2. Plot Synopsis
If you've got all three lined up then you're really set. But even then it's still somewhat of a crapshoot. In other instances, it's plainly obvious based on those criteria that I will more than likely love something (The Master and Looper come to mind for 2012), but the film still has to go the distance.The most fun can come when those rules get thrown out the window and mitigating factors come into play, causing a film I never would have expected to be a player become one of favorites of the year. Drive and Silver Linings Playbook are prime back-to-back examples. From the former I expected nothing until the rapturous reviews poured in and the latter had a trailer that didn't exactly misrepresent the movie, but certainly undersold it. The fallout from those two films can still be felt on this year's list. It's all about track records and batting averages. Consider it the sabermetric approach to determining a film's future worth. In some cases we have the benefit of trailers, posters and stills. In others, I'm going on very little. If you don't see a movie on here you know what that means. And yes, I'm all superheroed out if you're wondering where those are. But everything was considered, from smaller independent projects that might only get a limited release to major studio movies. What surprised me most was just how dark the top contenders ended up being. My future favorite film of 2013 may or may not be listed below.
Runners-Up (In No Particular Order)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson
Synopsis: The journey of a contemporary, porn-addicted Don Juan-type as he attempts to become less selfish.
Why? To be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed when I heard that JGL's directorial debut (formerly titled Don Jon's Addiction) would be a rom-com instead of a really dark, gritty independent drama. On the surface the plot doesn't really interest me and I'm not thrilled with the casting of Johansson. But outside of the interest in whether JGL can be as strong behind the camera as he is in front of it, the big draw for me here is seeing him again share the screen with his former Angels in the Outfield co-star, Tony Danza. What a reunion that should be. Just seeing the underrated Danza again in what I'm hearing is a pretty substantial supporting part (as his dad!) should be a real thrill. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing a movie just about JGL asking Danza to be in his movie.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley
Synopsis: An everyday man has only five days and limited resources to discover why he was imprisoned in a nondescript room for 15 years without any explanation.
Why? Spike Lee has directed exactly one movie I loved (25th Hour) and the talented Olsen has lately been giving a lot of great performances in projects that have just missed the mark for me. Here's hoping the teaming of the two will produce more positive results. While I admire the original Chan Wook-Park film I have no issues with them re-imagining it and am curious to see what Lee does. It sure beats rumors of that other version being shopped around a couple of years ago with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith attached.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones
Synopsis: In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton's timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.
Why? All I know is that if Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are re-teaming I don't care who directed it or the nature of the plot. They've proven to be so good together this gets a free pass merely because of their presence. And that they're also co-starring in another much more anticipated film later in the year so this is just icing on the cake.
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling
Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.
Why? This seems like an answer to my frequent complaint that every other comedy released these days is exactly the same and uses the usual interchangeable actors. Now THIS could be different. Are we sure it's not based on a true story because I kind of believe these people (and that's not even mentioning Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Martin Starr, Craig Robinson and Rihanna all playing themselves) would be at James Franco's house with the world ending. And what's Franco like playing himself considering he seems to put so much of himself into everything he does anyway, movie-related or otherwise. It's rare you get to see so many celebrities given the opportunity to spoof themselves like this. Let's hope it's not squandered and Rogen delivers. I can see it being either a huge bomb or the comedy of the year. Or maybe both.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire
Synopsis: Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby's circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.
Why? There's no middle ground with Baz Luhrmann. It'll either be incredible or a massive train wreck and if it's latter you can bet it'll at least be memorable. Even though this was pushed back from last year it's worth paying attention to any adaptation of Gatsby with that cast. It'll probably be a mess (and in 3D for crying out loud) but it's a must-see if just for the curiosity factor.
Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine
Synopsis: The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Why? Supposedly this a methodically paced Badlands-style 70's throwback. Good enough for me. Having Mara, Affleck, Foster and Caradine(!) in it can't hurt either. The director's a real question mark since it's his first feature but that hardly seems to matter as we've learned in the past. Early reviews have been excellent so I'm kind of expecting big things. Awesome title by the way.
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Billy Murray, Jean Dujardin
Synopsis: In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renown works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.
Why? It's Clooney. Everything he touches as either a director, producer or actor seems to turn to gold these days. He just attach himself to junk. This plot itself doesn't grab me at all but the cast does and we know he'll deliver the goods. A possible Oscar contender.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Tobey Maguire, James Van Der Beek
Synopsis: Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.
Why? Here's another one that gets a recommendation on director alone. And that cast isn't too bad either (Van Der Beek!?) The rest of it is kind of a question mark but since Reitman showed off another dimension of what he can do in 2011's brilliant Young Adult I'm willing to follow him wherever he decides to go.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler
Synopsis: A New York stockbroker refuses to cooperate in a large securities fraud case involving corruption on Wall Street, corporate banking world and mob infiltration.
Why? DiCaprio and Scorsese team up for the 700th time and while I would normally roll my eyes at that, this actually seems somewhat intriguing and features a solid supporting cast. It's a safe bet on here, but there's a good reason for that.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, Oct. 4)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.
Why? Early word suggests this will be pretty good despite it being in production for seemingly forever and its release date being pushed back from late last year. There's still that Clooney factor and the chance to see Bullock (who supposedly carries most of this) in a rare sci-fi turn that hopefully signals a renewed post-Oscar commitment to doing serious work with talented directors. Well, probably not. But it doesn't hurt to get our hopes up.
10. Nebraska (Alexander Payne, TBD)
Starring: Bruce Dern,Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes prize.
Why? You can use a permanent magic marker to write down Bruce Dern's name as one of the five Best Actor nominees next year for this black and white road trip movie. Anything directed by Alexander Payne coming off The Descendants automatically gets a spot on this list and the inspired casting of Forte in a dramatic role is worth looking out for.
9. Anchorman: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay, Dec. 20)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Kristen Wiig, Christina Appelgate, Harrison Ford
Synopsis: The continuing on-set adventures of San Diego's top rated newsman.
Why? If an impending sequel to one of last decade's most popular comedies with the entire cast returning wasn't enough, now they've just recently added Harrison Ford to the mix. Ford was already surprisingly successful playing a aging, bitter news anchor in the underrated Morning Glory so it should be fun to see Mr. Grumpy face off with Ron Burgundy.
8. Her (Spike Jonze, TBD)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara
Synopsis: A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.
Why? Something that sounds this weird can only be directed by Spike Jonze. And that it stars Joaquin Phoenix should only serve to make it that much weirder. Adams, Wilde, or Mara in this would be intriguing enough but that it's all of them makes me wonder what Jonze has up his sleeve. On paper, it feels like it could be reminiscent of Adaptation, which would obviously the best possible scenario. Whatever it is, it's a must-see.
7. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, TBD)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Burke
Synopsis: A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match.
Why? Gosling re-teams with the director of Drive. Need I say more? With both already proving they can take what appears to be on paper a pulpy genre exercise into uncharted territory it would be foolish to bet against them again. Supposedly, this is even more violent and shocking. A scary thought.
6. The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance, March 29)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Why? Well, it's another reunion for Gosling , this time with Blue Valentine director Cianfrance and the trailer actually looks pretty terrific. From what I've been hearing there's a lot more to this film than has been advertised and Gosling again playing a stunt driver is a can't miss proposition, especially if he's facing off against good cop Bradley Cooper, whose film appearances now carry a renewed sense of anticipation since we've recently discovered the range of his abilities as an actor.
5. Parkland (Peter Landesman, TBD)
Starring: Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Duplass, Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Welling
Synopsis: A recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Why? I'm in for anything involving the Kennedy assassination and this Tom Hanks-produced project featuring a loaded cast looks to be no exception. Since the anticipated film adaptation of Stephen King's 11/22/63 went into turnaround and won't be going in front of the cameras anytime soon I can get my fix from this. Focusing on characters in and around the Parkland hospital where Kennedy died is a novel idea just as long as it doesn't turn into another overstuffed Bobby.
4. Blue Caprice (Alexandre Moors, TBD)
Starring: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson
Synopsis: A narrative feature film inspired by the events known as the Beltway sniper attacks.
Why? Finally. The Beltway sniper movie. Part of me wondered if this would ever get a release but I'm glad it will, even if it's just limited or VOD. I'll take it. This is supposedly a really small-scale production which is appropriate considering the frighteningly claustrophobic nature of the crimes. There's a lot of interesting facets to this story that haven't been widely reported but from what I heard this will be more of a mood piece. Which is fine too. The released stills of Washington as John Allen Muhammad are downright chilling, as is the teaser trailer.
3. American Hustle (Dec.13)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, Louis C.K.
Synopsis: An FBI sting operation in the 1970s called Abscam leads to the conviction of United States Congressmen.
Why? While not much is known about this yet, it's hard to describe any movie directed by Russell and featuring these actors (especially Cooper and Lawrence) as a question mark The description almost makes it sound like Argo, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Russell's clearly in the zone right now having almost gotten a taste of gold this year with Silver Linings Playbook so this could be the one that pushes him over the top with either a Best Picture or Best Director win. Either way, this currently filming project is as close to a sure bet for creative greatness as possible. And you know it'll be ready by December. Russell works fast.
2. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, TBD)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller
Synopsis: The story of John du Pont, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and killed Olympic wrestler David Schultz (No, not THAT David Schultz) .
Why? Let's put it this way: Steve Carell is playing John du Pont. Carell tops the list of comedic actors I've always wanted to see tackle a super dark role and it doesn't get much darker than the psychotic billionaire murderer who killed Schultz. Fascinating story. Ingenious casting. And it's from the director of Moneyball. Just look at that picture of Ruffalo as Schultz. It really doesn't get any more intriguing than this. I'm anticipating a potential nomination for Carell and it's definitely possible we're looking at the movie of the year here.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, TBD)
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham
Synopsis: A singer-songwriter navigates New York's folk music scene during the 1960s
Why? When the film (loosely based on sixties folk singer Dave Von Ronk's posthumously published memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street) had its release delayed last year and I read the somewhat flimsy synopsis, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Then that trailer hit. While I'm always interested in seeing what the Coens do, it's tough remembering a film of theirs I greatly anticipated ahead of its release. It always seems to be a case of respect rather than admiration with them and just a mild curiosity factor for whatever project is next. This feels like the first time they've made something that really feels in my wheelhouse. I love the time period and its music, and just from the glimpse we're given in the trailer, it's clear the effort was made to authentically capture it in all its glory, which is no small feat. Plus, you've got Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan as folk singers (doing their own singing) which from the brief glimpse in the trailer feels like strangely magical casting. We already know the Coens have it in them to release the best film of the year but this is the first time they seem armed with the ammunition to do so. It's their most promising project in years, and that's coming from someone who's liked pretty much everything they've done. If nothing else, we're at least guaranteed a memorable soundtrack. I haven't even seen it yet but just those two minutes make me not only want to see this movie, but literally live inside it.