2014 has barely started and has already been overshadowed by the next year. If you follow any of the “entertainment news” websites, they’re all abuzz with talk about “Batman / Superman,” “Star Wars: Episode VII,” “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World,” “Tomorrowland,” "Terminator 5," on and on. All of these are 2015 releases. The months of mindless speculation about films that haven’t even started filming yet makes it difficult to get excited about anything.
Amidst the endless blog-o-sphere chatter, you have to remember that the films themselves, the combined efforts of talented directors, writers, and actors, are the reason we all got into this hobby in the first place. Turns out, there are plenty of things worth getting excited about in 2014. Both tiny indies and mega-budget would-be blockbusters hold promise. How many of these films will top my year-end countdown? It’s hard to say. Until then, let’s look ahead with enthusiasm, hoping to see something special up on the big screen.
The Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2014:
1. All Cheerleaders Die
Of all the filmmakers I follow, I most look forward to Lucky McKee’s new films. “May” remains an all-time favorite and “The Woman” proved he still has it. Working in the much maligned horror genre, McKee makes highly personal, character-oriented films that comment on deeper issues while still delivering the grisly thrills horror fans expect.
His latest release, “All Cheerleaders Die,” is actually a remake of his very first feature. The shot-on-video original was an in-joke filled, goofy horror-comedy that still sneaked in feminist social commentary under the Karo-syrup stained zombies. It was fun but deeply unpolished. The director returning to that material, far more experience in hand, is exciting for a few reasons. McKee’s films usually have a hint of dark comedy to them and seeing him embrace that goofy side is awfully promising. Actually setting the story in a high school this time presents far more opportunity for comment on the film’s themes and ideas. Playing up the witchcraft and undead revenge angle more will also help distinguish this from the countless zombie flicks that have shuffled on to DVD over the last decade. The festival reviews have been somewhat underwhelming but this doesn’t deter me, as the director’s work is usually divisive. McKee has never connected with a mainstream audience before and I think he’s given up on that by this point. Which is a-okay with me, as long as he keeps making beautiful films for his fans and himself.
Hollywood was not exactly kind to Japan’s king of the monsters last time he was around these parts. My concerns about the latest, big-budget take on the iconic kaiju don’t have much to do with any lingering fallout from Roland Emmerich’s decade-old stinker. Instead, I’m worry that “Godzilla” will be just another big budget disaster movie, another film full of faceless extras running from indistinct CGI clouds of falling rubble, all too willing to tread on 9/11 imagery for cheap thrills.
There seems to be people who love the rubber-suited monster behind the camera on this one, which gives me a lot of hope. From what we’ve seen of him, the new Godzilla design updates the creature for modern sensibilities while remaining faithful to his established look. The trailer focuses on Godzilla’s massive scale and raw destructive power, giving hints that this will be more horror then popcorn muncher. More importantly, director Gareth Edwards seems to be returning a political subtext to the monster, recalling the 1954 original. This shouldn’t exactly be surprising, considering the director’s first feature, “Monsters,” (which is getting an unlikely sequel this year, by the way) was an extended, sometimes obvious allegory about illegal immigration. Frank Darabont worked on the script and, while Darabont is largely overrated, the guy loves his monsters. It remains to be seen if what makes the Big G special will make it out of the Hollywood meat grinder intact but, at the very least, he seems to be in the right hands.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios has, thus far, done a good job of maintaining their filmmakers’ auteur sensibilities while establishing a studio brand and wide-reaching continuity across very different films. The movies have also made their Disney overseers a lot of money. With “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the studio might be asking too much of the public. This is a space-set action epic featuring talking cartoon raccoons and giant tree people. A lot of box officer prognosticator suspect this might be Marvel’s first big bomb.
I don’t really care about that. Honestly, I’m expecting it. James Gunn’s last two features have been brilliant but far too cultish for mainstream acceptance. While I’m not sure he’s a good fit for the mega-budget mode, he’s a great match with the loopy material. It’s those noncommercial qualities that threaten to make this far more interesting then anything else the studio’s put out. It’s not like any other movie this year is going to offer cartoon raccoons, a giant tree man, and a green-skinned space babe plowing through hordes of baddies. If, somehow, Marvel’s massive marketing blitz does get the film to connect with the mainstream crowd, Disney might have a new “Star Wars” before their new “Star Wars” actually gets made. Even if it doesn’t, I suspect we’ll still have an endearingly weird sci-fi spectacle.
4. The Double
Richard Ayoade is a massively talented entertainer, as a comic performer and a writer-director. I was a big fan of his first feature, “Submarine,” which successfully earned big laughs out of its neurotic teen protagonist. If the trailer is any indication “The Double,” his directoral follow-up, seems to be digging into even moodier, darker neurosis. The premise, of a man bested by his exact duplicate, has been told before. However, I trust Ayoade will mine new observations and some darkly dry laughs out of that set-up. And if shivering anxieties is what the director wants out of his lead actor, he’s found a good match in Jesse Eisenberg. And, hey, a supporting cast that features Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, “Submarine” stars Yasmin Paige, Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, and “IT Crowd” buddy Chris O’Dowd just sweetens the deal.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson only makes Wes Anderson movies. His sensibilities are so deeply his own that few have had the audacity to rip it off. While I’ve loved many of his films, sometimes the director’s commitment to that style has produced diminished returns. However, his previous picture, “Moonrise Kingdom,” was an excellent return to form, perhaps the best work of his career. This alone would probably be enough to get me excited for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
However, the movie has one of the best trailers I’ve seen in years. I think I laughed more in those two minutes then I did over the entirety of “The Darjeeling Limited.” The director seems to be homaging or parodying Agatha Christy locked-room mysteries, which is a fairly perfect match with his style. Anderson has wrangled together a typically excellent cast and I’m looking forward to seeing Ralph Finnes in a more comedic mode for once.
Most of the times, when I’m excited for a movie, it’s because of the director involved or the source material being adapted. Sometimes, however, the premise is enough to catch my attention. “Birdman” isn’t a big screen version of the old Hanna-Barbara cartoon. Instead, it’s about a washed-up actor, once famous for playing a superhero, attempting to put his life back together while the studios reboot his most iconic character.
That’s an amusing enough premise but then the director went the extra mile and got Michael Keaton to star in it. I’m too much of a hog for meta-text touches not to love that. Besides, Keaton has always been an underrated comedic performer. He’s more then backed up by the rest of the cast, featuring such fine people as Emma Stone and Edward Norton. If there’s any reason to be unsure about this one, it’s director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He’s won plenty of accolades for his big important dramas but a comedy like this is a departure for him. I’m hopeful that this will be the good-nature ribbing the superhero genre deserves and not just the one it needs right now.
7. The Expendables 3
I can’t much defend my love of the Expendables. These films are guilty pleasures, not high art. As long as they remain as massively entertaining as the second film was, that’s okay. After the overly somber tone and incoherent direction of the first flick, the sequel found the perfect balance between big dumb action and corny in-jokes concerning the over-the-hill stars. This second sequel promises even more: More big dumb action, more over-the-hill stars, more corny in-jokes.
At first, Sly was loosing me on this one. The promise of Nic Cage and Jackie Chan joining the cast wound up falling through. To pile on the disappointment, then Bruce Willis dropped out. However, Stallone slowly lured me back. Wesley Snipes? Perfect. Mel Gibson as a pumped-up villain named Conrad Stonebrook? Awesome. Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas? Aw man! Heck, even the addition of Kelsey Grammer is bizarre enough to get my blood pumping. Director Patrick Hughes has done good work in the past and will hopefully provide a smoother hand then either previous director. I know it’ll be stupid as fuck but who cares. Movies are about simple joys sometimes too.
8. Suburban Gothic
“Excision” was a quirky horror indie from 2012 that I sure did love a whole bunch. It marked Richard Bates Jr. as an up-and-coming genre auteur with a clear sensibility. At first, the premise of “Suburban Gothic” disappointed me a bit. The world certainly doesn’t need another low-budget comedy about a shy guy who can’t talk to girls. However, the more I turned that one-sentence logline over in my brain, the more intrigued I got. It’s a great title and Bates is the perfect filmmaker to play up the gothic side of suburbia. The guy knows how to balance chills with laughs and, hopefully, there will be enough horror here to distinguish this from the rest of the mumblecore glut. Kat Dennings has great comedic timing and this might be the project where she really gets to show off for the first time. Assuming she isn’t playing a broad MPDG. Even that would be more dignified then “2 Broke Girls.” All of this is assuming the movie doesn’t flat-out suck, of course.
9. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to make a bad movie. He’s made three flat-out masterpieces and even his lesser flicks are still pretty good. No one has ever attempted a Thomas Pynchon adaptation before but, if anyone was going to pull it off, it’d be P.T. Anderson. Of course, it’s not like “Inherent Vice,” a quirky detective story, was Pynchon’s trickiest book. If anything, a genre project like this is a departure for both creative minds. This winds up making the film more exciting, as the idea of Anderson handling a quote-normal-unquote story, albeit one laced in Pynchon’s typical fetishes, is fairly tantalizing. As always, Anderson has thrown together a primo cast, including everyone from Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, and most intriguingly odd of all, Martin Short.
10. The Ten o’ Clock People
Back in the eighties, Tom Holland made some great horror pictures, including “Fright Night,” my all-time favorite vampire flick. Despite that, he never reached the fame or recognition of a John Carpenter or Wes Craven. He’s been semi-retired since 1996’s disastrous “Thinner.” “The Ten o’ Clock People,” his belated return to feature filmmaking, is also a Stephen King adaptation. The source story is a lot stronger then that Richard Bachman-penned novel. More importantly, Holland has collected together a solid cast. Rachel Nichols is lovely and underutilized, Jay Baruchel is talented enough, and Chris Sarandon is back too. An underrated filmmaker returning to adapt a Stephen King story that doesn’t totally suck along with some likable actors? Yeah, that’s enough to crack my top ten.
Other Upcoming Films of Note:
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
For a movie nobody asked for, “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a fairly enjoyable popcorn flick. A sequel minus the origin story baggage probably would have been a good time. Instead, this film has the baggage of Sony wanting to launch their own “Avengers.” So we’re getting at least three villains, at least two more sequels, and at least two spin-offs. That’s a bummer since I’d gladly watch Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in another one of these things.
Among the Living
Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s follow-up to their incendiary debut “Inside,” “Livid,” has still yet to see an official state-side release. However, their next film sounds even better. The premise involves a trio of young boys finding a captured women and a masked madman among an abandoned carnival. I personally hope that carnival setting plays a large role in the final film and that the directing duo hasn’t lost any intensity since their 2006 debut.
Teenage girl assassins have cropped up all over the pop culture landscape over these last few years with Hit-Girl, “Hanna,” and “Violet and Daisy.” This year is also bringing us the long-gestating anime adaptation “Kite,” which will presumably have way less underage rape in it. There’s been so many films of this nature that a parody, “Barely Lethal,” is now necessary. (Not entirely surprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson is in both films.) More surprising, the joke film sounds more interesting then any of the straight examples. Hailee Steinfeld has yet to find a place for her talent since “True Grit” but this one might be the ticket. Its premise of a teenage hit-girl attempting to adapt to high school sounds like the best parts of “Kick-Ass 2” stretch to feature length. Director Kyle Newman doesn't have the best track record but, eh, I'm willing to give him some leeway on this one.
Big Hero 6
For its first animated adaptation of a Marvel comic, Disney is going with relatively obscure material. “Big Hero 6,” the comic, was a goofy synthesis of Japan’s most endearing pop culture contributions. “Big Hero 6,” the movie, seems to be going in a vastly different direction, using the anime style as backdrop to an original story. I’m okay with this as Disney’s animation department has been on a role over the last few years. Sure, I wish it was cel animated but I’ll take what I can get.
Burying the Ex
Not many people saw Joe Dante’s long belated return to cinemas, “The Hole.” I bet this one, since its cast includes attractive established stars like Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene, will reach a wider audience. The premise, of a murderous boyfriend unable to get rid of his persistently undead girlfriend, is cute though not a particularly good match for Dante’s style. Sadly, this is looking to be a paycheck for Dante, on the way to his fantastic sounding Roger Corman biopic.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
While “Thor” and “The Avengers” overshadowed it, the first “Captain America” is still maybe my favorite of the Marvel movie lot. While I would have preferred more World War II era Natzi-bashing, this inevitable sequel is set in the modern day. The trailer was surprisingly gritty, marking Cap as the most reality-based of Marvel’s franchise. Hopefully, we’ll see HYDRA’s return and more of the Captain struggling against his government authorities.
Cold in July
Jim Mickle won fans with “Mulberry St.” and “Fangland.” But not me. I found both to be overrated bores. The director finally won me over with this past year with “We Are What We Are.” “Cold in July” seems to be ditching the more explicit horror elements while keeping the chilly, southern gothic atmosphere. The director seems an ideal pick to adapt Jon R. Lansdale’s novel and assembled a pretty good cast together to boot.
I’m disappointed in myself. My interest in this one dropped steeply after Christina Hendricks stopped playing the stripper. (At least we’ll still get to see her as a dominatrix in Ryan Gosling’s vanity project.) What direction this ends up going in will determine how much it holds my attention. A great film has still yet to be made about the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria and this probably isn’t it. I haven’t read the source novel but I can't escape this sinking feeling that this will be a forgettable thriller.. Still, along with Hendricks, Charlize Theron and Chloe Moretz are in the cast. Might these excellent actresses make the material more exciting?
Screenwriter Alex Garland has done some good work, an occasional stinker like "Sunshine" aside. Considering the writer’s continued interest in somewhat gimmicky science fiction with a humanistic heart, it’s not surprising he’d pick a gimmicky sci-fi story as his directorial debut. The story of corporate retreats and beautiful robot girls could go in a number of directions. We don’t know if Garland can direct but this will probably still be more interesting then the “Logan’s Run” remake or “Halo” adaptation he’s attached to write.
The Wachowskis have yet to find a real hit since “The Matrix,” only high-profile bombs. Somebody keeps giving these madmen money though, which is great since they’re still making awesome movies. With “Jupiter Ascending,” the duo seem to be intentionally emulating their previous flicks. Canning Tatum roundhouse kicking dudes recalls “The Matrix,” the eye-popping visuals are out of “Speed Racer,” while Mila Kunis wearing a rose dress on the moon seems more akin to “Cloud Atlas.” It’s those stars that make me uncertain, as neither has proven particularly captivating to me. Hopefully, the brothers’ wacked-out vision will keep me interested.
The Last Days of Coney Island
Ralph Bakshi turned to Kickstarter to finally get this much-talked-about and long thought dead project fully funded. He succeeded though, considering Bakshi’s independent methods, it probably still won’t see release any time soon. If it does make it out in the near future, it’ll probably be the director’s final artistic statement, ideally recapturing his seventies hayday. I bet its better then “Cool World.”
Arnold’s slow return to the big screen continues this year. I liked “The Last Stand,” loved “Escape Plan” and am even looking forward to the generically entitled “Sabotage.” The real Arnie flick to watch this year is “Maggie,” a zombie story co-starring Abigail Breslin. Originally conceived as a vehicle for Chloe Moretz, with a premise similar to low-budget Irish flick “Colin,” this has obviously transformed into a film wherein Arnold murders many zombies. This is alright since I love to watch Arnold murder things. Since zombie action flicks usually have huge body counts, this one will make for an awesome kill count video if nothing else.
This appears to be the year where the Slender Man, the internet’s boogieman, breaks into the mainstream. Several true indie projects, like the long-delayed “Entity” or recently lensed “Slender Man,” have yet to reach theater screens. It’s not surprising that the studio-sanctioned feature version of groundbreaking internet series “Marble Hornets” is likely to get there first. None of the Youtube version’s cast or crew is involved which dampens my interest. The screenwriter at least has “Splinter” on his resume while the director only has second-unit work on poopy Lionsgate flicks to go on. But, hey, Doug Jones as the Operator, that’s some fine castin’ there.
When I found that Darren Aronofsky was directing a Biblical epic, one of several this year, I was surprised and confused. How was Aronofsky going to Aronofsky up such well-trodden material while within the studio system, no less? Then reports of test audiences fleeing the screenings in confusion, frustration, and fear surfaced. Ah, that’s how Aronofsky is going to Aronofsky this up. With psychedelic visions and giant multi-armed angels. Even with a mumbly-mouthed Russell Crowe in the lead, the cast is aces. This will probably be the first Biblical epic I see in the theaters since, uh, “Prince of Egypt.” And if anyone’s going to keep the drunken, naked dancing in the Noah story, it’s Aronofsky.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Could this be a horror remake that actually sounds sort of interesting? The original is a good candidate for a remake, since the great premise is sometimes hampered by the execution. Smartly, this one is dropping the docu-drama angle, which would never fly in today’s megaplexes, and seems to be playing out more like a sequel. And what’s this about a meta angle, with the killings taking place at a screening of the original film? The cast features great character actors like Edward Herrmann, Veronica Cartwright, and the late Ed Lauter. The creative team have mostly done episodes of “American Horror Story” before which means this will be pretty look at and possibly full of annoying, distracting subplots.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
“Days of Future Past” has much the same problem as “Amazing Spider-Man 2." Both films seem to be loading up with as many characters as possible. There are a few important differences though. This is the follow-up to the excellent "X-Men: First Class," with most everyone returning, including probably-too-famous-for-this-now Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. Secondly, this appears to be the conclusion to the series that Bryan Singer had originally planned, retconing away the widely loathed third entry. (Though it's keeping the good parts, like Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde.) The script is based off a classic, beloved storyline. The trailer seems to indicate that this will be an X-movie with an epic scope, something we haven't quite gotten before. Lastly: Sentinels. Finally. How long have we been waiting to see those on screen? Assuming this isn't a jumbled mess with too many characters, this could very well be the X-Men movie we've all been waiting for.
I'm not quite done yet! Because this blog entry didn't have enough links, here's some more. (That makes a total of 104, in case your were curious.) Here's some other stuff of interest that still aren't interesting enough for me to write a paragraph about them! Hope you had a good New Year!
The ABCs of Death 2, The Bag Man, Big Eyes, The Boxtrolls, Clown, Cooties, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, Dracula Untold, Eliza Graves, Everly, A Field in England, Final Girl, Horns, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Interstellar, Map to the Stars, Muppets Most Wanted, Not Safe for Work, Nymphomaniac, Patrick, Premature, The Raid 2: Berandal, Return to Nuke ‘em High, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Sacrament, The Smell of Us, Snowpiercer, Transcendence, Under the Skin, Venus in Fur, Welcome to New York, Wolf Creek 2, and The Zero Theorem.