Fall/Winter 2013 Movie Preview

A list of promising titles and five films to skp

Summer is slowly coming to a close. The pounding of effects-driven mayhem is finally going into hibernation until next May, as studios start to get that glint of Oscar gold in their eyes. Not all films will strike a chord, but here’s my list of hopefuls, ones that remind me of why I am in the movie-loving business in the first place, and five that are giving me an uneasy feeling.

Rush (NY/LA September 20th, Nationwide September 27th)

Rush – the biopic about rival Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) – looks like pure Oscar-bait. No surprise, given that director Ron Howard, one of the most well known producer/directors in the business, is to Oscar-bait dramas what Jerry Bruckheimer is to blockbusters (maybe I’m making that connection because of their rivalry in the new season of Arrested Development). Still, when Howard hits the mark (Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon), it’s a thing of beauty. A solid cast, a reteam with Frost/Nixon playwright/screenwriter Peter Morgan, and what looks like gorgeous, well-shot racing scenes (courtesy of frequent Danny Boyle cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) have me jazzed.

Don Jon (Wide, September 27th)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this offbeat romantic comedy about a Jersey lothario (Gordon-Levitt) who meets the woman of his dreams (Scarlett Johansson) but can’t seem to shake his reliance on porn. The buzz out of Sundance was strong for the actor’s directorial debut, and I am getting some “Good Vibrations” that it’ll live up to that hype.

Gravity (Wide, October 4th)

I’ve had this poster up at the theater I run since I got it. Customer reactions range from “I can’t wait to see that” to “That looks like the dumbest movie ever.” It could end up being Open Water in Space, but I’m willing to bet that master director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien), along with stars George Clooney,Sandra Bullock, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lebezki will pin you to the edge of your seat for 90 minutes as two astronauts become lost in space when their ship goes down.

Captain Philips (Wide, October 11th)

Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum) returns with a thriller based on the true story of Captain Richard Philips (Tom Hanks) and his cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. It’s been a while since Hanks has delved into a juicy role, and Greengrass knows how to turn the white-knuckle meter up to 11. Buckle up.

Machete Kills (Wide, October 11th)

Who doesn’t love a good guilty pleasure movie once in a while? I loved Robert Rodriguez’s first Machete film, based on the faux trailer from Grindhouse and starring Danny Trejo as the titular hero. Machete is back, and this time, he must save the world from a crazed madman (Mel Gibson, fitting), who has hijacked a nuclear missile. I usually don’t see a film just to ogle at the female cast (and have chastised people for it), but with Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, and Lady GaGa playing total badasses, it’s hard to resist.

12 Years a Slave (Limited, October 18th)

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) continues his streak of important, provocative, but difficult-to-watch contemporary films with the true story about Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, so good in Children of Men and Redbelt), a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery. A sort of anti-Django Unchained, it seems like a more accessible film for McQueen, especially with a supporting cast that includes Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, and McQueen muse Michael Fassbender. However, don’t expect McQueen to skimp out on the rawness and humanity, which he shouldn’t.

The Counselor (Wide, October 25th)

It’s Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt again, the former reuniting with his Prometheus director Ridley Scott in a tale about a lawyer who dabbles in drug trafficking on the side. A solid supporting cast includes Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz. But the real kicker is writer Cormac McCarthy, the Pullitzer Prize-winning author of The Road and No Country for Old Men, with an original screenplay. The western locale and outlaw mentality screams McCarthy, and this looks like the season’s popcorn movie for adults.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Wide, November 15th)

Director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio mark their fifth collaboration in The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the true story and book written by Jordan Belfort about his rise and fall as a New York stockbroker. Essentially Wall Street meets Goodfellas (there’s a shot in the trailer where DiCaprio looks like the doppelganger of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill), the script is written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter, and the supporting cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and The Artist Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin. Scorsese should make another case for the theme of 2013 being “the year of excess (along with Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, and Pain & Gain).”

Nebraska (Limited, November 22nd)

Nebraska is a change of pace for director Alexander Payne. No, not because an estranged father-son tale isn’t fitting (it’s almost tailored to Payne’s wheelhouse), but that he has never directed a film that he didn’t at least co-write (Bob Nelson wrote the script). Bruce Dern plays the father and Will Forte (nice change of pace) plays the son, who go cross-country to redeem a Publisher’s Clearing House-like prize. Dern won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and while this is said to be a more laid-back film from Payne, he’s nevertheless a director who makes honest, sometimes wince-inducing films that are always worth the watch.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Limited December 6th, Wide December 20th )

It’s been three years since Joel and Ethan Coen released their superior spin on Clinton Portis’ True Grit. That may not seem like a long time, but when they released four films four years in a row (No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, and True Grit), it does seem like a long time. What could essentially be a spiritual successor to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis is about a struggling folk singer (Oscar Issac) who aims to break into the industry, but professional and personal problems hold him back. It seems like a straightforward drama (odd for the Coen Brothers), but the film took home the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and the brotherly duo was nominated for the Palme d’Or. A supporting cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Coen regular John Goodman can’t hurt either.

American Hustle (NY/LA December 13th, Wide December 25th)

Argo meets Boogie Nights. That’s the kind of vibe I’m getting from David O. Russell’s American Hustle, about Jersey criminals who were cut deals by the feds to rat on other criminals, politicians, etc., and I don’t have a problem with that. Russell reunites with his Fighter actors Christian Bale and Amy Adams, and his Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Throw Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro, Michael Pena, and Louis C.K. into the mix, and you have quite possibly the season’s strongest ensemble. While memories of Russell and Lily Tomlin’s shouting match on the set of I Heart Huckabees still linger, Russell has mellowed, and this could be the film to finally turn over the Academy’s view of him.

The Monuments Men (Wide, December 18th)

George Clooney’s fifth time in the director’s chair looks like a genuine crowd-pleaser. Clooney stars as the leader of a rag-tag group of art historians (including Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban) during WWII who must recover stolen pieces of art from the Nazis before they are destroyed. That mixture of comedy, drama, and suspense is what made Argo connect with audiences last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this does the same.

 

Her (Limited December 20th, Wide January 14th, 2014)

Her marks Spike Jonze’s fourth feature film since 1999. However, when that resume includes Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are, you know Jonze has something special brewing. He is one of the most inventive filmmakers working today, a master of mixing melancholy and offbeat ideas that will stimulate your brain and warm your heart. Her is the story about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a broken-hearted writer who develops a relationship with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a Siri-like operating system that keeps Theodore’s life organized. A timely story in the digital age, Her peaks plenty of intrigue, but also shows a lot of well-placed heart.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Wide, December 20th)

Okay, so I’m trying not to get hopes too high for this one, but seeing Will Farrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner back as San Diego’s Channel 4 news team trying to make it in the 80’s puts a goofy smile on my face. That, and not only are Farrell’s best broad comedies with director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys), but Paramount didn’t force them to make a sequel, they had to convince the studio. They are making it because they WANT to. Can’t say the same for The Hangover sequels.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Wide, December 25th)

The first trailer that hit for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – the second film based on James Thurber’s short story – prompted one, simple reaction: Wow. Ben Stiller directs and stars as the title character who escapes around the world in daydreams that he is too timid to take in real life. As a sometimes-lost person in a post-collegiate world, Walter Mitty feels like it speaks to me, and Stiller may have taken that step from really good (Tropic Thunder, Reality Bites, Zoolander) director to great director. Or maybe pretty images set to “Dirty Paws” by Of Monsters and Men suckered me in. We’ll see.

 

Five Films to Skip

Escape Plan (Wide, October 18th)

Sylvester Stallone plays the world’s best prison breaker who is locked into an unbeatable, state-of-the-art prison. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the guy who is going to help him out. This is the best movie of the early 90’s. Too bad it’s 2013. Stallone is working hard these days (understandable, to keep his mind of the untimely death of his son), and Arnie wants back in the action game, but these grizzled heroes need to be in a 80’s/90’s throwback like 2 Guns with DIY action and tasty one-liners. They’re better than the way-too-serious action films that Expendables co-star Jason Statham slums it in, and this looks like exactly that.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Wide, October 25th)

To be fair, I have never been a big fan of Jackass. See a guy get hit in the balls once; you’ve seen them all. It’s also hard to understand how these daredevils can be relevant in the YouTube age when you can get this stuff for free. However, Jackass 3D hit paydirt three years ago, and while the gang seems to have hung it up, mostly out of respect to their departed crew member Ryan Dunn, and partially due to the fact they’re getting older, I have my suspicions that Paramount locked Johnny Knoxville in a room and attempted to figure out a way to milk this cash-cow for all it’s worth. The result is Bad Grandpa, based on the recurring sketch in the series where Knoxville plays a vulgar, horny old man. This movie is going for a Borat-esque set up with real reactions from real people, but Sacha Baron Cohen was aiming for satire, and the man from Kazakhstan was seen as a stranger in a strange land. His follow-up Bruno didn’t work as well because the title character played too heavily to its stereotype and was more mean-spirited. What are you going to try and prove with a mean, old man? Just an excuse for tired, shock-value laughs.

Last Vegas (Wide, November 1st)

Could easily be called The Hangover: AARP. Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, and Robert De Niro head to Vegas for a bachelor party. Did I mention it’s directed by National Treasure hack Jon Turteltaub? Enough said.

Delivery Man (Wide, November 22nd)

Put this in the category of the Death at a Funeral remake for head-slapping stupidity about remaking a foreign film that was already in English to begin with. A remake of the Canadian film Starbuck, that film’s writer/director Ken Scott returns to helm Delivery Man, about David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn), a man who donated to a fertility clinic 20 years prior and fathered over 500 children. 142 of them have filed lawsuits to find his identity. So, he reaches out to them and tries to help every one of them in their day-to-day lives. It’s so sweet it makes me want to vomit. This was already done on a far more intimate scale in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. And to see Vaughn struggle anymore at this point is just sad.

Grudge Match (Wide, December 25th)

Stallone and De Niro appear again on this list, this time as aging, rival boxers who decide to hang it up after one, last match. It’s Rocky Balboa vs. Jake LaMotta, only directed as a farce by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Peter Segal. This may give Rocky V a run for its money for the title of Stallone’s worst boxing film. It saddens me to see two icons sell out their image for a quick payday. 

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