With this week feeling, release-wise, a little like the industry at large is taking a deep breath while effecting the gear change from Summer tentpole scheduling to awards season programming, it’s a good moment to pause and take a look at the goodies to come in the waning months of 2013. It’s a pretty stellar line-up, as films we’ve seen throughout the festival year start to make their way into awards-friendly end-of-year slots, vying with films we haven’t yet seen but have been patiently, and in some cases pantingly, looking forward to for months now. In fact, the line-up is so stellar that for the purposes of whittling down a manageable list of the films we’re most anticipating, we made the decision to exclude anything that features in our Most Anticipated Toronto Internatioal Film Festival list just to narrow the field a little. And it was still a tricky task, which had the listmaker in us nearly despairing, even as our inner cinephile rejoiced. We may miss the lazy hazy days of summer, but we won’t be sad to see the back of a largely disappointing blockbuster season, especially with titles like these on the horizon. Here are the 16 remaining 2013 films that we’re most excited about.
“The Wolf of Wall Street“
Synopsis: A New York stockbroker with a ridiculously decadent lifestyle refuses to cooperate in a large securities fraud case involving corruption on Wall Street, organized crime and the federal government.
What You Need To Know: Any new film from patron saint of American filmmaking Martin Scorsese is an event on the cinematic calendar. This is his fifth collaboration with star Leonardo DiCaprio, but marks just his second feature shot digitally and combines a loosely mob-inflected story with a topical, high-finance setting, and so overall the film promises to deliver an exciting blend of the old and the new from the director. Based on the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort, ‘Wolf’ was written by Terence Winter who made a name for himself on “The Sopranos,” and since created the Scorsese-shepherded “Boardwalk Empire” for HBO. And in support the cast is unimpeachable, with a hotter-than-hot Matthew McConaughey featuring and Oscar nominee Jonah Hill, “The Artist” Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler and rising Aussie actress Margot Robbie rounding it out, plus directors Rob Reiner and Spike Jonze in small parts. But perhaps what’s most exciting about all of this is that despite his venerable age (the film is released two days before Scorsese’s 71st birthday) and the heavyweight cast, it looks, from the excellent, fizzy trailer at least, to be a high-energy, riotous, barbed blast with a nice line in the unusual treatment of seafood (Hill appears to eat a live goldfish; DiCaprio throws lobsters at the FBI). Bring it.
Release Date: November 15th
Synopsis: A lawyer anxious to make some quick cash gets in over his head after he begins dabbling in drug trafficking.
What You Need To Know: Based on the first-ever original screenplay by “No Country for Old Men” author and American literary icon Cormac McCarthy, and directed by Ridley Scott, who intends to dedicate the film to his late brother Tony (who tragically committed suicide last summer), “The Counselor” may just boast the A-listiest cast in a season that’s teeming with stacked casts. Led by Michael Fassbender with Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt and a flamboyant Javier Bardem in support, Scott’s recent output may have been somewhat touch-and-go, alternating between the wildly brilliant and just plain frustrating (sometimes in the same movie—hello, “Prometheus“!), but he’s unquestionably one of cinema’s most accomplished stylists and is certainly capable of truly amazing things. We’re hoping that “The Counselor” is one of those amazing things, and with the team-up of McCarthy and Scott feeling pretty right, straight off the bat, and a dark, sexy, violent trailer that teases more than it tells, the signs are still good that it could deliver. Also, there’s a cheetah.
Release Date: October 25th
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire“
Synopsis: As Katniss struggles with her growing celebrity as an icon of rebellion, she is perceived as a greater threat by President Snow, who calls her and Peeta back for the Quarter Quell—an even more brutal competition that pits previous Hunger Games winners against each other.
What You Need To Know: At the time of its release, we all breathed a measured sigh of relief that “The Hunger Games,” for all its flaws, was absolutely not “Twilight,” in featuring compelling characters and a female lead who had more to do than alternately pine and moon. Barely 18 months later, and the franchise now seems like the sole ray of light on the Young Adult horizon, as adaptation after adaptation has subsequently tried and failed to spin its on-the-page popularity into a film franchise (a look at our 2012 rundown of the YA hopefuls is retrospectively sobering). So Katniss’ return, featuring everybody’s favorite person and newly minted Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, is actually one that we are looking forward to, especially with the additions of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright, as well as rising star Sam Claflin, to an already top-notch supporting cast (Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci). With our own experience of the books (hey, we have nieces) being that #2 is actually the best of the trilogy in expanding the mythology to a more resonant plane while still retaining the visceral excitement of the first, and with the director who’ll be responsible for the taking the franchise home now in the hot seat (Francis Lawrence, replacing Gary Ross), we’re hopeful for a film that at least partially deserves its inevitably blockbusting box office, and the trailer makes it look like it may.
Release Date: November 22nd
Synopsis: In the not-too-distant future a lonely man fresh from a break-up falls in love with his computer’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Complications arise, ones that you probably can’t click out of.
What You Need To Know: “Her” marks director Spike Jonze‘s first full-length feature since 2009’s tortured “Where the Wild Things Are” and his first solo screenplay credit ever, which is more than reason enough to get excited for the project (which is still shrouded in many layers of annoying mystery). Need some more reasons? How about the cast, led by the terrific Joaquin Phoenix, in a role that seems completely suited to his peculiar, outsidery sensibilities, and Scarlett Johannson as the voice of Her (and yes, it says something for storytelling confidence if you cast Scarlett and don’t actually show her)? How about the trailer? How about the fact that indie music heavyweights Arcade Fire are providing the score (their first since Richard Kelly‘s little-seen “The Box“)? Or how about its place as the closing night film of the prestigious New York Film Festival? Additionally, distributor Warner Bros. shuffled the release date until later in the year to better coincide with an Oscar campaign, a sign that the studio feels the film (which co-stars Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt) is a serious awards contender and not just some low-budget doodle. Phoenix provided further proof, if any were needed, that he can be one of the most magnetic performers around in last year’s “The Master,” and he’s absolutely terrific too in the as-yet-undated “The Immigrant,” so we can’t wait to see him tackle this role, which appears to be in a more touching, albeit probably more off-kilter, register than anything we’ve seen him in recently.
Release Date: December 18th
Synopsis: A man is kidnapped and held captive for fifteen years, with no explanation. Once released, he must find out who imprisoned him, and why they have let him go.
What You Need To Know: A remake of the terrific Park Chan-wook hit from 2003, “Oldboy (2013)” should by rights be the sort of thing that we all disapprove of—a U.S. retread of a foreign-language original that is already so stylish and uniquely auteur-imprinted that there really seems no creative reason to remake it bar as a crutch for people too lazy to read subtitles. Yet the calibre and profile of the talent long attached to this project sets it apart from the standard remake schtick—for a while it was even a suggested vehicle for Will Smith and Steven Spielberg. Now that the chips have fallen Spike Lee‘s way, with Josh Brolin stepping into the lead role, and with Lee insisting that his film actually goes back to the manga upon which Park’s film was based and not the resulting film (which differed from the manga in important ways, including one of the notorious twists), and with the initial materials from the film looking promising, our lingering doubts about this project are giving way to genuine anticipation. Besides which, even if Lee’s version falls short of Park’s, we have some exciting supporting performances to look forward to from Sharlto Copley, Elizabeth Olsen, James Ransome and Samuel L. Jackson, and at least we won’t have been forced to, like, read the dialogue.
Release Date: November 27th
Synopsis: Based on the true story of the FBI Abscam sting operation of the late ’70s/early ’80s, which ended up ensnaring both criminals and politicians and charging them with a wide range of offenses.
What You Need To Know: After last year’s triumphant, Oscar-winning “Silver Linings Playbook,” director David O. Russell could have done anything. The fact that he chose to do a sprawling, serio-comic crime epic, based on a 2010 Black List-ed script that reunites much of his ‘Silver Linings’ cast with a few of his favorites from “The Fighter” is awesome indeed. With Bradley Cooper as an FBI agent and Christian Bale as his criminal informant, Adam Adams as Bale’s mistress and Jennifer Lawrence as his wife, plus Jeremy Renner as a “volatile” politician and Louis C.K., Robert De Niro, Michael Pena, Jack Huston and Colleen Camp rounding out the star-studded cast, the film boasts a lot of potential performance-wise—all of them decked out in fabulously awful ’70s attire and highly questionable wigs. The teaser trailer certainly makes the film look like an embarrassment of riches, with the entire cast seemingly having the time (and hairstyles) of their lives, and if anyone can walk the fine line between serious drama and screwball comedy, and deliver something that audiences and critics alike will love, it’s Russell.
Release Date: December 13th (limited); December 25th (wide)
“Out of the Furnace“
Synopsis: A tale of two brothers living in the economically-depressed Rust Belt, one of whom is lured into one of the most violent crime rings in the Northeast before disappearing, prompting the other to go into the belly of the beast to get him back.
What You Need To Know: Director/writer Scott Cooper demonstrated he could handle gritty and soulful with the music drama “Crazy Heart,” but “Out of the Furnace” should prove to be something tonally much darker and rawer—a story about cruel fate, justice, redemption and brotherly love. But the real reason we’ve reserved our seat up front (actually middle-middle) for this revenge thriller is the astounding cast—Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as the two brothers, with (deep breath) Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker in support. And the initial trailer looks like the film may indeed deliver some pretty powerhouse performances, even if the on-the-nose choice of track rather mars the effect—let’s hope that the heavy signposting is only a factor in the promo, for a film which was kept on the down low until pretty late in the game. It’s a story Bale called “uplifting and tragic at the same time” and Cooper certainly has the sensitivity, and the actors, to be able to deliver something well above the average revenge thriller.
Release Date: December 6th
“Anchorman: The Legend Continues“
Synopsis: Times have changed in the tv news game, and the Channel Four News Team moves to adapt to the 24-hour news cycle that the brave new decade, the ’80s, heralds.
What You Need To Know: In the years following the 2004 release of the gritty, hard-hitting “Anchorman,” which shockingly exposed the nefarious behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing at tv news station in the ’70s, and made an instant hero/icon out of tough, uncompromising newsman Ron Burgundy, the public clamor for a sequel only grew louder. Initially it looked like “Anchorman 2” was going to have life as a Broadway musical (though quite how anyone thought they were going to make a glitzy stage show about the cutthroat rough-and-tumble of television news and the sobering questions of journalistic ethics the original film raised is beyond us), but thankfully sanity prevailed and we get to revisit the Channel Four News team nearly one decade on, as they face the challenges of a new era with hope, integrity and, probably, scotch. It’s a testament to the sequel’s quality that legendary tragedians Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate and Steve Carell are all undergoing the requisite draconian weight loss/gain necessary to reprise their roles, while being joined this time out by thespians James Marsden and Kristen Wiig. Per the film’s trailer, it appears this time returning auteur Adam McKay will be fearlessly tackling the period’s race politics with a similarly incisive eye to that he previously brought to bear on gender perception in the 1970s, and with a laundry list of Hollywood power players lining up for cameo roles like this is goddamn Altman or something, suffice to say that it’s going to be an effort to stay classy till Christmas, but we’re going to have to try.
Release Date: December 20th
“The Monuments Men“
Synopsis: In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.
What You Need To Know: George Clooney and Grant Heslov‘s Smoke House Productions has made two films in the last two years (“Argo” and “The Ides of March“), and both have been major awards-season players. However, “The Monuments Men,” also directed by Clooney, looks tonally very different from those relatively serious-minded political thrillers, with the rather fine trailer showcasing an unusually gentle, humorous tone for a film about World War II. While the story may be reminiscent of John Frankenheimer‘s truly excellent Burt Lancaster-starring “The Train,” “The Monuments Men” was written by Heslov and Clooney and is based on Robert M. Edsel’s non-fiction novel of the same name, and again judging by the trailer, boasts in addition to an amazing cast in Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Daniel Craig, Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey“) and “The Artist” star Jean Dujardin, some wonderfully rich, textured photography and period design. Its lighter tone may see it miss out on the type of awards consideration that Clooney has enjoyed of late, optimistic release date notwithstanding, but we have to say, from a pure entertainment standpoint, we’re more wholeheartedly looking forward to this one than we have been to many previous Clooney joints at a similar stage.
Release Date: December 18th
Synopsis: Based on the true story of John du Pont, a multimillionaire and paranoid schizophrenic who built a wrestling training facility, Team Foxcatcher, on his 800-acre Pennsylvania estate and who, in 1996, shockingly murdered his longtime friend and Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler David Schultz.
What You Need To Know: Based on a truly incredible and wildly dramatic true story, this psychological drama is a passion project that director Bennett Miller has been trying to get off the ground since “Capote,” and his success in 2011 with “Moneyball” finally pushed it over the line. If “Bennet Miller’s Passion Project” weren’t enought o pique your interest, the film stars Channing Tatum as a young wrestler, and Mark Ruffalo as his doomed brother, with, in a potentially brilliantly disconcerting piece of against-type casting, Steve Carell as the wealthiest American ever to be charged with and convicted of murder. With mark-of-quality shingle Annapurna Pictures producing the film, and Sony Pictures so impressed that they snapped it up and secured a prime awards-ready slot, not to mention Miller’s record in taking true story material and spinning complex, intelligent, dense and beautiful films from it (ones that often bring actors to Oscar glory), this is as close as we can get to a sure thing quality-wise. “Foxcatcher” co-stars Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Michael Hall, and even without a trailer so far, just a few stills, the only potential pitfall with this one is that everything about it has set our expectations absolutely soaring.
Release Date: December 20th
“12 Years A Slave“
Synopsis: A free black man is captured and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America.
What You Need To Know: On the slim off-chance that you’ve heard none of the deafening buzz surrounding Steve McQueen‘s “Hunger” and “Shame” follow-up (which also stars Michael Fassbender), let’s get to it: by all accounts (our own included), lead Chiwetel Ejiofor is anything from a good bet to a surefire winner for this year’s Best Actor Oscar, with the film itself a likely player in the Best Picture race and any number of the other actors (Fassbender foremost among them) potentially primed for Supporting Actor nod. But it was never the potential for awards that had us looking forward to this one, rather it was McQueen’s track record. He has rapidly emerged as simply one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, over the space of a mere three harrowing, excoriating but unquestionably brilliant films that tackle adult subjects with unflinching humanism, even as they utterly refuse to compromise in their depictions of emotional and physical brutality—qualities that make him peculiarly suited to tackling something as potentially explosive as a slavery drama. With the considerable might of Brad Pitt‘s Plan B shingle behind it, “Twelve Years A Slave” (in which Pitt also turns up in a small role) will no doubt be a major player in the Oscar run-up, but it’s McQueen, and the startlingly awesome cast of Ejiofor, Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Sarah Paulson and “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” stars Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis that have us breathless with anticipation, and choking down our jealousy of the Telluride attendees lucky enough to already have seen it.
Release Date: October 18th
Synopsis: Based on the true story of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacking (the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years), the film follows the story of the captain who gives himself over to the Somali pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew.
What You Need To Know: With director Paul Greengrass having made a name for himself in two relatively distinct areas—the tense conspiracy action thriller (the second and third ‘Bourne’ films) and based-in-fact films about recent historical events (“United 93,” “Bloody Sunday,”) “Captain Phillips” seems like it could play to his strengths in both areas, as it’s a gripping, tense, fight-for survival type tale that has added weight and heft for being lifted from a real-life incident. With hot screenwriter Billy Ray seemingly on the same wavelength (“State Of Play,” “Shattered Glass,” “The Hunger Games“), and the no-brainer casting of Tom Hanks in the lead, we can expect “Captain Phillips” to deliver on a visceral as well as an emotional level, something achieved brilliantly in last year’s underseen, thematically similar “A Hijacking.” The film also features Catherine Keener and “Not Fade Away” star John Magaro, but it’s Hanks and the four unknown non-professional Somali actors who play the pirates who received the kudos from NYFF Selection Committee honcho Kent Jones, when he explained the decision to have the film open the 2013 New York Film Festival. We’ll post our review from there, but in the meantime here’s the trailer.
Release Date: October 11th
“Blue Is The Warmest Color“
Synopsis: The story of a few tumultuous years in Adele’s life as she falls in love as a teenager with the slightly older Emma, and their relationship deepens before eventually beginning to fray.
What You Need To Know: At this stage there’s a serious danger of the various controversies surrounding Abdellatif Kechiche‘s “Blue is the Warmest Color” obscuring what should be the real narrative around the Cannes Palme d’Or winner: that it’s simply one of the most gloriously humanist and immersive film experiences we’ve had all year. Already chattered about in Cannes for one particularly graphic and admittedly overlong lesbian sex scene, the film even won in an unprecedented way—with the two lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and the revelatory Adèle Exarchopoulos also receiving the Palme along with the director. And subsequently, both have intimated that the set was a less than happy place to be (though both acknowledge Kechiche’s skill), and the writer of the graphic novel upon which it was based has also voiced her disapproval of the result. But none of that can ultimately detract from a film that those of us who have seen it consider an absolutely deserving winner and a beautiful, deeply rewarding few hours at the movies. We were already excited for the film prior to Cannes, having loved Kechiche’s wonderful “Secret of the Grain,” which won the Special Jury Prize in Venice, and ‘Blue’ surpassed even our high expectations in its delicate, thrilling and completely empathetic evocation of the first love.
Release Date: October 25th
Synopsis: An aging, cantankerous, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his son in order to claim a clearly bogus million-dollar Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize.
What You Need To Know: Alexander Payne‘s follow-up to the Oscar-winning “The Descendants” may not have been our reviewer’s favorite film out of Cannes, by quite some distance, but there is still enough abiding goodwill towards the filmmaker round these parts to make some of the rest of us more than a little curious. It’s a low-key relationship dramedy/road movie starring the ripe-for-a-late-career-renaissance Bruce Dern (who’d be the most obvious likely beneficiary from the film’s award season release date), and ‘SNL‘ alum Will Forte, that promises at least a modicum of the kind of off-kilter wry observations about masculinity and aging that have marked out Payne’s best previous work. Shot in color, but being theatrically distributed in black and white, the film was also something of a slow-burn passion project for Payne, as he originally shelved it back in 2003 to take a break from the road movie genre after “Sideways.” The director himself referred to “Nebraska” as “just an old-fashioned comedy” and while our expectations have perhaps been damped by the muted response to date, we’re looking forward to checking it out for ourselves come November.
Release Date: November 22nd
Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting and alone in space.
What You Need To Know: If some of the other titles on this list have us near to hyperventilating with enthusiasm, Alfonso Cuarón‘s “Gravity” may very well be the one that has us reaching for a paper bag to breathe into. With the kind of response from the lucky Venice crowd that caught its premiere that can only serve to whet our appetites further (our [A] grade review is here) the film looks to deliver on the promise of its trailer and the pedigree of its director and stars, and then some. As card-carrying members of the Cuarón fan club ( “Y Tu Mama Tambien” was a blistering revitalization of his career; ‘Prisoner of Azkaban‘ was the best Harry Potter film by a country mile; and “Children of Men” is one of the finest films of its decade), we’ve been following the tortuous progress of “Gravity” for what feels like forever, as Cuarón had a bitch of a time financing this 3D-shot, effects-driven film, and suffered several casting knock backs as A-listers signed on and then off the project (Robert Downey Jr., Angelina Jolie, among others). But by all accounts the film is also something of a personal triumph for the actress who did take up the reins, Sandra Bullock, as her casting was initially greeted with jeers in some quarters, but her performance is now being tipped to feature in the Best Actress Oscar race. And we hope the film does get some traction there, not just for Bullock’s sake, but because “Gravity” is essentially an art film made on a studio budget (reportedly around $100 million), and it will need to succeed both commercially and critically (and Oscar noms do tend to bump bottom lines by a few mill) for WB, and other studios to even consider taking this kind of risk again.
Release Date: October 4th
“Inside Llewyn Davis“
Synopsis: A talented singer songwriter in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ’60s finds he’s his own worst enemy when it comes to pursuing success in the music world.
What You Need To Know: There were many festival films this year that have impressed, even wowed us, but if there was one single film that boasted the unique attribute of making us long for the moment we’d be able to watch it again, it was the warm, human, funny, uniquely Coens-y “Inside Llewyn Davis” (here’s our [A] Cannes review). Following a few misadventurous days in Davis’ life, as he loses a friend’s cat, sleeps on various sofas, goes on a brief road trip and plays a few gigs, there is no real way of explaining in words the alchemy that takes place that transforms that bare-bones logline into such an engaging film, though Oscar Isaac‘s wonderfully soulful, star-making turn has to take a good portion of the credit, with the supporting cast of Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver and Coens regular John Goodman also contributing to the rich tapestry of the film. And the music, even for those who, like us, are far from aficionados of this period or style, is wonderful, with an infectious affection for even its silliest excesses. Really it’s the Coens on spectacular form, boasting many of their trademarks while also bringing us something completely fresh and new. It’s a film that even as it unfolds in unexpected ways, makes you feel like it’s always been there and we can’t wait to sink back under its spell again in December.
Release Date: December 6th
One film that isn’t particularly high on the radar yet but that will be no doubt be a major player for the family-movie-at-Christmas-dollar is Disney‘s “Frozen,” which our resident animation enthusiast tells us looks terrific, judging from a few sneak peeks. Elsewhere there will be a few other big-budget studio films that we’re relatively hopeful for: “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug” has us curious to see how they’ve managed the awkward splitting-of-one-movie-into-two thing and the first film has us moderately looking forward to more of the same, while we find ourselves kind of embracing the goofy cartooniness of “Thor: the Dark World” if only because it’s unlikely to feature too many impressionistic shots of washing whipping in the wind. That film’s Godlike star, Chris Hemsworth, will also be showing up in the Ron Howard‘s positively buzzed “Rush,” which we’re anticipating for Daniel Bruhl‘s performance as Niki Lauda especially, even if U.S. audiences at large aren’t famous for their interest in Formula One racing.
Then there are a bunch of films that are probably Oscar players but of the type we find it hard to get too excited about in advance. Biopic-wise, Nicole Kidman will be getting a push from the Weinsteins for her turn as Grace Kelly in “Grace of Monaco” but the substantial advance look we got at Cannes failed to raise our pulses much; Naomi Watts takes on another beauteous Princess in “Diana,” which has left us cold to date too; Idris Elba will play Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which has potential in terms of actors (Naomie Harris is apparently exceptional as Winnie) but feels a little standard-biopic so far; while Tom Hanks will play Walt Disney to Emma Thompson‘s P.L. Travers (the author of “Mary Poppins“) in “Saving Mr Banks” in a film that looks prestige-y and glossy but possibly kind of rote. “The Book Thief” could also figure in the awards race (for more analysis on the potential dark horses in the Oscar race, go here), and did catch our notice with its trailer, while we’re split down the middle between anticipating the “Carrie” remake and regarding it as heretical. But whatever the rest of the field, with this summer already notorious for being a season of big-budget disappointments, the next few months have some tantalizing smaller-scale prospects in store, which, if they make good on their promise, could see 2013 cruise into the annals as a banner year for more thought-provoking filmmaking. – Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor