By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 6, 2014 at 1:14PM
Synopsis: After being threatened during a confession, a good-natured Irish priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
What You Need To Know: Director John Michael McDonagh, brother of the similarly crazy talented Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), wrote and directed one of the most underseen gems of the last few years with “The Guard.” “Calvary” sees him retain the rural Irish setting, and his star, the great Brendan Gleeson, in a cast that also includes Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, Isaach De Bankolé, Dylan Moran and Brendan’s son, Domhnall Gleeson.
Why Is It Anticipated: We absolutely loved “The Guard,” with its foulmouthed, un-PC mix of caustic, iconoclastic Irishness and dizzying verbal wit, and would turn up with bells on to anything McDonagh had a hand in. But while “Calvary” retains many familiar elements, most importantly Gleeson in the central role, it also changes things up, taking the unfashionable-to-the-point-of-“controversial” step of portraying an Irish Catholic priest in a good light, and though retaining elements of dark comedy, it's in service of a much more dramatic and serious narrative. We can’t wait.
Release Date: “Calvary” will premiere at Sundance and then hit Berlin not long after, prior to an Irish/U.K. release that’s already been slated for April. When it hits wider in the U.S. will depend on its festival reception.
Synopsis: The life of a child told from age six to age 18, following his relationship with his parents before and after they divorce.
What You Need To Know: Like a cousin to his 'Before' trilogy that's both oddly compressed and yet slowed down, "Boyhood" might be the most ambitious thing that Richard Linklater has ever made. Following in the footsteps of Michael Apted's "Up" series and Michael Winterbottom's "Everyday," Linklater has spent a few weeks every year since 2002 shooting portions of this film, which stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the parents, and newcomer Ellar Salmon as the child. As a result, it's a literal coming-of-age film, which will see Salmon, and the other actors, age before the cameras: as Hawke described it, it's like "timelapse photography of a human being."
Why It's Anticipated: Linklater might not be the first person to try this, but he's probably the most ambitious: with twelve years passing between the start of filming and release, it's likely the longest film shoot in history. That alone should be worth the price of admission, but if all's well, this'll work as more than just a novelty: it's this kind of personal experiment at which the director excels, and if it's half as good as last year's "Before Midnight," it'll be worth checking out.
Release Date: Premieres at Sundance. A proper release date will surely follow.
58. "22 Jump Street"
Synopsis: After their success in high school, Schmidt and Jenko go undercover in college to crack another drug ring. But as they start to grow apart, the pair need to see if their friendship can survive.
What You Need To Know: There was no way that "21 Jump Street" should have worked, but it really did, proving to be a surprise critical favorite and legitimate sleeper hit. It's no surprise that Sony fast-tracked a sequel, with original writer Michael Bacall joined by Oren Uziel, and original filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller returning to direct (their "The Lego Movie" lands only a few months earlier). Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle and Dave Franco are all back, while Amber Stevens and Wyatt Russell are among the new additions.
Why It's Anticipated: Again, "21 Jump Street" seemed like it should have been symptomatic of the worst of Hollywood, but instead, Bacall's script and Lord and Miller's direction, plus the great chemistry of Tatum and Hill, made it an absolute pleasure, and one of the better studio comedies in recent years. "22 Jump Street" looks a little bit like more of the same, from the trailers at least, but Lord and Miller haven't phoned it in yet, and so we're confident that the film will have plenty more surprises up its sleeve. Plus it features Jonah Hill dressed in full goth gear, and that's pretty funny on its own.
Release Date: June 13, 2014
57. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Synopsis: The time-displaced Avenger struggles to cope with a new government where S.H.I.E.L.D. operates with complete impunity, landing him in the middle of a vast conspiracy.
What You Need To Know: Being that August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” is expected to have very few ties to the rest of the major Marvel characters, 'The Winter Soldier' is the very last film of Marvel’s Phase II leading up to “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It’s directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, blockbuster neophytes who previously helmed “You, Me And Dupree” and have worked extensively on television. There are also not many ways to spoil this film, as Marvel is doing it anyway: early ad material has already unveiled the face behind the mask of the Winter Soldier, a Soviet spy with ties to Cap’s past, and Robert Redford, who probably couldn’t care less, has already divulged to the press significant plot details regarding his character, a S.H.I.E.L.D. headman who challenges Cap’s idealism. Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo are also on board as the Falcon and Crossbones, a real casting coup for two massive fan favorites.
Why Is It Anticipated: These Marvel movies are fun, but they haven’t been able to address head-on the real-world politics that come from an American superpower suddenly fielding a team of heroes that can dismantle any army in the world. 'The Winter Soldier' looks to do that, as the trailer features Chris Evans’ earnest Captain America taking the shadowy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to task for the “preemptive” measures S.H.I.E.L.D. takes towards “neutralizing” potential threats. This is also the most likely of any of the Phase II films to harken back to “The Avengers” (easily the best Marvel film thus far) with Fury and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) flanking Cap. “The Avengers” avoided giving the hero many fish-out-of-water moments, but a chance to see Evans’ endearingly corny WWII hero bristle against the murky morality of modern warfare promises that, in between explosive action sequences, this movie might actually have a chance to say something interesting about our world.
Release Date: April 4, 2014
56. “The Homesman”
Synopsis: A pioneer woman joins forces with an outlaw to escort three mentally unstable women from Nebraska to Iowa, facing adversity and hardship every step of the way.
What You Need To Know: Based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout, this is Tommy Lee Jones’ sophomore directorial outing, and he’s again cast himself in the central role. However the exceptional cast he’s collected to round out the story would sell us on this even if he weren’t involved: Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer (Streep’s real-life daughter), Miranda Otto, Hailee Steinfeld, William Fichtner, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow and Danish actor David Dencik.
Why Is It Anticipated: Jones’ first directorial film, the criminally underrated “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” was a really terrific piece of direction that showcased one of Jones’ most restrained and intelligent performances, showing that he’s no slouch at pulling double duty. And the “True Grit”-style trappings of this story, along with the focus on the many female characters (many being played by Oscar winners, or at least, in Steinfeld’s case, nominees) mean that while Jones is probably in a comfortable enough milieu, he is expanding his horizons too, after ‘Estrada’ which was largely a two-hander.
Release Date: None yet, but this shot already last spring, so could be ready for the 2014 festival rounds.
55. “Far From the Madding Crowd”
Synopsis: A willful, flirtatious young woman unexpectedly inherits a large farm and becomes romantically involved with three widely divergent men.
What You Need To Know: Yes, John Schlesinger turned Thomas Hardy’s classic 19th century piece of literature into a film in 1967, and while that was memorable, it’s time for a modern update.
Why Is It Anticipated: There’s several tantalizing reasons why this one could be one of 2014’s best dramas. First off, the cast: Carey Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba Everdene with the trio of suitors played by Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge and “Rust & Bone” star Matthias Schoenaerts (Juno Temple co-stars). Moreover, it’s from director Thomas Vinterberg who is a) coming off his best film of his career to date (and one of 2013’s best), “The Hunt,” b) making his first period film. Basically, this sounds like the confluence of all good things and we can’t wait.
Release Date: Shot this past fall, you can bet Cannes want it if it's done in time. If not, fall festival circuit for sure.
Synopsis: A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.
What You Need To Know: Though it was mostly ignored by audiences, Angelina Jolie's "In The Land of Blood and Honey" was one of the more impressive directorial debuts by A-lister that we can remember, suggesting that Jolie was more than just a movie star. Her follow-up should be much more high profile. Based on an astonishing true story and stamped with an awards-friendly Christmas release date, the alone-at-sea territory's been mined often recently with "Life of Pi" and "All Is Lost," but there should be enough here to set it apart, especially as Jolie has some killer talent helping out. The script was written by William Nicholson ("Gladiator"), Richard LaGravanese ("Behind The Candelabra"), and, in a rare writer-for-hire gig, the Coen Brothers, while Roger Deakins is lensing the film. Fast-rising star Jack O'Connell has the lead role, with Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney and Luke Treadaway in support.
Why It's Anticipated: Like we said, Jolie showed real directorial chops with her first film, and we're expecting this to be a step up, given the involvement of people like Deakins and the Coens behind the scenes. But we're particularly excited about seeing Jack O'Connell: he's been stunning in roles like "Starred Up" and "Skins," and should become a megastar off the back of this if it all turns out right.
Release Date: December 25, 2014
53. “Animal Rescue”
Synopsis: A quiet barkeep rescues an abused dog from the ghetto, only to earn the wrath of his abusive owner, a local gangster with a desire for revenge.
What You Need To Know: An adaptation of a Dennis Lehane short story from his “Boston Noir” collection, the author's work has already provided material for “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” so there’s a pedigree attached. It’s also the English-language debut from director Michael Roskam, who brings aboard his “Bullhead” collaborator Matthias Schoenaerts in a villain role, pitted against lead Tom Hardy. The cast also includes Noomi Rapace, John Ortiz and, in his last on-screen role, James Gandolfini. A colorful collection of directors have been linked to this project in the past, including David Cronenberg, Alexander Payne and Neil Burger speaking to the promise of the material.
Why Is It Anticipated: Look, you had us (and the rest of the Internet, apparently) at “Tom Hardy saves puppies,” so we’re not gonna front: this sounds like a pretty gritty true crime story, with a lot of dark edges and volatile relationships, and the strong cast should be riveting. Rapace especially has become one of the more compelling actresses in Hollywood, and her teaming with Hardy was apparently so strong that the two reunite again in his year’s “Child 44.”
Release Date: TBD
Synopsis: In North Carolina during the great depression, a young couple attempt to set up a timber empire at any cost.
What You Need To Know: After "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle" became critical and commercial hits, another film that reteams Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper is clearly going to get some attention. They're paired again for "Serena," an adaptation of Ron Rash's acclaimed 2009 novel (once intended to pair Darren Aronofsky and Angelina Jolie), directed by Susanne Bier. The film actually shot after "Silver Linings Playbook" and before "American Hustle," and after a lengthy post-production process, is finally being shopped around distributors, with Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company reportedly circling. Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans, David Dencik and Sam Reid co-star in a tale that seems to have echoes of classic melodrama and "There Will Be Blood."
Why It's Anticipated: We've heard nothing but good things about the book (as the amount of talent that have been attached should suggest), and the chance to see Lawrence tackle material as dark as this is certainly attractive. We'd heard some worrying buzz about the film as it remained unfinished, but recent reports have said that there were no troubles, just a tricky edit to pull off, and that the finished film is looking very strong. Bier can tend towards the middlebrow, but hopefully this time she's turned out something that exceeds her usual work.
Release Date: Cannes and Venice have apparently both approached the producers, so expect a bow at one or the other before an awards season release date.
51. "Untitled Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig Public School Project"
Synopsis: Follows the relationship between a "dauntless New York striver" and a Barnard undergraduate who idolizes her new friend. Presumably set, at least partly, in a public school?
What You Need To Know: "Frances Ha" was the great surprise of the festival circuit in 2012, a collaboration between director Noah Baumbach and actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig that no-one knew existed until it was revealed in the TIFF line-up. What's more, it turned out to be an absolute treat. But even before "Frances Ha" hit theaters, Baumbach and Gerwig pulled the same trick, wrapping production on another under-the-radar effort, described as "Untitled Public School Project," and co-starring Gerwig and Lola Kirke, the sister of "Girls" star Jemima Kirke. The film's described as "looser and wonkier" than "Frances Ha," and Baumbach has named "The Great Gatsby" and "Something Wild" as comparison points.
Why It's Anticipated: Though it has its detractors, few films united The Playlist in love more than "Frances Ha" in 2013, and the reunion of the creative team on another secretive indie project is certainly one to keep an eye on. From the few details that the pair have dropped, it sounds like it'll be cut from similar cloth, but also be something distinct (it's in color, rather than black-and-white, for one). The "looser and wonkier" description is intriguing too.
Release Date: Very unclear at this point. The film wrapped last spring, but didn't turn up in the Sundance line-up. SXSW could be a good bet, unless it's being held for the fall festivals.