Jan 3, 2014

50 Films to Check Out in 2014

It is an exciting time of the year. Not that great films are coming out in droves, but that we get to start another year as a blank slate. We get to look ahead into an unknown spectrum and discover what exactly will entertain us in the months ahead and slowly discover what actually meets or even exceeds expectations. The following is my annual attempt to highlight films that could have potential in some way. Some that look great and others that still need to prove themselves. Looking back every December on these is especially a treat because much like the films themselves, you'll be surprised how many you actually lost interest in. I have attempted to rank them into three categories based on my interest on what available materials have been given out. Enjoy and please feel free to share your selections.
There are two themes that I do believe will form in 2014: the return of the musical and religious films. This is most evident with the latter, especially with trailers for films such as Noah, Heaven is for Real, and Son of God already making the rounds and director Ridley Scott doing Exodus with Christian Bale. It will become apparent as the year goes on however that musicals are coming back in spades, whether it be Annie, or lesser known titles such as Into the Woods or Jersey Boys. These big titles are at very least on route to make 2014 one of the more ambitious years. It may not tackle corruption and racism like last year, but 2013 was lackluster as a whole. With this year ahead, we can look forward to another great batch of films and hopefully find plenty to love along with it.

-MUST SEE-

INHERENT VICE - It is the return of director Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix after delivering the amazing The Master which saw Phoenix turn in probably one of his most charismatic performances. That is enough to make me want to see it and I can only assume that this means that I have found a new favorite dynamic in these two. Then again, even if the film doesn't live up to the reputation, it will likely keep Anderson's reputation as one of the modern greats a relevant truth.

GONE GIRL - While I missed out on director David Fincher's foray into TV with House of Cards, I have always been an admirer of him as a filmmaker. His aggression is unmatched and his films have more energy than any action film with more explosions. While many were lukewarm on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I felt like it succeeded as a film and is keeping Fincher on path of being on an upswing on his career. With Ben Affleck set to star, there is plenty of hope that this could be another knock out of the park.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL - With Moonrise Kingdom topping my 2012 Best Of list, it would be obvious to place this film high. However, it almost seems too jaded with riches with an amazing cast, lavish sets, and director Wes Anderson's continuing skill at turning the real world into his children's book landscape. The trailer is excellent and  with his previous two films probably being the strongest that he's made, it is likely that Anderson will continue to amaze with this effort and hopefully continue to rich a wider audience.

THE BOXTROLLS - One word: Laika. The studio that has brought us Coraline and ParaNorman will return this year with their third feature. I do believe that with their brief catalog, they have surpassed the quality of their competitors with impressive animation techniques and stories that are more challenging than those of Pixar. There is little doubt that this will be yet another success story for the company and another unfortunate reminder that stop motion takes longer to make and thus is more painful to wait for their follow-up.

INTERSTELLAR - Director Christopher Nolan returns with yet another sci-fi film. It is his first since finishing up the solid Dark Knight trilogy and leaves many questions on where he will be going next. Inception proved to be one of his most popular films following The Dark Knight and with this, his return to the sci-fi genre could produce some interesting results. The only question is how well he will do with Matthew McConaughey leading the pack and a teaser that got me curious, but not overtly invested.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 - After 2013 was a sleeper year for animation, producing very few memorable films, it looks like this year will produce some of the best. The sequel to the highly impressive How to Train Your Dragon has some big shoes to fill, especially with the last one being one of the most exciting, enjoyable, universal family films of recent times. While it is doubtful that Dreamworks Animation will botch the efforts, it is interesting to see if they can capture the magic twice.

HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER - Ryan Gosling didn't have a great 2013 with only one out of three films not feeling like disappointments (The Place Beyond the Pines). However, what makes this particular film quite exciting is that he is finally taking a turn behind the camera. More than anything, it would be interesting to see how successful it turns out and if he is a director whose style can match the ambitions of the projects that he has made in the past. It is exciting and hopefully will be until the trailer premieres, which it at that point we'll have some answers. 

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR - One of a few films that made my list last year. While the news that director Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills bombed at the box office deflates some interest, this film isn't going for the same b-movie tropes. Following the Frank Miller comics and a career-defining film, A Dame to Kill For has a lot to live up to and hopefully with Rodriguez giving his all, it will change his recent trajectory of disappointing sequels and give us yet another film that is highly unique and full of character and limited colors.

THE INTERVIEW - This is the End may have fallen on the disappointing side, but the next film from directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is likely to be one I see regardless. Where the flaws of their debut came from the limited appeal of the premise, there is a chance that their next film will overcome those issues. Either way, I am a sucker for watching films with these comedians and eagerly await their next move, which as their past screenplays would suggest, is always full of hilarious insight and subtle ambitions.

THE MONUMENTS MEN - The film that got bumped from 2013 for being incomplete is finally going to see the light of day. With an excellent cast, this follow-up to the underrated The Ides of March will hopefully capture all of the magic and humor that the trailers suggests. At very least, it looks like a top tier cast hanging out and under George Clooney's watchful eye will hopefully be a memorable look back at a lesser explored aspect of World War II.

BIG EYES - One should have learned to give up on director Tim Burton by this point, especially with the atrocious Dark Shadows not too far in his past. However, there are numerous elements that makes his latest effort worth giving a shot. For starters, it is his first original film since Big Fish, and it stars Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter, and Christoph Waltz. Now that sounds like an appetizing film. It is up to him to hopefully exceed expectations and make a film that mixes his gothic appeal with a story worthy of his talents.

THE RAID 2 - The Raid: Redemption turned out to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable, insane action films of 2012. While little has been seen about its follow-up, there is only hope that the franchise continues to expand into amazing, new places and give us some impressive choreography that reminds us why action films can be more than mindless nonsense. 

NOAH - It helps that director Darren Aronofsky is following up his most successful, and my personal favorite, film Black Swan with something so off the wall ambitious that it cannot help but be seen on a big screen. The surreal, dark director has a large budget to make a story about Noah's Ark and while it could end up being a less funny Evan Almighty, there is a chance that this could be one of those rare experiences. We're not likely to see Aronofsky do Noah type films again. Whether that will be for better or worse is yet to be seen, and that is the most exciting part of it all. 

UNTITLED TERRENCE MALICK FILM - Again, it doesn't make sense why 2013 was hailed as the year of Terrence Malick going in when it ended up only producing the solid To the Wonder. However, this film continues to be a film that I am curious about because of the casting, which does feature heavyweights Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Michael Fassbender. I know very little about it, but when compiling most of my favorite performers into one film and the director going through an ambitious period, there is a good chance that it could be great.

MOCKINGJAY: PART 1 - What is interesting about The Hunger Games franchise is how they have gotten better. The social commentary and charismatic performance by Jennifer Lawrence are all elements that make this one of the more relevant and interesting franchises currently building today. After Catching Fire proved to be quite an effective film that went even deeper into its messages, hopefully the ending to Suzanne Collins trilogy (spread out over four films) will break new ground and become something of legend with this first part to the conclusion.

NEED FOR SPEED - Aaron Paul stars in a movie that feels like Drive without the artistic license. However, it is also Paul in a film post-Breaking Bad and that will be interesting to see if he has what it takes to transition to the big leagues of acting like his co-star Bryan Cranston. If his work in Smashed suggests anything, he likely will.

THE IMMIGRANT - The first time that Joaquin Phoenix has teamed up with Two Lovers director James Gray since pretty much lambasting it in I'm Still Here. The international trailers show that he is probably going to be back in a more reserved role that will show the range of one of America's more charismatic actors. With a supporting cast that includes Jeremy Renner and Marion Cotillard, this looks to be quite an interesting film and one that I will see hopefully sooner than later.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST - I don't actually care about the X-Men, but it does star Ellen Page, which is almost a guarantee that I must see the film as soon as possible. For all I know, the film could be great, but with exception to Page and Michael Fassbender, I have no desire to see this at all.


-MATINEE-

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 - I love the first film and eagerly await the second one, which promises more from Bob Newhart and the addition of Christoph Waltz. The only problem that could come across is that this isn't from original director Seth Gordon, but from Sean Anders, who has had a terrible track record with films like That's My Boy and Sex Drive. It could potentially be fun depending on the screenplay, but I am already leery of its success.

FOXCATCHER - Another film that was bumped from 2013 and stars Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in a film that could likely get some recognition. Little is known about the film other than the trailers that were pulled from the internet almost as quickly as they went up. However, it is from Bennett Miller, whose work includes Capote and Moneyball, so it will likely be worth the wait.

JUPITER ASCENDING - The Wachowskis return after the highly ambitious and divisive Cloud Atlas. The only question is if they are able to keep their epic scope in check and make yet another film that explores philosophy with breathtaking visuals and a cast to match. Of course, it is more shocking that this film got made at all, considering the box office failure of their last film. Either way, they are gambling at this point, and it will be fun to see where things go.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES - I came to the Rise of the Planet of the Apes bandwagon really late. However, what shocked me most was that it was an ambitiously unique blockbuster that changed the game and made the third act into something of magic. I became a quick fan and desperately found myself wanting to line up for the next one, which is coming from Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. Hopefully it will be as great as the first one, and hopefully we'll get closer to recognizing C.G.I. actors at the Oscars because of films like these.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER - 2013 may have not been an appealing year for superhero films with me, but of all the Marvel spin-offs, Captain America captured a certain magic that was full of wit and found a character that was just fun to watch. He was full of Americana and life. Hopefully that continues with the sequel and make a rightful successor to the Iron Man films in terms of big budgeted films that are overall fun to watch.

KNIGHT OF CUPS - Another impressive cast from a Terrence Malick film. Once again, little is known about it and I cannot really comment on it other than hopefully we'll see it sooner than later and maybe even get to debate which of the two yet to be released films is actually better.

EXODUS - Director Ridley Scott may be on somewhat of a problematic trajectory since Prometheus and The Counselor failed to appeal to audiences. However, this tale of Moses stars Christian Bale as the lead already sounds promising. It may be one of numerous films of the year to cover religious stories as epics, but if there is one performer who is capable of playing a role once filled by Charlton Heston, it is Bale. On an intriguing side note, this is yet another film starring Aaron Paul as well as Ben Kinglsey, Sigourney Weaver, and Joel Edgerton. So there is hope that Scott delivers the promise of a great film. The only matter now is seeing if he can break his recent losing streak.

NYMPHOMANIAC - Director Lars Von Trier's four hour epic on the sex life of a woman has been in the news for years now. It almost feels like it is more of a thought than a film, but it is finally coming out on VOD in two parts this year and while likely to be highly pornographic due to subject nature, there is a chance that Von Trier's epic will have some resonance and artistic style that has made him one of the more interesting directors out there with his mix of melancholy, violence, and beauty. Hopefully, this is another example of that.

THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN - I am slow to actually seeing the new Peter Jackson films on the grounds that they don't feel as important as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, with The Desolation of Smaug supposedly getting some big buzz of improvement, there is a chance that the last film will save the best moments for last. Then again, the film could just be as lackluster as the first. It is up in the air and while these films as a whole never felt as important as the other J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, there is a chance it can still surprise you.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - I don't know a single thing about these Marvel characters and the film holds no interest for me on subject matter. However, what appeals to me is that it is director James Gunn's follow-up to the brilliant Super. Where that film satirized superhero films in a delightfully haphazard Taxi Driver way, there is plenty to wonder on if Gunn will apply his Troma technique to a big, C.G.I. budgeted film and succeed or if this is much like Noah and the year in which ambitious indie directors are going to just end up making this a confusing, rare year for cinema.

GODZILLA - While I know very little about the popular Japanese creature, I am all for the potential of a great monster film. What better way to do it than to bring in director Gareth Edwards, who made Monsters: a low budgeted film that has some impressive C.G.I. and brought something new to the realm of monster movies. Even if this feels like it will just be another film with big effects and explosions, hopefully it will be so much more and make the creature relevant to American audiences again.

JERSEY BOYS - In a strange move, director Clint Eastwood is adapting the popular musical. While he has been associated with musicals (Paint Your Wagon), what are the odds that he will succeed in making this particular effort work? True, he won't be singing, but it will be a stretch for the senior citizen director that will at least produce intriguing results. Of course, with a spotty recent track record with films like J. Edgar, there is some doubt that he could deliver. Then again, he did Gran Torino, so it might pan out.

MAPS TO THE STARS - Director David Cronenberg returns with a film that aims to explore what celebrity reveals about Western culture. The body horror director has had some success in making grasping films that ask hard questions, such as Cosmopolis. The only question is how successful will he be? However, with the great Mia Wasikowska in a lead role on the heels of Stoker, it is likely to just be a great, morose film that will be a head trip alternative to mainstream cinema.

THE JUDGE - One of my secret desires has been to see Robert Downey Jr. play a role not being a suit of iron. From the Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, it looks like we might have our shot. I know very little about the film, but there is a good chance that we'll see his dry wit come out in ways that have long been repressed. The only problem is really in the films that Dobkin made since Wedding Crashers, notably the abysmal The Change-Up. However, Downey is a charismatic performer when he wants to be, and this may be his opportunity to remind us of his potential.

BIRDMAN - I know very little about this film other than it is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and stars Edward Norton as a washed up actor who once played a famous superhero. I love stories that challenge the man behind the image and this is one that I'll keep a look at on the outskirts in hopes that the premise pays out and that it produces an intriguing result. Norton is an intriguing and aggressive actor that when committed, can dazzle. Hopefully this is one of those examples.


-RENTAL-

TUSK - Director Kevin Smith returns to horror after the problematic Red State. The only real question is why he needs to do this. Hopefully this time he will stop bugging critics about poor reviews and maybe let us judge the film on its own merits. Maybe there is something to him tackling a different genre, but they never feel as strong as his comedies, and that is rather problematic.

TRANSCENDENCE - Christopher Nolan's cinematography Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut with Johnny Depp in the lead. I know very little about the film, but I do have some doubts that a cinematographer to one of the most acclaimed blockbuster directors of our time will hit it out of the park. While it will be interesting to see Depp try something different, there is something beyond the gimmicks of Pfister's associates that needs to sell me on wanting to see this film.

FRANK - Michael Fassbender in a rock band. I know that I put this on my list last year and further up. However, despite being on the midst of a revolution for the actor, there needs to be something more to make me care about this film particularly in a year where there is so much else that he is releasing and that has a lot more interesting elements going for it.

DIVERGENT - Shailene Woodley was phenomenal in The Spectacular Now and I wouldn't mind seeing her succeed. My only fear is that with lackluster trailers, this could be akin to my disappointment with Saoirse Ronan with The Host. It has potential to go either way, but it also doesn't look all that appealing beyond Woodley's potential to be a breakout star.

INTO THE WOODS - It isn't often that I look forward to a Meryl Streep film, but this is an adaptation of a Soundheim musical that is probably going to be one of the bigger hits of the year. I know very little about it and with no clue of what the songs sound like, I cannot guarantee that I will care as much as I state here. However, in a year when musicals seem to be coming in troves, there is a good chance that this could succeed. I just need more proof.

LAGGIES - Lynn Shelton returns with a film lead by Chloe Moretz and Kiera Knightley. After having some success with Touchy Feely last year, I am willing to give her another shot. The leads are alone worth checking out, though with Moretz looking to star in an exhausting amount of features, it is debatable on which ones will stand out. However, based on Shelton's track record, I am willing to believe that this one could be different from the other, numerous films that are impossible to keep up with.

JANE GOT A GUN - I actually really want to see it just because of the controversy surrounding the making of the film. It is a western that stars Natalie Portman in the lead, and that is enough of a sell for a Rental. My only question is that because of the director issues that were there on day one, how successful will the film be? I want to see, but I am also worried about how much that will actually be when the time comes.

ANNIE - It is strange that they would remake the musical Annie with Quvenzhane Wallis, though with 2013 proving to be a more racially diverse year, there is a good chance that it could work. Still, we haven't gotten much proof that Wallis is a good singer and while she has plenty of energy, can she carry a bigger budgeted film? There's plenty of intrigue in the concept, but the execution could be problematic. We'll just have to wait and see.

GET A JOB - I don't know anything about it other than that it stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller, and Allison Brie. Something great has to come from a film that is headlined by those names.

SQUIRRELS TO THE NUTS - One of the big treats of 2013 was getting to discover the films of Peter Bogdanovich. While I am only familiar with his 70's output, I am curious to see what a latter day version of the director will produce. Maybe it will actually be good? Maybe watching more of his films will sway me into being somewhat leery. I don't know, but it could be good. All I know is that it has to be better than that title.

MALEFICENT - It is a fairy tale story starring Angelina Jolie. It is yet another debut from an impressive behind the scenes man who worked on special effects for films like Life of Pi and There Will Be Blood. It is mostly a worry that the tone of Robert Stromberg's debut could either go really dark and unappealing, or delightfully weird. It is strange and maybe worth a rental if it ever comes to that point.

THE EQUALIZER - It is from director Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington. However, the real reason that I put it on here is because I became intrigued by a brief reference in The Wolf of Wall Street. It could be great, though the reference in that film may have been a secret promotion for this one that nobody will have expected until it came out.

-WORST OF THE WORST-

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III (FINAL SEQUENCE) - I am glad to have it on this list if just because it means nobody cares to release it. The second one is one of the worst films of the past few decades. Hopefully this never comes out and I keep placing it here in hopes that I am proven wrong and that nobody wants to see this garbage get released.



*Note: I do apologize for not including more variety, i.e. indies, on this list because I am unaware of how to find out when they are coming out as readily as the bigger films. This isn't to say that I have a preference, but just that I am likely to find them as the year progresses. That is what is exciting about indies. They come almost as a surprise midway through the year. There is a good chance that I won't see most of these the further down things go. It is just that upon writing this, these are ones that I could find that were somewhat interesting.

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