After about four days delay, here is #50-41 of my most anticipated 2014 film releases!
#50: Every Thing Will Be Fine
Director: Wim Wenders
Starring: James Franco, Rachel McAdams, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marie-Josee Croze
Plot: While driving aimlessly after a quarrel with his girlfriend, a writer accidentally runs over and kills a child. The accident and its aftermath deeply traumatizes him. Over the next 12 years, he struggles to make sense of what happened and continue on with life, but when he looks in the mirror, he sees a murderer.
Pros: Wim Wenders made two of the best films of the 1980’s with Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire. Since then, he’s been on a bit of a dry spell, but still shows up from time to time with strong work like Buena Vista Social Club or 2011’s Pina. It sounds like it could be a delicate, thoughtful film with a lot room for subtle character dynamics. It should be very exciting to see what a newly reenergized James Franco does with this lead role, and I hope that the ever-promising Rachel McAdams will have a chance to remind us of her talent. The rest of the cast is great as well, so it could be an exceptional film if Wenders is in peak form.
Cons: The problem is Wenders is inconsistent as of late. Yes, Pina and Buena Vista Social Club are good films, but, more specifically, they’re good documentaries. Every Thing is a fictional narrative film. One would have to look back a lot further to find the last Wenders narrative feature that was wholly satisfying. I hope his success with Pina has renewed his confidence, but it’s been some time since he was at the top of his game as a fictional storyteller.
#49: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I
Plot: Some kind of Buffet Olympics. I don’t know, honestly, this one comes from pretty obscure source material.
Pros: Jennifer Lawrence, of course. Throughout the peaks and valleys of the first two films, she has always brought a subdued, intensely focused integrity to the proceedings, and I have no reason to think that will change. The movies also seem to be picking up momentum, with new director Francis Lawrence proving a much better fit for the series than Seabiscuit helmer Gary Ross was. They are also taking on part of the last book, which means that there should be climaxes and gasp-worthy moments aplenty for fans and newcomers alike.
Cons: Seven words: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I. While I really liked the final Harry Potter film (Part II), that first half was the franchise’s nadir. Mockingjay doesn’t have to fall prey to the same fate, but it points to a danger in splitting a series’ final book into two films. I’m probably being paranoid, especially after the last film improved upon its predecessor, but the superstitious part of me has doubts. Oh, and I hate to say it, but the film will have to figure out what to do without the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose character still plays a role in the narrative.
#48: The Trip To Italy
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Plot: In this sequel to 2012’s The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing themselves) eat and converse at six different restaurants on a road trip around Italy, as they delve into their middle-aged fears and career frustrations.
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Pros: I adored 2012’s Winterbottom-Coogan-Brydon collaboration, The Trip, which was like a sparer, more low-budget Sideways with a whole lot of celebrity impersonations and with Northern England replacing California wine country. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are two very talented British actors who have done their best work playing versions of themselves in Michael Winterbottom films, like The Trip and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. This Trip sequel will hopefully provide fresh material for their considerable talents and maybe even get more people to see the hilarious and poignant first film.
Cons: Or it could be a pale encore of the first go-round, with nothing new brought to the gourmet table. I have a lot of faith in this team, so here’s hoping this isn’t Britain’s answer to The Hangover, Part II: a completely rote rehash of a superior predecessor.
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei, Leehom Wang
Plot: American and Chinese forces work together on a case of high-level computer hacking.
Pros: Michael Mann is one of our most stylistically interesting directors, but it’s not just kineticism for its own sake. He has a keen intelligence, prominent in films like Heat and Collateral, that make his pulsating character dramas the action movie equivalent of a really gourmet cheeseburger. If that makes any sense.
Cons: The director last made the John Dillinger drama Public Enemies in 2009 and it was merely decent. Hemsworth is still getting his legs as an actor, so you have to wonder if Mann will be able to produce good work from him when he wasn’t able to do it for no less than Christian Bale.
#46: A Most Wanted Man
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe
Plot: When a half-Chechen, half-Russian, brutally tortured immigrant turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community, laying claim to his father’s ill gotten fortune, both German and US security agencies take a close interest: as the clock ticks down and the stakes rise, the race is on to establish this most wanted man’s true identity – oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist. Based on a novel by John Le Carre.
Pros: I quite admired Corbijn’s Joy Division biography, Control, where he showed a steady hand behind the camera and got two stand-out performances from Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. Moreover, this will be one of the last performances we get to see from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and we could do a whole lot worse than seeing him sink his teeth into a character from John Le Carre, the prolific spy novelist who brought us The Constant Gardener and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Cons: The George Clooney-starring The American was something of a step back, so this is far from a sure bet. Still, no matter how the film pans out, the young Corbijn is still very much a director to keep your eye on.
#45: Black Sea
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy
Plot: In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a sub that’s rumored to be loaded with gold.
Pros: Macdonald is a prolific filmmaker, who has made some very worthy features. His Idi Amin drama, The Last King of Scotland, earned Forest Whitaker a well-deserved Oscar and took aim at the West’s impotence in understanding and preventing global atrocities. He is also responsible for two very good documentaries: the uplifting mountaineering horror story, Touching the Void and 2012’s Bob Marley biography, Marley. Actor Scoot McNairy is becoming increasingly prominent, appearing in the last two consecutive Best Picture winners, Argo and 12 Years A Slave, so who’s to say he’s not some kind of good luck charm at this point? And Jude Law finally appears to be hinting at a career resurgence with subtle, observant work in Anna Karenina and The Grand Budapest Hotel. If the stars align, this could finally bring Law back to the acting forefront.
Cons: While I don’t foresee this being bad, it could just be a decent action suspense film without much else under the surface. Not that it’s impossible for a treasure hunt film to be great without going into deep philosophical discussions, but I do hope that there’s some interesting kernel to this that elevates it above its undersea adventure trappings.
#44: The Boxtrolls
Director: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Starring: Elle Fanning, Simon Pegg, Toni Collette
Plot: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters’ by Alan Snow.
Pros: Animation studio Laika is doing God’s work by keeping stop-motion filmmaking alive and well. Coraline was one of the most beautiful, chilling, and thoughtful of recent animated films. I was less enthusiastic about 2012’s ParaNorman, but I acknowledge that it was a nicely crafted movie with a lot of heart behind it. Laika may soon prove itself to be the Pixar of stop-motion animation and I hope this is the next step on a fruitful journey for them.
Cons: As I said, Laika’s last film underwhelmed me a bit. Coraline may have been an ingenious film, but it is only one film. Laika has a long way to go before I regard their every upcoming project as a near-certain slam-dunk. Besides, these directors, while not completely inexperienced, are also not untainted as far as past performance goes. Co-director Graham Annable has only done video games prior to this, which makes his record slightly better than co-director Anthony Stacchi, who made the lamentable wildlife CGI comedy Open Season, starring Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence.
#43: 22 Jump Street
Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Nick Offerman, Ice Cube
Plot: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.
Pros: 2012’s 21 Jump Street (there sure are a whole lot of one’s and two’s in this sentence) was a delightful comedic ambush. A film that should have been a listless, mercenary, unnecessary retread in a land full of unnecessary retreads instead proved to be a refreshingly hilarious skewering of high school movies and unexpected proof that Channing Tatum might have some acting talent. What’s more, Lord and Miller have already hit a home run this very year with another great comedy that I’m surprised exists: The Lego Movie. For those of you who don’t know, that movie is about a world made of Legos and an unlikely hero who just see it now because it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a very long time. The bottom line is Lord and Miller are pitching a serious comedy no-hitter and they have the cojones to breathe life and originality into properties that should be unbearably stale and commercial. I don’t typically bet on sequels to retreads of TV shows. But this tiiiiime. . . .
Cons: Still, we are talking about a rehash of a lightweight 1980’s television show. It’s great that they managed to spin straw into gold last time (or at least some pretty nice silver), but is it really wise to bet on it happening twice?
#42: The Search
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Annette Bening, Berenice Bejo
Plot: A woman who works for a non-governmental organization forms a special relationship with a young boy in war-torn Chechnya.
Pros: Michel Hazanavicus directed the Best Picture-winning The Artist a few years ago, which featured Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo (the two, pictured above in 2011, are married) and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin. Moviegoers around the world have been waiting with baited breath to see how he would follow up such a unique, poignant, and unanticipated genre homage. This time, Hazanavicius has kept Bejo and added the great Anette Bening, a national treasure who is still overdue for proper Academy recognition. Not to mention, I hear Bejo is on a roll, following up her Oscar-nominated work with an even more impressive piece of acting in 2012’s The Past. If these three talents all work well together, then this war drama could become one of the year’s most genuinely moving films.
Cons: The cast is great, so there are really only two major hiccups. One is that this looks like a serious departure for Hazanavicius, who is known for impeccable genre spoofs. A serious drama about a war-torn country will inevitably come with its own challenges, and it is impossible to know, based on his resume, if Hazanavicius has the chops for a gimmick-free war film. The other problem is that, if you look at the film’s IMDB page, Bening and Bejo are the only two performers listed, which makes it sound like they haven’t even found a full cast yet, much less started filming the thing. It’s slated for a November release in France, but that seems like a pretty rapid production schedule for a film that might not even start shooting by Spring.
#41: Dawn of the Planet Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Plot: Survivors of the simian plague trigger an all-out war between humanity and Caesar’s growing forces.
Pros: Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an unexpected gift from the genre gods: a truly solid, thoughtful action film. And at the center of this reasonably good action drama was something fantastic in Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as Caesar, the intelligent ape who kicks off the events that will one day make Charlton Heston a very grumpy Charlton Heston. Serkis’ work reignited a debate about whether Academy Award nominations should go to brilliant performances that are “aided” by the use of technology, like motion capture or animation. The last time that happened was when Serkis played Gollum in Lord of the Rings. What this should tell you is that, any time Andy Serkis gets major billing in a movie, look out for thespian fireworks!
Cons: It will face the dreaded sequelitis, which puts it in the same boat as a handful of other promising 2014 films. Films overcome this hurdle all the time, but it’s still something it will have to grapple with. They will surely still have great acting from Serkis, but can they make the story feel startlingly fresh the way they did the first time? If the film is to focus more heavily on the ape conquest of Earth, can it avoid becoming just one more CGI-infested battle film (even if the CGI is admittedly exemplary)?