I’ll admit it: a list looking ahead at the year’s best offerings is almost futile. When I made last year’s list, I chose 3 films that were later pushed back a year, 2 films that were eh, and 2 films that just plain stank. Only 3 I picked ended up being memorable (those were Inception, Black Swan, and Rabbit Hole). Many of the films that meant the most to us came out of nowhere or, more specifically, a little festival in Utah. Still, it’s worth getting excited by a whole slew of new films, even if we risk disappointment. If last year was any indication, there are many poignant experiences still to be had in the dark of a movie theatre.
With a screenplay near the top of 2009′s blacklist (a list compiling the most liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood) and produced by the ever-gifted Alexander Payne, Cedar Rapids is likely to be one of those few indie comedies actually worth getting off the couch for. Ed Helms plays a sheltered insurance salesman tasked with representing his company at a major convention in – you guessed it – Cedar Rapids, IA. John C. Reilly plays a convention veteran who breaks open Helm’s shell. It’s a simple set-up for a movie that we can only hope will transcend the “Midwest is dumb” cliché. (Feb. 11)
For the past year and a half, we’ve been closely monitoring this film due to the fact that half of us had its director Kelly Reichardt as a teacher. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival last fall to some very positive reviews, Meek’s Cutoff (which is named after a trail in Oregon and not after the consequences of an amputation) is Reichardt’s most elaborate and expensive movie yet. Called a “horror movie in slow-motion” and presented in a nearly square 1.33 aspect ratio, the Western finally sees U.S. distribution later this spring. We’ll all be there, and we won’t be the only ones. (Apr. 8 )
Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) is two for two, as are the English writer-stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). The supporting cast is fully packed with some of the best comic actors from television in the last decade (Jane Lynch, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor). Only potential problem? It’s about a talking alien stoner. (Apr. 15)
Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who thought Cloverfield was great. Going in expecting nothing special, I was gripped by how personal the horror felt presented from the POV of a doofus’ camcorder. I forgave the shakiness, the holes in the plot, the lesser developed characters. J.J. Abrams originally conceived Super 8 as a prequel of sorts to Cloverfield and the film looks to be similar in tone and style, which is welcome news to me, but the director resists giving much away ahead of time, saying “I don’t know about you, but I feel I get so over informed that by the time a movie’s released, I don’t care. I’ve seen it.” (Jun. 10)
Miranda July’s second feature is a sci-fi-ish relationship drama narrated by a cat. She might be the only filmmaker who can pull that off, considering, in Me and You and Everyone We Know, she made a 4 year old’s engagement in cybersex seem endearing. (TBA)
Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung. Viggo Mortenson as Sigmund Freud. David Cronenberg. Enough said. (TBA)
After a mysterious Terrence Malick-long absence from cinema, Nebraska’s Alexander Payne returns with his first film in 7 years, which stars George Clooney as a Hawaiian attorney who takes his children on a road trip to seek out his wife’s lover after she is killed in an boating accident. Speaking about his earlier films – some of the most incisive American social comedies from the last couple decades (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election) – Payne has repeatedly expressed his desire to make a ‘great film like La Dolca Vita,’ believing his previous films were merely good. Road trips, infidelity and death are not unfamiliar territory for Payne, so it’ll be interesting to see how he rises to his own ambitious standard, if he does. (TBA)
Can lightening strike twice for Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman? In this follow-up to Juno, Charlize Theron stars as a divorced young adult novelist who returns to her hometown to stalk an old flame, who is now married. Sounds great, but then again, this fall I kept seeing YA’s film runner (the person tasked with carrying rolls of shot film to the film lab) repeatedly dropping boxes of film, which is more than a little discouraging. (TBA)
Let Me In and now THIS? Is it that we think the Swedes can’t direct movies? Or is it that American audiences don’t feel like reading subtitles? I guess I’m as guilty as the next guy: I didn’t see any of the Millennium films but will probably show up to this version, directed by David Fincher. (Dec. 21)
Just kidding. (Dec 25)
Out of Spielberg’s TWO planned December releases, I’m (maybe ignorantly) inclined to only include this one because it doesn’t have “unicorn” in the title. The big titan of American cinema has been failing critically with blockbusters recently, so his choosing to direct a small historical film populated with mostly unknowns is a smart change of pace, even if the film does revolve around horses. (Dec. 28)
Ten other films to look out for: Set Me Free (Dardenne Bros.), The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick), Love (Michael Haneke), Harry Potter 7, pt. 2, The Ides of March (George Clooney), Hugo Cabret (Martin Scorscese), The Beaver (Jodie Foster), Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold), The Sitter (David Gordon Green), Cars 2 and The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr).