After a spectacular 2013 for film, it’s time to look forward to the year ahead at cinemas, and 2014 looks absolutely fantastic, from some of the most interesting blockbusters in years, safe but exciting sequels and excellent indie fare. Some of my favourite directors have projects in the works (new Christopher Nolan! new Paul Thomas Anderson!) as well as some relatively untested film-makers attempting to show just what they can do. It’s a very exciting time. Just a note, some of these films may eventually miss out on a 2014 release, but are currently slated to arrive in the next 12 months in the UK. Also, I have already seen the majority of the films being released in January/February this year thanks to screeners, so the fact that 12 Years a Slave, Wolf of Wall Street etc. aren’t here isn’t a testament to me not being excited for them.
Directed by Wally Pfister, Written by Jack Paglen, Starring Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall
The first directorial effort from Christopher Nolan’s long-time cinematographer, Wally Pfister, Transcendence tells the story of a computer scientist named Will (Depp) who, after being shot by a radical anti-technology group, uploads his consciousness into a super-computer with the help of his grieving partner (Hall). Naturally, this goes terribly wrong, and the new, sentient, operating system decides to follow the path of Skynet rather than stick with the status quo of humans > artificial intelligence. The plot itself is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the trailer was still relatively intriguing, showing some pretty impressive scope. It’ll be interesting to see how Pfister copes without the guiding hand of Nolan and how Depp copes in a role without wacky make-up.
Release date: April 25th
19. Under the Skin
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, Written by Walter Campbell, Starring Scarlett Johansson
Much has already been made of Under the Skin, an incredibly divisive film when it hit last year’s festival circuit, as it features Scarlett Johansson playing an alien seductress (sort of like Species). However, early buzz from those who liked it is that it is a brilliantly surreal piece of film-making that should provoke a genuine reaction of suspense (sort of not at all like Species). Weird sci-fi like this is always a hit and miss affair, but this Scotland-set horror/thriller looks, from trailers and early reviews, really interesting to me, thanks to the highly unsettling atmosphere and music, along with a genuine sense of mystery.
Release Date: 14th March
18. The Wind Rises
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Elijah Wood, Emily Blunt (English dub)
Apparently the last film Hayao Miyazaki will ever make (although he has already sort of un-retired by releasing a new manga comic), The Wind Rises is a Studio Ghibli take on the story of Jiro Horikoshi (Gordon-Levitt), the man who designed Japan’s fighter planes in the Second World War. As with all Ghibli films, the animation looks absolutely wonderful and it is unlikely that the film as a whole will be anything less than magical. Given its rather heavy subject matter, however, The Wind Rises caught some flak during its festival tours for being overly innocent and avoiding the darkness that is inherently perceived as necessary in a war film. Honestly, and this may just be because I’m biased in the favour of the studio that brought me Spirited Away, this seems a rather cheap criticism of a film aimed ostensibly at children and at being light-hearted. I’m very much looking forward to it.
Release date: TBD (Update: The Wind Rises will release on May 9th)
17. Guardians of the Galaxy
Written and Directed by James Gunn, Starring Chris Pratt, Lee Pace, Bradley Cooper
Given the eclectic cast (Oscar nominees rubbing shoulders with TV actors, wrestlers and Vin Diesel), the fact that its based on a barely known comic team and the promises that it will veer closer to Doctor Who territory than to being a conventional comic-book movie, it is fair to say that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the riskiest gambles a major studio is taking this year. That is one of the many reasons that I am very excited about it. It’s set to be absolutely mental, with the main plot focusing on a half-human space explorer (Pratt) joining forces with a rag-tag band of aliens that includes a talking, gun-wielding raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper in order to stop evil space conquerors. Obviously, there is the potential for a disaster here, but I very much like the sound of the film and if it is successful it will prove to studios that not all tentpole releases have to be safe bets. Also, I am a fan of Chris Pratt to an irrational extent, so his presence certainly helps.
There is no trailer at the time of writing.
Release date: 1st August
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater, Starring Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette
Recently released to universal adoration at 2014’s Sundance Film Festival, Richard Linklater’s groundbreakingly ambitious tale of a boy (Ellar Coltrane) growing into manhood, filmed over the course of 12 years, looks like the perfect film to silence those claims that the industry is experiencing a dearth of imagination. Every single review has been overwhelmingly positive, praising the naturalistic performances, subtle time shifts signified by distinct background music and technology and it all sounds like it comes together in an amazing way. The Before trilogy is absolutely sublime, particularly last year’s Before Midnight, so a new Linklater film is worth getting excited about although the reported 2 hour 45 runtime could prove difficult for me, as I struggle to stay concentrated on a film after about the 2 hour 10 mark, and it keeps Boyhood at this position on the list.
There is no trailer at the time of writing.
Release date: TBD
15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves, Written by Mark Bomback, Starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke
Despite its clunky title and less than well-received predecessor, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprising success that actually ended up being one of the best movies of that summer. This sequel looks set on continuing down that route, with a very moody teaser nicely setting up the new world where humanity is in grave danger of losing its dominance over the planet to Caesar’s (Serkis) ape army. The effects on said apes look absolutely astonishing, lightyears ahead of the majority of CGI we see in films today, and the new cast, including Gary Oldman, could potentially elevate this into this summer’s best blockbuster. At the moment, it seems that Weta (the effects team on this and many other films, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy) can do no wrong, especially when paired with Serkis. This should be a highlight that should stick on your radar, even if it is only for the visuals.
Release date: 18th July
Directed by Gareth Edwards, Written by Max Borenstein, Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen
Honestly, the trailer for this alone should sum up why it makes the list. From those incredible opening 40 seconds to the final reveal of the true scale of Godzilla, there is nothing there that isn’t very, very exciting. Plot details are being kept tightly under wraps as of now, but with that trailer, and the cast and crew signed on to the project, I already have more than enough faith in it. Edwards made the brilliant 2010 film Monsters (which had great effects work) for a mere $30,000, so just imagine what he can do with cinema’s most famous monster with $100 million. Obviously, big investment doesn’t automatically make for a good film, but given that Edwards’ talent lies in integrating unreal creatures into very real environments, the more opportunity to do that afforded to him, the better.
Release Date: 16th May
13. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Written and Directed by Wes Anderson, Starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Tony Revolori
Possibly the most Wes Anderson-y movie Wes Anderson has ever made, The Grand Budapest Hotel looks to be an incredible amount of fun. From the gaudy colours, to the trailer’s silly set-pieces and an all-star cast so extravagant that it requires half a trailer just to get through them all, this may just end up being the most squarely enjoyable film of the year. Fiennes takes a break from his recent, slightly dour, roles in order to camp it up as Gustave H, the infamous manager of the eponymous Grand Budapest, who gets left a priceless piece of art following the death of one of his wealthier clients. Thus begins a mad chase throughout a whimsified inter-war Europe to keep the painting and Gustave safe from the angry clutches of the son of the deceased hotel guest (Brody) and his menacing henchman played by Willem Dafoe. The sheer level of quirkiness may understandably turn some people off, but as long as it aids the story or the comedy without being quirky for its own sake, then it should be excellent.
Release date: 7th March
12. The Hobbit There and Back Again
Directed by Peter Jackson, Written by Fran Walsh, Starring Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen
For all the controversies surrounding the Hobbit films – the questionable HFR decision, the stretching/padding a short-ish book into three films, the new plotlines, characters etc – I personally really enjoyed the both of them, particularly The Desolation of Smaug. The undeniable sense of adventure has remained entirely intact since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even if this trilogy can’t quite hit those lofty heights, it is still immensely enjoyable. Another reason that There and Back Again makes it this high on the list is that this is probably the last time we’ll ever see Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, unless he goes mad and decides to make the Silmarillion into 19 films, and a cinematic world this good is always to be savoured. He’ll be going out with a bang as well, with the promised fights against Smaug and the Necromancer, alongside the long-awaited Battle of the Five Armies. These events should all provide both a great deal of excitement on their own as well as – working as parts of the film as a whole – a counter to the criticisms of the notable middle-act lulls of the previous two movies.
There is no trailer at the time of writing.
Release date: 19th December
11. Captain America The Winter Soldier
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Written by Christopher Markus, Starring Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
I think I have to preface this entry by saying that I am an absolute sucker for comic-book movies. Does Captain America’s position on the list mean that it will be a better film than Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel or The Wind Rises? Most likely not. However, due to being a sucker for comic book movies, the trailers and pre-release hype for this film have got me very excited. Not quite top 10 excited, but excited nonetheless. Firstly, it is based on a superb run of comics by Ed Brubaker, in which a dark moment from Captain America’s (Evans) past comes back to haunt him in the form of the Winter Soldier (Stan), and secondly, there were plenty of moments in the trailer that very much appealed to the 9 year old within me. Not only that, but the plot is very interesting, with at least some of it taken up by a 70s-style espionage thriller (a comparison helped immensely by the presence of Robert Redford in the film), with Cap’s distaste for the government’s new ‘protective measures’ reminding the audience that even films about men in costumes beating up 50 other guys in one go can have a message.
Release date: 28th March
10. The Two Faces of January
Written and Directed by Hossein Amini, Starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst
The Two Faces of January is one of those films that I knew nothing about, and upon discovering its premise, and the fact that it shares its lead writer with 2011’s Drive, immediately got excited for. Viggo Mortensen’s conman and his wife (Dunst) are forced to flee a foreign country following a murder with which they are connected, along with a mysterious stranger (Isaac). This single line premise, as well as the cast and a couple of images, is absolutely all I have to go on, and yet I am very much drawn to the film. It is a very good cast though, with Mortensen being one of the most underrated actors working today and Isaac coming off the back of his astonishingly good performance in Inside Llewyn Davis, and the last film that I ‘just had a feeling about’ was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which turned out to be one of my favourite films, so if this manages to be even half as good as that, then it’ll be worthy of its place here.
There is no trailer at the time of writing. (Update: A trailer has been released, exclusively on Empire’s site)
Release date: 2nd May
9. The Congress
Written and Directed by Ari Folman, Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm
Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir is without a doubt one of my favourite animated movies ever, so his new film, The Congress, with its high-concept story, trippy visuals and wonderfully off-beat casting naturally had me very much looking forward to it. Set in a future that could be considered both utopian and dystopian Robin Wright (playing a version of herself) gets her image projected into an animated world which is filled with its own rules and problems, entirely separate from the sinister corporate machinations of the real world. One of my greatest pleasures when watching a movie is being presented with the unexpected, and that is exactly what The Congress seems set to deliver in spades. Its positive reception when it debuted at Cannes in 2013 further cemented its position on my ‘to-watch’ list, and since then I have only become more and more intrigued in it.
Release date: TBD
8. A Most Wanted Man
Directed by Anton Corbijn, Written by Andrew Bovell, Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rachel McAdams
As I mentioned Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for my number 10, so it returns for my number 8, due to a shared author of the source material. An adaptation of the John le Carre thriller by Anton Corbijn (known more prominently as a photographer), this has all the markings of a genuinely high-quality production. When a half-Russian half-Chechen trust fund kid (Dobrygin) turns up in Hamburg, tensions rise between the humanitarian aid workers (represented by McAdams) who want to help him, and the German Secret Service, led by the unflappable Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) who want him for questioning due to his potential Al-Qaeda connections. I have already expressed my deep love for TTSS and, despite this film only being related to that masterpiece in the literary world, the premise and cast do a lot to persuade me that this has the potential to almost match it. It will also, with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sad passing, be one of the last chances to see the legendary actor on the big screen.
Release date: TBD
7. 22 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Written by Michael Bacall, Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Time for an enormous change of pace after those last 3 films. When 21 Jump Street first came out I had absolutely no interest in it, but was completely floored by how genuinely funny and clever it was once I gave it a watch on a rainy day in the holidays. It was possibly the best comedy of 2012, and the trailer for this sequel made me properly laugh throughout, so this is absolutely unmissable for me. Hill and Tatum have great chemistry on screen and the new setting of a college feels a far more fitting place for this duo than a high school. It’s following the exact same plot as the first one, granted, in that they infiltrate and educational environment and try and find the main dealer of a new synthetic drug, with the main villains of the first film returning in a Silence of the Lambs style advisory role, but its own wry jabs at itself suggests an awareness of this, and I very much look forward to what should be the funniest film of the summer. And more of Ice Cube’s constantly enraged police captain can never be a bad thing.
Release date: 6th June
Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh, Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly
John Michael McDonagh’s (brother of the director of In Bruges) first film, The Guard, was a brilliant culture-clash dark comedy, and his follow up, Calvary, is shaping up to be a more than worthy successor. Going against the grain of making Catholics the villains as many recent films have done, the film tells the story of good priest Father Lavelle (Gleeson) in a bad town, where a mystery assailant informs him through a confessional that he is going to kill him. Lavelle is given a week to ‘put his house in order’, which, judging from the trailers, involves him solving the mystery of who the potential murderer is as well as imparting wisdom upon those who need it, just in case he does end up dead. Gleeson leads a best-of-Irish cast, with Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen and the ever-impeccable Dylan Moran all playing suspects in this blackly funny case.
Release date: 11th April
Directed by Ridley Scott, Written by Bill Collage, Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul
Exodus will be a, in all senses of the word, massive film. Directed by the man behind Gladiator, starring Batman and Jesse Pinkman and based on one of the world’s most well-known stories. These alone would be enough to propel 2014’s second Old Testament film (after the Russell Crowe-starring Noah) into one of the biggest films of the year, but it’s the physical scale of the production that really makes it stand out. This is a Biblical epic the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t really seen since the early 60s, when less extravagant films became the trend. As such, I am absolutely fascinated to see how this turns out, as epics do have a certain something to them which other genres simply can’t match. However, despite Exodus’ very high placing and my very high anticipation for it, I will be approaching it with caution, as the last time I got excited for a Ridley Scott movie (Prometheus) I came away crushingly disappointed, although the lack of fan-service and confusing prequel elements in Exodus should go some way to quashing these concerns.
There is no trailer at the time of writing.
Release date: 5th December
4. X-Men Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer, Written by Simon Kinberg, Starring James McAvoy, Peter Dinklage, Hugh Jackman
Continuing with the epic theme, the new X-Men film, featuring the return of Bryan Singer to the franchise, looks set to be the most ambitious comic-book film ever made. Combining the casts of the main films and First Class as well as introducing us to an alternate timeline where mutants are being wiped out, there is every possibility that this will turn into a colossal, confusing mess, to be remembered as a nobly ambitious failure. However, if it works, this has the potential to be one of, if not the, best comic films ever, with the return of the beloved original director to the franchise as well as the melding of two absolutely stellar casts. Reports abound that this is Fox’s most expensive film as a studio to date, so there has to be a sign there that they have plenty of faith in the film which, if it performs well, will lead into the already highly anticipated 2016 film, Age of Apocalypse. Anyway, even if it doesn’t turn out as well as I hope quality-wise, it is still a front-runner to be the year’s biggest film at the box office, and a four-way conversational acting-off between McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen should be worth the price of admission alone.
Release date: 23rd May
3. The Raid 2 Berandal
Written and Directed by Gareth Evans, Starring Iko Uwais
The first Raid was one of the most exhilarating action movies of recent years, a return to the low-concept plot of one vs many in a confined space, made so classic by Die Hard and later aped by almost every shooter game afterwards. Everything else that released around it, inlcuding that year’s very similarly plotted Dredd (which was by no means an easygoing film), seemed incredibly tame by comparison. The purity of the fighting, which at points seemed superhuman was all that the film needed to be a masterpiece of its genre, and this sequel promises more of that, on an even more impressive scale. New, terrifying, enemies are introduced as Rama (Uwais) goes undercover in order to use a gang war to the advantage of Jakarta’s law enforcement. The heavily increased runtime (Berandal is over 40 minutes longer than its predecessor) could be cause for concern, as the whole point of The Raid was to be condensed action, but I imagine that they will be no greater cinematic adrenaline shot this year than The Raid 2.
Release date: TBD (Update: The Raid 2 will release on April 11th)
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan, Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway
The new film by the internet’s favourite director releases this year, and it will allow him to use his greatest talent – world-building. I loved the Dark Knight trilogy (even if Rises was a bit of a let-down), but Inception is Nolan’s finest hour, and another film where he builds his own sci-fi universe from the ground up sounds brilliant. The fact that it focuses on wormholes, alternate dimensions and time travel is even more stupidly exciting and I can’t wait until the infamously secretive director lets just a little bit more on about the project. Interstellar is clouded by secrecy at the moment, with the teaser trailer revealing nothing but the general mood and a couple of shots of rural America. The 2013 ‘McConaughey revival’ continues into 2014, with him taking the lead role in what is bound to be one of the year’s biggest films and he’ll be surrounded by a fine collection of supporting players, from Chastain to Nolan regular Michael Caine and from Casey Affleck to the ever reliable David Oyelewo. I am feverishly anticipating Interstellar, and it would have easily made number one on the list if it weren’t for one pesky genius named Paul Thomas Anderson.
Release date: 7th November
1. Inherent Vice
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson
Here are five things I know about Inherent Vice. 1. It is based off of a novel by Thomas Pynchon. 2. It is written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. 3. It stars Joaquin Phoenix. 4. It might miss the 2014 release window, as PTA takes his time with his films. 5. It will be the best film of whatever year it releases in. Paul Thomas Anderson is, in my mind, the finest film-maker working today bar none. Over the last 15 years, he has produced 3 unquestionable masterpieces in the forms of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master, all as near to flawless as films can get. Not only is his style absolutely stellar, but he can also coax the performance of a lifetime out of even the best actors. Daniel Day-Lewis has never been better than as Daniel Plainview and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master was utterly extraordinary, and he and PTA are now re-teaming which can only lead to great things. To say that I am highly anticipating Inherent Vice would be a gross understatement, but I am looking forward to it to the extent that, in a way, I want the limited knowledge I have of it at this moment to remain my only knowledge, so that I can experience it with a fresh pair of eyes when I first see it. I realise that this all comes off as far too gushing, but I can’t really overstate how much I am looking forward to this film.
There is no trailer at the time of writing.