14.) How to Catch a Monster (Ryan Gosling, TBA)- Although he took a retirement from acting to reevaluate his choices as an actor, Ryan Gosling’s kept busy. How to Catch a Monster is his directorial debut that he also wrote. The script leaked online to significant buzz, with many saying it echoes art house heroes Nicolas Winding Refn (who directed him in Drive and Only God Forgives) and David Lynch. Drive co-star Christina Hendricks stars as a mother who gets involved with the wrong people while her son discovers a portal to a city underwater. It’s a bizarre, ambitious premise for any filmmaker, let alone a first timer, but Gosling has had such an artistically accomplished career How to Catch a Monster incites significant curiosity. I’m pumped to see if he is as fine a filmmaker as he is an actor.
13.) Noah- (Darren Aronofsky, March 8th)- I’ll admit it, atheist art house filmmaker Darren Aronofsky wouldn’t have been my first, second, or third choice for a big budget Hollywood adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. I’m still not convinced, but I am curious. Extremely curious. It will no doubt prove too controversial for at least certain sets of audiences, so buckle your seatbelts and expect a shitstorm of editorials discussing the spiritual implications of the film. There’s one point everyone agrees: the cast. Russell Crowe leads as the title character, Jennifer Connelly plays his wife, and Emma Watson stars as their daughter. I’m more looking forward to his take on the story rather than the film as a piece of cinema, but it’ll undoubtedly be fascinating viewing.
12.) Transcendence (Wally Pfister, April 18th)- Quite a fuss was made in 2012 about how Christopher Nolan’s long-time cinematographer, Wally Pfister, was retiring from the craft he won an Oscar for. He wanted to satisfy a long-gestating ambition of his: to direct films himself. He toyed with scripts for years, reportedly taking a gander at Captain Philips and others, until he chose black-list script Transcendence. It’s a high concept sci-fi thriller, a story about an A.I. researcher whose brain is uploaded into a computer and huge consequences begin to take hold. In a huge get for the first time director (working with Nolan for so long must have serious pull), Johnny Depp stars in the lead in what seems like his first ‘normal’ role in a decade. The footage admittedly knocked this down quite a few spots on my top ten, but it looks to be an intellectually engaging thrill ride for early summer.
11.) Exodus (Ridley Scott, December 12)- Scott’s been depressingly hit or miss throughout his career, bouncing between resounding cultural capstones like Alien or Gladiator with bitter disappointments like Robin Hood or 2013’s The Counselor. I’m an apologist of Prometheus, which for all its backlash and hate still managed to continue to earn 400 million for an R-rated blockbuster, and, if nothing else, demonstrates he’s still got the stuff for an epic. Exodus sees him adapting one of the most epic stories ever written: the tale of Moses and his leadership of the Jews leaving Egypt. If he can pull it off, and many aren’t sure he can, this has the potential to be one of the aging director’s finest cinematic accomplishments. Like Noah, Exodus is sure to offend, but, also like Noah, at least the cast impresses. Christian Bale, who exited 2013 with two of his best in Out of the Furnace and American Hustle, plays Moses himself, and he’s going to wow.
10.) Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, April 4th) - Under the Skin made quite a splash last year on the festival circuit, inciting polarizing reactions. Reviews say it’s Scarlett Johansson’s best performance to date and is the most challenging role of her career. She plays a sort of supernatural femme fatale or siren, luring in men from the highway road who are never heard of again. It’s a sinister and surreal slow-burn thriller with a philosophical bent and is due to make waves come this April.
9.) Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, May 16th) - After Pacific Rim, I questioned the relevance of a kaiju movie in today’s marketplace. Del Toro’s robo vs. monster flick became a blockbuster favorite amongst critics and international audiences (mine as well), and it may have filled the spot Godzilla hoped to get. Then I saw the trailer. It wasn’t just one of the best trailers of 2013, but it proved the indie-auteur feel of Monsters, his excellent 2010 film that he made almost entirely himself, could be maintained after a hundreds of millions of dollars budget upgrade. Artistically potent and visually arresting, the trailer stole my breath away. This May, I hope that experience is repeated.
8.) Jupiter Ascending (Andy and Lana Wachowski, July 18th) - I was one of the seemingly few who passionately championed Cloud Atlas, the highly ambitious adaptation of the dense, confounding, but brilliant book by David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas wasn’t critically panned, but close, and, cripplingly, only made 27 million at the domestic B.O. that should’ve terrified movie studios from financing their next picture. Jupiter’s so high on my list not because of the footage, or even the story (which is vague but seems to follow an underclass janitor, played by Mila Kunis, being whisked away into intergalactic adventure), but because The Wachowskis must’ve had one helluva pitch. They convinced studios not only to finance their next project after the domestic failure of Cloud Atlas but to award them 200 million dollars for it. The last time Hollywood took a big chance on the duo, they made The Matrix. Let’s hope they can do it again.
7.) X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, May 23rd) - X-Men: First Class was a critical and financial success, and gave the iconic roles of Professor X and Magneto to James McAvoy and the ever-rising star Michael Fassbender. The two knocked it out of the park, enough that Bryan Singer returned to the franchise, adapting the fan favorite time-bending storyline Days of Future Past, uniting the original cast with the new. It’s supposedly the most expensive film Fox has ever made, tied to or second to Avatar, and a cast this stacked can’t fail. For my money, it’s going to be the blockbuster of the summer. Plus, beloved Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage plays a key villain.
6.) Nymphomaniac Parts I and II (Lars Von Trier, March 21 and April 18) - Controversial Danish filmmaking Lars Von Trier’s latest is an insane journey of sex, religion, and self-discovery. A sex addict, named Joe, is found beaten in an alley and recounts the shocking and poetically powerful journey of her life as a self-described nymphomaniac. Frequent collaborator Charlotte Gainsbourg stars, along with huge stars Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie bell, Uma Thurman, and Willem Dafoe, and there was much talk around whether the cast would or wouldn’t be doing their sex scenes for real. They aren’t, and instead are having porn actor body doubles do the dirty on screen, leading to a ‘hardcore” and “softcore” version of the film being released. The version released in March is a mostly softcore four hour cut of the original five hour long film, which will have to do for now. It’s already met critical acclaim overseas and is sure to stateside as well.
5.) Inherent Vice- (Paul Thomas Anderson, TBA) - One of the greatest filmmakers today, Paul Thomas Anderson, is adapting the critically lauded tripped out Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice. Already, I’m in. PTA’s reusing some of the most powerful creative collaborators he’s ever had, such as RADIOHEAD’s Jonny Greenwood as composer, cinematographer Robert Elswit as DP, and Joaquin Phoenix as the star. Phoenix’s towering performance in The Master instantly propelled him to cinephile superstardom, and if they can reclaim half the magic found in their previous collaborations, this is going to be a treasure. It’s great to see PTA branch out, too.
4.) Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, March 7th) - Coming off what might be if not the best film of his career certainly the most endearing and confident, Wes Anderson returns with what looks to be another gem of another one of the greatest living filmmakers. He’s one of the world’s finest living auteurs and actors seem to know it too. Grand Budapest has the craziest and biggest cast this year. Hell, just look at it: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathie Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and Bob Balaban. Wow. Anyway, it looks absolutely delightful.
3.) Gone Girl (David Fincher, October 3rd) - One of, if not the, greatest director of his generation, David Fincher has finally chosen his follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He couldn’t secure financing for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which would’ve been far preferable, if only so we have an answer to “what would that look like?”), and instead became a trumped up director for hire to adapt the bestselling book Gone Girl. That’s fine, since Gone Girl is a go for broke cultural phenomena people say perfectly suits Fincher’s many artistic talents. There’s some skepticism around Ben Affleck and the beautiful Rosamund Pike’s casting, but surely some assurances come with book author Gillian Flynn also writing the screenplay. IMDB’s plot synopsis merely reads “A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.”Let’s leave it at that. I hear it’s a real stormer.
2.) The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Peter Jackson, December 17th) - I’ll admit it, this entry is unapologetic fanboyism. Still, An Unexpected Journey was over-criticized, Smaug was one of the audience and critic favorite blockbusters of 2013, and There and Back Again promises some of the biggest, and most epic, battles ever put to the screen. There are huge emotional payoffs to come, and, if Peter Jackson stays consistent, it will easily be the best film of the Hobbit trilogy.
1.) Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, November 7th) - Could it ever have been anything else? Christopher Nolan shattered Hollywood preconceptions on what a blockbuster can, or ought, to be, and along the way blown the mind of audiences around the world with his labyrinth and thematically rich storytelling. And with Interstellar, he pushes the envelope even further. It was originally a Spielberg project using real-world theoretical ideas by famous astrophysicist Kip Thorne, but Nolan took the original script (written by his brother) and combined it with his own ideas. The story is shrouded in secrecy, but we know it centers on a group of explorers traveling to the farther outreach of space with mention of wormholes and possibly time travel. In other words, hard science fiction with the real-world authenticity we’ve come to love and expect. It must be said he cast two of the hottest actors in Hollywood right now, Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain, indicating the magnetic pull his starring roles have. Not to mention it was shot on IMAX and looks to be last film shown on 70mm film, it’s simply no less than the biggest must-see movie event of 2014.