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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September 10, 2017

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

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:45 pm
Tags: , ,

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…

20.
LAST FLAG FLYING

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.

19.
THE CURRENT WAR

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.

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18.

THE DISASTER ARTIST
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.

17.
DARKEST HOUR
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.

16.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

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.

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15.
WONDER WHEEL

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.

14.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
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.

13.
COCO
Director: 
Lee Unkrich
Writer:
Adrian Molina
Cast:
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.

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12.
SUBURBICON

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.

11.
MOLLY’S GAME
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.

10.
IT

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

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9.
THOR: RAGNAROK

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.

8.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

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.

7.
THE POST
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.

6.
mother!
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.

5.
THE SHAPE OF WATER

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.

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4.
DOWNSIZING

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.

3.
BLADE RUNNER 2049

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.

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2.
UNTITLED PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON PROJECT

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.

1.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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.

 

 

May 7, 2016

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 10:00 am
Tags: , ,

Yes, I realize that we’re more than a third of the way through the year and that this annual post might seem pointless by now, but there are probably only three movies released up to this point that would have made the cut, and one of those — the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar! — would already have hit theaters even by my usual March, post-Oscars timeframe. So I say this is fair game…and since this is my blog, what I say goes. Truth is, I’m not hugely excited about this year’s offerings, so it took a while for motivation to strike. But there are always movies to look forward to, so the inevitable surprises notwithstanding, here are 20 still to come this year that have my interest piqued.

20.
THE BOOK OF HENRY

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Greg Hurwitz
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Bobby Moynihan, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Sarah Silverman, Jacob Tremblay, Maddie Ziegler
Release Date: TBD

Colin Trevorrow made his feature directorial debut with the indie dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed, before being snagged by the studio system — like so many indie directors before him — to make the massive budgeted Jurassic World. His success on that monster hit led to his selection as director of Star Wars Episode IX. The jury’s still out on whether he deserved that golden ticket or not, but we may get some more clarity on the issue when he delivers this scaled-down story about…I don’t know really. There’s not a lot of information out there yet about the movie, including whether it’s a comedy or a drama or something in between. It makes my list based on my curiosity about Trevorrow, and because it features two of the best child actors working today: Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special, Masters of Sex) and Tremblay (Room, this adorable Instagram feed).

19.
LA LA LAND

Director/Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock
Release Date: December 2

Damien Chazelle’s breakthrough movie Whiplash was set in the world of music. For his follow-up, he’s doubling down by going full-on musical. At one time set to feature Emma Watson and Chazelle’s Whiplash star Miles Teller, the movie instead came together with Stone and Gosling, collaborating for the third time after Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. They play Mia and Sebastian, an actress and jazz pianist, respectively, who fall in love while trying to pursue their dreams of artistic success. Chazelle has spoken of the film as being a heart-on-its-sleeve love letter to Los Angeles and all the regular people therein, struggling to make it big without losing themselves along the way. The songs are, I believe, originals, though I can’t seem to find confirmation of that anywhere. Regardless, original, modern-day musicals are a big creative swing, and there’s no way to know yet if Chazelle’s will emulate Woody Allen’s charming Everyone Says I Love You or James L. Brooks’ disastrous I’ll Do Anything. It’s a dicey proposition, but Whiplash definitely earns Chazelle the benefit of the doubt.

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18.
ALLIED

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Jared Harris
Release Date: November 23

Not much to say about this one yet. My interest stems mainly from the pedigree. I know that it’s set during World War II, and that Pitt plays an intelligence officer who meets Cotillard’s French resistance fighter in North Africa circa 1942. They fall in love, and meet a wacky cartoon rabbit who has invented a time traveling car that whisks them through history, where they interact with presidents and other prominent figures, and influence decades worth of pop culture.

Probably not, but with so little to go on, I’m taking cues from Zemeckis’ resume to fill in the blanks. Kidding aside, a lush period romance set against a dramatic backdrop has its appeals, especially when the central couple are played by actors as watchable as Pitt and Cotillard. And I gotta say, it’s been great to have Zemeckis back in the world of live-action filmmaking. May we never again speak of The Polar Express.

17.
UNTITLED HOWARD HUGHES PROJECT
Director/Writer: Warren Beatty
Cast: Warren Beatty, Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening, Haley Bennett, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Lily Collins, Steve Coogan, Chace Crawford, Alden Ehrenreich, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Megan Hilty, Amy Madigan, Joshua Malina, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen
Release Date: TBD

It’s been 16 years since Warren Beatty made a movie, in front of or behind the camera, which makes this long-in-development project — supposedly due to arrive later this year — a tremendous curiosity. The story concerns an aspiring actress (Collins) who comes to Hollywood and signs a contract under Hughes, where she meets a businessman (Ehrenreich), who is also trying to make a name for himself working for the enigmatic mogul. The two fall in love, but their relationship is complicated by their strict religious upbringings — hers Baptist, his Methodist — and by Hughes’ rules about dating amongst his employees, as well his own direct meddling in their affairs.

Beatty, never known for doing anything quickly, has been trying to make a movie about Hughes for roughly 40 years, and his take has apparently evolved significantly over time from more of a direct biopic to the current incarnation in which Hughes is not the central figure. The tone has been described as “lighthearted romantic dramedy,” and beyond that, the project remains cloaked in mystery. The story sounds charming, and ripe for some classical screwball comedy, if that’s the direction it goes, but it doesn’t seem like anything to generate significant excitement on its own. However, Beatty is a true Hollywood legend, one of the last we still have, so his return to action after such a long hiatus can’t help but generate high hopes.

16.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Deirdre Lovejoy, Steve Martin, Tim Blake Nelson, Ben Platt, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker
Release Date: November 11

Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter adapts the celebrated 2012 novel by Ben Fountain, about a group of Iraq war soldiers on a victory tour, and their stop at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium on Thanksgiving Day, where the jarring experience of celebration clashes with soldier Billy Lynn’s memories of the operation that earned him and his company war hero status. That general story recalls Clint Eastwood’s 2006 Iwo Jima drama Flags of Our Fathers, but if the plot sounds familiar, the filmmaking technique promises something new. Lee is shooting the movie in 3D and at a whopping 120 frames per second (fps). Every movie you’ve ever seen has been shot at the universal standard of 24 fps. But filmmakers like James Cameron and Peter Jackson believe that higher frame rates offer a more immersive and eye-popping experience. Jackson shot the second and third Hobbit films at 48 fps, and while the results underwhelmed most viewers — they complained that it gave the movies the quality of cheap video — there is still a lot of belief in its potential. In the less fantastical, more realistic setting promised by Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the higher frame rate — combined with the 3D photography and 4K resolution (which produces a sharper image with more detail and deeper blacks) — could work more successfully. The idea is that when these pieces of technology — 3D, 4K and higher frame rates — are used together, they compliment each other and negate the problems that each one has on its own. In the end, it won’t matter to most of us, since very few theaters in the world are even equipped to handle projecting a 3D, 4K movie at 120 fps. So let’s hope the story and the film itself are good. At this point, I’ve learned to never underestimate Ang Lee.

15.
SILENCE

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jay Cocks
Cast: Tadanobo Asano, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson
Release Date: TBD

A project that Scorsese has been trying to make for years, Silence is the story of two young Jesuit priests in the 17th century who travel to Japan to search for their missing mentor and spread a little Christianity while they’re at it. They arrive to find Christians are being persecuted, and that the man they seek may have turned away from the faith. Religion has been a consistent theme throughout Scorsese’s work, manifesting in both the gritty urban tales he’s most closely associated with (Mean Streets, Bringing Out the Dead, The Departed) and period dramas like this one that address the topic head-on (The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun). I can’t say this story sounds riveting on paper, but Scorsese remains a bold and vital master filmmaker well into his fifth decade working in the medium. Whatever he’s doing demands attention.

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14.
JASON BOURNE
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
Cast: Matt Damon, Riz Ahmed, Vincent Cassel, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander
Release Date: July 29

After four films, the Bourne formula has become familiar, but the James Bond series is no less formulaic, and that franchise continues to thrive in its sixth decade, so if the movies still deliver the goods, I’m game for more. After the thrilling third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon and director Greengrass walked away from the series, unable to settle on a satisfying story. Undeterred, Universal Studios moved forward with The Bourne Legacy, which cast Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton in a story about another agent in a highly secretive government program with ties to Bourne’s, and which depicted events that unfolded parallel to those of Ultimatum. And like its three predecessors, it was pretty great.

Jason Bourne was a character trying to put together the lost pieces of his adult life, and he finally did that in his last outing, so where does the character go from there? Greengrass developed the new story with Christopher Rouse, the film editor who won an Oscar for his work on Ultimatum, and the director’s interest in the post 9/11 political landscape has provided these movies a depth and intelligence to go with the relentlessly paced action. The government conspiracy angle in which this series is steeped is always rife for further exploration, and the role of Bourne has been a great fit for Damon from the beginning. Let’s hope they can keep their streak going.

13.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Jane Goldman
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Judi Dench, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Stamp
Release Date: December 25

There’s been little consistency to the quality of Tim Burton’s films over the past several years, unless we’re talking about the quality of the production design and overall look of his films, which is seldom unimpressive. Early word is that his latest is another triumph on that score. Whether it succeeds beyond that remains to be seen, but I’m always looking for Burton to recapture that combination of humor, heart and the macabre that permeates his early career. The potential is there with this adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ novel, a rapturously reviewed best-selling book that was notable for including interspersed black and white photos of creepy, old-timey kids. No wonder a visualist like Burton was drawn to the material. It should be interesting to see how he spins the tale from page to screen, and how this eclectic cast fits into the milieu.

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12.
PASSENGERS

Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen
Release Date: December 21

The Academy Award nominated director of The Imitation Game heads to deep space with two of the most charismatic movie stars working today. Katniss and Star Lord play passengers aboard a massive freighter carrying thousands of people to a colony planet that will take 120 years to reach from Earth. A malfunction in their hibernation chambers wakes the duo up decades before they reach their destination. It’s a great set-up; what happens from there, I don’t know. Is it a creepy sci-fi thriller in which strange things are happening aboard the ship? Is it romantic drama about how these two people deal with their isolation over the course of a lifetime that will likely end before they arrive at the colony? Is it a slapstick comedy about a couple of goofballs who have to save the ship from an invading alien force? Until a trailer arrives, it’s anyone’s guess.

11.
THE NEON DEMON
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws
Cast: Elle Fanning, Desmond Harrington, Bella Heathcote, Christina Hendricks, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone, Alessandro Nivola, Keanu Reeves
Release Date: June 24

Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish filmmaker who brought a stylish aesthetic and Lynchian atmosphere to the 2011 Ryan Gosling crime drama Drive, comes back to L.A. for the story of an up-and-coming model whose youth and beauty are targeted by a group of envious women. The trailer teases a psychological thriller with arresting visuals and a throbbing pulse of danger, though I’m not sure I’m buying Elle Fanning in the central role. There’s not much to go on yet, so I’ll see what she and Refn have in store. It could be an exciting, against-the-grain piece of casting…or a total misfire. Either way, the movie sure looks pretty.

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10.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS
Director/Writer: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Release Date: September 2

Derek Cianfrance only has a few narrative movies under his belt, but all of them are wrenching, contemporary stories of complicated romantic and/or familial relationships that face disintegration. So get ready for what’s sure to be one of the feel good movies of the year! An adaptation of the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman, Fassbender plays a lighthouse keeper in Australia whose wife (newly crowned Oscar winner Vikander) has been unable to have children. When a rowboat washes ashore, carrying a dead man and a living baby, the wife insists that they keep the child…and hilarity ensues! Or a tragedy of Greek proportions. I’m definitely betting on one of those two.

9.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Director/Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges
Release Date: November 18

One of the standouts from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Manchester By the Sea was picked up for distribution by Amazon Studios, which won a bidding war and will give it a theatrical release before it finds a home on the streaming service. Word out of the festival is that this could be a big player in next year’s awards season, buoyed by stirring work from past nominees Affleck and Williams, and Emmy winner Chandler. Set in the small Massachusetts coastal town that gives the movie its title, the story follows a man who takes on the responsibility of caring for his nephew after his brother’s death. I avoided reading the unfailingly stellar reviews, but gleaned that the movie is deeply affecting, powerful and leaves a lasting impression. It will be nice to see Lonergan — best known for his stage work — regain his cinematic footing after the the ill-fated, ambitious but maddening Anna Paquin-led Margaret. Man, was that movie a mess. But this is the guy who made You Can Count On Me, so..fingers crossed for something closer to that.

8.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Director/Writer: Nate Parker
Cast: Nate Parker, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Roger Guenveur Smith, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Dwight Henry, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union
Release Date: October 7

Nate Parker is an actor who has impressed me in under-the-radar dramas Arbitrage, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Beyond the Lights, but he has his sights set on bigger things. The actor has worked for years to pull together financing for a dream project about Nat Turner, the Virginia slave who led a violent rebellion against white slave owners in 1831. The film was was ecstatically received at Sundance, where it won the Dramatic category’s Audience Award and Grand Jury prize, and sold for a record-breaking figure to Fox Searchlight, the same studio that guided 12 Years a Slave to a Best Picture win in 2013. The Birth of a Nation hit the festival just as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was exploding, and speculation was already rampant that come next year’s awards, Parker and his movie would be in the thick of the race, bringing some much needed color back to the proceedings.

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7.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Director/Writer: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kim Basinger, Kristen Bauer van Straten, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Release Date: TBD

In 2009, fashion designer Tom Ford moved into filmmaking with A Single Man, starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode and Nicolas Hoult. It was no surprise that his eye for great design translated to the screen, but he proved a natural director right out of the gate, demonstrating an ability to tell a story cinematically and draw strong work from actors. Ford has taken his time landing on a follow-up, which suggests that his interest is filmmaking is driven by producing material that truly speaks to him. That bodes well for Nocturnal Animals, based on a 1993 novel by Austin Wright, which offers a compelling premise: years after their divorce, a woman receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, accompanied by a letter requesting that she read the book and offer her feedback. What unfolds from there is both the story of the novel — a family vacation that takes a violent turn — and the story of the woman, now remarried, as she re-examines the relationship with her ex-husband and where her life has gone since. I tend to enjoy the story-within-a-story structure we’re in store for here, and I’m genuinely excited to see Ford’s sophomore effort, backed by this excellent cast.

6.
STORY OF YOUR LIFE

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Forest Whitaker
Release Date: TBD

In this grounded sci-fi story, Amy Adams plays a linguist who is recruited by the military to determine whether alien spaceships that have appeared across the planet have come in peace or hostility. The premise sounds intriguing, but the main attraction for me is French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. With his 2012 kidnapping drama Prisoners and last year’s drug war examination Sicario, Villeneuve has quickly established his expertise at building tension and exercising tight control over every moment of his movies. He continues to fly under the radar, but after these last few films — even the bizarre, uneven Jake Gyllenhaal mystery Enemy achieved an intoxicating, moody atmosphere — he’s due to be recognized for the immense talent that he is. Maybe this will be the movie to bring him into the light of wider recognition. And if not, well, there’s always the Blade Runner sequel he’s gearing up to shoot.

5.
THE NICE GUYS

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Hannibal Buress, Keith David, Margaret Qualley, Ty Simpkins
Release Date: May 20

Shane Black began his career as one of Hollywood’s hottest screenwriters, who practically pioneered the action-comedy genre as we know it today, through films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He transitioned into directing a decade ago with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a boisterous crime/mystery/comedy that paired Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer to pitch perfect effect, and marked an auspicious beginning to the post-rehab phase of Downey’s career. The actor even got Black to direct Iron Man 3, which had its merits but was definitely unfamiliar territory. Based on the trailers for The Nice Guys, he appears to be back doing what he does best: blending violent action and fast-paced comedy in a crime-mystery that brings together two great actors who instantly demonstrate an easy, natural chemistry. Gosling looks so goddamn funny in this thing I can hardly wait to see it.

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4.
LIVE BY NIGHT
Director/Writer: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Max Casella, Chris Cooper, Scott Eastwood, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Titus Welliver
Release Date: TBD

Ben Affleck’s foray into the DC Comics universe delayed his directorial follow-up to Argo, which was supposed to come out this year or even last year, only to be pushed to October 2017. But test screenings for the movie are said to have begun, and my reliable sources placed high atop the Hollywood food chain tell me that Affleck is hoping to get the movie out this year, likely in December. We’ll see if he makes it. The Prohibition era crime drama set in Boston and Florida is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who has been pretty well served by Hollywood to date. Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Drop, and Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone are all based on Lehane books, and all are pretty good, at least. Given Affleck’s skill behind the camera, there’s no reason to think both his and Lehane’s track records won’t continue here.

3.
THE FOUNDER

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson
Release Date: August 5

Set in the 1950’s, Michael Keaton will portray Ray Kroc, the salesman whose milkshake machine led him to a small, successful chain of hamburger restaurants started by brothers Mac and Dick McDonald. Impressed, and seeing potential for something much bigger than the brothers had in mind, Kroc went to work for them and grew the business into the billion-dollar, billion-served ubiquitous behemoth it is today. But the growth came with drama behind the scenes, as Kroc’s aggressive style and lofty ambitions clashed with the brothers’ more humble goals for their operation.

When the movie went into production, I heard it described as being in the vein of The Social Network and There Will Be Blood. Those are two stirling touchstones to aim for, but let’s be clear: director John Lee Hancock, who helmed The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, doesn’t have it in him to make anything as idiosyncratic as There Will Be Blood, nor as blistering as The Social Network. But a script by Robert Siegel — who wrote The Wrestler — is a good start, and more than anything really, I’m just looking for another great role for Keaton. The beloved actor is flying high these days, having starred in the last two Oscar winners for Best Picture. Hopefully The Founder will put him back in the hunt himself, after he came up short for Birdman. Master awards strategist Harvey Weinstein is releasing the movie, so you can bet he’ll push hard for Keaton.

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2.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman, Alison Sudol, Jon Voight, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: November 18

This return to the world of Harry Potter doesn’t really have anything to do with Harry Potter, as it takes place 70 years before the birth of The Boy Who Lived. The focus of this story — the first in a trilogy — is Newt Scamander, an expert in magical creatures (and author of a book on the subject that was among Harry and company’s Hogwarts texts), who runs into trouble during a visit to New York City when some of his specimans escape. Fantastic Beasts existed as a slender volume Rowling published during the Potter years, as if it were a copy of Harry’s textbook. Now, she expands the story, but whereas all the Potter books were adapted for film by other screenwriters, here Rowling makes the leap herself. This is her first foray into writing directly for the screen, and her direct involvement — the fact that this is all-new material generated by Rowling herself — elevates this to something for all us Potter geeks to be truly excited about. Like all great world builders of fiction — Tolkien, Lucas, Martin — Rowling knows every inch of her universe, having developed detailed backstories for every character, creature, event and location. To see her dip back into this beloved world and transpose it to the screen makes this movie much more than a cash grab for Warner Bros., who were no doubt desperate to remain in the Potter business after the series came to its logical conclusion in 2011. David Yates, who did a mostly admirable job with the last four Potter films, returns to the fold.

1.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer: Chris Weitz
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen
Release Date: December 16

The first in what might be a never-ending series of spinoff films, Rogue One will depict the Rebel Alliance’s dangerous mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s Death Star. Described by director Edwards (the man behind 2014’s Godzilla) as a war movie, Rogue One — connected to the previous films but outside of its established parameters — will allow for a different tone and feel than we’ve seen in any previous Star Wars movie. That’s an intriguing opportunity, and we can only hope that after the success of The Force Awakens and its revival of this beloved series, this new offshoot will stand on its own while earning the right to call itself a Star Wars story. If the teaser trailer is any indication, we have nothing to worry about.

 

 

March 15, 2015

25 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2015

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 9:00 am
Tags: , ,

I haven’t gotten around to posting about my favorite movies from 2014, but since that might take until sometime in late summer, why not go ahead and consider what the current year has to offer? Yes, we’re two and a half months into 2015, but the best is yet to come. How many of these movies will be on my Favorites of 2015 list? Find out when that post gets published in October 2016! Until then…

25.
SICARIO
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Jon Bernthal, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Jeffrey Donovan
Release Date: September 18

Denis Villeneuve landed on my directors-to-watch list thanks to his impressive work on the 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, which was among my favorite films of that year. I wasn’t quite as high on his next film Enemy (actually made before Prisoners but released after), although there were things about it I enjoyed. His first true follow-up centers on a female FBI agent who is recruited into a CIA operation targeting the head of a Mexican drug cartel. In addition to my curiosity over Villeneuve’s upcoming projects, Blunt is a big part of the reason I’m anticipating this. She’s been killing it lately, and if she carries this film as well as I expect she will, the strength of her work — combined with excellent performances as anti-damsels-in-distress in Edge of Tomorrow and Looper — could send her already strong stock through the roof.

24.
ADAM JONES
Director: John Wells
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Brühl, Jamie Dornan, Lily James, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Omar Sy, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander
Release Date: TBA

Cooper plays a celebrated but wild chef in Europe whose bad habits derail his career and force him to rebuild his reputation. Buzz on the script, which has been kicking around for quite a while now, has been extremely strong, with word that the lead character is a meaty role for any actor lucky enough to play it. David Fincher was attached to direct Keanu Reeves at one point, and some other directors were involved before it went to John Wells. It will be interesting to see how the director of The Company Men and August: Osage County handles the material. Those movies showed he has a way with actors, but both were fairly talky. This film is rumored to have a different energy that will test his range. Still, all the ingredients seem to be in place for something tasty.

23.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Charles Leavitt
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Frank Dillane, Michelle Fairley, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Riley, Donald Sumpter, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw
Release Date: December 13

This maritime epic tells the true story of the Essex — a whaling ship out of Nantucket — and its encounter with a massive sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean, an episode which would become the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The movie was originally set for release this month, so trailers have been around for a while to tease what looks like a thrilling adventure with great cinematography from Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar winning Anthony Dod Mantle, who also collaborated with Howard and Hemsworth on the race car drama Rush. Until someone makes a film based on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists (seriously, that could totally be a movie), this might do nicely.

22.
TRIPLE NINE
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Matt Cook
Cast: Casey Affleck, Clifton Collins, Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Michael B. Jordan, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Aaron Paul, Michael Peña, Norman Reedus, Kate Winslet
Release Date: September 11

There’s not a lot to say yet on this one. We know it’s about a group of criminals and corrupt cops working together to plan a large-scale heist that, in order to pull off, will involve killing a rookie officer. It’s mainly here because of that cast. Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz were attached at one point, but scheduling conflicts prevented their involvement. Not that a good cast is ever a guarantee of a good movie, but I’d like to think that with so much talent involved, or trying to be involved, there must be something great on the page to attract them.

21.
SEA OF TREES
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Chris Sparling
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts
Release Date: TBA

In what promises to be the feel-good comedy of the year, McConaughey plays a man who travels to Japan to take his own life in the woods at the base of Mount Fuji, an area known as “Suicide Forest” because it has attracted so many others with the same intention. An encounter with Watanabe’s character, who is lost in the woods, leads both men on a physical and emotional journey to find their way. We’ll see if this ends up being plot-driven, or if it’s more of a meandering meditation in the vein of Van Sant’s Elephant and Gerry. I always enjoy Watanabe’s performances, and this is also another nice move for McConaughey, who keeps picking interesting projects and quality directors.

20.
ANT-MAN
Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Hayley Atwell, Bobby Cannavale, David Dastmalchian, Martin Donovan, Judy Greer, Wood Harris, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, John Slattery, Corey Stoll, John Slattery, T.I.
Release Date: July 31

The Marvel machine rolls on this year, with two of the summer’s most anticipated movies coming from the comic giant’s stable. While you won’t find it on this list, I’m definitely looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I give a spot to Ant-Man, just as I did last year to Guardians of the Galaxy, because it’s an unknown quantity that seems full of fun promise. Marvel’s movies continue to strike the right tone between action, comedy and just enough legitimate pathos to add some depth. Guardians, especially, was as much comedy as fantasy action, and the choices of Paul Rudd to play the lead role in Ant-Man, and Will Ferrell’s creative partner Adam McKay (director of Anchorman) to co-write it, indicates that another supremely entertaining movie is in store. The project was marred a bit by the departure of original director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), whose vision apparently clashed with Marvel’s even after a long period of fruitful development. He brought most of the cast onboard before parting ways, and hopefully something of his spirit will survive to the finished film. He and his co-writer Joe Cornish retain story credit, while the actual script was rewritten by McKay and Rudd. McKay came close to directing it himself  a time commitment he was ultimately unable to make, but a near-miss that further suggests the tone we can expect from the movie.

Side-note: Those of you immersed in the Marvel film series will note that Hayley Atwell, from Captain America: The First Avenger and the Agent Carter TV series is set to appear in Ant-Man, as is John Slattery, who played Tony Stark’s father Howard in vintage footage during a brief scene from Iron Man 2, only to be replaced in Captain America and Agent Carter by Dominic Cooper. Perhaps Slattery is supposed to be an older version of Stark, but I don’t recall his scene in Iron Man 2 taking place so many years after the character’s time with Captain America and Peggy Carter that a markedly older actor would be required to play him. In fact, the switch from Slattery to Cooper has stood out to me as one of the few inconsistencies in the carefully constructed universe of Marvel’s movies. Maybe Ant-Man will clear things up for me.

Geek digression over.

19.
SISTERS
Director: Jason Moore
Writer: Paula Pell
Cast: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Samantha Bee, James Brolin, John Cena, Rachel Dratch, John Leguizamo, Heather Matarazzo, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan, Maya Rudolph, Dianne Wiest
Release Date: December 18

Fey and Poehler play sisters who decide to throw a party at their childhood home before their parents sell it. But honestly, does it matter what the movie is about? Haven’t we gotten to a point where anything that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do together is something we all just watch, no questions asked? If somehow your answer is “no”, consider that writer Paula Pell is a damn funny lady in her own right. She’s been with Saturday Night Live for years, including the Fey-Poehler era, and presumably knows exactly how to write to their strengths. Then there’s director Jason Moore, whose credits include Avenue Q on Broadway and 2012’s comedy gem Pitch Perfect. Satisfied?

18.
BLACK MASS
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Scott Cooper, Mark Mallouk
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, W. Earl Brown, Rory Cochrane, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, David Harbour, Dakota Johnson, Sienna Miller, Julianne Nicholson, Jesse Plemons, James Russo, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Jeremy Strong, Juno Temple
Release Date: September 18

Those of us who have been eager to see Johnny Depp wipe off the makeup, shed the silly voices and reconnect with his gifts as a dramatic actor may finally have found the movie we’ve been waiting for. Well…okay, he’ll still be in makeup. And…alright, he’ll probably be doing an accent. But the transformation will be in the service of something more serious than Jack Sparrow (great at first, getting old now), the Mad Hatter or Tonto. Depp will play “Whitey” Bulger, the infamous Boston crime figure who eluded capture for 16 years and was, for most of that period, number two on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, second only to Osama Bin Laden. (Bulger was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s crime boss Frank Costello in The Departed). Further proof that Depp won’t be fooling around: Black Mass is directed by Scott Cooper, who previously helmed Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award, and Out of the Furnace, a brooding drama with superb performances from Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson. Cooper is a thoughtful filmmaker who always looks for a personal angle to keep him invested. Hopefully he’s found one here, as the project didn’t originate with him. He came on after Barry Levinson left. Even if this is more a director-for-hire job than his last two films, he’s a pretty good director to hire. Bulger’s story should provide him, his excellent cast, and the man who was once Donnie Brasco with a lot of material to dig into.

17.
KNIGHT OF CUPS
Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Wes Bentley, Jason Clarke, Brian Dennehy, Ben Kingsley, Joel Kinnaman, Thomas Lennon, Isabel Lucas, Nick Offerman, Ryan O’Neal, Teresa Palmer, Frieda Pinto, Imogen Poots, Shea Whigham, Michael Wincott
Release Date: December 11

Terrence Malick’s latest metaphysical drama debuted in February at the Berlin Film Festival, and secured U.S. distribution with a small indie company, although I can’t locate an actual story or article confirming the release date listed above, which started showing up around the web out of the blue. The movie centers on Bale’s character, an actor struggling with the same existential quandaries that most of Malick’s characters grapple with these days. The director shows no signs of moving back toward a more straightforward narrative. In fact, Cups is said to go even further toward the fragmented style of his recent films The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. I figure that by the time Malick’s next movie comes around, it won’t actually be a movie, but rather some kind of performance art piece where after buying your ticket, you’re taken to a beach or a field of tall grass and asked to stand around contemplatively while a voiceover talks cryptically of love, loss and God. Hey, I’ll still show up. Even in their sometimes frustrating abstraction, I find Malick’s work transfixing. To the Wonder was kind of a slog, but I’m hopeful that the urban, Hollywood setting of Cups on display in the trailer will inject a little more life into the proceedings.

Incidentally, Joel Kinnaman, while promoting another movie, was asked about working with Malick, and offered this classic response:

I had a one-day shoot, and I had a 17-page monologue. It was a crazy day. It was great to get to be part of the Malick world for a day. I have no idea what the movie’s about. I barely know who my character was. We’ll see if I’m in it or not. I remember, we’d be shooting, and I’d be on page 12 of my 17-page monologue, and I’d turn around and see that he was 100 yards away, shooting a pink dog.

That sounds about right.

16.
DEMOLITION
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Bryan Sipe
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper
Release Date: TBA

I don’t really know anything about this movie. Brief descriptions I’ve found say it’s the story an investment banker who re-examines his life after enduring a tragedy. That’s a pretty damn vague synopsis. But here’s what I do know: Jean-Marc Vallée, director of Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, is emerging as an excellent filmmaker who knows how to tell dramatic human stories that skillfully walk the line between naturalistic and cinematic; Jake Gyllenhaal is making great choices and inhabiting his characters with intense commitment; Naomi Watts, likewise, is also picking really good projects lately; and Chris Cooper can do no wrong. With that line-up of talent, this is a no-brainer for me, whatever it’s about.

15.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks
Release Date: November 25

Nichols, whose most recent effort was the terrific Mud another of my favorites from 2013 has his biggest film to date, both in scope and budget, with this sci-fi thriller about a father (Shannon, who has appeared in all of the director’s films) trying to protect his young son who has unique abilities that have caught the attention of both the government and a religious cult. Nichols has said that he’s going for something in the tone of John Carpenter’s Starman, the 1985 drama starring Jeff Bridges as a stranded alien who takes the form of a woman’s dead husband. Seeing the filmmaker apply his grounded style to this type of story has my curiosity piqued.

14.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR
Directors:
Peter Sohn, Bob Peterson
Writers:
Bob Peterson, Enrico Casarosa
Cast:
Judy Greer, Bill Hader, Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Lucas Neff
Release Date:
November 25

What if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out by an extinction event? That’s the question that sets up the first of Pixar’s two  count ‘em, TWO  new movies this year. Beyond, that, I’m not really sure what the movie is about, other than that it focuses on a teenage dino from a family of Apatosauruses and a human boy. Based on the kid’s garb in the teaser posters, it looks like we’re still dealing with prehistoric society, as opposed to a contemporary world where dinosaurs still exist; more The Flintstones than The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The movie may have changed considerably from inception to completion, having undergone an overhaul that saw original director Peterson replaced during production (not an uncommon or necessarily negative occurence at Pixar given the way they’re structured; Toy Story 2, Ratatouille, and Brave all hit similar roadblocks and turned out just fine). Toy Story‘s beloved Rex is not going to have his inferiority complex helped by the fact that Pixar is making an entire movie about dinosaurs and not including him, but for the rest of us, two new movies from Pixar  originals, at that  is cause for celebration.

13.
TRAINWRECK
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Amy Schumer
Cast: Amy Schumer, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Attell, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, John Cena, Jon Glaser, Bill Hader, LeBron James, Brie Larson, Norman Lloyd, Tim Meadows, Method Man, Ezra Miller, Randall Park, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton
Release Date: July 24

I’m not too familiar with Schumer. I don’t watch her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, but I’ve seen bits and pieces of her work, and I always like what I’ve seen. Here she plays a successful magazine writer whose anti-monogamy views are challenged when she meets a nice-guy doctor (Hader). Being largely in the dark about her, Apatow is the main the attraction for me. I’m a big fan to begin with, but I really like that he so supportive of other comedic voices. This is the first film he’s directing that he didn’t write, and it was simply because he wanted to be in business with Schumer, who he encouraged to write the film in the first place. He’s often perceived as a guy who makes dude movies, so I like seeing him show once again (he also works closely with Lena Dunham on HBO’s Girls) that he’s an equal opportunity comedian whose aim is to nurture funny people with unique voices.

12.
ALOHA
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:
May 29

This one was on last year’s list, but Sony bumped it from an intended holiday season release. The project has been bouncing around for a while, and it’s nice to see it finally coming in for a landing, especially since the trailer provides the impression that it will be vintage Cameron Crowe: charming, romantic, funny, earnest, and boasting a sublime cast. From what I’ve gathered, Cooper plays a defense contractor at a low point in his career who returns to a military base in Hawaii for a new operation. There, he confronts his past in the form of a now-engaged old flame and considers his future with a pilot involved in his project. Crowe has been a bit off his game with recent movies, and I would love to see him hit a home run with the kind of old-fashioned romantic comedy that has all but disappeared from the landscape.

Oh, a note to Sony and whoever made that trailer: while it’s true that Cameron Crowe is an Academy Award nominated writer, he’s also an Academy Award winning writer. That might have been the way to go.

11.
THE MARTIAN
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: November 25

Ridley Scott is amazing. At 77 years old, the guy is pretty much putting out a movie a year. So is Woody Allen, at age 79. But unlike Allen’s modest, dialogue-driven movies, Scott’s are large in scope, usually requiring massive production efforts, both pre and post. And the list of projects he has in development is lengthy. All that said, the films themselves can be hit or miss, and at this point he’s overdue for a hit. Whether or not The Martian will deliver I can’t say, but the potential is certainly there. In fact, the story behind the film might be worthy of a film itself. It’s based on novel by Andy Weir, who self-published it and then saw it explode on Amazon, earning praise for its detailed and carefully researched science as well as its wry humor and appealing central character. That would be an astronaut (Damon) who is accidentally stranded on Mars when his crew, believing him dead, departs without him. Scott has corralled a terrific supporting cast, and if the script and story are strong, his skill for creating arresting visuals while also coaxing good work from actors should serve this material splendidly.

10.
BRIDGE OF SPIES
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Eve Hewson, Domenick Lombardozzi, Billy Magnussen, Peter McRobbie, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance
Release Date: October 16

The fourth collaboration between Spielberg and Hanks has been flying quietly under the radar. Hanks will play real-life attorney James B. Donovan, who was tasked with negotiating the release of an American pilot shot down over the Soviet Union while doing reconnaissance. The historical drama sounds like good material for Hanks, and another chance after Lincoln for Spielberg to put story front and center.

9.
SPOTLIGHT

Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writers: Thomas McCarthy, Josh Singer
Cast: Billy Crudup, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schrieber, Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Release Date: TBA

Sometimes you hear the plot of a movie, you see the cast, the director, and you just have a feeling it’s gonna be good. Well…I do, anyway. I have that feeling about this journalism drama, the true story of The Boston Globe’s investigative reports into sexual abuse of children within the city’s Catholic Archdiocese. The series exposed a scandal which had been known but ignored for years, and earned the Globe‘s Spotlight team a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Tom McCarthy directed The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win, all warm relationship dramadies, but here moves into more straightforward dramatic territory. I’ve compared his films to those of Alexander Payne in the past, and griped that he doesn’t get the level of acclaim that he’s deserved. Maybe this movie will change that. I certainly hope so. This has tremendous potential. (For what it’s worth, I like the irony of the guy who played a journalist fabricating a story on The Wire now co-writing and directing a movie about journalism at its finest.)

8.
TOMORROWLAND
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeff Jensen
Cast: George Clooney, Pierce Gagnon, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Britt Robertson
Release Date: May 22

A decade or so ago, Walt Disney Pictures started looking inward, developing movies based on their theme park rides. Happily, that yielded Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Less happily, it yielded Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears. The studio is still looking to its own vaults for inspiration, resulting in two newer trends: turning its animated films into live action ones (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, the upcoming The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo) and perhaps more oddly, making movies out of its business decisions. That trend kicked off with Saving Mr. Banks, and now we have the more mysterious Tomorrowland. There’s been a lot of secrecy around this project, originally titled 1952, but it does appear to involve the futuristic park that exists within the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland and Disney World  though to be fair, I think the idea was brought to Disney, as opposed to being generated within the studio. Damon Lindelof, who initially conceived of the story and eventually collaborated with Jeff Jensen  who covered Lindelof’s Lost for Entertainment Weekly and came up with theories as thrilling and creative as much of the show itself  and The Incredibles writer/director Brad Bird, has said the movie doesn’t actually take place in the park, but there is definitely a connection. What does seem clear is that the parties involved are aiming for a family-friendly sci-fi adventure that seeks to capture a tone of hope and optimism that’s become increasingly rare in our views of the future  real and imagined.

7.
THE REVENANT
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu , Mark L. Smith
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lukas Haas, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Release Date: December 25

While Birdman was soaring across the movie awards circuit in the last several months, its now Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was keeping busy shooting his next project, a long-in-development story about a fur trapper in the 1800’s who is robbed and abandoned by his fellow travelers after being mauled by a bear. (Stephen Colbert’s gonna love this movie!) He survives, and goes after those who left him for dead. Just as Birdman was a sharp turn from the heavy dramas for which Iñárritu was known (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), The Revenant’s revenge drama roots are unexplored territory for him. And just as with Birdman, I imagine that this exercise in genre will have much more on its mind than simple brutality or emotional satisfaction.

6.
SPECTRE
Director:
Sam Mendes
Writers:
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Cast:
Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Jesper Christensen, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw
Release Date:
November 6

I didn’t grow up immersed in the James Bond series, but while longtime fans understandably consider Sean Connery to be the quintessential Bond, can we all agree that the last installment, Skyfall, was among the four or five best  if not the single best  movie in the series? I’ll assume we can. As such, the weight of expectation here is considerable, as it often is with sequels. Director Mendes and writers Purvis, Wade and Logan are all returning, and while the chance of capturing lightning in a bottle twice in a row is unlikely, we can hope. Skyfall is special for many reasons, occupying a unique position in the Bond canon as both pivotal and transitional. Most Bond films are primarily just “the next adventure,” but this one, whatever it is, will be very much the result of Skyfall‘s events, to a degree that none of the previous 23 films  even Casino Royale‘s follow-up Quantum of Solace  have been so directly impacted by their predecessor. As for where the story might be headed, fans recognize SPECTRE as the criminal organization that Bond has contended with in several of the earlier films and in Ian Fleming’s books, and it will be fun to see how Mendes brings the group into the more gritty, contemporary milieu that the Daniel Craig era has ushered in.

5.
INSIDE OUT
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Michael Arndt, Pete Docter
Cast: Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith
Release Date: June 19

Pixar’s second release this year  though it will be the first to hit theaters  is a pretty ingenious idea. As an adolescent girl facing the major life change of moving to a new city finds herself on an emotional rollercoaster, we go inside her head to see those emotions personified in the form of Joy (Poehler), Anger (Black), Disgust (Kaling), Fear (Hader) and Sadness (Smith, from The Office). That’s some inspired casting right there. This sounds like the perfect Pixar movie to me, something that will see the studio do what it does best: tell a universal story in a world related to but separate from our own, with plenty of fodder for humor but also a genuinely touching throughline. My expectations are high.

4.
JOY
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell, Annie Mumolo
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Édgar Ramiriez, Elisabeth Röhm, Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: December 25

It’s not so much that this particular story excites me as it is that anything David O. Russell does these days excites me. With Joy, he re-teams with Lawrence, Cooper and De Niro for his third time in a row to tell the story of Joy Mangano, a Long Island housewife, single mother and aspiring inventor who struck gold with the creation of the Miracle Mop. Russell co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo, who penned Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig, and her comedic voice should nicely complement Russell’s, yielding a quirky biopic in the vein of Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt.

3.
STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels, John Ortiz, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Kate Winslet
Release Date: October 9

Another biopic, but another one that promises to be unconventional. Based on Walter Isaacson’s best-selling book about the Silicon Valley titan, Aaron Sorkin’s script is structured as just three lengthy scenes, each one taking place backstage at a seminal Apple product launch before Jobs steps in front of the curtain. Sorkin’s script is said to be a massive 181 pages (though earlier descriptions from the writer have described it as more along the lines of 90, so who knows) and as the set-up suggests, it will be extremely dialogue-heavy. No problem there. Sorkin’s dialogue, although self-plagiarized from time to time, can always be counted on to delight the ear.

I surprise myself that the movie places so high on my list, but when I crunched the numbers, did some computer models and ran it all by the boys in the lab, this is where it landed. Prime placement considering my disappointment that the original incarnation of the project fell apart. It was initially shaping up to reunite Sorkin with his Social Network director David Fincher, who wanted Christian Bale to play Jobs. I was over the moon at the thought of that line-up. Unfortunately, Fincher left the project, apparently because the studio (Sony, at the time; it’s since moved to Universal) wouldn’t meet his demands for salary and creative control. Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle came aboard, and courted Leonardo DiCaprio (great actor, but totally the wrong look), who opted to make The Revenant instead. Then Bale officially boarded, only to depart a short time later, stating that he didn’t feel he had a handle on the character. Sorkin championed Tom Cruise (could have been great), while the studio considered the usual A-list suspects regardless of whether they seemed right for the part (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper). In the end, the part went to the versatile Fassbender.

I can’t help but be let down that it didn’t pan out with Fincher and Bale. Not for nothing though, the combination of Sorkin and Boyle is intriguing in its own right. Boyle’s movies are high-energy, lots of editing…there’s a thumping beat to his work that seems contrary to a project that will feature only three extended sequences and limited locations, so seeing how he approaches such unlikely material will be fun. And while Bale seemed like the perfect guy to take on Jobs, Fassbender is no slouch. I have every confidence he will give a performance worthy of such a fascinating figure. Apple’s slogan in the late 90’s was “Think Different.” Looks like with this unusual approach, that’s just what these filmmakers are going for. If they don’t end up doing a big thing badly, it could really be quite something. And you know it.

2.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Zoe Bell, Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, James Parks, James Remar, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum
Release Date: TBA

Tarantino’s latest almost died on the vine. After completing the first draft of his script, he handed copies to six people, including actors Dern, Roth and Madsen, and one of his Django Unchained producers. Apparently one of them showed the script to their agent, and soon enough it had leaked online. The director was none too pleased about this, and decided to abandon the film, saying he might revisit it a few years down the road, and would perhaps publish it as a novel instead of filming it. He even sued Gawker for enabling wider dissemination of the script, though the lawsuit was dismissed by the court. Tarantino then staged a live read of the script at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with an all-star cast of actors, (most of whom will reprise their roles in the film). Sometime between the leak and the live read however, Tarantino revised the script (the leaked version had only been his first pass) and decided to make the movie after all. The live read featured the initial draft, which is not the same version that will ultimately be filmed.

So that’s the behind the scenes drama. What can we expect for on-screen drama? The Western takes place in Wyoming a few years after the Civil War, and focuses on two bounty hunters escorting a female prisoner to her trial when a blizzard descends, forcing them to take shelter in a haberdashery. During their stop, they encounter a number of unsavory characters, some of whom may pose a threat to their assignment. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to assume that tensions will mount, blood will be spilled, and a lot of tough-guy dialogue will be chewed with gusto. With the exception of Bichir, Leigh and Tatum, all the players here have worked with QT before…and since Roth, Madsen and Dern are still involved, there must be no hard feelings about that script leak.

1.
STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasden, J.J. Abrams
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Kenny Baker, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Warwick Davis, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow
Release Date: December 18

I mean…come on. Was there even a question?

August 24, 2014

Emmy Nominations 2013-14: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 9:45 am
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The Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again this year’s crop of nominees reminds us that there is an astonishing level of quality across today’s television landscape…if it can even still be referred to as television now that online entities like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are presenting original programming. Unfortunately, it tends to be what isn’t nominated that serves as the reminder, for no matter what makes the cut, there remains so much great work that is left out. As I say every year, there is simply too much good work out there for all of it to receive the celebration it deserves come Emmy season. But that doesn’t stop TV critics and avid watchers from sounding off anyway. For the past couple of years I’ve offered a slate of write-ups for work that stood out to me as nomination worthy but went unrecognized. I really need to work on those throughout the season, while the shows are fresh in my mind, but I dropped the ball this year. Still, I have thoughts on what was and wasn’t nominated, and I’ll be damned if I’m just going to keep them to myself. I’m a blogger! So here’s a down-and-dirtier version of this annual post. I’m not making predictions here; the Emmys are far too erratic and offbeat for me to apply my Oscar mojo. This is just a rundown of the nominees, accompanied by thoughts and opinions where I have them. Maybe I’ll get my act together next year. Until then….

 

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is The New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

Thoughts: As entertainment award travesties go, the annual omission of Parks and Recreation is one for the books. How does this show get passed over year after year after year? With all respect to the fine Modern Family, Parks and Rec dances circles around it. It’s more ambitious in its storytelling, it develops its characters with greater depth and it continues to offer surprises each season while Modern Family and other shows just do more of the same…even if they do it well. And on top of all that, it’s hilarious and still has the best comedic ensemble on TV right now. I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory, but I’d bet it too falls short of Parks and Recreation in almost every metric.

On the upside, it’s nice to see Silicon Valley land a nomination for its debut season. The show came out of the gate strong and never faltered. I have yet to get around to Orange is the New Black, but by all accounts it’s a true original and a deserving nominee…if not necessarily the right fit for this category.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Melissa McCarthy – Mike & Molly
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling – Orange is the New Black

Thoughts: At least Amy Poehler got some love for Parks and Rec, though the fact that she hasn’t won yet is every bit as scandalous as the show itself not being nominated. Yes, we all adore Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but she’s got plenty of Emmys at this point, and while her work on Veep is excellent, the character doesn’t have the range of Poehler’s Leslie Knope. She won her first Golden Globe for the role in January. Perhaps this will finally be her year at the Emmys as well?

Also, how about getting some Mindy Kaling up in this joint?

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OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Ricky Gervais – Derek
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
William H. Macy – Shameless
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Ricky Gervais’ nomination for the Netflix series Derek is quite the surprise. The series hasn’t garnered the acclaim or noteriety of The Office or even Extras, so it’s a testament to Gervais’ appeal that he made the cut over more widely predicted people like Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Andy Samberg (who took the Golden Globe) and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch. I’m also giving a shout-out to the great Chris O’Dowd, who was a real joy as the lead in Christopher Guest’s mellow HBO comedy Family Tree.

As for the win, I gotta go with Louis C.K.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Allison Janney – Mom
Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Love
Kate Mulgrew – Orange is the New Black

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Fred Armisen – Portlandia
Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Adam Driver – Girls
Tony Hale – Veep
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family

Thoughts: Can someone explain to me how Fred Armisen is a Supporting Actor on Portlandia? He’s the co-lead and co-creator of the show. He doesn’t belong here, especially at the expense — yet again — of any member of the Parks and Recreation crew. Nick Offerman remains the show’s most egregiously overlooked cast member, but Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott are plenty deserving.

Silicon Valley also boasts an impressive group of supporting players, any of whom — T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods or the late Christopher Evan Welch — would have been welcome additions here.

Returning nominees Adam Driver, Tony Hale and Ty Burrell all deserve a place once again, and Andre Braugher is a welcome addition for his deadpan precinct captain. His co-star Joe Lo Truglio would have been deserving too…though again, neither outshine the men of Parks and Rec. I really don’t get the Emmy’s aversion to that show.

I would love to see Driver take this. Reigning champ Hale is terrific, but Adam Driver is one of the most exciting actors anywhere right now. His work on Girls has been remarkable from day one, and he continues to take his character in fascinating and unexpected new directions.

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OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox – Orange is the New Black
Joan Cusack – Shameless
Tina Fey – Saturday Night Live
Natasha Lyonne – Orange is the New Black
Melissa McCarthy – Saturday Night Live

The Guest Performer Emmys were handed out last weekend at the Creative Arts ceremony, and the prize went to Uzo Aduba. As I mentioned above, I have yet to see Orange is the New Black, but even I’m aware of her breakout character Crazy Eyes.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Steve Buscemi – Portlandia
Louis C.K. – Saturday Night Live
Gary Cole – Veep
Jimmy Fallon – Saturday Night Live
Nathan Lane – Modern Family
Bob Newhart – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Another Parks and Recreation omission: is it not far past the time to recognize Ben Schwartz for his hilarious recurring work as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein? This is a show that has done such a phenomenal job of building up a roster of recurring characters to fill out the town of Pawnee, and none are funnier or more well-honed than hipster doofus Jean-Ralphio. His impact on the show has been significant enough that the creators gave him an equally hilarious sister Mona Lisa (Jenny Slate) and this past year introduced Henry Winkler as their father. Given how this show has been passed over by Emmy voters across the board, I can hardly expect Schwartz to be singled out. But he sure deserves it.

All that aside, the winner was Jimmy Fallon.

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OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik – Episodes (Episode 305)
Louis C.K. – Louie (So Did the Fat Lady)
Liz Friedman, Jenji Kohan – Orange is the New Black (I Wasn’t Ready – Pilot)
Alec Berg – Silicon Valley (Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency)
Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Armando Iannucci – Veep (Special Relationship)

Thoughts: Cheers to the voters for nominating the season finale of Silicon Valley, which featured one of the funniest sequences I saw anywhere all year: a serious discussion amongst software engineers about how one of them could theoretically jerk off 800 men in ten minutes. This was inspired. The best part is that, as with much of the show’s shop talk, the concept had to be worked out with the help of a legitimate engineering genius — 27 year-old MIT grad Vinith Misra. While discussing his work as an advisor to the show in this interview, he mentioned that his tasks included “performing a detailed mathematical analysis in support of a penis joke.” Fantastic.

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

Iain B. MacDonald – Episodes (Episode 309)
Paris Barclay – Glee (100)
Louis C.K. – Louie (Elevator, Part 6)
Gail Mancuso – Modern Family (Vegas)
Jodie Foster – Orange is the New Black (Lesbian Request Denied)

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OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Thoughts: Although I don’t watch The Good Wife, I gathered that it had a strong season. I couldn’t escape the news of a major cast member’s dramatic exit, so it’s surprising that the buzz didn’t translate into a nomination. Much as I enjoy Downton Abbey, I’m not sure if it belongs here when other acclaimed shows like Good Wife, The Americans, or Masters of Sex were shut out. The Bridge had an impressive debut run too. It would also be nice to see more genre shows join Game of Thrones. Neither The Walking Dead nor Bates Motel have Thrones’ prestige factor, but both are coming off high-quality seasons. And Hannibal is not only riveting, but one of the most visually arresting shows on the air. Also, I have to say, True Blood bounced back in a big way last year.

I’d like to think this will be the year that Game of Thrones triumphs, but it’s a tough call. It’s unanimously agreed that Breaking Bad’s final season completely nailed it, and might even have been the show’s best yet. But those episodes aired a year ago, and it may be too far out of mind to claim the prize for the second year in a row…though most fans of the show would say that only one Outstanding Drama Series win is not enough. True Detective is the big threat here. Fueled by the presence of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the show was highly anticipated and lived up to the potential. It was an instant hit — smart, engrossing and atmospheric. And it’s probably more in Emmy voters’ wheelhouse than Game of Thrones. One potential hiccup is that earlier this month, accusations surfaced that True Detective‘s creator Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized portions of the show’s dialogue. He and HBO have denied the charges, and the timing does seem suspicious. The show ended its run in March, but this story doesn’t hit until August, in the middle of the Emmy voting period? Sounds like the work of Tywin Lannister…

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex
Claire Danes – Homeland
Michelle Dockery – Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Thoughts: Does Michelle Dockery really belong here? She does good work as Lady Mary, but in a crowded field, I can think of a few performances that have more going on than hers. How about Vera Farmiga, nominated last year for her wonderful work on Bates Motel? The Bridge’s Diane Kruger, might have been a more interesting choice as well. I don’t watch any of the following shows, but what I hear of Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Keri Russell (The Americans), Connie Britton (Nashville), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and the usually-nominated Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) suggests that all are eminently Emmy worthy.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Woody Harrelson – True Detective
Matthew McConaughey – True Detective
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

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Thoughts:
Poor Michael Sheen. The Masters of Sex star is always the bridesmaid to his co-stars. The Queen: Helen Mirren wins the Oscar, but he’s not nominated. Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella gets the Oscar nomination, Sheen is passed over. Now Lizzy Caplan is welcomed into the Emmy race for Masters while Sheen is yet again ignored. Perhaps he can take some consolation in the fact that as always, this is a jam-packed category. There’s really nobody here who doesn’t deserve their place. Some might say Jeff Daniels, who pulled off a surprise win last year, but critics and pundits just don’t like The Newsroom. Whatever they think of the show though, Daniels is terrific. Many expected James Spader to be a shoo-in for The Blacklist, and there were hopes that Matthew Rhys would find his way in for The Americans. But there can be only six.

Jon Hamm remains Emmy-less for Mad Men, which probably should be rectified at some point, but it’s unlikely to be this year. While Bryan Cranston could take it one final time for Breaking Bad, this award seems destined for McConaughey, who was spellbinding on True Detective. His first foray into series television further bolstered the hot streak that he’s been on in the movies. He’ll need some more shelf space to add all the True Detective awards he’s bound to win over the next six months to the swarm he already collected for Dallas Buyers Club. His next two projects are with Christopher Nolan and Gus Van Sant. Dude is crushing it.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Joanne Froggatt – Downton Abbey
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

Thoughts: I’m always pleased by any recognition for the Game of Thrones cast, so I’m happy to see Lena Headey score her first nomination. I still say Maisie Williams is the cast’s most deserving female, but I’ll take what they give me.

I didn’t expect the Emmys to suddenly find room for The Walking Dead in a main category, but Melissa McBride certainly deserved a place here this year. McBride’s Carol has had the best character arc on the show, coming a long way from the meek, abused wife she was at the start to the badass warrior momma she is now, one of the toughest of the survivors, who makes difficult life or death decisions and then follows through, all for the greater good. Her evolution and do-what-needs-to-be-done attitude were crystallized in this season’s episode “The Grove,” which saw Carol execute her most heartbreaking decision yet. I had some issues with the how the story played out — I think the writing failed to explore the situation as fully as it needed to (and easily could have) before the ultimate solution was reached — but I have no issues with McBride’s performance. It was a textbook example of the kind of showcase episode that should earn an actor a nomination.

I also want to make a stand for Caitlin FitzGerald, from Masters of Sex. As the warm, supportive wife to Michael Sheen’s intense title character, FitzGerald had the challenge of taking a 1950’s housewife whose lot in life seems to be supporting her man, and turning her into a character who was, in her way, just as strong and compelling as Lizzy Caplan’s less conventional woman of the era. FitzGerald quickly evolved into my favorite character on the show, as I found myself looking forward to her scenes more than anyone else’s.

Lastly, while I can’t comment on Baranski, Gunn or Hendricks, I can say the category should have found room for The Newsroom’s Olivia Munn. Probably the least experienced of the show’s primary cast members when it debuted, she was strong from the start and does great work week in and week out. If she had been giving the same performance on The West Wing, she’d have been nominated.

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OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Josh Charles – The Good Wife
Jim Carter – Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Jon Voight – Ray Donovan

Thoughts: Could sentiment be with Josh Charles, given his character’s high-profile departure from The Good Wife? Or will voters look to Aaron Paul one last time for Breaking Bad? No surprise, I’m rooting for Dinklage to win for a second time. His arc this season provided great material, both showy and subtle, and he was as stellar as ever. Unfortunately, he is once again the show’s sole representative. Several of his castmates could just as easily join him here, but all were overlooked. One particular absence stings because the character won’t be returning, and has been one of the standouts each year. I’m avoiding his name for spoilers sake, but those of you watching probably know who I mean. Frankly, if this entire category were comprised of Thrones actors,  it would be entirely justified.

Voters might also have considered Jeffrey Wright’s work on Boardwalk Empire. He was an excellent addition to the show, and a more interesting character than Bobby Cannavale’s Emmy-winning villain from the previous season.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Kate Burton – Scandal
Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
Allison Janney – Masters of Sex
Kate Mara – House of Cards
Margo Martindale – The Americans
Diana Rigg – Game of Thrones

Thoughts: Kate Mara? Really? Nothing against her or her performance, but her arc on House of Cards was pretty brief this year. Does she really deserve this slot? Diana Rigg is so good on Game of Thrones, but she was in much less of the season this year than last. If she didn’t win then, it’s unlikely that she would now.

And she didn’t. The award went to Alison Janney, and that’s hard to argue with. Janney was heartbreaking as a wife and mother experiencing her sexual awakening as she learns that her husband — fellow nominee Beau Bridges — is not the man she thought he was.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Dylan Baker – The Good Wife
Beau Bridges – Masters of Sex
Reg E. Cathey – House of Cards
Paul Giamatti – Downton Abbey
Robert Morse – Mad Men
Joe Morton – Scandal

Thoughts: Pedro Pascal came into the crowded Game of Thrones cast and immediately carved himself a place of honor with a compelling portrayal of a revenge-minded prince. He seemed a shoo-in for recognition here. I mean, it was fun to see the great Paul Giamatti pop up on Downton Abbey, but I’d trade his one-episode appearance for Pascal’s pivotal season-long role in a heartbeat. It’s disappointing to see him passed over.

I’ve only seen half of these nominees — Giamatti, Bridges and Cathey. I’d have gone with Bridges’ wrenching turn as a married man grappling with his homosexuality. The scenes of his professional relationship — he plays Michael Sheen’s longtime friend and boss — are terrific, but the character’s personal struggles deepen the role and allow Bridges to do some beautiful work. Alas, the winner was Joe Morton (Miles Dyson, for all you Terminator 2 fans). Though I don’t watch Scandal, I’ve always liked Morton, so it’s nice to see a working actor like him get some recognition.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Moira Walley-Beckett – Breaking Bad (Ozymandias)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones (The Children)
Beau Willimon – House of Cards (Chapter 14)
Nic Pizzolatto – True Detective (The Secret Fate of All of Life)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

Tim Van Patten – Boardwalk Empire (Farewell Daddy Blues)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Evans – Downton Abbey (Episode 1)
Neil Marshall – Game of Thrones (The Watchers on the Wall)
Cary Joji Fukunaga – True Detective (Who Goes There)

Thoughts: Without having seen the Breaking Bad episodes, I have no doubt both were expertly crafted. And the nominated episode of True Detective got a lot of attention for its lengthy tracking shot that moved in and out of several houses as it followed McConaughey’s character on an undercover assignment gone bad. But how can anything here compare to the directorial challenges and superb execution of the battle for Castle Black on Game of Thrones? The extensive use of visual effects to create so much of the surroundings, the multiple storylines playing out within the limited location, the ability to make it all look so impressive and cinematic on a TV budget. This is the first directing nomination Thrones has received in three seasons, and its omission from the past two years is absurd. It deserves the award not just for this episode, but as compensation for past mistakes.

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OUTSTANDING MINISERIES

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

Thoughts: American Horror Story is always a force to be reckoned with, but Fargo was the buzzy critic’s darling this year, and accomplished the impressive feat of standing on its own in the shadow of a classic piece of contemporary cinema. I wasn’t totally sold on it at first, but it grew on me steadily as it went along, and I still find myself thinking about it. I’ll definitely have to revisit it eventually.

OUTSTANDING TELEVISION MOVIE
Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Helena Bonham Carter – Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver – Return to Zero
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson – The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig – The Spoils of Babylon

Thoughts: How awesome is it to see Kristin Wiig sneak into this line-up for her performance in the absurd comedic series The Spoils of Babylon? This show was totally ridiculous, and totally hilarious. Not everyone’s style of comedy, I’m sure, but for those who appreciated what they were going for, it was lots of fun, and Wiig was aces.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba – Luther
Martin Freeman – Fargo
Mark Ruffalo – The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo

Thoughts: The delightful ubiquity of Martin Freeman is evident in the fact that half his fellow nominees are actors he’s worked with. He’s joined here by his Fargo co-star Thornton, as well as his Sherlock and The Hobbit pal Cumberbatch. Plus he and Ejiofor were both in Love, Actually. But they had no scenes together, so maybe that doesn’t count? You decide.

Jesus, this is a strong line-up. Tough, tough call.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Angela Bassett – American Horror Story: Coven
Kathy Bates – American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn – Flowers in the Attic
Frances Conroy – American Horror Story: Coven
Julia Roberts – The Normal Heart
Alison Tolman – Fargo

Thoughts: No surprise that this category is dominated by ladies of American Horror Story. Bassett, Bates and Conroy were all fantastic. The former two especially, had probably the best roles they’ve had in ages thanks to Ryan Murphy and his team, who can always be counted on to create roles that actresses can tear into. It’s no wonder they signed on to return for the upcoming season, American Horror Story: Freak Show. It will be a challenge to choose between them. So maybe the voters won’t, going instead for Allison Tolman’s wonderful breakout turn in Fargo.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Matt Bomer – The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Colin Hanks – Fargo
Joe Mantello – The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina – The Normal Heart
Jim Parsons – The Normal Heart

Thoughts: This category is kind of a slap in the face to Taylor Kitsch. He was the only main cast member of The Normal Heart to be overlooked, and he was just as good as everyone else. He certainly had a bigger role than Joe Mantello, but Mantello had something that Kitsch unfortunately didn’t: a showstopping scene in which he took center stage and was allowed to fly. He was basically nominated for that one scene. All the other cast members had at least one standout moment like that. Kitsch’s character didn’t, and it probably cost the actor a nomination.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Brad Falchuk – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Noah Hawley – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Neil Cross – Luther
Larry Kramer – The Normal Heart
Steven Moffatt – Sherlock: His Last Vow
David Simon, Eric Overmeyer – Treme (…To Miss New Orleans)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Adam Bernstein – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Colin Bucksey – Fargo (Buridan’s Ass)
Stephen Frears – Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
Ryan Murphy – The Normal Heart
Nick Hurran – Sherlock: His Last Vow

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Thoughts: The golden of age of television we continue to find ourselves in is not limited to fictional series. The late night field is also full of gems, as evidenced by how strong this category is. Saturday Night Live is always going to be hit or miss, but the rest of these shows are just great. Conan could easily be here too, as could some of the other shows which pop up in the Writing category below (despite the list of nominees, this isn’t actually a late night category). Last Week with John Oliver probably debuted too late in the season to qualify, but its chances next year are looking great. Strong as all of these shows are though, none of them equal the satirical brilliance of The Colbert Report, which finally won this award last year after a record-setting 10 years of domination by The Daily Show.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Inside Amy Schumer
Key & Peele
Portlandia
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

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OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM

Archer (Archer Vice: The Rules of Extraction)
Bob’s Burgers (Mazel Tina)
Futurama (Meanwhile)
South Park (Black Friday)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project

Thoughts: Much was made of the fact that for the first time in 23 years, The Simpsons wasn’t nominated. The consenus may be that the show is long past its prime, but I still probably laugh harder and more often during a Simpsons episode than I do at any other series. Now maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is good…but better than The Simpsons? I seriously doubt it.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out. Seth Meyers hosts the show, which airs tomorrow night, Monday, August 25, on NBC. Go Amy Poehler and Game of Thrones!

And now I leave you with another classic moment of Emmy past.

 

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