Tasha: January and February are traditionally dead times for great cinema in America; most theatergoers are still trying to digest the giant bolus of prestige films the studios crammed down their throats in December. But since we got most of that out of the way last month while trying to beat year-end coverage deadlines, there isn’t much for us to do with January but argue over who has to review The Nut Job and figure out which 2014 films most excite us. Personally, I thought 2014 was ruined when Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland was pushed to 2015, and I considered entirely sitting out the year’s films. But there are a few things I’m already so impatient for, I can forget about Bird for a while.
One of the biggest is David Fincher’s Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, which was one of my favorite books of 2012. I’m awfully dubious about the casting (Ben Affleck as the male lead, mostly), but I usually trust Fincher, Benjamin Button aside. (As far aside as possible.) There are things about the book’s structure that make it seem impossible to adapt, but Fincher is reliably more interested in stylish, twisty films than in ironing all the kinks out of the stories he tackles, so I’m looking forward to his film as much for the “How will he do this?” aspect as anything else. I’m also desperately hoping 2014 will get us access to Terry Gilliam’s trippy, bizarre The Zero Theorem, starring Christoph Waltz as a computer genius trying to mechanically calculate the meaning of life. At the moment, it’s scheduled for 2014 release in Britain and Russia, with no date here.
What are you guys most hoping to see in 2014?
Noel: I’ll double down on Gone Girl, even though I haven’t read the book and even though I actually don’t trust David Fincher. He’s made movies I love (including Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Social Network), and I liked what he did with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but he’s a cool customer who sometimes takes on projects he doesn’t seem that outwardly passionate about. But then, that’s one of the reasons I eagerly anticipate each new Fincher film: I genuinely never know what to expect.
Since I’m the first one to respond, I get to top my list with a movie I’m betting is a “please show me this right now” for all of us: The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest from Wes Anderson. I’ve already watched the trailer half a dozen times…
…and it has everything I’m looking for in a Wes Anderson film: his repertory players (joined by Ralph Fiennes!), the way everything looks like an elaborately decorated dollhouse, and the sense that he’s adapting a classic children’s novel that never existed, and lacing it with adult themes. Plus, I recently re-watched Moonrise Kingdom, which left me a little cold the first time I saw it. I had an experience I’ve had more than once with Anderson—most notably with The Life Aquatic and The Fantastic Mr. Fox—where the deeper emotions beneath the deadpan suddenly popped to the surface for me. So I guess I could say I’m excited to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel so I can hurry ahead to the moment when I re-watch it.
Keith: Except for Rushmore, which felt perfect the first time, every one of Anderson’s films has played better to me the second time than the first—usually transforming from films I liked a lot to films I loved. Why? That might be a conversation for another time.
Unlike Anderson’s films, I haven’t revisted Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs or 21 Jump Street, but I liked them both just fine the first time through, and I look forward to seeing what their directorial team, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, do with The LEGO Movie. It could just be a crass piece of product-placement masquerading as a movie, but I have a feeling they’ll bring more wit to the movie than that. Besides, the IMDb tells me Will Ferrell plays a character named “President Business.” That has to count for something.
I doubt there will be much product-placement in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, however. That’s almost certainly my most-anticipated film of 2014. I’m dying to see what he does with Thomas Pynchon’s odd, funny novel set against the dimming of the 1960s California dream. I wouldn’t necessarily have pegged this as something Anderson would want to grab for himself, though given his willingness to push his style with each film, I’m not sure anything should surprise me.
Nathan: I have perused a Wikipedia list of the notable releases of 2014, and I’m calling it now: It’s nothing but shit. From January to December, Hollywood is cranking out nothing but an avalanche of rank cinematic fertilizer.
Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but other than the films referenced above, a lot of the releases evoke a sort of train-wreck fascination, or, alternately, an intense desire for filmmakers to not fuck up beloved properties the way they have so many in the past. On that note, I really, really, really hope they don’t fuck up Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant deconstruction of the fairy tale, but I have very little faith in director Rob Marshall. I found his career-making Chicago empty and glib, and he also directed the unrelentingly awful Nine, a musical adaptation of a Fellini classic starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which was so dire that Fergie was easily the best thing about it.
I’m also intrigued by Guardians Of The Galaxy. I don’t know much about the comic book it’s based on, but I’m a fan of writer-director James Gunn, and impressed someone gave the man behind a more or less psychotic re-imagining of the superhero ethos like Super (which is problematic for many reasons, but also an utterly singular film) tens of millions of dollars to make a big mainstream comic-book movie. I’m hoping Gunn’s tricky, complicated personality survives the strain of an oft-inhuman blockbuster machine.
Genevieve: It’s tempting to just co-sign everyone’s choices so far, so I will: Almost everything that’s been mentioned so far was on my list of films to bring up in this Conversation, so I am shaking my fist at all of you for stealing my thunder while also giving your choices an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Into The Woods and Gone Girl in particular, I’m intensely curious about, not because I’m sure they’ll be slam-dunks—I think both are in danger of being major let-downs, actually—but because I’m so fond of the source material for each. And I’m excited for Grand Budapest Hotel for the inverse reason: It’s one of the few major releases scheduled for next year that’s an original work, from a filmmaker who has a great track record with original works. (Plus, the poster for the film is basically what I wish my dreams could look like every night.) 2014 is littered with established properties of varying distinction: For every Godzilla, there’s a Mr. Peabody And Sherman. That’s a little dispiriting in the big-picture sense, but there are at least a couple of continuing stories I’m interested in this year. The first is Mockingjay, the third (but not final) installment in the Hunger Games series. I loved 2013’s Catching Fire, and it puts the series on a good track as it heads into its darkest, most morally sticky material. It helps that director Francis Lawrence, who elevated the film franchise considerably when he stepped in for original Hunger Games director Gary Ross, is signed on through the two Mockingjay films.
The other, I’m a little hesitant to even mention, because it could go so very, very wrong so very, very easily, and I want to do everything in my power not to jinx it. But signs point to the Veronica Mars movie having a chance at, if not greatness, then at least not total disappointment. Pretty much all of the original creative team and cast is signed back on, minus a couple of characters nobody really cares about (cough, Duncan Kane, cough), and the film’s Kickstarter origin indicates a high level of passion not just from the fans, but from everyone involved in the film. It may be my most anticipated and most dreaded 2014 release.
Tasha: I’m glad you’re enthused about The LEGO Movie, Keith, because I couldn’t be less interested, even though I’ve consistently found Lord and Miller creative, funny, and agreeably strange. (They’re also the writer-director-producers of the smart, weird TV series Clone High.) It’s the look of the thing, I’m afraid: It just looks so much like a slicker version of the Lego videogames that it doesn’t draw me in. It feels like a commercial with attitude to me. I’ll hold out for Lord and Miller’s sequel 22 Jump Street, also due out in 2014.
And I’m with you, Genevieve, sort of. I wasn’t a Veronica Mars die-hard—I never finished watching the second season—but I’m intensely curious about the film because the Kickstarter was such a watershed moment for crowdfunding, the first time a Hollywood studio movie gauged interest in a project by demanding $2 million up front from its fans. I’m fascinated to find out what those fans say when they get it. Will they be satisfied because they wanted a movie, and made a movie happen? Will they treat it just like the show, with mixed praise and dissection? Or will they feel a greater sense of entitlement and outrage if it isn’t exactly what every individual fan separately wants? “This isn’t what I paid for on Kickstarter!” can be the new generational rallying cry, akin to veterans’ “I didn’t fight Hitler so you can walk around in pants that don’t cover your ass!”
This year, I have a pretty long shortlist of this kind of project, films I’m eagerly anticipating more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. Like Guardians Of The Galaxy. And Maleficent, which looks an awful lot like someone at Disney finally noticed how much money Wicked mined from re-imagining a classic story from the witch’s perspective. And Selfless, the latest from The Fall director Tarsem, whose passion projects are amazing, but whose commercial projects at least look like no one else’s work. And Noah: The subject matter doesn’t interest me, but it’s the latest from Darren Aronofsky, who has yet to bore me. I’m deeply curious about what such an idiosyncratic director will do with something as hoary as a Biblical epic. All of these films could wind up as bloated, overblown, self-important dreck, but all three seem potentially fascinating, regardless of their quality.
Keith: Better get interested in that subject matter, Tasha: I have a feeling that at some point in 2014, we’re going to be having one of these talks about new films based on the Bible, given that Aronofsky has Noah and Ridley Scott has Exodus, a Moses movie. Other projects in the works may or may not see the light of day depending on how those movies do. (For reasons why this is now a trend, look to the tremendous success of last spring’s TV miniseries The Bible, which seems to have reminded studios about a cache of public-domain story ideas they hadn’t touched in a while.) I’m looking forward to those mainly because I follow both directors—the genre isn’t a particular favorite, mostly because they have to be made in a way that doesn’t offend the most easily offended of the faithful, making it that much harder for directors to add their personal visions to the material. (I may feel differently once we see the movies.)
One I am looking forward to: Under The Skin, which everyone who saw it at Toronto loved. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Birth, Jonathan Glazer’s last feature, but his skill with visuals had nothing to do with that. Given the right material, I suspect he could do something amazing. (No word yet on a U.S. release date, but hopefully there will be one announced soon.) And speaking of big, visionary, science-fiction-y things: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar comes out later this year. As with Under The Skin, I’m trying to read as little about it as possible. So maybe I should yield to floor to someone with more to say.
Noel: As someone who’s seen Under The Skin, I’ll just say that it is amazing indeed. I’ll also back your interest in The LEGO Movie, which has an oddly lo-fi look, and which always makes my kids laugh when we see the trailer. And I’m glad Nathan brought up Into The Woods, one of my favorite musicals. The front-of-the-camera talent on that—which includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, and Johnny Depp—is so strong, and the original material so seemingly idiot-proof, that I’m not sure even Marshall can muff it. At the least, I fully expect to be a puddle by the time “No One Is Alone” comes around, no matter how tin-eared the rest may be.
Matt: Have we really gone this long without mentioning Nymphomaniac, Lars Von Trier’s two-part, four-hour hardcore sex film? No one but me is even a wee bit curious what sort of chaos will reign during this deranged bacchanal? No one wants to see the movie with a cast that includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Udo Kier, and Stellan Skarsgård? True, this may be a complete disaster. But I have a hard time believing it won’t at least be an interesting complete disaster.
On the slightly more mainstream side of things, I share Nathan and Tasha’s enthusiasm for Guardians Of The Galaxy, and also for Marvel’s other 2014 movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I really enjoyed the first Cap, and particularly Chris Evans’ charmingly wholesome portrayal of the Sentinel Of Liberty. The addition of Anthony and Joe Russo, directors of Arrested Development and Community, is intriguing, as is Robert Redford playing the sort of morally compromised authority figure he spent much of the 1970s fighting onscreen. Plus the trailer looks great, and as we all know, those things are never misleading in any way.
Genevieve: While we’re stumping for Marvel, I’ll toss X-Men: Days Of Future Past on my list of anticipated blockbusters. I’ll leave it to our more superhero-comics-versed contributors to weigh in on whether the plot, which is inspired by a 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline, holds any promise, but for me, the big draw here is the return of Bryan Singer, who hasn’t helmed an X movie since 2003’s X2, which is generally considered one of the best superhero movies of the last decade or so. Plus, the combination of this and Mockingjay means that 2014 will be full of more press-junket awesomeness from Jennifer Lawrence, which is a delightful prospect.
Scott: I’m late to the conversation, so I can only “amen” the exciting prospect of new films by David Fincher, Lars Von Trier, and Andersons P.T. and Wes. Let me also offer a title you, Dissolve writers and readers, should look forward to catching in 2014: Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, which has already traveled the festival circuit to great acclaim and will finally reach theaters through the Weinstein Company’s RADiUS-TWC label. The premise is delicious: a revenge thriller in which the revenge is carried out by a determined but largely incompetent guy. (An ordinary man, basically.) The closest point of comparison are Coen brothers movies like Blood Simple or Fargo, which are also about the tragicomic effects of crimes carried out by the non-criminal kind. I know our own Matt Singer was similarly wowed when it played at Fantastic Fest.
On a vaguer-expectations front, I’m curious to see whether documentaries extend their winning streak from 2013. This year was a strong one all around, but the realm of non-fiction has been experiencing developments—partly fueled by the increasing quality of digital filmmaking, partly by aesthetic principles adopted by directors like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, and advanced by festivals like True/False—that have resulted in more adventurous, dynamic films that have thrown away the hidebound formulas of old. Oscilloscope has a documentary called 12 O’Clock Boys, about hotdogging dirt-bikers in Baltimore, that comes out in January, and looks impressionistic and gorgeous.
Matt: Blue Ruin is definitely one readers should keep on their radar next year. And speaking of great movies from Fantastic Fest and exciting new documentaries, I can’t speak highly enough about Jodorowsky’s Dune, Frank Pavich’s hugely entertaining film about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted attempt to turn Frank Herbert’s novel into an epic science-fiction movie. Jodorowsky, an immensely charming raconteur, personally guides us through the production’s rocky history while animated sequences bring his gorgeous visions to life. Although Jodorowsky’s Dune never came to fruition, Jodorowsky’s Dune is ultimately a tremendously inspiring film, thanks to its subject’s sermon-like monologues about the importance of art and creativity. Jodorowsky says at one point that he hoped Dune would be so powerful, it would expand young people’s consciousnesses all over the world. All these years later, he might finally achieve his goal with this galvanizing documentary.
Noel: I wish I liked Jodorowsky’s Dune as much as you do, Matt. I caught it in Toronto, and think it’s worth seeing for all the surviving, never-before-seen materials, but found the documentary itself a little flat. So there’s something we can argue about when the movie is released.
Is anyone else looking forward to Muppets Most Wanted? I wasn’t as over-the-moon for the previous Muppets movie as some, but the new one looks more like an actual adventure, not just an origin story. (My wife and I are already quoting the “spacebar spacebar spacebar” joke from the trailer.)
Tasha: I’m looking forward to it more now that I’ve seen that trailer, Noel. Thanks! 2012’s The Muppets didn’t bowl me over, but it was good cute fun, and I should really remember to start every day with “Life’s A Happy Song.” Muppets Most Wanted seems similarly enjoyable—a jump back to the classic Muppet days. Since you put me on to family films, though, I’ve waited this long to mention once again that the leisurely, joyous How To Train Your Dragon 2 teaser trailer set my expectations sky-high. The first film was such a profound surprise, an impressive blend of excitement and authentic emotion; I’m hoping DreamWorks can pull off the sequel in similar style. (Then again, I hoped the same thing about the studio’s Kung-Fu Panda 2, which was a disappointing comedown from the original.) Even more promising, though, is The Boxtrolls, the latest funky, deeply idiosyncratic stop-motion feature from Laika, the production company behind Coraline and ParaNorman. I didn’t love ParaNorman the way I loved Coraline (except for the last 10 minutes or so, which are breathtaking and tear-jerking), but both show such an amazing, fanatical dedication to craft that they’re worth watching and re-watching just for the wonderment of the work involved.
Matt: It’s easy to get cynical in the face of the sheer number of sequels coming out next (and every) year, but I’m pretty psyched for HTTYD 2 too, Tasha. And I agree: That teaser was brilliant, certainly one of the best of the year.
I’m also setting aside my acute case of sequel affective disorder for The Trip To Italy, in which writer-director Michael Winterbottom and stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon follow up their hilarious, thoughtful 2010 film/miniseries The Trip. In the original film, which was effectively edited down from a six-part BBC miniseries, Coogan and Brydon played loosely fictionalized versions of themselves on a culinary tour of northern Europe. Their travels and meals were a great showcase for their improvised comedy and some piercingly self-critical commentary on the life of a movie star. I can’t wait to see what neuroses and impressions get trotted out for the sequel, which premières at Sundance before presumably making its way to theaters and on-demand platforms later in the year.
Genevieve: Speaking of Sundance, I’m very intrigued by one of the 2014 films premièring there: David Wain’s They Came Together, with Wain re-teaming with his Wet Hot American Summer co-writer Michael Showalter for what’s billed as a subversion/spoof/deconstruction of the romantic-comedy genre. The cast is loaded with the reliably funny people expected in a Wain comedy: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Ed Helms, Jason Mantzoukas, Max Greenfield, plus a couple of intriguing left-field additions like Michael Shannon and Melanie Lynskey. And the re-teaming of Wain and Showalter is a dream come true for fans of Wet Hot American Summer, which I believe we all are. (Apparently the script was written shortly after Wet Hot and has been in turnaround since, which is both a good and bad sign.) But the real draw (and for me, potential warning sign) is the “romantic comedy” descriptor. I love the rom-com genre despite its many flaws, and it hasn’t done particularly well for itself in the last decade or so. They Came Together could end up being a string of tired gags at the expense of an oft-maligned genre, but I’m cautiously optimistic about Wain and Showalter’s ability to do something interesting with this material.
Nathan: I’m also excited about another Sundance première with impeccable alternative-comedy credentials: David Cross’ directorial debut, Hits. Like They Came Together, this could go either way, and the sad fate of Run Ronnie Run looms as a harrowing cautionary warning for all Cross-related film projects. But this has a helluva cast, and I hold out hope for Cross, who really established himself as a dramatic actor in this year’s wonderful It’s A Disaster, though not many folks seem to have noticed. As if all that weren’t exciting enough, Sundance’s notes for the film claim it “unabashedly skewers contemporary culture into a delicious shish kebab of laughs.” So, you know, it’s got that going for it. Laughs, shish kebab-style.
Tasha: All this talk of comedies raised a question I’ve been asking annually since I saw 2007’s spectacularly odd The Nines: “Is this going to be the year Melissa McCarthy gets a second great cinematic showcase that’s focuses on what a spectacular actor she is, instead of on how her looks and her loudness make other people uncomfortable?” It’s definitely too soon to tell, but I’m going to hold out some hope for Tammy, directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone, and co-written by the pair of them. I’m going to hope that together they can get her some less sloppy material. She’s done some hilarious and enjoyable work as a sloppy comic (I’m looking at you, Bridesmaids), but I hate to see her going so entirely in the Chris Farley direction when she’s capable of so much more. Tammy looks like it potentially has her playing straight man to Susan Sarandon, as her profane, alcoholic grandmother, and to her grandmother’s equally loud lesbian buddy, played by Kathy Bates. Regardless of the mode, I enjoy McCarthy’s antics, so I’ll see this even if it looks like more of the same once the trailer comes out. But I really hope it gets her a chance to display talents other than her big-broad-comedy skills.
Scott: Three of my favorite movies from TIFF—two premièred earlier at Cannes, one at Venice, but whatever—should also be making their way to theaters in 2014, so I’d like readers to keep an eye out for them. Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is my favorite film of his in nearly two decades or so, another genre riff like Dead Man or Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai that’s distinctly his own. Where most vampire films are focused on mythology, eternal love, or graphic carnage (or all of the above), Jarmusch is interested in the knowledge (and habits) vampires acquire simply by being conscious for so many years. It’s funny and wry, with a sense of the everyday that’s more Stranger Than Paradise than Bram Stoker. The Cannes favorite Stranger By The Lake, due out in January from Strand Releasing, tops Blue Is The Warmest Color for explicitness, taking place on a nude beach where gay men cruise for sex and close ranks when one of them witnesses a murder at sunset. It’s a mystery of sorts—some went so far as to call it “Hitchcockian,” but that’s a stretch—that forwards a critique on risk and responsibility. Finally, the as-yet-undistributed Tsai Ming-liang film Stray Dogs is rumored to be his last, and it’s an extraordinary way to go out, explicitly and artfully addressing the poverty that has always lurked around his tragic-comic stories of urban alienation. It’ll make my Top 10 list if anyone sees fit to put it out.
Keith: Okay, after feeling exhausted by trying to put 2013 in perspective, I’m excited about the year to come. That’s a lot to look forward to. Oh, and lest we forget, there’s also Dolphin Tale 2. Presumably in this one, the dolphin that lost its tail in the first film searches for vengeance. I’ve even got the tagline: “In 2014, revenge wears a smile… and a blowhole.”