It's always disheartening to recognize that the surplus of strong year-end movies inevitably gives way to the prospect of movies that look downright awful. Here we go again with sequels --from "Cloudy with Meatballs 2, "Despicable Me 2" and "Smurfs 2" to another "Hobbit" movie, a postponed "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "A Good Day to Die Hard," "Hangover III," and "Iron Man 3" directed by Shane Black. And why do I have queasy feelings about Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel"? I wish he was directing "300: Rise of an Empire" instead of Noam Murro (!!??).
Among the 2013 non-sequels, I have trepidation about "World War Z," which had its share of problems and reshoots, but at least Marc Forster and Brad Pitt are capable of delivering quality; Gore Verbinski's out-of-control "The Lone Ranger," which looks like a self-indulgent wank and has Disney brass mighty nervous; Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" (there's a reason Warners took it out of the Oscar season), and "Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters (the trailer is dreadful), which reminds me that I like Jeremy Renner too much to see him throwing a promising career away on pixelated action fare. (Yes, one has to balance fuck-you money with career cred.)
Of the ones that might actually be good, I am hopeful about:
Inside Llewyn Davis (TBD): The Coen brothers are back with this period piece set in the 60s Village music scene. Produced by Scott Rudin. I bet it shows up at Cannes.
"Oblivion" (April 12) : Even though Joseph Kosinski of "TRON: Legacy" directed this Universal sci-fi thriller starring Tom Cruise, it's shot by Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi") and I have a hunch its vision of a dying Earth could be visually riveting.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" (May 17) - J.J. Abrams pulled off a major feat rebooting "Star Trek"--with considerable help from screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. Four years means they took the time to do a good job.
"Pacific Rim" (July 12). While I am among the many who wish that Guillermo del Toro had stuck it out and directed just two "Hobbit" movies, after a four year hiatus he's back with a must-see big-budget epic about giant robots vs. giant monsters.
"Elysium" (August 9) - "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp brings us yet another dystopian tale starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. But this could be the best of the lot.
"Prisoners" (September 20): Smart Canadian Dennis Villeneuve (Oscar-nominated "Incendies") directed this Warners crime thriller with a strong ensemble: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (October 4): Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller are back with this long-awaited sequel from Dimension starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King and Jamie Chung.
"Gravity" (October 18): I adored Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian mood piece "Children of Men," and while he probably spent too much on this outer space thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the audience may still come out ahead even if Warners doesn't. (At least this studio does take chances.)
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (November 22): I enjoyed the first film but worry that new director Francis Lawrence is not of the caliber of Gary Ross. But the Suzanne Collins novel grows in stature with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), so I'm betting he won't fuck it up.
"Saving Mr. Banks" (December 20): I have a hunch I am not the only "Mary Poppins" fan looking forward to this behind-the-scenes story about the power struggle between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to get the classic musical made. The BBC and Ruby Films are producing this; John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") directs from a script by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel ("Fifty Shades of Grey"). Distributor Disney is giving it a prime holiday award season berth.
"Jack Ryan"(December 25): Paramount and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura have finally revved up a new Jack Ryan sequel, written by David Koepp, and starring Chris Pine as a younger iteration of the Tom Clancy character much like Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck; he was also played by the older Harrison Ford. "Thor" director Kenneth Branagh is another reason for feeling optimistic.
"To the Wonder" | April 12
Though the advance word has been mixed, to say the least — it currently merits a mere 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you go in for that sort of thing — I'm most excited for Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder." I'm interested to see how the iconoclastic director develops the commandingly beautiful stream-of-consciousness he pioneered, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, in "The Tree of Life." Even more, Malick's output for decades was a notorious trickle, and there's no guarantee his recent productivity is the new normal. I'm happy to enjoy the prolific output of one of our greatest living directors while it lasts.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)
Martin Scorsese is back on his home turf uncovering bank fraud and mob infiltration with Leonardo DiCaprio.
"Labor Day" (2013)
Jason Reitman's latest is a marvelous parable set in the early '80s about a depressed single mom (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, who pick up a wounded stranger (Josh Brolin) who turns out to be an escaped convict.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" (March 8)
Sam Raimi's invested as much passion in this Oz origin story with James Franco as he did with "Spider-Man," and the trailer looks auspicious in its sense of wonder and beauty.
"The Croods" (March 22)
DreamWorks has a trio of animated features next year but the most intriguing is this comedy/adventure from Chris Sanders ("How to Train Your Dragon") and Kirk DeMicco about civilization's first modern family trying to "adapt or die" as the Earth grows through some serious growing pains.
"The Great Gatsby" (May 10)
Baz Lurhmann does F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age masterpiece in 3-D as only he can, with DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Here's hoping he's found the right cinematic alchemy.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" (May 17)
J.J. Abrams now owns "Star Trek" and his sequel looks like a great step forward in taking us where no one has gone before while honoring the roots of Gene Rodenberry's vision.
"Man of Steel" (June 14)
Zack Snyder reboots Superman with Henry Cavill in a post-modern existential crisis. It's a far cry from Richard Donner's beloved rendition, and it's long overdue.
"Elysium" (August 9)
Neill Blomkamp follows up his terrific "District 9" with an even more ambitious sci-fi adventure about polarized societies split between overpopulated Earth and a luxurious space station, with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as combatants.
"Gravity" (October 18)
Alfonso Cuarón's 3-D claustrophobic space adventure with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney has been getting great advance buzz, especially for its bravura opening in a 17-minute take.
"Frozen" (November 27)
Disney's on a roll and this adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" looks like it'll turn the fairy tale on its head (helmed by animated vet Chris Buck and the studio's first female director, Jennifer Lee, fresh from co-writing "Wreck-It Ralph").