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What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski.

20 to see in 2014

I’ve still not seen a number of my 2013 picks (Inside Lewyn Davis, The Family, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 12 Years a Slave, a couple of which have been received as clunkers). Some I have seen proved vague disappointments (Elysium, The World’s End, STID, The Lone Ranger) while two here are repeats from 2013 due to shifting schedules (Calvary, Monuments Men; The Zero Theorem has been shown at festivals, but hasn’t yet gone on general release).

This year I came up with 10 fairly easily, but more than that was a bit of a struggle. Hopefully that’s a sign that there will be pleasant surprises from left of field, rather than sub-par quality all round.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson returns after general acclaim and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Moonrise Kingdom. Much as I liked that film, and his expanding repertory company choices (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton), I wasn’t quite as wowed as some. Then again, I didn’t find The Darjeeling Limited a crushing disappointment, as it seemed did many of his fans. The only Anderson picture that has failed to connect is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but he has yet to equal his masterpiece, The Royal Tennenbaums

There’s a suggestion of the affected episodic but interweaving narratives found there in the trailer for Hotel, a period piece (set between WWI and WWII) revolving around the titular establishment, it’s guests, and employees. Ralph Fiennes’ concierge is central, and looks to be having a whale of a time, but the cast as a embarrassingly good across the board; Bill Murray (of course) Owen Wilson (of course), Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Norton, Tilda Swinton, F Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Lea Seydoux, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, Mathieu Alamiric. There’s always the chance that the affected and quirky epithets that follow Anderson around have finally done for him, but I’ll remain optimistic until evidence indicates otherwise.




2. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan retools a script by brother Jonathan, originally intended for Spielberg. The teaser trailer puts the emphasis on the awe and wonder of new frontiers and exploration, which is very much the ‘berg. I’d be surprised if Nolan can keep from allowing a darker vibration to intrude. This is his first picture since Following not to be lensed by Wally Pfister (Tomas Aldredson’s DP Hoyt Van Hoytema replaces him, as he is off directing his debut; see below). 

I’ll readily admit that the cast doesn’t scream, “Watch me!” the way Inception’s did. Michael Caine’s a given, John Lithgow can do no wrong. McConaughey’s been doing great work lately, but he really does need the role to be there; is this more than a standard issue hero? Anne Hathaway sucked up that Oscar for cutting her hair, but she didn’t really make her Catwoman terribly memorable (an undernourished role). Jessica Chastain is great. But… Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace? It’s a list of actors I’d never go out of my way to see perform. Even if he took a dent with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan gets the benefit of the doubt; since taking on Bat duties his non-Bat movies have been masterpieces. I’m not so confident that this tale of wormholes and time travel can exceed Inception or The Prestige, but I do expect its director to be aiming laudably high.





3. Calvary

As per 2013: Jon Michael McDonagh’s debut feature The Guard was shot through with the same streak of black comedy as his brother Martin’s In Bruges. Ultimately, it was lighter and more optimistic. Whether that can be said of Calvary remains to be seen. McDonagh has commented that, while humorous, it is much more serious in tone and dramatic in narrative than The Guard. Brendan Gleeson returns as the director-writer’s lead of choice, a Catholic priest who finds himself on dangerous ground after one of his parishioners threatens his life. The eclectic cast includes Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly and Dylan Moran.





4. Noah

Darren Aronofsky went from difficult director of challenging material to critics’ darling and box office sensation with Black Swan. He also earned a Best Director Oscar nomination. Suddenly he was being asked what he’d like to do next, which turned out to be $100m+ passion project based on the story of the Biblical flood. But this isn’t your standard Cecile B De Mille Hollywood epic, even if Russell Crowe (in the title role) has become as identified with historical juggernauts as De Mille’s go-to-guy Chuck Heston. It’s also got Ray Winstone in it, which will bring a story down to Earth with a bump as surely as casting John Wayne as a Roman centurion.

Aronofsky has included all sorts of oft-ignored strangeness, not least oldest man Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and offspring of fallen angels the Nephilim. Noah isn’t set to be a cheery Dr Doolittle-esque animal lover, and the togs worn by all and sundry appear on the designer-primitive side. Reportedly test screenings have been mixed, and the director is under pressure to neuter the more outlandish elements. As things stand, there are doubts that the Christian crowd will show up (The Passion of the Christ ticket, vast and out there, but almost impossible to tap unless you’re very canny; hence not a great idea to spend enormous sums while holding out that vague hope). Worse, the early trailer has been distinctly underwhelming, most likely because it is underplaying the off-the-wall aspects. Still, if there’s a Director’s Cut of a Biblical monster awaiting discovery after a mangled cinema release, this is probably it.




5. A Most Wanted Man

Anton Corbijn’s transition from photographer and music video director to filmmaker has been seamless and universally acclaimed. He follows sophomore existential assassin pic The American with another journey into shadowy worlds in this film of John Le Carré’s 2008 novel. Le Carré expectedly weaves his tale around the world of espionage, but his targets are highly topical; the US’s rendition policy leads the way, with money laundering bringing up the rear. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Bruhl, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and Willem Dafoe. Le Carré adaptations are rightly back in vogue, although the War on Terror has rarely made good box office. Still, the last contemporary (ish) novel of his The Constant Gardener was both a critical and commercial success.


6. Transcendence

Wally Pfister graduates to first-time director and hooks his wagon to an original science fiction tale, the same year as the man-he-was-cinematographer-for Nolan wins out for the number of syllables in his one word title. This sounds like it could carry a hefty dollop of cheese with it, as Johnny Depp’s dying scientist downloads his mind into a computer and then runs amok. Somewhere between Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Lawnmower Man and Demon Seed? It sounds like the kind of thing that should have been made in the ‘70s, which means that even if it’s a failure it probably has cult movie written all over it. Writer Jack Paglen has already moved on to Prometheus 2, which is either a vote of confidence or a prison sentence. A much better supporting cast than Nolan’s effort, at very least; Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, Paul Bettany.



7. Maps to the Stars

Cosmopolis was either pretentious twaddle or a dazzling, surreal satire of the financial system that has brought us near to ruin, depending on your side of the fence. I loved it, and I’ve generally found David Cronenberg more interesting since he has moved beyond the confines of body horror. He may have no idea why The Shining is a great horror movie, but his work has never been more unexpected. Reteaming with Robert Pattison, who moves from being driven in a limo to driving one, the director continues his overview of the madness of the Western World with a “very acerbic and satirical” evisceration of Hollywood. The fine cast includes Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Fisher as herself (who always has much to say Tinseltown excess and the addictions of child actors, both of which this deals with).


8. Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon’s ‘70s-set 2009 novel, in which pothead detective Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, reteaming with Anderson following The Master) looks into the disappearance of a former girlfriend. The veneration of Anderson in some quarters can be off-putting, but he’s an always-distinctive filmmaker (even if the end result is the unholy mess that is Magnolia). Could this evoke the memory of other retro-noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential by way of Altman’s The Long Goodbye and the Coens' The Big Lebowski? I don’t know, I haven’t read the book. But with a cast including Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone and Martin Short there should be plenty of pleasant distractions.


9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I doubt anyone, particularly terminally average production line studio Fox, expected Rise of the Planet of the Apes would seize the public imagination. I mean to say, James Franco was cast in the lead. A sure sign of movie blight and box office blunder. Against the odds (and reported editing suite interference) Rupert Wyatt’s semi-retelling of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was really rather good. It featured superbly rendered CGI chimps, a compelling motion capture performance from Andy Serkis, and managed to innovate within the trappings of a traditional science fiction thriller. Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) takes over for this sequel, picking up after a plague has decimated humanity. The apes are rightly front-and-centre on the posters but there are some jolly good human types too, including Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Jason Clarke.



10. Gone Girl

I suspect most David Fincher fans wanted to see him tackle the non-not-very-likely and not-very-like-him 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea reboot. Just because it would be something different from slightly redundant, well made but treading water, crime fare to which he returns to when he needs to beef up his bankability. This one is based on Gillian Flynn’s bestseller (and self-adapted), about the disappearance of a woman on the day of her wedding anniversary and the doubts over whether hubby has anything to do with it. 

As with any much-liked book, there has been inevitable naysaying over the casting choices. Most especially the really rather dull as an actor but not a bad as a director Ben Affleck in the husband role. Rosmaund Pike’s career gets a boost in the wife role and I have no arguments there, but the some of the casting is curious to say the least. Tyler Perry? I’ll see any Fincher feature, even when it is completely uncalled for (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) or an exercise in style over substance (Panic Room), but this does smack of picking a project for reasons of profile rather than passion.


11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I was completely underwhelmed by The First Avenger, a listless affair that unhelpfully hid Chris Evans’ light under a bushel. The Winter Soldier, taking its cues from ‘70s conspiracy thrillers, promises to redress matters. The first trailer also suggests that TV comedy writes/directors/producers Anthony and Joe Russo have more than risen to the challenge of mega-budget action (they aren’t credited on the script). I’m not wholly convinced by Guardians of the Galaxy (I’d like to be wrong) but this one could achieve the difficult Iron Man Three trick of being a good superhero movie, a good sequel, and a good movie in its own right.



12. Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman’s latest is getting understandable attention due to what it reminds people of, so it’s going to have to prove it isn’t just a gritty mech-suited impressively budget riff on Groundhog Day/Source Code. Tom Cruise (his second science fiction film in as many years) is an inexperienced officer who finds himself relieving a fatal battle again and again (co-starring is Emily Blunt). I’ve enough confidence in the credentials of those involved to have some enthusiasm. Liman, a director geared to reshoots that hone his material, scored in the early part of the century with The Bourne Identity and then Mr. and Mrs. Smith (which took a mauling from some, but I liked). He then mis-stepped somewhat with Jumper before rallying with the under seen and underappreciated account of the rough ride CIA intelligence officer Valerie Plame got from the Bush administration (Fair Game). 

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill (a much more arresting title), a host of writers have taken a crack at Dante Harper’s script including Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth (who worked on Fair Game), Steve Kloves (Harry Potter), Tim Kring (alarming; the guy who ran out of ideas on Heroes), and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (most alarming of all, since they’re responsible for plot hole-laden Star Trek Into Darkness). Nevertheless, Liman has salvaged pictures before that were believed to be turkeys (Bourne) and this might be a pleasant surprise.




13. The Raid 2: Berandal

The Internet hyperbole that greeted Gareth Evans’ non-stop 2011 Indonesian action movie was perhaps slightly over the top. It certainly shows off the director’s skills as a director, less so as a writer. Here he brings back Iko Uwais’ good cop for more martial arts mayhem; he must go undercover and infiltrate a crime syndicate (which involves going to prison). Sure to feature jaw-dropping fight choreography and brutal violence, it may also warn of a lack of restraint; at two and a half hours, this may prove an exhausting experience. You need to keep your audience wanting more, not wear them out.






14. Jupiter Ascending

Having elicited wildly divergent responses to Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis appear set to go at it again in what looks to be an intentionally pulpy science fiction fairy tale. Think The Fifth Element but without Luc Besson’s very French sense of humour. Or Flash Gordon without the tongue-in-cheek. Who knows, perhaps Lana and Andy have been keeping their funny bones hidden all this time, but the attempts at humour in Speed Racer were mostly atrocious. 

Not helping matters are Channing Tatum (with pointy ears) and Mila Kunis (as a toilet cleaner destined to be Queen of the Galaxy), both of whom need careful casting to make an impression; they’re likely to disappear in standard hero/heroine roles. On the upside, Terry Gilliam appears, and Sean Bean will no doubt die before the final credits. There’s also the promise of visual trickery to compete with bullet-time and a score from Michael Giacchino. This might be a train wreck, but if so it will be one you can’t take your eyes off.



15. The Voices

Ryan Reynolds attempts to prove he may be unbankable but he isn’t completely bereft of talent as he takes the lead in this very peculiar indie from Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi. Michael R Perry’s script finds Reynolds’ factory worker involved in murder and receiving advice from his pet cat and dog. Perry has worked on some of television’s most interesting shows (Eerie, Indiana, American Gothic, Millennium) as well as contributing to Paranormal Activity 2. Also featuring are Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver.

16. Big Eyes

Tim Burton works from a Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski screenplay (Ed Wood) based on the life of painter Margaret Keane (she of the creepy 1950s paintings of large eyed kids). Amy Adams takes the lead, Christoph Waltz is the husband who takes credit for her work and Terence Stamp and Danny Huston provide support. This one might upset the line of those who claim the director has forever lost it.


17. Knight of Cups

Given how unimpressed I was with Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, it might be a bit early to look forward to his upcoming picture. However, he seems to have seized on a more solid theme this time, which can only be a good thing. Christian Bale experiences a journey of the soul connected to a tarot reading. Perhaps… Some of the cast include (but maybe not in the final cut) Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Jason Clarke, Imogen Poots and Joel Kinnaman.


18. Burying the Ex

It doesn’t sound that promising on paper (Anton Yelchin’s girlfriend Ashley Greene comes back as a zombie) but the key factor here is director Joe Dante (it’s four years since he last movie, The Hole). If he’s able to go to town with the meta-referencing funny (as only he can), this could be a minor gem.


19. Monuments Men

From 2013: The “based on a true story” strongly suggests the formula of historical curiosity turned into prestige project that did so well for Argo. Which makes George Clooney’s involvement in both none-too surprising. Clooney directs, stars and co-authors the screenplay (the same as The Ides of March, then), although for my money his best film as director remains his first. The rest of the cast are a dream; Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Matt Damon (perhaps), Daniel Craig. The plot concerns attempts to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis before Hitler destroys them. The release date was moved back amidst rumours of a Leatherheads mess, but we live in hope.



20. A New York Winter’s Tale

I’m highly sceptical about this, but also intrigued. Akiva Goldsman is responsible for some terrible crimes of unmitigated shite including not only the screenplay for Batman and Robin but also one that bagged him an Oscar (A Beautiful Mind). Yet he’s spent the last few years partially redeeming himself on the small screen, contributing to a very under-recognised show called Fringe (now finished). He also directed four episodes, competently if unspectacularly. 

And A New York Winter’s Tale based on Mark Helprin’s novel, is something of a passion project for him. We’ve heard that before, and it’s done nothing to avert celluloid disasters. Also, the novel appears to be a confection of reincarnation, magical horses and love that knows no limits; so it may end up feeling a little to familiar or just too damn sugary. Or one that, like The Time Traveller’s Wife, doesn’t rub its legion of followers’ noses in it, but can’t quite make it special. Goldsman has called in favours with his cast; Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt appear, but lead duties are from Colin Farrell (never a big draw, despite being a decent actor) and Jessica Brown Findlay. The one here that might be the biggest stinker, but also one that might be the most pleasant surprise.




And five maybes:

Mortdecai

David Koepp is an effective writer/director when unencumbered with Ricky Gervais. It’s unclear if this reteaming with Johnny Depp (Secret Window) will see the light of day this year or in 2015, but this tale of dodgy art deal Charlie Mortdecai’s attempt to get his hands on Nazi gold could be a lot of fun. The remainder of the cast (McGregor, Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow) is promising too. 

Blackbird

David Mamet writes and directs, in which the granddaughter of a recently deceased Hollywood effects artist uncovers deadly secrets about his past. Cate Blanchett stars in the director’s first big screen effort since 2008’s Redbelt (may be 2015).

Untitled Terrence Malick Project

This is the other 2014 Malick movie, also starring Bale (and most of the Cups cast but with the addition of Ryan Gosling) reportedly revolving around two love triangles set against the Texas music scene.

Our Kind of Traitor

Another Le Carré, this time from his 2010 novel concerning the defection of a Russian oligarch and a couple caught up in his scheme. The pedigree of this one isn’t quite so auspicious, but nothing to sneeze at either; Ewan McGregor is pegged as the lead, while Susanna White lifts the megaphone (Parade’s End, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. This has been in development for a while, and White’s the latest director attached. Whether it actually gets off the ground is questionable.

This is Where I Leave You

I’m not sure that any Shawn Levy movie (The Pink Panther remake, Night at the Museums) could be a must-see, but this comedy at least sounds very promising. Jonathan Tropper adapts his novel about four siblings who return home to observe the Jewish mourning period when their father dies. The cast includes Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver as the brood, Jane Fonda as the matriarch and is rounded out by the other halves including Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant.

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