In the first few days of 2013, we cast an extensive eye over the films to look forward to over the next 12 months; the indies, the blockbusters, and the ones we're just plain looking forward to. But of course, it's fairly easy for us to forget that some of the films that you guys are looking forward to the most are ones that we caught at various festivals in 2012.
With release schedules being the way they are, films from TIFF, Venice, and even the earlier likes of Cannes and SXSW can take some time to filter through to wider audiences. As such, below we've rounded up twenty of the key films that we've already cast our eyes on. You can check out our verdicts below, and let us know which you're most looking forward to (and your own takes, if you caught them too) in the comments section below.
Synopsis: An Iowan corn farmer tries to interest his eldest son in the family business, but he's more interested in becoming a racecar driver, even as the family farm comes under risk.
Verdict: After a string of hugely acclaimed films starring mostly non-professionals, Ramin Bahrani stepped up to the big leagues at Venice last year with "At Any Price," his first film to feature big-name actors, in the shape of Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. The film was wildly divisive when it hit the festival circuit, but we, for the most part, liked it a fair bit. The film "isn't especially subtle," and the plotting can be "borderline soapy," while "the strain sometimes shows" in Efron's performance, although he fares better than the "wooden and uncharismatic" Heather Graham in her supporting turn. But we also enjoyed the "old-fashioned melodrama," reminiscent of Arthur Miller as much as anything, and in particular the central turn by Quaid who, as "a folksy King Lear," gives the performance of his career.
Release Date: Sony Pictures Classics have it, but haven't set a date yet. We suspect the late spring or summer is the best bet, unless they decide to hold for the fall to push Quaid for awards.
Synopsis: A British sound engineer goes to Italy to work on a giallo-style horror film, only to come apart at the seams.
Verdict: Peter Strickland won a few fans in his native UK for Hungarian-language thriller "Katalin Varga," but really began to form his international reputation with his arthouse horror picture "Berberian Sound Studio" when it started making the festival rounds last year. The film, which toplines the great Toby Jones in the lead role, picked up great reviews around the world, including ours. It's a film less about plot than it is about atmosphere, with "Strickland's command of tone... masterful, jarring and discombobulating the viewer," so much so that "you come out of the theater on edge and off kilter." Anchored by a "compelling character study" by Jones, it was "as original and absorbing a picture as we've seen in a while, an experience like few others in 2012."
Release Date: TBD; IFC Midnight have the rights, so expect some kind of simultaneous theatrical/VOD release later in the year.
Synopsis: A woman comes to visit her friend at a monastery where she's become an nun, but the visitor appears to have serious mental problems, causing the priest in charge to believe that she's been taken over by evil spirits.
Verdict: Having delivered one of the true classics of European cinema of the 21st century so far in "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," Romanian New Wave leader Cristian Mungiu came roaring back at Cannes with this punishing but rewarding drama that examines faith, love and evil. It's undoubtedly a tricky watch, as Kevin found in Cannes, saying "it's in the push-and-pull between faith, love, God and the devil that the film may lose some viewers," and a "seemingly random and open ending" could turn off even more. But the film is "gorgeously lensed, and executed with an exacting aesthetic," and if you "pace yourself and lean back, the rewards are ample; deceivingly complex, with an emotional center that peels away like an onion the longer it unfolds, this is a powerful effort from Mungiu in which love and faith are both different kinds of poison."
Release Date: March 8th
Synopsis: A hitman teams up with a cop to take revenge on the crime lord who killed their respective partners.
Verdict: A Joel Silver-produced actioner starring Sylvester Stallone is a rare thing to find at a film festival, but when it marks the first new film in ten years from action veteran Walter Hill ("The Driver," "The Warriors"), you can start to see how "Bullet In The Head" ended up at the Rome Film Festival this year. Jess wasn't particularly looking forward to a film "as unreconstructed as you can get," but ended up having a pretty good time with the "gristly, muscly action," saying that it was "so patently unrepentant, and so oddly even-handed in having all of its characters seem mindbendingly dumb, that it kind of gets a pass." Hardly a film about plot or character, it's really "all about the gloriously throwback violence, the astonishingly consequence-less shooting and murders and blowing up and stabbings and vehicular manslaughters. And Hill handles these like the pro he is." Action fans should have a good time with it, then.
Release Date: February 1st
Synopsis: A would-be dancer in New York breaks up with her best friend. Her life unravels as she moves from apartment to apartment trying to discover who she is.
What You Need To Know: The lost generation theme and story is not just for boys or thirty- or forty-somethings trying to find their way into proper adulthood. Sometimes it manifests as just good ol' fashion post-collegiate aimlessness, and for a distinctive female voice as well. And while that sounds like familiar territory in the hands of writer/actress Greta Gerwig and writer/director Noah Baumbach, "Frances Ha," is a deeply memorable, funny and poignantly observational dramedy about a loss of identity within the vastness of New York. A sort of New York fairytale, there's also a palpable and effervescent energy in the work. Baumbach shot in secret, on the quick, and with almost no stars outside of Gerwig ("Girls" actor Adam Driver is the closest thing to another "name"), and it shows in how alive and organic the piece is. While perhaps a new era for the filmmaker, truth be told, the authorship of the film feels like a true collaboration between him and Gerwig. Read our review from Telluride here.
Release Date: IFC Films will release the picture on May 17.
Synopsis: The friendship between two teenage girls in the Britain of the 1960s is put to the test when one begins an affair with the other's father.
Verdict: Sally Potter's films have become more and more esoteric over the years (her last was shot entirely on a mobile phone, and was about as watchable as that sounds), but she took a step away from the brink with her excellent period coming-of-age drama "Ginger & Rosa," which premiered at Telluride last September, where our Rodrigo Perez gave it a rave review. While the "narrative tends to grow unwieldly and wanders non-linearly from a coming-of-age story to something much more complex and wider," "there's much to love" about the film. The scenes of adolescent joy are "wonderfully vibrant and charged with an electric youthful energy you simply cannot bottle," but it also knows when to become "sparse and minimal, but always with a thoughtful, examining gaze that illuminates the lives of these frustrated characters." The film "seals the deal for [Elle] Fanning as a serious performer who is going to have a long and valued career in cinema," it also provides a good showcase for the "oft-undervalued" Alessandro Nivola, as her father. Hopefully, audiences catch on to a film that's "Beautiful, yet dark and moving, unsparing, but told with a sympathetic eye."
Release Date: March 15th
Synopsis: A successful graphic designer tries to get over his latest dumping by disappearing into a fantasy world.
Verdict: Roman Coppola's first film since "CQ" over a decade ago was always going to be reason to celebrate, but had a particular amount of tabloid attention thanks to a cast that included Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza and, in the title role, movie star-turned-shiny-faced drug depository Charlie Sheen. Jess caught the film when it premiered at the Rome Film Festival in November, and said it had potential "to be a crowd-pleaser," but that the film suffered from "the lack of a strong narrative through line and the lack of dimensionality to the central titular character" -- issues which have, in the months since, rendered the film's pleasures very transient. Ultimately, she found it style-over-substance, saying "the confidence, even bravado, that the film displays in its visuals, it seems to lack in its subject matter." Still, there are enough pleasures in there for fans of Coppola -- or Sheen -- to want to check it out.
Release Date: February 8th