By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 6, 2014 at 1:14PM
20. "Untitled Cameron Crowe Project"
Synopsis: A celebrated military contractor returns to Hawaii—the site of his greatest career triumphs and re-connects with a long-lost love while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watchdog assigned to him.
What You Need To Know: Once titled “Deep Tiki,” this “Jerry Maguire”-esque film was a script we read (and reviewed) ages ago and was supposed to be Cameron Crowe’s long-awaited follow-up to 2005's "Elizabethtown." It even had Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon as the two leads. Instead, that iteration fell apart and Crowe made a trio of films instead (two music docs and “We Bought A Zoo”). If “Jerry Maguire” was about a sports agent who finds unlikely love after a fall from grace, this Crowe project, at least the version we read four or five years ago, definitely felt like a spiritual cousin, only set against a backdrop that feels very unlikely for Crowe Hawaiian mysticism and the world of military contractors and satellite defense.
Why Is It Anticipated: So yes, while it sounds familiar, it definitely has its own peculiar and distinct milieu which should set it apart, plus a great cast that features Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams. Our best guess is that it aims for a similar humanistic, comedy romance vibe that Crowe often shoots for with an adventure tinge, and that’s enough to keep us onside from a filmmaker we're always interested in (you can check out our Crowe Retrospective here).
Release Date: TBD, our guess is a bow at the celebrity-friendly Toronto International Film Festival and then maybe a December release like “We Bought A Zoo.”
Synopsis: Set in 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.
What You Need To Know: Rooney Mara replaced the initially cast Mia Wasikowska in the film, where she’ll team with Cate Blanchett in director Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. And frankly, that should be all you need to know about this one.
Why Is It Anticipated: See above: Haynes + Mara + Blanchett = no brainer excitement. It will also mark Haynes first feature film (aside from the excellent HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce”) since 2007’s “I’m Not There” and it will find him working again Blanchett. Considering how unpredictably engaging their last pairing was, we expect no different here, and Blanchett's post-"Blue Jasmine" buzz can't hurt the film's chances of making a bigger splash either.
Release Date: Production will begin in March in Cincinnati on the film making a 2014 release tight, but not impossible. If David O. Russell can manage a sprawling, period tale in less than 12 months, we figure Haynes can do a smaller character piece in that amount of time too. Then again, The Weinstein Company (that already has a trunkload of 2013 festival films they held for a year) might have other plans, so it could be more like 2015, but we're so eager for it we're trying to work the power of positive thinking by including it here.
18. "A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence"
Synopsis: Two men, one of whom has a minor mental disability, confront the absurdity of human existence
What You Need To Know: Despite, or perhaps because, of his defiantly unprolific work rate (this is only his fifth feature since debut "A Swedish Love Story" in 1970), Scandinavian helmer Roy Andersson is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers on the world circuit, especially since "Songs From The Second Floor" debuted in 2000. His long-gestating latest (which we had tipped as an outside possibility already for last year's Cannes) completes the trilogy begun with that film and continued with 2007's "You, The Living," shot, for the first time in the director's career, digitally.
Why It's Anticipated: If you've never seen a Roy Andersson film, now is the time to start, before this hits later in the year; there's no filmmaker in the world quite like him, with a wry, understated humor, melancholic tone, and entirely distinctive style. Early word suggests that this might be something closer to traditional narrative—or at least, the film has central characters who span the whole movie—than the unrelated vignettes of the first two films in the trilogy, but we're not expecting him to be reinventing the wheel here or anything.
Release Date: Cannes is a near-certainty, and hopefully it'll get a proper U.S. release before the year is out.
17. "Sils Maria"
Synopsis: An actress becomes obsessed by a younger rival who takes over the role that made her famous.
What You Need To Know: Bits and pieces of Olivier Assayas' earlier work have been in English, but it seems that "Sils Maria," the latest movie from the director of "Demonlover," "Summer Hours," "Carlos" and "Something In The Air," is his true English-language debut. And what a cast he's assembled for it: the film's led by Juliette Binoche, who plays a version of herself (and took the idea to the director herself: as Assayas told us, "it's a Juliette Binoche movie about Juliette Binoche with Juliette Binoche"), with Chloe Moretz, Kristen Stewart, Bruno Ganz, Daniel Bruhl, Brady Corbet and Johnny Flynn also involved.
Why It's Anticipated: Though your mileage may vary depending on the film, we find Assayas to be one of the more consistent filmmakers out there, and anything new from him is reason to get excited. Beyond that, it's been built from the ground up to showcase Juliette Binoche, one of our very finest actors, and the idea of her facing off against a new generation of talent, in Moretz and Stewart, is enough to sell us a ticket. Is this the arthouse "All About Eve" it sounds like, or something very different? With Assayas, it's never easy to predict, but we'll be there either way.
Release Date: Assayas screened "Boarding Gate" and "Carlos" at Cannes, but "Something In The Air" was at Venice, and "Summer Hours" bypassed a festival premiere, so it's hard to lock down. But Cannes and/or Venice are the best guesses.
Synopsis: After rogue computer hackers attack the world's stock markets, an imprisoned hacker is released on the condition that he helps a joint U.S./Chinese task force to track down the culprits.
What You Need To Know: It's five years since Michael Mann had a movie in theaters—2009's "Public Enemies"—so the news that he's been shooting a new film is enormously welcome, particularly after a number of projects failed to land over the years (including the now-potential Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt vehicle "Go Like Hell") The project in question, backed by Legendary Pictures, is one of the more obvious examples of the importance of the Chinese audience to Hollywood these days, with "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth and Oscar-nominee Viola Davis joined by "Lust Caution" actors Tang Wei and Leehom Wang. An extensive shoot kicked off last summer, spanning the U.S., China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Why It's Anticipated: It's the return of Michael Mann. "Miami Vice" and "Public Enemies" might have been more divisive than some of his work, but Mann's still a first-class filmmaker (look out for a Retrospective of his work from us very soon), and any time he's putting out new work, it's worth paying attention. It's true that if this premise was being directed by some B-level action guy, we'd be much more dismissive, but we're pretty sure that Mann will be able to find some meat to it, and particularly, the idea of him digging into U.S./Chinese relations is an intriguing one. Plus, Hemsworth's been a consistently engaging performer who proved with "Rush" that he's more than just good with a hammer, and it's great to see Davis in a high profile role like this.
Release Date: Currently, it’s not scheduled until January 16 2015, which is the worry and the reason a Michael Mann film isn’t in our top 10. What does Universal know about this that we don’t? And when was the last time a Michael Mann movie was dumped in January?? Still, if it’s any good whatsoever, expect it to get some kind of qualifying run in December and maybe hit a late festival like AFI (as "Lone Survivor" did this year, for instance).
15. "Maps To The Stars"
Synopsis: Details a twisted Hollywood family: successful self-help magnate Dr. Stafford Weiss and his wife Cristina, who manage the career of their burned-out child star kids Agatha and Benjie, and also come into the orbit of an aspiring actor and a movie star haunted by her dead mother.
What You Need To Know: This Hollywood-set tale, penned by novelist Bruce Wagner, has been in the works for close to a decade, and seems to have been something of a passion project for director David Cronenberg: it's come close to production more than once before, but eventually got before cameras last year. Seemingly closer to last film "Cosmopolis" than his more commercial work on something like "Eastern Promises," it's also home to the director's most promising cast in a long-time, with the returning Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon joined by John Cusack, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams and perhaps most interestingly, Carrie Fisher, as 'Herself.'
Why Is It Anticipated: We can't say we were huge fans of Cronenberg's last couple of movies, but the idea of the Canadian legend turning his attention to biting the hand that feeds him is an immediately intriguing one, and doubly so when you start adding drug-addicted thirteen-year-old child actors, pyromania and ghosts of dead 1960s stars into the mix. There are a lot of strong actors here who seem particularly suited to working with Cronenberg (Moore, Williams, Wasikowska), and perhaps more than anything, we're delighted to see John Cusack in a movie that isn't a straight-to-VOD actioner that hadn't already been turned down by Nicolas Cage (with this film along with "Love and Mercy," we're hoping 2014 is Cusack's comeback year). Early pics here for what could be another "Cosmopolis," oblique and chilly, but we've got our fingers crossed for something more satisfying.
Release Date: Said to be aiming for Cannes, though Venice or TIFF might be options too.
14. “Two Days, One Night”
Synopsis: For two days and a night, with the help of her husband, 30-year-old Sandra searches the town for colleagues prepared to sacrifice their bonuses so she can keep her job.
What You Need To Know: While usually tending to favor lesser-known actors for their naturalistic films, the Dardennes Brothers have gone Hollywood (or their closest approximation of that) signing up Marion Cotillard for the lead role in their next film, that right now seems to be a two-hander with only longtime collaborator Fabrizio Rongione (“Rosetta,” “Lorna’s Silence,” “The Kid With The Bike”) listed as the co-star. And the subject matter suggests that the Dardennes are changing the game thematically as well, tackling a timely topic that seems to find the lead character a victim of the worldwide economic crisis.
Why Is It Anticipated: While any new film from the Dardennes is cause for celebration, the casting and plot add an extra spice to this mix, which explains why it has landed near the top ten.
Release Date: Sony Pictures Classics has the U.S. rights and while no date has been set, you can probably expect a Cannes Film Festival premiere in the spring.
13. “A Most Wanted Man”
Synopsis: A Chechen Muslim illegally emigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught up in the international war on terror.
What You Need To Know: After "The Constant Gardener" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" rekindled Hollywood's love for the spy and international intrigue genre via John le Carré, the author’s work has become all the rage once more in Tinseltown (the adaptations in development are myriad). And the next to arrive will be “A Most Wanted Man,” which, while a much more modern vision of Le Carre’s espionage milieu, still sounds like a morally complex crackler, and it sure looks great, according to the trailer (which has been pulled by Lionsgate right now, but will hopefully be re-upped soon).
Why Is It Anticipated: ...mainly because it's directed by rock-photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn, who has made two essentials works so far, "Control" and "The American," the latter of which was one of the most introspective and haunted assassin movies in forever. And then there's his cast which is terrific, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, "Rush" star Daniel Brühl and terrific German star Nina Hoss. Sundance can't come quickly enough.
Release Date: A Sundance premiere in January means it’ll roll out later in the year depending on how it performs and where Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions sees fit to slot it.
12. "Midnight Special"
Synopsis: A father and son attempt to evade government officials when they learn the boy has supernatural powers.
What You Need To Know: This is a bid for mainstream success for director Jeff Nichols, who previously helmed “Mud,” “Take Shelter” and “Shotgun Stories.” Frequent collaborator Michael Shannon returns, part of an ensemble that includes Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. The plot is mostly being kept under wraps, but Nichols has compared it to a John Carpenter film, which likely means a heavy genre influence, particularly given that Nichols has also point-blank stated that this would be a “chase movie.”
Why Is It Anticipated: A wave of interesting, original sci-fi from a number of intriguing directors highlights 2014 for us, though the last person you’d expect to join those ranks is Nichols, who has been making a series of down-to-the-bone dramas in the indie world until now. In interviews, there’s been a bit of misdirection too, as he’s been both comparing this to a Carpenter film and suggesting it shares DNA with Carpenter’s “Starman,” a film that doesn’t have much in common with the rest of Carpenter’s filmography. Either way, it would be highly intriguing to see Nichols tackle something like “Starman,” with a father-son bonding story thrown in there, and it will also be a pleasure to see Shannon re-team with Nichols, as the director tends to get the best out of the volcanically bizarre actor. Shannon only had a bit part in Nichols’ “Mud,” but within the margins of that film it was weird, funny and unpredictable, a comic highlight in a film that was constantly flashing the audience a sly smile.
Release Date: Fourth quarter, likely fall.
11. "The Rover"
Synopsis: In a war-torn future beset by financial collapse, a man trudges across the Australian desert to locate his stolen car and secure the mysterious cargo found inside.
What You Need To Know: This is the first film for director David Michod since his riveting debut “Animal Kingdom.” It’s been described as an existential western, and it’s being fronted by “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson. Michod is also re-teaming with “Animal Kingdom” co-star Guy Pearce, with the fairly ubiquitous Scoot McNairy onboard as well.
Why Is It Anticipated: “Animal Kingdom” was one of the most exciting debuts of the last few years. That picture captured the sweeping scope of early Michael Mann mixed with Werner Herzog’s anthropological analysis of human behavior, crafting a debut that was both terrifying and utterly unforgettable. While he’s taking things in a vaguely sci-fi direction here, Michod has promised that this will be a relatively grounded affair, a crime picture in the outback that could be indicative of a contemporary mashup of “Wake In Fright” (with the idea of an outsider stranded in the outback) and “Mad Max” (with its emphasis on vehicular action). We’re particularly interested in how this takes place in the foreground of a financial collapse, and how close to modern day Michod wants to make it.
Release Date: A24 has it currently slated for TBD fall 2014.