Friday, January 6, 2012

Top 10 Anticipated Films of 2012

2012 is looking like the Year of the Franchise: sequels, prequels, and Transformers 3.5: You Sank My Battleship! will likely dominate the cinematic landscape. None of these, of course, are necessarily terrible sight-unseen - though some, such as Battleship, have certainly set a very low bar. But I present to you the ten films that I am most looking forward to this year, plus a handful of others that are on my radar and could very well be interesting. The rankings are not necessarily concrete; the order changes for some every day, though number one is definitely, well, number one. As always, feel free to share what you're looking forward to in the comments.

1. Django Unchained (expected release date: 12/25)

Quentin Tarantino is one of my absolute favorite directors; I still defend Death Proof as a misunderstood film. So anytime he decides to make a new film, you can bet its going to be near the top of my anticipation list. Django Unchained, his follow-up to Inglourious Basterds, is another history-rewriting revenge thriller of questionable taste: Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave, enlists the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a ruthless slave owner (an against-type Leonardo DiCaprio). Tarantino's pulled off some great revenge films in the last decade with Kill Bill and Basterds, and anyone who's nervous about his handling of race should remember his criminally underrated Jackie Brown. And the rest of the cast includes Sasha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael K. Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Don Johnson. I can't think of a better way to spend Christmas Day this year.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (7/20)

The anticipation from fans for this is already near a fever pitch: when the first six-minutes of the film were previewed in IMAX theaters, the uproar about Bane's (Tom Hardy) garbled dialogue was enough to convince director Christopher Nolan (or at least the execs at Warner Brothers) to clean it up a bit. Then there was the trailer, which apparently blew up the Steelers and teased that this film was going for socially allegory. This will be the last Batman to be done by Nolan and star Christian Bale, and it goes without saying that after The Dark Knight set a new high-mark in terms of quality and box-office grosses, the pressure on this one is high. Even if it is a failure, it should be a spectacular one. And with a cast that includes returning players Michael Caine and Gary Oldman, as well as Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard, it should be another great entry in this franchise. Hopefully it'll go out with a bang, since it will inevitably be rebooted for the third time within a few years.

3. Prometheus (6/8)

Maybe its an Alien sequel. Or is it a prequel? Or is it an original story taking place within the world of Alien? It's impossible to get a clear answer from anyone involved, but here's what we do know: the cast includes Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender. The script is by Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) and Lost writer/showrunner Damon Lindelof. This is director Ridley Scott's third foray into science-fiction. The other two? Alien and Blade Runner, both classics of the genre. There's no telling what this could be, but after checking out the awesome trailer, finding out should be fascinating. 

4. Gravity (11/20)

Here's another mysterious sci-fi project from an acclaimed director. This will be Alfonso Cuaron's first film in six years, and that was Children of Men, a masterpiece. He's reunited with Men cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, which means we can expect plenty of gorgeous images. The plot finds Sandra Bullock playing the lone survivor on a space station trying to get back to Earth, with George Clooney playing...someone. This film is also being kept under wraps, with nary a trailer or official image in sight, but with this creative team involved, I expect something astonishing.

5. Les Miserables (12/7)

Can you believe its taken this long for the classic musical, based on Victor Hugo's novel, to make it to the big screen? This film will grant two of my greatest cinematic wishes by giving Hugh Jackman (playing Jean Valjean) AND Anne Hathaway (Fatine) the musical they've always needed to do, and the addition of Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert should prove to be interesting, at least. Director Tom Hooper is coming off his Oscar win for The King's Speech, and though he doesn't have much experience with musicals, he does have a way with actors. The inclusion of Taylor Swift - a decent enough voice, but can she act? - is offset by the inclusion of Broadway vet Aaron Tveit (Next to Normal), as well as Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bringing comic relief as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, respectively. Hopefully this team will do justice to the music and the drama.

6. The Master (unknown)

And here's yet another long-gestating project from a master filmmaker that's shrouded in mystery: this will be Paul Thomas Anderson's first film since 2007's There Will Be Blood. The plot apparently involves a cult leader in the 1950s and his organization, supposedly based on Scientology. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead, Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Jesse Plemmons, and Laura Dern. There's no release date yet, and even the title is uncertain (some material still lists it as Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project). But considering Anderson's track record, this one is looking like another winner.

7. Brave (6/22)

Last year, Pixar had a rare hiccup with Cars 2, a film that wasn't completely terrible but was still exactly what you'd expect with Larry the Cable Guy as your lead. This will be Pixar's first original concept film since 2009's Up, and more significantly, it will be the studio's first film to feature a female lead. Its also the studio's first film to feature a female writer and director, as Brenda Chapman co-directs with Mark Andrews and co-wrote the script with Irene Mecchi. Kelly MacDonald voices Princess Merida, a firey-maned warrior seeking the respect of her Scottish community. It already looks like a beautiful film, and you should never count Pixar out when it comes to these kinds of stories.

8. The Avengers (5/4)

This is the film that Marvel has been building towards for four years now, ever since the breakout success of Iron Man. Its a big gamble of a film, since this sort of team-up has never been attempted, and after several feature-length commercials last year (Thor, Captain America), hopefully this will provide some real bang for our bucks. Resoundingly in the film's plus column - and really the biggest reason I'm excited about this - is director Joss Whedon, who has proved time and time again that he can handle large casts and almost overwhelming mythology (Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse). This ensemble includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson, and bringing back Tom Hiddleston's impish Loki as the villain is a wise choice. Here's hoping this shines with snappy dialogue and action rather than disappoint.

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/14)

I guess its time to confess: I greatly admire Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. I think they're technically masterful, and the story they tell is handled with the appropriate, awe-inspiring scale that rightfully made Jackson an established director of spectacle. But I didn't love the films. I think they're good, but not great. I was never a fan of Tolkien's books, so maybe that's a factor. All of this is to say that I didn't go crazy when this project finally got on track, and I wasn't jumping up and down when the first trailer premiered. But with Jackson back at the helm and a script written by Jackson, wife/writing partner Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro (who was once attached to direct), I wouldn't mind taking another trip to Middle Earth. And, who knows, maybe it's not too late to fall in love.

10.  Moonrise Kingdom (5/25)

I've always been a supporter of Wes Anderson; he's practically spawned a genre unto himself, and though he's had countless imitators over the years, no one's come close to matching him. He hit a true high with 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox, and he's returning to live-action filmmaking with this film, a 1960s New England set story about two young lovers who run away, leading the whole town to set out looking for them. The cast includes Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Edward Norton, as well as Anderson mainstays Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. It sounds like a winner to me, and I'm looking forward to being charmed again.

Here's a handful of other films that should prove to be interesting, for various reasons.

John Carter (3/9)

It's Pixar's first stab at live-action filmmaking, providing the special effects work in this epic based on Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars. Like fellow Pixar-mate Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton is making his live-action debut here. Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) will take his first stab at the A-list as the titular hero, a Civil War vet strangely transported to Mars, where he leads a resistance against an evil force. A script by Stanton, Brave's Mark Andrews and acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon add to the intrigue. The only concern is that it looks a bit too much like a Prince of Persia-meets-Avatar knockoff.

Haywire (1/20)

Last year, Steven Soderbergh put together a huge cast of A-listers for Contagion, which turned a nation of moviegoers into germophobes. Now he's done the same for this spy thriller, with MMA fighter Gina Carano sparring with Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, and Ewan McGregor. The fight sequences are supposedly a marvel to behold, and I'm always interested in whatever out-of-left-field approach Soderbergh takes to everything he does. This could be one of the better action movies of the year.

Snow White and the Huntsman (6/1)

There are two Snow White movies coming to theaters this year. One, Mirror Mirror, looks like a complete and utter fiasco directed by Tarsem Singh that I cannot wait to see on DVD one day so that I can marvel at its fiasco-ness. Huntsman, on the other hand, could be something else: Kristen Stewart is a fine actress outside of that awful franchise that made her a star, and if role is right she could be great. So far, Chris Hemsworth seems to borrow from the Taylor Lautner Acting School for Sentient Woodcarvings, and I don't actually have expectations for him. What really strikes me about this is Charlize Theron's role as the Evil Queen, which that fantastic trailer seems to show her reveling in. First-time director Rupert Sanders seems to be a striking visual artist: just look at that image of Theron rising from the milk(?). It could be the surprise of the summer.

Lincoln (12/?)

Steven Spielberg's long-in-the-works Lincoln biopic is finally going before cameras, now with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the 16th president, Sally Field as Mary Todd, and Jared Harris as General Ulysses S. Grant. The new screenplay now has Tony Kushner on scripting duties, working with John Logan's and Paul Webb's original. Who knows what kind of film this could end up being, but with Spielberg's name on it, its sure to be one to watch for.

Skyfall (11/9)

Yeah, yeah, I know: "its the new James Bond! The first one in four years! Daniel Craig! How is this not in your top 10?" Look, I considered it, but at this point I'm just not dying for this one. The premise, with MI6 under attack, sounds interesting, and with Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Albert Finney rounding out the cast, there's plenty of thespian pleasure to be had here. But at the same time, that's just the thing: I kind of miss the days when Bond wasn't all Jason Bourne-d, but was the fun escapism of watching Bond beat the bad guys and score the girl with his slick suave. It wasn't prestigious, for sure, but it was fun, which was all we ever really asked for from this franchise. Director Sam Mendes has worked with this sort of thing before in Jarhead, but it should be interesting to see what he does with this nonetheless.

The Dictator (5/11)

Sacha Baron Cohen can be a terrific satirist, and he's mining the same territory he worked with in Borat. Here, he stars as a vaguely Middle Eastern dictator who comes to America, and presumably hilarity ensues. There's the usual mix of racial humor and tasteless jokes (the trailer's 9/11 joke being particularly unsettling), all intended to be shocking. But the cast includes John C. Reilly, Anna Faris, and Ben Kingsley, so this could be something fun. Its ultimately a riff on Coming to America, but hopefully with Cohen it will be a riotous one.

The Amazing Spider-Man (7/3)

Yes, Andrew Garfield will probably make a fine Peter Parker. Yes, Emma Stone - the ultimate cool-girl-in-high-school-you-always-wanted-to-date-but-never-did - is in this as Gwen Stacy, a character last seen in Spider-Man 3. Yes, Rhys Ifans is The Lizard. And yes, director Marc Webb did great with his feature debut (500) Days of Summer, and he's working with a screenplay from James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Steve Kloves (the Harry Potter franchise) and...Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People)? But let's be honest with ourselves: its only been 10 years since the first Spider-Man film swung into our hearts (and wallets). Do we really need this one at this moment?

Rust & Bone (unknown)

This may not even make it Stateside this year, but it stars Marion Cotillard, one of my favorite actresses, as an amputee, and is written and directed by Jacques Audiard, who's last film was the masterful prison drama Un Prophete (A Prophet). There aren't many details about his one outside of it being a mystery story, but my interest is already piqued.

The Great Gatsby (12/25)

This Christmas we get a double-serving of Leonardo DiCaprio, as he will also be starring in Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel. Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher and Joel Edgerton round out the cast. It's probably foolish to expect Luhrmann to ever reach the grandiose heights of his masterpiece, Moulin Rouge!, here, and his decision to shoot this drama in 3D is questionable. But given his track record so far - Australia being his only real dud - I'm putting some trust in him and his creative team to deliver something great.

Only God Forgives (unknown)

Director Nicolas Winding Refn follows up Drive with this film about a Bangkok policeman and gangster fighting in a Thai-boxing match, starring Ryan Gosling and Kristen Scott Thomas. Do I even need to say more? (Side note: how adorable is that picture of Refn and Gosling?)

Chronicle (2/3)

Found-footage has become a genre unto itself, but Chronicle finds it being applied to the superhero film. The excellent trailer hints at an intriguing darkness, and the use of Seattle as the setting could provide some interesting atmospherics. The biggest plus is that Friday Night Lights' Michael B. Jordan stars, hopefully opening up a long career for this very talented actor. Also, the script is by Max Landis, the son of John Landis, who directed every '80s comedy you love.

The Hunger Games (3/23)

I've never actually read The Hunger Games books, but I've been curious about them. Anticipation for this one is high in general, and to be honest, only two things kept this film from making my top 10: 1) it seems to be trying too hard to be the next Twilight, expectations that were shoved upon it but it didn't necessarily have to comply to, and 2) doesn't it seem hypocritical to make a movie about the evils of drawing entertainment from killing into exactly that? Director Gary Ross' only two films, Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, were excellent though not without flaws, and a cast with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks is certainly promising. Bonus points for being filmed around my new home of Asheville, North Carolina.

The Cabin in the Woods (4/13)

This one's got a lot of curiosity surrounding it: it was shot several years ago, held up in distribution hell, and is now finally seeing the light of day. It's directed by Drew Goddard (who wrote the Cloverfield script), and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, with a cast full of Whedon players such as Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) and Amy Acker (Angel). This could be a delightfully scary riff on horror tropes.

Magic Mike (6/29)

Steven Soderbergh sure is busy for a guy supposedly about to retire. This will be his third film in under a year - following Contagion and Haywire - and is reportedly based on star Channing Tatum's experiences as a male stripper. This looks pretty frivolous, but with Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello in the cast, it will be, if nothing else, very, very easy to watch.

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