Now that Batman has taken his final bow, there isn’t a whole lot left to look forward to this summer, unless you’re one of the eight people counting the days until “The Expendables 2: Steroids Strike Back.” This is the time of year when cinephiles start ranking their lists of their most anticipated films of the upcoming Oscar season, and though it’s anyone’s guess how good any of these films will be, I can’t resist devising my own list as well. Studios annually save their “best” products for the fall and winter, and that means we’ll be seeing another glut of prestige products. Yet what interests me the most are the films that are swinging for the fences rather than playing it safe. Here are the top ten films I am most excited to see over the last months of 2012…
10. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (9/14)
Emma Watson was always the best young performer in the “Harry Potter” franchise, yet it was clear during the last few installments that she was suffering from Carrie Fisheresque fatigue. Now that she’s finally free from Hogwarts, I’m excited to see what she does next. For her first major post-”Potter” assignment, Watson flew to Pittsburgh and donned an American accent for writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own hit novel. The trailer is totally charming, and it’s nice to see Ezra Miller playing someone other than a psychopath. His sardonic cheer at the football game is hilarious…
9. ZERO DARK THIRTY (12/9)
After becoming the first female to snag the Best Director Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow has re-teamed with her “Hurt Locker” screenwriter Mark Boal for a controversial drama about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Boal’s background as an investigative journalist seems to ensure that this film will be well-researched, wholly accurate and (contrary to right-wing pundits’ claims) politically unbiased. The excellent ensemble includes Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Édgar Ramírez and Mark Duplass.
8. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (10/12)
Four years after his marvelous feature debut, “In Bruges,” acclaimed playright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh returns behind the camera for another dastardly dark comedy. Colin Farrell (who delivered career-best work in “Bruges”) stars as a screenwriter who becomes entangled with a group of shady characters after his buddies steal a formidable gangster’s pet Shih Tzu. Woody Harrelson replaced an uncooperative Mickey Rourke as the head gangster, and is joined by Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish and Gabourey Sidibe.
7. HOLY MOTORS (10/17)
In the midst of a rather tranquil lineup at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Leos Carax’s wildly audacious picture received the most rapturous yet divisive response from festivalgoers. So far, the plot has proved impossible to summarize. It looks like some sort of crazy, dreamlike, Lynchian odyssey into the unknown, complete with shifting identities, noir landscapes and musical numbers by Kylie Minogue (no joke). The lead actor, Denis Lavant, plays at least seven characters, while Eva Mendes turns up as a kidnapped singer.
6. THIS IS 40 (12/21)
After producing Kristen Wiig’s hugely successful comedy, “Bridesmaids,” and Lena Dunham’s groundbreaking HBO series, “Girls,” Judd Apatow will deliver his first directorial effort since 2009’s ambitious yet underwhelming “Funny People.” It revisits the lovable couple played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) in the great 2007 comedy, “Knocked Up,” as they brace themselves for their impending 40th birthday. Albert Brooks makes a welcome return to comedy as Rudd’s pop, while Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Robert Smigel and (yes) Lena Dunham round out the spectacular cast.
5. CLOUD ATLAS (10/26)
It’s been a full ten years since Tom Hanks has been genuinely compelling on film. After seducing the world and earning two consecutive Oscars, it seemed as if Hanks had lost the hunger to truly stretch himself as a performer. Yet if the astonishing five-minute trailer for the audacious adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel is of any indication, it appears that Hanks has found the ideal project to reawaken that hunger. This epic portrait of parallel timelines could mark a much-needed comeback not only for Hanks, but for co-stars Halle Berry and Hugh Grant, as well as filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski, who share directing credit with Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”).
4. NOBODY WALKS (10/12)
At age 26, Lena Dunham has already made one of the key films of her generation (“Tiny Furniture”) and created one of the most insightful and blisteringly honest shows about young adulthood in television history (HBO’s brilliant “Girls”). Before the year is done, Dunham has another achievement up her sleeve: co-writing Ry Russo-Young’s enticing drama about a young woman (Olivia Thirlby) who infiltrates the lives of a seemingly content couple (John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt). If this film is a fraction as interesting as Russo-Young’s 2009 feature, “You Won’t Miss Me” (which marked the screenwriting and major acting debut of Julian Schnabel’s daughter Stella), this will surely be one of the season’s must-see movies.
3. AMOUR (12/19)
At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, director Michael Haneke became the first person to win the Palme d’Or twice within a mere three-year period. The last time he won the festival’s top prize, it was for his spellbinding 2009 masterpiece, “The White Ribbon,” which was the director’s most complex and emotionally resonant film to date. His new film, “Amour,” promises to be even more character-driven and tenderly observed, though its subject matter is no less unsettling. It centers on a couple (played by screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) whose close bond is tested by the wife’s deteriorating health. Haneke’s frequent collaborator Isabelle Huppert co-stars as the couple’s icy daughter.
2. LINCOLN (11/9)
I can’t remember the exact time I first heard the rumor that Steven Spielberg was going to make a film about Abraham Lincoln, though I know that I was still in high school. That was back when I considered Spielberg one of the greatest living American filmmakers, yet his output in recent years has been so disappointing that it’s made me worried about the fate of this much-belated project. Still, he’ll have to try really hard to screw this picture up. You won’t find a more committed actor than Daniel Day-Lewis, and his portrayal of the immortal president is sure to be exemplary. Plus, the source material is peerless: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” Screenwriter Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) chose to focus on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, which have never been thoroughly portrayed on film–until now.
1. THE MASTER (9/14)
For many months, there has been increasing speculation as to whether the long-awaited film from Paul Thomas Anderson (the versatile genius who tackled the ills of capitalism and the corruption of religion in his 2007 masterpiece “There Will Be Blood”) is an allegory for L. Ron Hubbard and the formation of Scientology. So far, the cast has denied such claims, though it seems clear that Anderson (who reportedly screened the film for Scientology poster boy Tom Cruise) had many Hubbard-like intellectuals on his mind when he was crafting this ’50s-era tale of an alcoholic war vet (Joaquin Phoenix) who becomes the right-hand man of “The Master” (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a faith-based organization. Amy Adams stars as Hoffman’s devoted wife, while Laura Dern (at the height of her “Enlightened” hot streak) is thrown into the mix as well. There is no film in 2012 that has inspired more intense excitement and impassioned controversy than this fascinating picture. It certainly appears to be the work of a master…
And while we’re at it, here’s my list of the…
Ten Best Films of 2012 (So Far)
(in alphabetical order)
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY by Alison Klayman
CHRONICLE by Josh Trank
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN by Benoît Jacquot
GAME CHANGE by Jay Roach
THE KID WITH A BIKE by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
MARRIAGE MATERIAL by Joe Swanberg
MOONRISE KINGDOM by Wes Anderson
NATE & MARGARET by Nathan Adloff
RUBY SPARKS by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
A SIMPLE LIFE by Ann Hui