Friday, January 10, 2014

The Most Anticipated Films of 2014

In the past, when I've done these most-anticipated lists, I've chosen ten films that I was looking forward to, then ranked them, leading up to the most anticipated film of the year. However, this year, I've decided not to do that, because a) it's hard to compare my anticipation for one film to another, since it's usually for different reasons and b) it leaves out a lot of films that I am also looking forward to. So instead, this year, I'm going with a wider field and dividing it into four categories: Auteurist Projects, Potential Blockbusters, 2013 Leftovers, and because there are several this year, Musicals! Hopefully, this will provide a better glimpse at what's coming in the year ahead.

All release dates are for the United States and are tentative as of January 10.

2013 LEFTOVERS

The Monuments Men


For a while, George Clooney's latest film as director/co-writer/star seemed like an Oscar curio for 2013: the story of a group of men tasked with saving important artworks from destruction by the Nazis in WWII seemed like it could be a critical and popular hit, and even had a rather appealing trailer, but there was no certainty about its release date. Finally, the mystery was solved: the film was moving to 2014, taking it out of the current Oscar race. That may actually be to the film's benefit, as being removed from awards talk will allow the film to stand on its own. As a history major, I'm intrigued by the film's unique angle, and I've been a fan of Clooney's work as a director (yes, even Leatherheads). This has the potential to be a charming and engaging new glimpse at a well-studied period of history. (February 7)

Foxcatcher


Like The Monuments Men, Foxcatcher was mentioned consistently in the 2013 Oscar race as a possible contender, but never had a solid release date. Apart from that, the film's a serious curiosity, based on the true story of a two Olympic-medalist wrestlers and brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, the latter of whom was murdered by their sponsor, John Du Pont. The film comes from Bennett Miller, who's already - in my mind at least - two-for-two with Capote and Moneyball. The fascinating part is the casting: Mark Ruffalo plays Dave, and early stills show him physically disappearing into the role. Channing Tatum plays Mark, and after the impressive turns he pulled in 2012 (with White House Down behind him) this looks like an opportunity for him to really show his acting chops. But the most interesting casting is John Du Pont, who's being played by Steve Carell. Carell's done well with weightier roles before, but this one could prove to be something else entirely. Foxcatcher definitely has my attention. (TBA 2014)

The Immigrant


Filmmaker James Gray has made a number of interesting and underrated films over the past decade, particularly We Own the Night and Two Lovers, both of which featured terrific performances from Joaquin Phoenix. His latest, The Immigrant, concerns a Polish immigrant - played by Marion Cotillard, one of my personal favorite actresses - who arrives in 1920s New York who becomes a prostitute for a lecherous pimp (Phoenix) and falls in love with his magician brother (Jeremy Renner). The film premiere at Cannes last year, then was rumored to be released late in 2013. That date never materialized, so hopefully we'll get a chance to see Gray's latest sometime this year. (TBA 2014)

POTENTIAL BLOCKBUSTERS

Noah


There's a bevy of religious epics coming this year, but only one of them has the involvement of Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky. The film stars Russell Crowe as Noah, the biblical hero who built an ark on God's command before the world was flooded. Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connolly, and Anthony Hopkins also star. The first trailer indicated that this might be a run-of-the-mill heavy-CGI epic with some battle sequences thrown in for good measure, but the involvement of Aronofsky - who for my money hasn't made a dud yet - has me hopeful that this could be something much more interesting. (March 28)

Interstellar


As with any Christopher Nolan film, not much is known at this point: the plot has something to do with corn and a wormhole that allows for more expansive space travel. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, and Casey Affleck. The trailer didn't offer much in the way of insight, mostly comprised of stock footage. And, of course, it's Nolan's first film after completing his Batman trilogy. His last original project, Inception, was my favorite movie of 2010, and I'll still hold it up as his best film to date. So there's a lot for this film to live up to. I'm sure that Nolan is up for the challenge. (November 7)

Gone Girl


Full disclosure: I've never read Gillian Flynn's source novel, which concerned the disappearance of a woman and the twisty investigation to find her. So why does it make this list? Two words: David Fincher. Instead of the sequel to his last film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher's turned his attention to this literary adaptation, with Flynn providing the adaptation of her novel (a script that will apparently feature a significant departure from the novel's third act). Rosamund Pike will star as the missing woman, while Ben Affleck plays her husband. Missi Pyle, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry also have major roles. Fincher's made a number of cracker-jack thrillers in his career; here's hoping Gone Girl becomes the latest. (October 3)

X-Men: Days of Future Past


There's plenty to be excited about with Days of Future Past. The story - which involves sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the past to stop a threat to mutants and humans alike - is based on one of the most famous arcs in X-Men comics history. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return to the roles of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto, respectively, and come face-to-face with their First Class counterparts, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively. To top it all off, director Bryan Singer is returning to the franchise he began in 2000 (he also directed X2), with First Class director Matthew Vaughn contributing to the script. If it all works, this could very easily become the best film in this series, and become a sterling example of what superhero films can do. (May 23)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1


So far, The Hunger Games franchise has produced two excellent installments with two different sensibilities. The biggest test, however, is yet to come, when the franchise faces its: 1) third installment, which is hard to pull off (see: just about any trilogy), 2) third installment that's being split into two films (a strategy that made some sense with the Harry Potter franchise, but very few since), and 3) plot that doesn't appear to involve the titular games at all, but rather a full-blown revolution led by Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Luckily, Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence will be returning to helm these final two films, the first of which comes this year, with accomplished screenwriter/Jonathan from Buffy Danny Strong providing the script. Hopefully Part 1 will be lively and engaging, rather than feeling like an effort to postpone the finale. (November 21)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Rise of the Planet of the Apes ended up not only being the most surprising film of 2011, but it was also one of the year's best films, period. It was also a big hit, more so than 2001's unfortunate Tim Burton reboot, so naturally a sequel was called for (one that the film also set up in its closing credits sequence). Dawn, however, features some significant changes from Rise. The film picks up seven years after the first, with humanity decimated by a plague and losing the war against Caesar (the returning Andy Serkis) and his simian army. Replacing James Franco, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, and John Lithgow on the human side of things are Jason Clarke, Judy Greer, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell, while Matt Reeves (Let Me In) takes over directing duties from Rupert Wyatt. Dawn lacks the element of surprise that helped Rise, but this has the potential to be special. (July 11)

Godzilla


I think we all remember the Matthew Broderick-starring, Roland Emmerich-directed 1998 debacle that was Godzilla, in which the most feared monster in Japanese cinema became a giant iguana that sold tacos and appeared in Puff Daddy videos. So, 15 years later, it's time for an American studio to try again. There are people in this film - namely, the eclectic mix of Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen - but the real draw, of course, is Godzilla, whose (brief, shrouded) glimpses indicate that the original design of the monster is being used. More interestingly, the film's director is Gareth Edwards, who made the impressive sci-fi indie Monsters in 2010. It looks like he's bringing his unique sensibilities with him to this film, which will hopefully find a new angle other than just rampant destruction (though there should definitely be some of that). (May 16)

AUTEURIST PROJECTS

Under the Skin


Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer only has two features to his name so far, and they're both doozies: 2001's Sexy Beast and 2004's hypnotically bizarre Birth. His third feature, Under the Skin, sounds appropriately strange as well. Scarlett Johannson - who's been on a career revival lately - stars as an alien that takes on a human form and preys upon unsuspecting residents in Scotland. Johannson's second-wind has been compared to Nicole Kidman's lately, and curiously enough, Kidman starred in Birth. Perhaps doing a project with Glazer is exactly what she needs. Either way, my interest is certainly piqued. (April 4)

Nymphomaniac


Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is considered by many to be an enfant terrible, and watching his films is usually a masochistic act. His last few features, though they have been flawed, have still be fascinating, punishing watches, but have featured some sterling performances, particularly Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia. His latest, Nymphomaniac, has been a source of controversy from its announcement, as it tells the "erotic history" of a single woman, played by Gainsbourg, from inside the womb to her death. The film is over four hours long (being split into two volumes for US release), and supposedly features the actors actually having sex with one another - a claim that has since be refuted and argued over. Those actors also include Uma Thurman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Christian Slater, Shia Labeouf, Connie Nielsen, and Udo Kier. Given America's prudish treatment of sex, it's impossible to know what version of the film will play here. But it will likely be a hot-button topic for cinephiles and the general populace alike. (Volume 1: March 21, Volume 2: April 18)

Only Lovers Left Alive


I wrote about this one in my Cannes preview from last year, as it premiered in competition but never had a 2013 release date set. Jim Jarmusch's first film in nearly five years is a love story involving two vampires who never age, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Honestly, the involvement of just Hiddleston and Swinton - as well as Mia Wasikowska - would be enough to grab my attention. But Jarmusch is an inventive, essential voice in American independent cinema, and after being driven into the ground by numerous YA franchises, it's time that vampires be rescued from mopey teen angst by someone. (April 11)

Inherent Vice


First of all, Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) isn't taking a long hiatus between films! That should be reason enough to get excited. The American master is taking on Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel, which has been described as a hallucinogenic noir involving a detective investigating the disappearance of his girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles. Anderson is reuniting with Joaquin Phoenix for the role of Detective Doc Sportello, while Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, and Benicio Del Toro also appear. It's been a while since Anderson has done a large-ensemble film of this magnitude - 1999's Magnolia, by my count - but those films have been among his very best. At the very least, let's hope it's not too good to be true that we're getting a new film from him this year. (TBA 2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel


Wes Anderson's previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, was quite possibly his best film yet, a marriage of childhood innocence and adolescent melancholy that worked brilliantly with his picturesque visual style. His follow-up, The Grand Budapest Hotel, certainly doesn't lack for ambition: set at a famous European hotel between WWI and WWII, the film recounts the friendship of concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) as they handle an art theft and a large family feud. The trailer has demonstrated that this is a trademark Anderson film, but what's most impressive so far is the cast. Regular Anderson players Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, and Adrien Brody will be joined by *deep breath* Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, Willem Dafoe, and Harvey Keitel. If I had done my usual ranked list, The Grand Budapest Hotel would be my #1. (March 7)

Magic in the Moonlight


If it's a new year, that means there's a new Woody Allen movie coming out. The Woodsman has been on what counts, this late in his career, as a bit of a winning streak, with two of his last three films (Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine) being celebrated as late-period high points. Now, there's no telling what to expect in terms of quality from any Allen movie these days, but his next, Magic in the Moonlight, sounds charming at least: it's a comedy set in the south of France in the 1930s. The cast sounds enticing as well, with Colin Firth, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater, and Emma Stone (who seems like a perfect fit for an Allen film) starring. Of course, as with all post-1980s Allen films, there's always the possibility that this could be a disaster. But there's always the possibility of it being, well, magical as well. (TBA 2014)

MUSICALS!

Annie


As often as revivals of Annie appear on Broadway (the most recent just closed January 5 of this year), it seems right for the plucky orphan to return to the big screen. This production has had an interesting history: it began as a vehicle for Willow Smith, with Will Smith and Jay-Z producing (they had produced Broadway's Fela! together). But then Willow became too old for the role - and Blue Ivy is too young - so the role went to Quvenzhane Wallis, despite having never hinted at any singing capability. Now the film has Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks (now renamed "Benjamin Stacks") and Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan. And yes, this will be a "re-imagining" of the musical. So yeah, it could be a complete disaster, but Foxx is an undeniable talent, and Emma Thompson is contributing to the script. It should be intriguing, to say the least. (December 19)

Into the Woods


Director Rob Marshall has one bona-fide terrific movie musical (Chicago) and one okay-but-not-great movie musical (Nine) to his credit thus far. He's now taking on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's excellent Into the Woods, which, for the uninitiated, is a playful twist on Grimm fairy tales. Thankfully, the film has a number of actors with great singing voices and big names: Meryl Streep will be The Witch, Anna Kendrick will be Cinderella, and Johnny Depp will be The Wolf. James Corden, who won a Tony for the play One Man, Two Guvnors, will be playing The Baker, who's the de facto hero of the tale. While there's always the possibility this could go wrong - Sondheim's songs are not easy - Into the Woods is among his best works as a composer, so here's hoping that it turns out well. (December 25)

Get On Up


This Mick Jagger-procduced biopic about the "Godfather of Soul" James Brown has been in the works for years, but it's now finally coming together. Helmed by The Help director Tate Taylor from a script co-written by screenwriter/playwright Jez Butterworth, the film will star Chadwick Boseman, who delivered a terrific performance as Jackie Robinson last year in 42, as Brown. Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Dan Ackroyd, Nelsan Ellis, and Lennie James all have roles as well. In general, biopics have been a dime-a-dozen. But with a subject as fascinating - and eventful - as the life of Brown, this one has a lot of potential to be special. And hopefully it will turn Boseman into the star he clearly deserves to be. (August 1)

Jersey Boys


As soon as it premiered on Broadway in 2005, Jersey Boys has been an enormous stage hit: it was the 10th highest grossing show of 2013 - it's eighth year - and has a hugely successful national tour as well (my dad, who's an infrequent theater-goer, loved it). So it seems natural that a film adaptation of the jukebox musical about the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons would eventually follow. Rick Elice - who wrote the book for the musical - and John Logan are developing the script, with Christopher Walken taking on the role of loansharking mafioso Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo, while John Lloyd Young will reprise his role of Valli from the original Broadway production. The biggest curiosity factor in this film, though, is that none other than Clint Eastwood is directing - a major departure from his usual output. (June 20)

The Last Five Years


Few stage musicals from the past decade have been as inventive as Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years: the relationship between Cathy, an actress, and Jamie, a novelist, is explored, with Cathy's version told in chronological order and Jamie's in reverse-chronological order - simultaneously - with their only interaction coming when their stories meet in the middle. That concept is inherently stage-bound, which makes the film adaptation an interesting a tricky prospect. Richard LaGravenese will be writing the script and directing, which is in and of itself an interesting proposition, and the roles of Cathy and Jamie will be played by Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, respectively. It has a lot of potential to be a wholly unique musical experience. (TBA 2014)

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