Any new Wes Anderson film is cause for excitement, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. It has all the airy and colorful charm of the Anderson-verse, and the always-expected brilliant casting that makes his films a who's who of comedic brilliance. I don't know if I'm more excited for Ralph Fiennes or the return of William Dafoe, who was my favorite player from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (which is also my favorite Anderson film). Although I'll have to wait until March to start my cinematic year properly (January looks downright abysmal. February shows some slight promise, but nothing that I couldn't wait to see at home), this looks like a good kick-off to the year.
Need for Speed (March 14)
I was going to see this movie solely to help get Aaron Paul into the superstar stratosphere he deserves, but then I found a truly exciting reason to see this film: the stunts. The director, Scott Waugh, has made it a point to use real cars as much as possible and to delegate CGI to a "last resort" position. The fact that it's also a revenge story with its roots planted in 1970's car culture films also sets it apart from the norm and tickles my particular fancies. It'd be nice for this sub-genre of action film to break free from the shadow of Fast & Furious, and this looks like the film that could do it.
Cheap Thrills (March 21)
Drafthouse Films has consistently been putting out incredible pictures, both newly produced and rediscovered gems. Cheap Thrills doesn't look like it's going to break that pattern. With a script co-written by Troma graduate Trent Haaga, David Koechner going full-on scumbag and a plot so simple that it can pretty much go anywhere, I'm easily sold. This actually looks like a very interesting way to tell a horror story, and the genre can always use a shot of originality and audacity. This looks like it will have both of those in spades. And if you haven't seen the Fantastic Fest video where they showed the movie and actually lived out the premise of the film, you gotta see it. Tattoos and sriracha in some uncomfortable places.
Nymphomanic: Volume 1 & 2 (March 21/April 18)
Lars von Trier has always been a master of transgression, but he's not just in it for shock value. No matter how ugly he gets, there's always an element of dark beauty to his work. Nymphomaniac looks to be his magnum opus, with an unending cast of notables and a running time spanning two films. We're supposed to get a version later down the road that splices the two films together (which is why I'm counting these two films as one entry), but considering the subject matter and the intensity with which the director is approaching it, maybe we're going to need that little breather in between. Oh yeah, and if you didn't figure out that the trailer for a film called Nymphomaniac was NSFW, I hope you have a good severance package lined up. ...Or a really kinky boss.
Noah (March 28)
Darren Aronofsky is one of our greatest living filmmakers. I contend that not only has he never directed a bad film, but that every film he has done is a masterpiece. Noah looks to be his first chance to play with the biggest box of toys this medium can offer. This is also a story he's been wanting to tell for a very long time. This film is bound to be controversial since it's not going to be some cookie-cutter Sunday school story, like the atrocious and hackneyed Son of God, but rather a strange and sweeping epic that leaves the biblical dogma at the door in favor of presenting a tale in a way you've never thought of before. I have my reservations about the film (Russell Crowe and some dodgy CGI), but I have utter faith that whatever we get will definitely be worth talking about.
The Raid 2: Berendal (March 28)
The Raid is one of the best action movies of the last decade, period. If you haven't seen it and you love some stylish, brutal and fantastically choreographed ultra-violence, you are missing out. With writer/director Gareth Evans returning, this looks to be an even more streamlined and harsh story than before, with a much larger scope. The trailer alone is one of the most thrilling things I've watched all year. If The Raid 2 lives up to its predecessor, we could be in store for one of the best sequels of all time.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4)
I'm a DC Comics boy, tried and true. However, even I can't deny that Marvel is consistently knocking it out of the park ever since The Avengers hit it big, and 2014 looks to be the year they corner the market, starting with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel knows they can't keep doing the same superhero-y stuff over and over again, and this looks to be a great example of breaking that mold. Focusing on the espionage and thriller aspects (interspersed with the expected action) could make this one of Marvel's most complex films in terms of its morality. Even Cap seems to have issues with how the world that he's a part of works. This looks like the start of a shady second act for Marvel's Phase Two, and I love it.
Transcendence (April 18)
Christopher Nolan's frequent cinematographer Wally Pfister (who provided Nolan's Batman films with one of their greatest aspects) makes his directorial debut with Transcendence. But, to be frank, I don't really care about that. What's got me hooked is the heady sci-fi story that feels ripped right out of the late 60's and 70's era of the genre. A lot of people have compared this to The Lawnmower Man, but I see it more as a nod to something like Colossus: The Forbin Project. There's a stark tone to the film that this trailer presents, so I don't think we're in for something as hyperactive and half-baked as The Lawnmower Man. And it's a chance to see Johnny Depp look like a regular person without a funny hat for once! It's been too long.
The Sacrament (May 1)
Ti West is one of horror's rising stars, offering a more classic aesthetic and mood with his films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers (which I need to see again). Even his posters feel like they are from a bygone era, and it looks like he's got the same mindset when it comes to his next film, The Sacrament. The real hook of this story is the idea that it's a heavily fictionalized version of the infamous "Jonestown" mass suicide/murder that took place in 1978. Such dark and controversial subject matter seems ripe for exploration, and I know West won't shy away from the grim despondency and cult mania that is integral to the story. If all the stars align, this could shape up to be his best picture to date.
Godzilla (May 16)
When it was announced that Gareth Edwards, writer/director of the truly unique and gorgeous Monsters, was going to be in charge of bringing everyone's favorite city-destroying mega lizard to the big screen, I wept with joy. Why? Because I knew it meant a return to the serious and socially aware tone of the original 1954 film. While I enjoy a silly bit of monster brawl fun just as much as the next kaiju fan, we already had that itch scratched earlier this year by the fantastic Pacific Rim (which was also produced and distributed by Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures. They sure do love their giant monster flicks). After the first trailer landed, I immediately knew that this wasn't going to be a "fun" picture, but that's exactly what I wanted: a somber take on the property that utilizes the Big G as a symbol (in the original, he reflects the horrors of nuclear destruction. Is this version a comment on nature fighting back at us, or our own machine-like capability for mass destruction?) rather than a way to sell action figures and video games. If I was forced to name my most anticipated movie of 2014, this would be it.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23)
X-Men: First Class not only proved that the franchise still had legs, but that it was capable of producing its best output yet. Now, with The Avengers establishing a truly imposing megaverse of characters and worlds, Fox feels compelled to do the same with their Marvel property. Will it work? While I'm definitely hesitant, my optimism outweighs my worries. Between the great leading cast (all those returning members from earlier flicks will probably be cameos, at best, but we'll still get some good time with a lot of the principal mutants) and another period of history to play around in, the pieces are in place for something enormously fun. Let's hope that Bryan Singer and crew know how to utilize those pieces.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best summer blockbuster films in recent memory. Smart and focused, it's easily one of my top three favorite films in the entire Apes franchise, and one of my favorite films of 2011. The sequel looks to be a great second act in the story leading up to humanity's eventual downfall. If the focus remains on Caesar as the main character and the film doesn't hold back on the eventual fate of the human race, this could possibly top its predecessor. If Andy Serkis doesn't get the commendations he deserves by this film, I will fling some poo at Academy people.
Jupiter Ascending (July 18)
I would be hard pressed to think of a film that blew me away like Cloud Atlas did last year. Ten years from now, it will be rediscovered as a landmark achievement in the medium. While Jupiter Ascending doesn't look quite as trailblazing, what it does look like is tons of fun. This is the Wachowski's opulent kaleidoscope version of something like Dune. The trailer feels pulpy in all the right ways and this kind of over-the-top sci-fi is something the movie theater could use more of (RIP John Carter). It probably won't be a masterpiece, but it certainly looks like it will be a blast to watch.
Big Eyes (August ?)
Remember when a Tim Burton movie was something to look forward to? Some of you readers may not even be old enough to know such a time. But, I hold out hope that Big Eyes could be the film that reminds us of the filmmaker Tim Burton used to be before he metamorphosed into a brand name with a pulse. Based on a true story (and scripted by Burton's team from his best film, Ed Wood) about an artist whose husband takes credit for her work, the film has Burton working with some new faces like Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz and Jason Schwartzman instead of his usual stable of Johnny Depp and his wife. I feel like Fox Mulder when it comes to Tim Burton: I want to believe. Prove me right, Tim.
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1)
While it's old news that Marvel has been doing exceeding well at the box office, 2014 looks to be the year they unquestionably dominate the playing field. And out of all their output coming in the new year, none has me more excited than Guardians of the Galaxy. Mostly due to the involvement of writer/director James Gunn (whose film Super should be mandatory viewing), but also because of the delightful weirdness of the property. While I tout myself as a fairly knowledgeable geek, I'm mostly ignorant of the property and characters the film is based on, and that makes me giddy. Now knowing what's in store makes the possibilities endlessly surprising. If this is the film that really delves into Marvel's wackier cosmic elements, we'll be in for a treat.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (August 22)
I caught Sin City on TV a few weeks back, and while the novelty of the film's aesthetic hasn't aged very well, the two-fisted dialogue by Frank Miller and gritty fun that the majority of the cast was having (did I just choose to forget a sleepwalking performance by Clive Owen?) still makes it a worthwhile watch. I have high hopes for Robert Rodriguez's second outing into this universe. Adding in Josh Brolin is almost always a good sign, and the promise of original stories penned by Miller is another big draw. If they can update the look and work out some of the clunkier technical aspects, this could definitely be a big step up from the original.
The Green Inferno (September 5)
I'm a big fan of Eli Roth. I think Hostel: Part II is both a great sequel and a great commentary on sequels. Roth's newest outing is from a sub-genre of horror we haven't heard from in decades: the jungle cannibal film. Leave it to Roth to dive headfirst into a genre notorious for graphic and transgressive violence. If early screening reports are to be believed, this could be one of the year's best horror films. I certainly hope it gets Roth back into the director's chair, and maybe even gets us that feature-length version of Thanksgiving. If that's the only thing it accomplishes, this film is a success in my book.
The Interview (October 10)
I've been a big fan of Seth Rogen for a while now (Observe and Report is my favorite film of 2009 and one of my top ten favorite comedies of all time) and when he's partnered with frequent collaborator and friend James Franco, magic almost always happens. The Interview is shaping up to be another hard-hitting barrel of laughs from the duo that gave us the surprisingly violent combo of Pineapple Express and This Is the End. The idea of these two getting caught up in an international assassination plot just reeks of gruesomely hilarious potential. If getting these kinds of movies out of Rogen means having to suffer through saccharine drivel like The Guilt Trip, I'll grin and bear it.
Big Hero 6 (November 7)
Another Marvel film? Yup, but this one has some serious distinction: it's the first animated feature film to come out of the Disney/Marvel merger. While Marvel is off making their shared universe, smaller universes can exist in animation where you can get away with certain things that may not translate as well to live action. And Big Hero 6 sounds like it's going to be a cartoonier take on The Avengers, with a team of six superheroes selected by the government. But with names like Wasabi-No-Ginger, Honey Lemon and GoGo Tomago, this sounds like a much more gonzo take on the superhero team premise. Marvel has made me a convert (at least where their movies are concerned), but the fact that they could start making some really insane animated movies gives me even more reason to get pumped.
Interstellar (November 7)
This is another instance of Christopher Nolan utilizing his Batman clout to create something deeply personal. Last time that happened, we got Inception. This looks to be another film in that same operatic vein. This trailer alone is one of the most profoundly moving things I've seen in a while, and if the movie carries that same weight, it will be truly special. The fact that it's a science fiction tale about the importance of space travel (and possibly colonization?) and what that means to us as a species makes it pluck my heartstrings even harder. And at this point, Matthew McConaughey read stereo instructions and I would listen attentively. Man, this one is going to be a long wait.
Dumb & Dumber To (November 14)
Out of all the entries on this list, this one fills me with the most unease. Dumb & Dumber is one of the best comedies of the nineties and probably the Farrelly brothers' best film (I will accept an argument for Kingpin). Trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice is tough, especially with a twenty year gap between films. But man, if they pull it off, I will be there on opening day. The chemistry between Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels was pitch perfect the first time around, and I have to believe that doesn't fade away easily. Plus, the world needs the kind of intelligently stupid comedy that the Farrelly's are so good at when they are firing on all cylinders. This one is a reserved excitement, but that stupid optimism keeps it here on the list.
I used to be a big champion of Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Over time, I've become less and less enthused with his output. Cop Out was one of 2010's worst films and Red State was enormously disappointing. Still, there's this shred of optimism that I hold onto when it comes to artists, and Smith is no exception. That optimism is boosted by the insane premise of his upcoming film, Tusk. Based on a bogus ad offering room and board to an occupant willing to live in a walrus costume, the film is actually another horror outing for Smith (if you consider Red State horror) and seems to inhabit the realm of mad scientist movies. I would love for Smith to make a movie that reinvigorates my interest in him. Tusk sounds bizarre enough that I have to at least try.
I knew absolutely nothing about the true story behind Foxcatcher other than what the pulled trailer (which you can sort of view here) had showcased. That trailer hooked me instantly with an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell and a tone so frightening and cold that only bad things could be in store. Finding out the story involves a paranoid schizophrenic coach and the lengths he'll go to ensure what he thinks is best for his athlete made this a must-see. This is going to be an awards contender for sure, and the kind that I like: controversial and gloomy.
When Jon Stewart went on hiatus from hosting The Daily Show to write and direct a feature film, I immediately decided that whatever it was had to be seen by me. When it turned out to be an adaptation of Maziar Bahari's harrowing imprisonment at the hands of the Iranian government, I was double sold. I haven't read Bahari's memoirs, but I think I'll keep it that way. From his appearances on The Daily Show and from hearing about why Stewart felt his story was an important one to tell, I think I have just enough knowledge to keep me surprised. I'm sure there will be a good dose of humor throughout, but I'm expecting this will be one of the more moving films to come out next year.
Inherent Vice (TBA)
Paul Thomas Anderson adapting Thomas Pynchon and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Benecio del Toro and Martin Short. 'Nuff. Said. Seriously though, this could be a film about a bunch of people sitting on a porch and trading cake recipes for three hours and I'd be compelled to see it. The fact that it's a drug-fueled detective story set in early 70's Los Angeles just makes it even more enticing. This seems like a match made in heaven when it comes to the material and those in charge of executing it. If this isn't one of the best films of 2014, it will be an enormous shock.
And there you have it! Did I miss something? Are you musical nerds excited for Into the Woods and Annie? Does anyone actually think I, Frankenstein will even be remotely good? I guess we'll all find out together. Here's to a better year than the last one (which means more blog posts, I swear)!