Goodbye to 2012, the year that gave us The Avengers, The Hunger Games, and Skyfall. Hello to 2013! Here are my picks for the 13 biggest, most can’t-miss movies of the year.
1. Star Trek Into Darkness
I want to be watching this right now. Now, darn it! I’ve seen the trailers, I’ve chimed in on the water cooler talk about who Benedict Cumberbatch is really playing, and I even caught the “first nine minutes” preview that played before The Hobbit. All signs point to J.J. Abrams knocking this thing out of the park. Can’t we just watch it now? Why can’t we watch it NOW?!?!
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I adore the books, I thought the first movie was brilliant. The departure of director Gary Ross gives me a little pause because he did so much to make The Hunger Games movie precisely what it needed to be. But regardless of the new director (I Am Legend‘s Francis Lawrence), Harry Potter taught us that the Hollywood machine won’t let big franchises like this fail, since there are so many power players involved. It would take a lot of big foul-ups to make this movie tank, and Lionsgate earned my trust with that first film. And you know Jennifer Lawrence is gonna rock it.
It’s 2159, and most of mankind lives on a polluted, overpopulated, crime-ridden Earth. But there’s a gloriously futuristic, pristine space station in orbit called Elysium, where the super-rich live in opulence, luxury, and safety. They also have access to life-saving health care technologies that aren’t available down on Earth. Enter the conflict: Matt Damon is a dying, lower-class grunt who desperately needs Elysium’s medical care to save his own life, while Jodie Foster’s corporately wicked overseer of Elysium will stop at nothing to keep out the riff-raff and preserve her station’s luxurious lifestyle. Expect plenty of big social commentary alongside eye-popping visuals and heart-stopping action, but what’s most exciting is seeing an intelligent, “serious” science fiction epic come out of Hollywood at a time when brainless junk like Battleship is the norm.
And after District 9, I’ll watch anything Neill Blomkamp does.
4. Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s consolation prize for having to bail on The Hobbit was this gem that looks like pure cinematic joy. Yeah, it’s a big, goofy, CGI popcorn flick. So what? No one in the world makes movies like Guillermo del Toro, and assuming those meddling Hollywood execs can keep their tone-deaf-to-good-storytelling paws off, seeing him play on a canvas this big is just insanely exciting. My interest in this one shot waaaaay up after seeing that jaw-dropping teaser trailer.
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I was a little hesitant about An Unexpected Journey. As a hardcore fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, I knew I’d like the new movies. But would I love them?
Fan reactions may have been somewhat mixed, but I adored it. I can’t wait to go back to Middle Earth again. Even if it’s just an hour of the book and two hours of stuff added from the appendices or just entirely original stuff that they make up… Doesn’t matter to me. Peter Jackson has his finger on the pulse of Middle Earth, and as far as I’m concerned, he can do no wrong there.
6. Man of Steel
Can Zack Snyder pull off a truly great reboot of the world’s most iconic superhero? My hopes are very high, but my faith is a few pegs lower. Snyder’s 300 was good, Watchmen was probably the best version of that book Hollywood could possibly produce, and his Dawn of the Dead is a modern classic for (very) good reason. All three proved that he’s more than competent behind the camera.
Word has it that the script by David Goyer, who dreamed up the story with producer Christopher Nolan, is pretty darn brilliant, and just knowing that Nolan gave Snyder his stamp of approval goes a long way toward shoring up my hopes. Then there’s the cast full of big names like Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, and Diane Lane, and rounded out by the “serious actor” talents of Henry Cavill. Cavill fills out that new super suit very well, and it’s nice to see Warner Bros. taking some chances to reinvent the familiar Superman visuals (like that new suit), and hiring an actor with a different body type and stature than Christopher Reeve. The problem with Superman Returns, after all, was that Bryan Singer tried too hard to remind us of what Superman was like back in the ’80s, when he should have ushered the character into the 21st Century.
There’s probably no better choice than Nolan to reinvent a classic superhero, and his prerequisite that everything in a superhero story make justifiable sense is exactly what this franchise needs to solve the age-old riddle of Superman on screen: how to make a god-like superhero into someone we mere mortals can relate to.
7. Iron Man 3
I love how smart Marvel is about keeping all its movies in continuity with one another. Whether it’s those cheeky cameos in each others’ movies or the team-up-to-end-all-team-ups that was The Avengers, it was a masterstroke to have all of these superheroes playing in the same sandbox, with a consistent timeline. The first superhero returning to the solo thing after The Avengers is Iron Man, and once again showing just how smart they are, Marvel made good and sure that Iron Man 3 is a direct response to what happened to Tony Stark in Avengers.
Ben Kingsley is a great — if obvious — choice for the Mandarin, arguably Iron Man’s arch-nemesis. And Shane Black is bringing some much-needed new blood to the series. The story is said to bring us Iron Man’s darkest hour, including an existential crisis borne out of his near-death experience at the end of Avengers. The trailer looks terrific, but then so did Iron Man 2‘s. But the real obstacle this one has to overcome is the curse of the awful third movie.
It’s been seven long years since Alfonso Cuaron graced movie screens with his amazing Children of Men. I’ve no idea why it took him so long to return, but Gravity was originally scheduled for a 2012 release. After an almost year-long delay, the movie has finally found a happy home on the 2013 schedule, in late October.
Not much is known about the story except that it follows a pair of astronauts, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, who are left drifting alone in space after their shuttle is accidentally destroyed, with no possibility of rescue. It’s safe to say you can expect a lot more than the clichÃ©d “trapped together and talking about our feelings” flick. I’m looking for epic science fiction on a grand scale, with plenty of surprises and twists and turns.
And any movie that operates under this kind of J.J. Abrams-level secrecy has my interest piqued. For a film that’s been in-the-making as long as this one (production wrapped months ago) to not have a single film still or on-set photo or even a piece of promo art released is… kinda unheard of.
9. Thor: The Dark World
Kenneth Brannagh made a movie that could have been a silly farce into one of the best superhero flicks of 2011. I mean, really: a Norse god from Asgard turned Earth-bound superhero who talks like a character in a Shakespearean tragedy? There’s no way it should have worked. But with a great cast, a smart script, and the perfect director to put the two together, Thor turned out phenomenally good. Kind of like superheroes-meets-Middle Earth. (In a good way.)
The sequel reunites the entire cast of the first film, while bringing in a race of evil warrior elves led by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who proved that he plays baddies way better than good guys), who have a bone to pick with Asgard. Throw in a story that — like Iron Man 3‘s — builds on last year’s Avengers (so we’ll get to see what happens to Thor and Loki after they got beamed up), and you might as well start printing money now. Losing Brannagh was a bummer (he left to reboot Jack Ryan), but Game of Thrones‘ Alan Taylor may turn out to be an inspired choice to bring a little grit to Thor’s fantastical world.
10. The Wolverine
My anticipation on this one cooled when Darren Aronofsky vacated the director’s chair. (Apparently he committed to direct before he realized that this Japan-set movie would be largely shot in Japan, far away from his family. Oopsie.) James Mangold is a strong replacement, though, capable of both nuance and three-dimensional characters, as well as the high action scenes that this character requires. And he’s got just as many acclaimed “serious” films under his belt as Aronofsky — if not more — including Cop Land, Girl Interrupted, and Walk the Line.
I still can’t help dreaming about what The Wolverine might have been like under the singularly artistic eye of Aronofsky, but I’m looking forward to this one regardless. It’s not bloated with unnecessary mutants, so it’s got to be better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Right?
Tron: Legacy wasn’t quite universally praised, but it created a strong cult following. Director Joseph Kosinski made his big-screen debut with that glass-and-neon scifi number, but his follow-up is something more personal. Based on a story of his own creation, Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as one of the last maintenance workers on an Earth that’s been abandoned in the distant future. The fun begins when he makes a shocking discovery that ultimately forces him to question everything he thought to be true.
I’m crazy about Kosinski’s eye for detailed, highly original visuals, and any story where the main character’s perceptions of the world around him are peeled back like layers on an onion has me drooling.
12. World War Z
I don’t really care about all the reports of difficulties and interpersonal strife on the set. All that matters is how the movie turns out. The biggest challenge is turning Max Brooks’ unconventional novel into a narrative. One of my favorite writers, J. Michael Straczynski, wrote a (currently uncredited) draft of the film, and another personal favorite, Damon Lindelof, was brought in as script doctor after filming had begun. The trailer shows off zombies that move like a sea of super-fast ants, and the flick’s got star power in the form of Brad Pitt and his hair. With zombie mania at an all-time high, WWZ could be a case of the iron striking at exactly the right moment. Or it could be a monumental (and very expensive) train wreck. Either way, it’s going to be impossible to ignore.
13. Jack the Giant Slayer
While biding his time waiting for Fox to give him back the reigns to the X-Men franchise, Bryan Singer churned out this fairy-tale-slash-fantasy that imagines “Jack and the Beanstalk” as a big-budget family/fantasy adventure. The cast includes rising star Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class, Warm Bodies) as Jack and Ewan MacGregor as a stout-hearted but bumbling knight — which will probably be worth the price of admission alone. Hollywood’s sudden fascination with fairy tales shows no signs of slowing, but this looks like one of the few that’s actually worth watching.
The Wizard of Oz has never done anything for me, but Sam Raimi’s prequel Oz the Great and Powerful (March 8th) looks fascinating. Monster’s University (June 21st) should be fun even if Pixar hasn’t done anything all that compelling in the last few years. A pair of distant-future-set scifi pics have my hopes high, but there’s cause for trepidation with both: We’ve been waiting for an adaptation of the novel Ender’s Game (November 1st) for years, and Harrison Ford’s presence is encouraging, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Tsotsi director Gavin Hood feels like an odd fit for the material. Meanwhile, Will and Jaiden Smith co-starring in After Earth (June 7th) — about a military father and son pair marooned on Earth long after it has been abandoned and overrun by vicious new animal species — sounds cool, but once-visionary director M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t done anything good since Lady In the Water (hey, shut up! I liked that one). And then there’s the star-studded, tasteless-and-flaunting-it comedy that’s sure to be my (and your) most gut-busting guilty pleasure, Movie 43 (January 25th). Go watch the redband trailer if you dare.