Now that we're into 2012 fully and the business of talking about 2011 has mostly died down (well, until the Academy Awards, I guess, if you enjoy that awful game), it's time to look forward to what's coming down the bend. Now, I know there's plenty of resources to find out what's coming soon but none of them have my commentary on them making them next to useless.
So I've constructed an informal list of the 10 movies I'm most looking forward to seeing in 2012. I've tried, to some extent, to avoid movies I feel are already on everybody's radar like The Hobbit or The Dark Knight Rises or movies that will be events that I actually don't think much of, like The Avengers or potentially Prometheus. That's going to make this in some ways a much smaller list, which probably suits my 'arthouse' sensibilities a bit better.
Also, most of these are probably going to be wrong. My 2010 list looking at 2011 got zero of the movies that would eventually make my list. The best part of any look forward is how unprepared you are, despite all your research, for the surprises that are going to crop up. It's that sense of discovery that drives me, more than anything, to research what's coming out enough to construct this list. So I can be happily wrong.
Haywiredirected by Steven Soderbergh
release date: January 20th
Soderbergh's coming off of a great year with Contagion, which managed to take what would have been a fairly straightforward genre picture in less capable hands and turn it into a statement on society and paranoia without managing to fall into melodrama. To follow it up he's dived into another genre badly in need of some competence: action films. It's the rare action movie that I actually am excited for, but Haywire looks to be the kind of rough and tumble 70s/80s throwback I'm looking for.
Gina Carano stars as a government operative that ends up a target of the people she used to work for. Fairly straightforward, until you look at the cast, which includes the likes of Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, and you look at the amazing trailer. Soderbergh has gone on record as saying that he wanted to make a low-key action movie, one that relied on a foundation of good fight choreography and a throwback approach to stunts more than it did today's usual giant action set pieces. And the trailer bears that out from the moment Carano starts savagely beating people up.
The Innkeepersdirected by Ti West
release date: February 3rd, on VOD services now
In 2009 I ran across what was easily my favorite horror film in the past decade, if not longer, in Ti West's slow burn 80s period horror House of the Devil. It's enough to almost get him a free pass on this list, to be honest. House of the Devil, for all its artifice, relied heavily on atmosphere and a lack of jump scares to create tension like few films I've ever seen. And The Innkeepers seems like it's going to be the perfect evolution of that kind of house-horror.
Starring Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, it involves two employees of a soon-closing historical inn, long believed by them and plenty of other people to be haunted. They decided to prove it during the last days of business. That's all the information I know, gleaned from a blurb, but that's enough. The why is rarely important in this kind of movie, it's the how. And Ti West has my utmost faith that he can make the how lingering in the most perfectly dreadful ways.
Jiro Dreams of Sushidirected by David Gelb
release date: March 9th
I've always been drawn to stories of people who are incredibly passionate about things and who do things extremely well. It's the small story of personal artistry that I feel documentaries are in the best position to portray in a way that's not only inspiration, but often simply fascinating to look at. Also, for the record, I love sushi.
Which is why I'm incredibly excited to see a movie about sushi master Jiro Ono, owner of a small restaurant in Tokyo called by some the best sushi in the world. I've heard nothing but good things about this movie, and while it probably won't make it to theaters in your part of the world (though it doesn't hurt to check!) I'm sure it'll find its way onto Netflix and make me and many others hungry over and over again.
The Wettest Countrydirected by John Hillcoat
release date: April 20th
Of all the modern attempts since the turn of the millennium to resurrect the Western I feel there's been only one genuine success: John Hillcoat's 2005 Australian wonder The Proposition. It was all the best parts of the genre with firm modern sensibilities in terms of pacing and characters and even visuals, and none of the reliance on nostalgia that has so burdened the genre.
Hillcoat is reuniting with Proposition screenwriter Nick Cave to adapt Matt Bondurant's novel about bootlegging in Prohibition-era Virginia, and I can't imagine a more perfect niche for the director/writer combo, shoved into a bleak corner of American history when organized crime was on the rise and small time bandit outlaws were on the decline. Throw in some of my favorite actors: Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, and even the fact this movie has Shia LaBeouf in it can't keep it from this list. It will be dour, gritty, and undoubtedly amazing.
Moonrise Kingdomdirected by Wes Anderson
release date: May 16th
A new Wes Anderson movie. I feel like that's all I have to say. His last movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, easily made my top 10 list in 2009. My favorite director to trades mostly in whimsy, Anderson has managed to with each of his movies provide an experience that should be nauseatingly twee but manages each time to impress with smart character work and an eye for the absurd parts of mundane life. He is among my favorite directors working today.
So putting him in charge of a 1960s film taking place in a New England town with a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel? Yes, I'm excited by the talent alone. Anderson hasn't managed to disappoint yet, and I don't expect him to start anytime soon.
Looperdirected by Rian Johnson
release date: September 28th
If the name Rian Johnson doesn't mean anything to you then you aren't watching the right movies. Director of the equally amazing and wildly disparate Brick and The Brothers Bloom, Johnson has managed in two films to surprise and impress me both times with sensibilities that marry old fashioned technique with indie confidence and experimentation to make beautiful genre-bending films. Go see both movies, they are both wonderful.
Looper is his first crack at science fiction, with a story of a hitman played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who works for a mob from the future who tosses people into the past to be murdered and disposed of. Until one man comes through, played by Bruce Willis, and Gordon-Levitt's character recognizes his next target: him, from years in the future. If that's not enough for you, then I don't even want to know you anymore.
Wreck-It Ralphdirected by Rich Moore
release date: November 2nd
Disney's animation studio has been on a wild up/down cycle of late. They've released some decent-if-forgettable stuff like Bolt and Meet The Robinsons, managed to mostly disappoint with their return to animation in The Princess and the Frog, but have in the past two years found pretty great success with Tangled and Winnie the Pooh. It's a studio that is almost impossible to count out, but unreliable enough to always wonder what's going to work and what isn't.
Wreck-It Ralph manages to get on this list, then, through sheer potential. John C Reilly voices the title character, a Donkey Kong-esque video game villain, who decides that he's tired of being the bad guy and wants to be the hero. What follows will hopefully be a great underdog story, replete with a whole history of video games. Even at this early point, a cast list involves Kano from Mortal Kombat and a Pac-Man ghost. This is probably going to be positioned as the Toy Story of video games, and if it works, it might be just as magical.
Gravitydirected by Alfonso Cuarón
release date: November 21st
Most of this list is talking about directors, and this one's no different. If you don't know Alfonso Cuarón, you've certainly heard of his movies. Y tu mamá también, The Prisoner of Azkaban (aka the good Harry Potter movie), and Children of Men, which is by itself already such an instant sci-fi classic that it would put Cuarón on this list. And after several years of work, his next science fiction movie is coming, and it sounds just as full of potential.
It stars George Clooney as an astronaut caught in a catastrophic disaster that kills everyone on his mission to Earth's orbit but himself and leaves him stranded in space as he tries to get home. That's the blurb, and that's all I really need to know to be excited. I can just imagine what kind of tense, man-adrift character piece Cuarón can wrap around an amazing actor like Clooney. I will be honest, this is probably the one I most desperately want to see this year.
Lincolndirected by Steven Spielberg
release date: late 2012, put my money on a Christmas release
After taking a few years after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull collectively had everyone crying Lucas on him, Spielberg threw down hard in 2011 with the one two punch of the fantastic CG adventure that out-Indy-ed the most recent Indy with The Adventures of Tintin and the heartfelt, shockingly-not-schmaltzy World War I horrors-of-war drama War Horse. It was a big reminder that the odd misstep aside, Spielberg has been making classic after classic longer than anyone in the business.
His historical drama work has also been pretty good. I think I'm one of the only people on Earth who doesn't like Saving Private Ryan, but from Amistad to Schindler's List to Munich, Spielberg's eye for great moments in history to bend his talents to is nearly peerless. So when he makes a movie about Abraham Lincoln, specifically at the end of the Civil War, and casts the enigmatic and always-transformative Daniel Day-Lewis to play him? I can only imagine the vast period epic we're going to get, and I can't help but assume it will be fantastic.
God Bless Americadirected by Bobcat Goldthwait
release date: TBD
If you've never seen World's Greatest Dad, you're missing out. The best darkest comedy since Death to Smoochy is a perfect stab at the hypocrisy of parenting and teenage life I've ever seen, vulgar and offensive at the same time it was being nuanced and sympathetic. It was a hell of a surprise coming from a man as easy to roll one's eyes at as Bobcat Goldthwait, he of the middle Police Academy movies and that Are You Afraid of the Dark episode where he played an evil cab driver.
God Bless America seems like it's going to take that comfort zone shattering sensibility and turn it up to eleven with the story of a man sick of the decay of Western civilization and with a terminal illness that prompts him to do something about it. Which is how he ends up on a killing spree with a 16 year old girl as he travels the country trying to get rid of the worst of society. Knowing Goldthwait, it's likely to be as tragic and funny as it is ridiculous and violent, but the mixture seems perfect. Goldthwait doesn't make movies that are easy to watch, and whatever else comes out of God Bless America I'm sure we'll all be uncomfortably worrying about what we're watching come sometime next year.