By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 6, 2014 at 1:14PM
50. "Black Sea"
Synopsis: An unemployed submarine captain is hired to find a sunken submarine full of Nazi gold.
What You Need To Know: From "Das Boot" to "Crimson Tide" by way of "The Hunt For Red October," submarines have often been the settings for some crackling drama, but it feels like a while since we've had a really good movie set under the sea. But we've got a good feeling about this one, which is the latest from Kevin Macdonald, whose "How I Live Now" was terminally underseen in 2013. Described as a sub-bound version of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and written by playwright Dennis Kelly, it stars Jude Law as the rogue sub captain, with Scoot McNairy, Jodie Whitaker and Konstantin Khabenskiy as others on the crew.
Why It's Anticipated: Macdonald hasn't entirely knocked it out of the park yet, at least with his fiction work, but this is the most promising prospect he's had in a while: the premise sounds fun, he described the film as "one of those hard, intelligent B-movies they used to make—dark little vicious B-movies," which sounds right up our street, and the script comes from Dennis Kelly, who's done great work on everything from Broadway's "Matilda" to cult TV series "Utopia." Law's been on a good run of late too, we're always pleased to see McNairy and Whitaker and early pics look solid.
Release Date: None yet: as ever, TIFF might be possible.
49. "They Came Together"
Synopsis: Joel, an executive for a candy store chain comes to New York to shut down a tiny sweet shop, only to fall for the owner, Molly. But that's not the only obstacle in their path...
What You Need To Know: Thirteen years after making fun of the teen summer camp genre with "Wet Hot American Summer," director David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter are back (after a big studio hit with "Role Models," and a big flop with "Wanderlust") for another genre-riffing comedy. This time, they're turning their attentions to the romantic comedy ("You've Got Mail" in particular, but the genre in general, it seems), with Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as the star-crossed central couple, and a comedy all-stars cast including Cobie Smulders, Ed Helms, Melanie Lynskey, Max Greenfield, Michaela Watkins, Jason Mantzoukas, Michael Ian Black and, uh, Michael Shannon.
Why It's Anticipated: What part of 'from the makers of "Wet Hot American Summer" isn't clear?' David Wain's subsequent directorial efforts have been patchy to various degrees (as, we'd wager, was 'Wet Hot..'), but they've also all been pretty funny. The rom-com genre's been ripe for a proper spoofing for a while, and Wain and Showalter seem like the people to do it right, rather than some kind of Friedberg and Seltzer monstrosity. You couldn't ask for a better central couple for something like this than Rudd and Poehler, who could viably headline a real rom-com, but are capable of subverting it too, and there's a whole host of ringers backing them up (with more cameos still under wraps). If this isn't the funniest film at Sundance, we'll eat our shoes.
Release Date: Premieres January 24th at Sundance, and a distributor probably won't be far away.
Synopsis: A young woman stuck in arrested development flees a proposal from her boyfriend and hides out at the home of her new 16-year-old friend.
What You Need To Know: Lynn Shelton is hitting a seriously prolific period, and only a year after "Touchy Feely" premiered at Sundance (which was barely a year after "Your Sister's Sister" cropped up at TIFF '11), she's back again with another organic comedy-drama, albeit one that, she told us, is a little more tightly scripted than her previously partly-improvised pictures (for the first time, she's working from someone else's screenplay: "Laggies" is written by novelist and “This American Life” contributor Andrea Siegel). She's also assembled her starriest cast to date: Keira Knightley takes the lead role, with Chloe Grace Moretz as her teenaged friend, and Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin and Kaitlyn Dever among the rest of the cast. Ben Gibbard, of "Death Cab For Cutie" and "The Postal Service" contributes the score.
Why It's Anticipated: Across her three major features to date, Shelton's proven herself to be a really vital voice in American independent filmmaking, with warm, gently funny and deeply humane stories. Audiences and critics didn't quite take to "Touchy Feely" in the way we did, but this seems more like home territory for Shelton, dealing with concerns that should win her her widest audiences to date. The cast is also superb, with some genuine A-list talent in Knightley and Moretz. Plus Sam Rockwell's in it, so you know you're going to see it, right?
Release Date: Premieres at Sundance on January 17th, should make its way into theaters later in the year.
Synopsis: Loosely inspired by the cult character Frank Sidebottom (but newly created fictional character), the cardboard-headed alter ego of musician Chris Sievey, the film follows Jon, a new recruit to a band fronted by the mysterious titular Frank, as he struggles to fit in with their odd sensibility as the band wrestles with mounting creative tension.
What You Need To Know: This comic concoction comes from director Lenny Abrahamson, who previously helmed the hard-hitting but deftly handled drama “What Richard Did” earlier this year. He’s got a strong cast, including Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, and the music is expected to be a highlight. Peter Straughan (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) and Jon Ronson (“Men Who Stare At Goats”) have penned the screenplay.
Why Is It Anticipated: Sidebottom became something of a cult sensation in the U.K., holding court on radio, television and in concert until Sievey’s death in 2010 but he is only a start point for this tale which is set in the present and is less a biography than an irreverent tribute to Sievey’s story, and the creative process in general. The question of course is… are we gonna get to see Fassbender’s face at all? The real x-factor seems to be Abrahamson, who helmed a sensitive, piercing dramatic film in “What Richard Did” and is now making a hard right turn into offbeat loosely biographical farce.
Release Date: A Sundance premiere will likely beget a U.S. distributor and a release later this year.
46. "99 Homes"
Synopsis: A young father goes to work for the sleazy real estate broker he lost his home to.
What You Need To Know: After critical adulation for early films like "Man Push Cart" and "Goodbye Solo," Ramin Bahrani's first play for mainstream attention, "At Any Price," was less warmly received, but in our opinion, it was misunderstood: an old-fashioned Arthur Miller-ish drama with a damn fine performance from Dennis Quaid, and one of the more searing responses to the financial crisis that cinema's produced so far. You can't keep Bahrani down though, as he's already underway on his follow-up, which looks to mine similar territory, in this case the corrupt American housing market. And the cast is much more impressive this time around: Andrew Garfield, in his first dramatic role since playing Spider-Man, Laura Dern, fresh off the brilliance of "Enlightened," and Michael Shannon, fresh off being brilliant in almost everything.
Why It's Anticipated: There's no filmmaker quite like Bahrani out there at present, no one dealing with the same concerns in quite the same way, and we're excited to see him working on his biggest canvas to date. Like we said, "At Any Price" was far from perfect, but didn't really get a fair shake from critics, but from the logline, this sounds like it'll be a little tighter and more coherent, presumably focusing principally on the relationship between Garfield's young dad and Shannon's malevolent broker. And if the prospect of those two squaring off isn't a little bit exciting, you might not have a pulse.
Release Date: Started filming late last year. Bahrani's films have almost always premiered at Venice, so that's a likely home for this one too.
45. "The Raid 2: Berandal"
Synopsis: Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, this sees supercop Rama going undercover in prison to befriend the convict son of a fearsome mob boss, in the hope of uncovering corruption in Jakarta's police force.
What You Need To Know: A couple of years back, "The Raid" arrived like a knee to the throat of the action scene: a relentless Indonesian actioner, directed by ex-pat Welshman Gareth Evans, that saw instant star Iko Uwais fight his way through a tower block full of gangsters by any brutal means necessary. Evans ignored the advances of Hollywood to make this follow-up, subtitled "Berandal" (which translates loosely as 'scamp,' we believe). Uwais, who's presumably spent the last couple of years recovering, is reprising his role for a sequel that's bigger and bolder in scope, and will presumably contain even more ass-kicking.
Why It's Anticipated: "The Raid" wasn't perfect, at least to anyone who cares about plot and character and things like that, but it was a blast of pure cinema to the solar plexus, featuring some of the best fight scenes in living memory, a star-making performance from Uwais, and some genuinely deft camerawork from Evans. This looks to bring back all of the same, but bigger and better: the action looks to be bigger and crazier than anything in the original, with prison riots, car chases and subway brawls all glimpsed in trailers. Best of all, there seems to be something more of a storyline this time, the film shifting gears from "Assault On Precinct 13" to something closer to "Donnie Brasco" by way of "A Prophet." Though with a two-and-a-half hour running time, there'd better be a little substance in there somewhere...
Release Date: Hits Sundance on January 21st, then opens in the U.S. on March 28, 2014.
44. "A Walk Among The Tombstones"
Synopsis: Recovering-alcoholic ex-cop turned P.I. Matt Scudder is hired by a drug trafficker to find the men who kidnapped his wife.
What You Need To Know: The great screenwriter Scott Frank ("Out Of Sight," "Minority Report") made a stellar directorial debut back in 2007 with "The Lookout," a lean, characterful noir picture that, unfortunately, no one saw. As such, he's had some trouble getting a sophomore feature made (he was attached to the film that became "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes," though parted ways with Fox early on), but he returns with this long-gestating adaptation of Lawrence Block's novel, one of many featuring his P.I. character Matt Scudder. Once intended for Harrison Ford, this version sees Liam Neeson take on the role, while soon-to-be-ubiquitous "Downton Abbey" breakout Dan Stevens, Ruth Wilson, David Harbour, Sebastian Roche, Whitney Able and Olafur Darri Olafsson complete the cast.
Why It's Anticipated: Modern neo-noir is Frank's strong suit, certainly as a screenwriter (and "The Lookout" was a fine directorial debut), and this couldn't be a better fit for his skills. And we know that for a fact, because we've read the script (which has been doing the rounds for a decade), and it's absolutely terrific, a pitch-black, brutal thriller that's entirely gripping. Neeson suits the role of Scudder down to the ground, and the rest of the cast is intriguing (Stevens might be counter-intuitive casting as a drug trafficker, but Frank is the guy who made Matthew Goode into a terrifying tattooed villain in "The Lookout," so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt for sure). Unless it's been watered down, expect some F Cinemascores if this gets sold as the next "Taken," but we're positively amped.
Release Date: Nothing firm yet, but Universal is said to be targeting a September or October date.
43. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1"
Synopsis: She's survived the Quarter Quell, but Katniss Everdeen's troubles might just be beginning: Peeta is in the hands of President Snow, and she's now the reluctant poster child for a rebellion that's about to launch into full-on war.
What You Need To Know: "The Hunger Games" was a pretty decent way to kick off a franchise, but this year's sequel 'Catching Fire' was bigger and better in most every way, and made a good argument for being the best blockbuster of 2013 (our post-match analysis is here). Director Francis Lawrence returns for the first of the two-part finale (the second follows in 2015), with a script from "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and "Recount" writer Danny Strong, with all your favorites back on board, not least Jennifer Lawrence, while Julianne Moore is the big new addition, as rebellion leader President Coin (Natalie Dormer, Lily Rabe and Mahershala Ali are also on board).
Why It's Anticipated: We mostly liked the original "Hunger Games," but 'Catching Fire' was a huge step up, all told. In fact, for the first time in a long while with franchises, we were left with a cliffhanger that had us genuinely champing at the bit for the next installment. Director Francis Lawrence was a big part of why the film worked so well, so that he's involved through to the end of the series can only be a good thing. And those who found that the second film mimicked the structure of the first film too closely will be glad to know that while the first two films were games, this is all-out war, and should go to some new places. It's a bit depressing that the trend for splitting final installments into two continues here, but we're nevertheless looking forward to this a great deal.
Release Date: November 21, 2014
42. "Love & Mercy"
Synopsis: The story of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, and his struggles with mental illness.
What You Need To Know: Music biopics tend to have us rolling our eyes if they have even a chance of fitting into the boring "Ray"/"Walk The Line" template, but with the right subject matter and approach, we're open to the idea in theory. And that's the case with "Love & Mercy," which tells the story of legendary Beach Boys member Brian Wilson, and his decades-long struggle with mental illness, along with his relationship with controversial psychotherapist Eugene Landy. "The Tree Of Life" and "12 Years a Slave" producer Bill Pohlad returns to directing for the project, while the script comes from the awesome Oren Moverman, who knows a thing or two about offbeat musical projects as the co-writer of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," as well as his writing his own excellent projects "The Messenger" and "Rampart."
Why It's Anticipated: We've been burnt too many times by this kind of independently-made musical biopic to be entirely confident, but this one seems to be doing everything right so far. Moverman was a smart hire for the script, and has promised something with "an unconventional storytelling approach" that seeks to "understand how do you get into that kind of genius mind that has all this music, but also all this tragedy, so much pain, so many scars." Pohlad's mostly an unknown quantity as a director, but has great taste as producer, and he's certainly found some powerful subject matter, and has a great crew on board: Wes Anderson's DoP Robert Yeoman is shooting the project, and "The Social Network" co-composer Atticus Ross is doing the score. And the cast is very promising too: Paul Dano and John Cusack (who looks to be having a comeback year) split the role of Wilson, with Elizabeth Banks as his wife and Paul Giamatti as Dr. Landy. Could definitely be an awards dark horse.
Release Date: None yet, but expect it to be a hot ticket at festivals (TIFF is the likely venue for the premiere).
41. "The Cobbler"
Synopsis: A shoe repairman discovers the ability to metaphysically step into the lives of his clients.
What You Need To Know: "Win Win" might not have been our favorite of his films by any means, but writer/director Tom McCarthy remains someone we're deeply interested in. His delightful little directorial debut, "The Station Agent," was one of the best American indies of the 2000s, and follow-up "The Visitor" was a treat as well (and won Richard Jenkins a much-deserved Oscar nomination). Having spent a few years trying to get a movie about sexual-abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church set up (the plan is currently to shoot the film, "Spotlight," later in 2014), McCarthy hurriedly assembled a new project late last year, one that seems to have more of a magical realist vibe than his previous gigs. And the star is an unlikely one: lowest common denominator specialist Adam Sandler, in a rare dramatic role. The rest of the cast are just as eclectic: screen legend Dustin Hoffman, character actor fave Steve Buscemi, "Downton Abbey" rising star Dan Stevens, rapper/actor Method Man and "Fruitvale Station" breakout Melonie Diaz.
Why It's Anticipated: We found "Win Win" to be a bit lightweight, but we adored "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor" which were warm, humane, funny and beautifully acted, so we're always keen to see anything that McCarthy's up to (we'd still be fascinated to see the unaired pilot for "Game Of Thrones" that he directed). And while the bulk of Adam Sandler's output is skippable at best, he generally comes up with the goods when he does something more substantial. Hopefully this'll be more "Punch-Drunk Love" or "Funny People" than "Reign Over Me" or "Spanglish."
Release Date: The film shot in November, so TIFF is more than likely.