Well here we are; the brave new world of 2012. And at present, it’s not too scary, although we swear that we’ll beat the next person to death who makes a joke about the Roland Emmerich film. And after a 2011 that turned out to be a pretty decent year for cinema (if not necessarily one for the ages), we’re now staring out across a few months that seem fairly barren, as the early months of the year always do.
As such, and as always, to keep you going across the “Joyful Noise“s and “Underworld Awakening“s of the world, we’ve rounded up our 50 Most Anticipated films of the coming year, and what a year it looks like. There’s more to come, with Popcorn, Foreign-Language and Sundance picks coming over the next few days. Obviously, there’s some crossover; there are tentpoles ranked right up here, and foreign films too.
And don’t forget, many of the best films of the year aren’t on anyone’s radar just yet; show us someone who was eagerly anticipating “The Artist” a year ago, and we’ll show you Jean Dujardin‘s mum. But surprises excluded, these are the 50 (in, for the record, alphabetical order, and with a few bonuses that probably won’t, but conceivably could, hit theaters before the end of the year) that are giving us the most cinematic hope in the coming year. And coming up tomorrow are our most anticipated popcorn/escapist films (i.e. films that we’re only slightly embarrassed to admit we care about. Joke… kinda…).
Synopsis: Based on Leo Tolstoy‘s classic novel, “Anna Karenina” focuses on the titular heroine (Keira Knightley) who has an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) who wants her to leave her stable husband Karenin (Jude Law).
What You Need to Know: Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement”) gets back to his roots after venturing into new territory with the action-fairytale film “Hanna,” with this Russian period piece. He quickly attached one of his favorites, Knightley, to the main role with heavyweight Law as her husband and up-and-comer Johnson as her lover (in a pretty hefty role). The film also boasts quite an impressive supporting cast including Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Watson and Domhnall Gleeson (best known for playing Bill Weasley in the later “Harry Potter” movies). Wright proved last time out that he’s more than just a costume drama expert, so we’re even more excited about his return to the pre-modern era for this one, and he always seems to bring out the best in Knightley, who’s a good fit for the lead role. Barring a ‘Soloist‘-style disappointment, this should be the kind of sumptuous period piece that we haven’t had since, well, “Atonement.”
Release Date: No U.S. date yet, but slated for September 7 in the U.K., making a Venice bow a distinct possibility. An American release should follow sometime before Christmas.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatched a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need to Know: Not only is Affleck starring in this, but — perhaps more importantly — he’s directing it. Following up the one-two punch of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” won’t be an easy feat, but Affleck’s proven himself to be an assured craftsman behind the camera with both outings, so a period-set mission movie with political stakes and filmmaking itself as part of the plot seems like a sound enough, intriguing enough next step for his directorial career. And in keeping with tradition, he has assembled a considerable ensemble, including Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver (something of a good luck charm after roles in both ‘Town’ and ‘Gone’), Clea DuVall and Adrienne Barbeau, not to mention the trifecta of John Goodman, Michael Parks and Kerry Bishé, all fresh off buddy Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” Warner Bros. sure seems confident in the project: they’ve already staked out a release date identical to that of “The Town,” clearly hopeful that fall festival buzz and solid word-of-mouth will see “Argo” following in that film’s successful footsteps.
Release Date: September 14, and five will get you ten that Warners are eying an out-of-competition bow at Venice, as with “The Town” and “Contagion.”
“The Bourne Legacy”
Synopsis: In the wake of the collapse of black-ops program Treadstone, a new, more dangerous department emerges. But rogue agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) ends up becoming their equally dangerous target.
What You Need To Know: While Universal was keen to reunite director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon after “The Bourne Ultimatum” generated $442 million worldwide, communications somehow broke down. Perhaps it was Damon and Greengrass’ insistence that, at the close of ‘Ultimatum,’ Bourne had recovered his identity of David Webb and effectively ended his story. Whatever the case, Tony Gilroy has gotten a promotion from ‘Bourne’ screenwriter to director, which makes sense given that he proved his chops with the moody Oscar favorite “Michael Clayton,” then proceeded to lose everybody a lot of money with the stylish but empty “Duplicity.” And what’s interesting is that he’s working within the framework of the earlier films. Returning faces Joan Allen and Albert Finney will be joined by Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz, while Edward Norton and Oscar Isaac play villains of some shape. Stepping into the role of the pursued Aaron Cross is Jeremy Renner, who’ll be everywhere next summer, though this is the role meant to make him a household name; presumably he won’t be sitting out the action scenes as he did in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol“… Gilroy’s a director with chops, and this franchise has thus far remained visceral and exciting, so count this as one of our most anticipated blockbusters.
Release Date: August 3
Synopsis: A young Scottish princess accidentally brings a curse onto her kingdom, and she must venture into the wilderness to undo the damage.
What You Need To Know: The claws really came out against Pixar in 2011, didn’t they? “Cars 2” was the first outright Pixar quote-unquote failure, earning the wrath of critics and registering the weakest attendance of any of their films to date. But while the criticisms may sting the sensitive-seeming John Lasseter and company, it’s likely to have run off their shoulders easily: “Cars 2” outgrossed its predecessor globally and moved product like it was a damned garage sale, and signs are that they’re back to their more creative side for this year’s “Brave.” Those focusing on the questionable firing of Brenda Chapman as director (she was replaced by Mark Andrews) neglect to admit that all Pixar films remain in a fluid state until very late in their development; even if we have yet to see if Andrews’ work is up to (Bob) par(r). In any case, the production noticeably upgraded by replacing Reese Witherspoon with Kelly MacDonald, allowing a little extra Scottish flavor in this murky, somewhat ghostly-looking film. In other words, outside of “Cars 7: Retribution,” we have yet to find a reason to doubt Pixar.
Release Date: June
Synopsis: Based on a terrific novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” tells six interlocking tales, each exploring a different literary genre, everything from a transpacific voyage in 1850 to a 1970s-set conspiracy thriller to a sci-fi parable set deep in the future (there’s also a bit about self-aware Korean clones and a dusty European period melodrama). Heady stuff indeed.
What You Need to Know: The word “unfilmable” is bandied about a lot when discussing difficult, knotty literary source material, so we’ll just say that it’s very hard to picture anyone being able to wrangle David Mitchell’s sprawling novel. But if anyone can pull it off, it just might be the directorial tag team of the Wachowskis (directing for the first time since “Speed Racer”) and European director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). The filmmakers have remained deliberately elliptical as to how they’re portraying the novel, besides the fact that they’re shooting their segments in parallel, although Ben Whishaw, who stars alongside Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess, let leak that the actors would play multiple characters in each section (sometimes switching gender if necessary). We’re betting the Wachowskis, with their “Matrix” pedigree, will handle the more futuristic stuff while Tykwer, veteran of things like “Perfume,” will be more equipped for the period sections. But like everything else involved in this movie, the specifics aren’t terribly clear.
Release date: October 2012
Synopsis: Based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel of the same name, “Cogan’s Trade” follows Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.
What You Need to Know: This will be director Andrew Dominik’s first film since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” of 2007, a film that was met by massive critical acclaim (to our minds, one of the finest of the past decade), but that was criminally ignored by audiences and awards ceremonies. It may have been Brad Pitt’s best performance to date, and clearly he wanted to repeat his collaboration with Dominik; here Pitt once again stars, in a cast also including James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins, with newcomers Bella Heathcote and Scoot McNairy both taking on significant roles. Pitt has been pretty choosy with his projects recently, and he hasn’t struck out in a while, and The Weinstein Company has already bought the rights to distribute in North America, though since this one’s a dark comedy, it remains to be seen if they’ll be aiming for an Oscar bid.
Release Date: An early-to-mid September bow like “The Town” or “Moneyball” would be our guess, though it could make a “Drive“-style appearance as early as Cannes.
“The Company You Keep”
Synopsis: Jim Grant, a former Weather Underground militant who has been wanted by the FBI for 30 years for a Bank Of Michigan robbery, must go on the run when his true identity is exposed by a young, ambitious reporter hell-bent on making a name for himself.
What You Need To Know: Following last year’s tepid “The Conspirator,” Robert Redford returns with a project that not only has a lot more mainstream appeal, but retains his interest in politically angular material while also marking his first starring role since 2007’s “Lion For Lambs.” Along with “The Wettest County,” this will be a significant change of pace for co-star Shia LaBeouf, who is making some big strides into non-franchise territory and hoping it will pay off. The pic will also be enlivened by more young talent including Sundance sweetheart Brit Marling and Anna Kendrick, along with an ace line-up of veterans like Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins and Stanley Tucci. But while the premise is sound, so was that of the “The Conspirator,” and that film soon got bogged down in Redford’s heavy-handed politics. If he has learned those lessons, though, and can keep the thriller elements brisk and the thematic undercurrents subtle, it could be his best effort since the mid-’90s.
Release Date: Not scheduled yet, though a festival bow seems likely.
Synopsis: Based on the novel by American author Don DeLillo, it centers on Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young multi-billionaire making an epic, ultimately doomed limo ride across New York City.
What You Need to Know: David Cronenberg is enjoying an unparalleled level of critical and commercial acceptance after decades hovering on the fringe. At the outset, “Cosmopolis” seems to fall in line with the mannered, critic-friendly films of the recent Cronenberg era. It is, after all, an adaptation of a critically revered and best-selling novel and stars hunky heartthrob-of-the-moment Robert Pattinson. But on closer inspection, the movie seems more atypical and dangerous (a good thing, since “A Dangerous Method” felt far too safe for a filmmaker known for exploding heads and genital mutilation), taking place primarily in a stretch limousine as it crawls through New York City (not exactly a cinematic conceit). A number of Cronenberg’s favorite thematic tics are explored, too, including man’s relationship with modern technology, the messiness of murder and sexual obsession. So while it might be sold as another buttoned-up late era Cronenberg think piece, we’re hoping it’s going to be ruder, looser, and more like the days of yore, even if it has to be without the exploding heads and genital mutilation.
Release Date: With press for “A Dangerous Method” occupying much of Cronenberg’s time in the fall of 2011, our guess is the fall film festival circuit will be the earliest we see the picture.
“The Dark Knight Rises”
Synopsis: Batman has been away for eight years, but when sinister masked terrorist Bane turns his sights on Gotham, Bruce Wayne must don the mask again.
What You Need To Know: Ignore the baggage of years of comic book continuity. Ignore the rich cinematic life this character has boasted thus far. Hell, ignore “The Dark Knight,” the previous film that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide and became a critical favorite. What we’ve got here is a meticulous, often personal filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, working at the peak of his powers within the studio system. Nolan played by their rules and made the most beloved comic adaptation of all time and his “pet project” turned into the $800 million-grossing “Inception.” It’s always exciting when great filmmakers get a blank check, and doubly thrilling that he’s opted for, from what we can tell, a fairly dark storyline. In the comics, our villain Bane shattered Batman’s willpower and his body. But the comics benefited from a reset button and a re-establishing of the status quo. Nolan’s grounded, believable Batman universe doesn’t seem so accommodating to this logic, particularly with Nolan, Christian Bale, and the entire team revealing that the story, which remains under wraps, has a distinct air of finality. With all parties involved moving on, and with Warner Bros. eager to continue the Batman saga with a likely sunnier reboot within the next few years, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a pivotal film for those intrigued by the successes and fallacies of big studio sequential filmmaking.
Release Date: July 20
Synopsis: A freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to track down his wife (Kerry Washington) and liberate her from her plantation owners led by the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
What You Need To Know: The eighth film from Quentin Tarantino was originally written as a vehicle for Will Smith, with Foxx taking on the role after the squeaky-clean actor passed, presumably to squeeze in another four quadrant tentpole. It’s his loss. The chance to star in a Tarantino film doesn’t come around often, which might explain why the ridiculously stacked cast — which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Don Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Remar, Anthony LaPaglia and The RZA, among others — also features DiCaprio, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, in a supporting role. And judging by the script there are many juicy roles here for the talented cast to dig into if the director can pull it off. After drifting close to self-parody with his indulgent, referential grindhouse entry “Death Proof,” Tarantino came roaring back with “Inglourious Basterds” like he had something to prove, which of course, he did. We have to admit we’re a little concerned about Tarantino returning to the revenge narrative yet again (“Kill Bill,” “Death Proof,” ‘Basterds’), but with its racially charged and sure-to-be-controversial subject matter, ‘Django’ has the potential to be an epic unlike anything we’ve seen from the filmmaker before.
Release Date: December 25
Synopsis: A female security agent goes undercover in an environmental anarchist terrorist group, but winds up falling for the leader.
What You Need To Know: Can lightning strike three times for Brit Marling? The actress/writer/producer lit up Sundance a year ago with the one-two punch of “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice,” and quickly found a home with Fox Searchlight, who not only agreed to distribute both of those films, but are also backing this one. Reteaming with ‘Voice’ co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij, their next endeavor seems to be a riff on their previous effort, centered around a cult. But here it seems the themes are opening up considerably, with the magnetism of this kind of leader being explored more deeply as Marling falls under the spell of Alexander Skarsgård (who wouldn’t?). Additionally, with an ex-lover coming into play (Ellen Page) and a doctor fighting Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms with a tainted drug (Toby Kebbell), it looks like this will be more than just a ‘Voice’ reprise with bigger stars. An issues drama? A thriller? Maybe something in the intangible middle? That’s what we’re hoping for, and with a world of expectations and hype on Marling’s shoulders, we’ll be curious to see how she and Batmanglij use the resources of a studio for the first time.
Release: No date yet, and with filming kicking off this fall and “Sound of My Voice” still waiting for a releast date, we won’t be surprised if this is festival fare only in late 2012 with a broader release planned in 2013.
“The Five-Year Engagement”
Synopsis: Tom and Violet get engaged, but life gets in the way of their wedding plans, leading to a — you guessed it — extended engagement period.
What You Need To Know: Though the premise is hardly earth-shattering, simply more of Hollywood’s hetro-centric obsession with upcoming nuptials, there are quite a few reasons to hope for the best in this case. The film re-teams the duo behind “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Muppets,” writer/director Nicholas Stoller and writer/actor Jason Segel, along with the almighty Judd Apatow producing. Many people missed Segel and Emily Blunt‘s comedic turn together in last years mega-flop “Gulliver’s Travels,” in which they supplied the only cast chemistry that kept that corpse somewhat afloat, which at least bodes well for “The Five-Year Engagement.” This potentially sweet-and-sour rom-com also boasts a supporting cast of absolute comedic ringers from the small screen including Alison Brie (“Community”), Mindy Kaling (“The Office”), Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”) and Chris Parnell (“SNL“), and everyone’s favorite terrifying Australian matriarch, “Animal Kingdom” Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver. Segel and Stoller have already made it clear they are aiming to mine the holy grail of rom-coms like Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” and Rob Reiner’s ”When Harry Met Sally.” Though the recently released trailer focuses on plot summary over hilarity and hi-jinks, it was still still amusing, possessing the endearing tone we’re hoping for, plus, hopefully there’s still plenty R-rated fun and genius one-liners hidden in its arsenal.
Release Date: April 27
Synopsis: Based on a series of articles in the L.A. Times, the story follows a specialized L.A.P.D. unit set up in the ‘40s to fight the growing influence of the East Coast Mafia, namely from that infamous gangster Mickey Cohen, a mogul who started as muscle for Al Capone in Chicago
What You Need To Know: Credit to Warner Bros. for going with the inspired choice of “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes Or Less” director Ruben Fleischer to tackle what sounds like a sprawling, period L.A.-set gangster picture. The drama will see Sean Penn play the notorious gangster, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as two cops trying to bring him down, and Emma Stone as the femme fatale no doubt coming between them. And if the prospect of those four battling it out wasn’t enough, how about a supporting cast that also brings names like Anthony Mackie, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, “The Killing “ star Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, Frank Grillo and Giovanni Ribisi among many others, together as well. Fleischer has been keeping a photo blog of the production, and the production values look high, while writer (and ex-cop) Will Beall described the film as “a Western. It’s ‘The Magnificent Seven‘ or ‘Rio Bravo,’ but set in mid-20th century Los Angeles. Micky Cohen is the cattle baron who has the town in his grip and it’s up to our heroes to find a way to get rid of him.” Sign us up.
Release Date: October 19
“A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III“
Synopsis: Successful graphic designer Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen), whose fame, money and charm has made him irresistible to women, is thrown into a downward spiral of doubt and reflection after his girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) breaks up with him.
What You Need To Know: It’s been 10 years since Roman Coppola‘s hugely underrated debut film “CQ” snuck into theaters and its fans, us among them, are still waiting for a follow-up. That film was a mix of autobiography and pop fantasy set in Paris during the ’60s, it mixed influences as diverse as “Day For Night” and “Barbarella,” into something strangely original. He’s spent the last decade at work, doing 2nd unit for both his sister Sofia‘s films as well as co-writing “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Moonrise Kingdom” with his pal, Wes Anderson. For his long-awaited sophomore feature, he moves the action ahead a decade to the decadent ’70s for another tale that looks to meld his own life with his influences. But unlike “CQ,” this one is unlikely to vanish in limited release; the cast features Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza and perhaps most importantly, tabloid magnet Charlie Sheen in his first major role since his public meltdown. Playing a celebrity entering a downward spiral shouldn’t be too hard for the actor given his recent troubles, but if he nails the part he might sneak back into Hollywood again after his disastrous rants nearly sunk his career. Everybody loves a good comeback story.
Release Date: TBD
Synopsis: The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
What You Need To Know: A notoriously slow and deliberate filmmaker and editor, who tends to write his film <i>as</i> as he is shooting (what a luxury), Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai is one of the most world-renowned international directors, but this will be his first film since his 2007 poorly received English-language debut, “My Blueberry Nights.” Starring longtime collaborator Tony Leung (“In The Mood For Love”), Song Hye-kyo, Chang Chen and Chinese star Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“), the picture will also be the filmmaker’s first action-oriented movie since 1994’s “Ashes of Time” (which Leung also appeared in). So shooting started back in 1981… ok, we’re kidding, but it really feels like we’ve been reporting on this project for three or four years now. Delays did occur due to Leung accidentally breaking his arm during a fight with a stuntman and Ziyi’s participation was always unconfirmed until set photos showed her in training, but all we know is we’ve seen a tantalizing sizzle trailer and some rain-soaked pictures and posters and now we want to see this damn picture already.
Release Date: It’s been in post forever now. It was rumored for Cannes last year, so with a year-long delay we can only hope a 2012 Cannes bow is finally in the works.
Synopsis: Two astronauts from a remote space station are the only survivors from an exploding satellite, sparking an emergency return home.
What You Need to Know: From the start, “Gravity” sounded like one of those doomed projects that would never happen, after original leads Natalie Portman and Robert Downey Jr. bailed, but eventually, director and studio met halfway, choosing Sandra Bullock to be the face of their $80 million 3D space thriller, with George Clooney in support. Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”) has only allowed morsels of details to emerge from the film, which finds Bullock on a mad dash to return to her daughter on Earth, but from our read of the script, it should be an intense, lean thrill-ride, something close to “Touching the Void” in space. Furthermore, the film is going to feature an ambitious twenty minute opening shot, leading into a movie that will be roughly 60% CGI. Whispers about the movie’s tech center around this, technologically, being in the realm of “Avatar,” but while James Cameron uses these advancements to further his passive-aggressive relationship with the military-industrial complex, Cuaron is said to be telling a Kubrick-ian outer space story, with most of the screentime occupied by only one character, and much of the soundtrack occupied by silence. While this obviously won’t be an austere Tarkovskian think piece, we’re thrilled that Cuaron has managed to take this threadbare story as an excuse to create what may be the year’s most visually exciting picture.
Release: November 21
“The Great Gatsby”
Synopsis: A Hollywood take on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel where new-money millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) pines after his old love Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). When she comes back into her life with new husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), Gatsby, with the help of new friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), tries to win her back.
What You Need To Know: Baz Luhrmann takes on the classic American tale — and boldly shot in 3D no less. Luhrmann’s last venture, “Australia,” definitely didn’t impress critics, getting mixed reviews and disappointing at the box office, but he’s never one to shy away from a challenge regardless. Employing a workshop format to cast the film, he ended up with quite the impressive roster; working with DiCaprio again for the first time since his take on “Romeo & Juliet,” he also has a galaxy of stars in support, including Maguire, and, playing against type, Mulligan as the materialistic, sometimes simple-minded Daisy Buchanan; curiously, it’s her first leading role in a big Hollywood production. Up-and-comer Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher round out the cast. “Australia” might have been uneven and indulgent, but we’re not worried here; Luhrmann’s work is strongest when he’s putting his unique visual take on age-old tales, and early stills suggest he’s got the style down.
Release: Christmas Day 2012, which means Warner Bros. are crossing their fingers it’ll be a heavy Oscar hitter.
“He Loves Me“
Synopsis: A successful author overcomes writer’s block by creating the woman he thinks will love him. Things get complicated when he ends up actually willing her into existence.
What You Need To Know: It’s been a long time since “Little Miss Sunshine,” the fun and heart-warming first feature by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris that wooed audiences and nabbed an Oscar nod. After many subsequent fits and starts (“The Abstinence Teacher,” “Used Guys,” “Will,” all projects that never came to pass), the duo were finally able to solidify a gig up at Fox Searchlight, directing a script penned by “The Exploding Girl” actress Zoe Kazan. Reteaming with Paul Dano, the whimsical logline and early buzz promises something in vein of Charlie Kaufman — not a bad comparison point and it should reel in those who thought their debut was too cutesy-quirky. This is Kazan’s first screenplay credit, but we have no reservations on the quality of her work: her Off-Broadway play “We Live Here” unfortunately drew comparisons to the often histrionic and extravagant “Rachel Getting Married” for sharing a similar plot, but the former was actually a much stronger and subtler work without all of the miserablist Oscar-beggar mayhem. “He Loves Me” is a bit more playful by design, and it’ll be interesting to see what Dayton and Faris do with the “Adaptation“/”Weird Science“-esque tone of the script. Icing on the cake is the supporting cast (Alia Shawkat, Annette Bening, Deborah Ann Woll, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Elliot Gould, Aasif Mandvi, Chris Messina and Toni Trucks), a collection of talented and non-trendy cameos from actors who generally elevate whatever material they’re given. While this kind of premise sometimes comes off as rather weak and empty (“Wristcutters: A Love Story” anyone?), we’re hoping the mass of proven talent behind it will come through.
Release Date: 2012 festival appearance is likely, but with no Sundance in the cards, this one will likely hit the fall film festival circuit at the earliest.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Synopsis: In the first of a two-part prequel to “The Lord of the Rings,” Bilbo Baggins relates an early journey with Gandalf and a pack of unruly dwarves to steal a horde of treasure from the dragon Smaug.
What You Need To Know: Given that the original trilogy was near-universally beloved, a giant box-office hit (taking close to $3 billion worldwide) and even managed to be win a record haul of Oscars with its last installment, getting “The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien‘s novel set, and written, before “The Lord of the Rings” proved surprisingly tricky, with rights issues and studio bankruptcy holding the project up for years, even before original director Guillermo del Toro bailed. But Peter Jackson‘s finally returned to Middle Earth, and if the recent atmospheric teaser is anything to go by, he hasn’t forgotten what he’s doing. Settling back into the world feels like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes, and the filmmaker looks to have the perfect Bilbo in “The Office” star Martin Freeman, who leads a group of new arrivals to the franchise including Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly, along with many returning favorites. We have our reservations: is Jackson’s heart really in it, after spending so long saying he didn’t want to direct the film? Will the two-part structure feel padded and indulgent for a book that only runs to 285 pages? Will having a baker’s dozen of dwarves mean that they blend into one? We hope not, and if anyone can pull it off, it’s the hirsute New Zealander.
Release Date: December 14
“Hyde Park On Hudson”
Synopsis: The story focuses on a rather curious moment in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s life, taking place over a weekend in 1939 when Brit royalty visits his upstate New York home for the weekend, while also taking a look at the President’s affair with his cousin Margaret Stuckley.
What You Need To Know: Bill Murray plays FDR. That’s it. Oh, you need more? Well if Peter Venkman getting all Presidential isn’t enough for you, ‘Hyde Park’ features a “Rushmore” reunion of sorts, with Olivia Williams playing FDR’s wife, Eleanor, while Laura Linney plays Margaret in the project, while British actors Samuel West and Olivia Colman (who earned raves for “Tyrannosaur“) are stepping into the shoes of King George and Queen Elizabeth. So yeah, pretty great cast. The wild card here is Roger Michell (“Venus,” “Notting Hill,” “Morning Glory”), a solid, if somewhat workmanlike and not particularly remarkable director, which means his cast will likely have to do the heavy lifting to get the material to sing. And as it’s based on a radio play, this thing will have some work to do to catch fire on the big screen. But again, it’s the promise of Murray going period, with a tone that will likely strike a balance between the dramatic and comedic that has us curious, and grateful he’s doing stuff like this and not ghostbusting.
Release: Set for release next year by Focus Features, we’d guess festival appearances will determine if it’s an awards horse or simply a curio.
“Inside Llewyn Davis“
Synopsis: Set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ‘60s that birthed Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and loosely based on a friend of Dylan’s, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer who, despite his talent as a singer and guitarist, can’t seem to make ends meet.
What You Need To Know: Coming off a streak that has seen them produce a Best Picture Winner (“No Country For Old Men“) and the biggest box office hit of their careers (“True Grit“), the Coen Brothers have probably been afforded the opportunity to make whatever they want. In this case that’s an original screenplay set in the early ‘60s folk scene starring “Drive” and “Sucker Punch” secret weapon Oscar Isaac as the titular folk singer who isn’t able to get his career off the ground. He’ll be leading a cast of more familiar faces including the Coen’s longtime MVP John Goodman as a jazz musician, F. Murray Abraham as legendary folk manager Bud Grossman, Justin Timberlake (yes, you read that right) as a rival folk singer, and Carey Mulligan as Timberlake’s wife. Now entering the fourth decade of their careers, the Coens have consistently marched to the beat of their own drummer, tackling existential thrillers and slapstick comedies and everything in between. And with the exception of a few brief stumbles in the mid aughts, that instinct has rarely led them astray.
Release Date: Unknown — the film, backed by StudioCanal, doesn’t yet have a distributor — but filming is set to begin shortly and with megaproducer Scott Rudin on board, we’re picturing a late fall release aimed at awards season.
“Lay the Favorite”
Synopsis: A ditzy thirtysomething stripper-turned-cocktail-waitress (Rebecca Hall) becomes involved with a group of geeky fiftyish men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage
What You Need To Know: Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Grifters,” “The Queen” “Tamara Drewe“), a filmmaker who has admittedly had a hit-and-miss career, but featuring a pretty much all-star cast of Bruce Willis (always good in the hands of a real filmmaker), Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon and Joshua Jackson, it’s hard not to be intrigued by a mid-sized dramedy that’s not being made by either a major studio or a mid-sized indie. Frears has navigated comedy and drama before quite well (see “High Fidelity”) so expectations, while tempered, are still relatively high.
Release Date: TBD, but with a Sundance premiere and that kind of star wattage, it would have to be a major turd to not find itself some kind of 2012 release. Look for buyers like The Weinsteins, Focus and Paramount Vantage (which still seems to exist despite being “shuttered”) to be interested.
Synopsis: The big screen version of the hit stage musical, following an escaped convict unable to escape his past as France simmers on the edge of revolution.
What You Need To Know: After taking home the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for “The King’s Speech,” helmer Tom Hooper is raising the stakes for his followup that is aiming to get him back in the Kodak Theater in 2013. The big splashy musical — which will not be in 3D (thank god) — teams up Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne with, only last night, Amanda Seyfried and Taylor Swift reportedly offered roles, in a movie that is yet to go in front of cameras, but is racing to meet a release date in less than a year. But with a tightly run production schedule, a movie that will likely mostly be shot on a soundstage should be just about able to get in on time, so the real question is, will this be another “Nine”? That movie too gathered up a bunch of stars and had them sing and dance, only to fail with both critics and audiences. But then again, it didn’t have twenty five years of record-breaking, award-winning history behind it. Was “The King’s Speech” a feel-good fluke or the arrival of a director who will be a contender in years to come? Guess we’ll find out around the end of 2012.
Release Date: December 7
“Life of Pi”
Synopsis: After a harrowing shipwreck, young Pi Patel finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat in shark-infested waters with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
What You Need To Know: In the works for years, with a variety of different directors all kicking it around at various points — Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuarón and M. Night Shyamalan among them — the best-selling “Life of Pi” is finally on its way to the big screen, in 3D. The big hurdle Fox will have to vault on this one (at least domestically) is the international, mostly star-free cast, that features newcomer Suraj Sharma, Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu and in a small role, Tobey Maguire. But then, if you think name recognition is an instant stamp to box office success, just ask Sony execs who are wondering why “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” wasn’t a smash hit out of the gate, while the unknown-filled “Slumdog Millionaire” was a giant hit only a few years ago. Fox seem to be making this their annual December animal movie, a la “Marley & Me” and “We Bought a Zoo,” but the material is much tougher, so it’ll be interesting to see how it does. Hopefully, it’ll at least see Lee back on form after the misfire of “Taking Woodstock.”
Release Date: December 21… the same day as Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, “World War Z,” “This Is Forty” and one week after “The Hobbit.” Good luck.
Synopsis: Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s biography of Lincoln, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” the Steven Spielberg film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the martyred president and follows the last several months of Lincoln’s life as he faced violent opposition, on the battlefield and in the White House, as the Civil War gasped to a close, concluding with that fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre.
What You Need to Know: This has been a passion project of Spielberg’s for almost a decade (he acquired the rights to the book in 2001), initially tapping Liam Neeson for the role until, in Neeson’s words, he got “too old.” John Logan and Tony Kushner (among others) have worked on the script and the cast is bursting with talented performers playing historical figures, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward (who was also targeted the night Lincoln visited Ford’s Theatre), Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens, and (most recently) Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. (There are a bunch of awesome people like Walton Goggins and John Hawkes in smaller roles.) While we wonder what shape the film will take, given the expansive nature of the source material, we are itching for a decent Lincoln movie, especially after the lacklustre “The Conspirator.”
Release Date: We’re guessing Christmastime 2012, but with the season already so crowded, it could go a little earlier.
Synopsis: In a future where time travel exists, but is outlawed, hitmen are enlisted to eliminate mob targets sent back from even further in the future, so as to leave no bodies then. However, the system falls apart when Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to pull the trigger on his older self (played by Bruce Willis).
What You Need to Know: Writer-director Rian Johnson has already put an inspired spin on both film noir with the high school-set “Brick” and the con-man caper with “The Brothers Bloom.” To see him tackle heady sci-fi action with a cast that includes “Brick” lead Gordon-Levitt (who will be coming right off “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Premium Rush”), Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt is an exciting prospect indeed. Plus, Johnson managed to get “Primer” filmmaker Shane Carruth off the bench as a visual consultant, so bonus points for that. While we’d normally be wary of test screening reviews — and still, taken with a grain of salt and such — last month’s feedback was fairly enthusiastic across the board. Let’s face it: we could always use an R-rated action flick that’s as brainy as it is bloody, so here’s hoping that this fits the bill as heir apparent to “The Terminator” and Willis’ own “12 Monkeys” come its release next fall. (No pressure or anything.)
Release Date: September 28
Synopsis: A young male stripper is taken under the wing of his older coworkers. There Will Be Skin.
What You Need To Know: Finally, Steven Soderbergh makes his “Showgirls.” The prolific filmmaker is embarking on his farewell tour, and, as always, it’s significant to acknowledge that every film from here on out becomes something of an event for the young retiree. What’s interesting is how he attached himself to this project, which looked like a vanity effort doomed to remain in development hell. In fact, this is Channing Tatum’s own early life story, as he long wanted to adapt his years as a male stripper into a movie. He’ll be playing one of the older mentors, helping Alex Pettyfer learn the ropes of the meat trade. The cast intrigues, with a combination of colorful personalities that give us no real hint as to what kind of movie this is going to be. Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn and Matt Bomer fill out the cast, so we really have no idea as to whether we’re going to be seeing some steamy crowd-pleaser, a low-budget bump-and-grinder, or a “Shame”-like spiral into sad debauchery. Knowing Soderbergh, he’ll keep us guessing to the very end, though it’s interetsting to note that Warner Bros. has hopped aboard as distributor, giving this beefcake parade a plum summer release date against the blockbuster behemoths.
Release Date: June 29
Synopsis: After returning home from WWII, a charismatic intellectual (Philip Seymour Hoffman) launches a faith-based organization and taps a young drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) as his right-hand man.
What You Need to Know: With just five films spread out over the last fifteen years, Paul Thomas Anderson has become one of the most celebrated American directors working today. It’s been nearly half a decade since his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” became the directors highest-grossing and most critically acclaimed film — his longest gap ever — but the wait seems worthwhile. His latest reteams the director with former muse Hoffman who portrays a man who starts his own religion during the 1950s and becomes the “master of ceremonies,” supposedly with strong parallels to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Phoenix, in his first post-“retirement” role, plays the drifter he recruits, with Amy Adams and Laura Dern along for the ride too. Despite being less than 12 months from release the film is still shrouded in secrecy with even the title still up in the air. We reviewed an early rough draft of the script all the way back in February of 2010 and after several stops and starts (eventually being rescued by every cinephile’s favorite heiress Megan Ellison), the film is finally on its way, though the script has surely evolved since that minimal sketch was leaked. Initially hailed as a disciple of Scorsese and Altman, Anderson’s now finding himself being compared to another auteur whose films grew more masterful as well as increasingly further apart: Kubrick. All of this makes “The Master” quite possibly our most anticipated film of 2012.
Release Date: Assume a late fall release
Synopsis: Set during the 1960s, a young boy and girl (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) run away together and their small New England town is turned upside down looking for them.
What You Need To Know: Though technically Wes Anderson‘s first period piece, his films have always seemed set in a indeterminate point in history. Mixing disparate influences from Martin Scorsese to Satyajit Ray has always been part of the director’s playbook but no matter where he sets his stories — a fairytale NYC, the high seas, a train in India — they always seem to take place in diorama-like Anderson-land. His latest takes place on an island off the coast of New England during the 1960s and from the looks of the set photos, will sit very close visually his previous work. Assembling perhaps his most star-studded cast since “The Royal Tenenbaums,” including first-time Anderson colaborators Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel alongside Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, the film will likely rest on the shoulders of its two leads: two virtually unknown 12 year olds. For a director often criticized with staying within his comfort zone, this sounds like a commendably risky move to us, and the script (co-written with Roman Coppola) promises something a little different from recent work. After a bit of a career slide that saw audiences and critics starting to turn on their formerly celebrated auteur, Anderson put himself back on top with his stop-motion fable, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” How will his fans receive his first live action film since “The Darjeeling Limited” in 2007 is yet to be seen.
Release Date: May 25, which suggests an out-of-competition bow at Cannes may be hoped for.
Synopsis: An unlikely friendship is formed between a fugitive and a 14-year-old boy who helps him escape off an island in Mississippi, evade the law and bounty hunters, and reunite him with his sweetheart, Juniper.
What You Need To Know: “Mud” will see a director and a star each meeting at a high in both of their careers. Director Jeff Nichols is coming off a great year thanks to the excellent “Take Shelter” and combined with the continuing word-of-mouth praise for his debut feature “Shotgun Stories” (a must-see) he is one of the most exciting new voices currently working. As for Matthew McConaughey, he’s been revitalized of late taking a diverse array of roles in films like “The Paperboy,” “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” and “Killer Joe” (he’s gonna have a helluva 2012), and this is another leftfield choice from an actor suddenly challenging himself. Wrap that all up in a film described as a “fairytale about love” with supporting turns from Reese Witherspoon, “The Tree of Life” star Tye Sheridan and Nichols’ regular collaborator Michael Shannon, and it’s a recipe for something potentially delicious.
Release Date: None yet, but filming wrapped last fall, and a festival premiere seems inevitable.
Synopsis: Not based on Boccaccio’s novellas, as originally reported, the film will feature four unconnected vignettes, two of which involve American characters in Rome, the other two involving Italian cast members.
What You Need To Know: Well, it’s a Woody Allen, which either means you’re on board or you’re not. And judging by the box office receipts for the biggest success of his career, “Midnight In Paris,” the director’s career is peaking when most are hanging it all up. The usual ingredients of Allen’s late career renaissance are here including another European locale, perhaps the most perfectly suited and neurotic Allen surrogate ever (Jesse Eisenberg), an A-list cast (Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page) and some local talent to round things out. But the big question here is if Woody will keep up his winning streak or if he’ll drop a dud like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” or “Cassandra’s Dream.” You never can tell.
Release: Picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, the film will be released next summer. And considering how well the strategy of Cannes premiere, followed quickly by a platform release worked in 2011, we presume the arthouse shingle won’t mess with the formula and stick to the playbook. And a Best Director or Best Picture Oscar nomination for Woody in February certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
“On The Road”
Synopsis: A long-time-coming adaptation of Jack Kerouac‘s famous Beat Generation novel. Drifter poets Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty travel across the country in search of themselves, colliding with a rigid and impermeable society along the way.
What You Need To Know: Over thirty years in the making, director Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to get this picture made since the mid 1970s. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles signed on to make the picture in 2005, with Coppola exec producing, but none of it became a reality until early 2010 when casting and financing finally coalesced. Starring Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley as the two leads and Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and more, rounding out the colorful cast, “On The Road” has been a labor of love for both Salles and Hedlund who has also been involved for years, biding his time for when funding would finally arrive. Having directed “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and other striking Foreign-language films, Salles has had an unlucky streak of late. After 2005’s semi-successful “Dark Water,” his 2008 co-directed film “Linha de Passe” failed to ever score distribution in North America. But having worked on ‘Road’ on and off for six years, we’re hoping this one is a major comeback.
Release Date: TBD, but we’re guessing a Cannes bow in May would make sense.
“Only God Forgives“
Synopsis: A gangster (Ryan Gosling) lives in exile in Bangkok where he runs a Thai boxing club as a front for his family’s drug smuggling operation. After his brother is killed by a retired Thai police lieutenant, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) forces him to track him down and seek revenge.
What You Need To Know: Gosling reteams with his “Drive” director/hetero life partner Nicolas Winding Refn for this existential action film which he called “the strangest thing he’s ever read.” And if advance word is to be believed, that description is pretty accurate. After a half dozen features in arthouse semi-obscurity, the Danish filmmaker broke through in a big way with his neo-noir fairy tale “Drive” this year. But part of the reason that film was such a success is that no one saw it coming, not even those that had seen Refn’s earlier work. So the question is whether Refn and Gosling will be able to pull off the same trick now that all eyes are focused on them. But all the elements certainly seem to be in place: the screenplay is an original by Refn, “Bronson” cinematographer Larry Smith will shoot the picture and “Drive” composer Cliff Martinez will once again score. For those who might be expecting some more ‘80s tinged electronic tunes, prepare yourselves for something a little different. Refn has been listening to a lot of Thai “country and western” music so get ready for hipster dance parties to be blasting those tunes nonstop around this time next year.
Release Date: Unknown, but shooting’s underway, so sometime in late 2012.
“A Place Beyond the Pines”
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider (Ryan Gosling) 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 (Bradley Cooper).
What You Need To Know: “Brother Tied” put filmmakere Derek Cianfrance square on the indie map in 1998, but another feature would not coalesce for some time (instead he made documentaries). That all changed in 2010 with Cianfrance’s re-breakthrough film, “Blue Valentine,” and ‘Pines’ will see him reunited with that picture’s star Ryan Gosling. Called a “generational crime flick about fathers and sons” by the director, the film also stars Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, and up-and-coming Aussie actor (and star of another generational crime film in “Animal Kingdom”) Ben Mendelsohn, to name a few. The director’s thrown some lofty comparisons around (“The Deer Hunter,” “The Godfather”), but hopefully these are simply tone comparisons rather than a suddenly inflated ego talking.
Release Date: TBD, but “Blue Valentine” played Cannes even after having its worldwide debut premiere at Sundance, so if Cianfrance is ready, the Croisette is a good bet.
Synopsis: Producers are trying their best to keep details under wraps on this project, which began as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” series. As far as we can tell, it’s about a a team of explorers who discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe.
What You Need to Know: Scott is finally getting back to his roots after taking a serious hiatus from science-fiction to explore the depths of drama. Some were wary of “Prometheus” after hearing of its “Alien” prequel DNA, fearing Scott had run out of good ideas. But then “Lost” chief Damon Lindelof came onto the project to re-write Jon Spaihts’ original screenplay, and now both Scott and Lindelof claim the project has evolved into something much more epic and standalone. Starring It-actors Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in leading roles, the former as an android and the latter as a doctor akin to Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley, Charlize Theron is also involved as the semi-villainous corporate figure, with Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and newcomer Logan Marshall-Andrews also among the top-billed names. . While there’s a lot of mystery and mystique surrounding this project, a recent trailer delivered the goods, demonstrating what appears to be a frightening and intense thriller in the making. Whether it can live up to all the hype — Scott arguably hasn’t made a great movie since “Gladiator” in 2000 — remains to be seen.
Release Date: June 8
“Red Hook Summer”
Synopsis: A boy from Atlanta is forced to leave his cushy life and lands in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects to spend the summer with his grandfather, a strict preacher he’s never met before.
What You Need To Know: His first feature length narrative since 2008’s commercially unsuccessful “Miracle at St. Anna,” Spike Lee’s latest exploration of Brooklyn was first surprise-announced over Twitter and was somehow dubbed a sequel to his breakthrough effort “Do the Right Thing.” And while Spike <i>is</i> reprising his role as Mookie from that film, “Red Hook Summer” is decidedly different and does not focus on the pizza delivery man and his racially divided neighborhood. Starring Clarke Peters from “The Wire” as the older preacher and featuring character actors Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Nate Parker, the rest of the cast — Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith — are essentially unknowns. Putting a film forward without any known stars is a bold choice, perhaps due to the stinging rejection of the expensive and ambitious ‘St. Anna’ from audiences, but at the same time, “Red Hook Summer,” also co-written by James McBride of ‘St. Anna,’ is supposed to be a return to Lee’s roots, so perhaps it’s fitting.
Release Date: TBD, but with a Sundance premiere, we assume a sale can’t be far behind, even if it’s not with the biggest studio in the world.
“Rust and Bone”
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson‘s 2005 short story collection which depicts a savage world populated by afflicted prizefighters, fighting dogs, amputee sex addicts, and gamblers.
What You Need To Know: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips” and “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. Described as a mix of a suspense story and a love story, it’s unclear how Audiard is going to weave these disparate strands into one clear narrative — if indeed that is the plan — but “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises” star Marion Cotillard is the lead so obviously we’re intrigued. French character actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Bouli Lanners and Celine Sallette co-star and the story is rumored to be based, at least in part, around one of the shorts about a marine park Orca trainer who loses his leg and then joins Unlimbited Potential, a support group made of addict-amputees. Recent, ahem, bodacious photos of Cotillard in her birthday suit wearing a green CGI leg-sock indicate she’ll be part of that story at the very least.
Release Date: Presuming it finished in November 2011 after the photos surfaced, the film is likely in post now. If it’s not complete in time for Cannes, who would surely love to have the director back again, Venice and/or TIFF seems like a safe bet.
Synopsis: A pair of Laguna Beach drug dealers is forced to work for a Mexican cartel after their gal pal is kidnapped.
What You Need To Know: Oliver Stone has pretty much spent the last decade being a “Serious Filmmaker” making movies about Serious Things. 9/11, George Bush, South American politics, corporate greed (yes, couched in a sequel no one wanted) and dictatorships all loomed in the frames of his films, but what many people may have forgotten is that Stone can deliver pure genre material with a great sense of humor and flair. “U-Turn” may not have entirely worked, but it was bonkers noir with more ideas than most filmmakers have in a lifetime, and the cluttered “Natural Born Killers” is further evidence that Stone can switch it up between violence, humor and drama with ease. Mix in a cast of up-and-comers and stone cold veterans — Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch in the leads, Blake Lively as the girl, Uma Thurman as her mother, Salma Hayek as the leader of the cartel, Benicio Del Toro as her main enforcer, John Travolta as a burnt-out DEA agent, Demián Bichir as a cartel-representing double-crossing attorney, Joel David Moore as a computer nerd and Emile Hirsch in a mystery role — and you have what could be a thriller with some real bite.
Release: September 28, making a Toronto bow likely.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
Synopsis: With an asteroid set to bring about the end of the world, a man enlists his neighbor to help him search for his childhood sweetheart.
What You Need To Know: This one caused a bit of a division among The Playlist staff, and your excitement for this one may depend on how you feel about “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” If you enjoyed it for what it was, then you may be heartened to learn that the screenwriter of that picture Lorene Scarfaria is making her directorial debut here. And she’s got some pretty big talent along for the ride. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley take the lead roles, with a pretty great supporting cast in tow including Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Rob Huebel, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry and more. We can only assume that the material was good enough to entice the usually picky Carell and Knightley into the fold, and the premise is intriguingly high concept. So are we looking at another ‘Nick & Norah’ but with an apocalyptic bent, or something more akin to, say, Don McKellar‘s “Last Night“?
Release Date: April 20
Synopsis: A frustrated author finds himself getting involved with two bumbling thieves who steal a mobster’s dog.
What You Need To Know: Martin McDonagh reunites his “A Behanding In Spokane” stars Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken for this crime comedy, which alone should be cause for celebration. Really, if you’re going to have a duo of dog-nappers in your movie, and you can afford Sam Rockwell (as a struggling actor) and Chris Walken (as Chris Walken, more or less), you spring for it. McDonagh, who previously wrote and directed the hysterical “In Bruges,” also brought back his ‘Bruges’ star Colin Farrell, suggesting there may be some connective tissue between that acidic gut-buster and this go-round, with Farrell playing the author attempting to pen his opus “Seven Psychopaths.” Though Mickey Rourke was due to play the dog-loving gangster (pretty accurate typecasting), he told the producers to to “go play with yourself” when they wouldn’t meet his probably-too-generous fee (we can easily imagine him making a masturbation air-gesture as we type this). Woody Harrelson is a more than adequate replacement, however, coming off a series of intriguing performances that have returned him to the on-demand list. Olga Kurylenko, Abbie Cornish and the always-interesting Tom Waits also fill out what looks like a cast that actually manages to improve upon the electric Farrell-Brendan Gleeson-Ralph Fiennes trio at the heart of “In Bruges.”
Release Date: Late 2012
Synopsis: A sheltered couple (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) attempts to relax on a holiday in the countryside, only to find themselves pushed over the edge by irritants and inconvenience.
What You Need to Know: Ben Wheatley certainly made an impression with his darkly funny family crime dramedy, “Down Terrace,” in 2010, and he followed that up with the bold, unnerving hitman thriller “Kill List,” which IFC will release on demand this January and in select theaters February. (Both are very much worth your while, though not for the squeamish.) So it’s little stretch to realize that Wheatley’s attempt at something lighter than either of those nonetheless turned out to be a serial-killers-in-love lark heavily improvised by stars Oram and Lowe (a.k.a. Liz on “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”). The director has already proven himself terrifically adept at wringing suspense out of his premises, and the fact that this is reported to have more of a darkly comedic tone makes it that much more alluring. Oh, and did we mention that Edgar Wright is serving as executive producer on the project as he did with the great “Attack the Block”? (Lowe starred in his “Hot Fuzz,” but let’s face it: all hilarious Brits know one another anyway.) Little else is known about “Sightseers,” and we’d just as soon keep it that way. When it does come out, though: brace yourselves.
Release Date: TBD, although the fast-moving Wheatley has suggested it might follow “Kill List” for a SXSW premiere
“The Silver-Linings Playbook”
Synopsis: Based on the book by Matthew Quick, the story centers a former high school teacher who, after being released from a four-year stint in a mental institution, moves back in with his mother, then seeks to reinvent himself, finding the titular silver linings in his life.
What You Need To Know: Rumored to be the cause of a rift between David O. Russell and his longtime collaborator Mark Wahlberg, the film has been one the director has been trying to get off the ground for a few years. Wahlberg was originally slated in the lead role, but when Anne Hathaway dropped out, word is that Marky Mark got a cool $900,000 as part of his contract, forcing the filmmakers to go with Bradley Cooper, a much cheaper option. And there’s your beef. Of course, this is all hearsay anyway, but the real reason to pay attention is that the movie marks Russell’s followup to “The Fighter,” a film which finally brought him industry recognition via an invitation to the Kodak Theater as a Best Director nominee. And with a fall release date, The Weinstein Company are hoping for some of that same magic. Add to that a cast which includes rising star Jennifer Lawrence, the return of Chris Tucker in a non-”Rush Hour” movie, “Animal Kingdom” star Jacki Weaver (who’s having a good year) and goddamn Robert De Niro and you can see why we’re eager for this.
Release: November 21
Synopsis: As she mourns the death of her father, a teen (Mia Wasikowska) meets her mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) and wonders if a string of disappearances that follow in her small town are connected to his arrival.
What You Need to Know: Judging strictly from the logline, this may seem like a hokey Screen Gems thriller that doesn’t belong on any list of anticipation whatsoever, save for one authored by the Babysitters Club. But the crew behind “Stoker” is what makes all the difference here: “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller (under a pseudonym) wrote the screenplay, which made the Black List in 2010, while director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “Thirst”) makes his English-language debut with the help of producers Ridley and Tony Scott. That last part should be encouraging enough on its own — “warped” is pretty much Park’s bread and butter (see his Vengeance Trilogy) — but combine that with an admitted Bram Stoker influence, a score by Philip Glass and a cast that also includes Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver (yep, her again), Alden Ehrenreich, Lucas Till and Phyllis Somerville, and, well, this could be something creepy and compelling. This one already belongs to Fox Searchlight, so short of a “Margaret” scenario befalling it (knock on wood that doesn’t happen), we should see what Park has up his sleeve before the year is out.
Release Date: TBD
“This Is Forty”
Synopsis: Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their “Knocked Up” roles as married couple Debbie and Pete, with Maude and Iris Apatow still playing daughters, Sadie and Charlotte.
What You Need to Know: Judd Apatow is still producing like a madman these days — with the gangbusters performance of this year’s “Bridesmaids” and the looming promise of this year’s “Wanderlust” and “The Five-Year Engagement” — but he hasn’t written and directed anything himself since 2009’s ungainly but heartfelt “Funny People.” Few details are known about ‘Forty’ beyond it concerning Mann and Rudd’s characters from “Knocked Up” (in which they stole their fair share of scenes). As if that somehow weren’t enough, besides Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi returning to the fold as stoners Jason and Jodi, we can expect appearances by Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Ryan Lee, Lena Dunham, and Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd (both of “Bridesmaids”). From the midlife-crisis title on down to the casting of Brooks as Rudd’s father (his own warm, shaggy work as a writer-director has clearly influenced this writer-director in creating credible characters and comedy), ‘Forty’ feels like a logical progression for Apatow’s career, and if that tentative December date is any indication, it might finally earn him and his cast of regulars some much deserved awards attention. Or maybe it’ll just be really, really funny. That works, too.
Release Date: December 21
“Under The Skin”
Synopsis: Based on the debut novel by future “Crimson Petal and the White” superstar Michel Faber, the plot concerns Isserley (Scarlett Johansson) as an extraterrestrial sent to earth by a greedy alien corporation. Her goal is to bring back tasty tasty human meat for her desolate home world. She is also quite sexy.
What You Need to Know: First and foremost, it’s the first film from “Sexy Beast” auteur Jonathan Glazer since his chronically overlooked 2004 feature “Birth” (seriously, why isn’t that on Blu-ray?) Glazer is a ridiculously talented dude and it’s been far too long since he’s had a movie in theaters. And while the synopsis may make it sound like a slightly more highbrow version of Roger Donaldson‘s “Species,” the source material is altogether more existential and satirical, tackling everything from the nature of existence to the ethics of farming. It sounds like an odd beast, and casting other than Johansson is being kept under wraps so far, but even so, this has to be one of the films we’re most excited about.
Release Date: July TBD
“Untitled David Chase Project“
Synopsis: A ’60s-set coming-of-age story following three Italian boys chasing the rock ‘n’ roll dream inspired by Chase’s own musical ambitions as a youth in Jersey.
What You Need To Know: David Chase‘s first major production since the infamous finale of his HBO show “The Sopranos” in 2007 and his first venture into the world of feature films sees the acclaimed writer/director tackle a subject dear to his heart that was one of the strengths of his long-running, critically acclaimed show: rock ‘n’ roll music. The film has three unknowns in John Magaro, Will Brill and Jack Huston (who has since broken out with his role on “Boardwalk Empire“) as the leads, which shouldn’t be a problem as Chase’s depiction of youth with inexperienced talent on his HBO show was stellar, but it also boasts a strong supporting cast with Bella Heathcote as the protagonist Magaro’s girlfriend, Christopher McDonald as her father, Molly Price as Magaro’s mother, Lisa Lampenelli as his aunt, Brad Garrett as a composer/producer, and Chase’s ‘Sopranos’ leading man James Gandolfini, who apparently shines as Magaro’s father, “a postwar, post-Depression era parent who has given his kid every advantage that he didn’t have growing up.” There has been word of a Cannes premiere — a 2011 release was potentially on the cards before a late switch-up so the film’s probably close to ready — with the leading trio’s band, The Twylight Zones, also continuing to convene regularly and give promises of a performance at some stage in the future.
Release Date: October 12th
“Untitled Kathryn Bigelow Bin Laden Project”
Synopsis: Based-in-fact story centering on the Seal Team 6 who hunted down and killed Osama Bin Laden.
What You Need To Know: Thanks in part to real-life intervention when its subject was finally killed over the summer, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to her Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker,” which will see her working again with scribe Mark Boal, has been a while coming. But the film’s finally started casting up, with “Moneyball” star Chris Pratt and Aussie Jason Clarke on board, and more (possibly including the likes of Rooney Mara, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Nina Arianda and even Tom Hardy) to be announced in the coming weeks; the release date was pushed back to late 2012 from an intiial October slot to help accomodate a later shoot and to avoid any accusations of partisanship. Expectations will be riding high on the film, with folks expecting one of the biggest events in the last few years to be captured authentically, with no bias, while also being a few notches dramatically above something like “Act of Valor.” Add into that a compressed production schedule, and Bigelow has some major weight on her shoulders, but if her last film was anything to go by, she should be able to pull it off with aplomb.
Release: December 19
“Untitled Terrence Malick Project“
Synopsis: A philanderer feeling at loose ends travels to Paris, where he enters a hot-and-heavy affair with a European woman. He returns home to Oklahoma, and marries the European woman but when the relationship founders, he rekindles a romance with a hometown girl with whom he’s had a long history.
What You Need To Know: First off, who knows if that plot outline will stick, but there are a couple of curious things to note. Firstly, just like the “The Tree of Life,” the story is again fairly autobiographical, as Malick himself also absconded to Paris and came back with a wife in tow, only to split with her and marry his childhood friend and current wife, Alexadra “Ecky” Wallace. Early word tossed around was that this film would be even “more experimental” than “The Tree of Life” although that remains to be seen. Once again an array of stars have come out to play with Malick — Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Barry Pepper, Olga Kurylenko — with Michael Sheen and Jessica Chastain also filming small roles that could wind up on the cutting room floor. And as far as we know, the film remains in the editing bay for now.
Release: While the film has sold in numerous territories including the U.K. and Canada, Malick has apparently refused any offers for U.S. distribution so far. A 2012 release is expected and our guess is that the director may take it the festival route first before firming up a North American deal. But he’s a notoriously slow editor: will it even be ready by Cannes?
“Welcome to the Punch”
Synopsis: An ex-criminal is forced to return to London from his Icelandic hideaway when his son is involved in a heist gone wrong. This gives a dogged detective one last chance to catch the man he’s always been after.
What You Need To Know: Though it might sound like a generic, B-movie thriller, the pedigree behind this one makes it one to watch. The project’s been on our radar since since 2010, when the script placed highly on the annual Brit List, a collection of the best unmade screenplays in the U.K.. The material comes from the mind of writer-director Eran Creevy, who made an exceptional debut a couple of years back with the super-low-budget, award-winning, cult fave “Shifty.” And with this film drawing early comparisons to “Heat” (Michael Mann was also an influence on “Shifty”) we can’t help be but curious. Toss into the mix a great cast including James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan and David Morrissey and this little potboiler could come out nowhere in 2012 to be a major genre surprise.
Release: None yet, as the film will need a U.S. distributor before that can happen, which likely means this will pop up on the festival circuit before it plays your local theater.
“The Wettest County”
Synopsis: The true story of the Bondurant brothers who run a bootlegging gang but find their moonshine dynasty in Franklin County, Virginia threatened by the authorities wanting a cut.
What You Need To Know: It feels like we’ve been talking about this movie’s delays, production and upcoming release for years which, unfortunately, is becoming a hallmark of John Hillcoat’s work. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and is probably just indicative of his challenging, genre-oriented work, which is harder for studios to market and release. Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel of the same name, “The Wettest County” looks no different. Starring the trio of Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke as the leading bootlegging brothers, the film has apparently been killing test screenings and features a stellar supporting cast including Jessica Chastain as Hardy’s love interest Maggie; Mia Wasikowska as LaBeouf’s belle; Dane DeHaan as Labeouf’s partner-in-crime; Guy Pearce as a violent deputy with the brothers in his sights, and Gary Oldman as a gangster who employs the boys. Script comes courtesy of Nick Cave who will also be reteaming with Warren Ellis to score the film as they did with Hillcoat’s two previous films, “The Road” and “The Proposition.”
Release Date: April 20
Wishful Thinking: Destined For 2013, But You Never Know…
Synopsis: On a Labor Day weekend in the 1980s, a divorced, depressed single mother (Kate Winslet) encounters a large man (Josh Brolin) bleeding profusely while shopping with her 13-year-old son. They give him a ride and later learn that the police are looking for an escaped convict.
What You Need to Know: “Labor Day” will be Jason Reitman’s fifth film, and for the first time, seems to mark a move away from the comedy genre, calling for a more sincere tone than “Up in the Air” or “Young Adult“. Based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, the story sounds like a suburban drama akin to something like “Little Children.” Reitman still has to cast 13-year-old Henry as he’s the narrator of the novel, likely looking for an unknown, and its one of the reasons the film hasn’t started shooting yet (that and schedules for the two busy leads).. It’s definitely going to be a showcase for Winslet as this will be her first truly leading role in a feature film since she pulled double-duty on “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader” in 2008, and we’re intrigued to see how she works with Brolin. Filming likely won’t get underway til the summer, which makes it a near certainty for a 2013 release, unless Reitman wants to fastrack even quicker then he did with “Up In The Air” (which did come out the same year it was shot).
“Frank Or Francis”
Synopsis: A delicious satire on Hollywood: the worlds of an online internet commenter and a self-important filmmaker collide.
What You Need To Know: Look, of course we have an interest in this. If anyone knows about the ugly, back-biting world of narcissistic online film criticism, it’s us, and every other movie site you may frequent. Charlie Kaufman, who is writing and directing, may be throwing us a curveball, however, as he often does. “Frank or Francis” pivots around a vain filmmaker (Steve Carell) who represents half the title (he writes, directs and plays every part in his opus, “You”), a bitter, but sharp online film commenter (Jack Black), as well as a failed comedian with a resume of unflattering fat-baiting time-wasters, including “Fat Dad” (playing against type, it’s Nicolas Cage). Add to that a rival filmmaking team, led by Kevin Kline, that designs a computer program to create the ultimate award-winning movie, and it’s clear that the mixed-to-negative reaction given to Kaufman’s ambitious directorial debut “Synecdoche, New York” possibly struck a chord in him. Even if his agenda wasn’t so clear (and it probably isn’t, since predictable is never a term associated with him), Kaufman is one of the unique filmmaking voices of his generation, and even if he were to direct a documentary on sloth mucus, we’d come running. Oh, and did we mention it’s a musical?
Release Date: TBD — After a flurry of casting activity last summer, things have gone quiet, so we’re doubtful this’ll arrive before the end of the year.
“Untitled Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman Project“
Synopsis: A satire about a gathering of world leaders as they plan a series of world-changing events, from wars to shifting oil prices.
What You Need To Know: After moving away from his frequent collaborator for the excellent “Where The Wild Things Are,” Spike Jonze has returned to Charlie Kaufman‘s side for the first time in a decade, since 2002’s “Adaptation,” and we couldn’t be more excited. The project’s being kept tightly under wraps, but it seems at first glance to be a “Dr. Strangelove“-style satire, which would mark quite new territory for the pair, with Warner Bros. and Annapurna Pictures backing the project. Furthermore, it’s got two excellent cast members on board already, with Joaquin Phoenix and Carey Mulligan joining the project in the fall. Word’s been quiet ever since, but we’re assuming things are ticking along.
Release Date: TBD — Last we heard, the project had a March start date, which means its likely a 2013 film (Jonze was in the editing room for two years on “Where The Wild Things Are“), but stranger things than a 2012 release have happened.
Also Long-Shots For 2013: James Gray gets moving on period drama “Low Life” in the new year, but he’s such a Cannes favorite we imagine he’ll hold our a Croisette premiere in 2013. Noirish thriller “Broken City,” with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, is currently set for next January, but could move into awards season if it has the right stuff, while Paul Greengrass‘ “Captain Philips,” with Tom Hanks, might try the same if production goes smoothly. And who knows how many other surprises might be waiting?
— RP, Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Sam Chater, Cat Scott, Cory Everett, Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, William Goss, Christopher Bell, Simon Dang