With 2013 officially in the rear view mirror, I think we can safely say it was a year for the ages cinematically speaking. This year will be hard pressed to top a year where I had trouble narrowing down my favorites movies to just 30, but there's still plenty of intriguing titles to look forward to. This list is by no means comprehensive (Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo, Darren Aronofsky's Noah or James Bobin's Muppets Most Wanted are all left out, just to name a few), but these are the things that I've already put a pin in for 2014:
1.THE MONUMENTS MEN (Releases Feb. 7)
Dir. George Clooney
And the first title was originally meant to be a 2013 release that instead found itself postponed until what is generally considered the cinematic graveyard that is February. Ignoring that (rumors suggest problems finding the right balance of comedy and drama in the edit), anything George Clooney makes is worth watching (even the uneven Leatherheads), especially when he’s bringing John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon along for the ride. (And it's a ride that celebrates art and hates Nazis, so the ride appears crowd-friendly.) I would be supremely surprised if it ends up being a misfire.
2. CHEAP THRILLS (Releases March 2014)
Dir. E.L. Katz
I'd recommend avoiding the trailer (hence it’s absence below) and going into Cheap Thrills as blind as possible. Know that it's a consummate crowd film and demands to be seen with as large a group of people as possible. It takes place over the course of one wild night and involves a series of escalating bets that pit two high school friends against one another at the whim of a rich, disaffected couple who they meet entirely by chance. The plot is simple itself (would work perfectly fine as a stage play, in fact), but the weird and wild directions this story veers into is well worth discovering on your own without being spoiled by any promotional material. Simply trust that you're in good hands – having luckily seen it on the festival circuit last year (and it making my 2013 year-end list) – I can say that it will take the mightiest of efforts for this not to be one of the finest movies of this coming year.
3. THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (Releases March 28, 2014)
Dir. Gareth Evans
My pitch for this sequel is simple: See the original, The Raid: Redemption. Once you have, you'll be salivating as wildly as I am for more bone-breaking action from Gareth Evans and company as they widen the scope quite considerably from the relatively contained (almost the entire first film takes place in one giant building) original. If you appreciate action, you will OD on Berandal's nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime that will no doubt be filled with jaw-dropping action sequences from start to finish.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Releases March 7)
Dir. Wes Anderson
Considering his last two films were my favorite of their respective years (2012's Moonrise Kingdom and 2009's The Fantastic Mr. Fox), it might prove hard to keep expectations in check for the latest opus from Wes Anderson. It becomes even harder when one watches the trailer and sees that he appears to be working in quite an epic mode (the sweep of the plot appears far larger than what he's attempted before) with a cast of stock Wes Anderson players alongside new additions (Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric) that at first glance look to fit in perfectly. Anderson's filmmaking had taken on heretofore unseen dimensions over his past couple outings, so one hopes this will continue down that path of warmth despite its immensely artificial design.
5. SNOWPIERCER (Release TBA)
Dir. Bong Joon-Ho
It's hard to know in what form we'll finally be graced with Bong Joon-Ho's freshman English language effort given the tumult that continues to develop between himself and the Weinstein Company over the final cut of the American release. (It's already been released in uncut form to a rapturous response in several overseas markets). Set all of that aside, however, and simply get excited to see one of the world's most unique authorial visions unleashed on a sci-fi premise (humanity has migrated onto a perpetually circling train to survive, and some serious 99 versus the one percent shenanigans ensue) with a cast full of ringers (Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton). Joon-Ho is one of our absolute finest craftsmen, able to juggle tone and genre with startling ease, so there's no reason to suspect his streak of modern classics won't continue here.
6. THEY CAME TOGETHER (Release TBA)
Dir. David Wain
If you're attuned to the particular insanity of David Wain and Michael Showalter (and if you liked Stella, Wet Hot American Summer or The State, you are) than the idea that they've rejoined to create a genre pastiche for the romantic comedy much like Wet Hot American Summer did for the coming-of-age picture is grounds for celebration. You have to be a particular kind of genius to create buffoonery so sublime, and with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as the leads, this is my early front-runner for year's best comedy without having seen a single frame of the movie. Just look at the recently released poster above, filled with their special brand of nonsense, and you'll get a good idea of what these merry jokesters are up to.
7. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Releases Aug. 1)
Dir. James Gunn
I'm a big-time Marvel comics nerd, with Spider-Man having as equal a claim to the man I am today as those who raised me, so it's been an absolute delight to see Marvel continue to crush it with each successive release as they've gone about the trailblazing business of building their own cinematic universe. They've taken one of the joys of comic reading (worlds and characters who frequently intersect in one anothers’ stories and come together to combat threats too big for any one hero) and given it to the world at large. Guardians of the Galaxy might be the biggest gamble since they started building these interconnected stories, taking the Marvel imprint down a pretty stylistically divergent (aka space opera with character names like Drax the Destroyer and Star Lord) path with a unique voice at the helm in writer/director James Gunn. I have a feeling Chris Pratt (a member of the sterling Parks and Recreation ensemble, as well as bit player in Her) is going to burst into the mainstream in a big way here, and if Marvel is able to connect with audiences even when they spin yarns about gun-toting raccoons and their giant tree friend voiced by Vin Diesel then we'll simply have to bow down to our new cinematic overlords, because they're capable of anything.
8. INTERSTELLAR (Releases Nov. 7)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
Let's collectively ignore that the teaser trailer seems more like a Ford ad than a movie preview, and focus on what we do know: Christopher Nolan making original sci-fi properties is good (because Inception). Matthew McConaughey's McConaissance is good (because he's an amazing actor when motivated, a still a pretty charming one even if he isn't). Outer space is good (because stuff like this). Ergo, this is going to be good. And it looks like Nolan is working a warmer palette than the chilly exteriors that have housed his intricate plotting in the past (for a movie epic about our varied dreamscapes, Inception sure was sexless and awash in cobalt blues and silver hues), so this has an opportunity to soar higher than anything he's crafted before. And they're firmly planting their flag in awards season territory with that release date, which suggests confidence in the end product.