The arrival of quite a few strong films over the past four months allows us to bid farewell to 2012 reasonably well satisfied with the year overall. The all-but-guaranteed grimness of any year's January-March releases promises to dash whatever residual good cheer carries over into the new year, but, looking a bit further down the line, a number of upcoming films involve intriguing talents applying themselves to potential interesting material to mark them as must-sees.
Surveying various lists of films due to be released in 2013, the following 15 jumped out, for various reasons, as ones I'm most eagerly anticipating. They are listed, more or less, in order of their scheduled release dates.
PHOTOS: Todd McCarthy's 10 Best Movies of 2012
Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers' no doubt idiosyncratic take on the Greenwich Village music scene of the early 1960s. Loosely based on Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, it stars Oscar Isaacs as a folk singer-songwriter and also features Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund.
I'm So Excited looks, from the funny trailer now online, to be Pedro Almodovar's first outright comedy in a long time and it doesn't even show the film's three big stars, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Paz Vega. After his increasingly serious last few films, I'm very ready to see the great Spaniard let loose again. It opens in Spain in March.
The Great Gatsby. I fully expect Baz Luhrmann's long-delayed, shot-in-Oz adaptation of the great American novel to be wildly over the top and unpalatable in some ways. I remain convinced that F. Scott Fitzgerald's perennially resonant novel is fundamentally unadaptable to the stage and screen, but I still look forward to this because of the multiple ways any take on the book can be analyzed, picked apart, argued with and otherwise serve as grist for endless debate. The recently restored, infrequently shown 1949 version, which has long had a mediocre reputation, proved to be one of the pleasant revelations of the year, especially in regard to Alan Ladd, who was ideal in the title role. We'll see how Leonardo DiCaprio measures up.
This Is the End sounds potentially weird and unusual enough to be really interesting—or not. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen direct a cast of real-life buds and fellow celebrities -- James Franco, Rihanna, Jason Segal, Emma Watson, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchal, et al. -- playing themselves at an apocalyptic gathering.
Nymphomaniac is another name-heavy gathering -- Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LeBeaouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Willem Dafoe -- assembled to aid and abet Lars von Trier in making a big-time porno film, reportedly in two versions, hard and soft. Since the director is now persona non grata in Cannes, it's unclear where and when this will debut.
STORY: Todd McCarthy's Most Disappointing Films of 2012
Elysium is the long-awaited sci-fi follow-up by Neill Blomkamp to his widely admired District 9. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star in a tale with a premise that, frankly, sounds rather too on-the-nose obvious, with the rich living in luxurious space station accommodations while the underclass suffers on the ravaged Earth. But we can hope that surprises await.
Rush is Ron Howard's 1970s-set Formula 1 racing film, written by Peter Morgan and starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as ace drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The milieu and characters are compelling and colorful and perhaps the international success of the recent documentary Senna points to a ready audience for another visit to a racing heyday.
Twelve Years A Slave will assuredly be provocative for at least two reasons; it's directed by Steve McQueen and concerns a man who's kidnapped in New York in the mid-1800s and sold into slavery in the South. The large cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.
Nebraska is a black-and-white road movie (Montana to Nebraska) directed by Alexander Payne, whose name always promises quality and smarts. The father-son tale, which features an ensemble including Devin Ratray, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk, sounds like a small film with a big, if intimate subject.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a Jim Jarmusch film with an intriguing premise centered upon two vampires who have been in love for centuries. Much could be done and explored with such an idea, so one can hope that Jarmusch and his principal players -- Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska -- will be up for the occasion.
STORY: Heat Vision's Top 10 Geek Movies of 2012
Labor Day is Jason Reitman's latest and I know very little about it -- other than that it stars Kate Winslet as a depressed single mother and Josh Brolin as an apparent ex-con she takes in. Reitman's track record certainly warrants interest in whatever he takes on.
Lowlife and The Nightingale remain the two possible titles of James Gray's new film, set in the world of immigrants, burlesque and magic in 1920s New York. Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner are the formidable leading actors.
Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's first film since Children of Men in 2006, has been delayed so often as to create concerns, but it's still hard to repress great hope and curiosity concerning this sci-fi two-hander starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
The Monuments Men also co-stars Clooney and is being directed by him as well, aimed for a Christmas release. It sounds terrific on paper, as its subject is similar to one of the great WWII-set action dramas, John Frankenheimer's The Train, about Allies trying to prevent Nazis from stealing or destroying priceless art. Joining Clooney is a formidable cast: Daniel Craig,, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin.
Saving Mr. Banks may be designed as a big, mainstream entertainment but the premise of John Lee Hancock's film still sounds pretty delicious, with Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers coming to Hollywood to wrestle with Tom Hanks' Walt Disney as to how to adapt her novel for the big screen.