests a tone in line with Reitman’s previous work like Thank You for Smoking and Juno. Let’s hope so.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCathy, Paul Sado
Cast: Adam Sandler, Ellen Barkin, Steve Buscemi, Melonie Diaz, Glenn Fleshler, Dustin Hoffman, Method Man, Dan Stevens
Release Date: TBA
Here is Sandler again, this time under the direction of Tom McCarthy. This is the fourth movie he’s made, and I love the previous three: The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win. His movies are always simple, straightforward, relatable and rewarding, with excellent performances. I often compare him to Alexander Payne, and lament that he isn’t as appreciated. In his latest, Sandler plays a cobbler who owns a shop in New York City and comes to feel stuck in place while the shoes he repairs carry his customers off to more exciting horizons. Then he discovers a family heirloom that allows him to magically walk in other people’s shoes and get a taste of lives beyond his own. In the wrong hands, this set-up could disintegrate into maudlin dreck. Maybe even in the right hands it could disintegrate into maudlin dreck. But I’ll gladly give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt, and see if he can strike a good balance between realism and whimsy. It’s not completely foreign territory for him; although the previous films he’s directed lack any sort of fantasy element, he did co-write the story for Pixar’s Up. The cast includes Dan Stevens, so hopefully the movie will be a small piece of justification for him abandoning Downton Abbey. Damn your reckless driving, Matthew Crawley!
UNTITLED CAMERON CROWE PROJECT
Director/Writer: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone, Alec Baldwin, Jay Baruchel, Michael Chernus, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Ivana Milicevic, Bill Murray
Release Date: December 25
Cameron Crowe is due for a comeback. His last few films — We Bought a Zoo, Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky — all have good moments and enjoyable elements, but are either too sentimental, too precious or too senseless. So with his latest film, I’m hoping he can strike the tone that makes Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire and Say Anything work so well.
Cooper plays a military contractor assigned to a base in Hawaii where he has worked before, and where he now must oversee the launch of a weapons satellite. He falls for an air force pilot (Stone), reconnects with a now married former love (McAdams) and encounters “mystical island forces and a talking computer.” The script is apparently a revised version of an earlier Crowe project called Deep Tiki, which he tried to put together post-Elizabethtown with Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon. Whether that title will remain, or how much of that original script is still intact, remains to be seen. The little I’ve read about it suggests to me an L.A. Story vibe, and the article linked above references Joe Versus the Volcano. Those touchpoints are promising, if Crowe can handle the magical realism without over-reaching and indulging in sappiness. At its best, Crowe’s work reveals an open-heartedness and a smart sense of romance. But he can also take those qualities too far. Here’s hoping he can nail the right balance with this one. The cast sure looks promising, and he’s overdue for a win. I’m rooting for him.
THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Evangeline Lilly, Sylvester McCoy, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood
Release Date: December 17
The second chapter of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy ended on a huge cliffhanger, so his third (or sixth, really) and final installment should waste no time picking up the action, as the dragon Smaug threatens Laketown and other regions surrounding The Lonely Mountain. That situation will give way to the Battle of Five Armies, in which dwarves, men and elves (and one Hobbit) band together against goblins and orcs, all under the larger looming threat of Sauron’s return. Although The Hobbit films have not matched the brilliance of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have enjoyed both episodes quite a bit, and look forward to seeing how Jackson winds down his long and fruitful stay in Middle Earth.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED
Director: James Bobin
Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais
Release Date: March 21
I will forever worship at the altar of The Muppets, so I’m thrilled to see them back again after their return to the movies in 2011. This time around, joined by the previous film’s newly introduced Walter, the gang is enjoying a European tour that goes astray when they encounter a criminal mastermind named Constantine, who happens to look nearly identical to Kermit. This is not the first time the Muppets have tangled with jewel thieves in Europe; that would be The Great Muppet Caper, my favorite of their big screen escapades. If this outing is anywhere near as good as that was, I’ll be in my own personal Happiness Hotel. Although Jason Segel co-wrote the 2011 film that re-introduced Kermit and Company, he decided not to return. But his co-writer Nicholas Stoller came back, writing the script with returning director James Bobin. And Bret McKenzie, the Flight of the Conchords star who won a Best Original Song Academy Award for the last film’s “Man or Muppet,” also returns. As usual, expect plenty of celebrity cameos in addition to the starring roles filled by Fey, Gervais and Burrell, the latter of whom replaced Christoph Waltz when his schedule conflicts couldn’t be worked out. From Christoph Waltz to Ty Burrell…that’s gotta be one of the unlikeliest instances of recasting I’ve ever heard of.
INTO THE WOODS
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: James Lapine
Cast: Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Frances de la Tour, Johnny Depp, Daniel Huttlestone, Anna Kendrick, Billy Magnussen, Chris Pine, Lucy Punch, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman
Release Date: December 25
Rob Marshall deserves credit for bringing musicals back into vogue with his stylish, inventive direction of 2002’s Chicago. Since then, he’s moved between musicals (Nine) and “regular” movies (Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), and his latest musical is a modern classic, with lots of room for compelling production values amidst the great song score and A-list stars. Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 winner of several Tony Awards takes its inspiration from Grimm fairy tales, weaving characters from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood into the original story of a childless baker, his wife and the witch who placed a curse on them. Marshall has assembled an impressive cast that includes Oscar and Tony nominees and winners. (Jake Gyllenhaal was cast at one point, but the sheer weight of star power crushed him, and he was replaced by up-and-comer Magnussen.) Together they should bring this terrific musical to vibrant life.
Director/Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater
Release Date: TBA
Several years back, I read an article in Variety announcing that director Richard Linklater was embarking on a new film project that would trace the life of a young boy over a decade or so of growth. With Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette onboard to play the child’s parents, Linklater would film for just a few days every year from the time the boy was in kindergarten to the time he graduated high school. He identified a child named Ellar Coltrane, whose parents appreciated the idea of the project and agreed to their son’s participation, and off they all went. It sounded like a fascinating undertaking, and I looked forward to seeing the results. Yet as the years went by, I heard nothing more about it. Was it still happening? Certainly the Hollywood trades announce projects all the time that never go anywhere. Then maybe two years ago, in an interview with Linklater, the project was mentioned and I learned that it had indeed been continuing. It came up again last year when Linklater and Hawke were promoting Before Midnight, and then just like that, the movie was a last-minute addition to January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was welcomed with strong reviews.
Described by Hawke as the “smallest epic ever made,” Linklater’s experiment is not completely unique. The 1964 documentary Seven Up! followed the lives of several British children, and every seven years since, director Michael Apted has reconnected with them and produced a new film chronicling their lives, the most recent being 2012’s 56 Up. And of course the Harry Potter series, with a new installment being filmed every year to year-and-a-half, showed a group of children growing up before our eyes. But Boyhood seems to offer the most distilled form of this idea yet. Coltrane (who may be credited as Ellar Salmon; Coltrane is his middle name, which he recently began using instead) was 7 years old when the film started shooting; he was 18 when it finished, and 19 by the time he went to Sundance. He’s been involved with this project for over half of his life, and I expect watching him age physically and psychologically over the course of the movie will offer an untraditionally exciting filmgoing experience.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, David Clennon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris, Scoot McNairy, Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Sela Ward, Casey Wilson
Release Date: October 3
Gillian Flynn earned rave reviews for her novel about Nick Dunne, a husband whose wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. Their marriage, which seemed so perfect from the outside, is revealed to be anything but once the media frenzy and police investigation intensifies. As the spotlight bears down on Nick, he begins to exhibit strange behavior, and soon people are wondering if this seemingly ideal husband has killed his wife.
I’ve heard that Flynn’s novel combines the page-turning intensity and twisty plotting of a great beach read with the depth of more sophisticated fiction. Either way, it seems like great material for Fincher to play with. From Seven to Zodiac to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he has a masterful touch for creating gripping cinematic mysteries. Affleck has said that Fincher and Flynn collaborated closely on adapting the book, so hopefully the results will satisfy the needs of a movie as much as the fans of the source material. On the other hand, maybe not: Flynn apparently reconceived the entire third act of the story for the film, including a different ending. That’s bound to worry the book’s many fans, but I find it fascinating when a novelist adapts their own work for the screen and takes it in a radically different direction (see Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan).
Oh, and if you scanned the cast list and didn’t recognize the name Emily Ratajakowski, you may know her as the stunning brunette model from the video for Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” Yeah…that one. I quote Jackie Gleason from The Toy: “Ooof.”
ST. VINCENT DE VAN NUYS
Director/Writer: Ted Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Scott Adsit, Nate Corddry, Terrence Howard, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts
Release Date: April 11
Bill Murray, in what could potentially be a killer leading role, plays a degenerate retiree who is tapped by the divorced mom newly moved in next door to babysit for her 12 year old son while she tries to make ends meet working long hours. Melfi’s script landed on the 2011 Black List (along with Jane Got a Gun, and a number of other films due out this year), and Murray — a notoriously difficult get for filmmakers hoping to cast him — loved it so much that he approached Melfi himself to discuss playing the part. There was apparently a lot of competition to play the boy’s mother, with McCarthy eventually winning out. The role is said to be somewhat more grounded than the extreme comedic characters she played in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and The Heat, so it only stands to increase her already soaring stock. I’m a little skeptical about the April release date; that’s a month away, and there hasn’t been a trailer, a poster or any promotion for the film yet at all. But the project has attracted a lot of buzz within the industry, so whenever it arrives, expectations will be high.
Director/Writer: Jon Stewart
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jason Jones, Dimitri Leonidas
Release Date: TBA
Yes, that Jon Stewart. You may recall that last summer, Stewart took a break from hosting The Daily Show — leaving it in the capable hands of John Oliver — and traveled to Jordan to direct a movie. And given that this is Jon Stewart, you might expect that movie to be a comedy. Uh-uh. Stewart’s directorial debut is a reality-based drama about Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist who was vocally critical of his native country’s regime even long after he’d been living in the west. While visiting Iran for a story in 2009, he was arrested and imprisoned for 118 days, during which time he was held in solitary confinement and tortured under charges of espionage. The evidence against him included an interview he gave to The Daily Show, in which correspondent Jason Jones pretended to be an American spy. Bahari, whose father and sister had also spent time in prison under previous regimes, wrote about his experience and his family’s in the book Then They Came for Me, which Stewart has adapted for this film.
My love and admiration for Jon Stewart knows no bounds, so naturally I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Not only is he taking on the entirely new challenge of writing and directing a film, but he’s doing it with a serious story to which he feels personally connected and beholden to get right. I can’t imagine he would enter this lightly. He could have produced the movie, even just written it and found a more established director to film it. The fact that he’s taking it on himself tells me he really believes he can bring something to it. Does his talent extend to filmmaking, or will this turn out to be a major miscalculation? The involvement of esteemed producer Scott Rudin encourages me, as does Stewart’s own humble persona. The script even has J.J. Abrams’ endorsement, so if this goes well, maybe Stewart will write and direct Star Wars Episode VIII.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Lindsay Duncan, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Release Date: TBA
It’s been a sad several years for fans of the great Michael Keaton. After his sharp supporting turn in Jackie Brown (and a great cameo as the same character in the next year’s Out of Sight), Keaton stumbled into some pretty bad movies, like Jack Frost, First Daughter and White Noise. Those were followed by some little-seen indie films, and even though there were occasional bright spots — TV projects like The Company and Live from Baghdad, and voice work in Pixar’s Cars and Toy Story 3 — it still felt like Keaton was MIA for a decade. Then in 2010, he started to become more visible. During the past few years, he played Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s boss in The Other Guys, guest starred on 30 Rock and turned up in Larry David’s HBO movie Clear History. Already this year he’s been featured in Robocop and Need for Speed…though his talents deserve better material than either of those movies. Fingers crossed, that material may finally be here. In Birdman, Keaton will take on his highest profile and most promising lead role in ages, perfectly cast as an actor famous for having once played a well-known superhero, who is now trying to launch a comeback by mounting a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story. His efforts are challenged by a difficult leading man (Norton) and unresolved issues with his ex-wife and daughter.
Not only does the movie mark a comeback for Keaton, but also a surprising change of pace for its co-writer and director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. After making 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful — three of the most profoundly depressing films you’re ever likely to see — the Mexican filmmaker is trying his hand at comedy. There’s nothing about this project that doesn’t sound great. I love the casting, the plot description, and the likelihood of juicy roles for Keaton and Norton, two enormous talents who deserve great material.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Director/Writer: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Release Date: March 7
Of course this is the one I mentioned at the beginning that’s already been released, so no need to dwell on it. You’ve probably seen a trailer or commercial by now and gotten a taste of Wes Anderson’s latest confection. From a standpoint of art direction and costume design, this may be the director’s most elaborate and beautiful film to date, which would be no small feat. The cast is a killer mix of Anderson veterans and newcomers, with Ralph Fiennes looking to be a brilliant fit for Anderson’s unique comedic rhythms.
Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeannie Berlin, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Martin Donovan, Jena Malone, Peter McRobbie, Joanna Newsom, Kevin J. O’Connor, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Timothy Simons, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Reese Witherspoon
Release Date: December 12
A new film by Paul Thomas Anderson is always cause to get excited. This guy couldn’t make a boring movie if his life depended on it, but what makes this one particularly intriguing is that it looks like it might actually be fun! Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master…they’re all pretty bleak. Even Punch Drunk Love, which is technically a comedy, is unnervingly weird and disturbing. You have to go back to 1997 and Boogie Nights for a PTA movie that isn’t just fascinating, but also a good time. That movie gets dark eventually too, but it has a hell of a lot of fun along the way. Now it looks like Anderson is ready to lighten up, as he adapts Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel about “Doc” Sportello, a pothead P.I. in Los Angeles circa 1969 who gets involved in a kidnapping investigation at the behest of his ex-girlfriend. Robert Downey Jr. was initially attached to play Sportello, but Anderson decided to re-team with his Master star Phoenix, then assembled an impressively colorful cast around him. The wait until December will be tough…but since we usually have to wait around four years between Anderson projects, at least we can be grateful that he got back to work so soon after The Master.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Timothee Chalamet, Matt Damon, William Devane, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo
Release Date: November 7
With his last few films, Christopher Nolan has owned the midsummer. The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and The Dark Knight were all released the third Friday of July in their respective years, giving the director the same kind of day/date ownership that Will Smith long held over July 4th weekend. With his latest, Nolan enters the highly competitive year-end fray, so perhaps Paramount and Warner Brothers see as much potential for awards glory as they do for box office returns. But that’s just speculation. What about the movie itself?
Well…there’s not much more than speculation on that front either, as the film is still cloaked in the kind of secrecy that always accompanies a new Nolan project. What we do know is that the script was originally written by Nolan’s brother and frequent collaborator Jonathan as a possible directing vehicle for Steven Spielberg. When Spielberg moved on, Chris got involved. Together the brothers reworked the script, creating something that combined Jonathan’s original story with new elements that were occupying Chris’ mind. A vague teaser trailer was released a few months ago, and I suspect that’s all we’ll get until a full trailer arrives, most likely this summer. The only other information we have at this point is that the movie is said to concern exploration of the furthest reaches of space, with a ship possibly discovering and entering a wormhole…evidence that would appear to be corroborated by the involvement of scientist Kip Thorne. Could Nolan be tackling time travel with this movie? I don’t know…but I wish I could time travel to November right now.