Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 Preview Concluded - My "Hops of Faith"

     In my previous two posts, I gave brief previews of the twenty films that currently have the greatest awards buzz at this early stage of the game.  Today, I'm going to preview ten more films that are flying under the radar at the moment but could have the potential to make a splash or at least just be really worth watching.
A couple of these will probably only contend in the tech categories, and a couple of them are probably going to be too small and early out of the gate, but you never know.  At any rate, these are my top ten most anticipated films that did not make the early buzz list:

10.  WON'T BACK DOWN - opens September 28th
         directed by:  Daniel Barnz
         written by:  Brin Hill, Daniel Barnz
         starring:  Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ving Rhames, Oscar Isaac, Lance Reddick,  
  Rosie Perez
     Director Daniel Barnz's previous two feature films (Beastly, Phoebe in Wonderland) were not exactly critical darlings, and his new production's concept (a parent who fights alongside educators to save their community's school system) certainly sounds potentially schmaltzy.  So why on earth, you are asking yourselves, does this film make the list?  Two words:  Viola Davis.  Aside from the fact that she is always excellent and can elevate the level of material she is given (she is and can), there was strong support for her to win Best Actress last year for The Help and it is largely believed that she almost did.  This puts her strongly in the Academy's "make it up to her" category, which is a powerful thing if she gets a campaign.  The rest of the cast is also pretty strong and Maggie Gyllenhaal in particular has a lot of fans in the AMPAS.  I'm sure Won't Back Down will be a little overly sentimental, but at best it could be this year's The Help.  At worst?  Viola's Blind Side.

9.  COSMOPOLIS - opens ????
       directed by: David Cronenberg
       written by:  David Cronenberg
       starring:  Robert Pattinson, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche
     Cronenberg's films are almost always interesting and he is such a wild card as a director that you never quite know what to expect.  For instance, no one expected him to cast Twilight star Pattinson as the lead in this story of a young billionairre whose day gets increasingly complicated.  Cronenberg, in his typical style, has addressed this issue head on, going on record saying that this film will lay to rest any doubts about the young actor's abilities.  This I have to see.  So should you.

8.  DARK SHADOWS - opens May 11th
       directed by:  Tim Burton
       written by:  Seth Grahame-Smith, John August
       starring:  Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Cloe Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Lee Miller, Gulliver McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley, Christopher Lee
     Granted, Alice In Wonderland was a huge, garish, and boorish (although wildly profitable) disaster made all the worse by having sooooo much wasted potential but I'm not ready to give up on the Burton/Depp dynamic...yet.  Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride were not so long ago.  Dark Shadows, an adaptation of a 1960's supernatural soap opera that was a campy classic, seems like the sort of blend of zany and spooky that this team has done so well with in the past.  As the vampiric patriarch of a dysfunctional family, Depp must be sauve and seductive with a smooth and sensual vocal tone.  This is perfect, because it is a proven fact that the quality of a Burton/Depp collaboration is always inversely proportionate to the frequency of Johnny flying into falsetto.  (What do The Mad Hatter, Willy Wonka, and Ichibod Crane have in common?  A tendancy to squeal like little girls.)  So many others in the cast seem perfect for this project as well, particularly Pfeiffer, Carter, Moretz, and Lee.  I was a big fan of Eli Stone, so I am anxious to see what Miller contributes as well.  Even if this is a big disappointment, it could easily see lots of awards love from the Academy's craft branches, particularly Art Direction, Costume, Make-Up and Visual Effects.

       directed by:  John Madden
       written by:  Ol Parker
       starring:  Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel
     The story of a gaggle of British retirees who try to conserve money by moving to a renovated hotel in India that turns out to be a little less posh than they expected, The Best Exotic Marigold hotel has received luke-positive early reviews and is opening pretty early in the season.  It is also of note that director John Madden has been out of the awards game for a while.  However, this cast has too dame much...oops, I mean, damn, no, dame much talent in it for me to resist.  How many more times will we have the honor to see Dench and Smith together on film?  This film COULD actually break into the acting races, depending on how things go with the rest of the field.  I don't care.  Some things actually do just improve with age.

6.  THE AVENGERS  -  May 4th
       directed by:  Joss Whedon
       written by: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
       starring:  Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston
     What other hero can rival Batman in popularity at the box office this summer?  There probably isn't one, but maybe a whole team of them can give it a shot.  This is it, the film that all those other Marvel Studios films starting with Iron Man have been leading up to.  On paper, it shows great potential.  Hemsworth, Evans, and Downey have all proven that they have a good handle on how to play their characters.  Buffy creator Joss Whedon seems like a strong choice to pull all these individual worlds together, and you know they are going to go all out for the thrills, chills, and special effects possibly leading to some awards attention in the technical categories.  As long as Zak Penn's script plays more like X-Men 2 than Elektra, we might have to make room for two perfectly respectable super hero flicks during the tentpole days of summer.

5.  GREAT EXPECTATIONS  -  opens ???
       directed by:  Mike Newell
       written by:  David Nicholls
       starring:  Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Holiday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Ewan Bremner
     Okay, so there is something that sounds a little tired and Oscar baity about yet another Dickens adaptation (I've found nearly ten big screen versions of just this story, plus numerous TV projects based on it).  While this production does have a strong cast overall and a director who solidly hits the mark at least some of the time (although he's never quite lived up to Mrs. Brown or Shakespeare in Love over the course of the last decade), my excitement comes mainly from one source:  Helena Bonham Carter as the tragic and spooky Mrs. Havisham.  It is perfect casting, and should be enough to make this movie worth the price of admission.  For anyone who was homeschooled by people who hate the British, Great Expectations is the story of a poor orphan named Pip who is elevated into high society under mysterious circumstances.  It IS one of Dickens' best stories and Mike Newell's best works have been period pieces set in the UK, so I'm going to be cautiously optimistic.  Of course, it goes without saying that Costume and Art Direction nominations could be in the film's future regardless of how it performs otherwise.

4.  SAVAGES - opens July 6th
       directed by:  Oliver Stone
       written by:  Don Winslow, Shane Salerno
       starring:  Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch, Benicio del Toro, Demian Bichir
     It has been over a decade and a half since Oscar courted Oliver last, but after two best director wins in five years (and a screenplay win several years earlier than that), he had sort of gotten his due for awhile.  He's still plugging away though, and he's still often quite impressive.  In Savages, he will tell the story of two pot dealers as they try to resque a girl they both have romantic ties to from a Mexican drug cartel.  Sounds very Natural Born Killers (one of Stone's most criminally under appreciated efforts) and that sounds great to me.  This film may slip under the awards radar entirely, but I'm in.  The younger stars are somewhat untested, but there is a lot of proven talent in the supporting roles.

       directed by:  Derek Cianfrance
       written by:  Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Mardur
       starring:  Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood
     Cianfrance follows up the depressing but excellent Blue Valentine with an action crime drama about a man who considers turning to crime to support his family.  He repartners with Blue star Gosling who seems to have become the go to actor for thinking man's action roles since Drive.  Perfectly understandable. My only reservation is that Gosling's role here seems so similar to his role in Drive:  a stunt driver (albeit on motorcycles this time) who gets involved with criminals.  Hopefully Cianfrance will present this versatile actor with something fresh to allow him to continue to grow.

2.  THE PAPERBOY - opens November 23rd
       directed by:  Lee Daniels
       written by:  ???
       starring:  Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Scott Glenn
     Director Lee Daniels follow up to the multiple Oscar nominated (and winning) Precious, The Paperboy is a thriller about a reporter investigating the case of a death row inmate upon his return to his hometown in Florida.  I loved Precious, and this is such a different kind of a story.  I can't wait to see just how versatile a director Daniels actually is.  I also can't wait to see what he is able to do with Efron, and how the young actor will stack up next to the likes of Kidman and Cusack.  McConaughey has also been making something of a comeback recently, and this could well be the next step on that path.

1.  PROMETHEUS - opens June 8th
       directed by:  Ridley Scott
       written by:  Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
       starring:  Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson
     Yeah, this is a horror/sci-fi/action flick and that's like a three strikes you're out with the Academy.  Usually.  But with a cast like this and three time Best Director nominee Scott at the helm, anything could happen. Scott's nominations in the past have all been for different genres, so his versatility is well established.  Also, blends of this film's three genres have worked well for the director in the past (Alien and Blade Runner anyone?) so this could be the surprise critical hit of the year.  Besides, I can't be the only one who is madly anxious to see what kind of range Rapace has outside of Lisbeth Salander in the original Dragon Tattoo movies.  If she can pull this off, and make it different from what we've seen her do in the past, she might just establish herself as the greatest international female action hero ever (not that there is a lot of competition in that arena, but still...).

     And that is the list.  Of course, as we all know, SOMETHING is likely to come along at Cannes in May and flip everything we think we know about this year in movies on its head.  These thirty films, however, are a great start to get you excited about what 2012 has to offer.  At least, they are for this amphibian.

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