It’s Heraldic Criticism’s belated one-year anniversary, and I’m once again kicking off the New Year with my top ten most eagerly anticipated films of the next twelve months.
You can expect my Top Ten list a bit later, as I still need to watch quite a few movies from 2012. Until then, enjoy my hopefuls of 2013!
Consider this a placeholder for all sci-fi films coming next year. Of the bunch, Alfonso Cuaron’s (Children of Men) long-delayed Gravity looks to be the most promising. While little is known of the actual plot, Gravity will star George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
9. Iron Man 3
I was just as shocked as everyone at the more serious, less jokey tone of the trailer for the third Iron Man film and follow-up to The Avengers. But it was almost certainly the right way to go – the ballsy, epic feel aims to prove that serious shit can go down even in these heroes’ individual worlds. Among the film’s many draws are Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the armored avenger’s greatest foe, playing what could easily be one of the most memorable villains in years, and co-writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) providing a healthy change of pace from the meandering Iron Man 2.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to 2011’s Hugo sees the return of frequent leading man Leo DeCaprio for a 90s-set true story about a broker who refuses participation in a mafia-tied Wall Street. To say that the fifth Scorsese-DeCaprio collaboration would be one to watch this year would be a no-brainer.
7. The Counselor
Looking at director Ridley Scott’s body of work over the past decade, I’m thrilled to see him tackling anything other than another hackneyed historical epic. Prometheus proves the director still has it in him to direct a great thriller, and with a script from Cormac McCarthy, it seems he may be able to add another to his already brimming resume. And while I haven’t read the author’s work, both The Road and No Country for Old Men are fantastic. Topped off with an all-star cast, this could easily be one of the highlights of the year.
6. The Wolverine
If Fox’s recent track record is anything to go by, the mistake that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all but a distant memory. Using the outstanding Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries as inspiration, the new Wolverine solo outing promises to get to the heart of the character like no movie before. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) will helm, citing a strong influence from films like The Outlaw Josey Whales. Spot on. Fox’s original choice to direct was Darren Aronofsky, a tantalizing prospect, but one which suggests a more A-list approach from the studio than in the past. Everything’s looking great, but what would really, truly sell me is the inclusion of the classic yellow-and-black suit in some form, provided it’s not ridiculous. Hey, they made it work for First Class.
5. Saving Mr. Banks
I can still point to Mary Poppins as one of the first films I ever saw, and one that inspired a strong bond between me and classic Disney. Some days, I still find myself humming Step in Time, We Love to Laugh, or Let’s Go Fly a Kite. As such, this Black List script-turned major awards contender is generating some serious buzz. I don’t know much about how the rights to the book were sold, but I’m very eager to hear the “based on a true story” version.
Plus, there’s Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Why not?
4. Man of Steel
I am terrified for this movie. This is Superman’s last chance at being a box office draw, and it’s clear WB have gone balls-out to try to make a movie as A-list as the character deserves. As I’ve discussed, the approach leaves ample room for failure, and yet, a universally reviled movie will be forgotten. Worse yet is the chance that the film will blow and STILL manage to find an audience, guaranteeing an inferior version of the character permeating throughout all Superman media for years to come (see Captain America: The First Avenger).
I’ve been inclined to dismiss the film entirely for reasons I’ve already mentioned – the bizarre casting, WB’s cluelessness of how to handle DC properties, writer David Goyer’s sketchy track record, and most of all, the choice of Zack Snyder to helm. That last one especially – this is a man that not only directed three flops in a row for the studio, but arguably hasn’t made a good movie yet. Or at least one absent of the director’s trademark soulless, thoughtless visual ejaculate better suited to car commercials than the greatest superhero of all time. Top that off with DC Comics’ own misguided reinventions of the character, including a military presence that portrays the character as more Hulk than hero, seemingly being used as a partial influence. Suffice to say, there is more than enough potential for this movie to be dead on arrival.
The latest trailer, while still largely just an HD version of the leaked Comic-Con trailer from last July which I praised, polarizes me. Distracting faux-artsy flair, blinding high contrast, borderline pretentious musical selection…it’s all so completely unnecessary to simply telling a great Superman story. If they go with such a self-serious tone, trying too hard to go beyond the pulp roots of the character, they may very well end up with something even more moody and unpleasant than Superman Returns.
Having said all that, this is still Superman we’re talking about, and isn’t Superman all about hope in the face of certain doom? I’m optimistic for perhaps a more modern silver screen take on the character in spite of my better senses. In the end, this is a movie that will live and die based on how well it tells its story, not its overwrought presentation, looking to be a retelling of the character’s origins from a more grounded perspective, and perhaps treating Superman as if he were a real thing. It’s more important the filmmakers do the character justice and tell a meaningful, compelling story than stage a scene with a sun setting in the background and let the mindless, drooling masses hail it as “visionary.”
There exists plenty of potential for a great Superman series, on par or better than even The Dark Knight. And for what it’s worth, I have no reason to complain just yet. Consider my words more of a defense mechanism brought on by failures like Green Lantern. It’s all still, so to speak, up in the air.
3. The Lone Ranger
Growing up watching Star Wars and playing Cowboys and Indians with Legos kind of gives one a false perception of what a western really is. Case in point, watching The Searchers for the first time after learning of its influence on the latter film, expecting Star Wars in the old west, leaves one bound for disappointment. I’ve since grown to appreciate the genre through films like Unforgiven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I’ve never lost the desire to see a more fun, kinetic (and well-made) western blockbuster. I get a sense that The Lone Ranger may very well be that film.
Here’s another yarn from my childhood – back in 2003, I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in and was suddenly infused with purpose. Film was where I wanted to be, and Pirates had everything I loved about blockbusters and more – an epic feel, great characters, explosive action, memorable writing, solid direction, and a score I’d be humming for years to come. Ten years later, watching The Lone Ranger trailer left me feeling that, maybe, that pure Disney magic I’d felt at seeing such a brilliant, fun, original film had returned.
Many will still scoff at my lofty placement for such a seemingly ho-hum summer tentpole, this grittier reimagining of an old radio hero. And sure, there have been valid concerns over the out-of-control budget and a first draft that boasted werewolves and other oddball supernatural occurrences. I still say the chance that The Lone Ranger delivers on its promise to do for westerns what Pirates did for pirate movies outweighs them. Verbinski looks to have delivered some breathtaking shots, and lines like, “There come a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask,” are already infinitely memorable. Not to mention, the good sense of humor Pirates had in droves appears intact. I’m not expecting a masterpiece, just a fun time at the movies like I first felt all those years ago. Hi-ho indeed.
2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Eight years after 2005’s revolutionary Sin City, the sequel is finally arriving. It’s high time, given that the stories being adapted for this film also overlap with those of the first. And already, both former players Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan have passed, making perfect continuity with the first all but impossible. By any account, eight years was eight too many.
One of the greatest adaptations of all time, the first Sin City brought comic writer Frank Miller’s magnum opus to life and stood as director Robert Rodriguez’s greatest achievement. The visual style, the faux-noir dialogue, the style, the look…I love just how dark and dour this world is, and how many opportunities for great storytelling it yields. Adapting further tales from the depths of Basin City, A Dame to Kill For looks to be more of the same inspired CGI-based filmmaking, and hopefully not too far from the look of the first as Rodriguez suggests here.
Naturally, Frank Miller’s co-direction and co-writing of the script, which includes two original Sin City stories, leaves plenty of room for question. As great as the writer was in the 90s when the Dark Horse series was at its peak, the man’s work in the past decade has devolved into self-parody at best, twisted abomination at worst. Luckily, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed William Monahan was on hand to rewrite Miller’s draft, so pray A Dame to Kill For is more in the vein of the first than The Spirit.
The fact that the film adaptation didn’t explode into a full-fledged franchise is nothing short of a crime. Depending on how this film goes, let’s hope we won’t have to wait nearly as long for the third.
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
No surprises here. An Unexpected Journey was excellent, a grand return to the kind of epic storytelling we’ve come to expect from director Peter Jackson. Though the trilogy conceit is a bit much, and even Unexpected Journey suffered from a meandering, over-elongated script, the second installment should prove to contain even more titillating moments for fans of the book. Among those will be an appearance from Smaug the dragon, voiced and acted via motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbacht (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And as someone who regrettably skipped through the appendices of Return of the King when I read the book as a kid, I’m also very eager to see more of the Necromancer and how it all ties in to Lord of the Rings. In any case, more is not at all a bad thing.