By Matt Martin
So many movies, so few worth seeing.
Each year, the barely functioning Hollywood system releases a torrent of safe, predictable, and usually forgettable films to an ever-dwindling audience. Since investment costs are high, movie studios can’t risk putting large amounts of money into anything but the most obvious money makers. This leaves little room for many kinds of movies, and it becomes harder and harder for even the most established director or producer to try anything risky, original, or unconventional. Up-and-coming filmmakers can barely get movies made at all. This process hasn’t done much for the quality of films.
Of the 300 to 350 films that will be released this year to theaters in America, around 80 percent will be a glut of tired rom-coms, repetive bland horror sequels, pseudo-intelectual action/dramas, and play-by-numbers comic adaptations (hopefully one exception to that this year). This will leave about 30 to 40 potentially smart and original films to be released in theaters Another couple of hundred great films will be made around the world, but only about 10 percent of those will ever be widely released. That percentage is even smaller for us in the American South, where limited theater access means fewer “foreign” films ever reach screens.
All of this, sadly, leaves us, the fans of cinema, with only around 40 to 60 options for great cinema all year. That includes American films and the world cinema market. That’s from the entire cinema output of the entire human race for a whole year. Only 50 or so options. I’m not liking those numbers.
What can we do about this cinematic inequality? Not much, I’m afraid. All we can do is see as many great movies as possible, whenever we have some spare time. Support intelligent art forms. Make them profitable so more intelligent art is financed and made. And that’s not just for movie theaters. What movies (or any art) we eventually buy, rent, or stream also help steer the creative choices of financially minded movie-making businesses. Money is power in America. Spend wisely.
Now, there’s only one question left: What should I watch? What’s worth my time, my attention, and my money? Good question. Not easily answered, though. We all have different tastes. And if big-budget, simply plotted, no-thought-required movies are what you like, then lucky you: you have a lot of choices this year. Every year, in fact. For lovers of great cinema though, there are precious few to look forward to. But hope prevails, and sure enough, a good 40 to 50 of the announced films for 2012 are looking very promising. Since most people will only get to see a few dozen movies all year, then it’s important that time not be wasted on inferior cinema. Here’s 20 films to watch for this year; a little cheat sheet for the fridge or day planner to help put the focus on some excellent possibilities. Look them up online for more information. So when you find yourself able to sit back and enjoy a good movie this year, either at the theater or at home, you can watch and rest easy knowing that good, intelligent cinema lives on and that you’ve done your part for the arts… or, at least, you didn’t waste your time and money. Now get to watching.
1) The Dark Knight Rises – Let’s go ahead and get this in here. Probably the most anticipated movie of the year, the last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy picks up eight years after the Joker’s reign of terror. Gotham city is at peace and relatively crime-free. The Batman is retired, until a new threat rises, demanding Bruce Wayne to return to battle one last time or face the city’s destruction. Of course, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman return to their roles, but all eyes are on Tom Hardy as facist criminal mastermind, Bane, and Anne Hathaway’s take on the aggressive, seductive Catwoman. Early reports say it’s brutal, disturbing, and brilliant. Expect every human on the planet to see this one. That includes you.
2) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – …and this would be the second-most anticipated movie of the year. After literally years of pre-production and preperation, Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson finally releases the first prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Set decades before the events of the original films, this follows the adventure of young Hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he joins a war campaign across MiddleEarth to wipe out the dragon Smaug. Along the way, he comes across a certain “precious” ring, that he soon finds not only tied to the success of their battle, but the fate of MiddleEarth as well. Certainly enticing and virtually guaranteed to be visually eye-popping.
3) Django Unchained – Oh, wait…it’s a Tarantino year? Sweet. Every few years, beloved pulp director Quentin Tarantino comes out of hiding and releases another genre-bending cinematic love letter. He’s weaved tales from hipster mob gangsters to sword-swinging samurai moms to World War II revenge-happy assassins. So what could come next? The hyper-violent spaghetti western of course, with just a dash of the American slave revolt movies. The Django films (pronounced Jango) were a seemingly endless series of Italian-made westerns (hence “spaghetti” westerns…get it?) that spanned from 1966 until the mid-1980s. Although only loosely tied together, they followed an avenger of the prarie named Django who was constantly having to out-think and out-shoot everyone in sight. Tarantino, who has publicly talked many times of his desire to make a western, sets his Django tale in the American South, pre-Civil War. Jamie Foxx is the title character, an ex-slave turned bounty hunter, who after years of being apart, sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in what will hopefully be a deliciously villainous role. Also starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Johnson, and the RZA. Are you kidding? How could you not want to see this?
4) Prometheus – Acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) returns to his sci-fi roots with this tale of a team of explorers, who after discovering a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, go on a distant journey into deep space to find not only the answers to human history but its future as well. Although it is not being openly revealed by the studio, early reports say this sci-fi horror film might be, in part, a sort of prequel to the Alien films. Check out the creepy trailer online. Starring Chalize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, and Noomi Repace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
5) The Great Gatsby – Love him or hate him, director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) creates cinema spectacles that are often eye-catching, sometimes provacative, and always over the top. Who better to direct F.Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece of glitzy-rich, doomed high society youths? Tobey Maguire is Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living in New York, who becomes fascinated and eventually entangled by the lavish, decadent lifestyle of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The road of the rich may lead them to madness, obsession, and tragedy, but it’s going to be beautiful ride. Also starring Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Isla Fisher.
6) Les Miserables – Having directed last year’s Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, as well as the recent phenomenal TV miniseries John Adams and Elizabeth I, director Tom Hooper is on a hot streak. It’s the perfect time to adapt the award-winning stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel. Set in 19th-century France, Hugh Jackman plays a paroled prisoner seeking redemption. Also starring Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter. With that kind of pedigree, you can guarantee it will be nominated for multiple Oscars.
7) Dark Shadows – It couldn’t have been made any other way. Of course, resident oddball director Tim Burton would be the only choice to adapt the landmark gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran from 1966 til 1971 in America and England. Johnny Depp is Barnabas Collins, a centuries-old vampire who returns home after many years to find his estate is in ruin and his family is falling apart from dark secrets, all the while dealing with various witches, monsters, and ghosts. The original series was a heady mixture of creepy, old-school, fog-and-cobwebs horror and sexy, sleazy daytime soap. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Sadly, space concerns limit more expansive discussions of the remaining films. So it’s up to you to look up the rest of these online and do a little research.
8) Moonrise Kingdom – The new film from Wes Anderson, director of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, starring Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and many more.
9) Looper – A set in the future gangster tale from director Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom).
10) Savages – Director Oliver Stone takes a break from “history” films to tell the tale of two pot growers who go to war against a Mexican drug cartel. With Aaron Johnson and Benicio Del Toro.
11) The Dictator – Sacha Baron Cohen returns to uncomfortable comedy territory to raise hell, middle East style.
12) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Look at that title. Enough said. From Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, 9)
13) Cosmopolis – Legendary director David Cronenberg, fresh off the success of his Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method takes on Don Delillo’s haunting dark noir novel.
14) World War Z – Writer Max Brook’s landmark novel about the aftermath of a global zombie disaster is adapted by director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) with Brad Pitt. Sign me up.
15) Ted – the first live action film from Seth McFarlane (creator of Family Guy) stars Mark Wahlberg who finds his teddy bear has come to life due to a childhood wish. Said to be a disturbing, bizarre adult comedy, also starring Mila Kunis and Giovanni Ribisi.
16) Gravity – In an interesting and refreshing change, Sandra Bullock leaves safe rom-com territory to play the lone survivor of a failed space mission to repair the Hubble telescope who desperately tries to return to Earth and her family. Also starring George Clooney and directed by firebrand director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
17) The Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper plays a former teacher, who after many years in a mental institution, moves back in with his mom and tries to reconcile with his wife. Unstable but brilliant director David O. Russell directs (The Fighter, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees). Also stars Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Tucker.
18) Twixt – Insanely famous director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) delivers a murder mystery about a failing writer (Val Kilmer) who finds himself at the center of a small town investigation involving a young murdered girl. Also starring Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning.
19) Skyfall – He’s back. After bankruptcy almost consumed legendary studio MGM, the long-running James Bond series was thought to have finally met its end. But you can’t keep a great character down. Daniel Craig returns as Bond, bringing with him an A-list of help: stars Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, and Academy award-winning director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). Bring it.
20) Silence – Technically, this one will be out either end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, but I’m mentioning it anyway. But this will also probably be one of the most critically loved films of the year, so I want to get you thinking about it. Directed by Martin Scorsese (do I really need to cite some movies you’d know him for?) and set in the 17th century, this follows two Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and spread their beliefs. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal.
Now the ball is rolling. Enjoy the cinematic feast lying ahead of you this year. And keep your eyes peeled for the underdogs ― there are always a few great films each year that come out of nowhere (like Drive in 2011). And of course, being in Memphis, there are still some phenomenal films from 2011 that haven’t even hit the theaters here. Make sure you see A Dangerous Method and The Artist as soon as they reach us. And finally, cross your fingers that we’ll get at least one good, original horror movie this year. These days, even that’s a tall order.
‘Til then, hungry film fanatics…bon appetit.