Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Here we are already looking ahead to the films of 2014 and I feel like I haven't even caught up with 2013 yet! (I know everyone complains every year about how all the good films come out at the end of the year, but, seriously...I went to the theatre two separate times on Saturday just to catch up!) And I'll get to my Best of the Year soon. Don't you worry.

You may have noticed that I haven't been as prolific on this site as I should be. But, I haven't been gone completely. Head on over to The Film Experience to read some articles I've done since that last lonely post at the beginning of September. (It's like the Fall films didn't even happen...) The start of the New Year is full of resolutions. So who am I to buck tradition? Let me just say that one of my resolutions is to post at least one thing a week on my blog. But, I need you all to keep me going. Your comments and page views keep me going! I'm like the Sanderson sister's sucking the life out of childern to survive (Um, that doesn't sound right.) Uh, is anyone actually out there anymore anyway...

Without further ado, my first post in 2014. Here are the 10 Films I am most looking forward to in 2014.

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Honorable Mention: There are actually a lot of films that were supposed to come out in 2013 or were only at film festivals last year that I'm anticipating. But, the one's that got pushed back (Grace of Monaco and Foxcatcher) both seem to have problems surrounding them. Never a good sign. And the Festival Films (Under the Skin and The Immigrant) seem (in the words of the great Hilary Duff) so yesterday -  without even having been released. Oh, well. I do want to see them all still. I'll try not to pass judgement until I've actually seen them.

10. Gone Girl

Realease Date: October 3
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry (and he he's not even in a dress!)
Plot: The "perfect" wife, Amy Dunne (Pike), mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary to husband, Nick (Affleck). As clues and secrets start to unfold, Nick becomes the prime suspect. But, could the answer really be so obvious? Not in this story...
Why this film?: The film is based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. It seemed everyone on the subway was reading this the summer of 2012. I, myself, was included in that legion of readers and...didn't really care for it. When the twist comes (there's always a twist), the book loses momentum and we're left with a lot more story to go. But, the reason I've included the film on my list is for two reasons. First When the casting process was happening, the usual roster of names came out: Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson. So, I'm really happy that they went with an actress that's not a household name but very talented and getting the opportunity to star in a film that could bring her more notoriety. But, more importantly, I've included it because of David Fincher. The Oscar nominated director doesn't always make films that I necessarily enjoy, but not one to shy away from dark material (that's certainly an understatement if you've ever seen Se7en or Fight Club...), he always creates something worth watching. (Please just take a moment to watch the amazing Open Title sequence in his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

9. Magic in the Moonlight

Release Date: Summer 2014 (Everything on the interwebs keeps telling me the Japanese release date. July 26th, if you're interested. Hopefully we see it before Japan!)
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver
Plot: You never know with Woody. But we do know it was filmed in the South of France and from the released still that some part of it is set in the 1920's.
Why this film?: With Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, it seems that Woody is on a role recently! (Eh, let's just pretend that the unfortunate To Rome With Rome in between the two never happened, deal?) So, I am already onboard for what the Wood-man has in store for us this year. Add a great cast that includes a couple Oscar winners, a recent two-time Supporting Actress nominee, and the internet's favorite girl crush (outside of Jennifer Lawrence, of course), throw in some snazzy Jazz Age ensembles (let's not forget how good that last trip to the 20's was - Don't speak!) and a swoon-worthy European locale, and you have yourself a recipe for another Woody Allen classic. 

8. Birdman

Release Date: TBD, but probably in the fall
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone (again! She may be the most ubiquitous star of 2014, also appearing in this year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Cameron Crowe's next film), Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis
Plot: An once-famous actor known for portraying a superhero (Keaton - don't forget he was Batman!) tries to bring a play to Broadway, but must confront his ego and the star he used to be. He is also forced to deal with his family relationships as well.
Why this film?: When you think comedy, doesn't the director of such side-slitters as 21 Grams and Babel rank up there with other comedic greats? No? Well, that's the main reason why I'm so intrigued by this whole crazy thing. I absolutely loved his first film, Amores Perros, but each film that followed seemed more and more dour and I found myself liking each subsequent film less and less than the previous one. Until we got to his last film, Biutiful, a film so intent on showing you how horrible everything in life is, that I started wondering why I liked him as a director in the first place. A comedy seems like the kind of artistic reset needed. And anything that employs a cast like that (Michael Keaton, where have you been all this millennium?) is differently bound to be intriguing no matter if it succeeds or not.

7. The Boxtrolls

Release Date: September 26
Director: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Stars: Stop-motion boxtrolls! And also the voices of Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Toni Colette, and Simon Pegg
Plot: A boy that was raised by underground, box dwellers tries to save them from an exterminator intent on killing them all. (Okay, so maybe the plot doesn't sound all that special.)
Why this film?: Just watch that trailer which embraces and celebrates the process of stop-motion animation and tell me you're not enchanted by it. (You are made of stone if you think otherwise, sir.) This is the third film from Laika who previously made two other films that I really enjoyed, Coraline and ParaNorman (both stop-motion, of course). At a time when it seems every animated movie has to be computer animated (oh, how I miss you hand-drawn animation), I'm so glad that films are still being made that aren't afraid to be unique. There is something really admirable about the fact that everything in the film is created and touched by human hands - made of tangible things and not made up of zeros and ones. 

6. Noah

Release Date: March 28
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe (let's just hope he doesn't sing in this one), Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone
Plot: A romantic comedy about...just kidding. What do you think it's about? A biopic about Noah Wylie?
Why this film?: Growing up Catholic, I'm not all that keen on having all the Bible stories presented on film. I've heard enough of them to last me a lifetime of Sundays. But, what really interests me is that Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) is directing this and, judging from the trailer, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of God-talk. (There are, however, silly looking CGI animals and I'm not talking about Russell Crowe.) Rumors that the director is fighting with the studio after test-screenings with religious-types didn't go so well also sounds promising. I'm not saying it should be blasphemous, but taken as a story (not a religious parable), and treated as such, it has the potential to be good. And with Ridley Scott's Moses film Exodus coming out this year as well, it seems 2014 is the year of the Bible stories. But, I'm giving the edge to this film if only because you can't make a movie about Moses without Anne Baxter.

5. Interstellar

Release Date: November 7
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine
Plot: It's Nolan, so you know it's gonna be complex. After a wormhole is discovered, a group of scientists and explorers use it to go beyond the constraints of human conditions, including time travel and alternate universes. 
Why this film?: There are people that worship at the alter of Christopher Nolan (although, I feel that last Batman needed to take the advice of Heath Ledger's Joker and stop taking itself so seriously). I just admire him for making blockbuster films that aren't dumbed down. He's making films that make people think, while still making them entertaining (and making huge amounts of money). He also seems to cast actors that I like as well (Annie! Chasty! 2013 wasn't the same without you two). And being one of the only directors that shoots with the IMAX camera makes this film even more of a have-to-see-it-on-the-big-screen spectacle. 

4. Maleficent

Release Date: May 30
Director: Robert Stromberg
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Miranda Richardson, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville
Plot: Based on Disney's animated film Sleeping Beauty, the film focuses on the villain of that story, the evil Maleficent who curses Princess Aurora. The film gives a back-story to the horned-one and tells the story from her prospective
Why this film?: Sleeping Beauty is my favorite classic Disney film and Maleficent is a big reason why. I was really disappointed in the last two big Disney live-action films (Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful), so I also list this film with a lot of trepidation mixed with the anticipation. Angie looks great in the teaser trailer and the stills released so far. And she's said that Maleficent was always her favorite Disney character growing up (no surprise there). But then seeing that stupid CGI fairy (that better not be what the fairies actually look like. They need pointy hats and wands!) and the kinda generic look of the whole thing (especially when the animated film is so stylized and intricate) makes me have doubts. But, if it works, it looks like it could be a real treat and my hope is that Angie nails the role so much so that people are talking Oscar nomination (no pressure, Angie).

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Release Date: March 7
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Adrian Brody, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton
Plot: In 1920's Europe, the concierge of the famed Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave H (Fiennes), inherits a painting from a wealthy, elderly guest (Swinton, in a part originally intended for Angela Lansbury) that dies. He and his lobby boy (Revolri) must hide the painting from the woman's son (Brody) and the authorities. I think it's safe to say that hilarity ensues. 
Why this film?: Because the world needs more of Wes Anderson's twee creations. That sounds sarcastic, but I'm serious! I just want to live in his movies - they're so perfect in their hipster aesthetic and sensibility. I've seen the trailer for this film so many times over the last month preceding films in the movie theatre and I have to admit that I'm still not sick of it. Not only that, it still makes me laugh. I've thoroughly enjoyed most of Anderson's past films, but his last one (Moonrise Kingdom) was easily one of my favorite films of 2012. So, I'm particularly intrigued to see his latest. If for no other reason than Ralph Fiennes looks hilarious in it, which is not generally a side of him we see.

2. Inherent Vice

Release Date: TBD, most likely the Fall
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Benicio del Toro
Plot: Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon, the story takes place in 1970's Los Angeles and concerns a weed-smoking detective by the name of "Doc" Sportello (Phoenix) that investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Why this film?: Like González Iñárritu and Birdman, it seems director Paul Thomas Anderson is following up his two past films (the complex and dramatic There Will Be Blood and The Master), with something a little more light-hearted! I love that these great auteurs are diversifying their style. The film also reunites the (Oscar nominated) star of The Master with its director. And after this past year's Her, it's looking like Joaquin Phoenix is also looking to let loose a little. This is the first time that Anderson is adapting the screenplay from a novel and not using an idea of his own. And what an author to choose. Pynchon is greatly admired and notoriously reclusive (he refuses to do interviews, although he has appeared on "The Simpsons" as himself...with a paper bag over his head) and this is the first of his novels to ever be turned into a film. 

1. Into the Woods

Release Date: December 25
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullmann
Plot: Adapted from Stephen Sondheim's musical, the story concerns a Baker and his Wife (Corden and Blunt) who are cursed by a witch (Streep) to remain childless. The two enter the woods to break the spell and encounter characters from classic fairy tales (Jack as in "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame, Cinderella played by Kendrick, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood) on their journey.
Why this film?: Most of the films on this list are chosen for the most part because of the director, but this film is my number one for everything else except Marshall. Look, I loved Chicago as much as everyone else, but he really hasn't been able to capture that magic again (ugh, let's not even talk about Nine, aka Chicago 2: The Fantasies Take Italy). But, I love this musical so much that I'm really rooting for it to succeed. This time, with the fairy tale subject matter, Marshall is free to let the fantasy take center stage and not just be confined to dream sequences. I really want him to go all out and make this a spectacle, but also remember that family and legacy are at the heart of the story. I'm curious about the casting across the board. There's Broadway stars mixed in with movie stars, but hopefully all of them are actually able to sing the part (ahem, Russell Crowe. Damn, that's twice in one post. Got you, Crowe!) because Sondheim ain't easy. But the biggest question mark has to be Emily Blunt in the part that Joanna Gleason won the Tony for. I've never heard Blunt sing, so don't know what she's capable of. I've also heard the almost 3 hour stage show has been cut to 2 hours, but they somehow still found room for a new song...I guess we'll all find out on Christmas Day. Hopefully it'll be a gift we treasure and not a lump of coal...

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