This is a veeeery early look at the 2009 movie crop. Almost everything is subject to change, especially my level of anticipation. But as of right now, here's what looks good in the year ahead. [P.S.: Look for another post of even more movie-related miscellania to look forward to later this week.]
The 10 Most Anticipated Movies in '09
01 - Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee)
If I'm going to give my attention to yet another film about the 1960s counterculture, it damn well better be an Ang Lee film with a gay protagonist and an intriguing cast without any real A-list star. Done. I love the idea of unproven Demetri Martin in the lead role, and these days it's tough to beat Emile Hirsch, Liev Schrieber, Paul Dano, Imelda Staunton, and Kelli Garner in supporting roles.
02 - Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Tarantino on my most anticipated list isn't exactly rare. But it took me a while to work up this enthusiasm for his looooong in the works WWII film. But I like the premise -- rogue Jews (the titular "Basterds") making guerilla attacks on the Nazis -- and while the cast (Brad Pitt aside) is full of head-scratchers, that just means there are countless opportunities for QT to work that Daryl Hannah-style magic. Who makes that leap this time? Diane Kruger? B.J. Novak? Eli Roth? All this, plus it's getting released on my birthday! Good omen!
03 - Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
It's funny, because I don't really consider myself a total Scorsese freak. But his movies always seem incredibly appealing from the get-go. Probably because they attract such sparkling casts, and this one is no different: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley...it's astounding. The story is a Dennis Lehane adaptation surrounding a missing person investigation at a mental hospital in the 1950s...whatever, really. Clint Eastwood somewhat bungled Lehane's Mystic River. Ben Affleck did a better job with Gone Baby Gone. Does anyone doubt Scorsese has the best chance to emerge with the best Lehane adaptation of the bunch?
04 - Watchmen (Zack Snyder)
In the wake of that court decision that upheld Fox's proprietary rights on the project, I'm not sure when exactly this will open (in case anyone involved is either wondering or listening, delaying the movie until the summer or longer is the WRONG idea), but whenever it does, I'll be right there. I'm sure I don't have to re-state all the reasons why, do I? Check the archives.
05 - The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Anderson's one of my very favorite filmmakers, and I'm dying to see how his aesthetic meshes with the Roald Dahl source material, not to mention the fact that this will be a stop-motion animation feature. Personally, I think it'll be right up his alley. The voice cast is chock full of Anderson vets (Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston), plus some guy named Clooney.
06 - The Fighter (Darren Aronofsky)
That's right -- The Wrestler in 2008, The Fighter in 2009, and look for Aronofsky to bring The Slap-Boxer to theatres in 2010. The story, about an Irish up-and-coming boxer and his ne'er-do-well, isn't breaking any new ground or anything, but the simple fact remains that after four movies, Aronofsky has yet to deliver anything I haven't thought of as a masterpiece.
07 - Away We Go (Sam Mendes)
It's true, I really didn’t care for Mendes's Revolutionary Road. But he's still quite a good filmmaker, and I like the idea of this movie as a change of pace for him. John Kraskinski and Maya Rudolph star as a young couple traveling across the country, looking for a place to start a family. The supporting cast is trememdous (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Jeff Daniels, Paul Schnieder, Catherine O'Hara, Melanie Lynskey, Jim Gaffigan, Cheryl Hines), but I'm hoping this is the movie where Rudolph announces her presence as an actress to be reckoned with.
08 - This Side of the Truth (Ricky Gervais)
There's no Christopher Guest movie scheduled this year, to my great chagrin, but this looks like it could be a fine replacement. Ricky Gervais writes, directs, and stars in a movie that sounds like a Jim Carrey vehicle (in a world where no one has ever lied, one man learns to employ deception to his advantage), but the talent involved says it'll be much better. Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, Finnoula Flanagan, and Guest himself all star in what immediately becomes the most anticipated comedy of the year.
09 - Nine (Rob Marshall)
Big ol' star-studded musical from the director of Chicago, which was another big ol' star-studded musical that I enjoyed quite a bit. I never saw the original stage musical of the same name, nor Fellini's 8 ½, upon which it was based, but the cast is certainly impressive: Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren; Oscar nominees Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson. Of course, this would be placing higher on my list if the statue-riddled cast was more to my taste. Kidman's been slipping, Hudson is riding on fumes of goodwill from Almost Famous, we've been through my distaste for Cotillard's La Vie En Rose performance, and while I like Day-Lewis and Cruz, I've never been part of their particular fan cults. The good news is, they all get a chance to win me over here.
10 - Brothers (Jim Sheridan)
I've heard good things about the Danish film upon which this is based, and you can't go wrong with Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman. Throw in Tobey Maguire, and this story about a solider (Maguire) who goes missing in war and his brother (Jake) who ends up "comforting" his wife (Portman). Sexy times had by all! Well, maybe not Tobey's character.
Avatar (James Cameron): Is this Cameron's great hubristic Waterloo, or can he pull another Titanic and make good on the huge-budget, huge-expectations thing?
The Boat That Rocked (Richard Curtis): The plot (a rogue, nautical radio station in the 1960s) sounds decent, I suppose, but the real draw here is Curtis holding a mini-Love, Actually reunion with Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and January Jones.
Duplicity (Tony Gilroy): Clive Owen and Julia Roberts do the charming-criminals thing, and the trailer makes it look like a lot of fun.
The Last Station (Michael Hoffman): Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Helen Mirren in a Tolstoy biopic. Oooh, I hope they keep the scene where Mirren's character convinces him to change his book's title to "War and Peace" and not "War, What Is It Good For?"
Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater): Only Linklater would get me to watch Zac Efron's first stab at legitimacy.
Men Who Stare at Goats (Grant Heslov): George Clooney project about a journalist in Iraq who comes upon a paranormal battalion in Iraq? Sounds totally weird and promising.
Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs): I'll go into this more in my continuing Winter/Spring preview, but Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters sharing a crime-scene cleanup business is an intriguing premise that, from what the trailer is showing me, looks to be sparklingly executed.
Whatever Works (Woody Allen): I'm pretty high on Woody Allen after Vicky Christina Barcelona which means I'll be willing to follow him back to New York, even with the dubious acting talents of Larry David in the lead. Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, and Henry Cavill in the other roles will look to balance that out.
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow): This one made the festivals in '08 and won a whole bunch of awards at the Venice Film Festival, but a of yet it doesn't have a U.S. release date. It'll get one, and when it does, I'll be right there to catch the Spirit Award-nominated lead performance of Jeremy Renner. Sweet, sweet Jeremy Renner.
Public Enemies (Michael Mann): I always tend to look forward to Michael Mann movies more than I end up enjoying them. But it's gonna be awfully tough to fuck up Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Billy Crudup (and Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd!) in a 1930s true-life crime drama.