2011 came and went. The Academy Awards have been decided. Any sort of awards conversation is taking a backseat as pundits sift through the potential films that will debut at various festivals. Early last year, I had been skeptical as to the quality of films on the horizon, only to find myself quite taken by the year on the whole. Obviously there are plenty of films still to be announced, as is often the case (films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, Take Shelter, and Shame weren’t initially on my radar). But 2012 is looking like quite an impressive year, ushering in the returns of various directors who have been on hiatus for quite some time.
Just a note: I’ve omitted films that I suspect won’t be completed by year’s end. This is particularly in reference to the two features that Terrence Malick has in production. Despite being listed on IMDB as a 2012 release, The Tree of Life was in post-production for several years before seeing the light of day in 2011. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be much going on with Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Synecdoche, New York. But those are cases where I’d love to be proven wrong. So let’s begin.
Following 2010’s Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance looks back to Ryan Gosling for his third effort. Cianfrance had an extremely difficult time getting Blue Valentine released, but obviously the painstaking ordeal has afforded him the finance to pursue this project that had apparently been in the backburner for several years. The Place Beyond the Pines seems to be fairly typical material –it appears to recall Drive to a certain extent. But like what Nicholas Winding Refn brought to Drive, there’s a level of stylism that Cianfrance brought to Blue Valentine that took fairly rote material and turned it into nothing short of a revelation. With an eclectic cast including Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, and Ray Liotta, the picture looks promising and will undoubtedly be looked upon with curiosity when it makes its rounds on the festival circuit this year.
I’m not quite as taken by Nolan’s oeuvre as most others are. Nor am I all too impressed with what he has done with the Batman franchise (for my money, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns remains the best picture in the franchise). But I can’t argue with the general direction that The Dark Knight Rises seems to be going. For one, it’s starring some of the most promising actors in recent years, with Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt adding to an already illustrious cast. Perhaps even more promising is that Nolan seems to be adapting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Chuck Dixon’s Knightfall graphic novels – some of the best arcs in the storied legacy of the character.
Based entirely on its premise, Moonrise Kingdom sounds atypical for a Wes Anderson film. The majority of the film’s cast hasn’t even appeared in a previous Anderson film (minus Jason Schwartzman, of course). But after some thought, the concept itself may not play to Anderson’s tendencies, but neither did Fantastic Mr. Fox, and that picture oozed of Anderson’s writing and directorial tendencies. Simply put though, the mere fact that Moonrise Kingdom appears to be such a departure for Anderson piqued my interest. But even if it was the same old rethread of previous material, I don’t think I would mind all that much either – the man is one of the few working directors whose filmography has been blemish-free.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive sounds remarkable, even if the leading role sounds more suited for someone like Jean-Claude Van Damme than Ryan Gosling. But even with Drive, the bravado and masculine posturing that Gosling displayed was impressive, so the role of a Bangkok cop who fights in Thai-boxing matches might not be that much of a stretch. And who are we kidding? Refn will take whatever hokey material he gets a hold of and turn it into something of stylistic value with ease. I’m extremely eager to see how Refn captures the spirit of his Bangkok setting, especially given how he handled the gorgeous Los Angeles setting in Drive.
Stoker’s premise functions as a sort of modernized version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. And its cast, sporting the excellent Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman, seems capable. But what I’m most interested in is seeing Korean director Park Chan-wook work in another language. With an excellent filmography, including Lady Vengeance and Thirst, Chan-wook is an established Korean director. But the track record for directors moving out of their home language is less than stellar; there are many question marks around the project. Still, given that Chan-wook has brought along his cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, I’m confident Stoker will maintain Chan-wook’s enduring sense of visual flare and rich compositions. Here’s hoping the material, which was on 2010’s list of best unproduced screenplays, is something that Chan-wook can mold into a masterwork.
Amour’s a film that in ordinary hands would come across as mundane and typical. But with Haneke, his observations on human behavior tend to be anchored in deep cynicism. It makes for some nasty pictures, such as his observations on violence in Funny Games or the nature of survival in Time of the Wolf. But despite his cynicism, there’s a great deal of truth that he’s exploring with each of his films With Amour, he’s going to be delving deeply into the nature of marriage and its sustainability following a crisis – it’s undoubtedly going to be a conversation piece. And given that Haneke will be collaborating with, winner of Cannes’ Best Actress for Haneke’s own The Piano Teacher, Amour certainly has a lot of things going for it.
Andrew Dominik’s 2007 feature, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was not just one of the best pictures of its year, but one of the best films of the decade. It garnered critical praise, though disappointingly languished in the box office. Its aftershock can be felt largely on the basis of what it has done for Brad Pitt. Following the film, Pitt would choose more difficult and trying roles (perhaps as a response to critics’ lukewarm response to his performance in Jesse James), working with directors like Terrence Malick, the Coen Brothers, and Quentin Tarantino. Five years later, Dominik and Pitt collaborate again, in what looks to be a very gritty and dark crime drama. The stakes are high for Dominik, who will be attempting to cement his position as a promising director.
It’s a Quentin Tarantino film. Since Pulp Fiction, it’s hard to argue that the man has garnered enough good-will to make any of his pictures worth viewing. And given his return to form with 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, it’s easy to understand the excitement surrounding the film. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Chrisoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a slew of others, the self-proclaimed “Southern” genre picture has all the makings for an exciting escape. Its awards implications are a bit hazy, but with The Weinstein Company in tow, the picture definitely has the resources to make a splash. Three times might be the charm, as Tarantino will no doubt be vying for Best Director honors.
I’m being optimistic. On a formal level, The Grandmasters will undoubtedly impress. While some may question the prospects of Wong Kar Wai working in genre territory, it has always struck me as an obvious progression (or perhaps diversion) for his career. So much of his filmmaking technique depends on a sort of hyperkinetic method of filmmaking. And after so many films dealing with the brooding associated with unrequited love, it makes sense that he would dapple in a territory renowned for its stylistic flare. But the issue at this point is when. Reportedly completed in 2010, the film has seen numerous delays and reshoots. It’s not a positive sign, but it doesn’t hinder my excitement for the film.
It’s been five years since There Will Be Blood. Five years since Paul Thomas Anderson has made a film. And well, it’s been a long wait. My early screening of There Will Be Blood was a significant turning point in how I understood films. I consumed his films, writing a thesis paper on There Will Be Blood in collegeand adopting it, along with Punch-Drunk Love, as two of my all-time favorite films. With The Master, Anderson reunites with Philip Seymour Hoffman, where the two apparently take upon the origins of Scientology. It’s a dense and topical subject – befitting for the best contemporary American auteur. And with The Weinstein Company distributing the picture, it looks like it could be Anderson’s comeback year.