Now that all the year-end best-of lists are finally over, it's time for some lists that look forward rather than backward. 2014 has a lot to live up to; 2013 was one of the best movie years in recent memory.
Glancing over the release schedule, there are of course tons of sequels and remakes and another Transformers movie. But there is still plenty of room for hope ... even in some of those sequels. So: Here are the 20 movies in 2014 we're most looking forward to.
Richard Linklater is the most fascinating, oddly unheralded American filmmakers working, and this year, we should finally see the culmination of his decades-long passion project. Back in 2002, Linklater began a film starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as parents of a six-year-old boy ... and he has returned every year to film a few scenes with the couple (as their marriage disintegrates) and their son, up until last year. It's a brilliant idea for a movie—to watch how a boy deals with a dysfunctional family as the years go on in an almost literal sense—and Linklater, as the Before Sunrise films have show, has the chops and the patience to pay it off as more than a gimmick. We can't wait.
Originally slated for Oscar season but postponed for various reasons—a common occurrence this year; the high quality of 2013 scared off a lot of potential award contenders—this Bennett Miller (Moneyball) film features Steve Carell in a dramatic role as schizophrenic billionaire John du Pont, who was a wrestling fanatic who supported Olympic hopefuls but went slowly mad. This real-life story has Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestling brothers who work with the scary Du Pont, with tragic results. Carell, heavily made up, is a terrific actor just waiting for the right dramatic role, and the true story is both wild and deeply sad. Done right, this is a tough story to screw up.
We weren't the biggest fans of director Gareth Edwards' last movie, the sci-fi/immigration-allegory indie Monsters, but he showed he could do scary creatures on a budget. Money probably won't be so much of an issue with Godzilla, which appears to be a whole lot less jokey than Roland Emmerich's 1998 version. Plus, look who's in it: not just Bryan Cranston, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins. It's like the cast of a Woody Allen ensemble stumbled into a monster movie.
Neither one of us have read the book, though enough smart people have told us it's good that we believe them. We're aware of the widespread concerns about Ben Affleck as the lead role—though we don't know why the concerns are there, because, again, haven't read the book—but none of that is particularly worrying to us, because this is directed by David Fincher. And in Fincher we trust. Even if he appears to have cast Tyler Perry in a main role that doesn't feature wearing a dress.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
You've certainly made up your mind about Wes Anderson by now, so if you see "Wes Anderson" and groan, well, then yes, you can probably skip this one. But we're of the belief that Anderson's work, for all its familiar tropes and studied fussiness, is actually growing and deepening—he's having more trouble hiding his heart. This one has the whole troupe back together (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, a thousand others) surrounding a story involving a hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes and his ward... and all sorts of eccentric characters and happenstances. Again: If you like Anderson (and we do), you'll be there opening night. If not, you couldn't be dragged here.
Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel's mixture of comic-book action and knowingly dopey humor hasn't gotten old yet, but Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely the company's biggest gamble. Without the high-profile visibility of an Iron Man or Thor, the titular ragtag bunch of heroes, led by Parks and Rec's Chris Pratt (who was a welcome addition to Her and Moneyball,and almost made Delivery Man tolerable), are the underdogs of the Marvel universe. It could be inspired, or it could be a RIPD-like train wreck.
Paul Thomas Anderson adapting Thomas Pynchon? Sure! The 2009 Pynchon novel about stoned detectives in the early '70s gets the Anderson treatment, though it's worth noting that There Will Be Blood was technically an adaptation of Upton Sinclair's Oil! but wasn't, not really. Point is: Anderson tends to go his own way with these things. Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson are the stars here, but the real star, as always, is Anderson. We can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
We know Interstellar is about time travel and parallel dimensions. But at this point, the most important thing we know is that it's directed by Christopher Nolan, who just about single-handedly saved the summer blockbuster. Interstellar won't arrive until November, which will give us all plenty of time to dissect every second of this gorgeous teaser until the next trailer pops up.
Into the Woods.
There are plenty of reasons to roll your eyes at this choice. Several recent movie musicals have been disappointments, and a cast that includes Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp runs the risk of hamming it up to death. Still, James Lapine's book and Stephen Sondheim's music are pretty terrific, so maybe this adaptation will be the one that gets it right? And after giving us the wretched Nine, Chicago director Rob Marshall owes us.
We were pretty split on the Wachowskis' last film, Cloud Atlas, and their latest doesn't look any less ambitious or potentially campy. But even when their Matrix sequels ran out of ideas, they always had a surplus of energy and movies-sure-are-fun enthusiasm. Even if Jupiter Ascending turns out to be terrible, it'll be awful in spectacularly memorable ways.
A documentary from Hoop Dreams director Steve James, about the amazing, cheerful, sadly short life of film critic Roger Ebert, who died last April. Ebert is obviously a personal hero around these parts, but his life story is a compelling one. His influence went far beyond film criticism and journalism, and James, whose Hoop Dreams was famously championed by Ebert, is the perfect person to tell the story.
Magic in the Moonlight
Well, it's a Woody Allen movie, and we're sort of into those around here. This one takes place in Southern France and stars Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver. That's all we know, and that's enough.
Outside of David O. Russell, no acclaimed '90s indie director has pulled off more of a Lazarus act than Darren Aronofsky, whose career seemed seriously derailed after The Fountain tanked, before he reinvented himself with The Wrestler and Black Swan. Noah is the biggest movie he's ever made, and we're hoping he brings his distinctive, somewhat mad approach to what in someone else's hands could just be another dry disaster epic.
By now, you've probably seen the posters and checked out the NSFW stills. Even if you hate director Lars Von Trier's films, you can't deny that the guy knows how to market them. Like his Breaking the Waves and Dogville, Nymphomaniac (which is so long that it's coming out in two parts) will be told in chapters as a sex addict (Antichrist's Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her different escapades. At this point, you know where you stand with Lars. We cannot wait to see this.
Plot description: "A 12-year-old boy who strikes up a bizarre relationship with his misanthropic retired neighbor whose life revolves around drinking, gambling, and prostitutes." You might be into that, but when you learn that the neighbor is played by Bill Murray, we bet you're really into that. It also stars Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Chris O'Dowd.
Speaking of McCarthy, we're still not sure any movie has quite captured her unique comic energy since Bridesmaids. (The Heat came closest.) If anyone can do it, it's Ben Falcone, McCarthy's husband, who directed and co-wrote (with McCarthy) this road movie about a woman (McCarthy) who is fired from her job and comes home to find her husband in bed with another man. In response, she treks across the country with her grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon. (And Bull Durham fans suddenly feel real old.) McCarthy is too talented to be stuck in dumb movies like Identity Thief. This could be her true breakout.
If the trailer for Transcendence seems Christopher Nolan-esque, don't be surprised: It's the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, Nolan's longtime cinematographer. Beyond that, another great reason to get excited about this artificial-intelligence thriller—which could almost be called Her: The Dark World—is that it finds Johnny Depp in regular-guy mode, which we've really missed.
Angelina Jolie's directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey was far better than anyone could have reasonable thought, so we're excited for her next film, the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian who crash landed during World War II and spent two years in a Japanese POW camp. It's based off the Lauren Hillenbrand book and has a screenplay rewrite from the Coen brothers, of all people.
Under the Skin
One of the most buzzed-about movies at last year's Venice and Toronto film festivals, Under the Skin is the first film from director Jonathan Glazer since his underrated 2004 Nicole Kidman drama Birth. His new film stars Scarlett Johansson as a beautiful alien who preys on Scottish hitchhikers. Talking to people who have seen Under the Skin, we gather that the film is a hate-it-or-love-it affair: You either get on its surreal wavelength or you don't. Those types of divisive films sometimes end up being our favorites.
Untitled Terrence Malick Project.
Actually, the question is, Which Malick project are we talking about? One movie he's working on, entitled Knight of Cups for the moment, stars Christian Bale, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett, and is supposedly about "celebrities and excess." Another Malick film that's currently untitled is set around the Austin music scene and may star Bale, Portman and Blanchett, along with Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara. (We say "may" because some folks, like Fassbender, aren't sure they'll make the final cut.) Either of these movies could pop up in 2014. And since we're both still firmly TeamMalick, we're excited for whatever he's got in store next.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.