As the Oscars draw ever nearer and we get close to officially putting a bow on the year in film that was 2011, it’s time to finally look ahead and see what the coming year has to offer.
In compiling this list of my most anticipated titles of 2012, I decided to limit myself and forego detailed descriptions of many of the major studio blockbusters: this coming summer could be a banner year for popcorn fare, what with the trio of eagerly awaited superhero spectacles, “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and the “Spider-Man” reboot. Those three alone could provide entertainment and broken box office records in equal measure, and that’s before we even get to the first installment of “The Hobbit” (due around Christmas), “The Bourne Legacy” (August), the mysteriously-titled new James Bond adventure “Skyfall” (November), Pixar’s girl-power epic “Brave” (June) or the latest big-budget young adult-novel franchise adaptation, “The Hunger Games” (March).
But studio marketers and Internet fanboys will make sure that you hear plenty about those movies if you don’t know all about them already. I’m trying to dig a little deeper here to let you know what gems you may have to go out of your way to look for. As always, I could be completely off when it comes to my predictions of which projects will be worthy of your time (sorry about those mentions for “One Day,” “Red State” and “The Rum Diary” last year). But on the surface, these all look like films you should at least keep an eye on. Let’s dive in, shall we?
- Argo (dir. Ben Affleck, starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin) Current release date: Sep. 14
After the double whammy of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” Affleck has solidified his transformation from forgettable pretty boy actor to must-watch director. A political thriller dealing with CIA involvement in the Iranian Revolution, “Argo” looks like another showcase for Affleck’s talent for propulsive ensemble-driven pieces.
- Cogan’s Trade (dir. Andrew Dominik, starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Garret Dillahunt) Current release date: TBA
The last time Pitt collaborated with Andrew Dominik (indeed, the last time Dominik directed anything), we got “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” a film that climbs higher in my estimation every time I watch it. It was a masterpiece of modern cinema and one of the best Westerns ever made. Domink moves to a contemporary setting this time, with Pitt playing a professional enforcer investigates a heist that went down at a mob-protected poker game. The supporting cast boasts some experienced mobsters (Gandolfini, Liotta), so I think we can expect some great things here, although I wish Roger Deakins were back doing cinematography duties; Dominik is now working with Greig Fraser (the also-talented lenser behind “Bright Star”).
- Cosmopolis (dir. David Cronenberg, starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Mathieu Almaric) Current release date: TBA
Loathe as I am to include any Robert Pattinson project, we can’t deny Cronenberg’s clout, and this is intriguingly the auteur’s first film without Viggo Mortensen in a while. Based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, “Cosmopolis” follows the quest of a young multibillionaire across Manhattan to get a haircut. Comparisons to Joyce’s “Ulysses” will abound.
- Dark Shadows (dir. Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloë Moretz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley) Current release date: May 11
Sigh. It seems that Tim Burton will never give us another “Big Fish,” as he is retreating once again to the safety of his usual gothic-horror story trappings. Based on the cult TV soap opera of the same name (a big influence on Burton’s work), “Dark Shadows” will follow vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) and his encounters with various ghosts, werewolves and assorted other monsters, presumably in some big haunted mansion with lots of Addams family-esque creepy inhabitants. The only thing keeping me interested here is the supporting cast: how about a return to the mainstream for Michelle Pfeiffer? And how have Eva Green and Jackie Earle Haley NOT been in a Tim Burton movie yet?
- Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino, starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kerry Washington, Kurt Russell, Christoph Waltz, RZA, Don Johnson) Current release date: December 25
A slave-turned-bounty hunter (Foxx) sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner (DiCaprio). Tarantino looked to spaghetti Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name trilogy and “Django” (hence the title) for inspiration, so count me in; “Inglourious Basterds” showed that Tarantino’s got a lot left in his ultra-violent tank. I wish that Will Smith hadn’t turned down the project (to preserve his goody-goody family reputation), because THAT would have been really interesting, but Foxx is a capable replacement if he can channel his days in “Collateral.” DiCaprio, Waltz, Russell and Gordon-Levitt should have fun in villainous roles, while Don Johnson gets the latest “80’s-actor rehab” treatment from Tarantino (see: Robert Forster in “Jackie Brown,” Michael Madsen in “Kill Bill”).
- Elysium (dir. Neill Blomkamp, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner) Current release date: TBA
Blomkamp’s sci-fi follow-up to “District 9” might get delayed to 2013, but keep an eye out. The South African director clearly has a lot more resources at his disposal after the major success of his debut; we’ll see if he can successfully make the leap, as Duncan Jones did from “Moon” to “Source Code.”
- Foxfire (dir. Laurent Cantet, starring Ali Liebert, Michelle Norden) Current release date: TBA
Cantet’s last film was the critically acclaimed “The Class;” now he’s taking on America, with a film set in 1950’s upstate New York, where a group of girls form their own gang. Oh…ok?
- The Grandmasters (dir. Wong Kar-Wai, starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang) Current release date: TBA
This damn movie has, I believe, appeared on my most anticipated list for the past several years. Wong Kar-Wai (“In the Mood for Love,” “Chungking Express”) has been working on this biopic of Ip Man, the martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee, for a long time now, and rumor is it will finally pop up at Cannes this year. It better. And it better be awesome, because “My Blueberry Nights” wasn’t.
- Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney) Current release date: Nov. 21
Cuarón’s “Children of Men” was a masterful piece of sci-fi; can he repeat with “Gravity,” the harrowing tale of the lone survivor of a mission to repair the Hubble Telescope (Bullock) desperately trying to make her way back to Earth? Like pretty much everyone else, I’m very concerned about Bullock’s ability to carry such heavily dramatic material, and I’m not thrilled that the director decided to shoot in 3-D.
- The Great Gatsby (dir. Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher) Current release date: Dec. 25
Baz “Romeo + Juliet” Luhrmann would not be my first choice to direct Fitzgerald’s classic of American literature, but he’s an intriguing one, considering his stylistic flair. The thing here is the pitch-perfect casting: DiCaprio should knock the suave, mysterious, haunted Gatsby out of the park, and Mulligan has a toughness to her that former Daisy Buchanan Mia Farrow sorely lacked. It should do laps around everyone in the production design department if nothing else.
- Kill Bin Laden (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, starring Joel Edgerton, Christ Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong) Current release date: Dec. 19
Delayed from a late October release date that could’ve had some VERY interesting ramifications on the presidential election, the tentatively-titled Middle East thriller will indeed focus on the American military’s efforts to find and ultimately kill Osama Bin Laden. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (reuniting from the Oscar-winning “Hurt Locker”) had started the project before the fatal raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and so had to scramble to re-write the ending. Republicans are already accusing the film of pro-Obama tendencies, but considering the searing, neutral (in my eyes) depiction of the military in “Hurt Locker,” I’ll be very interested to see what Bigelow and Boal have to say on the subject.
- Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jared Harris, Sally Field, Jackie Earle Haley, Walter Goggins, James Spader, Lee Pace, David Strathairn, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Hal Holbrook) Current release date: December
After falling short with his awards-baity epic “War Horse,” Spielberg climbs right back on his saddle with an equally prestigious Lincoln biopic. Based on the best-selling non-fiction account “Team of Rivals,” “Lincoln” has got A LOT of talent to work with. My god. Daniel Day-Lewis already seems like a sure-fire Best Actor nominee, but will he even be able to stand out with a supporting cast that talented? (Probable answer: yes.)
- Looper (dir. Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Jeff Daniels) Current release date: Sep. 28
Many would call Johnson’s first two features “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom” too clever by half, but I’m completely on board. The young director has always been fond of twisting narratives, so taking on time travel for his latest feature, about a futuristic mob hitman (Gordon-Levitt) who recognizes one of his targets as his older self (Willis), seems like a natural progression. Will audiences be able to keep up, or will the film bog down in “Primer”-level sci-fi confusion? Also, will audiences get tired of Joseph Gordon-Levitt this year? Is that possible?
- The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern) Current release date: TBA
A 1950’s drama about a charismatic intellectual who founds a “faith-based organization…” That’s right, someone’s finally making a movie, albeit indirectly, about Scientology. Who better to do it than P.T. Anderson, master of egotistical and power-mad men (see “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”)? Let the rehab of Joaquin Phoenix’s image begin.
- Les Miserables (dir. Tom Hooper, starring Amanda Seyfried, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen) Current release date: Dec. 7
So very, very many red flags. Russell Crowe singing? Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean? Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech” at the helm of a big-budget musical? This is one of the most eclectic projects assembled in recent memory. I’m dubious, but at least the rumors that Taylor Swift was going to be involved turned out to be thankfully untrue.
- Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson, starring Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel) Current release date: May 25
Anderson’s quaint, precocious manner of filmmaking has its many detractors, but again, I’m not one of them. I even love “failures” like “The Life Aquatic” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” The film’s period setting (two young kids in a 1960’s island community go on the run, the town begins a frantic search for them) should provide Anderson with plenty of opportunities for deep indie-music cuts and obsolete technology fetishism. The promising trailer showed that the newcomers to the Anderson fold (Norton, McDormand, Swinton and Willis) all possess the understated comic timing that should make them fit right in.
- Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas) Current release date: TBA
The only plot summary for this one so far is “A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match.” But that’s about all we had for “Drive” at this point too, and yeah, we saw how that particular Refn+Gosling pairing turned out.
- ParaNorman (dir. Chris Butler, Sam Fell, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman, Elaine Stritch, Casey Affleck) Current release date: Aug. 17
- The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance, starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Bruce Greenwood) Current release date: TBA
This reunion between Cianfrance and Gosling (who worked together on “Blue Valentine”) has a lot of echoes, oddly enough of “Drive;” this time around, Gosling will play a motorcycle stunt driver considering committing a crime to provide for his wife and young daughter. Not very excited, though, about the involvement of Bradley Cooper as the cop-turned-politician who tries to stop him. Will somebody PLEASE explain the appeal of Bradley Cooper to me?
- Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott, starring Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson) Current release date: June 8
Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” spawned an entire franchise of sequels, though the quality of the films swiftly deteriorated from one installment to the next. 30 years later, Scott has finally returned to answer some questions about the universe that he originally helped to create. While the director denies that the film will be a direct prequel to “Alien,” there is certainly something fishy going on, especially considering that the film’s first trailer so purposefully evoked the original’s legendary marketing campaign. In “Prometheus,” a team of scientists will investigate an alien world that may just hold clues to the origins of mankind on Earth, and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be some corresponding discoveries regarding the menacing xenomorphs (the franchise’s villainous alien race) and the mysterious Space Jockey from the original film. Here’s hoping Scott’s touch can resurrect the series.
- Savages (dir. Oliver Stone, starring Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bichir, Benicio del Toro) Current release date: July 6
The description for Stone’s latest feature is pretty odd: pot growers Ben (Johnson) and Chon (Kitsch) have to face off against a Mexican drug cartel who have kidnapped their “shared” girlfriend (Lively). But considering the bland predictability of Stone’s work lately (the forgettable “Wall Street” sequel, the forgettable Bush biopic “W.,” the regrettable “World Trade Center,” the laughably regrettable “Alexander”), it might be a good move on Stone’s part to reinvigorate his career with some “Natural Born Killers”-esque insanity.
- Untitled Terrence Malick Project (dir. Terrence Malick, starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper) Current release date: TBA
The previously slow-moving Malick is suddenly churning out films like he’s Woody Allen. On the heels of the rather unexpected success of “The Tree of Life” (it still hasn’t really hit me yet, but just how strange is it that “The Tree of Life” got a Best Picture nomination? just think about it), Malick has this still-unnamed star-studded romantic drama coming up, which he will (supposedly) follow right away with “Lawless” next year, starring Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Christian Bale, which is apparently already filming. Will Malick still be able to produce work that will stand up to his previous masterpieces, or should he stick to his old rule of thumb and let a project gestate for at least five years?
- Wettest County (dir. John Hillcoat, starring Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Shia LeBeouf, Mia Waskikowska) Current release date: Aug. 31
Based on Matt Bondurant’s historical novel (“The Wettest County in the World”) about a Depression-era bootlegging gang threatened by authorities. Glad to see that the “next big thing” roles continue to come in for Tom Hardy, who’s a perfect fit for the brutal sensibilities of director Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road”). And Nick Cave fans, rejoice – the multi-talented musician/writer will be pulling screenwriting duties for the first time since he last teamed up with Hillcoat on “The Proposition” (and, we pray, also composing the score). Also, just in case you were worried, yes, Jessica Chastain is still going to be in all the movies, ever.
- World War Z (dir. Marc Forster, starring Brad Pitt, Matthew Fox, Mireille Enos) Current release date: Dec. 21
I’m not sure who thought that Marc Forster could still direct an action film after the directing debacle that was “Quantum of Solace.” So that’s not a great sign for the long-expected adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie apocalypse novel. Brad Pitt has tossed in his lot as producer for the film, though, and we know from “Moneyball” what can happen when Brad Pitt believes in your project. Pitt plays a U.N. employee racing against time as he tries to stop a worldwide outbreak of a zombie virus. We’ve had plenty of zombie horror and zombie comedies, but this might be the first time to try a full-out zombie action blockbuster (unless you want to count “I Am Legend,” but ehh). We’ll see how it sells to mainstream audiences.
- Wreck-It Ralph (dir. Rich Moore, starring John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman) Current release date: Nov. 12
An intriguing animation/video-game hybrid project from Disney: Reilly voices Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy in a classic arcade game who longs to be beloved as a hero; breaking into another game, Ralph accidentally unleashes a deadly villain that could threaten the entire arcade. In a manner similar to the classic “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “Wreck-It Ralph” will apparently feature cameos from licensed video game characters like Pac-man and Q-Bert. Will it be a nice tribute to gamer culture like “Scott Pilgrim,” or just a pandering cash-grab?
Whelp, that’s about it. Should be plenty to get you guys going for the year. Oh, and if you’re wondering if I purposefully excluded the upcoming adaptation of “Anna Karenina” by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Hanna”) starring Keira freaking Knightley as Anna: yes, yes I did.