By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 4, 2012 at 12:02PM
“Red Hook Summer”
Synopsis: A boy from Atlanta is forced to leave his cushy life and lands in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects to spend the summer with his grandfather, a strict preacher he's never met before.
What You Need To Know: His first feature length narrative since 2008’s commercially unsuccessful “Miracle at St. Anna,” Spike Lee’s latest exploration of Brooklyn was first surprise-announced over Twitter and was somehow dubbed a sequel to his breakthrough effort “Do the Right Thing.” And while Spike <i>is</i> reprising his role as Mookie from that film, “Red Hook Summer” is decidedly different and does not focus on the pizza delivery man and his racially divided neighborhood. Starring Clarke Peters from “The Wire” as the older preacher and featuring character actors Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Nate Parker, the rest of the cast -- Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith -- are essentially unknowns. Putting a film forward without any known stars is a bold choice, perhaps due to the stinging rejection of the expensive and ambitious ‘St. Anna’ from audiences, but at the same time, “Red Hook Summer,” also co-written by James McBride of ‘St. Anna,’ is supposed to be a return to Lee’s roots, so perhaps it’s fitting.
Release Date: TBD, but with a Sundance premiere, we assume a sale can’t be far behind, even if it’s not with the biggest studio in the world.
“Rust and Bone”
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson's 2005 short story collection which depicts a savage world populated by afflicted prizefighters, fighting dogs, amputee sex addicts, and gamblers.
What You Need To Know: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. Described as a mix of a suspense story and a love story, it’s unclear how Audiard is going to weave these disparate strands into one clear narrative -- if indeed that is the plan -- but “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises” star Marion Cotillard is the lead so obviously we’re intrigued. French character actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Bouli Lanners and Celine Sallette co-star and the story is rumored to be based, at least in part, around one of the shorts about a marine park Orca trainer who loses his leg and then joins Unlimbited Potential, a support group made of addict-amputees. Recent, ahem, bodacious photos of Cotillard in her birthday suit wearing a green CGI leg-sock indicate she’ll be part of that story at the very least.
Release Date: Presuming it finished in November 2011 after the photos surfaced, the film is likely in post now. If it’s not complete in time for Cannes, who would surely love to have the director back again, Venice and/or TIFF seems like a safe bet.
Synopsis: A pair of Laguna Beach drug dealers is forced to work for a Mexican cartel after their gal pal is kidnapped.
What You Need To Know: Oliver Stone has pretty much spent the last decade being a “Serious Filmmaker” making movies about Serious Things. 9/11, George Bush, South American politics, corporate greed (yes, couched in a sequel no one wanted) and dictatorships all loomed in the frames of his films, but what many people may have forgotten is that Stone can deliver pure genre material with a great sense of humor and flair. “U-Turn” may not have entirely worked, but it was bonkers noir with more ideas than most filmmakers have in a lifetime, and the cluttered “Natural Born Killers” is further evidence that Stone can switch it up between violence, humor and drama with ease. Mix in a cast of up-and-comers and stone cold veterans -- Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch in the leads, Blake Lively as the girl, Uma Thurman as her mother, Salma Hayek as the leader of the cartel, Benicio Del Toro as her main enforcer, John Travolta as a burnt-out DEA agent, Demián Bichir as a cartel-representing double-crossing attorney, Joel David Moore as a computer nerd and Emile Hirsch in a mystery role -- and you have what could be a thriller with some real bite.
Release: September 28, making a Toronto bow likely.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
Synopsis: With an asteroid set to bring about the end of the world, a man enlists his neighbor to help him search for his childhood sweetheart.
What You Need To Know: This one caused a bit of a division among The Playlist staff, and your excitement for this one may depend on how you feel about “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” If you enjoyed it for what it was, then you may be heartened to learn that the screenwriter of that picture Lorene Scarfaria is making her directorial debut here. And she’s got some pretty big talent along for the ride. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley take the lead roles, with a pretty great supporting cast in tow including Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Rob Huebel, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry and more. We can only assume that the material was good enough to entice the usually picky Carell and Knightley into the fold, and the premise is intriguingly high concept. So are we looking at another ‘Nick & Norah’ but with an apocalyptic bent, or something more akin to, say, Don McKellar's "Last Night"?
Release Date: April 20
Synopsis: A frustrated author finds himself getting involved with two bumbling thieves who steal a mobster’s dog.
What You Need To Know: Martin McDonagh reunites his “A Behanding In Spokane” stars Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken for this crime comedy, which alone should be cause for celebration. Really, if you’re going to have a duo of dog-nappers in your movie, and you can afford Sam Rockwell (as a struggling actor) and Chris Walken (as Chris Walken, more or less), you spring for it. McDonagh, who previously wrote and directed the hysterical “In Bruges,” also brought back his 'Bruges' star Colin Farrell, suggesting there may be some connective tissue between that acidic gut-buster and this go-round, with Farrell playing the author attempting to pen his opus “Seven Psychopaths.” Though Mickey Rourke was due to play the dog-loving gangster (pretty accurate typecasting), he told the producers to to “go play with yourself” when they wouldn’t meet his probably-too-generous fee (we can easily imagine him making a masturbation air-gesture as we type this). Woody Harrelson is a more than adequate replacement, however, coming off a series of intriguing performances that have returned him to the on-demand list. Olga Kurylenko, Abbie Cornish and the always-interesting Tom Waits also fill out what looks like a cast that actually manages to improve upon the electric Farrell-Brendan Gleeson-Ralph Fiennes trio at the heart of “In Bruges.”
Release Date: Late 2012
Synopsis: A sheltered couple (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) attempts to relax on a holiday in the countryside, only to find themselves pushed over the edge by irritants and inconvenience.
What You Need to Know: Ben Wheatley certainly made an impression with his darkly funny family crime dramedy, “Down Terrace,” in 2010, and he followed that up with the bold, unnerving hitman thriller “Kill List,” which IFC will release on demand this January and in select theaters February. (Both are very much worth your while, though not for the squeamish.) So it’s little stretch to realize that Wheatley’s attempt at something lighter than either of those nonetheless turned out to be a serial-killers-in-love lark heavily improvised by stars Oram and Lowe (a.k.a. Liz on “Garth Marenghi's Darkplace”). The director has already proven himself terrifically adept at wringing suspense out of his premises, and the fact that this is reported to have more of a darkly comedic tone makes it that much more alluring. Oh, and did we mention that Edgar Wright is serving as executive producer on the project as he did with the great “Attack the Block”? (Lowe starred in his “Hot Fuzz,” but let’s face it: all hilarious Brits know one another anyway.) Little else is known about “Sightseers,” and we'd just as soon keep it that way. When it does come out, though: brace yourselves.
Release Date: TBD, although the fast-moving Wheatley has suggested it might follow "Kill List" for a SXSW premiere
“The Silver-Linings Playbook”
Synopsis: Based on the book by Matthew Quick, the story centers a former high school teacher who, after being released from a four-year stint in a mental institution, moves back in with his mother, then seeks to reinvent himself, finding the titular silver linings in his life.
What You Need To Know: Rumored to be the cause of a rift between David O. Russell and his longtime collaborator Mark Wahlberg, the film has been one the director has been trying to get off the ground for a few years. Wahlberg was originally slated in the lead role, but when Anne Hathaway dropped out, word is that Marky Mark got a cool $900,000 as part of his contract, forcing the filmmakers to go with Bradley Cooper, a much cheaper option. And there’s your beef. Of course, this is all hearsay anyway, but the real reason to pay attention is that the movie marks Russell’s followup to “The Fighter,” a film which finally brought him industry recognition via an invitation to the Kodak Theater as a Best Director nominee. And with a fall release date, The Weinstein Company are hoping for some of that same magic. Add to that a cast which includes rising star Jennifer Lawrence, the return of Chris Tucker in a non-”Rush Hour” movie, “Animal Kingdom” star Jacki Weaver (who's having a good year) and goddamn Robert De Niro and you can see why we’re eager for this.
Release: November 21
Synopsis: As she mourns the death of her father, a teen (Mia Wasikowska) meets her mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) and wonders if a string of disappearances that follow in her small town are connected to his arrival.
What You Need to Know: Judging strictly from the logline, this may seem like a hokey Screen Gems thriller that doesn’t belong on any list of anticipation whatsoever, save for one authored by the Babysitters Club. But the crew behind “Stoker” is what makes all the difference here: “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller (under a pseudonym) wrote the screenplay, which made the Black List in 2010, while director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “Thirst”) makes his English-language debut with the help of producers Ridley and Tony Scott. That last part should be encouraging enough on its own -- “warped” is pretty much Park’s bread and butter (see his Vengeance Trilogy) -- but combine that with an admitted Bram Stoker influence, a score by Philip Glass and a cast that also includes Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver (yep, her again), Alden Ehrenreich, Lucas Till and Phyllis Somerville, and, well, this could be something creepy and compelling. This one already belongs to Fox Searchlight, so short of a “Margaret” scenario befalling it (knock on wood that doesn't happen), we should see what Park has up his sleeve before the year is out.
Release Date: TBD
“This Is Forty”
Synopsis: Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their “Knocked Up” roles as married couple Debbie and Pete, with Maude and Iris Apatow still playing daughters, Sadie and Charlotte.
What You Need to Know: Judd Apatow is still producing like a madman these days -- with the gangbusters performance of this year’s “Bridesmaids” and the looming promise of this year’s “Wanderlust” and “The Five-Year Engagement” -- but he hasn’t written and directed anything himself since 2009’s ungainly but heartfelt “Funny People.” Few details are known about 'Forty' beyond it concerning Mann and Rudd’s characters from “Knocked Up” (in which they stole their fair share of scenes). As if that somehow weren’t enough, besides Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi returning to the fold as stoners Jason and Jodi, we can expect appearances by Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Ryan Lee, Lena Dunham, and Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd (both of “Bridesmaids”). From the midlife-crisis title on down to the casting of Brooks as Rudd’s father (his own warm, shaggy work as a writer-director has clearly influenced this writer-director in creating credible characters and comedy), 'Forty' feels like a logical progression for Apatow’s career, and if that tentative December date is any indication, it might finally earn him and his cast of regulars some much deserved awards attention. Or maybe it’ll just be really, really funny. That works, too.
Release Date: December 21
“Under The Skin”
Synopsis: Based on the debut novel by future "Crimson Petal and the White" superstar Michel Faber, the plot concerns Isserley (Scarlett Johansson) as an extraterrestrial sent to earth by a greedy alien corporation. Her goal is to bring back tasty tasty human meat for her desolate home world. She is also quite sexy.
What You Need to Know: First and foremost, it's the first film from "Sexy Beast" auteur Jonathan Glazer since his chronically overlooked 2004 feature "Birth" (seriously, why isn't that on Blu-ray?) Glazer is a ridiculously talented dude and it's been far too long since he's had a movie in theaters. And while the synopsis may make it sound like a slightly more highbrow version of Roger Donaldson's "Species," the source material is altogether more existential and satirical, tackling everything from the nature of existence to the ethics of farming. It sounds like an odd beast, and casting other than Johansson is being kept under wraps so far, but even so, this has to be one of the films we're most excited about.
Release Date: July TBD