In the first few days of 2013, we cast an extensive eye over the films to look forward to over the next 12 months; the indies, the blockbusters, and the ones we're just plain looking forward to. But of course, it's fairly easy for us to forget that some of the films that you guys are looking forward to the most are ones that we caught at various festivals in 2012.
With release schedules being the way they are, films from TIFF, Venice, and even the earlier likes of Cannes and SXSW can take some time to filter through to wider audiences. As such, below we've rounded up twenty of the key films that we've already cast our eyes on. You can check out our verdicts below, and let us know which you're most looking forward to (and your own takes, if you caught them too) in the comments section below.
"At Any Price"
Synopsis: An Iowan corn farmer tries to interest his eldest son in the family business, but he's more interested in becoming a racecar driver, even as the family farm comes under risk.
Verdict: After a string of hugely acclaimed films starring mostly non-professionals, Ramin Bahrani stepped up to the big leagues at Venice last year with "At Any Price," his first film to feature big-name actors, in the shape of Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. The film was wildly divisive when it hit the festival circuit, but we, for the most part, liked it a fair bit. The film "isn't especially subtle," and the plotting can be "borderline soapy," while "the strain sometimes shows" in Efron's performance, although he fares better than the "wooden and uncharismatic" Heather Graham in her supporting turn. But we also enjoyed the "old-fashioned melodrama," reminiscent of Arthur Miller as much as anything, and in particular the central turn by Quaid who, as "a folksy King Lear," gives the performance of his career.
Release Date: Sony Pictures Classics have it, but haven't set a date yet. We suspect the late spring or summer is the best bet, unless they decide to hold for the fall to push Quaid for awards.
"Berberian Sound Studio"
Synopsis: A British sound engineer goes to Italy to work on a giallo-style horror film, only to come apart at the seams.
Verdict: Peter Strickland won a few fans in his native UK for Hungarian-language thriller "Katalin Varga," but really began to form his international reputation with his arthouse horror picture "Berberian Sound Studio" when it started making the festival rounds last year. The film, which toplines the great Toby Jones in the lead role, picked up great reviews around the world, including ours. It's a film less about plot than it is about atmosphere, with "Strickland's command of tone… masterful, jarring and discombobulating the viewer," so much so that "you come out of the theater on edge and off kilter." Anchored by a "compelling character study" by Jones, it was "as original and absorbing a picture as we've seen in a while, an experience like few others in 2012."
Release Date: TBD; IFC Midnight have the rights, so expect some kind of simultaneous theatrical/VOD release later in the year.
"Beyond The Hills"
Synopsis: A woman comes to visit her friend at a monastery where she's become an nun, but the visitor appears to have serious mental problems, causing the priest in charge to believe that she's been taken over by evil spirits.
Verdict: Having delivered one of the true classics of European cinema of the 21st century so far in "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," Romanian New Wave leader Cristian Mungiu came roaring back at Cannes with this punishing but rewarding drama that examines faith, love and evil. It's undoubtedly a tricky watch, as Kevin found in Cannes, saying "it's in the push-and-pull between faith, love, God and the devil that the film may lose some viewers," and a "seemingly random and open ending" could turn off even more. But the film is "gorgeously lensed, and executed with an exacting aesthetic," and if you "pace yourself and lean back, the rewards are ample; deceivingly complex, with an emotional center that peels away like an onion the longer it unfolds, this is a powerful effort from Mungiu in which love and faith are both different kinds of poison."
Release Date: March 8th
"Bullet To The Head"
Synopsis: A hitman teams up with a cop to take revenge on the crime lord who killed their respective partners.
Verdict: A Joel Silver-produced actioner starring Sylvester Stallone is a rare thing to find at a film festival, but when it marks the first new film in ten years from action veteran Walter Hill ("The Driver," "The Warriors"), you can start to see how "Bullet In The Head" ended up at the Rome Film Festival this year. Jess wasn't particularly looking forward to a film "as unreconstructed as you can get," but ended up having a pretty good time with the "gristly, muscly action," saying that it was "so patently unrepentant, and so oddly even-handed in having all of its characters seem mindbendingly dumb, that it kind of gets a pass." Hardly a film about plot or character, it's really "all about the gloriously throwback violence, the astonishingly consequence-less shooting and murders and blowing up and stabbings and vehicular manslaughters. And Hill handles these like the pro he is." Action fans should have a good time with it, then.
Release Date: February 1st
Synopsis: A would-be dancer in New York breaks up with her best friend. Her life unravels as she moves from apartment to apartment trying to discover who she is.
What You Need To Know: The lost generation theme and story is not just for boys or thirty- or forty-somethings trying to find their way into proper adulthood. Sometimes it manifests as just good ol' fashion post-collegiate aimlessness, and for a distinctive female voice as well. And while that sounds like familiar territory in the hands of writer/actress Greta Gerwig and writer/director Noah Baumbach, "Frances Ha," is a deeply memorable, funny and poignantly observational dramedy about a loss of identity within the vastness of New York. A sort of New York fairytale, there's also a palpable and effervescent energy in the work. Baumbach shot in secret, on the quick, and with almost no stars outside of Gerwig ("Girls" actor Adam Driver is the closest thing to another "name"), and it shows in how alive and organic the piece is. While perhaps a new era for the filmmaker, truth be told, the authorship of the film feels like a true collaboration between him and Gerwig. Read our review from Telluride here.
Release Date: IFC Films will release the picture on May 17.
"Ginger & Rosa"
Synopsis: The friendship between two teenage girls in the Britain of the 1960s is put to the test when one begins an affair with the other's father.
Verdict: Sally Potter's films have become more and more esoteric over the years (her last was shot entirely on a mobile phone, and was about as watchable as that sounds), but she took a step away from the brink with her excellent period coming-of-age drama "Ginger & Rosa," which premiered at Telluride last September, where our Rodrigo Perez gave it a rave review. While the "narrative tends to grow unwieldly and wanders non-linearly from a coming-of-age story to something much more complex and wider," "there's much to love" about the film. The scenes of adolescent joy are "wonderfully vibrant and charged with an electric youthful energy you simply cannot bottle," but it also knows when to become "sparse and minimal, but always with a thoughtful, examining gaze that illuminates the lives of these frustrated characters." The film "seals the deal for [Elle] Fanning as a serious performer who is going to have a long and valued career in cinema," it also provides a good showcase for the "oft-undervalued" Alessandro Nivola, as her father. Hopefully, audiences catch on to a film that's "Beautiful, yet dark and moving, unsparing, but told with a sympathetic eye."
Release Date: March 15th
"A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III"
Synopsis: A successful graphic designer tries to get over his latest dumping by disappearing into a fantasy world.
Verdict: Roman Coppola's first film since "CQ" over a decade ago was always going to be reason to celebrate, but had a particular amount of tabloid attention thanks to a cast that included Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza and, in the title role, movie star-turned-shiny-faced drug depository Charlie Sheen. Jess caught the film when it premiered at the Rome Film Festival in November, and said it had potential "to be a crowd-pleaser," but that the film suffered from "the lack of a strong narrative through line and the lack of dimensionality to the central titular character" — issues which have, in the months since, rendered the film's pleasures very transient. Ultimately, she found it style-over-substance, saying "the confidence, even bravado, that the film displays in its visuals, it seems to lack in its subject matter." Still, there are enough pleasures in there for fans of Coppola — or Sheen — to want to check it out.
Release Date: February 8th
Synopsis: Docu-drama following the hijacking of a Norwegian freight boat by Somalian pirates, and the lengthy negotiations to free them.
Verdict: Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks have their own Somalian hostage drama on the way with "Captain Phillips," which arrives in October, but they have a tough task at hand topping this low-budget Norwegian/Danish co-production, from Tobias Lindholm, the co-writer of "The Hunt" (see below), and one of the writers on cult TV show "Borgen." We called it "one of the very best pictures of the whole festival" when we caught it in Venice, saying that it was "meticulously researched, and adhering to absolute realism," adding up to "an incredibly tense experience." With a "titanic" performance from lead Pilou Asbaek, and one of remarkable restraint and control from Soren Malling, it was "an absorbing, highly moving film that's lingered heavily on the mind," and should become a little sleeper hit when it hits U.S. theaters.
Release Date: Magnolia have North American rights, but haven't yet set a date — we imagine they'll aim for the late spring or early summer, to buy it some lead time from the Greengrass picture.
Synopsis: A schoolteacher is falsely accused of child abuse, causing him to become a pariah in his small community.
Verdict: Thomas Vinterberg's comeback movie has divided the Playlist staff; one senior staff member walked out of the film at Cannes (where it won Mads Mikkelsen the Best Actor prize), three others put it on their year-end top 10 lists. But it was Jessica Kiang who got the official review at Karlovy Vary last year, and it was pretty much a rave, calling it "one of the most brililantly unsettling, tension-laden films we've seen in a long time." Mikkelsen's Cannes award was entirely justified; "every moment of inaction on his part feels totally honest." Jess acknowledges that "if the film were not put together with such skill, it might feel exploitative of the audience." But she also says that there are "just enough glimpses of warmth and humanity amid the bleakness to keep it compelling, rather than depressing."
Release Date: Magnolia Pictures will release it some time in May, though an exact date hasn't yet been set.
"Like Someone In Love"
Synopsis: The Japan-set tale of the relationship between a student, who works as a prostitute on the side, and her elderly professor/client.
Verdict: Any nervousness as to whether Abbas Kiarostami's brilliance would continue when he started making films outside his native Iran was swiftly quashed when "Certified Copy" premiered at Cannes in 2010 – the film was rapturously received and became a fixture on Top 10 lists in 2011. The Japan-set "Like Someone In Love" was billed as something of a companion piece, but Kevin Jagernauth found diminishing returns when he reviewed it in Cannes last year. The film "toys with ideas of image and identity, but unfortunately 'Like Someone In Love' lacks the intellectual depth and forward momentum of 'Certified Copy'… there are only so many scenes of characters driving around in a car we can take." Perhaps most crucially, none of the Japanese actors (mostly unknowns) are a match for the leads of the earlier film; "here, the actors more often than not seem as if they're reading from a textbook, never moving past Kiarostami's cerebral, soulless dialogue to take it to another level." Ultimately, Kevin found it "enigmatic and dull to a maddening degree," with the great Iranian filmmaker "spinning the wheels," but maybe his hardcore fans will find more to enjoy here.
Release Date: February 15th
Synopsis: A fugitive prisoner enlists the help of a pair of young boys to help him reunite with his love.
Verdict: Already one to watch after "Shotgun Stories," Jeff Nichols confirmed he was one of the most exciting young filmmakers in the U.S with 2011's powerful "Take Shelter." He was swiftly back again, teaming with man-of-the-moment Matthew McConaughey for coming-of-age drama "Mud." The film mostly went down well at Cannes, but our man on the Croisette Simon Abrams wasn't wildly impressed. Calling it "more easy-going or more bloated than Nichols's previous films," he added that it "just isn't as well-conceived or even that theoretically rewarding." While the cast is solid, including McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Reese Witherspoon and a "sorely wasted" Michael Shannon, the film ultimately proved unmoving, "because it doesn't aspire to be anything other than a competent anti-fairy tale in which the paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists."
Release Date: TBD; Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have the rights, and we imagine they'll be putting it out in the summer.
Synopsis: An ad man in Chile in the 1980s is enlisted to head up the campaign to get rid of dictator General Pinochet in an upcoming referendum.
Verdict: Unsurprisingly for an election year, last year saw a host of politically-themed pictures, from "Argo" to "Lincoln" to "Zero Dark Thirty." But one film that deserves to stand with all of those is finally seeing the light of day in 2013, having knocked James Rocchi's socks off at Cannes last year. Pablo Larrain's Gael Garcia Bernal-starring "No" is, according to James, "exciting, funny, moving… superbly shot, full of human characters" and "one of the breakout films of Cannes." The central performance, from Bernal, "is superb, and gives the film a human heart," and ultimately, the film (shot on 80s-era VHS format) is "extraordinarily well-made, superbly acted, funny, human, warm, principled and, yes, as enthrallingly entertaining as it is fiercely moral and intelligent."
Release Date: February 15th
Synopsis: A talented ad agency creative clashes with her manipulative, seductive, control-hungry boss and plots a murderous revenge after said mentor steals her idea.
What You Need To Know: A remake of Alain Corneau's "Love Crime" it’s no surprise that this Hitchcock-ian psycho-melodrama appealed to the Hitchcock-obsessed filmmaker Brian DePalma. Starring the alluring pair of Noomi Rapace as the up-and-comer and Rachel McAdams as her cunning manager, "Passion" is wickedly delicious — a tale of two black widow spiders tangling and the vicious fallout. And yet it's also typically a problematic late-era DePalma in that it’s often ridiculously over the top to almost deafening levels. His devotees will squeal with glee at some of its outrageousness. Other civilians may not be so charitable. Here's our review from the Venice film festival.
Release Date: Entertainment One acquired the film for a TBD 2013 release.
"A Place Beyond The Pines"
Synopsis: A motorcycle rider commits a crime to support his child. A policeman targets him because of the incident and the two men become locked on a tense collision course which will have a devastating impact on both of their families in the years following.
What You Need To Know: Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to “Blue Valentine” is equally searing and bruising, but an entirely different film experience to its predecessor this time, exploring the consequences of action, fate and the legacies that our fathers pass down to us. Ryan Gosling stars as the criminal, Bradley Cooper as the cop, but the picture is also a tryptich that spans time, and features commanding performances by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen as well. Our review out of TIFF (where it was our correspondent's favorite film of the festival) said that all the film's disparate elements "build tremendously into a film that feels like it has shades of classic Italian melodramas put through the lens of a distinctly American film," adding up to " a film of big ideas and vision," which sees Cianfrance "place himself in the canon of great, contemporary American filmmakers." So yeah, time to get excited.
Release Date: March, 29 2013 (limited)
Synopsis: A couple heads off on a caravan holiday together, but an accidental death soon sets off murderous impulses in both of them.
Verdict: After his gore-strewn, dark-as-night horror breakthrough "Kill List," British director Ben Wheatley took something of a left-turn into comedic territory, albeit comedy as bloody and black as its predecessor. Happily, "Sightseers" (penned by its stars, comedians Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) was just as much, if not more of, a triumph, as James Rocchi found for us at Cannes last summer. Proving that Wheatley "has an intrinsic and intelligent grasp of the key of strong storytelling, regardless of genre: Make people wonder what's going to happen next," and that "he's also a superb technician," the film is outrageously funny, but never one-joke, thanks "in no small part to the smarts and sly comedy of Lowe and Oram's script and performances." The film (already a sleeper hit in the U.K) "isn't just a pitch-black comedy made with skill, will and brains; it's also another demonstration that Wheatley is, to use an all-too-appropriate phrase, going places."
Release Date: TBD: IFC have the date, and it should be sometime in the early part of the year.
Synopsis: A recent college grad flees to Paris after his long-term relationship dissolves, and he becomes involved with a prostitute. But is he all that he seems?
Verdict: Having been the talk of Sundance in 2011 with "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Antonio Campos ("Afterschool") and Sean Durkin swapped roles, the former taking the director's chair, the latter producing, for their follow-up a year later, creating something that was one of our most anticipated in Park City last year. Starring Brady Corbet ("Mysterious Skin") in a performance that William Goss, who reviewed the film for us, called "Darkly rich… distinctly unnerving in crafting an eventually hollow facade out of this nice, young, very lost man," the film features, to a lesser extent, the same Haneke influence as "Afterschool." But that's not all that it offers; it's a character study revolving around "psychological instability fueled by a combination of corroded trust, sexual curiosity and youthful naivite," which ends up spiralling into a "noir-tinged, noose-tightening ordeal."
Release Date: TBD: IFC picked it up out of Sundance, but nearly a year on from release, is still to set a date for release.
“Something In The Air”
Synopsis: A group of bohemian students in suburban Paris in the early 1970s ride the spirit of post-May'68 revolution across Europe.
Verdict: After a more politically-minded picture with his multi-part epic "Carlos," Olivier Assayas returned to the revolutionary '70s for a personal, autobiographical picture in "Something in the Air." And when we caught it at Venice, we mostly found it to be another success from one of our favorite working directors. "Structurally wonderfully loose," and looking "gorgeous in a sun-dappled kinda way," the filmmakers' work is as expert as ever, particularly when it comes to the way we see "Assayas' surrogate evolving into the germ of a filmmaker." And when it comes to the politics, "Assayas is detailed both in his depiction of the issues, and in the way that the left of the 1970s became increasingly disillusioned with communism." There is a slight issue with some of the supporting cast; Assayas seems to have cast as much for look as anything else, and many of the actors "struggle to make much of an impression, falling into a kind of bland prettiness." But despite the underdeveloped characters, it's still a beautiful and rich bit of autobiography.
Release Date: Again, IFC has the rights, but haven't yet set a release date.
Synopsis: Hungry for adventure, four bored college girls land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation. They soon find themselves bailed out by a rapper, drug and arms dealer who will give them a spring break experience they will never forget.
What You Need To Know: In the hands of an average joe, “Spring Breakers” could just be a dramatic reading of "Girls Gone Wild." In the hands of gonzo auteur Harmony Korine, this bizarre and magical film becomes something entirely different. The film's led by a career-best performance from James Franco as the drug dealer Alien, backed up by the unlikely and usually wholesome quartet of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Heather Morris. Our review from Venice said the picture is like a sleazy music video, a film that's slightly more conventional for Korine and a future cult favorite.
Release Date: Annapurna Pictures and A24 will release the picture in anticipation of spring break (naturally), sometime in March.
"Stories We Tell"
Synopsis: Director Sarah Polley examines the nature of "truth" by creating a documentary about her family as seen through the eyes of her parents, siblings, family friends and outsiders.
What You Need To Know: Described by some as a feature-length documentary of a fascinating story you might listen to on NPR's "This American Life," while that's true, that's only the half of it. Creating a "Rashomon" effect by interviewing several people within the universe of the Polley family about one specific event in their history, the filmmaker creates an engrossing story about perception, memory and vantage point that reminds the viewer: your experience of an event may not be the same as someone else's who also experienced it. Blending found footage, interviews, docudrama recreations and more, Polley constructs an absorbing investigation into her family's past that blurs the lines between fact and fiction. How much did we like it? Well, it made two of our top 10 lists, and you can read our Venice review here.
Release Date: May 17 via Roadside Attractions
“To The Wonder”
Synopsis: The relationship between an American man and European woman falls apart.
What You Need To Know: Terrence Malick's "To The Wonder" got an unusually hostile reaction for one of the filmmaker's works, and there's part of us that can see why. Ben Affleck stars, but barely utters a word. Rachel McAdams was touted as one of the leads, but she’s apparently in it for less than 10 minutes. Olga Kurylenko turns out to be the real lead (at least the lead shaped in the editing room once Malick was done). Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet and Barry Pepper all had supporting roles, but they were cut from the final edit. But our review out of Venice didn't feel too cheated on the movie star count, finding it "a more coherent, deeply felt and satisfying film" than "The Tree Of Life," to which it's something of a companion piece. It's indulgent in places, for sure, but it's "also a film of real, searing feeling," and it's even "unexpectedly sexy in places." It's certain to continue to divide people, but we found it "a beautiful, heartfelt and raw piece of work."
Release Date: April 12, 2013
Also Reviewed: Of course, those are far from the only films we saw in 2012 that should make it to screens in 2013. From SXSW, we caught Jonas Akerlund's "Small Apartments" (D) which hits DVD in February, and is probably worth passing on, as well as graffiti romance "Gimme The Loot" (C-), which opens March 22nd. Lucy Mulloy's "Una Noche" (A-) was one of the highlights of Tribeca, although it's still in search of a distributor, bafflingly. Cannes, meanwhile, brought Brandon Cronenberg's "Antiviral" (B-), which IFC Midnight will put out later in the year, the Chris O'Dowd-starring crowd-pleaser "The Sapphires" (C+), which the Weinstein Company have high hopes for, and Carlos Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux" (C+), which Strand Releasing are putting out on May 1st.
In Venice, we caught Michael Shannon in "The Iceman" (C), which opens May 3rd, Riz Ahmed in Mira Nair's disappointing "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (D+), coming on April 24th, and Golden Lion winner "Pieta" (C+), coming from Drafthouse Films later in the year. Our UK correspondent also saw the disappointing Coen Brothers-penned "Gambit" (D), with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz; CBS Films will put it out later in the year.
And then, as ever, TIFF was a review bonanza, including Israel/Palestine doc "The Gatekeepers" (B+, Feb 20th), Robert Redford's 'The Company You Keep" (C-, April 5th), Kristen Wiig in "Girl Most Likely" (B-, July 19th), Rob Zombie's "The Lords Of Salem" (B+, April 26th), Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in "Unfinished Song" (C, TBD), Cate Shortland's "Lore" (B-, TBD), Mike Newell's all-star "Great Expectations" (B, TBD), Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow in "Thanks For Sharing" (C-, TBD), Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" (A-, June 21st), Colin Firth as "Arthur Newman" (D, TBD), Jeff Buckley biopic "Greetings From Tim Buckley" (C+, TBD) and Neil Jordan's "Byzantium" (C-, TBD) .