In my book, 2011 has been a great year for movies. Good stuff has abounded throughout this particular revolution of the planet, both on the side of light lifting– Limitless, Paul, Cedar Rapids, Captain America– and in the realms of more substantial material, such as Drive, Weekend, The Tree of Life, and Win Win. Even the films either artistically unsuccessful or thoroughly excruciating which punctuate 2011 have been interesting or worth discussing in one way or another; Super, for example, and even ACVF’s least favorite 2011 release, Red State. It’s a pretty good year when even the worst films invoke more than just outright revulsion.
But it’s time to say goodbye to 2011 and look ahead to 2012– and so far, 2012 stands to trump 2011 in sheer excellence. While the year looks well-defined by an avalanche of comic book films– The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Amazing Spider-Man, Dredd– as well as a number of other genre franchise films and tent-pole studio pictures– Skyfall, Twilight: Shhh, It’s Almost Over, pt. 2, Taken 2, Wrath of the Titans, The Expendables 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation– there’s plenty of quality to look forward to in 2012. And of course that’s not to say I’m not looking forward to any of the aforementioned films– I am, some of them anyhow, but not as much as I’m looking forward to each of the below films.
1) Prometheus: Maybe you could file this under “genre franchise film”, but Prometheus has enormous promise. We all know at this point that it’s some manner of Alien prequel; how explicitly the two films connect remains to be seen, of course, and the severity of their intertwining could either make Prometheus into something really special or a painfully by-the-numbers over-explanation of the mythology behind the iconic xenomorph of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror masterwork. Taking into consideration the film’s pedigree– not only Scott but writer Damon Lindelof, a plus or a minus depending on who you talk to, as well as Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce– there’s no reason not to be enthused over Prometheus outside of fan caution.
2) The Master: Full disclosure– all I need to know to guarantee I see this in a theater is that it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film in five years. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that Philip Seymour Hoffman stars with Joaquin Phoenix in a story about fundamental religious fervor, and while I know little else about The Master, what I do know is enough to establish this as a necessary watch in 2012.
3) Django Unchained: Hey, I’m actually looking forward to a Quentin Tarantino film. Imagine that. 2009′s Inglourious Basterds blew me away, clearly marking QT’s best, most personal work to date, and so it’s with little trepidation that I anticipate Django‘s release. The cast is terrific– notably Leonardo DiCaprio as the villain, which tickles me, and most of all Jamie Foxx, who hasn’t really done anything great since 2007′s The Kingdom– and the film reads like an opportunity for Tarantino to let his inspirations inform his own personal vision, instead of allowing them to run rampant. (Plus? Poster of the year, hands down.)
4) Brave: At this point I’ve written about Brave enough that my excitement for it need not be conveyed further. Put simply, it’s a wonderful to see Pixar turn out an original film after two sequels in a row, and to see them tackle a specific narrative convention by putting their own twist on the princess story.
5) Argo: I’m a big fan of Ben Affleck behind the camera; I think he’s got a sure hand for storytelling and a lot of confidence considering he’s only got two directorial credits to his name. I’m also fond of the “movie within a movie” conceit. And I also like real-life stories that sound so oddball that learning of their veracity causes me to double-take. So Argo, which is based on actual events, is kind of right up my alley.
6) The Great Gatsby: In terms of capturing a certain visual sensibility, The Great Gatsby looks like a potential knock-out. It’s inhabited by young actors and actresses who look like they could have walked right off the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved novel by virtue of the appearances they were graced with on birth, and the sets and costumes loudly call back to the period the book is based in. The only wild card on this project? Baz Luhrmann. He tried, and half succeeded, in striking a specific tone and time in 2008′s Australia, so the question of which Luhrmann shows up for Gatsby is relevant. If he’s on his game, he could turn out a really vital and dazzling film.
7) Gravity: If it’s right to be excited for Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film in five years, then it’s also correct to be equally thrilled at Alfonso Cuarón’s return to directing films after sitting in the producer’s chair for six years. He’s also coming back to do a science fiction film, and given that his last attempt in the category was Children of Men, well, I don’t think there’s any reason not to nail this down as a major release in 2012. Gravity‘s a disaster film, in which George Clooney and Sandra Bullock find themselves stranded on a space station with only each other to rely on; though on a smaller scale than Children of Men, there’s plenty of opportunity for Cuarón to capture the same ache and hurt and wonder and hope of his masterpiece.
8) Cabin in the Woods: This played at the annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon hosted by Ain’t It Cool News to great praise, evaporating any concerns I had about the film’s relevance. Cabin in the Woods has been on the shelves for more than two years; as a meta-referential horror film, the passage of time could be most unkind. In the case of Cabin, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Between baby face masks, bird-electrocuting laser grids, the promise of monsters, genre examinations, and of course the hugely positive BNAT response, Cabin sounds like a must-see horror flick.
9) Looper: Rian Johnson is 1.5 for 2 with me– I loved Brick but wound up being in the middle on The Brothers Bloom– so I’m eagerly awaiting Looper as the film that potentially puts him completely back on track
10) Only God Forgives: The re-teaming of Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn after this year’s Drive (ranked number one on my top 15 of 2011). Frankly, I wasn’t sure about placing this here– I’m not 100% sure if it’s going to make it in time for 2012 consideration– but if this sees a 2012 run, I’ll be sure to catch a screening at the first opportunity. Refn gets better and better with each movie he makes and Gosling seems to be experiencing a turning point in his career as an actor where he actually seems to be acting.
11) The Hunger Games: I don’t think I’ve made it a secret that I like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games– maybe not so much for the book itself, though it is engrossing in its fashion, but for the fact that it’s teen lit that amounts to more than just hormonal pandering. The Internet-housed criticism against it– that it’s just a Battle Royale rip-off– makes me root for its success on the big-screen all the more. I don’t know that Lionsgate is marketing it correctly, still (though the puzzle piece hunt was intriguing enough), but buzz from the readership and from media outlets could be enough to get people into theaters just to see what everyone’s talking about. If nothing else I know that I’ll be there to check it out.
12) Cogan’s Trade: In 2007, Brad Pitt and Andrew Dominik collaborated with one another and the result was The Assassination of Jesse James. Enough said.
13) Moonrise Kingdom: I admit that I’m a little disappointed to see Wes Anderson return to live-action film after The Fantastic Mr. Fox proved to serve his cinematic proclivities well. But Wes Anderson is Wes Anderson, and typically worth watching– and maybe Fox will prove to be the break from working with real actors that Anderson needed to recover from the underwhelming The Darjeeling Limited. Besides, with the cast that he’s assembled to his cause (Willis, Goodman, McDormand, Norton, Murray, Swinton, Keitel, Schwartzman), it’s unlikely that Moonrise Kingdom will be without its merits.
15) The Hobbit: Easily the film I’m most excited about in 2012, if the image kicking this post off is any indication. I’m a Tolkien buff, being an avid reader of Middle Earth mythology, and a huge admirer of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, which rank among the very best pictures released in their decade. More than anything, though, I love The Hobbit. It’s one of my favorite books, even more than the Rings novels, so to see it receive the same cinematic treatment naturally lifts me up more than a bit. Familiar faces– Jackson and the WETA gang, Andy Serkis, and Ian McKellen, to name a few– as well as new ones– Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, and others– coupled with the aesthetic continuity shown in Jackson’s production diaries and the recently unveiled trailer make me feel like I’m returning to a world I’ve longed to revisit for years. I, for one, cannot wait.