By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 6, 2014 at 1:14PM
Last week we brought you numbers 100-51 of our 100 Most Anticipated Films of 2014. And while we still have several other look-ahead-to-2014 pieces in the works for the coming days, like a Sundance preview along with a rundown of potential lowlights, today we get on to the section that really matters—the top 50 2014 films we're looking forward to most. It's a mouthwatering selection that convinces us once again that we collectively have the greatest job in the world, and has us antsy for the January doldrums to get gone, so let's dive straight in, shall we?
Previously on 100-51: So we survived the Year of Survival Movies, overfed ourselves on a glut of films about American excess, somehow struggled on while previous colossi of our movie world (Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Johnny Depp) came a cropper with underperforming tentpoles—folks, we made it through the cinematic year of 2013 and out the other side (all our Best of 2013 coverage so far). And here, at the brave new birth of the squalling, pink-faced 2014, we put aside thoughts of the year just passed and turn our faces toward what’s to come.
And yes, there’s an embarrassment of riches, quite aside from the cinematic returns of Christopher Nolan, Andersons Wes and Paul Thomas, David Fincher, Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier among many others. You may notice last year, we made two lists, including one with a more “escapist/popcorn” bent. This year we’re streamlining our format a bit by compiling one master list of the 100 films we're most looking forward to, regardless of their budget or provenance, so teensy independents rub shoulders with mega-budgeted blockbusters, only ranked by how much collective Playlist drool has been spilled in anticipation. Here’s the first part of that countdown, from 100-51; stay tuned for part 2 on Monday of next week.
100. “Welcome to Me”
Synopsis: A woman with Borderline Personality Disorder wins the lottery, goes off her meds and uses her winnings to fund a cable access talk show, which she hosts and uses to talk about her own life.
What You Need To Know: Starring Kristen Wiig, produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions and directed by McKay’s wife Shira Piven (“Fully Loaded”), “Welcome to Me” also stars James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Alan Tudyk, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ferrell himself. The film, written by Eliot Laurence, is above its breezy logline reportedly designed as an examination of society’s obsession with fame.
Why Is It Anticipated: Following on from her game-changing success with “Bridesmaids” Kristen Wiig actually took it a bit easier than, say, fellow alum Melissa McCarthy, in making her next major move, and aside from last year’s disappointing “Girl Most Likely” has mostly shown up recently in supporting roles from “Despicable Me 2” to “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” But this film, coming from the Ferrell/McKay stable, seems perfectly tailored for her talents, and is apparently, despite the stacked cast, very closely focused on her character, which will be an interesting challenge for an actress who has generally been more of an ensemble player. The only red flags are that it's described as a dramedy rather than an out-and-out comedy, a tone that can be hard to nail, and that Piven is relatively untested as a director. So it's a somewhat risky proposition, but our fingers are crossed.
Release Date: None assigned yet, but the film shot late summer 2013 and has already picked up a Canadian distributor so we expect a date soon.
99. "War Book"
Synopsis: The aftermath of a major nuclear attack, told through the political backrooms of London.
What You Need To Know: 2009's "Scouting Book For Boys" was seen by almost no-one (the film never got a U.S. release), but we've been making noise about it for a long time; it was one of the best British films of the last few years, and suggested the arrival of serious new talents in director Tom Harper and writer Jack Thorne (who also has "A Long Way Down" coming this year). Very quietly, last year saw the pair reteam for this political thriller, which promises to be a "Fail Safe"-style look at a nuclear disaster, and features an excellent ensemble cast including Nathan Stewart-Jarrett ("Misfits"), Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda"), Ben Chaplin ("The Truth About Cats And Dogs"), Kerry Fox ("Shallow Grave"), Adeel Akhtar ("Four Lions"), Anthony Sher ("The Wolfman") and Phoebe Fox (the upcoming "The Woman In Black: The Angel Of Death," also directed by Harper).
Why It's Anticipated: This kind of what-if political docu-drama is right up our street, so we'd be excited about it anyway, but that it reteams Harper and Thorne makes it even more enticing. That the cast pairs both veterans like Okonedo, Kerry Fox and Sher with exciting newcomers like Stewart-Jarrett, Akhtar and Phoebe Fox means this should be full of strong performances too. This might be under-the-radar at the moment, but we definitely think it's worth keeping an eye on.
Release Date: SXSW or even Tribeca could be a possibility, but a bow at the London Film Festival in October is probably more likely.
98. "This Is Where I Leave You"
Synopsis: An argumentative Jewish family reunite to honor their late father's wish that they sit shiva for a week to mourn his passing.
What You Need To Know: The family reunion movie is more or less played out, and one directed by Shawn Levy ("Night At the Museum," "Date Night," "The Internship") isn't exactly a way to get our attention. But this is based on an acclaimed best-seller by writer Jonathan Tropper and has an absolutely killer cast for this sort of thing: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll play the squabbling siblings, with Jane Fonda as their mother, while Connie Britton, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Olyphant, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz and Dax Shepard make up their various partners and loved ones.
Why It's Anticipated: Again, Levy's career to date has not been especially rewarding, but there have been more positive signs of change: "Real Steel" was certainly his best work so far, and he was a producer on the acclaimed "The Spectacular Now." More importantly, there's a specificity to the set-up here that will hopefully make it less bland than, say, "The Family Stone." More importantly, there's that cast, which gives overdue showcases to the likes of Driver, Stoll, Hahn and Britton, who've been wowing in indies or on the small screen but should get some mainstream attention here. With this many talented people on screen, we'd watch the end result even if Uwe Boll was directing.
Release Date: September 12, 2014
97. "Jersey Boys"
Synopsis: Musical based on the lives and careers of legendary music group The Four Seasons.
What You Need To Know: Sooner or later, every filmmaker seems to get the itch to work on a musical. Clint Eastwood got to it late—by the time his is released, he'll have just turned 84—but he's finally done it, with this adaptation of the long-running Broadway smash built around the music, and careers, of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. Picked up by Eastwood and Warners when Universal put Jon Favreau's version into turnaround, Eastwood has cast it mostly with unknowns, with the Tony-award winning John Lloyd Young (who won his award for the stage version in 2006) reprising his role as Valli. The biggest name otherwise is Christopher Walken, playing a mobster. Fingers crossed he gets to sing at some point...
Why It's Anticipated: You might not have stars, but when you have solid gold hits like the ones knocked out by the Four Seasons, who needs them? The stage show is definitely one of the more effective of this kind of jukebox musical, and while Eastwood doesn't seem like the most obvious choice for something like this (remember "Paint Your Wagon"...), he's been wanting to scratch this itch for a while (he's spent a few years planning a remake of "A Star Is Born" that didn't come to pass), and last time he did anything close, it was "Bird," one of the best films of his career.
Release Date: June 20, 2014
96. "The Search"
Synopsis: In war-torn Chechnya, a woman working for a charity tries to help a young boy reunite with his family.
What You Need To Know: Having blown up with the surprise silent hit "The Artist," winning a Best Director Oscar (and another for the film itself), French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius had the world at his feet, but didn't immediately launch into a new project. Then, a few months back, it turned out that he'd secretly already started filming on his semi-remake of Fred Zinnemann's 1948 weepie "The Search." A move away from the mostly comedic work he's known for, this version updates the setting to the war in Chechnya, with Hazanavicius' wife Berenice Bejo taking the lead role and Annette Bening in support.
Why It's Anticipated: The domination of "The Artist" during the awards season two years back meant it attracted its fair share of backlash, but when you step away from all that, it's still a gorgeous and moving piece of work, and more than enough reason to get excited about whatever Hazanavicius does next. There were certainly chunks of melodrama in "The Artist," so this isn't a departure in the way that it seems initially, either. And after Bejo's brilliant performance in "The Past," we're excited to see her get another meaty role to stick her teeth into. Certainly not one to be underestimated.
Release Date: None yet, but it's a fair bet that Hazanavicius could return to Cannes if the film is done in time.
95. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Synopsis: As Spider-Man negotiates the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of being a superhero, greater conflicts lie ahead in the form of super villains threatening to ruin New York.
What You Need To Know: The official synopsis for the film is either purposefully vague and mysterious or what many already fear: this sequel could suffer from “Spider-Man 3”-itis, an overkill of villains in a jumbled plot. This time around Spider-Man faces a bevy of new baddies including Electro (Jamie Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Green Goblin/Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), who was also the Green Goblin in the comics (and played by Willem Dafoe in the Sam Raimi series). The fear on top of bad guy overflow is middle chapter-itis: the serialization of movies that makes for episodes instead of self-contained stories is also worrisome considering this franchise seems to be building towards a Sinister Six movie/showdown.
Why Is It Anticipated: This is a very good question and one we’ve asked ourselves. “The Amazing Spider-Man” wasn’t particularly good, but Marc Webb is a talented director and the aforementioned cast of enemies plus Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone—if this were some drama, we’d be salivating at the mouth, frankly. And so while villain superfluity and “episode 2” issues are a strong possibility, the cast (which also includes Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore and Sally Field) makes us feel tentatively optimistic. After "Star Trek Into Darkness" however, the writers (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner) do make our concerns feel justified.
Release Date: May 2, 2014
94. “The Giver”
Synopsis: A child learns that he’s the product of a dystopian future world and must learn the truth before he becomes a part of a restricted, colorless adult life.
What You Need To Know: Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” for those of you who had more adventurous high school English curricula, is one of the touchstones of classic young adult literature. The likelihood is that the book is a product of the post-“Twilight” YA movement, but this is less “Divergent” and more like “Ender’s Game,” a long-in-the-works adaptation of fairly brainy, low-key subject matter designed to give kids a chance to think twice and ask questions of society, not dodge fireballs and sell Happy Meals. Unlike “Ender’s Game,” there’s really not many ways to gussy this material up with distracting special effects and crowd-pleasing action sequences. However, Taylor Swift is in it.
Why Is It Anticipated: There seems to be a trial-and-error process in selecting the proper filmmaker for these properties, but Philip Noyce is probably one of the better selections. Noyce is a restless filmmaker with endless intellectual energy, and though his last film was the dopey “Salt,” he gave that action script a socio-political insight that would have been absent from another director’s version. We expect the same attention to detail here, particularly with a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård. But again, Taylor Swift is in it too.
Release Date: August 15, 2014
93. “Dark Places”
Synopsis: A woman who survived the brutal killing of her family as a child is forced to confront the events of that day by a secret society obsessed with solving notorious crimes.
What You Need To Know: 2014’s other Gillian Flynn adaptation (aside from David Fincher’s “Gone Girl”) may have a less well-known director at the helm (“Sarah’s Key” director Gilles Paquet-Brenner) but the cast definitely matches that of its higher-profile rival. Led by Charlize Theron (in a role originally rumored for Amy Adams, to give you an idea of the caliber of talent that’s always circled this project), the ensemble also includes our “House of Cards” favorite breakout, Corey Stoll, as the brother serving a life sentence, alongside Tye Sheridan, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Hoult, Christina Hendricks and Sterling Jerins.
Why Is It Anticipated: “Dark Places” has a stacked cast, a promising director and a salacious-sounding premise which has potential to be a twisty, grimy psychological thriller provided its more sensationalist aspects (Satanic cults; amateur crime solvers; recovered memories) are treated with a degree of restraint. Whatever you may think of Flynn’s writing, there’s no doubt she knows her way around a sticky, twisty plotline, and if that translates as well as it can to the screen, there’s quite the potential here for something taut, gripping and dark.
Release Date: September 5, 2014. If it sticks, then it will get out of the gate a month before “Gone Girl”—traditionally a wise strategy for the lower profile of two similar, easily bracketed properties.
Synopsis: When millions of dollars go missing from a drug bust, members of an elite DEA strike team start being picked off, one by one.
What You Need To Know: People haven't necessarily been going to see his movies, but Arnie's comeback is going pretty well: "The Last Stand" was his best movie since "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and he gives one of his best performances in "Escape Plan." In "Sabotage," the Austrian oak teams up with director David Ayer, who's coming hot off his acclaimed "End of Watch" for a hard-boiled actioner whodunnit. His team involves a veritable who's who of cinematic ass-kickers, including Sam Worthington and his ridiculous beard, Joe Mangianello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Max Martini and Mireille Enos, who seems to be relishing the chance to play something other than the stricken wife she was stuck with in "Gangster Squad" and "World War Z," while Olivia Williams also gets a welcome chance to play the action star (with a badass accent).
Why It's Anticipated: Ayer specializes in tough cops doing tough things, and while it hasn't always worked, he's always had an ear for the camaraderie of dangerous men, and "End of Watch" was a big step up for him as a director. He's got the more promising "Fury" in the can (more on that tomorrow), but this actually looks like a decent bit of fun.
Release Date: April 11, 2014
91. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
Synopsis: A prequel to 2005’s “Sin City,” the story follows Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and his dangerous relationship with the seductive Ava Lord (Eva Green).
What You Need to Know: Since the success of “Sin City,” fans have clamored for a sequel, and director Robert Rodriguez has certainly taken his sweet time bringing it. The movie completed principle photography back in October 2012 and was set for release in August 2013. Rodriguez had plans to release it alongside “Machete Kills,” but had issues with post-production, moving 'A Dame to Kill For' to October 2013 instead. At the eleventh hour, Rodriguez still couldn’t wrap up the massive CGI post-production on the film and pushed it back an entire year to August 2014.
Why Is It Anticipated: Regardless of the various setbacks, there’s a reason to hold tight to this movie being awesome. 'A Dame to Kill For' is grittier, bloodier, and a far better story than the various ones utilized in “Sin City,” although the original is still great. The villainous Ava Lord is one of the most disturbing female villains and played by Eva Green, expect fireworks. The cast is also rounded out by returning cast Jessica Alba, Jaime King, and Bruce Willis, on top of newcomers like the aforementioned Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Juno Temple.
Release Date: August 22, 2014