Hey hey! It's an exciting new year with plenty of cool movies for us to see. As I usually do, here's a run-through on the most interesting ones I came across. Of course, this doesn't represent the whole catch of the year, since most good movies creep up on us silently, and only big-budgeted giant American movies offer proper information so much in advance. But being an optimist, plenty of movies seem very interesting in advance. Let's take a look, shall we?
10 Spring Premieres:
While Spring usually brings the most interesting premieres of the year in Europe, in the United States it's considerably more quiet. But that's not to say there aren't interesting films to watch these next few months, no matter where in the world you are.
Director: Fede Alvarez
If there's one thing I tend to truly detest, it's horror remakes. Particularly washed-out, bland remakes that attempt to sell classic premises to dumb teenaged audiences by surgically removing any original or truly disturbing ideas are a dime-a-dozen. But I'm willing to give this scum of genres one last chance. For some signs have started to point out that the New Evil Dead may not be one of those remakes. For one thing, it is still very much a child of Sam Raimi, the original maestro, now on producing duties. Second, they are not even attempting to emulate the awesomeness that is Bruce Campbell's Ash, opting to go for younger, unknown actors and genuine scares instead of horror-comedy. It's also promising that the film apparently has zero CGI effects, opting to use old-school effects instead of flying deadites and super-realistic tree monsters. And lastly, the first Evil Dead is genuinely innovative and all, but truth be told, all of its aspects have not dated so well. Thus a new spin and a decent budget could be worked to give it another push. After all, a remake never undid the original if it failed, right? So if this thing has a plot and a few scares of its own, I'm willing to give it the benefit of a doubt. But this is your very last chance, horror remakes.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Colorful, flashy and violent, this neo-noir just could be The Untouchables for the 2010's. The cast seems to be top notch, with veterans like Sean Penn and Nick Nolte providing good chops for the groundation, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone providing the sex appeal, and Josh Brolin... providing his Brolinism, I guess. At least he isn't the lead here. There are certain comic book movie aesthetics surrounding this, hopefully this is a conscious choice to do something cool and not just a bland imitation of the types of movie that make the most money nowadays.
G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation
Director: Jon Chu
It's not a good sign when a major blockbuster is held back in the last minute by almost a year. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters excused itself referring to the rising stardom of Jeremy Renner. In this case, reportedly, test audiences wanted to have more Channing Tatum. Plus, the movie was also converted to 3D, as you do these days. This may not have been a wise decision for many reasons, also economically since it most certainly hurt the toy sales, around which the whole franchise is built. But dang, I still kind of want to see this. The first one wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but had several enjoyably moronic big action scenes in it. This one promises an all-out major toy battle with Cobra troops invading the White House, ninja battles while mountaneering, and Bruce Willis making his obligatory Bruce Willis action movie cameo role. However this will go down, I bet it will still be more enjoyable than Die Hard 5: Way, way, WAY too old for this shit, seriously.
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Hong Kong melodrama master Wong Kar-wai has been preparing his epic wuxia movie of Yip Man for years. The story is super famous in China, and even us martial arts-loving westerners have widely seen the Ip Man movies starring Donnie Yen. It' the story of the groundbreaking martial artist Yip Man who developed whole new styles, rose to oppose the Japanese invasion, and late in life taught Bruce Lee everything he knew. Now, in Wong's film he's played by Tony Leung Chi Wai. With action coreography by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping. I expect this to focus on triangle dramas or some other love problems rather than fighting. The epic movie will open at Berlinale and early reports have been raving.
John Dies At The End
Director: Don Coscarelli
This new horror comedy by Bubba Ho-Tep and Phantasm mastermind Don Coscarelli and Internet comedian David Wong may just be the weirdest movie of the whole year. It's about an odd new drug flooding the streets that bends time and space and delivers an out-of-body experience. This trip is perilous and may change the user into something altogether else, physically as well as mentally. Two losers have to fight this phenomenon before it destroys the whole world. Festival audiences around the world have been praising this oddball thing, and it certainly sounds to be something quite original. If anything, the premise sounds like 21 Jump Street meets The Source Code meets Enter The Void. I so want to see this!
The Last Stand
Director: Kim Jee-woon
If Arnold hadn't made a total fool of himself with The Expendables 2, people would be much more eager to see his proper comeback. But for me, it's interesting how the Austrian Oak, who so often has relied on physical presence, truly reacts to his body growing old and withering. Of course, with the director of The Good, The Bad and The Weird in helm, this is probably less a somber drama like Gran Torino or Cop Land and more a balls-to-the-wall crazy machine-gunning movie. But y'know, I have little against that, either.
Pain & Gain
Director: Michael Bay
MICHAEL BAY DOES A CAPER MOVIE ABOUT SOME DUMB JOCKS WHO STEAL A LOT OF MONEY AND THEN LIKE SOME SWAT GUYS ARE CHASING AFTER THEM. EXPLOSIONS AND GRATUITOUS TITS & ASS SHOTS PRESUMABLY ENSUE. BUT THE FACT REMAINS THAT WHEN BAY ISN'T DICKING AROUND WITH SCI-FI OR MELODRAMA AND JUST HAVING FUN, HE'S AT HIS CRAZY, COCAINE-ADDLED BEST. THIS MOVIE SURELY MAKES MEN OUT OF LITTLE BOYS AND LITTLE BOYS OUT OF GROWN MEN!
Director: Taylor Hackford
Jason Statham stars as the pulp fiction tough guy previously incarnated as Lee Marvin (Point Blank) and Mel Gibson (Payback). As always, the tough-as-nails criminal expert gets double-crossed, but survives and goes on a vengeful trip to have a talk with his former colleagues. And to get his money. No reason not to keep the story simple, I just hope Taylor Hackford has the directing chops to keep things ruthless and exciting, too.
Robot and Frank
Director: Jake Schreier
Frank Langella plays an elder citizen who becomes unwittingly partnered with a caretaker robot! Slowly, Frank learns to enjoy life and starts to see the friend he has in the robot. It's your basic buddy film formula, but cranky old men and robots make an intriguing match. And that's before the thing turns into a heist movie where distrust between the pals starts to escalate again. It's a quirky little indie movie, with a truly irresistible elevator pitch at its core. Rarely you can do wrong with either robots or Langella!
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Often even brilliant Asian directors don't do that well with their careers in Hollywood. I suspect the reason for it is that they tend to accept to work on the first project offered to them. But Korean Vengeance Trilogy helmer Park Chan-Wook planned his next career move a lot smarter, keeping on working in his home country for six more years after his breakthrough hit Oldboy. He switched to English only when he got a project that interested him, and has been planning his Hollywood debut for years. Now it's finally ready. Personally, I try to keep myself from hearing too much of Park's new films in advance, yet am always eager to see what kind of crazy surprises the man has in store for unsuspecting audiences. The film is a mysterious horror-drama, featuring a gothic triangle drama between Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska. The title would suggest vampires or some other undead creatures are afoot.
2012 Throwbacks Top 10:
For some odd reason, films are still not released simultaneously all over the world. Plenty of movies made last year have only now reached Europe, just in time for award season. Also a few been shown to select festival audiences and are waiting for a wider release. This is their story.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Us poor Northern Europeans have had an excruciating wait for Grandmaster Q's latest genre-melting violence fest. A nice surprise, and apt compensation for is that Night Visions festival has a special screening of the film a few days before the premiere. And not just any screening but the opening of the Colt Concert festival, which features plenty of obscure and cool spaghetti westerns on pristine 16 and 35 mm film prints. It's a good thing DU is shown first, also, because knowing the source material too well beforehand can be sort of distracting. But I expect plenty of the auteur's cocaine-addled ADHD craziness, in terms of violence, music, characters, visuals, old-school special effects, and the approach to as sensitive a subject, as slavery is.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Four score and seven years ago... Abraham Lincoln was long dead and it would still be twenty years before the birth of Steven Spielberg. It is still easy to see why the lives of the two work well together. They both are masters on their respective fields, having utterly changed their worlds with their works unparallelled successes in their careers. Both are Grand American legends, offering the people an idealist viewpoint for what is viewed best in the country. And they both have a beard, I guess. Since mostly no one remembers Amistad any more, it's time for Spielberg to nab another Oscar nomination with a tale of slavery in the times of muttonchops. It is probably extremely manipulative, but these sort of grand sentimental tales do work from time to time. The best asset is to have Daniel Day-Lewis as your leading man, no doubt delivering another incredible performance.
Director: Frank Khalfoun
Oh, another horror remake? Rather than to keep that as a sign for a bad movie year to come, it's rather a sign that even the thickest horror producers have learned that playing the remake game with the lowest stakes possible rarely pays off. I've had in good authority that this slasher update is the most innovative and interesting take on the genre in years. For one, while the movie may star Elijah Wood as a sociopath serial killer, he's very rarely on screen. This is because the film is mostly shot from his point-of-view. I'll keep my fingers crossed for this, and hope that the original film's super computer makes a cameo.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson has delivered another epic tale of American religious corruption and seduction of the innocent by greed. But in contrast to his previous film, There Will Be Blood, the buzz around this hasn't been as enthusiastic. Rather, it seems many hardened movie fans and reviewers have been sort of baffled by the movie. I take this as a good sign. However easy it would be for Anderson to deliver a clear-cut, Oscar-baiting and shallow satire, he has kept his reigns on his own hands and is willing to experiment with even the mammoth budgets he gets. I'm super enthusiastic to see what he has come up with. Plus, it will be nice to see Joaquin Phoenix back at the top of his game, directed by the greatest living character actor's director.
Director: Martin McDonagh
Early word-of-mouth of the Scottish crime comedy auteur's follow up to the excellent In Bruges hasn't been very good, lukewarm at best. But I'm the sort that has to see it to believe it. After all, in the official synopsis Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell are referred to "oddball friends". I'd like to see a buddy comedy with just those two. But this one deals with a group of gangsters dragging their friend (played by Colin Farrell) to a heist where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
David O. Russell is a director for whom I have a certain soft spot for. True, he's of the generation of video-raised filmmakers who rose alongside the independent productions of the 1990's, yet his filmography isn't as solid throughout as is the case with some of his peers (like Anderson and Tarantino). That being said, The Fighter proved that Russell can be very good at doing a sort of Oscar-bait sort of a movie, a story of underdogs, without falling to overwhelming sentimentality, a clichéd plot. He is able to create a real feel-good athmosphere and likeable characters it is enjoyable to follow. Plus his direction for the performances of his actors is phenomenal. So all this fares well for the love drama for mentally ill Asperger's patients. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are said to be on a roll here, and it's nice to see Robert DeNiro in a bit more ambitious productions nowadays. The buzz has been very good, with even film grump Brett Easton Ellis raving for this movie.
Director: Harmony Korine
SPRING BREAKERS! This is it, the movie that the post-empire movie-going crowds both deserve and need. What seems like a disposable, airheaded teenager comedy, starring Selena Gomez and with music by Skrillex, is directed by none other than arthouse oddball Harmony Korine. So while there is partying and bikini girls aplenty on offer here, there's also several fermented points about the simplicity and disposability of modern pop culture, MTV reality-inspired party girl lifestyle and human life in general. The director is not known from doing formulatic, easy movies, but oddly poetic, repetitive strange tales with little or no plot and plenty of memorable characters. The story involves valley girls planning a bank heist on their holiday. The ker-azy superstar James Franco also stars as a character called "Alien". I could not possibly be more stoked about a movie. This. THIS.
This is 40
Director: Judd Apatow
To be frank, there was no need to have a sequel to Knocked Up. Or a spin-off, or whatever you want to call it. But in that movie it seemed that the bittersweet lives of the married-with-children couple of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) were much more interesting than those of the central characters. And now, with them being aged to the point of middle age, the film has the chance to be as cruel wrecking of lives in a turning point towards Autumn years as an Alexander Payne movie. With several more pop culture and dick jokes, of course, as Apatow tends to have. I'm mostly interested in this because the advance buzz has been surprisingly positive all around. For comedy's sake it's better to have the film be cruel than sentimental, so we'll see which category Apatow manages to land in this time around.
To The Wonder
Director: Terrence Malick
Incredibly, Malick actually managed to finish another film in record time after his last one. And by all means, this is even more junior high school's poetry club's joint diary with images. Another epic tale of love with a very flimsy story and a lot of nature imagery as the wind gently waves leaves and grasses around. This may be way too much for many, but at least I am totally ready for another spiritual journey with Mr. Malick. Famous faces including Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams star.
Zero Dark 30
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Director Kathryn Bigelow has lost a lot of the good will towards her after winning the Oscar, which is strange. I for one loved The Hurt Locker and am eager to see her reunite with journalist Mark Boal in bringing the story of the hunt of Osama bin Laden to the big screen. Sure, it may dismiss the cause of the war on Terror, be nationalist propaganda and support right-wing ideas of search-and-destroy missions, but I don't really care about the political dimensions that much. I want Bigelow to bring a testosterone-fuelled story of sweaty, true men and women who kill for living. Because she's of the rare breed that still can.
Rest of the Year Top 13:
Big and small, familiar and innovative. This looks to be quite a year ahead of us.
Director: Paul Greengrass
I have a feeling I might not be able to see this in 2013, but some of you will. For this is an inspirational based-on-a-true-story drama, a thriller based on recent events, and directed by Paul Greengrass. It's clear the studio will want to have it win every award it can get by placing it at the very end of the year. But this story's a real corker otherwise, too. A heroic American captain (Tom Hanks) has to surrender his ship to ruthless Somali Pirates. But he sure isn't surrendering easily without giving a fight. Presumably a lot of hand-held camera action ensues.
Director: Neill Blokamp
The director of District 9 is back, and I, for one, am one to listen. Especially as this one goes further into sci-fi action, with some satirical ideas about the world of tomorrow put in for good measure. In the film's year 2159, the wealthy live in a luxurious satellite, while the poor live in squalor on the scorched, overpopulated Earth. But revolution is about to come. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star, and there's a juicy role for Sharlto Copley as well.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
The first Hobbit film appeared to receive mixed reactions from fantasy aficionados. Thus the (first) sequel isn't necessarily the first thing on the minds of all movie geeks. But Peter Jackson has plenty of chances to win them back with this one. This is where we get to the real meat of the Hobbit story, which differentiates clearly from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. So instead of retreading old paths and just having old characters do cameos, we have full-blown dragon action as the 12 dwarves take on the evil Smaug. Plenty of CGI dragon movies have got these majestic creatures looking plastic and/or rubbery, but from the glimpse we got at the end of the first Hobbit, I expect this one to be an altogether different kind of beast.
Iron Man 3
Director: Shane Black
Next year sees the start of the second ring of Avengers movies, in preparation of the showdown with Thanos we have been promised for 2015. First stop, we get to meet our favorite robot-suited businessman Tony Stark again. But this time, there's more than just a light-hearted romp in store for him. The leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization, the notorious Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) is after his head, and knows how to strike him where it hurts the most. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Boy Scout mastermind Shane Black did some uncredited script doctoring for the first two Iron Men, so it's exciting to see what he can do when he gets the full control of the toys. Reports from the set say the main cast have to show off their acting chops, so it's comforting to know this isn't merely relying on a special effects extravaganza.
Director: Dan Scanlon
Pixar does a lot more sequels now that they're part of Disney. But there's nothing wrong with that as long as they are done exactly right. And this sequel for 2001's Monsters Inc. does know exactly which strings to pull. Rather than to build up on the sentimentality of the end of the final scene, this film pulls on the buddy comedy chemistry between Billy Crystal's Mike and John Goodman's Sully, now rival college students. A Pixar college comedy would be one I would've wanted to see by itself, but one set in Monstropolis, the oddest and perhaps most intriguing Pixar universe? Yes. Please. The early teasers suggest that the film also manages to bring on the funny.
Director: Lars von Trier
Crazy Larry has made a vow of silence with the press, so you are forgiven if you forgot this one was nearing completion. I'm betting the film will still be seen at Cannes, even if the Danish auteur will be be a persona non grata at the festival following his Nazi comments a couple of years back. But Von Trier isn't a fool attempting to win crowds back at this one. He's a provocateur, and his ideas of sexual addiction and love may be too hot to handle on the more Puritan side of the Atlantic. His current public status just gives him the excuse to go in all the way. Movie star heads are digitally inserted into porn star bodies to give an effect that they are in the midst of full penetration. Truly image-shaking stuff. Even Kubrick wasn't this bold, although he dreamed of it. I'm drooling already.
Only God Forgives
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
The dynamic duo of Drive, actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn reunite for another testosterone-fuelled manly man's tale. Women will dig it, too, presumably. This one is a crime thriller, where a cat and mouse game between a police officer and a criminal infiltrates them both on an underground Thai boxing scene. These differences are solved in the ring! The plot sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, but I bet the film will have plenty of poetic silences, sudden outbursts and audiovisual perfection.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
The craziest, goofiest and most fun-seeming of the next year's blockbusters is clearly Guillermo Del Toro's giant monster movie. Showing Michael Bay how it's done, Del Toro pits interdimensional Cloverfields against giant robots powered by Independence Day-style inspirational speeches. That just may be crazy enough to work...
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
Directors: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Here's a film I'm a little uneasy to include here because it isn't 2006 or 2007 any more. But there are signs that point that we are actually getting a sequel to the most faithful comic adaptation ever attempted. This delay may not be such a bad thing after all. Rather than just relying on old tricks, Rodriguez will have to push the digital imagery even further. However Miller has had a rough few years with the negative reception he's received, whether he had worked on films (The Spirit), comics (Holy Terror) or public statements (Occupy Wall Street comments). He's got his work cut out for him to win back fanboy trust. The thing that makes me most uneasy about this one is the fact that Frankie Boy will be writing a whole new Nancy Callahan segment for the movie. But at least the central story after which the movie is named, comes from his glory years and certainly the best Sin City story not included in the first movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems like a good person to complete the pretty cracking cast, anyway.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Another Korean master has arrived in America recently, and, it seems, with his own ideas and style intact. Bong Joon-ho's first movie will be a survival sci-fi story about a train crossing the frozen earth. As a twist, these are the very last people alive in the world. The film is based on Benjamin Legrand's graphic novel and judging by the conception art will be unique and wonderful, visually. Stars include Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Jamie Bell.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
A new Scorsese film is always worth checking out, even if casting Leonardo DiCaprio as a real-life stockbroker who went to prison by refusing to cooperate in a fraud is casting way too obviously. But also Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey have roles in this stylish-seeming caper, which is something you wouldn't have believed a couple of years ago. I expect Scorsese to have a word or two to say about the current financial crisis and the part big corporations play in decision-making today.
Director: James Mangold
After X-Men Origins: Wolverine I wouldn't judge anyone if they were sick of Hugh Jackman's hairy Canadian berserker mutant. But may I remind that The Wolverine is based on a script by Christopher McQuarrie that seemed to be so interesting, Darren Aronofsky was attached to the film for a long period of time. And the script is based on one of Marvel's most celebrated stand alone stories, Wolverine's adventures in Japan as originally told by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. James Mangold as a director is hardly no wash-up himself, having helmed Cop Land and 3:10 to Yuma (and one Tom Cruise vanity project, but the less said about that the better). It seems the story deals with a lot of what makes Wolverine an unique character, with him balancing between his animalistic instincts and a higher, samurai-like sense of honor and righteousness. Snikt, bub, snikt.
The World's End
Director: Edgar Wright
This is it, the concluding film in Edgar Wright's Three Colors Cornetto Trilogy (or whatever that's officially called) with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Words have been scarce on which genre the three amigos are riffing on this time, although the title would give some suggestion. It's been announced that the film deals with an Epic Pub crawl culminating in the titular World's End. But while Shaun of the Dead mixed a zombie movie with a romantic comedy, and Hot Fuzz had some Hammer-like horror scenes as well as a British countryside sitcom setting in a buddy cop movie, I fully expect there to be a bit more in this than merely the End of the World.