7. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
We seem to be hitting a point where studios and financiers are willing to gamble on original sci-fi properties, so long as there is some commercial hook. This list has three films that might not have been made at a different nexus point, but we’re lucky enough to get at least three in ’12 and a fourth, Elysium, in ’13. The hook here is that Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón is creating a film that is nearly a one-woman show in which Sandra Bullock has to navigate her way to safety after an orbital mission goes wrong. His methodology seems to be an expansion of the approach that led to the long takes and famous car shot from Children of Men. Gravity may end up looking like it is built from only a handful of very long takes. Even without that element of technical spectacle, Cuarón is an impressive director, and after six long years I’m happy he’s back.
(November 12 — news recap)
6. Argo (dir. Ben Affleck)
When we ran the first official still from Argo I promised the movie had a spot on this list, and here we go. Affleck has quickly established himself as a director who might fit the Clint Eastwood mold: solid in coaxing performance, restrained in style and focused on narrative to great effect. But Argo is something a bit different from his first two films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Based on a true story about a CIA crew posing as the production staff for a sci-fi film while trying to extract diplomatic hostages from Iran in 1979, this one seems like it could easily have a vibe similar to The Men Who Stare at Goats. (George Clooney and Goats director Grant Heslov are producing.) If so, I hope it balances the politics and comedy a bit better, and Affleck’s skill in creating a persuasive, grounded reality in his first two films should be a major asset here. If nothing else, there are scenes featuring John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin and Adrienne Barbeau to look forward to.
(September 14 — news recap)
5. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
I don’t often read scripts before a film is released, but had to make an exception for Quentin Tarantino’s latest. You could say that means there are no surprises left for me here. But Tarantino’s greatest strength is the way he works with actors, and there is so much meat in the Django script for his cast (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more) to dig into that I think there are plenty of surprises in store. The basic fact of Leo playing a slave-owning villain is enough to rank this high on a list of anticipated films.
The core concept — a German dentist turned bounty hunter (Waltz) frees a slave, Django (Foxx), and the two end up looking for Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) — has great opportunity for Tarantino to craft the moments that make his movies pop even for audiences who recognize all the cinema history he has recombined. I’m very excited to see how Tarantino shoots the finale of this one, which could end up ranking alongside Inglourious Basterds as one of his most memorable endings. Finally, Tarantino’s not so secret weapon has always been editor Sally Menke. Now that she has tragically passed, I have a focused, slightly concerned curiosity about how his work will feel going forward, and this film will be the first indication of his future.
(December 25 — news recap)