By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 5, 2012 at 10:31AM
Admittedly, Team Playlist is an oddball collection of cinephiles, art-house snobs and genre-dorks, sometimes only unified by one thing: a healthy dose of skepticism in a world largely occupied by wishful-thinking fanboys (though some of those guys are on our team too). But this diversity means that we can be at once cynical optimists and optimistic cynics. Around the corner of every callous, even glib remark, lies the genuine hope for a memorable cinema experience even if the filmmaker is a dunderhead like Michael Bay (yes, we’re rooting for you to prove us wrong too, Mike). So this year, we’ve decided to do away with our Least Anticipated Films of The Year as a sign of goodwill and a laurel of trust to the hack producers of the world. In the spirit of less snark and more positivity, we’ve decided instead to cautiously anticipate things we might otherwise laugh at (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” we’re looking at you -- don’t make us regret this decision), as well as other films we are genuinely looking forward to for nothing more than a good ol’ popcorny time (“Snow White & the Huntsman”).
So without further ado, here’s our slightly tweaked Most Anticipated Escapist and Popcorn Films of the year (here's our regular most anticipated list), which can be read in either of two ways: as a lowering of the bar, or as a list of the films in which there’s hope to be had that the entertainment factor will outweigh the insulting of your and our intelligence. We’re trying to tread warily so as not to seem like naive, disappointed jackasses afterwards, but here’s proof that we hold out mild aspirations to not come off entirely like the jaded assholes many of you seem to think we are. To the list, then, but buyer beware!
“21 Jump Street”
Synopsis: A pair of misfit cops are sent undercover as high-school students to bust a drug-dealing ring.
What You Need To Know: Giving a dated TV classic a comic spin isn't exactly the most original idea in the book now, but there's reason for optimism for "21 Jump Street." For one thing, the inherently silly premise has always been better suited for gags than for a serious "Mod Squad"-style update, and the film's promising red-band trailer suggests that the script, from "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" writer Michael Bacall, knows how to wring them out. Secondly, there are plenty of funny people involved, from Jonah Hill to the showing-an-unexpected-talent-for-comedy Channing Tatum, to the likes of Ellie Kemper and Rob Riggle. And finally, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, behind the brilliant "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," are directing. Plus, if nothing else, Johnny Depp will be paying tribute to the show that broke him by showing up in a cameo role.
Release Date: March 16
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"
Synopsis: After his mother is killed by vampires, young Abe Lincoln dedicates his life to killing the undead scourge, becoming President of the United States and winning the American Civil War along the way.
What You Need To Know: The first of two "[Insert Unlikely Famous Figure Or Character]: [Type of Monster] Hunter" movies on our list, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has a deeply silly concept, but it also some pedigree; a best-selling source novel, Tim Burton as producer, and Russian stylist Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted') behind the camera. Whether it has a script that can lend some substance to the name remains to be seen, but with Bekmambetov in charge, innovative visual fireworks are guaranteed. Furthermore, the casting is more offbeat and fresh than it could have been; cinematic newcomer Benjamin Walker as Abe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd, Dominic Cooper as vampiric mentor Henry Sturges, and Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson, Rufus Sewell and Alan Tudyk also involved. Although maybe they were just cheaper than the competition. Could be a lot of fun, could easily be the next "Jonah Hex."
Release Date: June 22
“The Amazing Spider-Man”
Synopsis: Young Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him superhuman abilities. As if you didn’t know.
What You Need To Know: Yep, we’re already rebooting billion dollar franchises less than a decade old. We cannot wait for the remakes of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “Inception.” All cynicism aside, Sony is too smart to monkey with a successful formula, so this Spidey is cosmetically similar to the previous films, albeit with a different focus. While pop-up Sam Raimi focused on the screwball pratfalls and epic action of Spidey’s world, new director Marc Webb is going back to the source to mine the origins of the character for maximum pathos. What this means is a romance (this time with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy) that feels pivotal to the outcome of the film’s CG-enhanced action scenes. What this also means is the answer to the unspoken question of the earlier films: who are Peter’s parents, and where did they go? And have they paved the way for Peter’s legacy in some way? It’s pretty rough how Raimi and company were shown the door, but you can’t argue with economics: everyone was just getting far too expensive, and re-starting with exciting young Andrew Garfield at least promises that, along with Stone, they’ve made good choices for the leads of this still-successful franchise. Oh, and we’re also looking forward to Spidey’s scaly villain, the Lizard, both as far as what veteran character actor Rhys Ifans’ approach will be, and how the fanged freak is going to look in 3D. The Comic-Con footage was far more promising than that awkward first teaser; hopefully we'll see more to back that up soon.
Release Date: July 3
Synopsis: Secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. forms a team of the world’s top superpowered warriors to battle an intergalactic threat.
What You Need To Know: By now, any enthusiasm for a Marvel film has to be couched in corporate cynicism. There’s a ceiling for how good these pictures can be, as they must fit within a larger continuity (“The Avengers” sets the stage for “Iron Man 3,” “Thor 2” and a future 'Avengers' installment, for starters) and also have the same look, feel and texture. As much credit as the studio deserves for assembling top-flight talent in front of and behind the camera, the pictures might as well boast a co-director credit for Marvel head Kevin Feige. Regardless, in Joss Whedon they have perhaps the most appropriate choice for a Marvel director yet. He’s proven he can work with superheroes as evidenced by his writing stints in the Marvel bullpen, and he understands the friction of a group environment, as he’s proven through his many television series. He did an uncredited re-write for “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which means he’s been even more hands-on than the other Marvel directors, and he’s working with the best cast and the biggest budget. We’re not certain what the main plot to “The Avengers” is just yet – it seems to involve Thor’s brother Loki using the mystical MacGuffin called the Tesseract to summon an army to Earth – but we do know this: it’s a big-budget film with a cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo and Samuel L. Jackson. The list of people who wouldn’t want to see that probably isn’t very long.
Release Date: May 4
"The Cabin In the Woods"
Synopsis: A group of young friends head to the titular cabin for a weekend of debauchery, but soon find themselves stalked by mysterious creatures.
What You Need To Know: Two years and one aborted 3D conversion later – the film was another victim of the MGM financial difficulties – Joss Whedon's horror ("The Avengers" helmer co-wrote and produced the film, with "Cloverfield" scribe Drew Goddard directing) is finally hitting theaters. And a look at the premise might not make one particularly excited for the project; at first glimpse, it could be virtually any horror movie from the last few decades. But from the script, this should be something quite special for the genre; more than anything since the original "Scream," the film promises to send up and subvert horror conventions, thanks to an ingenious conceit we've been busting to tell people since we read it. And if word from its screening at Harry Knowles' Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival in December is correct, Goddard and Whedon have lived up to the promise on the page. The 'Buffy' creator has stuffed the cast with favorites of his from his TV shows, and the presence of "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth lends it added box-office might, although we're most excited about the pairing of the great Richard Jenkins and 'West Wing' star Bradley Whitford as the sinister puppetmasters.
Release Date: April 13
“Casa de mi Padre”
Synopsis: Two brothers try to save their father’s ranch from a villainous drug lord. En Espanol!
What You Need To Know: When it comes to his movies, we’ve really only liked Will Ferrell in his collaborations with Adam McKay. However, we admit this theory has only been tested in one language. The trailer spotlighted Ferrell’s admittedly decent handle on the language as yet another larger-than-life Ferrell character. But unlike his other films, which often lean on an impressive fraternity of ringers ready to hit a one-liner out of the park, Ferrell’s mostly going at it alone, with the “Y Tu Mama Tambien” duo of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, without a single class of Groundlings training between them, as the most recognizable faces in the cast. Ferrell’s got new blood behind the camera this time, with Matt Piedmont being an Emmy-winning recruit from “Saturday Night Live” and the “Funny Or Die” website, and it will be interesting to see if he develops a similar relationship there to the one he has with McKay, especially given that this is sort of an experiment: a goof on the overdramatic telenovelas that quietly draw stronger ratings than the likes of “Gossip Girl.” The trailer gets it right though the extreme close-ups and overacting – this could very well do for telenovelas what “Sprockets” did for German talk shows. Which is to say, crack us up at the thought, since none of us have ever seen a German talk show.
Release Date: March 16
Synopsis: A Gaddafi-style dictator comes to America after he's deposed by his people.
What You Need To Know: There was something of a dip in quality between the first collaboration between Sacha Baron Cohen and "Seinfeld" scribe Larry Charles ("Borat") and its follow-up ("Bruno") and from the looks of the trailer for "The Dictator," their third film together, the decline may not have been reversed. The schtick is becoming somewhat familiar, and the presence of Ben Kingsley in a supporting role can't help but make one think of "The Love Guru." But there are a few things to remember. Firstly, comedy trailers, more than any other, play to the broadest possible audience, and with an original character to introduce, we're sure the marketing team picked the crassest, most Borat-like moments. Secondly, even "Bruno" had a fistful of hilarious, subversive moments, and there's no reason to think that won't be the case with "The Dictator," even as they've shifted away from the mock-doc format. And finally, after a year which saw tyrant after tyrant fall, there's a certain topicality to the project. At this point, we're cautious, but willing to be won over.
Release Date: May 11
Synopsis: A pair of quarreling North Carolina politicians square off in a congressional race.
What You Need To Know: Politics and comedy go together like gin and tonic, so it's somewhat surprising that the two haven't been combined so much on the big screen of late – perhaps executives have been scared off by the likes of "Swing Vote" and "Welcome to Mooseport." In a world where Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have all led polls in the Republican primaries, is modern politics beyond satire? Adam McKay and Will Ferrell certainly hope not; for their fourth collaboration together, they've turned their eye to the campaign trail, with Ferrell facing off with Zach Galifianakis in what seems to be a fairly irresistible combo. But as with "Casa di mi Padre," McKay is skipping the director's chair, with "Austin Powers" helmer Jay Roach taking over instead. While Roach's recent track record in the genre is shaky ("Meet the Fockers," "Dinner With Schmucks"), he also helmed the excellent HBO drama "Recount," and we've got our fingers crossed that he can bring the same authenticity along while bringing the funny. A supporting cast including Jason Sudeikis, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Dan Aykroyd should help.
Release Date: August 10
Synopsis: When his beloved dog Sparky dies, young Victor Frankenstein manages to bring him back to life with science, but soon discovers that reanimation comes with a cost.
What You Need To Know: We've been fairly open about our distaste for Tim Burton's recent output, and pairing up with Johnny Depp in weirdo mode on yet another geek-favorite property in "Dark Shadows" only seems to continue his ossification, hence its absence from this list. But if Burton's got a chance at recapturing his mojo, going back to the very start of his career could be a good way of doing so, and that's exactly what he's done with his second film of 2012. "Frankenweenie" is a remake of Burton's 1984 live-action short, which helped launch his career, but Burton's gone a little different for the redo, shifting the story into stop-motion animation, although retaining the black-and-white look. It looks pretty stunning, with characters in the classic Burton-esque mold seen in "The Corpse Bride," and the director's assembled a group of his favorites, including Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, Martin Short and Christopher Lee, for voice work. Whether the original half-hour short retains its charm when extended to triple that length remains to be seen, but John August, who wrote Burton's best recent film, "Big Fish," penned the script, so it's got a good chance at becoming something other than a revisitation of past glories.
When? October 5
Synopsis: An art curator (Colin Firth) enlists the services of a Texas steer roper (Cameron Diaz) to con a wealthy collector into buying a phony Monet painting.
What You Need To Know: A remake of the 1966 film of the same name starring Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine that no one really remembers, the big draw of this one, let's face it, is that it’s based on a screenplay written by two guys named Joel and Ethan Coen. But for whatever reason, the Coens never seemed interested in directing it themselves – maybe not a great sign. Instead, Michael Hoffman, who most recently directed the undervalued Tolstoy biopic “The Last Station,” took the reins. And the results on paper seem promising. Oscars aside, Firth has truly peaked as an actor in recent years, so watching him switch gears in a fruity crime comedy might be a great change of pace, especially with comedic actress Diaz right there beside him (she’s, arguably, not terrible when given good material). Co-starring Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay and Cloris Leachman, even if it’s not wholly successful, this modern remake may just be frothy fun, and the talent involved makes it worth keeping an eye on.
Release Date: TBD, but it's set for a September release date in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, so shouldn't be far behind in the U.S.
“Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters”
Synopsis: Fifteen years after their traumatic gingerbread house incident, siblings Hansel and Gretel have become a formidable team of bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.
What You Need To Do: Yes, since fairy tales are all the rage after Tim Burton’s billion-dollar-earning “Alice In Wonderland,” this action comedy is a spin-off idea of the famous Brothers Grimm tale. Directed by Tommy Wirkola (the indie Nazi Zombies hit, “Dead Snow”) and produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Pictures (who seem to own this list this year), the film stars the intriguing combo of Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the eponymous Hansel and Gretel. Co-starring Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, our guess is the film doesn’t stray far from the genre-twist presented in “Dead Snow,” but as a piece of late winter entertainment, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Release Date: March 2, but recent rumors suggest the film is being pushed off the fall and if that turns out to be true, we would assume to the genre-friendly month of October. It would also not the best sign...
Synopsis: When a black ops agent is double-crossed, she makes her way up the chain of command to find her betrayer.
What You Need To Know: One of the very last Steven Soderbergh movies (or so we’ve heard...), it feels like we’ve been waiting for “Haywire” forever, to the point where some of us at the Playlist water cooler still call it by its original title, “Knockout.” Perhaps that still has to do with our sky-high anticipation regarding Soderbergh’s re-teaming with “The Limey” writer Lem Dobbs. While Dobbs showed very vocal displeasure with how his script for “The Limey” was contorted, the crime caper is one of the very best in Soderbergh’s filmography, and just the suggestion he might go back to that well should give movie lovers goosebumps. He’s got a heckuva cast this time around, but all eyes will be on female MMA fighter Gina Carano. Her casting is not unlike Soderbergh’s stunt selection of Sasha Grey for “The Girlfriend Experience” – she was simply the best physical specimen for the role. Whereas Grey was sexualized as a commodity in 'Experience,' Carano is being let loose to wail on a who’s-who of great actors. We’re eager to see her alongside old guns like Bill Paxton and Michael Douglas, not to mention younger sensations like Michael Fassbender and Michael Angarano. Though, to be honest, we’re mostly thrilled at the prospect of seeing her punch Channing Tatum in the face. Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Mathieu Kassovitz also fill out the testosterone-heavy cast, making this a pretty solid date night proposition, and early reviews from AFI Fest suggest that all our hopes have been met.
Release Date: January 20
“The Hunger Games”
Synopsis: In a futuristic society, one boy and one girl from each district are selected by lottery as "tributes" to participate in games in which they fight to the death – and our hero, Katniss Everdeen, has just volunteered.
What You Need To Know: Based on the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, this series is primed to be Lionsgate's answer to "Twilight," only smarter and deadlier – no vamps or werewolves required when humans are more than willing to rip each other's throats out. While a love triangle is part of it (should Katniss choose her hunting friend Gale over new rival Peeta?), the heroine (played by Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence, a good start) isn't as concerned with romance, considering she's fighting for her life. (She's not bloodthirsty – she's trying to save her younger sister, and she just wants to get out alive). Elizabeth Banks (as Lady Gaga-esque chaperone Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (as the drunk adult survivor-turned-mentor Haymitch), and Lenny Kravitz (as the subversive stylist Cinna) are on hand to introduce Katniss to an audience whose support is vital to her survival. One big question remains at this point; was Gary Ross, the man behind "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit," the man for the job? That first trailer was decent enough, but we'll find out in about ten weeks if this is the next "Twilight," or the next "Eragon."
Release Date: March 23
Synopsis: Civil War vet John Carter is whisked away to the red planet, where he finds himself in the middle of an intergalactic war.
What You Need To Know: Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars,” Disney’s effects-heavy blockbuster has been several years in the making, even falling into the hands of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” director Kerry “Whereishenow?” Conran at one point. The Mouse House boldly gambled on looking to Pixar for a guiding creative hand, as 'Carter' ended up being directed by “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo” helmer Andrew Stanton, making his live-action debut. The term “live action” may be pushing it, of course, as judging by the trailer, 'Carter' is loaded with state-of-the-art CGI, the material looking not entirely unlike “Avatar,” much to Disney’s glee. An oversized space adventure is only as good as its lead, and it has a strong one in groomed-to-be-huge hunk Taylor Kitsch, lately of “Friday Night Lights.” While he was relatively unnoticed as Gambit amongst the extreme professional embarrassment that was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” his breakout television role as Tim Riggins pegs this charismatic bruiser, who also features in utterly-dreadful-looking would-be-blockbuster “Battleship,” as a major future star. Shame about that title, though: in a crowded March that also sees “The Hunger Games” and “Wrath of the Titans,” is a single three-syllable name going to be enough to convince audiences this is an epic sci-fi story? And will the geeks be convinced by an unconfident marketing campaign that suggests Disney don't know how to sell their picture?
Release Date: March 9
Synopsis: A career criminal is offered his freedom, if he can rescue the president's daughter from a riot in a deep space prison.
What You Need To Know: "Escape From New York" meets "Taken." Oh, you want to know more? The latest in Luc Besson's factory line series of action movies wouldn't ordinarily interest us in the least; indeed, the film had barely been on our radar until recently. "Taken" was ridiculous enough as it was, but add a derivative, ridiculous sci-fi sheen on top, and the enterprise looks even less appealing. But then the trailers arrived, and while it still looks derivative and ridiculous, it also looks as if it could be a ton of fun, thanks principally to its star. After never quite making the A-list, Guy Pearce seems to be embracing the chance to play a wisecracking action star, with a handful of cheesy/awesome one-liners in his artillery. Could the film take him to a Liam Neeson-style career revival? Perhaps, but we need to be convinced that the stuff around him will match up to its star first.
Release Date: April 20
Synopsis: A group of suburban dads form a neighborhood watch group to buy time away from their families, only to discover a sinister plot that threatens the entire world.
What You Need To Know: A 20th Century Fox effects-laden comedy produced by Shawn Levy sounds like the kind of thing we'd ordinarily cross the road to avoid, but there's reason to be hopeful for this one. Firstly, the script (originally intended for Will Ferrell) was rewritten from scratch by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who were, of course, behind "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express." Then Akiva Schaffer, the Lonely Island member who directed minor gem "Hot Rod," took the helm. And the cast has been filled up with both comedic ringers like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, "Submarine" helmer Richard Ayoade, and Will Forte, and more dramatic thesps like Rosemarie DeWitt and Billy Crudup, the latter as the film's villain. It's still early days; we've seen nothing bar a single still, so this could be the next "Ghostbusters," or the next "Evolution." But considering the comic pedigree here, we'll be hopeful it’ll hit the spot, until it’s proven otherwise.
Release Date: July 27
Synopsis: A bored suburban boy who can see the dead becomes the first line of defense when his town is attacked by zombies.
What You Need To Know: Portland's Laika Studios made quite a splash with their feature debut "Coraline" back in 2009; the charming Neil Gaiman adaptation was a little animated gem, and arguably the best use of 3D to that date. They might have lost director Henry Selick, but follow-up "ParaNorman" looks equally promising, and firmly within their spooky wheelhouse. Helmed by Sam Fell ("Flushed Away") and Chris Butler, who worked on films including "The Corpse Bride," it essentially looks like a full-on zombie movie for kids, with all the gorgeous sculpting and beautiful lighting of its predecessors, and the trailers so far have promised something pretty special, which is much-needed after 2011 proved so disappointing for animation. The voice cast is great as well, with "Let Me In" star Kodi Smit-McPhee in the title role, and Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Bernard Hill, Jeff Garlin and Elaine Stritch in support. Plus, Jon Brion is scoring the film, so it should be a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. We've only got one question at this point: why is it landing in August, rather than Halloween?
Release Date: August 17
Synopsis: A young U.S. intelligence agent must go on the run with a newly arrived prisoner after his titular safe house comes under attack by assassins.
What You Need To Know: While Daniel Espinosa isn’t a household name yet, Hollywood is totally hot for the Swedish helmer. He quickly became the toast of tinseltown following the Berlin Film Festival premiere of “Snabba Cash,” with remake rights snatched up and offers coming in for Espinosa to take on a number of projects including “X-Men: First Class” and “The Wolverine.” The project that won out however, was the hot Black List script “Safe House” from newcomer David Guggenheim, and seeing as it's packing Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington as its leads, it could be an explosive arrival for Espinosa. The director has already proved to have a feel for crisp editing and a stylish, kinetic approach to his material, and now that he’s working with two very capable lead actors and a great supporting cast – Brendan Gleeson, Liam Cunningham, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Tim McGraw, Vera Farmiga, Joel Kinnaman – we’re expecting an action flick a cut above the usual. The first trailer went beyond expectations too, so thus far, all indicators point to something very, very promising.
Release Date: February 10
Synopsis: A figure from MI6 head M (Judi Dench)'s past returns, as the intelligence service itself comes under attack, and only James Bond (Daniel Craig) can stop them.
What You Need To Know: Revived in 2006 by the best entry in decade, "Casino Royale," the long-running James Bond series was thwarted only a few years later, not by weak-as-piss 22nd film "Quantum of Solace," but by the financial troubles of long-time home MGM. Finally sorted, "Skyfall" is shaping up to be quite the prestigious return, featuring Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, helming a script by Oscar-nominee John Logan ("Gladiator," "Rango"), with a glittering cast including Javier Bardem as the film's villain, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw (taking up the mantle of gadget-meister Q), Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and newcomer Berenice Marlohe. Details of the plot or action sequences are minimal, although settings will include Turkey and China, but the signs are good for a return to form, even if it's departing from the running storyline of the last few films.
Release Date: November 9
“Snow White & the Huntsman”
Synopsis: A retelling of the classic fairy tale in which the woodsman, who is meant to bump off the titular princess, winds up training her instead to fight her evil stepmother.
What You Need To Know: Universal spent a portion of 2011 battling Relativity over who would get out of the gate first with their respective Snow White movies, but it seems the studio needn’t have worried. With Tarsem’s “Mirror Mirror” looking like an early 2012 disaster, “Snow White & the Huntsman” has grabbed all of the advance hype. And with good reason. The first trailer for the Rupert Sanders-directed film was a pleasant surprise, with the commercials director showing some impressive visual style on his first feature film, and Charlize Theron lining up to be the sexist villain of any movie next year. While the jury is still out on Kristen Stewart – who curiously gets the least screentime in the first trailer – the epic scope and feel promises something far more than most were expecting from the film. And if all goes according to plan, it will be another big, beefy hero role for Chris Hemsworth who may get yet another franchise under his belt with ‘Huntsman,’ the first of, of course, a planned trilogy. This ain’t your grandma’s Grimm fairytale.
Release: June 1
Synopsis: Two New Yorkers lose their jobs and get caught up in the touchy-feely commune lifestyle.
What You Need To Know: More than almost anything else in 2012, “Wanderlust” comes with a giant roster of well-proven comedic talent. It's co-written and directed by the lovable “Role Models” helmer and founding member of “Stella” and “The State,” David Wain, while former “Party Down”-er and “The State” alum Ken Marino also co-wrote, and good-times enabler Judd Apatow is producing, which means Wain and Marino might actually be able to make a smart grown-up version of “Wet Hot American Summer” (we can dream). Paul Rudd (who almost never gives a bad performance) and Jennifer Aniston (who no-one seems to cast appropriately but is actually quite funny) play the leads, their first film together since the lack-lustre ’98 rom-com “The Object of My Affection”. The support cast is also something to write home about and all are relatively underused by big-budget standards, with Alan Alda, whose turn in “30 Rock” proved his talent is far from fading; Justin Theroux, whose comedic genius on-screen has been squandered by Hollywood for some time (though recent roles like “Your Highness” are remedying this); and Malin Akerman, whose roles on the small screen, like in “Children’s Hospital,” haven’t yet been matched by her so-so big screen ones like, um, “The Heartbreak Kid.” The recent trailer gave off good vibes – like the best PG bits of “The Ten” – with the teasing of more casual nudity to come in the red-band version. Even if the majority of it is likely to be Joe Lo Truglio.
Release Date: February 24
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, one zombie, R, falls in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims, the daughter of a zombie-hating general.
What You Need To Know: As we predicted months ago, 2012 is the year in which vampires take the back seat to their more decrepit undead cousins, the zombies, and "Warm Bodies" is one of several films featuring the creatures to make our list. It promises to take a different tack to "ParaNorman" and "World War Z," however, Summit, the studio behind the "Twilight" franchise, are hoping this'll do for rotting brain-eaters what those films did for vampires. The concept of a romance between a zombie and a human is an intriguing one, and by most accounts, Isaac Marion's source novel is a compelling, odd beast, shifting between several tones. And fortunately, it's got a good director for that sort of thing in Jonathan Levine. We didn't unreservedly love either "The Wackness" or "50/50," but both had much to recommend them, and we're looking forward to seeing what he makes of such an oddball piece of material, particularly as he promised us last year that the film would be "visually arresting." And he's got a strong cast, with Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer as the central couple, and John Malkovich and Rob Corddry in support.
Release Date: August 10
“World War Z”
Synopsis: In this loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ bestseller, a UN bureaucrat creates a wide-spanning report of the horrors of a devastating zombie war.
What You Need To Know: First off, we think that scheduling the release of a post-apocalyptic film for December 21, 2012 is a mix of marketing genius and all-out balls (what if the world does end that day, hmm?). While the novel was constructed to resemble a series of unlinked events with no overarching hero, purists may be disappointed to learn about source material departures in the script (from geek favorite J. Michael Straczynski, with polishes from Matthew Michael Carnahan). However, even the book’s most devoted readers can’t be too disappointed with this cast, toplined by Brad Pitt as the UN employee who ties everything together. David Morse recently joined the film, but it’s mostly made up of ambitious TV show talent: Mireille Enos (“The Killing”), Elyes Gabel (“Game of Thrones”), Matthew Fox (“Lost”) and James Badge Dale (“Rubicon”). Director Marc Forster has said this is a smart combo of “BRAINS!” and brains, hoping to draw in genre fans and well as those who want to see a connection to the current state of our world, but let's see if he can regain the form that seems to have escaped him of late.
Release Date: December 21
Synopsis: A Donkey-Kong style video game bad guy gets bored of his repetitive lifestyle, and heads off to find new games, and a new place in the world.
What You Need To Know: While video games have certainly fed into modern cinema (see "The Matrix" or "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" for proof), there's yet to be anything close to a good movie based on, or set around, the world of video games, bar the doc "King of Kong." But the medium is about to get their own "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," thanks to Disney and "Futurama" helmer Rich Moore, with John C. Reilly's title character traveling through worlds inspired not only by '80s 8-bit arcade games, but also by Nintendo classics and contemporary shooters, and meeting a host of favorite characters along the way. Early footage wowed the crowds at the D23 conference last August, and Disney have been on a strong run with their last three films, even if none have quite hit the heights of subsidiary Pixar. With Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch in support, we're sure the film won't be short of a few laughs either.
Release Date: November 2
Honorable Mention: After being burned by Tim Burton for what feels like more than a decade, we must admit it's hard to say with a straight face that we're looking forward to "Dark Shadows," but here's hoping that the umpteenth Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaboration doesn't feel like a parody of someone making a Tim Burton film as it unfortunately almost always does. Peter Berg and "Battleship"? You've got your work cut out for you, dude, especially with a $200 million dollar budget. The male staff thank you for at least hiring Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker for roles in the film, as does Taylor Kitsch, because after this expensive tentpole year, if this and "John Carter" flop, as some are expecting, it might be a long time before he ever leads a summer event film again. Less skeptically, we are curious about the Todd Phillips-produced 3D party film, "Project X," but even geeks have already scoffed at early screenings of "Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance" so there's no real reason to expect much there. Tarsem's "Mirror Mirror" looks ummm.... interesting, but "The Cold Light of Day," from the director of "JCVD" and starring Henry Cavill, sounds like something we'll be keeping a close eye on. "Dredd" had a decent script from "Sunshine" and "Never Let Me Go" scribe Alex Garland, and though rumored post-production troubles have lessened our enthusiasm somewhat, we live in slim, slim hope. And, more immediately, "Contraband," "Man on a Ledge" and, in particular, "The Grey," look rather better than the usual January filler fare, even if their release dates give us some pause.
Other potentially decent players include "The Raven," "Jack the Giant Killer," "Premium Rush" and Seth McFarlane's talking bear film "Ted" starring Mark Wahlberg, but we honestly don't have a lot of faith (read: almost none) in "MIB 3," "The Three Stooges," "This Means War," "American Reunion," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "Wrath of the Titans," Total Recall" or "The Expendables 2." Hell, even Time Magazine have most of these picks in their list of ten films from 2012 they are not looking forward to, so can you blame us? At least 2012 will finally deliver us the end of the "Twilight" franchise, thank christ. Maybe these films just aren't meant for us but filmmakers and studios of the world: you can always prove us wrong and we'll be happy to eat crow as long as there's a decent filmgoing experience to go along with it.
- Kevin Jagernauth, RP, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Sam Chater, Jen Vineyard, Kimber Myers