The time has come to gaze past the final, Oscar-hunting releases of 2013, onto the green pastures of the 2014 movie landscape. While it’ll be a tough challenge to equal the past year’s bounty of cinematic home-runs, a handful of great directors, actors and stories are showing up to bat. So without further ado, here are the top 30 most promising movies of 2014:
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson – Maker of Modern Masterpieces.
Concept: Adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s cult novel, about a stoned private eye in 70s San Francisco.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson.
The Skinny: This sounds like PTA’s Big Lebowski, but will no doubt prove to be its own unique and wonderful beast – and the surreal, psychedelic, funny/profound source material bodes well. Truth be told, if Anderson decided to film paint drying for two hours, this would still be my most anticipated movie of the year. Six movies in, and the man can do no wrong. – Daniel Hardy
Director: Christopher Nolan – Heir to Spielberg and Cameron, as one of the very few mega-budget directors who can do whatever the hell wants.
Concept: Space explorers travel through newly discovered wormhole on `interstellar’ voyage.
Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck.
The Skinny: This is one of Christopher Nolan’s `original’ projects, using the clout from his Batman films to tell complex stories on a large scale, and if it’s anywhere near as good as Inception or The Prestige, we’re home free. The cast is amazing, though I’m especially excited to see Jessica Chastain in the Nolan universe. And the teaser trailer gave me chills. I predict this will be the biggest blockbuster phenomenon of 2014, and an all time classic to boot. – DH
Director: Rupert Wyatt, making his third feature after the under-seen prison-break indie The Escapist, and the surprisingly enjoyable summer smash Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Concept: An English Lit college professor spends his nights gambling in LA’s seedy underworld, in a loose remake of the 1973 James Caan film.
Cast: Mark Whalberg, Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Michael K. Williams (Omar!).
The Skinny: The script by William Monaghan (The Departed) is a razor sharp existential masterpiece; the cast is to die for; and given how Wyatt miraculously elevated `Rise of the Apes’ despite a meddling studio and a bland script, he could do absolute wonders here. If this is as good as the sum of its various parts, we’re in for a real treat. - DH
Director: South Korean genius Bong Joon-Ho, auteur of The Host, Memories of Murder, and Mother.
Concept: Class warfare on a long train that circles a frozen, post-apocalyptic earth.
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jaimie Bell, John Hurt.
The Skinny: This sci-fi epic came out last summer in South Korea, to rave reviews and blockbuster box-office. Despite this, Harvey Weinstein has decided that US audiences are too dumb for the original cut, so we’re getting treated to the dumbed down shorter version with character-enhancing scenes removed and exposition-emphasizing voice-over added in. So, as with this year’s Weinstein-disfigured The Grandmaster, I’ll be boycotting the US cinema release, and getting my director’s cut copy in Chinatown. - DH
Director: David Michod, finally following up his outstanding 2010 debut, Animal Kingdom.
Concept: A loner tracks the gang who stole his car from a desolate town in the Australian outback.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy.
The Skinny: Animal Kingdom was one of the most confident, assured debuts of the last decade, and I have a strong feeling this will cement Michod as one of the great modern auteurs. Also, Guy Pearce has a knack for appearing in cult classics (Memento, LA Confidential), and Pattinson showed surprising chops in 2012′s Cosmopolis. - DH
Concept: In a future society, an ordinary girl is targeted by Galactic Forces for resembling the Queen of the Universe.
Directors: The Wachowski Siblings, coming off the divisive, artistic high dive somersault that was Cloud Atlas (my favorite film of 2012).
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean… and Terry Gilliam!
The Skinny: The trailer looks bananas – in a good way – and the Wachowskis badly need a Matrix-sized hit. They’ve cast two of the most attractive young stars currently working, and they take their sic-fi seriously, so hopefully they’ve been left to their own devices on this one, and crafted the rare summer blockbuster that transcends formula. As a huge fan of their maligned financial failures Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer, I’m optimistic. Then again, if this is anything like the Matrix sequels… well, let’s not even go there. - DH
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Director: Jim Jarmusch, American master of existential ennui, barebones narratives and, self-style characters in a cool as ice realm of their own.
Concept: Spanning from the desolate streets of Detroit to Tangier, Only Lovers Left Alive follows the love story of a romantically suicidal musician and his eternal beloved—two vampires dealing with existence in the modern world.
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt
The Skinny: Jarmusch’s absolutely delicious and cool baby cool tale of bloodsucking, undead love is a playful and nocturnal examination of modernity’s foibles through the RayBan covered eyes of those who’ve lived through its beauty and its horror. Scored to perfection and directed with the touch of a man who knows how to make a story feel like a jazz riff, the film is as if the Nick Cave scene in Wings of Desire made friend’s with Mick Jagger in Performance to create your new favorite onscreen romance from Swinton and Hiddleston. – Hillary Weston
UNDER THE SKIN
Director: Jonathan Glazer, in his long-awaited followup from Birth
Concept: An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Paul Brannigan
The Skinny: Way off the deep end of art house cinema, this is not a movie for anyone seeking traditional narrative rules of engagement, as it bravely, obtusely leaps and stumbles to create a new cinematic language in tune with its themes of literal and metaphorical alienation. Withholding any exposition, and defiantly resistant to creating any momentum or pace, Glazer’s thoroughly bizarre and undoubtedly unique film is by turns excruciating and stunning, with endless, poorly filmed sequences through Scottish streets interspersed with mind-blowing scenes that could belong in one of Stanley Kubrick’s dreams. – DH
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Director: Wes Anderson, following up his 2012 comeback hit, Moonrise KIngdom.
Concept: Shenanigans at a`legendary’ Hungarian hotel, set in the 20s.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel… and pretty much anyone who’s ever appeared in an Anderson movie.
The Skinny: You either like Wes Anderson, or you don’t. Personally, I don’t think he’s ever reached the ecstatic heights of his early hits, Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums, but damned if this trailer doesn’t look like a blast of pure, quirky storybook fun. - DH
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda, Japanese master of emotional family dramas filled with penetrating questions.
Concept: Like Father, Like Son examines what happens when two families learn that their six year old sons were switched at birth, thanks to a rare hospital incident.
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki
The Skinny: As he is wont to do, Koreeda’s film is quietly hard-hitting emotional drama that forces us to question our own internal set of values and those that have given us life. It’s a delicate tickling of most potent emotional keys that asks a question almost too painful to consider answering and examines it with genuinely heartbreaking honesty. And as his films are wont to be, Like Father, Like Son is one of the most genuinely heartbreaking and well-crafted dramas in recent memory that asks us to question our own internal set of values and those that have given us life. – HW
Director: Todd Haynes, returning to movies for the first time since 2007′s I’m Not There ( not counting 2010′s Mildred Pierce mini-series at HBO.)
Concept: 50s set noir in which a young dime-store clerk falls for a mysterious older woman. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel.
Cast: Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett.
The Skinny: Todd Haynes is idiosyncratically brilliant, and he’s got two of the best actresses currently working today, working from great source material. Sign me up. - DH
THE BROTHERS LIONHEART
Director: Tomas Alfredson, on a roll after Let the Right One in and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Concept: Adaptation of Swedish children’s novel, in which two brothers meet up in the afterlife, and have fantastical adventures.
Cast: Er… Some swedish child actors.
The Skinny: Alfredson has earned my absolute confidence after his last two masterpieces. This sounds like intriguing source material, and if he can do with a children’s fairy tale what he did with vampires and John Le Carre, this will be one of the best films of the year. - DH
Director: Michael Mann, once-legendary auteur of Heat, The Insider, Ali, now on a recent bad streak of digitally shot disappointments (Miami Vice, Public Enemies.)
Concept: American and Chinese forces work together on a case of high-level computer hacking.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis.
The Skinny: After showing the world what could be done with digital film on Collateral, Mann went down a rabbit hole of murky, flat and depthless movies with lousy scripts. This sounds like very promising comeback material, with a great cast and an intriguing premise. Here’s hoping Mann brought a good cinematographer along, and reaches the aesthetically pleasing heights of his 90s masterpieces. - DH
Director: Quebecois wunderkind Denis Villeneuve, who shot this in-between Incendies’and last fall’s Prisoners.
Concept: A man sees his double in the background of a movie he’s watching, and decides to seek him out.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent.
The Skinny: Villeneuve is building up a hell of a filmography so far, and Gyllenhaal was never better than in their last collaboration, Prisoners. This got rave reviews at last year’s Toronto Festival, and is apparently a fantastically bizarre art-noir head-trip. - DH
Director: Darren Arronofsky, making his first huge studio movie after the breakout success of Black Swan.
Concept: Dark, graphic novel-like re-telling of the Noah and the Flood bible story.
Cast: Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Connelly.
The Skinny: There’s already rumblings of tension between Arronofsky’s visionary take and the studio’s desire for an all-religious-groups-pleasing-blockbuster, and the recent trailer looks disappointingly conventional—clearly marketed towards the broadest audience. At best, this could be a bold, controversial epic unlike anything we’ve ever seen, at worst, a compromised mess that actually pleases no one. I have a feeling it’ll fall somewhere in the middle, and be a fascinating disaster, but at this point, Arronofsky deserves the benefit of the doubt. - DH
Director: Justin Kertzel, making his sophomore feature after the disturbingly brilliant Snowtown.
Concept: Re-telling of Shakespeare’s darkest play, with original text.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard.
The Skinny: A talented director who’s shown great promise with cinematic visuals and tone. Fassbender as Macbeth, Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare’s words. What more do you want? - DH
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, directing his first comedy after a string of miserabilist classics (Amores Perros, Babel, Biutiful)
Concept: A washed up actor who once played an iconic superhero attempts to reclaim past glory as he mounts a Broadway play.
Cast: Ed Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Michael Keaton.
The Skinny: There are debatably a total of one and a half laughs in Inarritu’s entire filmography so far, so it will be interesting to see if he actually has a sense of humor. In any case, the visuals will be stunning, and the cast is strong. Color me intrigued. - DH
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: HIM AND HER
Director: Ned Benson, who decided one debut feature just wasn’t ambitious enough.
Concept: The story of a relationship, told over 2 movies, from both perspectives.
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy.
The Skinny: Both parts of this screened at Toronto, to great acclaim, in what is apparently a very moving journey through all stages of a relationship. The main draw here, aside from the intriguing two-film format, is unquestionably Jessica Chastain, already the most interesting, endlessly watchable great new actor of the current decade. - DH
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
Director: Woody Allen, one of the great surviving legends of US cinema.
Concept: Unknown, but it takes place in the South of France over two decades.
Cast: Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden
The Skinny: Woody has been making one film a year for the past three and a half decades, and his hit/miss ratio seems to be one good movie for every two flops. Given that Blue Jasmine was his best in quite some time, statistics do not bode well for this one, but hope springs eternal, and I’m intrigued to see Emma Stone as an Allen heroine. - DH
Director: Bennett Miller, making his third feature after Capote and Moneyball.
Concept: Based on the bizarre true story of a schizophrenic Wrestling coach who murders one of his athletes.
Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo.
The Skinny: This looks like dark, mysterious, compelling stuff, and Miller has shown a deft hand with actors and tone. Check out Steve Carrell in the movie’s trailer, and prepare to be stunned at the comedian’s transformation. - DH
Director: George Clooney, making his 5th film as director.
Concept: A small group of art historians infiltrate Nazi Germany to recover stolen works of art.
Cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin.
The Skinny: Holy crap, check out that cast. This looks like a great, fun premise – Ocean’s 11 meets Where Eagles Dare – and if Clooney can make another film half as good as Good Night and Good Luck, this should be one of the better propositions of the spring season. - DH
Director: James Gray, man of bleak familial and dramas.
Concept: Culled from historical reference points, as well as his family’s own autobiographical past, the film follows Cotillard as a Polish immigrant who, after arriving on Ellis Island becomes separated from her sickly sister, and is taken into custody by an odd man who offers her a place to stay in exchange for work.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner
The Skinny: Like Gray’s very own McCabe & Mrs. Miller that begins with familiarity but divulges into a trying look at the lengths one goes to for survival, the madness of love, and forgiveness as a means of salvation. Shot with a Vilmos Zsigmond-esque glow, the film has a painful allure that proves a wonderful showcase for its cast. -HW
MAP TO THE STARS
Director: David Cronenberg, making his 18th film.
Concept: The entertainment industry’s relationship to Western civilization, as seen through the plight of two former child stars.
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack.
The Skinny: Cronenberg is always worthwhile, and turning his cerebral, surreal eye on Hollywood could wield fascinating results. Wasikowska is becoming a great actress, and it’s nice to see Robert Pattinson leap into auteur-driven art house projects, post-Twilight fame. - DH
THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET
Director: France’s answer to Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Concept: A 12-year old whiz kid leaves his family’s ranch in Montana to pick up an award at the Smithsonian. Adapted from the Reif Larson novel.
Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Callum Keith Kennie.
The Skinny: The book is apparently great, and this looks like the perfect vehicle for Jeunet to reclaim the giddy heights of Amelie and Delicatessen after his more recent semi-disappointments. The trailer is a lot of fun, and early reviews have been extremely positive. - DH
Director: Lars von Trier, haunted master of psychologically painful cinema.
Concept: A sexual odyssey of a film, telling the story of a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac who recounts her lurid life to the man who saves it.
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Stacy Martin, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Christian Slater, Mia Goth, Jeane-Marc Barr, Udo Kier
The Skinny: For well over a year now we’ve been anticipating the release of Lars von Trier’s follow up to his doomsday ballet masterpiece Melancholia, the sexual odyssey that is Nymphomaniac. Appearing in duel parts, the first half the film will be released in early march on VOD to be followed by a March 21st release of Part I, with Part II on VOD in early April and its theatrical release on the 18th. We’ve been teased with lurid chapters for months now and judging from the “hold onto your bibles” early European reviews, this one is going to hit hard. – HW
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Concept: A symbolic and endurance test-worthy look at an alcoholic must take care of his children as they struggle to survive on the streets of Taipei.
Cast: Shiang-chyi Chen, Kang-sheng Lee, Yi Cheng Lee
The Skinny: Tsai Ming-liang’s bleak urban endurance test whose silence allowed for reflection but conjured up only slight emotion in the absence of movement. The removed spacial silence reminiscent of Stephen Shore’s Oregon billboard, except it’s raining and devoured by someone’s incisors. -HW
Director: Gia Coppola, the next heir in the Coppola throne, granddaughter of FFC.
Concept: Based on the collection of short stories of the same title by James Franco, the film follows three story lines involving teens in the titular city.
Cast: Emma Watson, James Franco, Val Kilmer.
The Skinny: Whether or not you’re wary of the Franco cinematic oeuvre, since the film’s premiere in Toronto I’ve heard nothing but good things about the film. To be honest, I was sold at “Essentially Fast Times at Raymond Carver High.” – HW
Director: Mike Cahill, true genius of low-fi science fiction that exposes the poetry in the metaphysical.
Concept: The story of a doctor on the brink of a scientific breakthrough that will have historical ramifications.
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and Steven Yuen
The Skinny: Since falling in love with Another Earth when it premiered in the summer of 2011, I have been anxiously waiting to see what Cahill would melt our minds with next. His brilliantly crafted interplanetary debut not only established him as one of the most interesting and intelligent new voices in independent cinema but exposed the world to fascinating actor and writer Brit Marling. As a scientifically-minded filmmaker with a affinity for the sublime and transcendent, I can’t imagine a way in which this will be anything short of wonderful. – HW
KNIGHT OF CUPS
Director: Terrence Malick, enigmatic master of magic hour beauty and philosophical inquiries into the human soul.
Concept: When was the last time a Malick film had a ‘concept’ — but here’s the one provided: ‘A man, temptations, celebrity, and excess.’
Cast: Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett
The Skinny: So far, we’ve really only seen one image from the film— a wistful moment barefoot in shallow water—which has certainly become typical Malick fare—Knight of Cups is said to be ‘more accessible’ than the last. And after the overwrought shallowness of ‘To the Wonder’—his most abstract poem of images yet—let’s hope he felt the need to reign it and really craft the human’s existing in this one. – HW
HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER
Director: Ryan Gosling in his fantastical first directorial effort
Concept: The story of single mother of two who is swept into a macabre and dark fantasy underworld while her teenage son discovers a secret road leading to an underwater town.
Cast: Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Smith
The Skinny: After years in front of the camera, having had the chance to closely observe the incredible work of everyone from Terrence Malick to Nicolas Winding Refn, let’s assume some of that magic has rubbed off on ol’ Gos and this long-awaited debut will be the energetic kick we’d expect from the talented actor who has constantly morphed himself throughout his career. -HW