By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 4, 2012 at 12:02PM
Well here we are; the brave new world of 2012. And at present, it's not too scary, although we swear that we'll beat the next person to death who makes a joke about the Roland Emmerich film. And after a 2011 that turned out to be a pretty decent year for cinema (if not necessarily one for the ages), we're now staring out across a few months that seem fairly barren, as the early months of the year always do.
As such, and as always, to keep you going across the "Joyful Noise"s and "Underworld Awakening"s of the world, we've rounded up our 50 Most Anticipated films of the coming year, and what a year it looks like. There's more to come, with Popcorn, Foreign-Language and Sundance picks coming over the next few days. Obviously, there's some crossover; there are tentpoles ranked right up here, and foreign films too.
And don't forget, many of the best films of the year aren't on anyone's radar just yet; show us someone who was eagerly anticipating "The Artist" a year ago, and we'll show you Jean Dujardin's mum. But surprises excluded, these are the 50 (in, for the record, alphabetical order, and with a few bonuses that probably won't, but conceivably could, hit theaters before the end of the year) that are giving us the most cinematic hope in the coming year. And coming up tomorrow are our most anticipated popcorn/escapist films (i.e. films that we're only slightly embarrassed to admit we care about. Joke... kinda...).
Synopsis: Based on Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, “Anna Karenina” focuses on the titular heroine (Keira Knightley) who has an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) who wants her to leave her stable husband Karenin (Jude Law).
What You Need to Know: Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement”) gets back to his roots after venturing into new territory with the action-fairytale film “Hanna,” with this Russian period piece. He quickly attached one of his favorites, Knightley, to the main role with heavyweight Law as her husband and up-and-comer Johnson as her lover (in a pretty hefty role). The film also boasts quite an impressive supporting cast including Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Watson and Domhnall Gleeson (best known for playing Bill Weasley in the later “Harry Potter” movies). Wright proved last time out that he's more than just a costume drama expert, so we’re even more excited about his return to the pre-modern era for this one, and he always seems to bring out the best in Knightley, who's a good fit for the lead role. Barring a 'Soloist'-style disappointment, this should be the kind of sumptuous period piece that we haven't had since, well, "Atonement."
Release Date: No U.S. date yet, but slated for September 7 in the U.K., making a Venice bow a distinct possibility. An American release should follow sometime before Christmas.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatched a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need to Know: Not only is Affleck starring in this, but -- perhaps more importantly -- he’s directing it. Following up the one-two punch of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” won’t be an easy feat, but Affleck’s proven himself to be an assured craftsman behind the camera with both outings, so a period-set mission movie with political stakes and filmmaking itself as part of the plot seems like a sound enough, intriguing enough next step for his directorial career. And in keeping with tradition, he has assembled a considerable ensemble, including Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver (something of a good luck charm after roles in both 'Town' and 'Gone'), Clea DuVall and Adrienne Barbeau, not to mention the trifecta of John Goodman, Michael Parks and Kerry Bishé, all fresh off buddy Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” Warner Bros. sure seems confident in the project: they’ve already staked out a release date identical to that of “The Town,” clearly hopeful that fall festival buzz and solid word-of-mouth will see “Argo” following in that film’s successful footsteps.
Release Date: September 14, and five will get you ten that Warners are eying an out-of-competition bow at Venice, as with "The Town" and "Contagion."
“The Bourne Legacy”
Synopsis: In the wake of the collapse of black-ops program Treadstone, a new, more dangerous department emerges. But rogue agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) ends up becoming their equally dangerous target.
What You Need To Know: While Universal was keen to reunite director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon after “The Bourne Ultimatum” generated $442 million worldwide, communications somehow broke down. Perhaps it was Damon and Greengrass’ insistence that, at the close of 'Ultimatum,' Bourne had recovered his identity of David Webb and effectively ended his story. Whatever the case, Tony Gilroy has gotten a promotion from 'Bourne' screenwriter to director, which makes sense given that he proved his chops with the moody Oscar favorite “Michael Clayton,” then proceeded to lose everybody a lot of money with the stylish but empty “Duplicity.” And what’s interesting is that he’s working within the framework of the earlier films. Returning faces Joan Allen and Albert Finney will be joined by Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz, while Edward Norton and Oscar Isaac play villains of some shape. Stepping into the role of the pursued Aaron Cross is Jeremy Renner, who’ll be everywhere next summer, though this is the role meant to make him a household name; presumably he won't be sitting out the action scenes as he did in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"... Gilroy’s a director with chops, and this franchise has thus far remained visceral and exciting, so count this as one of our most anticipated blockbusters.
Release Date: August 3
Synopsis: A young Scottish princess accidentally brings a curse onto her kingdom, and she must venture into the wilderness to undo the damage.
What You Need To Know: The claws really came out against Pixar in 2011, didn’t they? “Cars 2” was the first outright Pixar quote-unquote failure, earning the wrath of critics and registering the weakest attendance of any of their films to date. But while the criticisms may sting the sensitive-seeming John Lasseter and company, it’s likely to have run off their shoulders easily: “Cars 2” outgrossed its predecessor globally and moved product like it was a damned garage sale, and signs are that they're back to their more creative side for this year's "Brave." Those focusing on the questionable firing of Brenda Chapman as director (she was replaced by Mark Andrews) neglect to admit that all Pixar films remain in a fluid state until very late in their development; even if we have yet to see if Andrews' work is up to (Bob) par(r). In any case, the production noticeably upgraded by replacing Reese Witherspoon with Kelly MacDonald, allowing a little extra Scottish flavor in this murky, somewhat ghostly-looking film. In other words, outside of “Cars 7: Retribution,” we have yet to find a reason to doubt Pixar.
Release Date: June
Synopsis: Based on a terrific novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” tells six interlocking tales, each exploring a different literary genre, everything from a transpacific voyage in 1850 to a 1970s-set conspiracy thriller to a sci-fi parable set deep in the future (there’s also a bit about self-aware Korean clones and a dusty European period melodrama). Heady stuff indeed.
What You Need to Know: The word "unfilmable" is bandied about a lot when discussing difficult, knotty literary source material, so we'll just say that it's very hard to picture anyone being able to wrangle David Mitchell's sprawling novel. But if anyone can pull it off, it just might be the directorial tag team of the Wachowskis (directing for the first time since “Speed Racer”) and European director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). The filmmakers have remained deliberately elliptical as to how they're portraying the novel, besides the fact that they’re shooting their segments in parallel, although Ben Whishaw, who stars alongside Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess, let leak that the actors would play multiple characters in each section (sometimes switching gender if necessary). We're betting the Wachowskis, with their "Matrix" pedigree, will handle the more futuristic stuff while Tykwer, veteran of things like "Perfume," will be more equipped for the period sections. But like everything else involved in this movie, the specifics aren't terribly clear.
Release date: October 2012