Director: Jon Stewart
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Plot: A journalist is detained in Iran for more than 100 days and brutally interrogated in prison.
Pros: I’ve got a funny feeling about this one. Stewart has never directed before, but he is one of the brightest political minds out there and it seems like this project is very near and dear to his heart. He took off many months from hosting The Daily Show to direct it and he has the support of a talented cast, including Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo. We know Stewart has a knack for infusing dramatic global issues with humor and insight. If he can leaven the pathos of the story with a touch of subtle humor, this could be something special.
Cons: Just from reading the plot synopsis, I can imagine all the ways a project like this might be ham-fisted, didactic, and melodramatically top-heavy. It’s not easy for a first-time director to make an “important” historical drama without falling into the trap of self-seriousness. Here’s hoping that Stewart brings his trademark wit to these somber proceedings.
#9: Knight of Cups
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto
Plot: A man, temptations, celebrity, and excess.
Pros: Terrence Malick is one of cinema’s true originals and has been since the 1970’s. Tree of Life, The New World, and The Thin Red Line are all masterpieces from where I sit. His scripts are beautiful, probing examinations of man’s relationship with the natural world. He works wonders with his actors and his eye for a breathtaking image is unparalleled even by the very best of living directors. The problem with Malick is typically with how rarely he creates, not with the creations themselves, which are consistently gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking.
Cons: I love the man’s work to death, and even I’m snickering at that plot description. “A man, temptations, celebrity, and excess. . . Malick by Calvin Klein” The typical Malick problem is that he is not always so accessible to the average movie-goer. Where some see poetry and deeply felt spiritualism, others see pretension and an over-abundance of self-important whispering. Personally, I believe he amply justifies every pregnant pause and hushed word, but it is still the perennial stumbling block for any Malick film. The other problem is that I heard last year’s To the Wonder was his weakest effort by a wide margin. He used to take decades between films, but this will be his third project in three years. Was Malick right all along to keep us in agonizing anticipation for all those years and years? Is this newer, more prolific production schedule detrimental to the quality of his pictures? Maybe, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He only made one underwhelming film, after all.
#8: While We’re Young
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Plot: An uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple.
Pros: This is the immensely talented Noah Baumbach, director of The Squid and the Whale, following up his first legitimate masterpiece, Frances Ha. This is also the same man who directed Ben Stiller to his best work in Greenberg. Frances earned Baumbach positive comparisons to golden age Woody Allen, and just look at that plot description. It sounds like Baumbach is crafting another acerbically funny, sophisticated, humanist dramedy with a great cast behind it. He’s even working with Adam Driver again, who did fine, hilariously understated work in Frances. I have every possible digit crossed for this to be as great as I know it can be!
Cons: Baumbach is an unbelievably smart writer and an observant director. He is so bitterly funny and insightful that his biggest challenge is in making sure not to outsmart himself. My sincere hope is that his acid wit doesn’t curdle into misanthropy and condescension. I had a little bit of that problem with his Margot at the Wedding and with his screenplay for Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. But really, I have no good reason to doubt While We’re Young. I just hope that the nuance and empathy on display in Frances Ha signal his growth into an artist who can balance his more pessimistic takes on human nature with a dash of generous optimism. As Woody Allen said in Manhattan, you have to have a little faith in people.
#7: A Most Violent Year
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
Plot: A thriller set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history, and centered on the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.
Pros: The premise sounds fascinating and educational. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are both exceptional talents who have finally come to prominence in the past year or so. Oscar Isaac’s work in Inside Llewyn Davis work was my favorite male performance of 2013, while Jessica Chastain’s Maya from Zero Dark Thirty was my favorite female performance of 2012. And, on top of all that, there is the mighty J.C. Chandor, only three films into his career as a writer-director. Margin Call and All Is Lost were both stunningly intelligent pieces of work, each with its own fittingly unique style. If Chandor’s first two films were glimpses into the depths of his talent, then I cannot wait to see what he does with this premise and this cast.
Cons: It still remains to be seen if this will be released by 2014, or if it will be moved back a year. If it does release this year, its biggest stumbling block will be the inherently violent nature of its premise. Then again, Zodiac was a violent, historical drama and that didn’t prevent it from getting great reviews.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Plot: A group of explorers discover a wormhole that revolutionizes interstellar exploration.
Pros: Christopher Nolan is one of the most consistently interesting voices in cinema, and one of a select number who know how to make blockbuster genre films that stimulate on multiple levels. Even better, he is a filmmaker with insane confidence, both ready to try out new ideas and able to inject intelligence and gravitas into old narratives. His leading man, Matthew McConaughey, is on something of an acting no-hitter lately, after making Mud, Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and Bernie. At this stage of his career, McConaughey’s involvement alone makes me believe wholeheartedly that this can be a great film. The thought of Nolan and McConaughey pairing together to make a brainy, adventurous ode to scientific exploration has me intrigued and optimistic. Add in Anne Hathaway’s moxie and Jessica Chastain’s quiet brilliance and you have a very interesting combination of director and cast.
Cons: If you ask certain people (me, for example) Nolan’s last two efforts, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, have been entertaining, fascinating, but somewhat flawed entries in his filmography. I have no doubt he has another Dark Knight or Memento in him, but is this sci-fi odyssey the movie to return Nolan to the apex of his powers or just another chance for him to flaunt his technical mastery over the sci-fi blockbuster genre? He has been very tight-lipped about the finer details of the story, so it’s hard to say.
#5: The Cobbler
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Adam Sandler, Melonie Diaz, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi
Plot: Sandler plays a fourth generation shoemaker who discovers a magical sewing machine in his father’s basement that allows him to transform into other people by wearing their shoes.
Pros: Tom McCarthy always makes interesting and moving films. I’m a huge fan of his 2003 dramedy The Station Agent, which gave a giant kick to the careers of three fantastic character actors: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale. Adam Sandler makes some dumb, sophomoric films himself, but he has shown immense acting potential in films like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People. The rest of the cast sounds promising as well, given the right director. As a director of actors, McCarthy deserves to be called one of the best.
Cons: McCarthy makes films that are gently funny, touching, and observant, but his style also tends toward the quiet and modest. Fairly or not, he’s the kind of filmmaker who gets called “slight” by his detractors. A film like The Visitor would have never been as good as it was without its finely calibrated performance from Richard Jenkins. So, if McCarthy makes another delicate film, does Sandler have the chops to get on his quaint, lyrical wavelength?
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Plot: The true story of John DuPont, a schizophrenic millionaire who built a world-class facility for the United States Olympic Wrestling Team. It explores his relationship with the Schulz brothers, both Olympic Champions.
Pros: Well, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell are both great talents, so I’m very excited to see what they bring to their roles. On top of that, Channing Tatum is starting to come into his own as an actor after Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street, so I think he could do very well under Bennett Miller’s direction. Really though, the big reason this is so promising is Miller himself. The young director has made three features in his career. The first one was The Cruise, a well-received, gonzo documentary. The other two, Capote and Moneyball, went on to earn raves, elevate their respective actors (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Brad Pitt) to career-best performances, and nab Best Picture nominations. Miller is still early in his career, but anyone gambling on the film’s success should remember that he has yet to make a film that even falls to the level of “just good”.
Cons: The project was originally slated to come out in 2013 and was pushed back to give Miller more time to tinker with the final product. That’s probably because this is a thorny, intimate piece of work. Without giving too much away, this is a very dark true story. The question is whether Miller can cultivate it into something rich and thematically coherent or if it will just be a bleak, well-acted curiosity. Not that there’s anything wrong with a dark, uncompromising piece of work! I just hope that Miller can find something thought-provoking and emotionally resonant in this disturbing material.
#3: Inherent Vice
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph
Plot: In Los Angeles in 1970, drug-fueled detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Pros: Paul Thomas Anderson may be our greatest living director and he appears to be just warming up. The prodigious talent has already made Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master. With The Master, he brought out an earth-shattering performance from Joaquin Phoenix, and Inherent Vice brings the two hard-working talents together again. Anderson is great because he is both a director’s director and an actor’s director, able to compose magnificent thought-provoking images while simultaneously filling each frame with some of the most courageous and vulnerable screen-acting in history.
Cons: This appears to be a detective mystery, which can be good or bad. Movies like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown took the mystery format and made them brilliant and thought-provoking. However, our current culture is also saturated with mysteries, from C.S.I. to the astonishing number of Sherlock Holmes reboots on both the small and silver screens. David Fincher even has his own missing girlfriend mystery coming out this same year. Anderson will have his work cut out for him if he wants to make his detective story rise above all those other dicks.
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane
Plot: Over the course of 12 years, we follow a young boy from childhood until his graduation from high school.
Pros: The reviews are actually already coming in for this one, since it debuted at Sundance earlier this year. It drew gushing raves for its performances and for the way that Linklater has thoughtfully captured the sprawl of time. Linklater and his actors filmed scenes every year for 12 years, so that all of the characters appear to literally age before your eyes. The director has already made a marvelous essay about time with his Before trilogy, so it’s heartening to see him follow this intriguing theme to even more daring extremes.
Cons: The con is that there is always a risk in doing something experimental. Even if the product is great, it may be difficult to get audiences to show up for an idea this bold and unconventional.
#1. Mr. Turner
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall
Plot: A biography of the great British “painter of light”, J.M.W. Turner.
Pros: Really, anything with the incredible Mike Leigh attached to it comes with its own laundry list of pros. Leigh is, for my money, the best director alive when it comes to working with actors, famous for his intensive and improvisational process. Leigh and his actors work for many months around a skeleton script until every character and every relationship is nuanced and lived-in. He has used this process to work wonders with Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Another Year. I do not know a single thing about Turner, the 19th century British painter upon whom the film is based, but with Leigh at the helm, and the wonderful Timothy Spall in the lead, I am very excited to learn.
Cons: If there is a con, I suppose it’s the genre itself. Historical biopics can often be tedious and I’m pretty sure I can count the number of essential movies about painters on one hand. The entire challenge here will be for Leigh to take what could be stodgy and stuffy in any other director’s hands and make it breathe and sing as only he can.
That wraps up my list of the most anticipated movies! Please let us know in the comments of any films you are looking forward to. We would love to hear from all of you. Now that I’ve dragged my wishing and hoping out for a couple of weeks, there is nothing left to do but wait with baited breath for the movies to premiere. Go see The Lego Movie and The Grand Budapest Hotel if you haven’t already, because they’re both blasts of pure, giddy joy. I think we’re starting to see a trend of awesome movies being less backloaded toward the end of the year. One never knows when and where the next great film will debut, so keep your eyes peeled. Until then, happy theater-hopping, Carnies!