10. Upstream Color
There are a few distinct camps centered around Shane Carruth's directorial debut, the mega-low-budget time-travel feature Primer. There are those who find it an impenetrable mess, those that understand it completely (I call this camp "the liars") and those that were puzzled, fascinated and invigorated by it. Count me in as a card-carrying member of Group C. Excepting some work on Rian Johnson's Looper, Upstream Color will be Carruth's first film work in nearly a decade. The film is a love story featuring two people living in an ageless organism. Seeing the film probably won't make it any clearer.
I may not be obligated to see every single animated Disney film from now on but the CGI Frozen sounds promising enough. Based on the fairy tale The Snow Queen, the film stars Kristen Bell as Anna, an estranged princess who must trek across icy tundra to vanquish the wicked queen. Let's hope that this role is a winner for Bell who hasn't been able to parlay her idiosyncratic talents into anything worthwhile since Veronica Mars. The production art for the film teases a crisp, unforgiving environment and Disney has done all right by itself when adapting the works of Hans Christian Andersen in the past.
8. Queen of the Desert
Werner Herzog and Naomi Watts. Naomi Watts and Werner Herzog. Queen of the Desert is the story of the explorer Gertrude Bell, British attaché in the early 1900s. It is Herzog's first fictional film since Nicolas Cage talked to imaginary iguanas and by all accounts seems like a far more austere affair. (However, don't entirely dismiss the potential for some crazy camel shenanigans.) Sure, detractors will point out that Robert Pattinson is attempting to fill the shoes of Peter O'Toole by playing T.E. Lawrence, and Jude Law is also running around here somewhere, but just remember: Werner Herzog and Naomi Watts.
The restlessly inventive Spike Jonze returns to the big screen with this story of a man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who falls in love with his computer's new operating system. While the premise sounds like the work of frequent Jonze collaborator Charlie Kaufman, this go-around it is borne solely from Jonze's mind. Spike has yet to top the achievement of Being John Malkovich, his feature film debut, but both of his films since then have shown potential and contain several glimpses of the genius more frequently found in his short film work. Samantha Morton, Rooney Mara and Phoenix's co-star in The Master, Amy Adams, also appear.
Following their Oscar-winning return with 2007's No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers went into a steady rhythm of releasing a film per year. But since 2010's enjoyable but rather thin remake of True Grit, the brothers have been silent. Come February that will change with their tale of a Greenwich Village folk singer in the early 1960s. The film is loosely based on the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk and should provide the brothers with a cast of characters crazy enough to rival The Big Lebowski and a soundtrack that might match O Brother, Where Art Thou's ubiquity.
5. Star Trek Into Darkness
Step aside Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams is the real blockbuster auteur of our time. His last two features, Super 8 and the Star Trek reboot, were the best films of their respective summers. Now that he got the pesky introductions out of the way and created that genius parallel timeline so that the new films can go and do whatever the hell they damn well please, the real fun should begin with this Star Trek sequel. How could it not, when the villain is played by Sherlock's own Benedict Cumberbatch? Let's hope this film has more of Simon Pegg's Scotty. Bring on the lens flares.
4. The World's End
Speaking of Simon Pegg, he has finally reunited with his Spaced companions Edgar Wright and Nick Frost to complete the third and final installment of their epic Cornetto trilogy, after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Pegg and Frost play friends who come together in their forties to recreate a pub crawl they completed twenty years ago. Meanwhile, the Earth decides to bring about Armageddon. It is going to be quite a task reaching the heights of wit and hilarity of their first two collaborations but The World's End sounds just epic enough to achieve it.
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
My favorite film of 2009 was Jim Jarmusch's little seen and little loved, The Limits of Control, a glorious synthesis of themes the auteur had been pondering for roughly a decade. The Limits of Control can be seen as a cinematic culmination, a film that wipes the slate clean and leaves the director with a bold, white canvas with which to work with. His new film appears to take that freedom and run with it full throttle. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play centuries-old vampires who reunite when Hiddleston, now a musician, becomes depressed by mankind's direction. Who's a what now?
2. The Wind is Rising
Chances are Hayao Miyazaki's new film won't reach American shores before the end of the year but I don't care, I'm throwing it on here anyway. Maybe I'll just hop on over to Tokyo one weekend and catch this. That'll show you. This new animated feature is about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, celebrated designer of World War II fighter planes. The film continues Miyazaki's obsession with flight and rumor has it some of the pilots are anthropomorhized pigs, like the star of Porco Rosso. Expect some exquisitely designed backgrounds, flawless and kinetic action scenes, and some crazy magical stuff you can't wrap your head around.
1. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Speaking of Studio Ghibli, exactly twenty-five years ago the famed animation company released Miyazaki's masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro on the very same day as studio co-founder Isao Takahata's heartbreaking tale of two brothers struggling to survive in the ruins of World War II, the phenomenal Grave of the Fireflies. To commemorate the greatest day in Japanese cinema history, the studio will be releasing Takahata's new film about a princess borne of bamboo the same day as The Wind is Rising. How can the world be so awesome?