After a less than stellar 2011, it looks as if 2012 is shaping up to be a fine, potentially spectacular, year for movie going audiences. With a few genuinely solid films already released in the doldrums of the winter/early spring season, things are set to kick into high gear today with the release of Marvel Comics, The Avengers.
Bear in mind, this is not a complete list of everything film geeks are anticipating, nor is it merely a list of films that others have loved. For instance, you will not find the too-soon-to-be-necessary (or even remotely interesting) Amazing Spiderman on this list, nor will you find the marginally efficient, yet-intensely-over-rated Hunger Games. This is simply a list of films that I am excited to see, some large, some small, yet all filled with promise for one reason or another.
Films I have seen thus far …
The Grey (Jan 27). Highly reminiscent of David Mamet’s The Edge (1997), The Grey is a gripping survival story of crude oil workers in Alaska whose plane crashes in the remote wasteland of the Alaskan tundra, leaving them alternately at the mercy of the elements, predators and and each other. As we have come to expect, Liam Neeson delivers yet another solid performance as a man well suited to pushing through harrowing extremes.
Chronicle (Feb 3). An unexpected gem released in a month where movies go to die, Chronicle tells the story of Andrew, a creative kid who has taken to documenting his life with an HD camera. Pushed to the limits by his own introversion and by high school bullies and his abusive father, Andrew and his two friends make a shocking discovery that leads to unexpected power and even more unexpected trouble.
Salmon Fishing in Yemen (Mar 9). A friend of mine, who is less than enthusiastic about the church had this to say on Easter morning: “As I was busy eschewing all things religious this morning, I went to the $8 matinee (closest thing I’ve got to a church these days) of a truly wonderful film called Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, which, as fate would have it, is a beautiful story about faith.” All in all, just a great little film seen in a great little theater called The Catlow.
Films I have yet to see …
The Raid: Redemption (Apr 13). In the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, a crumbling and semi-abandoned apartment building has become a haven for the criminal underworld. But when a SWAT raid goes terribly wrong, the surviving members of the team are left to fight their way out in a way that will remind the viewer of the action classic, Die Hard. No Academy Awards will be won by this film, but if you are a fan of action movies, this is the real thing.
Pirates: Band of Misfits (Apr 27). By the creators of the delightfully British Wallace and Gromit, this oddball film is reported to feel “old-fashioned” in a “Looney Tunes” sort of way. And if that’s true, than sign me and my boys up for the Pirate Captain as he and his merry band of misfits seek to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award.
The Avengers (May 4). As if the opportunity to witness a childhood favorite come to life on the big screen weren’t enough, the film has been crafted by Josh Whedon, creator of the criminally underrated Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. As a master of witty dialog and genuine pathos, Whedon is the perfect fit for spearheading Marvel’s capstone project, five years in the making.
Moonrise Kingdom (May 25). … Wes Anderson is a bit like Woody Allen. You either “get it” and you respect what he is trying to do … or you hate it. Very little in between ground. In this, his seventh major film, Anderson sets out to tell the tale of a young couple in the 1960s who run away from their idyllic New England coastal town, turning everything upside down in their wake.
Prometheus (Jun 8). … After 33 years spent pursuing other interests, Sir Ridley Scott, auteur of the sci-fi classics Blade Runner and Alien, returns to the genre on which he cut his teeth. What’s more, the film is said to be a companion piece to Alien, in which the long-standing question as to the identity of the “Space Jockey” might finally be revealed.
Brave (Jun 22). It’s sad to say, but this is the first time I am a bit hesitant to enter the world of Pixar. Following the hot mess that was Cars 2, and the needlessly redundant narrative of Toy Story 3, the question is: can Pixar restore the luster that once shone so brightly? While we won’t know the answer for a few more weeks, a move away from sequels and a willingness to embrace it’s first female protagonist – and a Scottish one at that! – are certainly hopeful signs.
To Rome with Love (Jun 22). Just kidding. I hate Woody Allen movies. If ever there has been a more pretentious filmmaker in love with the sound of his own voice, I have yet to meet him. Sadly, this leaves us with a pretty large gap between Prometheus in early June and The Dark Knight Rises at the end of July.
The Dark Knight Rises (Jul 30). At the risk of sounding like a complete fan boy, I have yet to see a major film by Christopher Nolan that I did not love. From the deeply postmodern storytelling of Momento through Insomnia, The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and now, most recently, Inception … all of them have born Nolan’s distinctive mark of intricately designed plots and all of them have left the viewer wanting more. Could it be that history will record Nolan as one of the “greats” of our time? If The Dark Knight Rises delivers as its trailer suggests it might, I believe the answer might well be an enthusiastic and well-deserved “yes.”
The Bourne Legacy (Aug 3). On the surface of things, this movie is a complete gamble. Both Paul Greengrass, who lent such a unique sense of style to the original trilogy, and Matt Damon, the lead actor, are gone. But instead of offering a cheap re-boot of the franchise as is being done with the Amazing Spider Man, the producers of The Bourne Legacy have opted to expand upon Robert Ludlum’s creation by introducing a new character into the film’s “universe” that leaves open the possibility of Damon’s return in the future. What’s more, that character is being played by Jeremy Renner, an emerging talent in his own right.
The Campaign (Aug 10). Given the cartoonish nature of the American political scene, what could be better than Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as competing politicians. If done right, we’re looking at another Anchorman, Blades of Glory, or even, dare to dream, Elf. If not … well, there’s always Funny or Die.
Argo (Oct 12). So if you were to just look at the acting career of Ben Affleck, there’s no reason to put this movie on a list of films to anticipate. But if you dig a little deeper and actually look at the films he has written and/or directed, suddenly, you start thinking a little differently. Starring Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame, this is the story of a CIA exfiltration specialist tasked with mounting a risky plan to free six Americans who have been trapped during the Iranian Revolution.
Gravity (Nov 21). Is it wise to anticipate a film solely on the grounds that you enjoyed exactly one other film by its director? Well, if that film was Children of Men and the director is Alfonso Cauron, I would suggest that one’s hope might not be misplaced. For Children of Men was a film unlike any other I have seen in recent years; and from everything we are hearing from the early, advanced screenings of Gravity, it appears that Cauron may have just done it again. So here’s hoping that the story of a marooned astronaut slowly being sucked back into the earth’s atmosphere is as haunting as Children of Men suggests it might be.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec 14). Nine years after the conclusion of his epic Lord of the Rings adaptation, Peter Jackson once again slides into the director’s chair and takes us on a journey back into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. While I would have enjoyed seeing Guillermo del Toro’s take, especially on the heels of Pan’s Labyrinth, I must admit to being excited when I heard that Jackson was once again at the helm.
As an interesting side note, Jackson is shooting in 48 frames per minute, which is double the standard 24 FPM. Early reviews of test footage suggests that it takes some time getting used to, but that it appears to add “mass” to the objects we see on screen. Could be an interesting move forward in terms of cinematic technology. I just hope it doesn’t detract from the overall cohesion of the Tolkien/Jackson world.
Django Unchained (Dec 25). And finally, to close out the year, we turn our attention to Django Unchained by the always-provocative Quentin Tarantino. Set two years prior to the Civil War, Django tells the tale of a run away slave and a German-born bounty hunter on the trail of two murderous brothers. Quite honestly, it’s hard to know what to expect. While I loved Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and even Inglorious Basterds (to a lesser degree), they remain, to date, Tarantino’s best work. His other work, such as Jackie Brown, Kill Bill (volumes 1 and 2) and Death Proof are marginal, and largely forgettable works at best. If Tarantino focuses on the dialog between these two unlikely partners, we could be in for a treat, because unlikely dialog is Tarantino’s strong suit. But if he goes for a “grindhouse” feel and amps up the cartoonish violence, as has been his pattern as of late, well … it’ll just be another disappointment in a once promising career.
So there you have it, dear reader. Seventeen films that just might be worth your time in 2012. Anything you care add? Anything I missed? Feel free to comment below.
 And no, my fellow geeks, I did not forget Firefly or Serenity. I’m just not a “browncoat.” What can I say?