Berlin 2014 preview

This Thursday, just a few scant weeks after Sundance has rolled up its red carpet, we’ll be plunging into Europe’s first major festival. The Berlin Film Festival, aka the Berlinale, has (like everything else) a lower profile than Cannes and perhaps a less glamorous aura than Venice. But, in a way, that counts toward its specific identity: with the European Film Market (which is one of the three biggest in the world) and the Talent Campus, a major program of workshops and masterclasses attended by students and professionals alike, from all disciplines, from all over the world, the Berlinale feels more businesslike and no-nonsense, less seduced by the glitz of the industry than by the actual films, and by fostering the talents that make them. And this reputation in turn has lured quite a few high-profile films and guests in recent years, meaning that, as always, we find ourselves looking forward to an eclectic mix of new movies from auteurs we already admire, totally left-field and obscure choices that have caught our eye for one reason or another, as well as a couple of bona-fide glitzy, massive films that have figured highly on our previous Most Anticipated lists.

Berlin does tend to feature the European premieres of a lot of the films we’ve seen and reviewed at Sundance, like “Boyhood,” “Calvary” and “20000 Days on Earthamong many others, so we’re not going to include any of those on our list, and additionally, a big one for those of us attending will be a showing of “Snowpiercer,” for which we’ll be gnawing our own arms off for a ticket if necessary. However, again, we’ve already reviewed that, so won’t list it here. Those titles aside, here, in no particular order, are our 10 most anticipated films of the 2014 Berlinale, heavily slanted toward those we believe have at least a chance of seeing a stateside release.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fox Searchlight "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Synopsis: In a legendary hotel in a fictional European country between the wars, a young lobby boy falls under the spell of a famous concierge, amid plots of murder, art theft and squabbling families.
Why it’s anticipated: So, yep, after what seems like a forever of running trailers, clips, posters, news and other tidbits, Wes Anderson’s latest film is finally available for our eyes the day after tomorrow. As the opening film of the 2014 Berlinale, it offers a mix of indie/arthouse credibility, commercial crossover appeal, and a ridiculously stacked cast, all of whom will be in attendance—so in many ways it’s the perfect film to kick off a festival. We ourselves rated it our third most anticipated film of the year, not least citing the cast, saying, “the Anderson all-stars have been assembled, with Ralph Fiennes leading a cast that includes veterans like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson, and newcomers Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Lea Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric and F. Murray Abraham, among many others.” But mainly, our tongues are hanging out for this one because we love Anderson, thought his last film, “Moonrise Kingdom” was an absolute treat, and completely dig the manic yet as-ever-meticulous energy that the early promotional materials have shown. In fact, just come on, let it be Thursday already.

Magnolia Pictures "Nymphomaniac"

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1
Synopsis: A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her entire sexual life to the kindly bachelor who finds her beaten in an alleyway and tends to her wounds.
Why It’s Anticipated: Any new film from ex-enfant terrible and current provocateur extraordinaire Lars Von Trier is always going to pique our interest. But here he seems to be giving full rein to his most sensationalist tendencies, which makes us very intrigued to see how much his intelligence (a quality he’s rarely given enough credit for) will enable him to avoid the obvious pitfalls of such a potentially exploitative subject—if at all. And certainly the eclectic, interesting ensemble cast is also a draw, featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgård, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Shia LaBoeuf, Udo Kier, Connie Nielsen and newcomer Stacy Martin. Adding to the rather confusing buzz surrounding the picture is that it’s broken into two parts, and each of those two parts also have two different versions, the uncut, longer “director’s cut” and a shortened theatrical version. While the shorter theatrical cut of Volume 1 has been out in some territories in Europe since Christmas, and recently screened as the secret film at Sundance, this will be the premiere of the longer cut of Volume 1, and so we’re glad we’ve kept our powder dry for it. 

The Two Faces Of January

The Two Faces of January
Synopsis: A con artist, his wife, and a stranger try to flee a foreign country after one of them is caught up in the murder of a police officer.
Why It’s Anticipated: Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote the books that inspired "Strangers On a Train," "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and Wim Wenders' "The American Friend") we had this one pegged as a possible TIFF release on our Most Anticipated of 2014 list (on which it nestles at no. 83). But that was really a shot in the dark as this has been a kind of unknown quantity since it reportedly wrapped back in 2012. That fact does give us some pause, but as the directorial debut of screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose writing career encompasses highs and potential highs like “Drive,” and the slated John Le Carre adaptation “Our Kind of Traitor,” but also dross like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “47 Ronin,” we’re at the very least curious. And curiosity is nudged up to anticipation by the cast: Viggo Mortensen, who was absent from our screens in 2013, our beloved Llewyn Davis himself Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst all conspire to make this an appealing package, especially if any justice at all has been done to the chilly psychological thrillerishness of Highsmith’s book.