I Am DB

March 14, 2013

Twenty-Five Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2013

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 12:00 pm
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Now that the Oscars have officially closed the book on 2012 in movies, it’s time to look ahead to what we can expect this year. There are plenty of promising films on the horizon, enough that I bumped my usual 20 up to 25, and am still leaving out projects from directors like Terry Gilliam, Guillermo del Toro, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, Ben Stiller, Baz Luhrman, Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93), Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money), David Gordon Green (Snow Angels, Pineapple Express) and Anton Corbijn (The American).

Although I’m publishing this list now, I pretty much locked it in at the beginning of the year and decided not to revise it based on all the great things I heard about during January’s Sundance Film Festival. So the list doesn’t reflect movies that were acquired in Park City for release sometime this year (presumably), though I can say I’m greatly looking forward to such titles as The Spectacular Now, Fruitvale, A.C.O.D. and most of all, the reunion of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. As usual, the list is also short on big franchise movies, though I’m plenty excited to see things like Iron Man 3, Monster’s University, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Kick-Ass 2, The Wolverine, Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness. There are certainly some sequels and expected blockbusters on the list, but in most cases it’s more about directors and casts that have me excited.

One change I did make was removing a film called The Place Beyond the Pines, writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to his superb 2010 drama Blue Valentine. His new film, which stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, comes out in just a couple of weeks, but I had a chance to see it already, so it no longer needs looking forward to. (For the record, I liked it, but had some issues with the third act.)

As always, I don’t know how any of these will turn out, but I have high hopes for all of them. One thing I am sure of: with roles in three films on this list, plus Star Trek Into Darkness and The Fifth Estate (in which he’ll play WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange), it’s going to be a big year for Benedict Cumberbatch. Which is fine with me, cause I love writing and saying “Benedict Cumberbatch.” It’s a name so supremely, singularly, sensationally British that if it didn’t already exist, J.K. Rowling surely would have created it for some minor bureaucrat deep within the Ministry of Magic.

Now then…

25.
TO THE WONDER

Director/Writer:
Terrence Malick
Cast:
Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams
Release Date:
April 12

A brief two years after The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick returns with a film that is said to be even more interior and abstract than that one, which I’m not convinced is cinematically possible. I count myself a Malick admirer, so I’m eager to see where he goes this time with the story of man and his relationship with two women – one a European beauty, the other a girl-next-door type from his hometown. That’s the surface story anyway, but Malick is probably exploring deeper themes and ideas. Will I understand any of them? Maybe. Will it matter to me if I don’t? If the movie is half as beautiful as The Tree of Life, then probably not. According to this short behind the scenes featurette, there was barely a script for the movie, and as always, Malick took his time in the editing room to shape the end result. In the process, he eliminated entire performances by Rachel Weisz, Barry Pepper, Amanda Peet and Michael Sheen.

24.
ALL IS LOST

Director/Writer: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Release Date: TBA

Writer/director J.C. Chandor made an impressive debut (and earned a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination) for directing a shining ensemble of actors to uniformly excellent performances in the 2011 financial sector drama Margin Call. Now he’s dialing things back with a story featuring only one character. From what I’ve gathered, Robert Redford plays a man on a boat who encounters a storm and finds himself lost at sea. The movie depicts his struggles for survival against the elements, and apparently Redford, when asked about the movie during an unrelated press conference at Sundance this year, said the film has no dialogue. Margin Call was marked by its terrific, wordy script and its excellent cast. Chandor couldn’t have gone much further in the opposite direction for his follow-up, which makes it all the more exciting to see how he fares.

23.
THE BLING RING

Director/Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Leslie Mann, Gavin Rossdale
Release Date: June 14

I love Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but neither of the two films she’s made since have grabbed me. The most recent, Somewhere, was particularly disappointing…in that it went absolutely nowhere. Still, I keep hoping that each new project will mark a return to form, and so I await The Bling Ring, based on a Vanity Fair article about a group of privileged Los Angeles teenagers who engaged in a year-long robbery spree, targeting the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. It seems like fitting material for Coppola, who is personally immersed in the world of fashion and society where this story unfolds. Given the presence of Emma Watson, I’m anticipating a third act twist in which the motivation for stealing jewelry turns out to be the pursuit of horcruxes and the ultimate defeat of Voldemort.

On a more serious note, The Bling Ring is the last film to be completed by acclaimed cinematographer Harris Savides, who died too young last October at the age of 55. His credits included David Fincher’s Zodiac, Gus Van Sant’s Milk (and five other collaborations), and Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding, as well as such music videos as “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails and “Criminal” by Fiona Apple.

22.
BLUE JASMINE

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Emerson, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release Date: July 26

Woody Allen is hit or miss these days, so if you’re a fan of his work, each new film – one a year, like clockwork – brings with it the curiosity of where in his canon it will fall. While Woody’s movies are like comfort food, rarely would I describe them as highly anticipated. But two things about his latest pique my curiosity enough to earn a place on the list. First, the film is partially set in my adopted home of San Francisco, marking the first time Woody has filmed in America’s most beautiful city. Second is the cast the director has wrangled. Woody’s movies always feature excellent line-ups, but this one really grabs me. I love Peter Sarsgaard, and I’m thrilled by the presence of Michael Emerson (aka Lost‘s Benjamin Linus)….but a movie that stars Cate Blanchett, Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K.?!? I think that pretty much says it all.

21.
OUT OF THE FURNACE
Director:
Scott Cooper
Writers:
Scott Cooper, Brad Ingelsby
Cast:
Casey Affleck, Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Forest Whitaker
Release Date:
TBA

Scott Cooper pulled together an intense and impressive cast for the follow-up to his feature directorial debut, Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar. The crime thriller casts Bale and Affleck as brothers from a depressed mill town, one of whom gets involved in a crime spree after the other winds up in jail. I don’t know which actor plays which brother; in fact, I don’t know much of anything about the movie at this point. But I know this: that roster of actors is all I need to know.

20.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, John Ridley
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garrett Dillahunt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Dwight Henry, Taran Killam, Scoot McNairy, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard
Release Date: TBA

Director Steve McQueen’s first film, the acclaimed drama Hunger, earned him respect from critics and brought Michael Fassbender to the attention of casting directors and filmmakers. I couldn’t get through the film, not just because I was too disturbed by the graphic depiction of the main character’s hunger strike and the toll it takes on his body, but also because I found it tediously boring. But his next film, Shame, was one of my favorites of 2011. Now comes his third, and with it new challenges: a period setting, a large cast of name actors, and because that cast includes someone like Brad Pitt, increased commercial expectations. But the film’s lead role belongs to the wonderful Chiwetel Ejiofer, who audiences will recognize from such movies as Amistad, Love Actually, Kinky Boots, Children of Men and American Gangster. This will be his highest profile lead role to date, and he has more than earned a chance to show off his stuff. Hopefully this movie, envisioned by an uncompromising artist like McQueen, will give it to him.

19.
TRANCE
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: John Hodge, Joe Ahearne
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, James McAvoy
Release Date: April 5

With the opening ceremony for the London Olympics now behind him, Danny Boyle turns his attention back to film with this story of an art auctioneer who participates in a heist, then must work with a hypnotherapist to recall the location of the stolen painting after a knock to the head causes him to forget where it’s stashed. From what I’ve heard, this is a noirish tale with lots of twists and turns. Sounds like Boyle is revisiting the territory he explored so effectively in his 1995 debut film, Shallow Grave. That can’t be a bad thing.

18.
LABOR DAY

Director/Writer: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire, Brooke Smith, James Van Der Beek, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: TBA

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is the story of a 13 year-old boy and his agoraphobic mother, who come across a stranger in need of help and agree to take him in. The man turns out to be an escaped convict, and over the course of a few late summer days…well, I’m sure lessons will be learned and lives will be changed. Honestly, it sounds like a maudlin set-up. But a movie that brings together the talents of Jason Reitman, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin has my attention, whatever the plot description. Reitman, the director behind Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult and Thank You For Smoking, has demonstrated excellent taste in material and a talent for drawing out strong work from his actors. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and tell myself that the story must be worthwhile to attract not only him, but Winslet and Brolin – a pairing which I have a feeling will yield superb chemistry.

17.
THE COUNSELOR
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Cormac McCarthy
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Natalie Dormer, John Leguizamo, Dean Norris, Rosie Perez, Brad Pitt, Goran Visnjic
Release Date: November 15

Although this thriller is written by Cormac McCarthy, it’s not adapted from one of his books. Rather, it marks the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s first foray into screenwriting. It’s the story of a lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking, an endeavor which doesn’t go so well. Sounds like there are echoes of the Coen Brothers’ McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men, which will only be emphasized by the presence of Javier Bardem. I have no problem with that. The movie reunites director Scott with Fassbender after last year’s Prometheus, and more interestingly, reunites him with Pitt 22 years after giving the actor what would be his breakthrough role in Thelma & Louise.

16.
FOXCATCHER

Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Dan Futterman, E. Max Frye
Cast: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Channing Tatum, Anthony Michael Hall, Vanessa Redgrave
Release Date: TBA

With two narrative features under his belt – Capote and Moneyball – director Bennett Miller has shown an extraordinary capacity for telling dramatic stories with clarity and an effective understatement that brings out the humor and allows actors to shine. I am hopeful he’ll do it again with this true-life story of John du Pont, a wealthy corporate heir who supported the careers of numerous professional swimmers, pentathletes and wrestlers, only to succumb to paranoid schizophrenia and murder his close friend, Olympic gold medal wrestler Dave Schultz. Although du Pont was nearly 60 at the time of the murder, he’ll be played – in an exciting piece of against-the-grain casting – by Steve Carell. Even before he left The Office, Carell was showing his range in films like Dan in Real Life (a sweet, underrated movie) and Little Miss Sunshine. But Foxcatcher promises his furthest swing as an actor yet, and with a director like Miller to guide his performance, he could be on the verge of hitting a new high.

15.
NEBRASKA
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bob Nelson
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk
Release Date: TBA

As his follow-up to The Descendants, Alexander Payne is going even smaller scale, with a black-and-white road trip movie about an adult son escorting his father from Missouri to Nebraska because the old man thinks he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes. Payne initially courted Gene Hackman for the role of the father, but the retired actor declined to get back in the game. Instead, Bruce Dern takes on the role, and while I’m sad Hackman passed (come back to us, Gene!), I have little doubt that a colorful veteran like Dern will be superb in the part. Continuing his penchant for unexpected casting choices, Payne recruited Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte to play the son. Like most of the world, I’ve only seen Forte in his goofy comedic roles like MacGruber, 30 Rock‘s cross-dressing Jenna look-alike Paul, and his gallery of SNL characters. It will be a treat to see what he does for a filmmaker of Payne’s caliber.

14.
THE BUTLER
Director:
Lee Daniels
Writers:
Lee Daniels, Danny Strong
Cast:
Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Nelsan Ellis, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Minka Kelly, Lenny Kravitz, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schrieber, Clarence Williams III, Robin Williams
Release Date:
TBA

Lee Daniels’ most recent film, last year’s wild, sweaty thriller The Paperboy, divided critics, as well as the audiences who actually showed up to see it. Although it received a 16 minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, those who were there report that when attendees took to their feet, some were doing so to boo, not to cheer. (For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and thought it featured some terrific performances.) On paper, Daniels’ latest seems more likely to earn him the kind of universal praise that greeted his 2009 directing debut (and my favorite movie of that year), Precious. The Butler is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House under eight presidents before retiring in 1986. Whitaker will play the title role (named Cecil Gaines in the film), with Winfrey as his wife. Many other members of the starry cast will likely turn up in small roles or even just extended cameos as the shuffling residents of the White House (including Rickman and Fonda as the Reagans, Marsden and Kelly as the Kennedys, and Williams and Leo as the Eisenhowers). It’s always nice to see Whitaker front and center, and Winfrey – who many forget is an Oscar nominated actress – hasn’t starred in a feature since 1998’s Beloved. The promise of strong roles for these two, plus the impressive ensemble and a great story hook, make this one of the most eagerly awaited dramas of the year. However it turns out, it will stand as a final testament to the successful career of Laura Ziskin, the Hollywood producer of such movies as Pretty Woman, To Die For and the Spider-Man trilogy, who fought to get this movie made right up until she passed away from breast cancer in 2011.

13.
THE MONUMENTS MEN

Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bill Murray
Release Date: December 18

George Clooney is back behind the camera, and has once again convinced an amazing roster of actors to join him in front of it. His latest project tells the true story of a group of British and American art historians and museum curators who were tasked with searching throughout Europe for great works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis to be either destroyed by Hitler, or added to his private collection. Sounds kinda like an Indiana Jones movie…though probably with less face melting.

12.
THIS IS THE END

Directors/Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: Aziz Ansari, Jay Baruchel, Michael Cera, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen
Release Date: June 14

In 2007, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and a couple of their friends made a short film called Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, in which the two friends were trapped in an apartment together after the world outside had been somehow destroyed. (The film was never available publicly, but there is a very NSFW trailer.) Now Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg have expanded the idea to a feature length film, and recruited a few more of their friends from the Apatow universe to join them. This runs the risk of being the kind of sloppy vanity project that results when a bunch of friends get together, armed with a sizable budget, and do whatever they want, unchecked, concerned with nothing more than making each other laugh (see Ocean’s Twelve). Of course, given the comic prowess these guys have displayed, what makes them laugh is pretty well proven to work, meaning that even if the movie is a mess, it will probably be a hilarious mess.

11.
THE WORLD’S END

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike
Release Date: October 25

Following the same general theme as Rogen and company’s movie, some of the funniest guys from the other side of the pond are also preparing for the apocalypse. Wright, Pegg and Frost – the director and co-stars of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – team up again for this story of five childhood friends who reunite 20 years after an epic pub crawl and attempt to recreate it, only to find that this night of drinking may be their last. If this team’s past collaborations are any indication, we can expect another rock solid comedy with a non-sugary emotional undercurrent that goes down smooth.

10.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Directors/Writers:
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast:
Oscar Isaac, F. Murray Abraham, Adam Driver, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Alex Karpovsky, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake
Release Date:
TBA

Oscar Issac came to my attention just a couple of years ago, but has built up an impressive array of supporting performances that I’ve really enjoyed in films like Robin Hood, Drive and The Bourne Legacy. Now he gets his biggest exposure yet, courtesy of the Coen Brothers, playing a 1960’s folk singer struggling to achieve success in both his personal and professional life. The movie marks a reunion between the Coens and music supervisor extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett, who oversaw the massively successful soundtrack for their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. He’ll serve as Executive Music Producer here as well, with Mumford & Sons frontman (and Mr. Carey Mulligan) Marcus Mumford as Associate Music Producer. I don’t know what those titles mean exactly, other than the fact that the Coens are probably about to drop another kick-ass soundtrack. The movie looks pretty damn good too.

9.
ELYSIUM

Director/Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Diego Luna
Release Date: August 9

It’s been a long five years since Neill Blomkamp broke through with District 9. High hopes abound for his sophomore feature, another sci-fi tale with contemporary political relevance. In the year 2159, a space station called Elysium is home to the wealthiest members of society, while everyone else remains on a dying Earth that suffers from overpopulation. Foster plays a government bureaucrat tasked with maintaining the integrity of Elysium and keeping undesirables out, while Damon is a desperate man from the surface attempting to shatter the status quo. District 9 was a smart and topical debut, and I can’t wait to see what Blomkamp has come up with for his second time at bat.

8.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell
Cast: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Harrison Ford, Kristen Wiig, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, James Marsden
Release Date: December 20

San Diego’s preeminent newscaster and jazz flutist is finally back. Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team, not to mention Ron’s delicious paramour and co-anchor Veronica Corningstone, will make their long awaited return this year. Few details have been made available to suggest what the gang will be up to, but the addition of Harrison Ford as a venerable, Brokaw-esque news anchor, and Kristin Wiig possibly playing a love interest for Carell’s IQ-challenged weatherman Brick Tamland, both bode well. I’m also hoping we’ll see Vince Vaughn’s Wes Mantooth once again, but there’s been no word on that yet. In the meantime, here’s a clip of Burgundy on Conan last year, announcing the project.

7.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Director: John Wells
Writer: Tracy Letts
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham
Release Date: November 8

Actor and playwright Tracy Letts won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his darkly comedic play, which debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre before moving to Broadway and London. Now it moves to the movies, adapted by Letts and directed by John Wells, the veteran TV producer of such shows as ER and The West Wing, who earned praise for his 2010 film directing debut, The Company Men. This story concerns the gathering of an Oklahoma family after the patriarch, Beverly Weston – an alcoholic and a once famous poet – goes missing and is presumed dead. The Broadway production earned five Tony  awards, including Best Play and Best Actress in a Play, for Deanna Dunagan. Her role – Beverly’s wife Violet Weston – goes to Streep in the movie, and those familiar with the play expect the legendary actress to be an Oscar frontrunner yet again. With this mighty cast, she might not be the only one.

6.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Writers: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, William Monahan
Cast: Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Stacy Keach, Jaime King, Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Mickey Rourke, Juno Temple, Bruce Willis
Release Date: October 4

I’m a huge fan of Sin City, the 2006 collaboration between filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller, based on Miller’s book series set in the rotting, crime-ridden metropolis of Basin City. I loved the cast, the pulpy, rock-hard-boiled stories and the visual design drawn directly from the comics – monochrome, with limited splashes of color. In the ensuing years, there has been constant talk of a follow-up based on other books in the series, and after many vaguely explained delays (ongoing rumors persisted that Rodriguez was trying to hold out for Angelina Jolie to become available), it’s finally happening. Like its predecessor, the new film – at least part of which actually takes place before the events of the first – will be comprised of multiple stories: the previously published A Dame to Kill For and Just Another Saturday Night, as well as two original tales from Miller, including one called The Long Bad Night. Returning cast members include Rourke, Willis, Dawson and Alba. Dennis Haysbert inherits the role previously played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, while Josh Brolin steps into the shoes of pre-plastic surgery Dwight, played by Clive Owen in the original. As for the dame to kill for herself, the role for which Rodriguez was supposedly targeting Jolie? She’ll be played by Eva Green, who I’m sure will make an entirely alluring femme fatale.

5.
HER

Director/Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Samantha Morton, Olivia Wilde
Release Date: TBA

Not a lot is known about this movie, so there’s not a lot I can say. The story is set in the near future and concerns a lonely man who falls in love with the female-voiced operating system he purchases to help run his life – essentially a version of the iPhone’s Siri. With such a delightfully gonzo premise, you might expect that this marks another collaboration between Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, but in fact this will be the first time he has pulled solo screenwriting duty. I consider Jonze one of the best directors around, and one who works far too infrequently; this will be only his fourth film since 1999, following Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are. That too-small filmography is a lot to live up to, but I have little doubt Jonze will deliver something worthy of joining it.

4.
GRAVITY

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonas Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Release Date: October 4

Alfonso Cuarón’s highly anticipated follow-up to Children of Men casts Bullock and Clooney as a scientist and astronaut, respectively, tethered to each other and adrift in the cosmos after an accident leaves their space station damaged. The film was on my list last year, originally intended for a November release, but the visual effects required substantially more time to complete. Word is that we can expect a powerful movie combining a gripping and emotional story with astounding visuals. Should be worth the wait.

3.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Terence Winter
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Christine Ebersole, Jon Favreau, Jonah Hill, Jake Hoffman, Spike Jonze, Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Ethan Suplee, Shea Whigam
Release Date: November 15

In his fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese (one more and he’ll tie De Niro; two more and he wins Harvey Keitel), DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who – surprise, surprise – engaged in criminal activity during the Wall Street heyday of the 1980’s. He lived large, partied hard and was worshipped by legions of young brokers. When his illegal activity was swept into a larger securities fraud investigation by the Federal government, it all came crashing down. Terence Winter, a Sopranos writer and creator of the Scorsese-produced HBO series Boardwalk Empire, adapts the true-life tale from Belfort’s memoir. DiCaprio has been trying to get this made for a long time (I’m almost certain that Michael Mann was attached to direct it at one point, though a brief search of the internets could not confirm that), and while doing promotion recently for Django Unchained, indicated that he has high hopes for the movie. He’s not alone.

2.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Evangeline Lilly, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott
Release Date: December 13

Is three movies one movie too many to adequately adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s slender novel The Hobbit? Many would say yes. And they may be right. Personally, I’ll wait until the trilogy is complete to decide if a trilogy was overkill or not. I’m still intrigued by the decision to encompass additional Middle Earth lore from Tolkien’s other writings in order to deepen and enrich the story, so I remain firmly on board with Peter Jackson’s grand adventure. In the next chapter, Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield’s dozen-strong company of dwarves continue their march to reclaim their home city and stolen treasure from the dragon Smaug. Cumberbatch will play the mighty beast using the same motion capture technology that transformed Andy Serkis into Gollum. It should prove another showcase for the visual effects team at Jackson’s WETA Digital, and for Tolkien fans, it should prove a monumental onscreen match-up between a courageous halfling and arguably the most famous fire-breather in all of literature.

1.
UNTITLED DAVID O. RUSSELL ABSCAM MOVIE

Director: David O. Russell
Writer: Eric Warren Singer
Cast: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Alesandro Nivola
Release Date: December 13

Coming off Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell couldn’t be any hotter right now, and his next project – currently without a title, but at one time called American Bullshit – is based on the real-life Abscam operation, an FBI sting in the late 70’s and early 80’s that targeted corruption in Congress. Russell was once notorious for his on-set outbursts and screaming fits directed at cast and crew (he and George Clooney came to blows while making Three Kings), and even then he still lined-up impressive ensembles. Now that he seems to have mellowed out considerably, and with his last two movies yielding an astonishing seven Oscar-nominated performances combined (three of which took the gold), actors would probably slit throats to work with him. Unfortunately for all those blade-wielding thespians, he’s so fond of repeat collaborations that it’s hard to break in. The movie re-teams him with his Fighter stars Bale and Adams, as well as Silver Linings duo Lawrence and Cooper. Renner managed to score the remaining lead role. More cast members might yet be announced, as the movie is just now going into production. I wasn’t sure it would be released this year, but a December date was announced this week, meaning we won’t have as long to wait for Russell to demonstrate yet again why he’s one of the best in the business right now.

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March 23, 2012

Twenty Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2012

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 11:22 am
Tags: , ,

A list like this one would seem most fitting for delivery at the beginning of the year, but I tend to wait until the Oscars are over and we can focus completely on looking ahead. Besides, rarely is there a movie released in the first few months of a given year that would land on anyone’s “most anticipated” list. In fact, today’s release of The Hunger Games is probably the first movie of 2012 that lots of people have been legitimately excited about. But this is just the beginning of what could potentially be an outstanding year for movies. It’s not just that so many great directors have new films coming out this year, but that those films hold such promise, be it from the pairing of certain directors and certain actors, or the match of director to material, or both…there’s potential for some seriously awesome cinema this year, including many projects that have been long-gestating and will finally see the light of day…or the dark of a theater, as it were.

Plenty of surprises surely await, but looking at what I know is coming down the pike, here are some I’m especially pumped about.

21. (Bonus)
UNTITLED TERRENCE MALICK MOVIE
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz, Barry Pepper, Amanda Peet, Michael Sheen, Jessica Chastain, Olga Kurylenko
Release Date: Unknown

Terrence Malick seems to be making up for lost time. The director, known for long gaps between projects, was already deep into production on this film when The Tree of Life was released last year. And his next two projects after this one have already been announced, complete with titles and even principal casting. Pre-production is said to be underway on the first of them, meaning it’s reasonable to assume that this movie – which still lacks a title – will be finished this year. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be distributed this year. We’ve been here before; The Tree of Life made my list of most anticipated for three consecutive years before it finally came out. So I’m hedging my bets and sliding this in at a ranking of #21, just in case it does appear by year’s end. Little is known about the film, other than it being a contemporary romantic drama concerning a man and his relationships with a European lover and a woman from his hometown in Oklahoma. Expect to see a lot of wheat blowing gently in the wind, accompanied by whispered voiceover of Affleck pondering the deep mysteries of love.

20.
HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON
Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman
Release Date: December

We all know that Sean Penn is an amazing actor, but no way should he have won an Oscar for Mystic River over Bill Murray for Lost in Translation. Ever since that defeat, I’ve been hoping Murray would have another shot at the gold. This might be it. He plays President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a story set during a 1939 weekend visit to upstate New York by the King and Queen of England. The movie is said to concern a romance between FDR and his distant cousin and close confidant Margaret Suckley (Linney). I don’t know what tone the film is going for, though I’d guess it will be a light drama with refined comic overtones. Really, I’m just excited about the potential of a great lead role for Murray. Added bonus: the movie reunites him with Olivia Williams, who played his love interest in Rushmore and appears here as Eleanor Roosevelt. Rushmore…another movie for which Murray deserved Oscar attention (he wasn’t nominated). Even if this part puts him back in the race, his competition may be too stiff to overcome (as we’ll see further down the list). But if the movie and the role is good, his performance will be a reward in itself.

19.
SKYFALL

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Helen McRory
Release Date: November 9

I like the James Bond movies, but I’ve never been a hard-core devotee of the franchise. I’ve only seen eight of the official 22 movies, and most of those are from the later years. But I dug the re-launch of the series that was Casino Royale, and liked the direction they were moving in with a less conventional choice for Bond in Daniel Craig (though I’m told by friends that Craig is much closer to the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels than any actor who’s played him previously). Quantum of Solace was less satisfying, but still I’ve been eager to see what was in store for 007. Complicated legal entanglements involving MGM, the studio holding the rights to the series, have held up the next installment, but now Bond is finally coming back. And in this year of great directors, it’s really because of Sam Mendes’ involvement that the movie cracks my top 20. Re-teaming with Craig, whom he directed in Road to Perdition, it will be fun to see what Mendes brings to the table. (One thing we know he brings is Greatest Living Cinematographer Roger Deakins, which means that whatever happens, this will probably be the best looking Bond movie ever.)

18.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Ben Mendolsohn
Release Date: TBA

One of 2010’s best films was the brutally realistic and blisteringly acted Blue Valentine, and now its writer/director Derek Cianfrance re-teams with one of its stars, Ryan Gosling. The plot synopsis on the web describes it as the story of “a motorcycle stunt rider (Gosling), who considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician (Cooper).” Sounds like a more plot-driven movie than Blue Valentine, and who knows if Cianfrance can recapture the raw intimacy of that film…or if he even aims to try. Either way, I’m eager to see the results. Besides, Ryan Gosling seems to be good at playing stunt drivers. So there’s that.

17.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
Director:
Martin McDonagh
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Gabourey Sidibe, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, Kevin Corrigan, Zeljko Ivanek
Release Date: November 2

I really enjoyed McDonagh’s feature debut, In Bruges, as well as his Oscar winning short film Six Shooter. His newest sounds like a similarly offbeat crime-comedy, with Farrell playing a screenwriter who gets mixed up in a friend’s dognapping scheme, both of them running afoul of a crazy gangster whose prized Shi Tzu is targeted. McDonagh’s work strikes a Tarantino-like balance of humor and violence, but he has a voice all his own, and here he’s got a quartet of leads – Farrell, Harrelson, Rockwell and Walken – that somehow seemed destined to star in a violent comedy about gangsters, petty criminals and dog-snatchers. In fact, I’m sort of amazed it took this long.

16.
LAWLESS

Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce, Noah Taylor, Jason Clarke
Release Date: August 31

There’s been positive buzz around this Depression-era drama – adapted by musician/screenwriter Nick Cave from the much more colorfully named novel The Wettest County in the World – about bootlegging brothers in Virginia clashing with corrupt local authorities who want a taste of their action. I don’t know a lot about it, but I have a good feeling. The premise sounds interesting, the cast looks great and director John Hillcoat has impressed with gritty, somber dramas The Proposition and The Road. I feel like he’s poised for a breakthrough, and this could be it.

15.
ARGO
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Clea DuVall, Titus Welliver, Richard Kind, Tate Donovan, Adrienne Barbeau
Release Date: September 14

When Ben Affleck turned to directing, people were skeptical. He silenced those skeptics rather easily with Gone Baby Gone, and reaffirmed his talent behind the camera with The Town. Both movies earned Oscar nominations for members of their ensembles, and it’s believed that The Town probably came close to a Best Picture nomination. For his third trip behind the camera, Affleck dramatizes a real-life incident from the 1979 Iran hostage crisis in which the U.S. and Canada teamed up to rescue six U.S. diplomats being held at their embassy in Iran. Their plan? Claiming the diplomats were actually members of a film crew scouting Iranian locations for a science fiction film. It’s been nice to watch Affleck prove his mettle as a filmmaker after a string of bad movies as an actor, and Argo is shaping up to be another feather in his cap.

14.
GANGSTER SQUAD
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Mireille Enos, Frank Grillo
Release Date: October 12

After directing Zombieland, one of my favorite films of 2009, and last year’s 30 Minutes or Less, Ruben Fleischer is moving into less comedic territory with this movie, based on the true story of cops who were tasked with curbing the influence of East Coast mobsters in the City of Angels – particularly Mickey Cohen, who attained a strong foothold. (Cohen’s story was the jumping off point for 1997’s phenomenal L.A. Confidential.) Fleischer has enticed a tremendous cast to join him, which hopefully suggests that he’s got the chops to handle this kind of material. The era is proving to be a popular one; Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont is heading into production on a TV pilot for TNT called L.A. Noir, which focuses on the same period and some of the same characters. Here, the squad includes Brolin and Gosling, while Penn will play Cohen and Nolte will take on the era’s controversial police chief, William Parker.

13.
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, David Paymer, Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell, Kevin Hart, Jim Piddock, Mimi Kennedy
Release Date: April 27

Jason Segel’s 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a pleasant surprise, and showed that the actor – who also wrote the film – had learned well from his mentor Judd Apatow. Now Segel re-teams with Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, and the two of them share writing duties (as they did on last year’s The Muppets) on a new comedy about a couple’s impending marriage after a prolonged betrothal. I haven’t seen any trailers, but I’m counting on these guys and their reliable cast to deliver a sharp, humane comedy.

12.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Garrett Dillahunt, Ben Mendohlson, Vincent Curatola
Release Date: September 21

Formerly titled Cogan’s Trade (further demonstrating, along with the above-listed Lawless, that Hollywood will always go with a generic, flavorless title over one with a dash of individuality), this crime drama reunites Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik, who previously collaborated on the masterful The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. But unlike that moody, patient Western, their latest is a present-day story involving a mob enforcer investigating a poker game heist. I’m not expecting anything as striking as Jesse James, but that movie is enough to make this one well worth getting excited about. Throw in James Gandolfini, who I happen to think should be featured in every movie ever made anywhere, and my hopes are high.

11.
GRAVITY
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Release Date: November

My many Oscar ramblings at the time made it clear that I was less than onboard with Sandra Bullock’s Oscar nomination and ultimate win in 2009 for The Blind Side. But I’ve always liked Bullock and thought she was an actress worthy of better movies than most of the ones she appeared in, so I hoped that her Oscar might at least lead her toward better material. Her first post-win role in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a step in the right direction. Now she’s got a project that could really be something special. Bullock and Clooney play a scientist and astronaut, respectively, who find themselves stranded in space after an accident on their vessel, cut-off from communication with Earth and running out of time and oxygen. In fact, if what I’ve read is accurate, the incident leaves them tethered to each other and floating outside their ship. So…the movie will pretty much be two actors in spacesuits dangling in the vastness of space. It’s a challenging set-up, but Cuarón has the chops to pull it off. He’s a director responsible for films both narratively and visually rich – including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This one sounds pretty fascinating.

10.
LOOPER
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, Tracie Thoms
Release Date: September 28

What would happen if you took 12 Monkeys, Timecop and Minority Report and tossed them into a blender? Other than destroying your blender, I’m not sure. But based on the minimal plot description I’ve seen, the result might be Looper. Coming from Johnson, the writer/director behind Brick and The Brothers Bloom, it could have a decidedly less mainstream vibe than any of the ingredients I mentioned (though admittedly, 12 Monkeys is pretty far out there for a studio-backed movie). Anyway, I don’t know if or to what degree any of those movies will indeed prove forebears to Looper. All I know is Johnson is an original filmmaking voice who earned my loyalty with Brick, and his newest effort involves time travel, which always peaks my interest.

9.
THIS IS FORTY
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd
Release Date: December 21

Among the great supporting characters in Apatow’s Knocked Up were Debbie and Pete (Mann and Rudd), the frequently squabbling sister and brother-in-law of Katherine Heigl’s Alison. Now they’re reprising their roles and taking center stage as Apatow turns his astute and hilarious lens on the joys and struggles of raising a family. Debbie and Pete’s kids will once again be played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters, and while neither Heigl nor Seth Rogen is expected to appear, Jason Segel – who played Rogen’s buddy with a thing for Debbie – will be on hand. Apatow’s last directorial outing was Funny People, which I didn’t love as much as Knocked Up or The 40 Year Old Virgin, but the man is a comic god. The movie’s title is subject to change, but my anticipation is not.

8.
BRAVE
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Cast: (Voices) Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Release Date: June 22

The latest from Pixar was titled The Bear and the Bow in an earlier incarnation, but apparently its Scottish highlands setting required that the word “brave” be somewhere in the title (think about it), so they just went with that and called it a day. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a dark-ish fairy tale involving Princess Meridia, a skillful archer who feels stifled in her parents’ court and whose desire for adventure leads her to a foolish decision that inadvertently endangers the kingdom. This is Pixar’s 13th film, and its first built around a female protagonist. Surely Disney executives are sweating that one, concerned that little boys won’t be interested in a movie about a girl…even though Disney’s Tangled grossed over $200 million. No matter. In Pixar We Trust.

7.
GAME OF THRONES
Wait…sorry.  That’s a TV show…

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A mark of how promising this year is: the remaining movies are all pretty much in my top three. Unfortunately, there’s seven of them, and bad as I am at math, I’m not that bad. But these are the ones I’m really, really, really dying to see…

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7.
MOONRISE KINGDOM
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel
Release Date: May 25

Wes Anderson’s latest, co-written with Roman Coppola, is set in the 1960’s and tells the story of a boy and girl who fall in love at summer camp and run away together, sending their parents, the police, the camp staff and pretty much the whole community into a frenzy. Doesn’t really matter to me what it’s about, though. It had me at “Wes Anderson.” The director’s regular collaborators Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are on hand, and I’m loving the new crew of actors joining him for the first time. The trailer promises his usual quirky whimsy, and I like the idea of a story built around two younger protagonists.

6.
LINCOLN
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes,
James Spader, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jared Harris, S. Epatha Merkerson, Walton Goggins, Lee Pace, David Oyelowo, Gregory Itzin, Gloria Rueben
Release Date: November or December

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that Steven Spielberg is one of the great directors of all time, and Daniel Day-Lewis one of the great actors of all time. That these two should come together to tell a story of one of the great American presidents of all time is cause for cinematic celebration.

For the last who knows how many years, Spielberg’s slate of potential projects has included a movie about Abraham Lincoln, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning tome Team of Rivals. With his Schindler’s List star Liam Neeson attached to play the 16th President, it seemed just a matter of time before the director would get around to it. But after years with no movement, Neeson bowed out of the project in 2010, feeling he’d grown too old to play Lincoln if the movie still got made. Just a few months later, Lincoln was announced as a go project with Daniel Day-Lewis onboard. This movie was always full of promise, but with all due respect to Neeson – who I’ve got nothin’ but love for – Day-Lewis’ involvement is a game-changer. This combination of story, director, lead actor, supporting cast, source material and screenwriters (including John Logan and Tony Kushner) makes this movie something to salivate over. I’d be happy with Day-Lewis doing a one-man show, but seriously, did you look at that list of actors Spielberg has assembled? With so many notable names, some will probably appear briefly as mere window dressing, but those are going to be some super nice windows. The most interesting piece of casting is Sally Field, who will play Mary Todd Lincoln. Field has spent the last several years working mostly in television, but she is, remember, a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner. It will be nice to see her with such a plum big-screen role, especially playing opposite fellow two-time winner Day-Lewis. (Field will also be seen as Aunt May in this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man).

The film will not be a birth-to-death style biopic, but where exactly it will focus remains unclear. Spielberg has said it will cover the last four months of Lincoln’s life, yet news articles appeared long after that comment and stated the film will depict his rise to politics and his role in the Civil War.

5.
THE MASTER
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Release Date: TBA

Wes is not the only gifted Anderson who’s back in the game this year. With Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson showed a dazzling skill with juggling ensemble casts in a way that did his hero and friend Robert Altman proud. Yet There Will Be Blood showed that he could just as easily build a film around a single dynamic character. The Master will probably fall somewhere in between. Details are vague, but the film is apparently set in the 1950’s and casts Hoffman as an L. Ron Hubbard-like figure named Lancaster Dodd, who starts a religious movement that grows into something cult-like. Adams will play his wife, while Phoenix’s role is said to be that of a drifter who is initially seduced by the charismatic Dodd and becomes a close confidant before growing disillusioned. The Scientology angle may prove a lightning rod, but I expect a filmmaker like PTA is less interested in making a thinly-veiled takedown of an easy-target than he is in psychologically exploring a figure who could create such a movement and possess the magnetism to attract a following. Just imagine what an actor like Hoffman will do with a role like that. Should the Academy go ahead and engrave his name on the Oscar for Best Actor right now? I might say yes, if not for the Daniel Day-Lewis factor.

4.
PROMETHEUS
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson, Rafe Spall
Release Date: June 8

Alien. Blade Runner. Two of the best science-fiction films ever, both directed by Ridley Scott. In the years since Blade Runner‘s 1982 release, Scott has worked in a variety of genres and made films of varying quality. This year, he will return to sci-fi for the first time since that double-whammy. Adding to the intrigue surrounding Prometheus – indeed, one reason anticipation is so high for the movie – is the mystery of its connection to Alien. From the time the project was announced, there have been vague statements from Scott and some of his cast members saying that the movie “shares a DNA” with that 1979 masterpiece. Just how connected the two movies would be remained a mystery, though Scott has long expressed an interest in exploring the origins of the “space jockey,” the enormous mummified creature discovered in the derelict craft in Alien. Could Prometheus be that exploration, making it a sort of unofficial prequel to Scott’s early classic? The first teaser for the film hit theaters in December, and the answer seems to be “Hells yeah!”

The Alien franchise went sadly downhill after James Cameron’s epic follow-up to Scott’s original, but what’s exciting about Prometheus is that it appears to be a stand-alone story that will also serve to set-up the events in Alien. The script was developed in such a way that it could have worked with or without the Alien connection. But while Scott is still being coy in interviews, any Alien fan can see from the teaser that Prometheus will revisit some hallowed ground. Scott has even said that H.R. Giger – who designed the original Alien creature – did a little work for him on the new film. Alien and Aliens are two of my all-time favorites, so of course I can’t wait to see what Scott has up his sleeve. He recently gave an interview in which he said he’d had so much fun making the movie that he’s already mulling ideas for a sequel…which kinda blows your mind since the obvious sequel to this movie will probably wind up being Alien…which he already made! Whoa. The viral marketing campaign is underway by now, and includes this intriguing piece of promotion: a clip of Guy Pearce’s character speaking at a TED conference in the year 2023. The most hard-core of Alien franchise fans will note the significance of the character’s last name. New trailers and additional viral videos were released just last weekend, but I’m cutting myself off. I suspect that the less I know going into this one, the more satisfied I’ll be.

3.
DJANGO UNCHAINED
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, Anthony LaPaglia, RZA, Sacha Baron Cohen and possibly Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Release Date: December 25

When last at bat, Quentin Tarantino audaciously re-wrote American history with the celebrated Inglourious Basterds. His next film is said to pay homage to Sergio Leone and the spaghetti western, while provocatively examining race relations. Foxx will play the title role of Django, a freed slave who comes under the tutelage of a German bounty hunter (Waltz) and then enlists his mentor’s aide in liberating his wife from wicked plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). I’m always excited to see what Tarantino has in store, but what feels especially promising about his latest is the casting of DiCaprio as the film’s chief bad guy, described by those who’ve read the lengthy script as a vicious and sadistic character who dominates the second half of the movie. This will be a complete departure for Leo, who has never tackled pure, unbridled villainy. Few stars of his stature – true A-listers, of which there really aren’t many left – are willing to take such creative risks. (Will Smith was initially offered the title role, but reportedly turned it down because it didn’t fit with his image. And that was for the hero’s part.) You know Tarantino can come up with some pretty sick shit, and I love the idea of DiCaprio playing in those waters. If the role is as dynamic as word of mouth suggests, we could be looking at a Best Supporting Actor frontrunner. But that would just be the cherry on top of what looks to be another Tarantino tour-de-force. Given the movie’s Christmas Day release date, I’m just hoping the Mayans are wrong about the world ending on December 21.

2.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Nestor Carbonell
Release Date: July 20

Where do you go after The Dark Knight? Sure, the ending of the 2008 sequel sets up a starting point, but how do you compete with a movie so spectacular and a villain so brilliant as Heath Ledger’s Joker? That film probably can’t be topped, but if anyone can match it, I believe Christopher Nolan can. His final Batman film will pick up eight years later, and evidence around the internet suggests that the director will bring the story back around to the League of Shadows, the organization in Batman Begins headed by the now deceased Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson). The central villain this time is the masked muscleman Bane (Hardy), who does have a connection in the comic books to Ghul and could perhaps be the new agent of destruction attempting to bring down Gotham City. But who really knows what surprises Nolan has in store. This is the conclusion of his trilogy, so all that seems certain is that he will try to deliver riveting action supporting a strong story that will bring his take on the iconic character to a rousing finale.

1.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Evangeline Lilly, Stephen Fry, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Billy Connolly
Release Date: December 14

Given my favorite film of the last decade,  Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth naturally lands my number one spot. (And unless this film is somehow a massive fail, the second installment is safely atop my list of next year’s most anticipated as well.) It’s hard to believe that at this time ten years ago, the first Lord of the Rings film was fresh off four Oscar wins and still going strong in theaters, with the promise of The Two Towers already peaking fans’ excitement. An Unexpected Journey is an apt title for this film, given its complicated history; Hollywood politics are arguably a fiercer enemy than Smaug. MGM held the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, but the studio’s ongoing bankruptcy issues kept the film stuck in development hell. It was only a matter of time before things worked out, so Guillermo del Toro came aboard to direct the film and serve as co-writer with the original trilogy’s Oscar-winning scribes Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens. Jackson would serve as producer and creative godfather. Pre-production began with a great deal of design work, but the years dragged on and the rights remained ensnared. After two years of waiting, del Toro reluctantly abandoned the project to pursue a growing slate of other opportunities. Fans waited eagerly to see who would step in to direct, and before long Jackson committed to make the films himself. Few filmmakers other than del Toro would have been worthy – and in possession of the right style –  to succeed Jackson, but who are we kidding? We all wanted Jackson to do the movies himself. Production is well underway, with a number of cast members from the original trilogy returning in small roles (though Ian McKellan’s Gandalf is once again a major character) and Martin Freeman assuming the role of a younger Bilbo Baggins from Ian Holm (who will still appear in a bookending sequence). The first trailer was revealed in December, and it shows that Jackson had no trouble slipping comfortably back into the world of hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves and men.

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So there you have it. New movies from Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Judd Apatow, Sam Mendes, Alfonso Cuarón…and not just that those guys have new movies on the way, but new movies full of such potential. Scott and Spielberg wouldn’t automatically make my list if their films weren’t as likely to kick ass as their 2012 entries are. And then we have the younger directors on the rise: Rian Johnson, Derek Cianfrance, Ben Affleck, Martin McDonagh. Plenty of other great (or at least once-great) filmmakers have movies on the way too, and even if their films weren’t as exciting to me as the 20 listed above, it should be noted that we’ll see new work from Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Joe Wright, Curtis Hanson, Steven Soderbergh, Tim Burton, Woody Allen (of course), the Wachowski’s, Lee Daniels, David Chase (creator of The Sopranos, making his feature debut), Baz Luhrman, David Cronenberg, Oliver Stone and Kathryn Bigelow…though her ambitious movie about Seal Team Six just started production recently. I’m not convinced it will make its December 19 release date.

And who knows what smaller gems await? Sundance darlings and as-yet-unseen indies that might play the fall festival circuit on their way to late year, award-baiting release dates. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but right now 2012 is lookin’ real good.

March 1, 2011

Twenty Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2011

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 9:54 pm
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Well now that the Oscars are done (my commentary is forthcoming) and we can finally put 2010’s movies to bed, it’s time to look ahead to what 2011 has to offer…and with the release of one of these films now less than a week away, it’s not a moment too soon. As always, this list is based on the films I know about at this point, and there are even more that I’m looking forward to than I had room to include here. I’m sorry, for instance, that I didn’t list either of the two movies Steven Spielberg is directing this year, but what can I say?  Neither War Horse nor The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (both due for release days apart in December) are all that compelling to me at this stage. But I shouldn’t feel like too undevoted a Spielberg fan, as he is definitely connected to one of my top choices. Anyway, here goes…

20. MARGARET – Kenneth Lonergan’s debut film as a writer/director was 2000’s You Can Count On Me, a very good movie that earned a Best Actress nomination for Laura Linney, a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Lonergan and introduced moviegoers to Mark Ruffalo (in a role that should have been Oscar nominated as well). Lonergan was nominated again as a co-writer on 2002’s Gangs of New York. So expectations were high when he began production in 2005 on his second effort as a writer/director, Margaret, starring Ruffalo, Anna Paquin and Matt Damon. That’s right…2005. Turns out the film became bogged down in creative and legal quagmires, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times two years ago. Last summer it was reported that Margaret would finally be released this year. That’s the last I heard, so I don’t know if it’s still on track or not. Curiosity factor lands it on my list. After all that time and all the entanglements, can a good movie emerge? I hope we’ll get to find out. (Fall…maybe)

19. TAKE THIS WALTZ – There may be no more intriguing a match of director and actor this year than Sarah Polley and Seth Rogen. Polley is the young actress, writer and director behind the quiet, mature 2007 film Away From Her, about a couple dealing with the wife’s slide into Alzheimer’s. It earned Oscar nominations for Julie Christie and for Polley’s adapted screenplay. And Rogen, well, we more readily associate him with the hilariously crude tomfoolery of Judd Apatow films than the more indie, dramatic leanings of Polley (although she did go commercial as star of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake). Not knowing the tone of the film, said to be a love triangle involving two guys and girl, it’s hard to say whether Polley or Rogen is the one stepping farther into unfamiliar territory. The fact that Sarah Silverman co-stars might suggest more of a comedy, but the main female role actually belongs to Michelle Williams, so…wow…this is quite the fascinating line-up of talent.  (Fall)

18. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – I have yet to get swept up in the literary phenomenon of Stieg Larsson’s Milennium Trilogy. I haven’t read the books, nor seen the Swedish films that launched actress Noomi Rapace to international stardom. But the American version is directed by David Fincher, so…’nuff said. Rooney Mara, who made a strong impression on Fincher as Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in the opening scene of The Social Network, takes on the role of hacker Lisbeth Salander, with other key parts filled by Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgaard and Christopher Plummer. (December)

17. J. EDGAR – Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with director Clint Eastwood to play the famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in this biopic written by Milk Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black. I don’t actually know if the movie is scheduled for release this year; it just began production in early February. But given the efficiency with which Eastwood shoots and edits, he’s probably handing his final cut into he studio right around now. Alright, maybe not that fast, but a 2011 release seems likely. Eastwood’s last two outings – Invictus and Gran Torino – left me underwhelmed. But with DiCaprio in another strong central role, heading an ensemble that includes Judi Dench, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and The Social Network‘s breakout star Armie Hammer, this could be Eastwood’s return to form. (Fall/Winter)

16. RANGO – We’ve entered an era where the lines between live-action and animated films have become increasingly blurred. The Star Wars prequels found actors performing on stages against greenscreens, their environments digitally constructed around them, while Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Peter Jackson have led pioneering work in motion capture technology (with some results more successful than others). Now we’re seeing directors who’ve traditionally worked in one medium cross over to the other. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird are working on their live-action feature debuts, and now Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski follows Wes Anderson into the world of animation. Rango tells of a lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp) who finds himself in an Old West town. How or why that happens I don’t know, but the animation looks great and early glimpses suggest a quirky, unique animated adventure. As you can see from the video below, the buzz has been building. (March)

15. HANNA – Popular film has gifted us many trends over the years: body-switching movies, erupting volcano movies, asteroid movies…and now we seem to be in the midst of a new trend: young girls killing the shit out of everyone in sight. Last year gave us the hilarious, hyperviolent Kick-Ass, a movie which was nearly stolen by pint-sized Chloe Grace Moretz as the blissfully homicidal Hit Girl. This year brings Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, but far more intriguing to me is Hanna, re-teaming director Joe Wright with his Oscar nominated Atonement star Saorise Ronan as a deadly tween on a mission…or something. I don’t know exactly, but it looks pretty damn cool based on the trailer. Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana also star. As it happens, Ronan will stick with this trend in the upcoming Violet & Daisy, playing another teenage assassin alongside Alexis Bledel and Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini. Girls just wanna have fun…by tearing your fucking head off. (April)

14. THE BEAVER – I know that I’m supposed to be completely disgusted by Mel Gibson these days, but I’m not. His personal demons are his personal demons, and I hope he works through them. As long as he doesn’t beat, maim, rape or kill, then it’s all just sticks and stones. Or not. I don’t know. The guy is a good actor, a good filmmaker and I still look forward to his work. The Beaver, directed by Gibson’s close friend and Maverick co-star Jodie Foster, centers on a man whose life is falling apart and who is so depressed that he can only communicate by using a beaver hand puppet. Sounds wonderfully weird. Early buzz on the film (which was filmed before The Great Meltdown of 2010), and Gibson’s performance in particular, is strong. And it certainly sounds like an original. Before Foster came along, the script was featured on the 2008 Black List, a Hollywood executive’s annual scroll of the best unproduced screenplays kicking around the industry. (Incidentally, Take This Waltz appeared on 2009’s list). Frankly, I can’t wait to see what Gibson does with this role. (May)

13. THE TREE OF LIFE – I know…we’ve been here before. This is the third year that Terrence Malick’s “new” film, featuring Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, has appeared on my list, but this time it’s really, really coming out. I swear. It has a poster, a trailer, a release date…everything an actual movie coming to a theater near you is expected to have. I don’t know too much more about it than I did the past two years; the trailer is somewhat cryptic, teasing a story as epic as the cosmos and as intimate as the relationships between fathers and sons. So what took so long? Apparently it got caught in limbo when there was a shake-up at the studio originally set to distribute it. Fox Searchlight picked it up last September, but decided to hold off on releasing it until they could market it properly, with the care warranted by a Malick movie. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the director was still tinkering away on it all that time. But believe it or not, he’s already shooting his next film – his fastest turnaround ever. So look for that one to show up on this list next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. (May)

12. WIN WIN – I don’t know much about the premise of Thomas McCarthy’s third film as writer/director, but the fact that it’s written and directed by Thomas McCarthy is good enough to place it on my list. He’s given us The Station Agent and The Visitor, both of which are simple, unique and wonderfully acted. His newest stars Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and Bobby Canavale. How can you lose? (April)

11. SOURCE CODE – One of 2009’s best cinematic surprises was Moon, the feature directing debut of David Bowie scion Duncan Jones. His follow-up finds him sticking with a sci-fi premise but significantly ramping up the action. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a soldier tasked with reliving an 8-minute period prior to a train crash over and over again until he can determine who is responsible for setting the bomb that caused the derailment. Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright co-star…but for me, Jones is the one to watch. (April)

10. THE DESCENDANTS – Hard to believe, but Alexander Payne hasn’t directed a feature film since 2004’s Sideways (he did contribute one of the best segments to the anthology film Paris J’Taime, and has kept busy with other projects). How nice it will be to have him back. His leading man this time around is George Clooney, and the actor’s impeccable eye for material makes his team-up with Payne all the more tantalizing. I don’t know much about the story (that’s quite a pattern, isn’t it?), but I’m further excited by the casting of Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard. Payne has shown a gift for matching actors to material, and has done so with people both on and off the A-list. He gave Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church career-resurrecting roles in Sideways, so I’m crossing my fingers that Greer, a great actress whose long resume includes Adaptation, Arrested Development and many films and TV shows that aren’t as good as she is in them, will finally have a role rich enough to bring her the level of attention she deserves. And Lillard is usually seen as an over-the-top goofball in not-so-great movies, so I can’t wait to see if Payne can reign him in and show us another side of him. (Fall/Winter)

9. CARNAGE – Roman Polanski’s follow-up to last year’s gem The Ghost Writer is this adaptation of 2009’s Tony-winning Best Play, God of Carnage. The dark comedy is about two couples who meet to discuss a fight between their school-aged children, but prove as the night goes on to be not much more than children themselves. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly will play one couple, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz the other. That’s one damn awesome cast, though I can’t help feel a bit of disappointment that the original Broadway quartet wasn’t tapped for the film. After all, we’re talking Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden (who won a Tony for her role; all four were nominated). That’s not exactly a slate of no-names. But then, the Broadway cast weren’t the originals either. The play ran in London prior to arriving in New York, and featured Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer. Despite the revolving door of performers, we’re surely in for a treat with Foster, Winslet, Waltz and Reilly tearing up the meaty script, adapted by Polanksi and the play’s author Yasmina Reza. (Fall/Winter)

8. THE IDES OF MARCH – In addition to his starring role in The Descendants, George Clooney steps back behind the camera this year as well, and may just have another Good Night and Good Luck on his hands with this story, based on the play Farragut North, about a dirty political campaign. (Is there any other kind?) I’m not sure if the film is a satire or straight-up drama, but whatever it is, this cast has me sold: Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood. (October)

7. MONEYBALL – Here we have an adaptation of a book by The Blind Side author Michael Lewis, recounting how the Oakland A’s used unconventional statistics to put together a competitive team despite a significantly smaller budget than big spenders like the Yankees. That may not sound like gripping cinema, but neither did The Social Network…and like that film, this one boasts a script by Aaron Sorkin (re-writing a draft by Steven Zaillian). Ready for another killer cast? How about Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman (again), Robin Wright, and going against-the-grain, Jonah Hill and Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt? Capping off the roster is director Bennett Miller, who made 2005’s stunning Capote but has been MIA ever since. With a talent line-up like that, the bases are clearly loaded. (September)

6. CONTAGION – No one enjoys catching a virus, but catching a good virus movie can be an entirely different proposition. There’s the slightly cheesy but highly enjoyable Dustin Hoffman flick Outbreak; HBO’s And the Band Played On is a great detective story about the early days of the AIDS epidemic; and post-apocalyptic tales like 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and 12 Monkeys all have a virus to thank for nearly wiping out mankind. So okay, Contagion doesn’t exactly cover new ground. But with Steven Soderbergh in the director’s chair and Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne all on the hunt, it’s ground I’ll be happy to tread. Soderbergh is shooting the film in 3D…which makes it the first movie since Avatar that I actually want to see in 3D. (October)

5. YOUNG ADULT – Four years after collaborating on Juno, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody reteam with the story of an author who returns to her hometown and pursues an ex-boyfriend, now married with children. Charlize Theron stars, along with Patton Oswalt and go-to handsome guy Patrick Wilson. Reitman has emerged as one of the brightest storytellers in Hollywood, which makes anything he’s doing worth getting excited about. (Fall/Winter)

4. SUPER 8 – As someone who came of age in the Age of Spielberg – the suburban adventures of Close Encounters, E.T., Poltergeist, The Goonies and Gremlins fueling my imagination – the notion of J.J. Abrams writing and directing a film that pays homage to Spielberg’s 70’s and 80’s classics kinda makes me giddy. In many ways, Abrams is the second coming of Spielberg. He shares the youthful and infectious enthusiasm for movie magic, his work balances sentimental with scary (without going too far in either direction), he’s great at staging action, he draws good work from child actors…and he just pretty much rules. With Spielberg onboard as executive producer, and a trailer indicating that Abrams is clearly on the right track (which is more than can be said for the clip’s freighter train), I’m pumped for a smart summer movie that promises both a sense of discovery and taste of the wonderfully familiar. (June)

3. THE MUPPETS – Like the movies of Steven Spielberg, The Muppets were a major part of my childhood. And as I’ve never really grown up, they remain a source of serious joy. So when I heard a few years ago that Jason Segel was plotting to bring them back to the big screen, it was like music to my ears…if the music in question was a psychadelic, hard rockin’ jam by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Segel stars in the film, which he co-wrote with his Forgetting Sarah Marshall collaborator Nicholas Stoller. Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin is at the helm, and Segel is joined by Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and in keeping with Muppet tradition, a slew of big name guest stars. (November)

2. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II – I had my usual issues with Part I of the final installment of Harry’s journey, but all in all I thought it was one of the best entries in the series. I’m sure I’ll have my issues with this grand finale as well (I’m already concerned by shots in the trailer that suggest Harry and Voldemort’s showdown takes place in isolation, rather than surrounded by their respective followers as it does in the book). But the final film has arguably the best cinematic potential of all the books, because its centerpiece will be the epic Battle of Hogwarts. An opportunity like this is one where, for as much as J.K. Rowling was able to accomplish on the page, the screen can just do so much more. I expect the filmmakers will draw out the battle, add details and generally go for broke. But I think more than anything, I’m looking to see how the filmmakers handle a chapter from the book called “The Prince’s Tale,” in which we finally learn the many hidden truths about Severus Snape. Alan Rickman, this is your moment. I know you won’t let me down. (July)

1. HUGO CABRET – Martin Scorsese’s career has covered a wide variety of ground, and after all this time the director is still exploring new territory…in this case, a children’s book. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is described by its author Brian Selznick, in a letter on the book’s Amazon.com page, as a story of “Paris in the 1930’s, a thief, a broken machine, a strange girl, a mean old man, and the secrets that tie them all together.” As usual, Scorsese has assembled a terrific cast, featuring Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ray Winstone. Most intriguingly, the director makes his first foray into 3D filmmaking to bring the book’s acclaimed pictures to life. I haven’t bought into the recent 3D explosion, but when filmmakers like Scorsese (and Steven Soderbergh, as mentioned above) embrace the technology, I’m eager to witness the results. (November)

May 7, 2010

Twenty Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2010

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 7:48 pm
Tags: , ,

Yes, it’s May. Yes, it’s a little late for a list of movies I’m looking forward to in a year that is already five months old. Yes, I’m going to do it anyway. After all, how many really good movies have you seen in the last four months?

That’s what I thought.

The only earlier releases that would have made my list are Shutter Island and Greenberg, and so far there have been few flicks that have really impressed (How to Train Your Dragon is one of the few). So with the summer just getting started and the fall still ahead, here are the movies I’m most eager to see (of the ones I’m already aware of…)

20. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT – I love movies that give actors a chance to shine, and the reviews out of Sundance (the festival’s output is heavily represented on this list) say this film does just that. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening earned high praise as a longtime couple whose teenagers seek out the sperm donor from whence they came (played by Mark Ruffalo). The comedic drama is directed by indie darling Lisa Cholodenko, whose credits include High Art and Laurel Canyon. (July)

19. SOLITARY MAN – I’ve always liked Michael Douglas, but I’ve never thought of him as one of my favorite actors. Yet I get pretty excited everytime a movie comes along that offers the potential of a rich role for him, so maybe I need to re-evaluate. In this film directed by the screenwriters behind Rounders and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen and The Girlfriend Experience, Douglas plays a guy dealing with the fallout from years of selfish behavior and damaged relationships. Supported by Mary Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg and his old friend Danny DeVito, Douglas is earning his best reviews since Wonder Boys. If that’s the bar he’s meeting, we’re in for a treat. (May)

18. THE TOWN – In 2007, Ben Affleck made an impressive directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, so I’m hopeful that his second outing behind the camera – a heist film which he co-wrote – will yield similarly positive results. His casting of Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper and Jon Hamm suggests he’s on the right track; his casting of himself might suggest to others that he’s not. But it doesn’t worry me; I’ve liked Affleck’s performances in films like Good Will Hunting, Chasing Amy, Shakespeare in Love, Changing Lanes and Dogma, so I’m firmly rooting for his efforts both in front of and behind the camera. (September)

17. THE SOCIAL NETWORK – On paper, this film about the personal battles that went down around the founding of Facebook sounds less than exciting. But when a movie is written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, attention must be paid. Here’s hoping they prove my initial judgment wrong. Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, rising British star Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) and Rashida Jones head the cast. With all the recent developments around Facebook’s privacy policy, I already smell a sequel. (October)

16. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD – Michael Cera stars as a geeky kid (big surprise) who must battle his dream girl’s evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her. It’s based on a cult comic book which I’ve never seen, so my interest in this boils down to its director, Edgar Wright, whose Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of the best comedies in recent years. Those films had the advantage of a hilarious on-screen duo in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but Wright’s snazzy, energetic direction was a big part of the appeal. Combine that with a goofy concept, Cera’s awkward charm and a cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh as some of his foes, and this could be one of the year’s most fun movies. (August)

15. THE CONSPIRATOR – There are simply not enough films that put the beautiful, smart, incredibly underrated Robin Wright front and center. For that reason alone, this film makes my list. Under the direction of Robert Redford, Wright plays a woman on trial as one of the figures who planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. James McAvoy co-stars as her attorney, a Union soldier who takes the case reluctantly and then has reason to wonder if his client is being wrongly prosecuted. Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Danny Huston, Alexis Bledel, Jonathan Groff and Kevin Kline also star. (Fall)

14. THE FIGHTER – Director David O. Russell re-teams with his Three Kings and I Heart Huckabee’s star Mark Wahlberg in this story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward. That name means nothing to me, but here are some that do (in addition to Russell and Wahlberg): Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and screenwriter Paul Attanasio, whose credits include Donnie Brasco and Quiz Show. (December)

13. BLUE VALENTINE – Another Sundance breakout, this one chronicles the crumbling marriage of a young couple played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Sounds like familiar territory, but it was received with near universal praise at the festival and promises to be a great showcase for two of our finest young actors, who were being pegged for 2010 Oscar nominations before 2009’s had even been announced. (December)

12. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS – It’s been over 20 years since Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas collaborated on Wall Street, earning the latter an Academy Award and introducing “greed is good” into the annals of pop culture. But whereas most sequels are made with a single motivation in mind – cash money – here is the rare example that actually feels justified. The original wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, so it’s not like the motivatation here is profit or a desire to cash in on an idea that had some mileage initially but has nowhere left to go. Instead, we’ve got a central character who’s actually worth revisiting years later. Like Fast Eddie Felson, who Paul Newman returned to play in The Color of Money 25 years after originating the character in The Hustler, Gordon Gekko is ripe for revisiting in the wake of a financial crisis brought about by the very greed that he claimed was so good. What has happened to him after his imprisonment and the collapse of the financial markets? I look forward to seeing what Stone and Douglas come up with after all this time. The sterling supporting cast features Shia LeBeouf, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan and Susan Sarandon. (October)

11. SOMEWHERE – I wasn’t so into Sofia Coppola’s last film, the visually sumptuous but narratively unengaging Marie Antoinette. Her latest, however, seems more akin to Lost in Translation, and that’s a good sign. The unexpected casting of Stephen Dorff, as a partying movie star left in charge of his 11-year old daughter while staying at Hollywood’s famous Chateau Marmont, only adds to the curiosity factor. (December)

10. TREE OF LIFE – A holdover from last year’s list, this is the first new film from Terrence Malick in five years…and only his fifth since 1973. I don’t know any more about it now than I did a year ago, but as a big fan of The Thin Red Line and The New World, I’m looking forward to seeing what the poet auteur comes up with this time. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt appear. (Fall)

9. LOVE RANCH – Another selection from last year’s list that didn’t see the light, this long-on-the-shelf film is finally getting a small release this summer. Directed by Taylor Hackford, it tells the story of the first legal brothel in Nevada and the husband and wife who founded it, played by odd-couple Oscar winners Joe Pesci and Helen Mirren. Pesci is the reason this movie makes my list. This marks his first non-cameo role in a film since 1998, and it will be great to finally have him back in action. (June)

8. THE COMPANY MEN – John Wells, the television writer and showrunner whose small-screen work includes ER , The West Wing, Southland and China Beach, makes his feature directorial debut with a timely film about the effects of corporate downsizing and the troubled economy on a group of men and their families. One of the best reviewed movies at Sundance this year, it stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper (also together in The Town), Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt and Craig T. Nelson. (Fall)

7. BLACK SWAN – For his follow-up to The Wrestler, director Darren Aronofsky unveils this psychological thriller featuring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as rival ballet dancers. That’s all I know about the plot…and with the promise of Portman and Kunis in leotards for two hours, it’s all I need to. (Fall)

6. THE OTHER GUYS – For every pair of Mel Gibson-Danny Glover A-list cops who are out on the streets getting all the action and cracking the big cases, there’s another duo who aren’t quite as…good. In the latest from Will Ferrell’s partner-in-comedy Adam McKay, Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play the second-banana team to Samuel L. Jackson and Dwyane Johnson’s top cops. If the McKay-Ferrell comedy stylings of Anchorman and Talledega Nights – or this awesome “motion” poster – are any indication, this should be pretty damn funny. (August)

5. MACHETE – Robert Rodriguez generally makes two kinds of movies: those based on ideas his young kids come up with – resulting in horrifying films like Shorts and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl – and R-rated, pulpy action films whose lineage can be traced back to his breakthrough, El Mariachi. These include Once Upon a Time in Mexico, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Sin City and Planet Terror (his half of the three-hour Tarantino collaboration, Grindhouse). While the mere trailers for the films in the first category tend to make me throw up in my mouth, I’ve always enjoyed his contributions in the latter, and found them to be great over-the-top fun. Machete looks to follow in that tradition. Born as one of the fake trailers created for Grindhouse, Rodriguez is expanding the premise of a revenge-seeking ex-Federale to feature length. Danny Trejo, a Rodriguez regular who starred in the trailer, is onboard as the title character. He heads up a wildly eclectic cast that includes Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal and Robert DeNiro. That’s right – Lohan, Seagal and DeNiro, together at last. How can a movie with a (real) trailer like this not kick ass? (September)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

4. TOY STORY 3 – A couple of months ago, I asked a friend who works at Pixar how Toy Story 3 was looking. She glanced up, and lit by the glow of her iPhone, ominously answered, “Dark.” Wuh? Toy Story? Dark? What, does Andy get a limb hacked off or something? Maybe not that dark, but the word is that while the latest adventure of Buzz, Woody and the rest is as much fun as ever, it’s also heading to some surprising emotional places. The return of these characters already had me reeled in, but curiosity over this mysterious new direction has piqued my interest considerably. Most of the main voice actors return, including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Don Rickles. Newcomers to the toy chest include Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton and Ned Beatty. Little Miss Sunshine’s Academy Award winning screenwriter Michael Ardnt penned the script. (June)

3. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART I – The Potter films always thrill and frustrate me in equal measure. As a die-hard fan of the books with a detailed level of recall, I get irritated by alterations that seem unnecessary or leave gaping plot holes. But seeing J.K. Rowling’s world come alive through incredible production design, cinematography and performances by a cast of stellar British actors never gets old. As the final chapter in Harry’s saga, Deathly Hallows is the densest book in the series and in many ways the trickiest to adapt. Splitting it into two films (Part II arrives in July 2011) is a smart move, but even that won’t allow the filmmakers to capture everything. Seeing how they begin to resolve Harry’s onscreen saga earns the movie a high place on the list. There’s one particular sequence from the book that I’m dying to see on film. I don’t know if it will be in Part I or Part II, but if they do it right it could be as creepy as anything in The Exorcist. Yeah…you heard me. (November)

2. THE WAY BACK – I don’t know what this movie is about. I think it’s set during World War II. I know that it stars Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saorise Ronan and Jim Sturgess. That’s an appealing line-up. But the reason this movie makes my list can be summed up in four words: Directed by Peter Weir. The gaps between Weir’s movies are often long, but he almost always delivers something worth the wait. With a filmography that boasts Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Dead Poet’s Society, Witness, and Fearless among others, Weir always leaves me anxious for his next film. Having waited since 2003 for a new one, I’m more than ready. (Fall)

1. INCEPTION – From his debut Following to his breakthrough Memento to his gigantismash The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan has shown a consistent knack for twisty plotting, strong character development and more recently, all the action and spectacle of the best popcorn movies. His latest, said to be his most ambitious film to date, sounds like the ideal vehicle for him to take it all to yet another level. Details have been tightly guarded, but it apparently involves a team of high-tech thieves who infiltrate people’s dreams. Nolan just keeps getting better, and this one sounds scary-good. Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and a back-from-the-80’s Tom Berenger star. (July)

March 15, 2009

Twenty Films I’m Looking Forward to in 2009

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , ,

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

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

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

Ready to play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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