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The Playlist's 50 Most Anticipated Films Of 2012

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 4, 2012 at 12:02PM

Well here we are, in 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.
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Looper

Looper
Synopsis: In a future where time travel exists, but is outlawed, hitmen are enlisted to eliminate mob targets sent back from even further in the future, so as to leave no bodies then. However, the system falls apart when Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to pull the trigger on his older self (played by Bruce Willis).
What You Need to Know: Writer-director Rian Johnson has already put an inspired spin on both film noir with the high school-set “Brick” and the con-man caper with “The Brothers Bloom.” To see him tackle heady sci-fi action with a cast that includes “Brick” lead Gordon-Levitt (who will be coming right off “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Premium Rush”), Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt is an exciting prospect indeed. Plus, Johnson managed to get “Primer” filmmaker Shane Carruth off the bench as a visual consultant, so bonus points for that. While we’d normally be wary of test screening reviews -- and still, taken with a grain of salt and such -- last month’s feedback was fairly enthusiastic across the board. Let’s face it: we could always use an R-rated action flick that’s as brainy as it is bloody, so here’s hoping that this fits the bill as heir apparent to “The Terminator” and Willis’ own “12 Monkeys” come its release next fall. (No pressure or anything.)
Release Date: September 28

Magic Mike

Magic Mike
Synopsis: A young male stripper is taken under the wing of his older coworkers. There Will Be Skin.
What You Need To Know: Finally, Steven Soderbergh makes his “Showgirls.” The prolific filmmaker is embarking on his farewell tour, and, as always, it’s significant to acknowledge that every film from here on out becomes something of an event for the young retiree. What’s interesting is how he attached himself to this project, which looked like a vanity effort doomed to remain in development hell. In fact, this is Channing Tatum’s own early life story, as he long wanted to adapt his years as a male stripper into a movie. He’ll be playing one of the older mentors, helping Alex Pettyfer learn the ropes of the meat trade. The cast intrigues, with a combination of colorful personalities that give us no real hint as to what kind of movie this is going to be. Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn and Matt Bomer fill out the cast, so we really have no idea as to whether we’re going to be seeing some steamy crowd-pleaser, a low-budget bump-and-grinder, or a “Shame”-like spiral into sad debauchery. Knowing Soderbergh, he’ll keep us guessing to the very end, though it's interetsting to note that Warner Bros. has hopped aboard as distributor, giving this beefcake parade a plum summer release date against the blockbuster behemoths.
Release Date: June 29

The Master

The Master
Synopsis: After returning home from WWII, a charismatic intellectual (Philip Seymour Hoffman) launches a faith-based organization and taps a young drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) as his right-hand man.
What You Need to Know: With just five films spread out over the last fifteen years, Paul Thomas Anderson has become one of the most celebrated American directors working today. It’s been nearly half a decade since his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” became the directors highest-grossing and most critically acclaimed film -- his longest gap ever -- but the wait seems worthwhile. His latest reteams the director with former muse Hoffman who portrays a man who starts his own religion during the 1950s and becomes the "master of ceremonies," supposedly with strong parallels to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Phoenix, in his first post-"retirement" role, plays the drifter he recruits, with Amy Adams and Laura Dern along for the ride too. Despite being less than 12 months from release the film is still shrouded in secrecy with even the title still up in the air. We reviewed an early rough draft of the script all the way back in February of 2010 and after several stops and starts (eventually being rescued by every cinephile's favorite heiress Megan Ellison), the film is finally on its way, though the script has surely evolved since that  minimal sketch was leaked. Initially hailed as a disciple of Scorsese and Altman, Anderson’s now finding himself being compared to another auteur whose films grew more masterful as well as increasingly further apart: Kubrick. All of this makes “The Master” quite possibly our most anticipated film of 2012.
Release Date: Assume a late fall release

Moonrise Kingdom (set photo Harvey Keitel)

"Moonrise Kingdom"
Synopsis: Set during the 1960s, a young boy and girl (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) run away together and their small New England town is turned upside down looking for them.
What You Need To Know: Though technically Wes Anderson's first period piece, his films have always seemed set in a indeterminate point in history. Mixing disparate influences from Martin Scorsese to Satyajit Ray has always been part of the director's playbook but no matter where he sets his stories -- a fairytale NYC, the high seas, a train in India -- they always seem to take place in diorama-like Anderson-land. His latest takes place on an island off the coast of New England during the 1960s and from the looks of the set photos, will sit very close visually his previous work. Assembling perhaps his most star-studded cast since "The Royal Tenenbaums," including first-time Anderson colaborators Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel alongside Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, the film will likely rest on the shoulders of its two leads: two virtually unknown 12 year olds. For a director often criticized with staying within his comfort zone, this sounds like a commendably risky move to us, and the script (co-written with Roman Coppola) promises something a little different from recent work. After a bit of a career slide that saw audiences and critics starting to turn on their formerly celebrated auteur, Anderson put himself back on top with his stop-motion fable, "Fantastic Mr. Fox." How will his fans receive his first live action film since "The Darjeeling Limited" in 2007 is yet to be seen.
Release Date: May 25, which suggests an out-of-competition bow at Cannes may be hoped for.

Mud

Mud
Synopsis: An unlikely friendship is formed between a fugitive and a 14-year-old boy who helps him escape off an island in Mississippi, evade the law and bounty hunters, and reunite him with his sweetheart, Juniper.
What You Need To Know: “Mud” will see a director and a star each meeting at a high in both of their careers. Director Jeff Nichols is coming off a great year thanks to the excellent “Take Shelter” and combined with the continuing word-of-mouth praise for his debut feature “Shotgun Stories” (a must-see) he is one of the most exciting new voices currently working. As for Matthew McConaughey, he’s been revitalized of late taking a diverse array of roles in films like “The Paperboy,” “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” and “Killer Joe” (he’s gonna have a helluva 2012), and this is another leftfield choice from an actor suddenly challenging himself. Wrap that all up in a film described as a “fairytale about love” with supporting turns from Reese Witherspoon, “The Tree of Life” star Tye Sheridan and Nichols’ regular collaborator Michael Shannon, and it’s a recipe for something potentially delicious.
Release Date: None yet, but filming wrapped last fall, and a festival premiere seems inevitable.

Nero Fiddled

Nero Fiddled
Synopsis: Not based on Boccaccio's novellas, as originally reported, the film will feature four unconnected vignettes, two of which involve American characters in Rome, the other two involving Italian cast members.
What You Need To Know: Well, it’s a Woody Allen, which either means you’re on board or you're not. And judging by the box office receipts for the biggest success of his career, “Midnight In Paris,” the director’s career is peaking when most are hanging it all up. The usual ingredients of Allen’s late career renaissance are here including another European locale, perhaps the most perfectly suited and neurotic Allen surrogate ever (Jesse Eisenberg), an A-list cast (Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page) and some local talent to round things out. But the big question here is if Woody will keep up his winning streak or if he’ll drop a dud like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” or “Cassandra’s Dream.” You never can tell.
Release: Picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, the film will be released next summer. And considering how well the strategy of Cannes premiere, followed quickly by a platform release worked in 2011, we presume the arthouse shingle won’t mess with the formula and stick to the playbook. And a Best Director or Best Picture Oscar nomination for Woody in February certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

On The Road

On The Road
Synopsis: A long-time-coming adaptation of Jack Kerouac's famous Beat Generation novel. Drifter poets Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty travel across the country in search of themselves, colliding with a rigid and impermeable society along the way.
What You Need To Know: Over thirty years in the making, director Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to get this picture made since the mid 1970s. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles signed on to make the picture in 2005, with Coppola exec producing, but none of it became a reality until  early 2010 when casting and financing finally coalesced. Starring Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley as the two leads and Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and more, rounding out the colorful cast, “On The Road” has been a labor of love for both Salles and Hedlund who has also been involved for years, biding his time for when funding would finally arrive. Having directed “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and other striking Foreign-language films, Salles has had an unlucky streak of late. After 2005’s semi-successful “Dark Water,” his 2008 co-directed film “Linha de Passe" failed to ever score distribution in North America. But having worked on ‘Road’ on and off for six years, we’re hoping this one is a major comeback.
Release Date: TBD, but we’re guessing a Cannes bow in May would make sense.

Only God Forgives

"Only God Forgives"
Synopsis: A gangster (Ryan Gosling) lives in exile in Bangkok where he runs a Thai boxing club as a front for his family's drug smuggling operation. After his brother is killed by a retired Thai police lieutenant, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) forces him to track him down and seek revenge.
What You Need To Know: Gosling reteams with his "Drive" director/hetero life partner Nicolas Winding Refn for this existential action film which he called "the strangest thing he's ever read." And if advance word is to be believed, that description is pretty accurate. After a half dozen features in arthouse semi-obscurity, the Danish filmmaker broke through in a big way with his neo-noir fairy tale “Drive” this year. But part of the reason that film was such a success is that no one saw it coming, not even those that had seen Refn's earlier work. So the question is whether Refn and Gosling will be able to pull off the same trick now that all eyes are focused on them. But all the elements certainly seem to be in place: the screenplay is an original by Refn, "Bronson" cinematographer Larry Smith will shoot the picture and "Drive" composer Cliff Martinez will once again score. For those who might be expecting some more ‘80s tinged electronic tunes, prepare yourselves for something a little different. Refn has been listening to a lot of Thai "country and western" music so get ready for hipster dance parties to be blasting those tunes nonstop around this time next year.
Release Date: Unknown, but shooting's underway, so sometime in late 2012.

The Place Beyond The Pines

A Place Beyond the Pines
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider (Ryan Gosling) considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician (Bradley Cooper).
What You Need To Know:Brother Tied” put filmmakere Derek Cianfrance square on the indie map in 1998, but another feature would not coalesce for some time (instead he made documentaries). That all changed in 2010 with Cianfrance’s re-breakthrough film, “Blue Valentine,” and ‘Pines’ will see him reunited with that picture’s star Ryan Gosling. Called a “generational crime flick about fathers and sons” by the director, the film also stars Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, and up-and-coming Aussie actor (and star of another generational crime film in “Animal Kingdom”) Ben Mendelsohn, to name a few. The director’s thrown some lofty comparisons around (“The Deer Hunter,” “The Godfather”), but hopefully these are simply tone comparisons rather than a suddenly inflated ego talking.
Release Date: TBD, but “Blue Valentine” played Cannes even after having its worldwide debut premiere at Sundance, so if Cianfrance is ready, the Croisette is a good bet.

Prometheus

Prometheus
Synopsis: Producers are trying their best to keep details under wraps on this project, which began as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” series. As far as we can tell, it’s about a a team of explorers who discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe.
What You Need to Know: Scott is finally getting back to his roots after taking a serious hiatus from science-fiction to explore the depths of drama. Some were wary of “Prometheus” after hearing of its “Alien” prequel DNA, fearing Scott had run out of good ideas. But then "Lost" chief Damon Lindelof came onto the project to re-write Jon Spaihts’ original screenplay, and now both Scott and Lindelof claim the project has evolved into something much more epic and standalone. Starring It-actors Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in leading roles, the former as an android and the latter as a doctor akin to Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley, Charlize Theron is also involved as the semi-villainous corporate figure, with Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and newcomer Logan Marshall-Andrews also among the top-billed names. . While there's a lot of mystery and mystique surrounding this project, a recent trailer delivered the goods, demonstrating what appears to be a frightening and intense thriller in the making. Whether it can live up to all the hype -- Scott arguably hasn’t made a great movie since “Gladiator” in 2000 -- remains to be seen.
Release Date: June 8

This article is related to: Features, Anticipated 2012, The Master, The Dark Knight Rises, Moonrise Kingdom, Cogan's Trade, Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, The Bourne Legacy


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