I Am DB

March 24, 2018

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:00 pm
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Last year, I didn’t manage to get this list out until September. I’m back to my more typical schedule now, though I’d hoped to have this ready in time to include Black Panther and Annihilation…both of which I’ve seen, and both of which met expectations. As I was putting this together, an odd thing occurred to me. For the first time in the 10 years I’ve been doing a list like this, I didn’t have a #1 pick. While I’m looking forward to many movies this year, there was no clear, obvious choice for the top slot. Or even the second. So I decided to switch gears and just run through them alphabetically.

As usual, it’s hard to know what the last few months of the year will look like right now. At this time 12 months ago, The Post and All The Money in the World hadn’t even started filming yet. Who knows what movies expected in 2019 might be moved up (possibly Scorsese and De Niro’s first collaboration in over 20 years, The Irishman?) or what little under-the-radar title will cast a universal spell (who could have anticipated Lady Bird?). But from where I stand now, here are 20 I’m especially keen to experience.


AD ASTRA

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Jamie Kennedy, John Ortiz
Release Date: TBD

There’s a question as to whether this sci-fi drama will even be released this year. It’s currently set for January 11, 2019…but that suggests to many that 20th Century Fox may be planning for a limited release in late December to qualify it for awards consideration, with the January date set for wider distribution. We’ll see. Either way, there’s little to say about it at the stage. Pitt plays an army engineer, possibly autistic, whose father departed on a mission to Neptune 20 years earlier in search of extra-terrestrial life and never returned. The son ventures out into the solar system in hopes of discovering what happened. We’ve seen similar plots before: space crew disappears on a dangerous mission, new crew goes off to try and find out what happens to them. Bad things usually happen. Maybe Ad Astra will follow the same formula, or maybe it will turn in a different direction. The sense of familiarity doesn’t make me any less interested in a new film by Gray, a serious-minded and underrated director who has named Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a reference point for this film. So if this turns out to be a spiritual marriage of Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, well, that sounds like something to see.
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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johannson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Linda Cardellini, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elisabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Angela Bassett, Dave Bautista, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benicio del Toro, Vin Diesel, Winston Duke, Karen Gillen, Danai Gurira, Tom Holland, Pom Klementieff, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Peter Dinklage
Release Date: April 27

I remember wondering how 2012’s first Marvel team-up The Avengers would handle bringing together the six primary heroes introduced across its first five films – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye – and service each of their character arcs as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) story at large.

How naive I was.

It was a simpler time then. When Avengers: Infinity War drops next month, the MCU will be eighteen movies deep. Six primary heroes? Laughable. Now we’ve got Doctor Strange and Ant-Man, Vision and Falcon, Black Panther and Spider-Man, plus a crew of galaxy-guarding misfits. And that’s still not everybody. I mean…Jesus, look at that cast list! The actors’ salaries alone must have made this one of the most expensive movies of all time. So the question comes up once again. Can the movie do justice to all of these characters and tell a story that doesn’t spiral out of control and one that meaningfully positions the various players who will populate the next wave of MCU films, each of which will be, in a way, a sequel to this one? It’s a tricky game Marvel plays, but so far – 10 years in – they’ve proved that even with occasional stumbles, they play it remarkably and uniquely well.

So what event will bring these dozens of characters into common orbit? It ain’t Peter Parker’s high school graduation. One thing the previous 18 films have been doing, small piece by small piece, is setting up the story of the Infinity Stones, six enormously powerful gems scattered throughout the universe, which could yield unparalleled power if brought together. Guess what? Someone’s been trying to bring them together. Thanos, a burly purple alien bent on possessing destructive power, has been trying to locate the stones and wield their might. He’s already made brief appearances in previous MCU movies, but now he steps out of the cosmic shadows and into the spotlight, where our heroes – several of whom have been in contact with certain stones – will try to stop him. Pretty standard fate-of-the-universe stuff. The real fun will come not from inevitable large-scale action sequences, but from watching all of these actors and characters interact and crack wise. I’m sure every MCU fan has their wish list of meet-ups. I’m hoping for Tony Stark, Rocket, Star Lord, Scott Lang, Shuri and Loki to share some back and forth sarcasm, with Peter looking on in delight. With a roster this big, the possibilities are endless. Just like the MCU itself.

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BACKSEAT

Director/Writer: Adam McKay
Cast: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Tyler Perry, Allison Pill, Bill Pullman, Lily Rabe, Sam Rockwell, Shea Whigham
Release Date: TBD

Adam McKay, Will Ferrell’s longtime collaborator who graduated from goofy man-child comedies like Anchorman and Talledega Nights to incisive, topical comedy with The Big Short, which won him an Adapted Screenplay Oscar, continues on that trajectory as he examines a storied political figure through a satirical lens. Or at least, I assume it will be satirical, given his background. His subject? Former Vice President, Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney.

It’s got to be somewhat comedic, doesn’t it? Cheney is such a roundly despicable asshole that if McKay tried to tackle him in a straight-up drama it would be too much to bear. But view him through a more humorous lens and perhaps his crimes against humanity and decency will be easier to swallow. I mean, this is the guy who shot his friend in the face while hunting, so it’s not like the groundwork hasn’t been laid.

If a comedy about Cheney isn’t unexpected enough, get a load of the casting. The heartless, soulless shell of a human will be played by Christian Bale.

Wait…Christian Bale?!?

I know…I don’t see it either. But he’s packed on some pounds to round out his face, and with the hairpiece that he sports in the few on-set photos that have hit the web, well, he kinda sorta looks the part. Or…I don’t know, maybe not. He’s certainly a good enough actor for me to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the role. His American Hustle co-star Amy Adams plays wife Lynne Cheney, while Steve Carell and newly-minted Oscar winner Sam Rockwell take on Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, respectively. Carell as Rumsfeld is another transformation that’s hard to imagine, but of course I’m thinking of Rumsfeld during the Bush years. If you look at him back during the Ford administration, maybe it’s less of a stretch. Bale on the other hand…still have a hard time seeing that. Although this talent pool might seem oddly suited at first to present one of modern American politics’ most powerful and influential behind-the-scenes players, the more you think about it the more thrilling a fit they somehow seem. I’m really curious to see how this plays out. I feel like it’s gonna be great.
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THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writers: Xavier Dolan, Jacob Tierney
Cast: Kathy Bates, Sarah Gadon, Michael Gambon, Kit Harington, Thandie Newton, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Ben Schnetzer, Bella Thorne, Jacob Tremblay, Chris Zylka
Release Date: TBD

I have yet to see any of Xavier Dolan’s films, but at 29 years old, the French-Canadian wunderkind filmmaker has six features to his credit since 2009, the most recent two of which picked up major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. He’s proven to be a colorful and controversial presence on the international film scene, and now he’s making his English-language debut (not counting the music video for Adele’s “Hello”) with this all-star drama. The plot concerns the written correspondence between John Donovan (Harington), star of an early 2000’s teen crime TV series, and an 11-year old fan (Tremblay). When the nature of the relationship is called into question, Donovan’s life and career are impacted. 10 years later, Donovan has died and the young fan is now an up-and coming actor himself, confronted during an interview with revisiting the relationship and its fallout. It’s an intriguing premise, and stands to bear the mark of Dolan’s varied influences that range from global art house cinema to the tales of heroes and villains that Hollywood pumps out ad infinitum. (Dolan, also an actor since childhood, has a lengthy filmography of dubbing French versions of English language hits like the Harry Potter and Twilight films.) The movie was originally scheduled for release in late 2017, but working with an initial cut of four hours, Dolan needed more time to shape the film in the editing room. In the process, the role of a caustic tabloid reporter played by Jessica Chastain was completely removed, no longer fitting in with the tone that was emerging. No word on whether or not Dolan has locked his cut or when the movie will finally be unveiled, though his fans around the world are anxiously awaiting this year’s Cannes announcement to see if it will show up there, or if Dolan is trying to emulate Terrence Malick with his lengthy post-production periods and deleting of entire performances.
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FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Fogler, Claudia Kim, Zoë Kravitz, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: November 16

I liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them well enough when I saw it in theaters, but didn’t love it. I’ve caught it on HBO a few times now, however, and it’s grown on me considerably. So I find myself eager to return to the story of socially awkward magizoologist Newt Scamander and his American friends: auror Tina Goldstein, her mind-reading sister Queenie and non-magical baker Jacob Kowalski. When the new movie picks up, Newt’s book has been published, earning acclaim far and wide, but the dark wizard Grindelwald – captured by American magical authorities with Newt’s help – has escaped and begun gathering followers on his quest to see pure-blood wizards rule magical and non-magical populations alike. As we know from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Newt’s former professor Albus Dumbledore stands in the way of his one time friend, setting the stage for a showdown that becomes wizarding world legend.

Rowling has said this series will stretch across five films, which may seem like overkill unless you think of it as a season-long HBO or Netflix show. Whether all five will build to the conclusion of the Grindelwald plot or whether that storyline will resolve itself earlier and the remaining films will cover subsequent events in Newt’s life is unknown. For this film at least, which takes place mostly in Paris after the first film’s New York setting, Newt will help Dumbledore attempt to thwart Grindelwald. How Tina, Queenie and Jacob get involved is also a mystery. While I’ll enjoy getting those answers, one of the chief things to anticipate is watching Law take on the role of Dumbledore. Just seeing the character in action as a young man will be a treat for Potter fans, but Law is great casting, and the the publicity shot below shows the filmmakers have succeeded in making him look like a young Michael Gambon. How he takes Gambon’s performance and puts his own spin on it should be fun to watch. I have to say, now that a trailer has been released, Law doesn’t seem to be doing much to match Gambon’s vocal inflections, but there’s only a few lines to judge him on, so we’ll wait and see.

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FIRST MAN

Director: Damian Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Christopher Abbott, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham
Release Date: October 12

For his La La Land follow-up, director Damien Chazelle re-teams with Ryan Gosling, who will play Neil Armstrong in a story about the astronaut’s life leading up to his becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Not much is known at this point, but it’s based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s unexpected to find Chazelle venturing into biopic waters, where there’s always the challenge of not falling in step with traditional “story of a life” beats. This also marks the first of his films he hasn’t written, as well as the first that isn’t about music or musicians. As such, it should be an interesting test for the youngest Best Director Oscar winner in history, as he delivers a film in a conventional genre, telling a story that, outwardly at least, he has less of a personal connection to than anything he’s done up to this point. But if it’s successful, perhaps Gosling will get credit for saving the American space program, just like he saved jazz.
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THE FRONTRUNNER
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Matt Bai, Jay Carson
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Mamoudou Athie, Josh Brener, Kaitlyn Dever, Tommy Dewey, Molly Ephraim, Ari Graynor, Toby Huss, Mike Judge, Alex Karpovsky, Sara Paxton, Kevin Pollak, Steve Zissis
Release Date: TBD

In 1988, George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to become the 41st President of the United States. Bush might have faced a different opponent, however, and might not have won the election at all, had Senator Gary Hart of Colorado not withdrawn his candidacy after becoming engulfed in a sex scandal. Hart’s alleged extramarital affair with model Donna Rice became all anybody in the media wanted to talk about. The dissection of his personal life was unprecedented, eclipsing all focus on his progressive ideals and foreign policy wisdom. In the 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, journalist Matt Bai explored the implosion of Hart’s campaign as a turning point in American politics and its news coverage. Reitman, in what could be a return to the sharp political satire of his debut feature Thank You For Smoking, adapts the book along with Bai and Democratic strategist Jay Carson, a consultant on House of Cards. It sounds like exactly the right kind of material for the director, who could use a win after his last couple of films underwhelmed. (He has another chance this year as well, with the Charlize Theron comedy Tully.)
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THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
Director: Brian Henson
Writer: Todd Berger
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Barretta, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, Jimmy O. Yang
Release Date: August 17

From The Muppets to D.C. Follies to Crank Yankers to Team America: World Police to Avenue Q, there is a long and glorious tradition of whipsmart puppet comedy, and I’m a bit of a sucker for it. Featuring puppets created by the Henson Creature Shop, this story finds humans and puppets living side by side, though not in perfect harmony. Puppets are victims of institutional discrimination, and when cast members of a popular 1980s TV show called The Happytime Gang are being killed off one by one, a puppet ex-cop turned private eye teams with his former partner (McCarthy) to try and identify the murderer. This has been a longtime passion project for director Henson (Jim’s son), and I feel like the potential is strong for it to misfire spectacularly. But I’m hoping the results are more in line with its obvious cousin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I’m inclined to have a soft spot for it no matter what. I mean, c’mon…puppets! Who doesn’t love puppets??
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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Director/Writer: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Michael Beach, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Franco, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock
Release Date: TBD

Barry Jenkins had directed only one feature before making an indelible impression with 2016’s Best Picture winner Moonlight, and eight years separated his debut from his sophomore effort. Thankfully we don’t face so long a gap before seeing what he does next. If Beale Street Could Talk is based on a novel by James Baldwin and tells of young Harlem couple Tish and Fonny, whose lives are upended when corrupt police pin a rape on Fonny and he is sent to prison. Soon after his incarceration, Tish learns she is pregnant, and intensifies her efforts, with her family’s help, to prove Fonny’s innocence before their child is born. In Moonlight, Jenkins displayed an exquisite skill for drawing honest and vulnerable performances, and introduced us to some bright new acting talents in the process. Beale Street comes with similar potential, especially in the form of Layne, a recent college graduate who moved to Los Angeles just a few months before landing the Beale Street audition, which Jenkins has said completely wowed him. Considering all the people Jenkins himself wowed with Moonlight, interest in his follow-up is high.
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THE INCREDIBLES 2
Director/ Writer: Brad Bird
Cast: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, John Ratzenberger, Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: June 15

I’ve been disappointed that so many Pixar films from the latter half of their filmography have been sequels. With the exception of the Toy Story follow-ups, none of them have been as good as their originals, but more importantly, none have felt organic or necessary. So it’s ironic that, again with the exception of Toy Story, no Pixar film had as much potential for a great sequel as The Incredibles, yet it’s taken so long and we’ve been served two Cars movies, Monster’s University and Finding Dory before finally getting the follow-up that actually makes sense.

Although 14 years have passed since the Parr Family – Bob, Helen, Violet and Dash – revealed their superpowers to the world, The Incredibles 2 will pick up immediately where the first film left off, with the Parr’s battling The Underminer. From there, it looks to pursue a decidedly and timely feminist direction, as Helen/Elastigirl is recruited to help bring Supers – forced into hiding years earlier due to the destruction left in the wake of their heroics – back into the spotlight. While she goes off to work, Bob/Mr. Incredible stays behind to take care of the kids, but finds himself challenged by baby Jack-Jack, whose powers are just beginning to reveal themselves.

It’s nearly impossible to name a single favorite Pixar film, or even an easy Top 3…or Top 5. But on a list where several films are huddled oh so high, The Incredibles is still near the pinnacle for me. I can’t expect the sequel to be as good, but I feel sure it will be better than most of Pixar’s other so-so second helpings. And maybe it will exceed my already high expectations. After all, Toy Story 2 is just as good as the original, and Toy Story 3 is arguably the best. So maybe Brad Bird can pull it off.

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ISLE OF DOGS

Director/Writer: Wes Anderson
Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johannson, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Kunichi Nomura, Yoko Ono, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schrieber, Fisher Stevens, Tilda Swinton, Akira Takayama, Courtney B. Vance, Ken Watanabe, Frank Wood
Release Date: March 23

Just in the nick of time.

After Wes Anderson ventured so successfully into the world of animation with 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I had hoped it wouldn’t be a one-time excursion. It was therefore welcome news a couple years back when he announced he was embarking on another stop-motion project. The fruits of his and his team’s meticulous labor are upon us, with Isle of Dogs premiering to acclaim last month at the Berlin Film Festival. The future-set story finds Mayor Kobayashi of the Japanese city Megasaki exiling all dogs to an island of trash after an outbreak of canine flu. Flouting authorities, 12 year-old Atari finds his way to the island in search of his dog, and is aided on his mission by a pack of mutts voiced by Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton and newomer to Anderson’s pack, Bryan Cranston. The movie’s large voice cast is a nice mix of Anderson vets and newbies, with Swinton and Keitel among the former and Gerwig, Schrieber and Johannson included in the latter camp. The director has cited Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and the enduring Rankin/Bass Christmas specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as his primary influences, but when the trailer debuted last fall it was clear that the movie would be full of Anderson’s trademark style and imagination. Cute talking animals are the bread and butter of animated films, but you don’t need to see the trailer or any commercials or posters to know that Anderson will present them in a whole new way.
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THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
Cast: Adam Driver, Olga Kurylenko, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: TBD

Could it really be true? After 20 years of fits and starts and travails through the deepest levels of Development Hell, could Terry Gilliam truly be on he cusp of releasing The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? In the beginning, there was a script about a modern-day advertising executive who inadvertently travels back in time to 1600s Spain, where he encounters Don Quixote and gets caught up in the self-apppointed knight’s adventures. The film was set to star Johnny Depp and French actor Jean Rochefort, and began shooting late in 2000. That’s also when it stopped shooting, after an onslaught of problems began almost immediately, from destructive weather to location difficulties to an injury that completely sidelined Rochefort, who had spent seven months learning English for the role. This initial Depp/Rochefort attempt was so disaster-riddled that a pair of filmmakers who had been hired to document the production ended up turning their footage into the acclaimed 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, chronicling the movie’s rapid demise.

But Gilliam persevered. Over the years, attempts were made to revive the project, with the earliest efforts held up by rights issues while later attempts seemed to crumble due to financing woes. Every time it seemed like a go, it would fall apart again. At various points, Robert Duvall, John Hurt, and Michael Palin were set to play Quixote, while Ewan McGregor and Jack O’Connell came and went as the contemporary sidekick. (Hurt’s cancer diagnosis led to his iteration of the project being shut down.) Finally, the cast settled with Gilliam’s Brazil leading man Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver. For all his well-documented disdain of commercial Hollywood movies, it’s ironic that Gilliam has Star Wars to thank for making Driver bankable and helping to finally make this absurdly-long gestating film a reality.

Gilliam confirmed a few months ago that shooting had been completed and post-production was well underway. I won’t actually believe the movie is done until I’ve finished watching it, but all signs indicate it will finally see the light of day. I don’t know if any filmmaker in history has faced as many battles and daunting setbacks throughout his career as Terry Gilliam, from the troubled production and release of Brazil to the death of Heath Ledger during the making of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. He’s a warrior, and a director of constant creativity and vision. I hope the film really does hit screens this year, and that it’s worth the wait…not to mention all the pain it cost Gilliam along the way.

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MOWGLI

Director: Andy Serkis
Writer: Callie Kloves
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rohan Chand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Tom Hollander, Eddie Marsan, Peter Mullan, Frieda Pinto, Jack Reynor, Matthew Rhys, Andy Serkis
Release Date: October 19

By the time this adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s stories arrives, roughly a year-and-a-half will separate it from Disney’s live action hit The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. There was a time when both versions were competing to hit theaters first, but when it became clear that Disney would win that race, Warner Bros. decided to push their movie back, both to provide some distance from Disney’s take, but also to give director Serkis more time to pull off the movie’s challenging visual effects. Unlike the 2016 version in which actors like Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Idris Elba provided voices of CG animated characters, Warner’s version will rely on the motion capture technology for which Serkis has demonstrated such mastery. The actors will not be confined to a voice recording booth, but will instead slither, crawl and leap in order to bring their own personalities that much further into the characters. Cumberbatch and Serkis, who will play Shere Kahn and Baloo respectively, have been here before; the former played the fearsome gold-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But it will be new territory for most of the actors, and I think I’m looking just as forward to seeing behind the scenes footage of Bale and Blanchett getting into their zone as I am to seeing the finished product. In the inevitable attempt to differentiate this version of Kipling’s narrative from Disney’s, Serkis has said they’re going for a darker, scarier, more PG-13 take. It won’t be a musical, of course, and will not feature the orangutan King Louie, a character not found in Kipling’s work. Expect a protest from outraged primates over underrepresentation and lack of opportunity in films and television.
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OCEAN’S 8
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Olivia Milch, Gary Ross
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Awkwafina, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Damian Lewis
Release Date: June 8

Hopefully we can all agree that this recent trend of taking male-driven films and remaking them with primarily female casts is probably not the best way to solve the problem of creating more rich and enticing roles for women. On the heels of the all-female Ghostbusters, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are teaming for a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake called Nasty WomenTaraji P. Henson will star in What Men Want, the female version of the 2000 Mel Gibson rom-com What Women Want; and new versions of The Rocketeer and Lord of the Flies(?!) are being developed with women in the lead roles. I’m sure there are more in the pipeline. Hollywood, you can do better.

That said, I can’t help await this all-female twist on Ocean’s Eleven. Not because I enjoyed that series (which I did) and want to see it revisited, but because any movie with this cast demands attention. Caper movies are usually good fun, providing an opportunity to round up a whole bunch of strong performers and let them chew some scenery. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series featured an excellent and eclectic cast, and it was a treat to watch them play together. That same energy generated by an unexpected ensemble seems baked into this version as well. I mean…forget everything about story, plot, etc. and consider a collaboration between Blanchett, Bullock, Bonham Carter, Hathaway, Paulson and Kaling. I don’t care what that movie’s about, I just wanna see it.

The one element notably missing from the otherwise impressive line-up is an elder stateswoman, comparable to Carl Reiner or Elliot Gould in the Soderbergh series. This movie should have added a Lily Tomlin or Shirley MacLaine…or even better, someone who we rarely see these days, lured back for a juicy role alongside a roster of great actresses. Eva Marie Saint, Julie Andrews, Kathleen Turner, Debra Winger, Carol Burnett…how great would it have been to get one of them, or someone of that ilk, in the mix? Maybe in Ocean’s 9. Or even better, an original movie with a cast of women as impressive as this one.
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READY PLAYER ONE
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waite, Letitia Wright
Release Date: March 29

Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel is set in 2044, when the world has been ravaged by global warming, and society en masse escapes from the problems of the real world by hiding in a virtual one called The Oasis – essentially a world-wide virtual reality video game largely filled by its creator James Halliday with references to 1980’s pop culture. When Halliday dies, his will reveals that The Oasis holds an easter egg, and that the person to find it will inherit his wealth and his company. Five years after the announcement, Wade Watts – an Oklahoma City teenager and Halliday obsessive – starts to get close, attracting unwanted attention both inside and outside of The Oasis.

It’s almost too perfect that Steven Spielberg, one of the chief architects of 80’s pop culture, would take on Cline’s book. For the nearly two years it’s been in the works, fans of both the novel and the director have been waiting to see what he would do with it. (The visual effects were so demanding that Spielberg was able to make an entire other movie, The Post, while ILM did their work.) Spielberg has said he would not include any of the book’s nods to his own films, but maybe he was referring only to those he directed and not the many he produced, because the trailer drops a couple of prominent Back to the Future references. I get a little skeptical about anything this reliant on virtual worlds and entirely VFX environments like the Oasis we see in the trailer, but it’s obviously essential to the story, so if ILM does their job well, then hopefully it all works. A month ago, I was cautiously optimistic. Now that the release is a week away and early reviews have been largely enthusiastic, my optimism is slightly less cautious.

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Paul Bettany, Warwick Davis, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Release Date: May 25

Wait, what?? A new Star Wars movie and it’s not in the first place slot, like the last three years? Look who’s not so predictable after all. The fact is, this movie shouldn’t even be on my list. This movie shouldn’t have been made, because Harrison Ford OWNS the role of Han Solo and the notion of asking anyone else to play it for more than a purpose of brief parody borders on criminality. All due respect to the terrific Alden Ehrenreich, but these are impossible shoes to fill. So if I feel that strongly about it, why is the movie on my list at all? Because let’s face it: they could slap the name Star Wars on anything and if it plays in a movie theater I’ll show up. I’m just another animal in the jungle, and no animal can resist its true nature. But had I done a traditional countdown post, this would have been ranked in the lowest spot, because I could not in good conscience accord it anyplace higher. Usually when I make these lists, I’m worried the movie’s going to disappoint me. This time, I’m worried it might be good and I’ll have to swallow my resentment.

Whatever happens onscreen, the background drama has certainly been full of exciting twists and turns, with original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller – smart, funny, talented guys, but all wrong for this from the start – getting abruptly fired by Lucasfilm late in production and replaced by Ron Howard, a friend of the studio and a steady hand who could reliably bring the movie in for a smooth landing. We don’t know how much of what Lord and Miller shot will remain (they retain an Executive Producer credit on the film), though we know that at least one casualty of the change was actor Michael K. Williams – Omar from The Wire – who was not available to return for necessary reshoots and was replaced by Paul Bettany. Who knows how the mid-production shift will impact the finished product, which in my mind (and the minds of many Star Wars faithful) faced an uphill battle to begin with despite a script co-written by Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens co-scribe Lawrence Kasdan. The first trailer was finally unveiled last month, and visually it’s as impressive as one would expect. And I do love this ensemble of actors. (Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian is genius casting…not there should BE a young Lando Calrissian, but here were are.) At the end of the day though, the whole thing just feels wrong.

Salt on the wound: this blaspheme will be the first in the new wave of Star Wars films to get a May launch, arriving 41 years to the day from the release of the original film. How dare you.
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UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Patrick Fischler, Topher Grace, Callie Hernandez, Riley Keough, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet, Jimmi Simpson, Grace Van Patten
Release Date: June 22

Though it’s not the last on the list, this is the last that I wrote about, and I was having a hard time settling on what my 20th film would be. Several were on my list, including this one, but none necessarily felt like the one that should rise above. As it happens, the trailer for Under the Silver Lake hit the interwebs a couple of days ago and pushed it into pole position. Something about the combination of the movie’s title, the presence of Andrew Garfield, and the description that it was a modern day L.A. noir grabbed my attention when I first heard about the project, which is writer/director Mitchell’s follow-up to his impressive debut feature, the horror film It Follows. But until the trailer, there was nothing else to go on. So what do we know now? Clearly not out to repeat himself, Mitchell shifts tones here, going for offbeat, surreal humor in what the trailer suggest is an unlikely mash-up of Brick and A Beautiful Mind, with perhaps a dash of La La Land. Garfield plays a slacker who shares one night with a beautiful girl in his apartment complex, only to find her gone without a trace the next day. This puts him in sleuth mode, and finds him obsessing over possible hidden codes and messages that may lead to her whereabouts. Or not. But it looks like a stylish good time, and I’m digging the promise of Garfield in a loose, shaggy role that looks like a fun change of pace from the heaviness of recent work like Silence and Hacksaw Ridge.

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WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Holly Gent Palmo, Vince Palmo, Jr., Richard Linklater
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Judy Greer, Troian Bellisario, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: October 19

Richard Linklater continues to have one of the most eclectic filmographies of any director working today, and his latest film is further evidence of his varied interests. What might have drawn the man who made Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and The Before Trilogy to the adaptation of this tart 2012 Maria Semple novel about a restless, reclusive wife and mother who goes missing shortly before a family trip to Antarctica? The vacation was the request of Bernadette’s 15 year-old daughter Bee, as a reward for years of top-grade schoolwork. When her mother disappears, she turns detective and starts to discover facts about her mother’s past that she never knew. I don’t know much more than that, but Linklater at the helm and Blanchett in the lead is enough to make me want to learn more.
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WHITE BOY RICK
Director: Yann Demange
Writers: Logan Miller, Noah Miller, Steve Kloves, Scott Silver, Andy Weiss
Cast: Bruce Dern, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Piper Laurie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eddie Marsan, Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powley, Brian Tyree Henry
Release Date: August 17

In an incredible real life story that began in the 1980s and is still unfolding, a Detroit teenager named Richard Wershe, Jr. was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to serve as an informant in the city’s drug trade. According to recent testimony by Wershe, his sister was an addict, prompting his father to approach the FBI for help. The Feds saw an opportunity for something in return. Richie was a tough kid who knew the streets and many of the gang members being targeted in the FBI’s war on drugs, so the government gave him money to buy drugs and resell them. He had no involvement with drugs before working for the FBI, but now he began doing his own deals on the side. The successful federal operations that took place as a result of his information not only impacted drug dealers, but also corrupt members of the Detroit Police Department. When the government no longer needed him, Richie continued his own business, but was eventually busted by the Detroit cops at age 17 with over eight kilos of cocaine. Even as a minor who had not committed a violent crime, he was sentenced to life in prison under the strict drug laws of the era. The Michigan Parole Board granted his freedom less than a year ago, but he is now serving a few more years in a Florida prison on separate charges related to a stolen car ring that he was involved in from behind bars.

In their quest to to give the movie a palpable sense of authenticity, the filmmakers conducted an extensive search to find an actor to play Wershe, settling on a 15 year-old Baltimore kid named Richie Merrit, who has no previous acting experience but grew up in similar circumstances as the film’s subject…minus the whole drug connection. The newcomer will be backed by an impressive array of strong character actors, including Dern and Laurie as his grandparents, Leigh and Cochrane as his FBI handlers, and as his father, McConaughey – not a character actor, but someone whose recent run shows he can shed his handsome leading man skin and reach deeper.
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WIDOWS
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
Cast: Viola Davis, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Garret Dillahunt, Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Lukas Haas, Brian Tyree Henry, André Holland, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Kevin J. O’Connor, Michelle Rodriguez, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: November 16

After doing these posts for nearly a decade, the clearest pattern to have emerged is that I love movies packed with great actors, and next to Avengers, which sort of feels like a cheat in this regard, perhaps no release I know of this year has a deeper bench of on-camera talent than Widows, Steve McQueen’s first film since 12 Years a Slave. Co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, it’s based on an early 80’s British television drama about four women who, after their criminal husbands die, team up to continue running their fellas’ operation and pull off the heist that they died trying to execute. Davis, Debicki, Erivo and Rodriguez play the widows, whose partnership must contend with a looming police threat, a rival gang and disparate motivations within their own circle.

This seems unlikely material for McQueen, whose previous films have all been serious, sociological explorations. Widows‘ pulpy premise sounds like his most commercial effort yet, but given his past work, I expect he’ll find a way to bring in some social consciousness and real-world relevancy. Or maybe he was just looking for a pure exercise in genre fun. Either way, the talent involved on both sides of the camera make this a must-see.

 

As always, there are plenty of other films I’m looking forward to, and when the book closes on 2018, some of them will surely end up as favorites of the year while some on this list proved disappointments. It amuses me to go back through previous years and see which movies I was anticipating, how they turned out and how I ended up feeling about them. In a few hours, I’ll see Isle of Dogs, so it’s off to the races…

 

 

 

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2 Comments »

  1. Christian Bale as Cheney looks like Steve Carell as Brick in Anchorman.

    How wonderful would Duvall have been as Don Quixote. Excited for the movie regardless.

    Going to watch the Linklater trailer now. Seriously, that guy is in the company of Soderbergh with regard to variety.

    Nice to see Barry Jenkins doing another drama instead of some big budget pic. Speaking of which are you really that excited for Avengers? Man, I’m exhausted of the series.

    Comment by Grantland Gears — March 26, 2018 @ 1:06 pm | Reply

    • With the Marvel/Avengers movies, I do have some fatigue when it comes to the big action setpieces. But I still love the casting choices and character interactions, and I enjoy the interconnectedness of the series. It’s something many other studios and franchises have tried to replicate, all with little success. But Marvel has been smart about it from the start, and they still are.

      I would have loved to see Duvall as Don Quixote.

      Comment by DB — April 7, 2018 @ 12:26 pm | Reply


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