Greetings, friends and enemies of the Couch! It’s been a little while since we’ve posted new content, but we’re starting to ramp back up again. March is never the most exciting time of the film-going year, but I can happily say that The Lego Movie and The Grand Budapest Hotel are wonderful and well worth your time, so go see them and let their heartfelt exuberance tide you over until more great films come along. But, since things are still a bit slow overall, I figured I’d start whetting your appetites for what we have to look forward to. Every day or so, I’ll release more of my countdown to the films that I am most anticipating. I tried to cover a healthy range of arthouse and blockbuster fare, though you may notice certain tentpole movies appearing fairly low on the list. Some of these titles are ones I may not be truly anticipating with any great interest, but I thought it was still worth noting their existence just in case some of you are looking forward to them. I’m kicking off with my #63-51 most anticipated movies, and I’ll try to release 10 more every day or so. If any of you are reading, chime in with any films you are looking forward to. It may not make the film year progress any faster, but it makes the waiting more fun! Now, without further ado. . . .
#63: The Hobbit: There and Back Again
Plot: Bilbo Baggins and friends face off against the fearsome dragon, Smaug. Then they all go home.
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen
Pros: Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are very good actors. It’s always nice to see them, even in films that look like tacky video games. I know they’ll make the viewing experience as pleasant as they can when I am inevitably dragged to this by my Anglophile significant other.
Cons: The two Hobbit movies have ranged from lackluster to terrible. After starting off with a mediocre but passable first installment, the second film jumped the tracks to become an interminable, dumb slog. If Lord of the Rings was that great Spring Break adventure you took ten years ago in college, The Hobbit has been a misguided attempt to recreate that trip, even though the only one who seems really into it is the pudgy New Zealander driving the car. At the end of it, I have a hunch we’ll all just feel sad for a time that can never be recaptured. And then we’ll think long and hard the next time Peter Jackson asks us to take a three-year road trip with him.
Director: Will Gluck
Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx
Plot: A remake of the musical about a lovable orphan who gets adopted by a billionaire with a heart of gold.
Pros: Quevenzhane Wallis is the thing that really has me interested. The Beasts of the Southern Wild moppet gave one of the most remarkable child performances of all time at the age of six, and became the youngest person ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar. Also, in a year full of musicals, I figure at least one of them has to be good, and why shouldn’t this precocious little rascal be the one?
Cons: Annie is kind of dopey and always was. I saw the musical as a kid and, even then, I found it to be too much cute and cuddly to handle. Will Gluck makes fairly decent comedies like Friends With Benefits and Easy A, but there’s nothing in his short resume to indicate he can make a great musical. Then again, the same was true of Adam Shankman before he made the delightful Hairspray. We’ll wait and see. [Edited: But my God, that trailer looks utterly terrible!]
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman
Plot: Eric Lomax was one of thousands of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during World War II. The experience left him traumatized and shut off from the world. Years later, he met Patti, a beautiful woman, on a train and fell in love. Patti was determined to rid Eric of his demons. Discovering that the young Japanese officer who haunted her husband was still alive, she faced the arduous decision of whether to reunite the two of them.
Pros: Well, it’s Harvey Weinstein, working with two people he has helped win trophies in recent years. He helped Kidman find Oscar gold for The Hours in 2002 and helped Colin Firth win his Oscar for The King’s Speech in 2010. And here they all are with a baity period piece that promises passionate soliloquys and bombastic flashbacks. It debuted at Toronto last year and some, Harv included, believed it could go the distance. This could be just the middlebrow pitch up the middle that awards homeruns are made of.
Cons: Festival buzz can be deceiving. After playing many months ago, the film no longer has the element of surprise and the Metacritic reviews so far seem to indicate a mixture of muted praise and shrugs. It also debuts in the unceremonious month of April, which is one thing if you’re an unconventional indie like Beasts of the Southern Wild and quite another if you’re a highly prestigious literary adaptation starring two of the world’s most beloved thespians. Where is the fanfare? Is this really the kind of film that can maintain- even build – its word of mouth for almost an entire year after it debuts?
Plot: Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of supervillains against him, impacting on his life.
Pros: The first one wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was a reasonably good comic book flick with an impressive, spirited performance by Andrew Garfield. One of its biggest complaints was that it too closely aped the story structure of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, but that should no longer be a problem because this sequel is taking on a story that Raimi never touched. I am optimistic that the series, anchored by Garfield’s far-superior portrayal of the titular hero, will start to find its (webbed?) feet a little better now that it has fully come out of the shadow of the franchise it had to follow.
Cons: The last one also had a terrible villain in Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard. I like Jamie Foxx as an actor and am entirely confident he can play a Big Bad, but nothing I’ve seen of him in the trailers has quieted the nagging suspicion that his one might also fall victim to a similarly problematic villain deficiency.
#59: Miss Julie
Director: Liv Ullman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
Plot: Over the course of a midsummer night in Fermanagh in 1890, an unsettled daughter of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy encourages her father’s valet to seduce her.
Pros: I read August Strindberg’s play “Miss Julie” in college. It’s one of the classics and a major work of Swedish literature. Miss Julie, the title character, is one of the most important tragic heroines in all of theatre and a role that many a hungry actress longs to play. I thought Jessica Chastain crafted one of the strongest female characters in years with Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya, so I am very optimistic about what she can do with another powerful, flawed woman, this time more than a century in the past.
Cons: Liv Ullman is an amazing actress and was a muse to the great Ingmar Bergman for decades. But her directorial career is very scattered. It’s possible that Miss Julie may just be a small-scale passion project for her, a chance for a Scandinavian icon to sink her teeth into a seminal Scandinavian play but not much of any great significance.
Director; Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard
Plot: Shakespeare’s classic Scottish drama about a greedy nobleman and his scheming wife, who are compelled to commit murder when Fate leads him to believe he is destined to be King.
Pros: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are amazing actors, especially given the right material. And Macbeth is incredible material, with two tragic, psychologically rich roles to play. When the acting is on point, Macbeth is where seismic performances are born.
Cons: The director is a relative newcomer and there’s a good chance that this is just one more Shakespeare adaptation in a sea of them. It’s as low as it is for the same reason as Miss Julie. The actors are great, but films made from highly respected plays are a dime a dozen. You hope they’re exceptional, but you never plan on it. Plenty of people have already brought “the Scottish Play” to the silver screen. Roman Polanski even tried it, and even he couldn’t get unanimous approval. If Kurzel is to make this a memorable rendition, he will be performing in the shadow of some major directorial talents.
Director: Olivier Dahan
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Parker Posey, Frank Langella
Plot: The story of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly’s crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and France’s Charles De Gaulle, and a looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s.
Pros: Olivier Dahan directed 2007’s La Vie En Rose, in which barely known French actress Marion Cotillard catapulted to international stardom and Oscar glory with her depiction of Parisian chanteuse Edith Piaf. That contained a fantastic firecracker performance and the rest of the acting wasn’t too shabby either. What will Dahan be capable of when he teams up with talents like Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth?
Cons: In spite of its brilliant lead performance, La Vie En Rose was something of a mess as a film. The credit for its virtues belonged absolutely and entirely with Cotillard, not with its frequently disjointed direction and editing. Grace was also pushed back from last year, and I believe it is debuting out of competition at Cannes, so is there a lack of confidence? I have a feeling that Harvey Weinstein is unloading the film early with maybe a distant hope of landing Kidman in the Oscar conversation. I don’t honestly foresee much else for it.
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt
Plot: A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.
Pros: Doug Liman directed Swingers. I love Swingers! Maybe we should all watch Swingers again instead.
Cons: Tom Cruise is a man whose acting is both so good and so bad that nobody can ever agree on just what the heck he is. He is an overly self-conscious peacock or an underrated livewire talent, or both, all depending on who you ask. I think Emily Blunt is one of the most mediocre actors that many people say is quite good. Doug Liman made Mr. and Mrs. Smith and that was pretty bad. Then he made Jumper and a movie-going public that had been perfectly willing to put up with Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels decided he basically shouldn’t be a movie star anymore. Where was I? Oh yeah, this is a Tom Cruise actioner with the condescending secretary from The Devil Wears Prada. It could be good, but it could just as easily be a waste of time like Cruise’s Oblivion was last year.
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
Plot: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to becomeone of the most influential musicians in history.
Pros: James Brown is a fascinating figure, one of the most talented and complex musicians of the 20th century. If the movie can really recreate the electrifying energy of Brown’s stage shows, it could become a phenomenally entertaining word-of-mouth hit. Also, Tate Taylor, who directed 2011’s The Help, is reunited with two tremendous black talents in Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Cons: Look, I’m not going to sugar-coat this. I know a number of people liked Tate’s vaguely racist movie about how racism is bad and how the spectre of bigotry can be handily dispatched through a combination of Caucasian amiability and poop-filled baked goods. I, however, thought it was one of the worst films to ever score a Best Picture nomination, and I did not see anything in Taylor’s directing that made me regard him as a talent to watch. The Help somehow captured feel-good lightning in a bottle for white audiences, but I have doubts that Taylor will be able to do it again, at least on such a zeitgeisty scale. A lot will depend on the lead performance of Chadwick Boseman, whose Jackie Robinson was upstaged by Harrison Ford’s scenery-chewing in last year’s 42.
Director: Susanne Bier
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper
Plot: A husband and wife become the kingpins of a frontier town. Things go well, until the wife’s jealousy over her husband’s ex-wife starts to boil.
Pros: Two very talented actors, both hitting career peaks after two consecutive nominated performances in David O. Russell films. If the film has trouble, I do not anticipate it will be the fault of Lawrence or Cooper. Luckily, they also have a competent and sensitive director behind them. Susanne Bier made the original version of Brothers and recently won a Foreign Language Oscar for In A Better World.
Cons: Serena has been in production hell since early last year. It was supposed to be released in 2013 and was pushed back; yet it still does not have a definite release date. There’s always the chance that all this tinkering will lead to something better than expected, but it can often mean that there are fatal defects in the final film.
Director: The Wachowski Siblings
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum
Plot: In the future, a young destitute human woman gets targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe, and begins her destiny to finish the Queen’s reign.
Pros: The Matrix team created an ambitious, entertaining piece of work with 2012’s Cloud Atlas.
Cons: The Matrix team created an ambitious, entertaining hot mess with 2012’s Cloud Atlas. Oh, also, let’s look at that plot summary again. A poor, unassuming human is persecuted by a sinister power before being forced to confront her long-hidden destiny as a great leader. Hmmm, I feel like the Wachowskis have done this before.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen
Plot: Set in an unnamed Third World country, three kids who make a discovery in a garbage dump soon find themselves running from the cops and trying to right a terrible wrong.
Pros: Look, in this case, “pro” is a very clinical term because I don’t so much look forward to Daldry films as I anticipate them with the same rankled acceptance that comes with knowing I will probably catch the flu once every couple of years. The director of handsomely self-important dreck like The Reader and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close gets recognition for everything he touches, even though most of what he does is the film equivalent of empty calories. The idea of Daldry making a film about innocent children in a third world country has my bullshit prestige alarms ringing and my gag reflex on high alert. But, like, more power to it, I guess?
Cons: It looks like it might have an early release date, with the film having its United Kingdom debut in May. Most of the Daldry Oscar nominees have been released in Fall or Winter, during the peak awards season. Maybe Daldry has just made a modest feel-good picture this time, without any kind of serious awards pedigree.
Director: David Michod
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce, Scoot McNairy
Plot: The Rover is set in the Australian desert in a dangerous and dysfunctional near future. Eric has left everything and every semblance of human kindness behind him. When his last possession, his car, is stolen by a gang of dangerous criminals, Eric sets off to track them down and is forced along the way to enlist the help of Reynolds, the naive member of the gang left behind in the bloody chaos of the gang’s most recent escape.
Pros: Michod is a promising young director from Australia who made 2011’s exceptional crime drama Animal Kingdom and earned Jackie Weaver a richly deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Who knows how this dystopian film will be, but it certainly sounds like Michod is taking another risk. With any luck, his boldness will pay off once again.
Cons: Michod is still a young director and film history is littered with sophomore slumps. While I applaud him for taking on what sounds like a risky project, that also means he is making the task of following up a strong directorial debut even trickier than it normally is.
And that’s all for now! In the next day or so, I’ll post my #50-41 films, which will include new films from Michael Mann, a recent French Oscar winner, and an incredibly popular series of books. Stay with us. It’s a long list, but it’s full of riches!