September 10, 2017

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in What’s Left of 2017

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:45 pm
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Since 2009, I’ve been writing about anywhere from 20-30 movies that I’m excited about in the coming year, which I usually post shortly after the Oscars. Last year, I didn’t get the list out until May, but most of the movies I was anticipating were still to come, so okay, no big deal. My intention this year was to get it out in January, since there were actually some February releases I wanted to include.

That didn’t really work out.

Nor did May.

Or July.

And so The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Song to Song, Beauty and the Beast, Trainspotting 2, The Great Wall, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Detroit and Dunkirk have all passed by.

Now, as we enter my favorite movie season of the year, plenty of titles from my original list are yet to arrive, so in an effort to not totally abandon this blog, and to not completely waste the time I’d already put into this post, I’ve reconfigured it as a sort of Fall Movie Preview, informed by some recent developments at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. Even this late in the year I have no problem coming up with a list of 20 movies, and could easily have included more that I’m eager to see. No doubt many of these will come up again in my Oscar posts. But for now, consider…


Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburnce, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vasquez
Release Date: November 3

Among the many films that come up when people talk about the great American cinema of the 1970’s is Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, which starred Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as Navy officers tasked with escorting a younger, sentenced cadet (Randy Quaid) to prison. It was adapted by Robert Towne from a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, and in 2005 the novelist published a follow-up that dropped in on the three characters post 9/11. From the time it was published, Richard Linklater has wanted to adapt the semi-sequel for the screen, and originally hoped to reunite Nicholson and Quaid, with Morgan Freeman replacing Young, who died in 2001. Sadly, that ship has sailed, with Nicholson essentially retired and Quaid, well…let’s just say Quaid is otherwise occupied and leave it at that. Still, it’s hard to wallow in regret over what might have been when the newly assembled trio is as impressive and promising as Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. And in the end, Linklater — collaborating with Ponicsan on the script — ended up shifting direction a bit by not making the film a direct sequel to The Last Detail, but rather more of a spiritual one in which the trio of leads play different characters. Either way, as far as I’m concerned. Having only seen The Last Detail once, my interest in this movie was never about that one. I’m just excited by the promise of this filmmaker and these actors.


Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Michael Mitnick
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Macfayden, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: December 22

In Christopher Nolan’s 2006 drama The Prestige, two illusionists in the 1800’s engage in an increasingly intense rivalry to dazzle audiences with a particularly astonishing trick. Though fictional, the characters interact with very real inventor Nikola Tesla, who makes a key contribution to their efforts. In The Current War, Tesla once again factors into the rivalry of two competitors, this time the real-life pioneers Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, as they race to implement the most effective system of delivering electricity to the masses. Cumberbatch and Shannon take on Edison and Westinghouse, respectively, and if Me and Earl and the Dying Girl helmer Gomez-Rejon seems an odd choice for this larger-scale, more cinematic material, he has plenty of experience telling stories of competition and of light and dark as a veteran director of Glee and American Horror Story. As for Tesla, those who can’t get enough of him — nor afford the car that bears his name — can look forward to him being front and center in a potential upcoming film about his relationship with Mark Twain. In the meantime, Nicholas Hoult assumes the mantle from Nolan’s Tesla, the late David Bowie.


Director: James Franco
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, Melanie Griffith, Josh Hutcherson, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: December 1

If you live in a major city, there’s a very good chance that on any given weekend, there’s a theater somewhere offering a midnight screening of The Room, a 2003 movie so notoriously awful that it has garnered a devoted cult following and been called the worst movie of all time. One of The Room‘s stars, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about his experience working on the project and his relationship with its fascinating writer, director and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau. In this comedic but affectionate adaptation of that book, James Franco takes on the role of Wiseau, with his brother Dave playing Sestero. Based on the highly favorable reaction to the film upon its debut earlier this year at the South by Southwest festival, the filmmaking team may have spun gold from the dreck, crafting an Ed Wood-like homage that aims to celebrate the passion more than mock the results. After seeing the first teaser trailer for The Disaster Artist, I had my doubts that Wiseau could have performed as poorly as Franco’s interpretation suggests. I was wrong. I’ve never seen The Room; I generally feel that there are too many good movies worth seeing to waste time on the bad ones, even those of the so-bad-they’re good variety. But The Disaster Artist may force me to make an exception.

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, Stephen Dillane, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Kristin Scott Thomas
Release Date: November 22

While the pedigree of this movie – Atonement director Wright, The Theory of Everything screenwriter McCarten, and a fine cast headed by Oldman – would automatically put it on my list of movies to see, it probably wouldn’t have made the jump to this list had it not just premiered to a thunderous reception at the Venice Film Festival, where Oldman was instantly elevated to frontrunner status in this year’s Best Actor race for his performance as Winston Churchill. That’s all well and good, and no doubt I’ll have more to say about it if I manage to do my usual Oscar write-ups come January. But the movie was celebrated beyond just Oldman’s work. It was hailed as an across-the-board triumph that tells the story of Churchill’s early days in office with vigor and passion, bringing the history of Britain’s stand against Nazi Germany to thrilling life. In addition, by focusing on a narrow period of Churchill’s life rather than going the cradle-to-grave biopic route, it stands to follow in the sterling footsteps of films like Capote and Lincoln by using a specific event from the subject’s life to tell a larger story about who and what they were. As always, I avoided getting too deep into the reviews and reactions, but what I gleaned left no doubt that the movie was now one to anticipate with great expectations.


Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Release Date: November 10

As a director, Kenneth Branagh has brought several famous characters of literature to the screen, from Hamlet to Thor to Jack Ryan. Now he’s about to give us a new interpretation of Agatha Christie’s enduring detective Hercule Poirot in one of her – and her character’s – most famous cases. In addition to directing, Branagh will play Poirot, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Orson Welles, Albert Finney, and Peter Ustinov. The gallery of passengers/suspects provides a grand ensemble opportunity, and Branagh has stacked the movie with an impressive and eclectic cast that includes his hero and regular collaborator Jacobi; Hamilton Tony-winner Odom Jr.; Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout Ridley; the luminous Pfeiffer, who has worked only occasionally in recent years but appears to be staging a welcome comeback; and Depp, smartly joining a classy ensemble that doesn’t require him to shoulder the movie on his own, but which may amount to more than his recent blink-of-an-eye cameos in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Into the Woods. Branagh has big shoes to fill, not just doing justice to Christie’s book, but also working in the shadow of Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed 1974 version which earned six Oscar nominations and boasted an equally impressive — perhaps even starrier — roster of actors. But the results look promising.


Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Kate Winslet, James Belushi, Max Casella, Tony Sirico, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Release Date: December 1

Until recently, details were typically scarce regarding Allen’s latest effort, other than its 1950’s Coney Island setting. With nothing to go on, including whether or not it was a comedy or a drama, and knowing that the enduring auteur’s output is always hit or miss, it was the presence of Winslet that landed Wonder Wheel on my list. I hoped that having an especially special talent like her – the first cast member announced last summer – meant this was something he tailored to her, and that he rose to the occasion and provided her with a film and a role worthy of her gifts, just as he did with Blue Jasmine in 2013 for our other magnificent Kate…or Cate, as it were. Now we know more about the film, and there’s reason to think my hope will be rewarded. Winslet plays the wife of a carousel operator, who falls for a lifeguard (guess which one is played by Belushi and which one by Timberlake!). Her emotional conundrum becomes more complicated when her husband’s daughter (Temple) from a previous marriage turns up after a long absence and also has eyes for the lifeguard, setting up what Winslet described in Entertainment Weekly as her character’s “great unraveling.” According to the same EW piece, Allen has long wanted to work with Winslet; it almost happened a decade ago on Match Point, until she had to drop out due to a pregnancy and was replaced by Scarlett Johannson). He says he knew it would take one of the great actresses of our time to bring the necessary depth to this character. Knowing Allen’s track record with writing great roles for actors, I have a really good feeling about this one and the likelihood that we’re going to get something superb from Winslet.

Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch, Sakina Jaffrey, Elizabeth Marvel, Rebecca Miller, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten
Release Date: October 13

Baumbach’s latest story of family dysfunction, which bowed to strong reviews at the Cannes Film Festival, casts Hoffman as Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor who, while celebrated, never quite received the recognition he felt he deserved. Sandler, Stiller and Marvel (a dynamic character actress getting increasingly larger roles, including the President-Elect on the recent season of Homeland) play his children, all of whom are brought together by a pair of events concerning Harold. I’m a big fan of Baumbach’s 2005 and 2007 films The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, but haven’t been much enamored with his output since. The word out of Cannes was that his latest is more in the vein of those earlier films, so I’m crossing my fingers that those murmurings prove true. Particular praise at the festival was centered on Sandler, who dazzled critics with a performance that served as a reminder of what directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and James L. Brooks have long seen in him. Those directors, and a few others over the years, have cast Sandler in more dramatic material, and he has always risen admirably to the challenge, even if he usually chooses to avoid those sorts of genuine acting opportunities in favor of palling around with buddies Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock or David Spade on lazy, clichéd comedies. His performance here was so acclaimed, in fact, that many critics were calling it Oscar-worthy. Though the movie is being distributed by Netflix, the company apparently plans to give it a limited theatrical release the same day it debuts for streaming, which would indeed qualify it for awards consideration. Whether it can break into the race is another matter, but for now I just hope the movie is a reward in and of itself.

Lee Unkrich
Adrian Molina
Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, Alfonso Arau, Anthony Gonzalez, Edward James Olmos, Renée Victor
Release Date:
November 22

No, it’a not the long-awaited Conan O’Brien biopic about the struggles of a tall, thin ginger to overcome his physical handicaps and conquer the world of late-night comedy. It’s the next movie from Pixar, set in Mexico on the annual Día de los Muertos holiday. It follows Miguel, a music-loving boy from a music-hating family, who dreams of breaking away from the successful shoemaking business that has been handed down for generations and instead charting his own course as a performer. When he discovers a magical guitar that transports him to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestors as well as his idol, singer Ernesto de la Cruz, uncovering secrets from both that will affect him profoundly back in the real world…if he can get there. Like all of Pixar’s movies — the non-sequels, especially — this one has been in development for a long time, but will arrive at an ideal moment when diversity is top of mind not just in the entertainment industry but in the world-at-large. Given some of the political conversations going on right now, it will be especially welcome for moviegoers from all backgrounds and age groups to see a culture that doesn’t get enough mainstream exposure depicted in all of its rich and vibrant glory by Disney and Pixar, two giants of animation who know how to lure the masses.


Director: George Clooney
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Julianne Moore, Glenn Fleshler, Noah Jupe
Release Date: November 3

The Coen Brothers don’t have a new movie coming out this year, but here’s the next best thing: a script they wrote, directed by one of their frequent stars, and starring three of their past collaborators in Damon, Moore and Isaac. (It almost featured two more, but Woody Harrelson had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and Josh Brolin’s small role was cut). While Clooney won’t appear onscreen, he’s worked with the Coens enough by now to have a firm grasp of their style, which should help him successfully translate their script to the screen.  It’s an older effort that the brothers considered making in the late 90’s, and which Clooney and Heslov have re-worked to bring it up to date thematically, although it takes place in the 50’s. I’ve heard varying plot descriptions, so I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not, but the story may involve a man who tries to have his wife killed in order to be with her sister. It’s said to be in the Fargo/Burn After Reading vein of other violent comedies from the Coens. We’ll see if Clooney and company can deliver something that feels at home with the originators’  own projects.

Director/Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Bill Camp, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Idris Elba, Graham Greene, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: November 22

Aaron Sorkin’s scripts have been directed by an A-list roster of filmmakers. David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennett Miller, Danny Boyle and Mike Nichols have all had the pleasure of bringing Sorkin’s words to the big screen. Not for nothing though, Sorkin has been atop the creative ladder long enough that his own time behind the camera seems quite overdue. He’ll finally make the leap with Molly’s Game, adapted from a memoir by Molly Bloom, who as a young woman had Olympic goals as a member of the U.S. national ski team. When that dream failed to materialize, she went to Los Angeles where she got a job as a waitress. Many people go to Hollywood and wait tables on their way to becoming movie stars, but Bloom’s path led her in a different and even more fascinating direction. Her smarts and entrepreneurial nature eventually led to her running a high-stakes underground poker game attended regularly by major Hollywood players including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck. But apparently the Russian mob had ties to the game as well, and because Bloom was taking a cut of the pot, legal lines were crossed and the FBI shut down the game and arrested her. (We’ve all been there, right?) It’s a compelling story that should translate nicely to film, especially with this impressive cast getting to dig into the always-delicious dialogue at which Sorkin excels.


Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Chosen Jacobs, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Owen Teague, Finn Wolfhard
Release Date: September 8

I’m a little late on this one, which opened Thursday night, but since I haven’t seen it yet, it still falls under “looking forward.”

The random surge of popularity in the work of Stephen King — The Dark Tower on the big screen and Mr. Mercedes and The Mist on the small – continues here, and the time couldn’t be more right for a film adaptation of the author’s seminal success It, which was published in 1986 during his most prolific and celebrated period. Fueled by the popularity of last summer’s surprise Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things, It has a chance to capitalize on the renewed interest in King’s 80’s oeuvre that was so lovingly evoked by that series. In fact, one of the film’s producers actually used Stranger Things as a reference point for the tone of the film, a tactic made even more ironic by the fact that filmmaker brothers Matt and Ross Duffer created Stranger Things after Warner Bros. denied them the chance to make the It film, presumably unwilling to hand over so prized a property to a relatively untested duo.

The massive, 1,100+ page novel follows a group of seven bullied friends in Derry, Maine – who refer to themselves as The Loser’s Club – as they contend with an ageless, shapeshifting, child-eating demon who favors the form of a clown called Pennywise. This year’s release is the first of a two-part adaptation, focusing on the kids and their battles with Pennywise. The second film will continue their story in adulthood…those who survive to see it, at least.

Although I went through my own Stephen King phase as a teenager, I never got around to reading It, nor did I see the 1990 ABC miniseries that would probably be forgettable if not for Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise creeping its way into the pop culture consciousness. The role in this new adaptation will be played by Bill Skarsgård (son of Good Will Hunting/Thor star Stellan, brother of True Blood/Big Little Lies star Alexander). The cast of endangered youths includes the excellent Jaeden Lieberher, and yes,  Stranger Things‘ soulful breakout Finn Wolfhard.

Still, there are concerns. It was originally to be helmed by Cary Fukunaga, the terrific director behind the bold 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, the harrowing Beasts of No Nation, and the entire first season of HBO’s True Detective. He’s a filmmaker who has demonstrated a talent for finding horror in realistic settings. When his take on King’s story clashed with the studio’s, he left the project and was replaced by Andy Muschetti, whose only feature credit is the decently-reviewed 2013 Jessica Chastain horror film, Mama. Fukunaga has said that he wanted to treat It like a character drama, teasing out the horror less overtly, whereas the studio wanted a typical, mainstream horror movie…a fact which is no less disappointing for being so predictable. Seldom does any good come from studio executives overriding the vision of a singular filmmaker. Muschetti will surely give the studio what it wanted, but will that be the best thing?

In the end, maybe it will. Reviews have been mostly kind, and as we speak the movie is doing bang-up business and smashing various box office records, so…fingers crossed. If it turns out to be a disappointment, well, at least we’ve got a second season of  Stranger Things to look forward to next month. #JusticeForBarb


Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Eric Pearson
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Sam Neill, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban
Release Date: November 3

Those of you to study these lists each year, riddle over them, puzzle them out, try to analyze my endgame, those of you who have taken a devoted, scholarly approach to my work, may have noticed that few of the previous Marvel films — only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man — have been included on this list, even though I’ve said in many other posts that I’m a big fan of the whole series. So why Thor: Ragnarok? Because like Guardians and Ant-Man, it looks like a real curveball that will somewhat shake up the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The first Thor had a lot of enjoyable humor, born out of its fish-out-of-water set-up that found the Asgardian god stuck on earth in a tiny desert town. Thor: The Dark World…well, I can’t say I remember too much about it, though I don’t recall it going for as many laughs. But in perhaps the boldest directorial choice yet on Marvel’s part (even bolder than Edgar Wright for Ant-Man, had that panned out), they handed the reins of this installment to New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, best known for his comic sensibility on such hilarious and acclaimed indies as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Waititi is a delightfully offbeat choice, and everything we’ve seen of Ragnarok thus far paint it as a delightfully offbeat entry in the MCU. Ruffalo has described it — perhaps jokingly — as both a road-movie and a buddy-comedy between Thor and Hulk (the only two Avengers who were MIA from Captain America: Civil War). Waititi has also stated that he took inspiration from the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon, and that he would have loved the movie to have a soundtrack by Queen just as that film did. In that spirit of fun, the teaser trailer – rocking out to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – gives off a vibe that feels like an 80s arcade game come to life. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.


Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Clarke Peters, Sam Rockwell, Nick Searcy
Release Date: November 10

Movie nerd that I am, I’ve been tracking movies for years. That is, I keep a list of movies being made by actors, writers, directors, even producers that I’m interested in. So it came as a surprise to me when I first saw the red band trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri debut on the internet back in March or April, considering that despite the impressive cast and a writer/director whose work I’ve enjoyed, I had never heard of it. So I watched the trailer.

It immediately went on the list. Does this require further explanation?

If nothing else, the trailer promised a showcase role for McDormand, and there can never be enough of those. Now that the film has screened at the Venice Film Festival (where it was just awarded the prize for Best Screenplay), the actress has indeed been praised, but the loudest buzz has been centered around Sam Rockwell. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman hailed the performance as a “revelation,” which is pretty staggering praise considering that Rockwell is hardly an actor whose gifts have been hidden. He has done fantastic work — both comedic and dramatic — in any number of movies from Galaxy Quest to Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Choke, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Conviction. (I’ll forgive his participation in the ill-advised Poltergeist remake.) There are plenty more juicy turns where those came from; this is not someone who’s been hovering on the precipice of a breakthrough. The attention around his performance is additionally surprising since the trailer doesn’t feature all that much of him, and what it does show suggests a performance more in a comedic “dumb guy” vein than the darker, multifaceted character described in reactions to the movie. So if that trailer wasn’t reason enough to put this movie high on the list, it sounds like Rockwell’s work is another.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Liz Hannah
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, Zach Woods
Release Date: December 22

This is not the Steven Spielberg movie I expected to be on this list. For some time, the legendary director has had two movies in the works: an adaptation of the novel Ready Player One, which long ago finished shooting but has extensive visual effects requirements that will prevent it from being out before 2018, and The Kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara, a true story set to star Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance that was initially expected this year. Apparently, however, the difficulty in finding the right child actor to play the title role led to a delay that opened up a window in Spielberg’s schedule. So now we’ll get The Post, which was first announced in March and came together remarkably quickly to allow it into theaters at the end of the year.

The topical true story is set in 1971 and casts Streep as Kay Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and Hanks as the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee, as the two defy the Nixon administration by supporting The New York Times‘ efforts to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers, which called into serious question the United States’ ongoing involvement in the Vietnam War. Amidst threats and talk of treason from the White House, journalists banded together and defended their right to publish the leaked materials, eventually leading to a landmark Supreme Court case. Given the current relationship between the President and the press, it’s easy to see why Spielberg would gravitate toward this subject. As he did with Lincoln, the director has lined up an all-star support team to bolster his main players, and a review of the impressive cast list reveals some fun and surprising connections, like Mr. Show buds David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, and real-life couple Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts.

Director/Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky went to great lengths to keep this movie’s secrets under wraps. We didn’t get a trailer until maybe a month ago, and unlike many trailers that give away too much of the story, this one definitely emphasized tone over plot. And that tone is one of freak-out terror. The movie has now been seen at the Venice Film Festival, where it inspired impassioned reactions all over the map. Whether critics and audiences cheered or booed it, they definitely felt strongly and it generated plenty of talk, which is exactly what Aronofksy wanted. The set-up is that a couple’s quiet life is disrupted by the presence of unwanted visitors, but even after seeing it, many critics seemed to question what it was about at heart. They all agreed, however, that it was an audacious, over-the-top, absolutely insane trip down a deep dark hole. I’m fascinated to see what it’s all about…and a little scared.


Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release Date: December 8

The latest film from the endlessly imaginative del Toro debuted last week at the Venice Film Festival to rapturous responses and this weekend it won the festival’s top prize. Set in the U.S. in 1963, Hawkins and Spencer play workers at a secretive government laboratory (is there any other kind?) who discover a shocking experiment involving an aquatic creature. I’ve avoided reading much about it beyond the basic description that it’s a beauty-and-the-beast-like story, but I know del Toro said that he and his team spent more than half a year designing and crafting the amphibious character. The prominent presence of a creature should come as no surprise to del Toro fans, nor should the painstaking lengths that went into birthing it. This is a guy who truly loves, connects with and has deep empathy for what the rest of us might casually refer to as monsters. His affection for them and the thought he puts into them is why his movies are among the few that still feature bold, original, frightening creations while most movie monsters these days are uninspired and forgettable. The Cold War backdrop suggests that The Shape of Water will hew more closely to del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and other work like The Devil’s Backbone than his more action-oriented projects like Pacific Rim and Blade, and a cursory scan at the reviews out of Venice bear that out. Marrying the supernatural and the historical is del Toro’s sweet spot, which makes this new film – now graced with glowing reviews – especially promising.


Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Cast: Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Hong Chau, Joaquin de Almeida, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: December 25

Alexander Payne made his reputation on sharply-observed portraits of simple, everyday folks, but his newest finds him making an unexpected turn into what sounds like Charlie Kaufman country. The script has been floating around for many years, and the plot may have morphed somewhat during that long development period, but the core idea remains: people shrinking themselves down to a smaller size in order to simplify their lives. I know that’s a rather simplistic description, but while the movie has now played at Venice and Telluride, meaning there’s more about it to glean, I’m avoiding anything further. Fans of Payne’s early work will be happy to know that the movie reunites him with his writing partner Jim Taylor over a decade after they last collaborated on (and won Oscars for) Sideways, and they’ve put together a fine cast headed by Damon, after earlier stalled attempts to get the movie off the ground included Reese Witherspoon, Paul Giamatti and Sacha Baron Cohen. Regardless of the characters’ size, I’m expecting big things.


Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Hiam Abbass, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, David Dastmalchian, Sylvia Hoeks, Lennie James, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Robin Wright
Release Date: October 6

35 years after its release, Blade Runner — one of the most acclaimed, admired, revered science-fiction films of all time — is getting a follow-up.

This is a bad idea.

The thing about Blade Runner is that it’s not merely a beloved film. It’s a studied film. It’s a film valued as much by critics and scholars as by fans and cinephiles. The movie’s reputation developed over time; it was not a hit upon initial release. It worked its way into the culture and earned its reputation through conversation and analysis and reconsideration. So in today’s corporate-guided Hollywood landscape ruled by desire for the familiar and for quick-fixes rather than things lasting and meaningful, is there any reason to be optimistic about the movie’s prospects?

The answer is yes, and it’s a big reason: Denis Villeneuve. There have been worrisome rumblings of a Blade Runner sequel for years, but hearing that Villeneuve would take the reins was a game-changer. Because this dude is phenomenal. One of the best directors working today, and yet one who is still flying under the radar of general public recognition even after earning an already overdue Best Director Oscar nomination last year for the Amy Adams sci-fi drama Arrival. Over the last few years he’s been putting out top-notch work (Prisoners, Sicario) and anything he’s doing is worth getting excited about, sight unseen. He also has master cinematographer Roger Deakins onboard, and the trailers for the film have demonstrated expectedly striking, gorgeous visuals. Is it too early to hope this movie could finally end Deakins incomprehensible losing-streak at the Oscars?

Villeneuve has assembled a strong cast for the sequel set decades after the original, led by Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner – a law enforcement agent tasked with tracking down and “retiring” genetically-engineered androids nearly indistinguishable from humans. Serving in that role has him following in the figurative and apparently literal footsteps of Harrison Ford’s blade runner Rick Deckard. Ford is returning, and he’s had both good and not-so-good results in other instances of revisiting years-old characters/films. Original co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher is also back, this time collaborating with Michael Green, who was likely brought to the project by producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, for whom Green did some story work on Alien: Covenant. Having Scott, Ford and Fancher all involved again is encouraging, but by no means a sign that the movie will be good. Our best hope that the sequel will live up to the reputation of its predecessor is Villeneuve. I’m dying to see what he does.


Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Release Date: December 25

A decade after their colossal collaboration on There Will Be Blood – a span during which each has only made two other features – Anderson and Day-Lewis are re-teaming. There’s really not much more that needs to be said…which is a good thing, since there’s really not much more than can be said. Almost nothing is known about the movie at this point, other than that it takes place in the fashion world of 1950’s New York…and even that detail is sketchy, since a later report cited London as the setting. Some writers have taken to calling the movie Phantom Threads, but at this stage that’s a working title only. So the movie has no name, it has no substantial plot synopsis, and it barely seems to have a supporting cast to speak of, with only two actresses mentioned when the film quietly began production earlier this year. When news of the film first broke, Vulture took a swing at guessing what — or more accurately, who — the subject might be, based on the New York locale. It was well-considered speculation, but if the movie is set in London, that might render the guess incorrect. Whatever or whoever the subject is barely matters right now. When either of these guys makes a movie, it’s headline news as far as I’m concerned. And if Day-Lewis is to be believed, his recent out-of-nowhere retirement announcement will make this his final film. I’m not sure I buy that this is the three-time Best Actor Oscar winner’s swan song, but if it is, it’s tough to imagine a better way to go out than by re-uniting with PTA. There will be glory.


Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran
Release Date: December 15

J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan brought the Star Wars saga back in fine form with 2015’s The Force Awakens, and now they hand the baton off to Rian Johnson to tell the middle chapter of the sequel trilogy. The inventive writer/director behind Brick and Looper now gets to fill in the gaps while furthering the journeys of new heroes and villains Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe Dameron. After being much discussed but little seen in The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker will at last feature prominently, while Princess Leia (she may be General Organa now, but she’ll always be Princess to me) will also find her screen time increased, giving us a last chance to enjoy Carrie Fisher in her defining role. Fans continue to speculate on such mysteries as Rey’s lineage and Supreme Leader Snoke’s identity, but I haven’t engaged much in those guessing games. I’m just excited to delve deeper into the lives of the characters, find out about new additions Dern, del Toro and Tran (all of whom have now now been introduced thanks to Vanity Fair‘s summer cover story), and see what’s become of Luke Skywalker. With a filmmaker as creative as Rian Johnson, I’m confidant the series is in good hands…for now.




  1. Did not realize PT had something coming out with Daniel no less. 100% in. Very excited for Downsizing. Agree that this feels like a Jonze/Kaufman movie, but I know Payne will deliver.

    Blade Runner, as you said Denis is the primary reason I’m looking forward to this. That and Gosling ;).

    I just heard about three billboards a day before your email and the author referenced Fargo which is hallowed ground. If Frances can deliver a Margie performance – hells yeah.

    Comment by Grantland Gears — September 20, 2017 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

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