This past year has shown us quite a lot in the world of film. Audiences are beginning to finally understand that pricey CGI-driven action clustercusses aren’t exactly worthwhile entertainment. As always, Hollywood is slow to really grasp that—but they’re getting there. A new wave of (sort of) trilogies based on popular YA sci-fi/fantasy books have cropped up with better intentions for formative minds. This shows that even the largest of production companies have people who are aware of how wholesome and helpful representations in mass media can draw in an even larger audience than previously considered. Check out the numbers on Catching Fire and Frozen: they’re amazing.
The tide of 2014 has just begun to tug at our interests with inciting promises and nagging unease. Below are the films I feel are necessary to consider, either for the film’s own success or for how it will help define the climate of cinema this coming year. Many films are missing, as they don’t quite fall under ASM’s spectrum of interests.
The Wind Rises/Kaze Tachinu (Hayao Miyazaki)—February 21st
It seems fitting that the first film on this list is a Studio Ghibli production, as my love for their earlier films calcified my love of media. According to statements that seem more serious than usual, this will be Hayao Miyazaki’s departure from filmmaking as he focuses his efforts back on manga. The Wind Rises, releasing in English dub in late February, is a partially fictionalized story about Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero Fighter plane in WWII. Pretty much every Ghibli film has a special place in my heart, but each time they work on a movie set in contemporary history (From Up On Poppy Hill, The Cat Returns, and Whisper Of The Heart are examples), I find a beautiful luster to them fraught with nostalgia for the real world, only animated.
Welcome To Yesterday (Dean Israelite)—February 28th
Time travel is a concept that Hollywood seems unwilling to fully commit to. Often it’ll be the narrative impetus or third-act deus ex machina, and it’s left up to small indies to really broach the subject on the silver screen. Not too much is known about the upcoming, partially-found-footage-driven indie film Welcome To Yesterday. My initial reaction is excitement, but I’m not sure we can expect more than the base “we were hopping around the timeline and messed up stuff we had no idea would be affected, let’s go fix it by jumping more” sort of brouhaha one expects from a time travel story. That said, I thought Drive was going to be a more serious Need For Speed—shows what I know. Maybe we’re looking at our next Looper or Primer.
Journey To The West (Stephen Chow)—March 7th
I love me some Stephen Chow—his ridiculous films are a highlight of the last decade of foreign films, showing us how to find honest stories. Removed from all needless consequence or shoehorned importance, Chow’s films (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) evoke a sense of ribald joy that I can’t quite find in US cinema. Using over-expression and perfectly apparent CGI, Journey To The West is shaping up to be a live-action manga come to over-the-top sensory life. Go see this—seriously, just go.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich)—March 7th
Something I missed in 2013 was documentaries. Granted, I should have hunted more, but honestly, the more obtuse and specific the subject matter, the more likely I’m going to be interested. This documentary serves to discuss the ambitious undertaking Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky went through trying to make Frank Herbert’s Dune. Initial reviews from Cannes Film Festival, where it first debuted, were completely in love with it. This barely made a blip on my radar before, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out now.
Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas)—March 14th
I never watched the show and don’t necessarily care about the property, but I can tell you this: the fact that it’s being made at all is astounding. After an impossibly successful Kickstarter campaign backed by the large and loving fanbase of the original show, we’re starting to see how crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo are allowing smaller projects get off the ground and get made without the direct assistance from larger production companies. Sure, there’s a lot going on legally with Warner Bros. and the rights to the Veronica Mars property, but it is happening directly because the fans made it happen: that’s big.
Noah (Darren Aronofsky)—March 28th
There aren’t a ton of filmmakers that make me immediately drop all concerns about the film and just shriek with excitement. No matter how small the list is, Aronofsky is absolutely on it. Making shocking and ethereal works such as The Fountain and Black Swan, I have absolutely no problem in getting way too geared up for his adaptation of the biblical tale of Noah and his impossible ark. Additionally, Aronofsky is a big believer in comics, so in addition to the movie release, “can-do-no-wrong” publisher Image Comics is releasing the graphic novel version of Noah. I may be looking forward to the comic even more than the film, especially if its quality is anywhere near the graphic novel adaptation of The Fountain.
Captain America: The Winter Solider (Anthony & Joe Russo)—April 4th
Yeah. Cap is back, and it looks excellent. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about Captain America: The First Avenger, but I feel the issues I had with the first film will be mostly resolved (not unlike my feelings on Thor and its sequel). As part of Marvel Studio’s second wave of films, we’re getting a whole new look at the espionage/S.H.I.E.L.D. side of the film universe, and the reception of this movie will certainly inform Marvel whether future films with characters such as Bucky Barnes or The Falcon (featured in the trailers) are worth making. Hint: they are.
Transcendence (Wally Pfister) – April 18th
Artificial Intelligence gone rogue. Normally I wouldn’t put the directorial debut of Dark Knight Trilogy’s cinematographer, Wally Pfister as the base concept seems to be a rehashed scientific mess of a plot that – but subversion and deconstruction are strong contenders for the direction the film will go. Additionally it has Cillian Murphey, who I will pay hand-over-fist to see in anything remotely science fiction. More importantly, the success of Transcendence will be indicative of how big-budget will see contemporary science fiction topics and viable film plots. I’m hopeful – but worried.
Earth to Echo (Dave Green) – April 25th
Akin to the polarizing J.J. Abrams Super 8, the upcoming movie about a youths finding an alien “other” falls right into another film I’m genuinely looking forward to. One of my big issues with contemporary cinema is the mass-depiction of children as subservient or downright stupid characters. So many movies are unwilling to consider the possibilities of having well thought-out child characters. While I found the depictions in the two films similar to this one (Super 8 and Attack The Block) refreshing, I’m always game for more. Perhaps Earth to Echo will find the myriad of properties found in respectable representations of kids and become the much-needed “that movie” wise parents are looking for.
Godzilla (Gareth Edwards) – May 16th
This is the movie on the list I really should be worried about. The trailers, the marketing, the totality of what I know about this project screams that it’ll be a total winner; and I hate being shat on by things being “too good to be true”. Like it’s sister film, other Legendary production Pacific Rim – will this be a surprise success? Subsequently, how successful would Godzilla need to be to actually surprise me? I don’t know – I just know I am very excited, but worried that I’m not worried.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer) – May 23rd
2/3 is a fairly solid track record right? X-Men, X2, X-Men: First Class, and The Wolverine were solid, all things considered and judging by the lineup for the next one, Days of Future Past is going full steam ahead into the zany world of mutants. While I’m kind of ambivalent on the subject the movie itself, I’ve always been fond of the prospect of a solid X-Men film series. If trailers are the best way (hint: they’re not) to determine the quality of a movie, this one is a grand slam almost exclusively for their use of John Murphey’s Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor), the title track from Boyle’s 2007 Sunshine. It’s a surefire way to have me see the film at least once.
Maleficent (Robert Stromberg) – May 30th
Disney has been making bizarre choices with the stories they’re sinking big money into – and I’m totally into it. Focusing on the relationship between the Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty if you only focus on the “A-listers”) and “wicked fairy godmother” as the synopses suggests Maleficent. It looks dark, brooding (not to be confused with the steady stream of grim-dark media) and evocative of the original fairy tales, the horrific ones meant to scare the talk-back out of children. I’m definitely curious about the actual story, as the currently released content is unusually unclear (for Disney).
Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) – June 6th
I genuinely don’t have a care when it comes to this movie except for two things: I really liked the original title which was All You Need Is Kill (way better, yeah?) and this will hopefully be the trial of Tom Cruise. Is his career entirely buoyed by lame action films? I’m guessing yes. Seriously – dude needs to expand his career instead of starring in movies that revel in being like the mainstream futuristic shooters the realm of video games are currently inundated with. Though I will say that Emily Blunt will be awesome. Yes – I am sick of the singular badass female character, but blaming the actor for that isn’t going to help – see it as a stepping stone towards a wider variety of female roles.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois) – June 20th
Yeah, it’s the sequel to that sleeper animated hit from Dreamworks – arguably the movie that made people take the home of Shrek & co. seriously again. The first was heartwarming, thoughtful, funny, and overall a wholesome all-ages movie. The animated series at Cartoon Network has been outputting perhaps just below the same level of quality, but that’s like saying it’s a low-end BMW: it’s still wonderful content. This movie is going to rock my face of: just look how hot Hiccup got since the first one. No, really, I’m expecting the entirety of the How To Train Your Dragon franchise to stand as a marvelous example of how wonderful all-ages content can be when it’s written to respect the audience.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay) – June 27th
Honestly, see my take on the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie below. The first three were awful – this will be no different.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (Matt Reeves) – July 11th
Am I the only one who thinks the new Planet Of The Apes movies are way better than they have any right to be? Considering the climate of poor remakes we’re in, I would’ve thought that these would be some of the absolutely worst, but I’ve been graciously proven wrong. What I want to see if this continuing: if you’re going to remake/continue a classic film franchise: make it good or don’t make it at all.
Jupiter Ascending (Andy & Lana Wachowski) – July 18th
For those of you who saw the 2012 Cloud Atlas, it seems like the Wachowskis are on a specific track of film and I couldn’t be more excited. I thoroughly adored their adaptation of the David Mitchell novel and it seems they’re seriously invested in pushing the boundaries of what kind of stories will draw large audiences. I’m trepidatious, not because I worry that Jupiter Ascending will be a poor film, but because I feel it will unjustly fail at the box office, like it’s spiritual predecessor, and those are the numbers production companies look at. Safe to say if you want to keep seeing mainstream movies shift towards the radical and interesting, watch the movies that are pushing in that direction. See them as many times as you can afford, take your friends to it, force your family to watch it – convince the powers that be that we deserve what look like fantastical epic sagas in space by wonderful creators.
Guardians Of The Galaxy (James Gunn) – August 1st
Thought Marvel movies got as weird as they could? Well you’re dead wrong. With the critical success of everything Marvel has worked on since the first Iron Man – we’re now seeing big-budget adaptations of stranger, more obscure content (like the Edgar Wright Ant Man, slated for 2015). Though it saddens me that we’re getting a superhero film starring a talking raccoon and a sentient tree before a woman: I’m going to enjoy the hell out of Guardians of the Galaxy. Like with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the success of this film will undoubtedly show Marvel (and hopefully Warner Bros.) how fans are responding to sweeping universe-building stories that tie into each other.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Jonathan Liebesman) – August 8th
This is the flop. This is the one I want to fail. I want to wrest control of any beloved, licensed material away from anything Michael Bay can touch (he’s producing it). I want this one to plummet to depths that will forever rock the core of Hollywood and prove, once and for all, that there is a good way to take deeply cared for content and make wonderful adaptations from it; but giving it to Bay is a surefire way to not do that. He can make a hundred more movies like Pain & Gain (which I would actually be completely down for), just for the love of weird bro bipedal turtles named after Italian artists and their anthropomorphized Rat sensei – keep him and his excessive explosions away.
The Giver (Phillip Noyce) – August 15th
We haven’t heard much about this upcoming adaptation staring Jeff Bridges, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgård, and Meryl Streep (except for the casting, really) but man…I’m worried, really worried. The novel was extremely influential in the way I consider and internalize the society I live in and how I address societal concerns – and I know I’m not alone in the sentiment. It comes off as an arbitrary choice for adapting, set to likely only disservice the remarkable story already so well described in text. Personally, this film will likely be very important to me, either for showing me that Hollywood has the capability of doing something I completely doubt as possible or affirming my own doubt.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (Frank Miller & Robert Rodriquez) – August 22nd
Almost 9 years after the first adaptation make huge waves, Miller and Rodriquez are back with another installment of Miller’s hard-boiled comic series. Has it been too long? Is what was considering thrillingly subversive and lavishly inventive now old hat? I really hope not – I’m fond of the first movie (more than I am of the actual comic series) and I want it to go well. I’m just not sure the audience is there to the same capacity as before. Granted, the casting is tantalizing (seeing Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt back together since Looper), but as the nature of Sin City’s narrative is a series of often partially connected vignettes, it’s possible they won’t be acting together.
The Maze Runner (Wes Ball) – September 19th
Another adaptation of a YA science fiction novel where bad stuff happens to groups of teens in a post-apocalyptic society. We’ve seen it, heard it, watched it, talked about it, read/wrote fan-fiction about it, and generally sifted through all of it before. Is this going to be any different? I highly doubt it. I’m hoping this is a signifier to the powers that be that new and interesting content needs to be sought after. It can still be adaptations from other media, but damn – trends are what is says on the tin – they come and go. Appropriately, this is possibly one of the longest-running arguments with media “trends” and as far as we can tell, there’s no way to point the responsibility on any one entity – it’s a system centered around “if people buy something, keep making stuff like it until they stop”, but hey – awareness of that fact helps.
The Boxtrolls (Anthony Stacchi & Graham Annable) – September 26th
This is the movie to watch, both figuratively and in actuality. From Laika, the stop-motion animated studio that made Coraline and ParaNorman, it looks stunning. I’m a tad biased as I have a big ol’ thing for stop-motion, but this movie is way more important for 2014 that people think: it looks remarkably original. Not that the story is – it’s actually based off of a novel by Alan Snow, but what the movie is doing for us. Along the vein of films mostly for kids but the themes are scary and real, The Boxtrolls (along with all of Laika’s work) is striving to give the audience the most real emotions and stories in the deepest of fictions. I just wish that the general audience would open up more to films like this – because there really isn’t much better.
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) – November 7th
Yes. I want whatever this is so badly. Nolan’s previous films that matter in the judgement of his newest film are essentially everything that isn’t The Dark Knight Trilogy. Not to criticize the entire series, but the most recent Nolan film that seems most appropriate to base judgement off of is Inception. Yeah – this is going be something beyond wonderful. With a tried and true mysterious ad campaign with minimalistic banners, cryptic promises, and a simple trailer of found footage of space exploration, I’m tense with anticipation. Next to nothing is known about the actual plot of Interstellar, but if it’s about the human spirit and space exploration, I’m there – done deal.
Big Hero 6 (Don Hall & Chris Williams) – November 7th
Flying extraordinarily low on the radar, this project is one of the first serious attempts of Disney taking a relatively unknown Marvel property and doing something different with it. Big Hero 6 is a Sentai-influenced (think hero teams such as The Power Rangers) team-up comic from 1998 and 2008. Collecting mostly Asian-themed heroes under a lovingly ludicrous plot arc, it has the potential for Disney to go essentially buck wild with any and all pieces of it. Likely they’ll be reigning in the violence to an level accessible for younger children – but what excites me most is it’s going to be fully animated. Sadly there’s no trailer as of yet…or even a synopsis, but there is a short “first look” video of potential footage to give you an idea of why this has such potential for awesome.
Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1 (Francis Lawrence) – November 21st
Right – here we go again. I would have hoped that audiences would stop getting duped by splitting a single text into more than one movie. I can excuse the Harry Potter finale because the last book was remarkably lengthy and The Deathly Hollows: Part 1 was easily my favorite of the series second only to The Prisoner of Azkaban. I won’t even go into my feelings on The Hobbit being made a full trilogy here. I’ve seen the size of the Mocking Jay novel – there sure isn’t two movies of content in there. Here’s the thing though: it’s going to make bank. Furthermore, it will only be an indicator that this trend should continue because both installments will be good movies if Catching Fire is any indicator. I’m torn, but…if both Parts 1 and 2 of Mocking Jay end up being as successful as the previous movie, maybe it will strengthen the foundation needed to show Hollywood that well-written female protagonists make bank.
Exodus (Ridley Scott) – December 12th
All we know is that Fox is letting Ridley Scott develop his own story of Moses, as played by Christian Bale. That sounds really exciting, except Scott’s last two directorial works were Prometheus and The Counselor, neither very good for various reasons. This may be the first strike for the nail in the coffin that is grandiose adaptations of biblical tales. While I’m beyond excited for Aronofsky’s Noah – that genuinely has the makings of the good film, we have nothing but Scott’s recently track record to go off of and I’m not thrilled.
The Hobbit: There And Back Again (Peter Jackson) – December 17th
Finally: the long awaited conclusion. My feelings on this movie are thus: I’m going to love watching it but hate talking about it. It’s the toughest of mortar in the foundation of a recent practice in cinema that just isn’t good: making more than one movie out of one text. It’s all about money. Sure – Jackson is pulling from other works of Tolkien that expand upon the world and you can take advantage of the fact that one line of battle in a book is easily translatable into 15 minutes of Rude Goldberg-esque action sequences; but the genesis for all these choices is money. They stand to make a whole mess of dough off of three movies from one novel. I can’t stand for it except for the one or two or three times I’ll see it because it’s going to be just so damned entertaining.
That’s it! 2014 all laid out for you. The up and down of this is go see the movies that stand to make a positive influence in contemporary cinema: The Boxtrolls, Jupiter Ascending, The Wind Rises, Noah, Maleficent, Interstellar to name a few.