Friday, September 6, 2013

My Most Anticipated Movies of Fall & Winter 2013

With a fairly dismal Summer movie season having come to an end, I figured now would be fine time to take stock of what the rest of the year has for us.  It's funny how the year breaks down into three different periods.  There are the first four months of the year, which is the dumping ground for movies that the studios have very little faith in and just need to release them, while the rest of the world is crazed with the Oscars.  Then there's the next four months, or the Summer movie season, which is the parade of what big ideas and even bigger stacks of money can bring to moviegoers.  Then, there's the final four months of the year, where the offerings of Fall and Winter are typically more prestigious, filled with small Independent films and big lavish dramas looking for Oscars, but there are always a few blockbusters and animated films throughout the Holidays to keep me from going completely Oscar crazy.  Till January, at least.

With that all said, I figured I'd do a list of the ten movies I'm looking forward to the most out of these last four months of 2013.  My goal is to always heighten awareness of movies that you may not know was coming out, and it's also just the perfect place for me to hypothesize and say what I think looks good based upon trailers and internet buzz I've been reading on the films.  While there are many more films coming out in this next four months that look intriguing, these ten films are the ones I will be in line to see on opening day if I can make it.  So here we go, here are the 10 films I'm looking forward to the most for the rest of 2013...


10.  Inside Llewyn Davis
The first offering from the Coen Brothers since they wowed with their remake of True Grit Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coens doing what they do best:  dark comedy that's witty and thought provoking.  The film tells the story of a fictitious, Bob Dylan-esque singer/songwriter in Greenwich Village in 1961 New York, who is struggling with failure, a common Coen trope.  The film has already won over the French at the uber-prestigious Cannes Film Festival back in May, winning the Grand Prix Award.  While such success doesn't always translate to the Oscars, this film's soundtrack, which is full of songs written and produced by T Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford, will undoubtedly be big hits and will more than likely be nominated for a few Best Original Song Oscars.  Ultimately, though, I just want to see this one because I like the Coens doing this type of film that's sort of quirky, offbeat, darkly funny, and yet incredibly smart.  Not to mention the beautiful photography being supplied by one of my favorite cinematographers, Bruno Delbonnel.
(Opens Dec. 20th)

9.  Rush
Ron Howard's latest has been gaining lots of traction recently.  The film tells the famed rivalry of Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 season, when Lauda experienced a near death crash, only to get back behind the wheel and race again in just a matter of weeks.

The buzz on this film from early screenings is that this is perhaps Howard's best directorial effort since Apollo 13.  The film has been described as sexy and highly entertaining, which the former part Howard said was his biggest apprehension in tackling the material, as to whether or not he could pull off the playboy side of James Hunts' character, but the word is, is that Howard has done a more than adequate job.  Add on to that Oscar buzz for the dual leads, Daniel Bruhl as Lauda, and Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth in a more dramatic function as Hunt, and you have something that could not only be a high octane thrill ride thanks to the emphasis on racing, but also be a moving character study.  We only have about three weeks till we can decide for ourselves if Rush lives up to the hype, but I am personally intrigued.
(Opens Sept. 27th)

8.  The Book Thief
This film could be the small blip on the Oscar radar that could wind up being one of those surprising Oscar underdog stories, or it could just be a great movie that's not given any special attention whatsoever.  The film tells the story of a young foster child in 1939 Nazi Germany, who takes to stealing books from book burnings, of course it also involves her family harboring a Jewish man.  Everything is ripe for this film to break out with the Academy. 

It's based off a bestselling book by Markus Zusak, and it's a historical drama with a lean towards the importance of the arts in our culture, as well it features an Oscar caliber cast in the likes of Geoffrey Rush.  Then there's the fact that film composer extraordinaire, John Williams, is doing the music, and my interest is as high as it can go.  Not only is Williams almost always a guaranteed lock for a nomination for Best Original Score, but this will mark the first film in nine years that he's scored that was not directed by Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.  Williams has become so exclusive in his older age, he must have been genuinely moved by this story to have wanted to write the music for it, and given his track record with phenomenal movies, that's enough to make me want to see this.  However, the story also just intrigues me. 

Whether or not this film, that has been kept low profile by the studio all the way through production, manages to break out big when it's released, we'll see, but it's the type of film that has the potential to at least make my year end best list.
(Opens Nov. 15th)

7.  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
While some people might complain that it feels like Peter Jackson is trying to milk the thin tome that was The Hobbit for all it's worth by making it a trilogy, ultimately, as a fan of Middle Earth, I don't care.  Last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought back all of the delight that made The Lord of the Rings trilogy so engaging for me. 

While The Hobbit is less dire in its circumstances, where Jackson really made it work was in illuminating the more lighthearted tone of the story.  The Hobbit is a children's adventure story, and on that front the first film more than satisfied, and the second one is poised do so yet again.  The most exciting and action packed moments of the book are what is in store for us in this installment, with everything from the spiders of Mirkwood to Bilbo's encounter with the titular dragon, Smaug, himself.  While the big climactic Battle of the Three Armies is being held back for the third installment, this second installment has all of the right makings to surpass the first film. 

While I don't think The Hobbit trilogy will ever be as beloved as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at the end of the day, any journey into Middle Earth with Peter Jackson as your guide will show up most other fantasy franchises, and it's why this film is on this list.
(Opens Dec. 13th)

6.  Jack Ryan:  Shadow One
It has been a long while since we last saw Jack Ryan on the bigscreen.  In my personal opinion, there has never been a bad Jack Ryan movie.  While I prefer the Harrison Ford movies more than the Alec Baldwin or Ben Affleck attempts, at the end of the day I've always loved Jack Ryan's brains over brawn approach to gathering intelligence and protecting our country.

Like every film franchise nowadays, they seem to think we need to see the origin story of Jack Ryan, therefore Shadow One will star Captain Kirk actor, Chris Pine, as a young Jack Ryan in his early days at the CIA.  With an all-star cast that includes Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and Kenneth Branagh (who also directs) as the bad guy, I don't think anyone can argue that this doesn't have the potential to be a proper return to form for the series.  I just hope that the filmmakers, entranced by this world of high octane action movies,  remember why Jack Ryan is such an engaging character.

Ryan is not a man of action, he is not Jason Bourne.  Ryan sits in an office and gathers intelligence, and while he does almost always find himself in some sort of action at some point during each Jack Ryan adventure, Jack Ryan is the everyman.  He is not the best shot, he is not the best fighter, he is just a man looking to survive, and that's what I hope Shadow One remembers when it hits on Christmas Day.
(Opens Dec. 25th)

Still no trailer for the film, so we'll just have to settle for
a screenshot of Pine as Ryan with Costner as his boss.

5.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
For me, Ben Stiller is not one of my go to filmmakers.  While Zoolander had its moments, Tropic Thunder was not the type of comedy film I enjoy.  While I have never been a huge fan of Stiller's directorial efforts, I have been hearing for a long time that he was looking for a project that was different than his usual schtick.  When I first heard he would be making a new adaptation of the classic James Thurber short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I thought he was just going to make it another farce in the vein of his previous movies as a director, but from early buzz on the movie and the looks of the first trailer, we'll be getting the complete opposite.

In this version, Stiller plays an office worker who daydreams about himself in these heroic situations, romanticizing the object of his affection, a fellow co-worker portrayed by Kristen Wiig.  With that cast in place, you would think this would just be another Zoolander or Tropic Thunder, but it seems that Stiller is going with a more subdued approach, emphasizing the human element over any wild flights of fancy.  While the film, dealing with the subject of daydreams and such, will undoubtedly feature some fantastical moments, many of which might be quite funny, I think the film is showing restraint on Stiller's part to deliver something truly special.  I think this film is shaping up to have all of the right ingredients that I am looking for in a great movie.  With early Oscar buzz and the visually impressive marketing campaign, emphasizing the off-kilter cinematography and style of the film, this is definitely one to look out for when it rolls out Christmas Day.
(Opens Dec. 25th)

4.  The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire
Expectations would be high for this film even if the first film wasn't any good, given the vast popularity of the books, but the fact that the first film in The Hunger Games franchise was also a good movie to boot, it just makes me more excited for Catching Fire.  While I was initially trepidatious of a new director coming into the series, fearing it might make the film's tone and style change too abruptly from its predecessor, new director Francis Lawrence seems to have simply taken what Gary Ross did with the first film, and expanded upon it.  I like the fact that Lawrence is taking an if it isn't broke, don't fix it mentality to the look and style of the film, but from the trailers and stuff, it's obvious Lawrence is also giving this film a grander scope and scale on top of the already stellar design work.  Then there's the simple fact that I find Catching Fire the most complete emotional experience of all three of the books, and you have me at fever pitch.
(Opens Nov. 22nd)

3.  Thor:  The Dark World
The first Thor movie is one that has really grown on me since I first saw it two years ago.  At first I was indifferent towards it, I even gave it a D+ rating.  However, it's one of those cases, that the more I rewatched it, the more I realized I actually liked it, and if I could go back, I'd retract my initial rating and give it an A+.  Sure, it's pure popcorn entertainment that might not be as mighty as say The Avengers, but at the end of the day Thor is just such a fun moviegoing experience, I can't help but be charmed by it every time I watch it.  Chris Hemsworth's work as Thor is as charismatic and charming as any movie star portrayal I've ever seen, and who doesn't love Tom Hiddleston as Loki?  The cast of characters is just very lively and likable, and I think it's one of the reasons why I'm excited to return to Asgard.  Then there's the fact that this sequel seems to be doing what every sequel does best, take the foundations of the first film and expand upon that.

The film looks as if it's from the same world as the first Thor, but there is a noticeable grit that has been added to Asgard, even in the trailers.  New director, Alan Taylor, seems to be working on not just making Asgard this fantastical paradise, but a living, breathing world that is real and not just a fantasy.  Then there's the simple fact that the film finds Thor having to reteam with his adopted brother, Loki, after the events of The Avengers, in order to save the nine realms, and my interest is piqued.  How will everyone react to what Loki did in The Avengers?  Can Thor trust Loki to not betray him?  These are the things I am admittedly most excited about for this sequel, and from the sounds of it, this film will deliver on both points and then some.  November cannot come soon enough.
(Opens Nov. 8th)

2.  Gravity
I think at this point, to say I'm excited to see director Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, is an understatement.  This movie seems to have all the elements of why I love to go to movies.  Big, large scale filmmaking, done creatively with a technical precision, and yet a humanism beneath it that makes you actually care for the story unfolding.  While I haven't seen the film and wont know if I actually do care for Sandra Bullock's character till then, the film is said to be about overcoming adversity from the director's mouth himself.

After recently experiencing the loss of her daughter, Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), goes up into space on a routine mission with fellow astronaut, Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney).  When an accident separates Stone from the shuttle and sends her cascading out into the farthest reaches of space, she must somehow find her way home.  This film has all of the makings of a great tale about the triumph of the human spirit, with early rave reviews already hinting at that idea.  Then there's the fact that this could possibly be Cuaron's masterpiece.

Cuaron is known for long, highly controlled takes, with tons of camera movement and whatnot.  With a film like this, where most of it was created within a computer, this must have freed Cuaron to fully realize shots that in a realistic context would have never been possible.  From the slew of trailers, simply taking small two minute scenes from the movie and showing them as a preview, the studio has already given a great idea of what to expect, with these long, continuous shots that are absolutely breathtaking, as the shots float around through space as if carried in zero gravity.  Then there's all of the Oscar buzz that this one is already getting.  Gravity could definitely be the major tech victor come the Academy Awards next March, and possibly even nab Best Director along with it.

Luckily, we don't have to wait much longer to see it, since the film hits theaters October 4th.
(Opens Oct. 4th)

1.  Saving Mr. Banks
My most anticipated movie for the rest of the year is one that admittedly has many question marks, and yet it has piqued my interest enough to where I think, if it succeeds, it has more potential to move me than any other film I've talked about so far.

The story of how Walt Disney tried to convince Mary Poppins' author, P.L. Travers, to allow him to make a movie out of her book, could easily be one of the greatest movies about moviemaking of all-time.  Only Disney would be able to make a film about the inner workings of Disney, because would they seriously give the rights to anyone else?  While much of the talk has been around Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney and Emma Thompson playing Travers, I don't think anyone has any questions about both of these performances being up for serious Oscar contention.  The biggest question mark is whether or not Disney only scratches the surface of this tale.

While Travers eventually conceded to let Walt make the film, the truth is that she was a tough person to get along with, and that she was not overtly satisfied with the film once it was finished.  Will Disney look at it through rose tinted glass, or will they tell the truth?  I don't know, with it being Disney, they might opt to make it cheery with a happy ending, which there is nothing wrong with that, but as a fan of movie history, I'd like to have the real story shown.  There are hints of that in the trailer, with the film delving into Travers' own childhood, showing how her father inspired the character of Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins.  As well, from the word, the original drafts of the script pulled no punches and represented the facts as most know them to have actually happened.

We'll have to wait and see, but this could not only be a fascinating look at how one of the most timeless classic films of all-time came to be, but also be an emotionally rewarding experience, the likes of which only movies can achieve.
(Opens Dec. 25th)

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