Looking back at my list for the most anticipated films of 2012, I’d like to think that my ability to sniff out some of last year’s best films were on the mark. Hopefully this year’s list, which includes some holdovers from my 2012 list, maintains the same level of quality. Still, there will undoubtedly be plenty of surprises along the way – films like Cosmopolis and Magic Mike were of unexpected cinematic value while films like Holy Motors and Girl Walk//All Day were new discoveries. The bar was set high with 2012, though 2013 certainly looks capable of clearing it.
Commercial success eluded Jason Reitman on his previous effort, Young Adult, even as it marked the director’s most impressive display of technique to date. Labor Day, an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel, looks to follow suite with Reitman’s penchant for exploring the psyche of a ne’er-do-well. The film contends with an agoraphobic mother (Kate Winslet) and her son as they harbor a convicted murderer. The mother’s disease is further compounded by an absent paternal figure, offering what could be an especially introspective dramatic effort, which should be combined with Reitman’s interjecting with his comedic sensibility. Reitman’s been on an uptrend, and with films like Juno, Up in the Air, and the aforementioned Young Adult to his credit, any film of his is one worth watching.
A part of my original 2012 list, Stoker was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight. Despite a somewhat divisive showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I’m quite eager to see Park Chan-wook’s first English effort. With fellow South Korean countryman Kim Jee-woon impressing with his genre work in The Last Stand, I have high hopes that Chan-wook’s grisly sophistication will provide yet another remarkable effort. The man has made great strides and paid his dues for well over a decade now (with films like Oldboy and Thirst to his credit). There’s no telling how his work translates when utilizing a different tongue.
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit financed by Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, one has to know that her patronage undoubtedly supports the truly gifted filmmakers of the time. In what will be Spike Jonze’s fourth (has it really only been four?) feature film, the director writes his first script as he probes the idea of a man falling in love with an inanimate object. Conceptually speaking, it all falls in line with the existential quests that plague all of Jonze’s protagonists. Despite a limited filmography, one can hope that this writer/director driven vehicle can propel Jonze back into the limelight.
With both Magic Mike and Haywire finding a place on my top ten films of 2012, it’s no surprise that I’m anticipating Soderbergh’s last feature film (if the news of his retirement is to be believed). Marketed as something of a medical thriller, various nods to Soderbergh’s more gender-driven themes remain prevalent, serving as an extension of his subversive gender treaties in the aforementioned Haywire and Magic Mike. Whether the film truly ends up being his final theatrical release is left to be seen, but there’s no denying the director produces work of the highest caliber and posits ambitious statements that subvert traditional narrative expectations while fulfilling an integral entertainment component – simply put, he’s one of the best contemporary American directors out there.
As one American director steps aside, another is looking to cement his spot. With his small, but critically lauded debut, Shotgun Stories, and following it up with the even better Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols is truly on the cusp of achieving larger critical and commercial success. Mud debuted last year at the Cannes Film Festival – its modest reception didn’t have many distributors looking to pick up the picture. But as Matthew McConaughey’s stock continues to rise, Lionsgate and Roadside Entertainment swept the film up and quickly positioned the picture for a 2013 release. Mud’s Sundance response has been particularly more positive from that of Cannes and as McConaughey has multiple projects lined up for the year (including a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street), there’s lot of buzz and momentum riding on Nichols’ picture.
Keeping up the theme of directors attempting to solidify their growing notoriety, Steve McQueen’s follow-up to his sex addict film Shame brings him to the mid-1800s New York. With a premise that deals with a northern black man being kidnapped and sold into slavery, the gravity and seriousness in which McQueen will delve into will not be for the faint of heart. With films like Hunger and Shame to his credit, the director’s reliance on primal audacity will no doubt register throughout Twelve Years a Slave. In the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, one has to wonder how McQueen will deconstruct the concept of slavery. While one can argue that Tarantino made light of the subject in his picture, McQueen will certainly not go that route – Twelve Years a Slave may as well be an endurance test for sheer brutality. But the command and artistic integrity that McQueen has shown in his previous films make any of his films necessary viewings.
“Restrained” may be the best way to describe James Gray’s previous two pictures, We Own the Night and Two Lovers. Both possess an aura of refinement in design as they contend with broad emotional terrain that can easily slip into melodrama. Both films, Two Lovers in particular, exude traditionalism that I hope to see in Gray’s follow-up. Taking place in the 1920s and featuring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, Lowlife involves prostitution, immigration, and magic. The film may have the trappings of the overtly melodramatic – but that can be the case for many of Gray’s other films. To see him overcome this and construct a film of these components with the same distinction that he brought to Two Lovers is something I am eagerly awaiting.
Appearing again from my 2012 list, The Grandmaster is simply on this list for Wong Kar Wai. Having recently immersed in his output, my interest in The Grandmaster is somewhat restrained. Rewatches of Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love have been fruitful, but can he find a balance between the kinetic energy that defined his early work with the stunning refinement of his later work? And dealing in genre will be an interesting diversion for the director – perhaps it’s that unknown aspect of how Wong Kar Wai will adapt to new territory that makes The Grandmaster so interesting. But the images from the film remain remarkably beautiful – it’s a question mark as to how it comes together thematically and narratively.
Nine years after Before Sunset and nearly two decades since Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine have truly become one of cinema most precious couples. An enduring love that transcends time and space, one can hardly believe the initial disapproval of having a sequel to the 1995 original. But given that Before Sunset actually turned out to be better than its predecessor, the news that Jesse and Celine will have a third outing was met with warm embrace. And given its glowing reaction at the Sundance Film Festival, it looks like Richard Linklater has cleared Before Midnight’s ridiculously high bar of expectations. It’s something of a wonder that Linklater has essentially constructed a franchise out of following the lives of two people who meet every so often to talk – but the fact that he has is something to be savored in an era where cinematic franchises are defined by their giant robots and/or men in tights.
Often times, overwhelming ambition and scope are halted by sincere simplicity. Frances Ha, a film about a girl (Greta Gerwig in the title role) trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, may not inspire much thought. But coming from Noah Baumbach, a man responsible for small films like The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg has a particular knack to blindside you with bold statements on living. Lingering silences and sharp-witted dialogue go hand-in-hand with his films as he explores characters who are attempting to get some sort of handle on their lives. Frances Ha looks to continue that exploration, and quite frankly, his aesthetic decisions such as the black and white photography from Wendy and Lucy cinematographer, only enhance the sense of yearning and unrequited happiness that fills so many of Baumbach’s films.
The films on this list reflect a specific yearning for cinema that reduces the noise and settles in a place where thoughts can enter, where I can see a little bit of myself. Noah Baumbach has done that on multiple occasions with his films and that’s why Frances Ha is my most anticipated film of the year.