Amir here, taking a break from the relentless torrent of lists, think pieces and twitter catfights about everything 2013 to look ahead at the new year.
Making a list of the year’s most anticipated films is always a risky task and there’s little payoff in raising one’s expectations of any film. Predictably so, there isn’t always overlap between what we anticipate and what we actually like when the final product materializes on the screen, but that’s the beauty of the whole thing. There will undoubtedly be disappointments, but in their stead, there will also be pleasant surprises. Of the films that shaped my lineup last year, only three ended up among my top 25 films of the year, but at this moment a year ago, I hadn’t even heard of something like Museum Hours or The Broken Circle Breakdown.
10 Noah (Darren Aronofsky)
Because: the director. The director, I say! The trailer for this biblical epic was mostly disappointing. The CGI looked unconvincing, the dialogue was gratingly cheesy and, as a non-religious man, I find the basic premise of this oft-told story laughable. But who am I kidding? I’m still going to be there on opening day. Darren Aronofsky has (almost) never disappointed and something tells me he’ll find an interesting angle on the most famous of all tales. Plus, I have a fondness for Russell Crowe few can match.
Nine more possible great ones after the jump...
09 Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu)
A comedy directed by Innaritu is just what everyone needs, including, and especially, Innaritu himself. I’ve long been an apologetic for the man and the failings of his directorial style, but Biutiful proved too dour even for my taste. Birdman, about a washed-up actor who fights for a career revival by staging a Broadway show, sounds like just the type of project that can drag him out of his (miserable) comfort zone. That he’s collaborating with his writing partner on Biutiful might be a warning sign but the eclectic cast has a proven track record at making comedy pop: Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis.
08 The Double (Richard Ayoade)
Word on the streets of Toronto suggests this is the best film I missed at TIFF. Richard Ayoade’s debut feature, Submarine, was critically acclaimed though sadly I have yet to catch up with it myself. His new film is an existential dramedy, adapted from Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name, and stars Jesse Eisenberg as both sides of the titular character. This is going to be a great year for the actor; he also has Kelly Reichardt’s superb thriller Night Moves coming out.
07 Gone Girl (David Fincher)
David Fincher is one of the best American directors working and if Gone Girl is half as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network, we’re in for a ride. I have yet to read the source novel but all signs indicate that it is right in my wheelhouse, and Fincher’s.
06 Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)
I start every year hoping that at least one big studio blockbuster succeeds in escaping predictable, conventional Hollywood trappings and I’m pinning those hopes on this one this time around. Edwards’s Monsters was one of the most inventive science fiction films of recent years, so there's reason to hope he’ll have a fresh take on the world’s most famous monster. Plus, how can you go wrong with Juliette Binoche in a Godzilla film?
05 The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Pure and simple: few directors bring as much joy as Wes Anderson. Every time I think of those flat, dioramic compositions, the off-kilter humor, the dependably game casts, and the intimate poignancy of his stories, I just want to dive right back in.
04 The Immigrant (James Gray)
Something haunting and ethereal draws me in. My familiarity with James Gray’s work unfortunately doesn’t extend beyond Two Lovers but several screenings of that film have cemented its position for me as a modern romance masterpiece. A period piece set in New York, The Immigrant stars Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner and tells the story of a Polish prostitute caught between rival magicians.
03 Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
The last time Assayas and Juliette Binoche worked together, we got Summer Hours; in the meantime, Assayas has given us Carlos and Something in the Air, Binoche has given us Certified Copy. The Frenchman is one of the most inventive and unpredictable directors in the world. That his newest film is about an older actress (Binoche) obsessing over a younger one (sadly, Chloe Moretz, but bear with me) who’s reprising a role she once performed is reason enough for excitement; a supporting cast as strangely assembled as one with Bruno Ganz, Kristen Stewart and Daniel Bruhl is just the icing on the cake.
02 Inherent Vice (P.T. Anderson)
Despite being labeled "Pynchon-lite" by some critics, I found the 2009 novel to be one of Thomas Pynchon's most coherent and entertaining works. An adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson is the best cinematic treatment one can hope for. This sprawling narrative has a colorful cast of supporting characters all of whom circle Doc Sportello, the perennially baked detective at the centre. That large ensemble and the fiery drug-infused dialogue could take the Modern American Master back to the glorious days of Boogie Nights. A reunion with Joaquin Phoenix was always going to be welcome but it’s especially intriguing because this seems to be a much lighter fare than The Master. (If your mouth is not sufficiently watering for this one, have a look at these updates here.)
01 As 1001 Noites (Miguel Gomes)
This Portuguese director's track record, from his first short film Entretanto to this year’s incantatory Redemption, via Tabu and Our Beloved Month of August, is pitch perfect. Every one of us has a director or two, whose works touch us on a personal level, and Gomes is that for me, perhaps the most exciting director working. His newest film takes the structure of the famous Middle Eastern fable One Thousand and One Nights and applies it to modern day Portugal and its struggle with the financial crisis. But let’s be honest, he could film a dog humping a tree for a couple of hours and I’d still be first in line.
P.S. I would have included The Lobster, the English language debut from Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, ALPS) had it not entirely disappeared from the face of the earth. IMDB now lists The Lobster as an English language film directed by an unknown Greek director with Greek actors, with a vaguely similar storyline to the one previously helmed by Lanthimos. The latest news on Lanthimos’s film was the casting of Lea Seydoux, Olivia Colman and Jason Clarke as recently as October, but without any news of a halting production, IMDB and other sources have pulled the film off. If you hear anything, please do share with this anxious soul.