Most Anticipated Films of 2013, Part 1

Congratulations! It’s February. You survived the January dumping grounds, when studios assume you’ll flee a movie theater to watch any old piece of crap when it’s -10 degrees outside (they’re not entirely wrong, considering I recently shilled out honest money for both “Gangster Squad” and “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters). That means it’s time to look to the year ahead – what are the most promising titles of 2013?

As usual, I don’t include the usual summer blockbuster fare here – there are plenty of other places for you to get your write-ups on “Iron Man 3” and “Thor 2” and “Star Trek 2” and “Fast and Furious 66,049.” You don’t need me to tell you that those are coming. I’m trying to highlight here some of the independent, foreign and auteur fare on the horizon. A lot of these are coming out the recently-closed Sundance Film Festival, which seemed to have a particularly strong year across the board (could there be a “Beasts of the Southern Wild” gem among them?). Others are by big-name directors, some have more substantial budgets than others, and a couple are actually delayed holdovers from last year’s list (one, I believe, is actually enjoying its FOURTH year here). So I’ve compiled 30 titles for your perusal (15 today, 15 tomorrow); and when you’re done, go see “Side Effects,” and rejoice that quality cinema is back.

1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Directed and written by David Lowery, starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster

Release date: 2013, IFC Films

An outlaw-couple-on-the-run tale in the tradition of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Badlands,” Lowery’s film garnered some praise in Park City for its stunning cinematography (for which it won a festival award) and Affleck’s slow-burning performance. I’m glad that baby brother is back in a quality production, since his career seemed to stall a bit after the promising one-two punch of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007.

2. Austenland

Directed by Jerusha Hess, written by Hess and Shannon Hale, starring Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie

Release date: 2013, Sony Pictures Classics

A woman obsessed with the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice” (Russell) sets off to an Austen-themed getaway destination in England, where she hopes to meet her own Mr. Darcy. Sure to be an crowd-pleaser for the “Downton Abbey” set, and one of the few romantic, female-oriented films in sight this year.

3. Before Midnight

Directed by Richard Linklater, written by Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, starring Hawke and Delpy

Release date: 2013, Sony Pictures Classics

Rumors started flying only a few months ago that Linklater was re-teaming with Hawke and Delpy for a follow-up to their critically acclaimed pair of Celine and Jesse films, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” So it was a pleasant shock that the film turned up so quickly at Sundance; it’s remarkable that the production was kept under such tight wraps, considering the slobbering reaction/anticipation it was sure to inspire in many film snobs (myself included). Word is that the trio has struck gold yet again, and I can’t wait to revisit these characters.

4. Breathe In

Directed by Drake Doremus, written by Doremus and Ben York Jones, starring Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan

Release date: no distribution

Doremus’ “Like Crazy” was a problematic but intriguing little fable of contemporary romance – for his follow-up, he has cast muse Felicity Jones as a charming foreign exchange student (we might want to start coming up with other excuses for her to be in America, Drake) who causes a stir in the upstate New York home of her host family. The underperformance of “Like Crazy” might make it difficult for this film to acquire distribution, but it’ll hopefully the star power behind it will be enough for it to squeeze into theaters by the end of the year.

5. Captain Phillips

Directed by Paul Greengrass, written by Billy Ray, starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener

Release date: Oct. 11, Columbia Pictures

Based on the true story of Richard Phillips, captain of the container ship seized by Somali pirates in 2009. This is Greengrass’ first effort since “Green Zone,” and his first non-Matt-Damon-action-flick since “United 93;” he’s obviously dealing with far less sensitive material here, but his rough handheld style should fit perfectly with the immediacy and danger of the situation. Tom Hanks is also in for a big year, but more on that tomorrow.

6. The East

Directed by Zal Batmanglij, written by Batmanglij and Brit Marling, starring Marling, Alexander Skarsard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson

Release date: 2013, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Marling established herself as an indie darling (hah it rhymes) in 2011 when she co-wrote and starred in “Another Earth,” a delightful little character piece with a sci-fi twist; she followed that up with “Sound of My Voice,” Batmanglij’s first film and another acclaimed gem that I haven’t caught up with yet. They’ve teamed up again this year for “The East,” a corporate espionage thriller about an intelligence operative (Marling) infiltrating an anarchist group led by the charismatic Skarsgard. Received positive reviews at Sundance.

7. Elysium

Directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley

Release date: Aug. 9, Columbia Pictures

Blomkamp made a huge splash by landing a Best Picture nomination for his surprise sci-fi blockbuster “District 9;” expectations are much higher this time around, with a much larger budget and some serious star power in tow. In a year cramped with visions of a ruined/post-apocalyptic Earth, can Blomkamp stand out again?

8. Fruitvale

Directed and written by Ryan Coogler, starring Michael B. Jordan

Release date: 2013, The Weinstein Company

Based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young man who was shot to death by police in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009; “Fruitvale” is already a formidable contender to be this year’s “Precious” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” having won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award prizes at Sundance, although critical reaction was a little mixed. Does it have the stuff to stay in the conversation all year?

9. The Grandmaster

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, written by Wong, Xu Haofeng, Zou Jingzhi, starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang

Release date: no distribution

This. Movie. Rumors fly every year (seriously; this has been here every year since 2010) that Wong Kar-Wai’s latest will finally get released, but there finally looks to be truth to the buzz this time around. After taking his sweet time getting the film exactly the way he wants it, Wong finally debuted his martial arts-infused biopic of Ip Man in Germany on Thursday as the opening selection of the Berlin Film Festival. Instant reactions weren’t that great, but even when he fails (as with, well, his last two films “2046” and “My Blueberry Nights”) Wong’s films generally remain at the least visually ravishing. It’s also entirely possible that Wong will continue to re-tool the film even after this screening, so stay tuned.

10. Gravity

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, written by Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

Release date: Oct. 4, Warner Bros.

Another hyped project delayed by auteur tinkering. Word has it that Cuarón is building on the stunning cinematography of his last film (2006’s underrated masterpiece “Children of Men”) by opening “Gravity” with a half-hour-long unbroken take. Few films with this kind of mainstream power have tried something so daring, so it will be fascinating to see if Cuarón can pull it off; especially when he’s working with Bullock, a talented actress for sure but whose track record doesn’t set much precedent for such intense craftwork.

11. The Great Gatsby

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, written by Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

Release date: May 10, Warner Bros.

It was probably smart to move Luhrmann’s latest out of the December glut – his films generally don’t play as well with the weight of awards expectations on them. But in the summer, “The Great Gatsby” is free to find an audience for its lush, decadent, probably trippy take on a high-school English classic. DiCaprio is another A-lister in for a big year; one can already sniff the “it’s time to reward Leo for his career” campaign coming, although, as with Hanks, his better play might be further down this list…

12. I’m So Excited!

Directed and written by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas

Release date: spring 2013, Sony Pictures Classics

Possibly the most appropriately titled film of the year. The only hint we’ve had as to the plot is a brief WTF teaser – so I guess there will be something about airline stewards and lip-synching and I DON’T CARE IT LOOKS AMAZING. But seriously, following up on “The Skin I Live In,” Almodóvar seems to be having some serious fun diving headlong back into his campy genre roots, and I can’t think of any other respected, internationally adored director working today that would be willing to do that. Cameos are also set for Almodóvar regulars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, although I’m particularly excited that Cecilia Roth is back in the director’s mix for the first time since her fabulous performance in “All About My Mother.”

13. Inside Llewyn Davis

Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham

Release date: no distribution

Another film that got me frothing with its first trailer. You really never know where the Coens are going to head next, and I have to say that I never would’ve predicted “1960’s folk-music pseudo-musical.” God, I love them. Unfortunately, we’ll probably have a long wait for this one. Word is “Inside Llewyn Davis” will probably bow at Cannes and pick up U.S. distribution for the fall on the Croisette. Original music is being written for the film by Mulligan’s husband Marcus Mumford (yes, of Mumford & Sons) and produced by T-Bone Burnett (“Crazy Heart,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”); all the main stars will be doing their own singing, as well.

14. In a World…

Directed and written by Lake Bell, starring Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman, Geena Davis

Release date: no distribution

The more I learn about this project, the more it becomes one of my favorites on this list. Bell stars as an aspiring voiceover star inspired by her father (Melamed), a Don LaFontaine-esque industry legend, to try and make a career in a traditionally male-dominated field. I love everything about this idea, and the actors involved are perfect, particularly Melamed (who you might remember nailing it down as Sy Ableman in “A Serious Man”). “In a World…” won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, which last year went to “Safety Not Guaranteed-” I’m looking forward to another indie gem.

15. Kill Your Darlings

Directed by John Krokidas, written by Krokidas, Austin Bunn, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Elizabeth Olsen, Jack Huston

Release date: 2013, Sony Pictures Classics

Krokidas and Bunn’s debut screenplay was apparently impressive enough to gather a considerable cast of up-and-coming talent, and the premise is certainly intriguing. “Kill Your Darlings” is concerned with the real-life murder of David Kammerer (Hall) by Lucien Carr (DeHaan) in 1944, a case that directly involved just about all of the major figures of the Beat Generation, including Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Huston) and William Burroughs (Foster). Another Sundance hit, “Darlings” drew considerable praise for just about all the actors (especially Radcliffe, who is looking like he indeed has the stuff to prove himself outside the Harry Potter franchise), as they carefully navigate the tangled web of sexual tension and obsession that existed between this group of young men.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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