2012 – Ones To Watch

With 2011 pretty much on its last legs, it’s time to take a peek at the films I think will be worth watching early in the New Year and later on.

Thankfully, the cinemas weren’t completely rammed with cartoons and kiddie movies over the holiday, with  David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opening on Boxing Day.  Seeing Fincher’s name on a film is always a good sign for me: responsible for films such as Se7en, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, he made his name Fight Club and his films are usually skillful and intelligent.

And what else is on the cinematic horizon?  One thing is for sure, with the awards season nearly upon us, this is when the production houses make sure their best offerings are out there – and that makes it a good time to leave the winter behind and go to the cinema.

Here’s my pick for the next couple of months:

Jean Dujardin's performance in The Artist won Best Actor at Cannes

The Artist (currently at Vue Leicester Square, opens UK-wide on 6 January). The surprise hit at Cannes, this black and white near-silent production is set in the movie industry of the 1920s and promises to raise an elegant two fingers to all the current digital, 3D and CGI hoo-hah.  It scooped the Best Director and Best Actor awards at Cannes, is tipped to cause an upset come Oscar time and I’ll be reviewing it here soon.

The Descendents (opens 27 January).  Alexander Payne’s family drama stars George Clooney as a wealthy father trying to re-establish a relationship with his teenage children after the death of his wife.  Clooney’s performance has attracted a lot of attention, and almost as many award nominations, so I’m curious to see if he, and the film, live up to their reputation.

Carnage (opens 3 February).  We’ve had to wait a while for Polanski’s satire on the New York bourgeoisie, as it had its first screening in this country at the London Film Festival in October.  The cast is top notch – Jody Foster, Kate Winslet and John C Reilly – so there’s a good chance it’s worth the wait.

Of course, these aren’t the only films opening in January and February but, for me, they’re probably the best of the bunch.  Others include the much-hyped The Iron Lady (opens 6 January), with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, a performance that is already regarded as the front runner for Best Actress Oscar.  Apparently the film as a whole hasn’t been particularly well-received in the States, so I’m intrigued to see how British audiences – especially those that lived through the Thatcher years – will react.

Also opening in January, both on the 13th, are Spielberg’s War Horse and Margin Call.  The latter sees an impressive cast in a thriller set during the financial crisis – Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci.  War Horse needs no introduction or explanation, being the adaptation of the staggeringly successful Michael Morpurgo stage play and novel.  If the trailer is anything to go by, a large box of tissues will be a compulsory accessory – but I can’t escape the thought that it might turn out to be Saving Private Ryan’s Horse.

Leonardo diCaprio gets his teeth into the title role of JEdgar

The following week (20 January) brings us Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar, which will hopefully mark a return to form.  The fascinating subject matter – the complex, cross-dressing, Kennedy-hating head of the FBI – is a meaty part for Leonardo DiCaprio.  The following month (10 February) sees the opening of Rampart, with Woody Harrelson as a very, very bad cop.  Harrelson has a fine line in violent nutters, but he’s actually more versatile (think the smooth hitman in No Country For Old Men or the comic country singer in Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion) and, by all accounts, he’s on good form in this one.  But it probably won’t be an easy watch.

Tom Hardy's Bane comes up against Batman in The Dark Knight Rises

Looking further ahead, there’s one film I’m particularly looking forward to – the next part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (opening on or around 20 July).  As a rule, superhero/comic book films leave me, at best, lukewarm but here I make an exception: Nolan’s dark vision and great special effects, coupled with the human vulnerability Christian Bale brings to his character, make for tremendous cinema.  Back with his familiar team (Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman) he’s faced by a new adversary, Bane (played by Tom Hardy wearing a face mask that makes him sound like Darth Vadar’s brother).  I have high hopes of this one.

The other biggie of the second half of the year is, unsurprisingly, Daniel Craig’s third James Bond film, Skyfall (opening on or around 26 October).  I’m hoping that, with Sam Mendes at the helm, it will be a return to the style that made Casino Royale so enjoyable.  Javier Bardem plays the villain this time – and we all know how good he is at doing that!  Presumably he’ll expect Mendes to be kinder to him than the Coen brothers when it comes to his haircut.

I’ve also got my eye on two other films for the autumn.  There’s a very British version of Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina (opening on or around 7 September), directed by Joe Wright and starring Jude Law, Matthew MacFadyen, Emma Watson – and, inevitably, Kiera Knightley.  I’ve yet to be wholly convinced by Knightley as a serious actress, but I’m open to persuasion.  And arriving at the end of the year is the big screen version of the Booker Prize winning The Life Of Pi (opening on or around 14 December), directed by Ang Lee and starring Tobey Maguire.  Book adaptations, especially if the novel has a big following, are often notoriously dangerous, regardless of the director’s prestige – as Peter Jackson knows only too well after The Lovely Bones.

It’s possible that films scheduled for later in the year could have their release dates changed, while others could be brought forward, so I’ll keep you posted.  As it stands, 2012 has a few nuggets and a good helping of promise.  But when I come to review the year in twelve months’ time, I wonder if I’ll be talking about the same films?

And, before I forget, happy 2012.  May your films all be good, your cinema seat comfortable and the popcorn non-existent!

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