Over the last couple of weeks we’ve rehashed the Oscars and some of the best movies we saw last year. Now that March is coming to a close, now might be a good time to start talking about movies worth getting excited about this year. Presumably the studios have gotten their crap out of the way (i.e., Gangster Squad) in the traditional January-February these-movies-suck period, and what with Sundance a few weeks ago and Cannes a few weeks from now (The Great Gatsby, for which you might have already seen the trailer because it was once planned for a 2012 release, will open the festival) plus a few trailers and release dates already publicized, I figured I might as well list some titles I’m excited to see in the next nine months.
Two problems with making lists like this: first, they are heavily skewed towards directors whose films I’ve already seen (and directors with identifiable styles: I say the name “Terrence Malick” and you’ll either vomit or have a mind orgasm); second, they’re mostly American movies (unless the foreign title is from a director I know) because it’s hard to know what international movies will garner a lot of a claim and doubly difficult to predict when, or even if, those titles will see a US release. Unless there’s buzz from a festival (and to date, we’ve only had Sundance), it’s too difficult for me to play soothsayer. Here’s ten films I’m really jazzed about as we’re freezing our asses off in March 2013, starting with my most anticipated (and linking to trailers where applicable):
Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. This movie’s date has been pushed back a couple different times, which makes me a little worried because it sounds so audacious. Before a movie’s release, though, it’s often the most ambitious-sounding films that engender the most excitement on my end. To the best of my knowledge, Gravity opens with a seventeen-minute long single take (there are apparently only 156 shots in the entire film) and will feature only two actors, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, supposedly as astronauts stranded in outer space.
Cuarón is no stranger to this sort of filmmaking: his last project, Children of Men, was the strongest and boldest effort in the dystopian future we’re-all-going-to-shit genre since Blade Runner and similarly featured at least a dozen of minute-long (or longer) takes. Cuarón is again working with the master cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki, who is the best at his craft: see his previous work with Cuarón (Y tu mamá también, Children of Men) and Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life). (Malick consistently turns out the most beautifully shot movies, but we’ll save a discussion of whether you like his movies for To the Wonder, below). I’m a bit concerned that Cuarón plans to convert Gravity to 3D in post-production; normally I find 3D to be a repugnant cash grab that has a negligent or even detrimental effect on the picture, but Cuarón and Lubezki might be the pair to pull it off.
To further reinforce my level of anticipation, I should mention that Cuarón was the only director with TWO films on my best of the decade list from 2000-2009, Y tu mamá también (#2) and Children of Men (#8).
Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp. This is Blomkamp’s follow-up to the superb sci-fi apartheid allegory District 9, one of the best movies from 2009, and, like Gravity, will apparently be set in some hellish spacescape. Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley (from District 9), judging from Wikipedia, Elysium also seems to take the form of a parable (here, immigration and income inequality—the wealthy have absconded to the titular space station, leaving the heathens to fend for themselves on an overcrowded Earth). Blomkamp showed in his previous work an ability to blanket weighty subject matter in the guise of a science-fiction thriller, and I’m expecting a similar effort here.
Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater. Here we have the third in a series of movies starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The first, Before Sunrise, depicted a meet cute in which Hawke’s American crossed paths with Delpy in Europe; the second, Before Sunset, followed them around Paris for a reunion of sorts, culminating in ambiguous ending, for which I’m assuming Before Midnight will update us. This movie has shot up my list because of the acclaim it generated at Sundance; Tim Grierson listed it as his favorite movie of the festival. If it’s anything like the first two, I can see why: this is a simple, smart, and patient series that is as sweet and honest about romance as you’ll see. It’s the one batch of films where Hawke really shines, and Delpy lends considerable credentials as a preeminent European actor (she appeared in Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy).
Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller. With Capote and Moneyball, Miller has established himself as a prominent director if not a prominent name; these are his only two movies and are more noteworthy for their lead performances than for their directorial flair. Miller shares this trait, if you can call it that, with Sidney Lumet: there’s nothing as distinctly “Lumetian” about 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, or Network as the fact that he elicits strong acting and tells a forceful story. The premise of Foxcatcher sounds as outlandish as Truman Capote’s personality and involves a protagonist even further from the mainstream than Capote or Billy Beane: one of the heirs to the duPont fortune kills a wrestler working out on the family estate. The cast is equally intriguing, featuring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum in the lead roles.
Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Look, at this point, you know what you’re getting from the Coen brothers. When I tell you that Inside Lllewyn Davis features Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman as players in the New York folk music scene in the ’60s, you’ll remark that it reads like a drama school homage to the Coens. Timberlake might be a bit of stunt casting, but I’m struggling to think of a performance in a Coen brothers film I haven’t enjoyed. Isaac isn’t so well-known, but the Coens coaxed strong work from Michael Stuhlbarg and other career character actors in A Serious Man to great effect.
To the Wonder, directed by Terrence Malick. I could play ad libs with my first sentence of my Inside Llewyn Davis preview here: you know Terrence Malick will have Ben Affleck narrating obtuse voice-overs as you look at trees, grass, sunsets, birds, and old churches just as you know a bear shits in the woods. You know this already, and your opinion regarding Terrence Malick has been formed all the same. Personally I’m in the “he’s a genius” category instead of the “this is boring trash” group, so I’m excited that he’s directing with greater frequency these days (an average about once every three years instead of once every twenty). To the Wonder will have a wide release in April, so prepare to succumb to pulverizing profundity then.
Beyond the Hills, directed by Cristian Mungiu. Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007, and Beyond the Hills screened there last year, where it won the best actress and best screenplay prizes, but is only just arriving in American theaters now (I hope to review it in the next week or so). Much like 4 Months, it seems Beyond the Hills involves two women, one practical and one naive, trying to navigate the treacherous circumstances in which they live (instead of seeking an abortion doctor in Ceausescu’s Romania, here a woman is trying to whisk her friend away from a hard-line convent).
Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne. I’d expect Payne to regurgitate the off-kilter humor of Sideways and The Descendants here with the duo of Will Forte and Bruce Dern on a father-son road trip. Payne is from Omaha, so perhaps this film’s story has some autobiographical touches. I’m most fascinated by his decision to shoot in black-and-white; it’s something I wish more directors would try these days.
The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola. I’m putting Coppola’s film on the list mostly out of respect for Lost in Translation, one of my favorite movies of the last fifteen years. I never saw Somewhere, so I’m probably not such an astute judge of where she’s at creatively these days, but a story about teenage girls who burglarize B-list celebrities sounds right down her alley. One of the strongest themes of Lost in Translation is how both the famous and the not-famous interact with our culture of celebrity, making Coppola a person who knows how to both mock and riff on our TMZ addiction.
Upstream Color, directed by Shane Carruth. I wanted to seek out a film from a director whose work I didn’t know, and that search resulted in Upstream Color, which was also a hit at Sundance. (Carruth’s first effort, Primer, was a low-budget time travel tale that also won over some converts on the festival circuit.) Some reviews I’ve read have compared it to Terrence Malick’s movies, meaning it could be pretentious, profound, or both; its synopsis certainly reflects this. But, given the acclaim it has received to date, I’ve got to think it’s worth a shot.
This is not to say that there are only ten movies I’m excited for this year, of course. Pedro Almodóvar will be uniting Javier Cámara (from Talk to Her) and Cecilia Roth (from All About My Mother) for Los amantes pasajeros. Jesus, Scorsese has a new movie (with DiCaprio again), The Wolf of Wall Street, that will release this fall. I’m sure it will be “good,” because all Scorsese movies are good, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi he’s lacked since GoodFellas, though The Departed came close. George Clooney has a new heist movie involving the saving of prominent artworks during World War II, The Monuments Men, and a cast as totemic as the art their characters will be trying to save: Clooney, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and coolest person and best actor alive Bill Murray, among others. The strength of Clooney’s directorial efforts, for me, though, have yet to match the success of the incredible casts he’s been directing. Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) can direct one hell of an action movie (his use of handheld cameras doesn’t bother me as much as others), and Captain Phillips, which will star Tom Hanks as the sailor captured by the Somali pirates a couple years ago (or whenever that was) has promise. There’s also August: Osage County, adapted from a well-received play, which will star Meryl Streep. If you’re looking for an entertaining summer action movie, I’m betting on Star Trek: Into Darkness; I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment in the series. One title I’m definitely NOT looking forward to is The Great Gatsby. If you’ve seen the trailer, I’m sure you’d agree with Drew Magary’s sentiments:
Yeah, fuck that movie—so much for me keeping an open mind. But there’s plenty to look forward to in 2013; I just hope I haven’t raised your and my expectations a little too much.