It's that time again! I write these posts every year a little bit later than everyone else, in order to get a better sense of what the year's film landscape is going to look like. There are never guarantees about what's going to make it to screens by the end of the year and what isn't. And as usual, most of my picks are concentrated toward the later part of the year, where the release schedule is very much a work in progress.
As always, I will split this feature up into two posts, one for the mainstream, would-be blockbusters released by big studios, that everybody hears about, and one for the art house fare that may break through to the mainstream eventually, but only the cinephiles anticipate this far in advance. Big releases go first. Films are ordered below by release date. There are also a couple of titles that were delayed from 2016, like James Ponsoldt's "The Circle," which I'll leave off the new lists.
"Ghost in the Shell" - I have a heap of concerns about what director Rupert Sanders is planning here, but it's very exciting to see a franchise that I've been a fan of for years get a big budget adaptation. From what we've seen in the promotional materials so far, several iconic scenes from the anime will be recreated in live action. And considering how many times I've watched that leaked clip of the film's opening, set to a new version of Kenji Kawai's "Birth of a Cyborg," those recreations alone may be worth the price of admission.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" - The unlikely success of the revitalized "Apes" series has me excited to see Caesar and the apes in full blown warfare against the human race at last. Matt Reeves is returning, along with writer Matt Bomback, but we'll be getting a new human villain played by Woody Harrelson. I suspect that this won't be the last of this series of "Apes" films if it performs well, and there is so much that could still be done with the concept that I wouldn't mind them going on for as long as the creators want.
"Dunkirk" - Any new Christopher Nolan movie is cause for excitement, especially one starring Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, among others. As much as I like Nolan's genre films, it's good to see him striking out in a different direction and trying something new. It's also good to see Warner Bros. throwing their full support behind the project. I can't think of another epic war film with such a prominent summer release since Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" twenty years ago. I'm crossing my fingers that this pays off big.
"Blade Runner 2049" - Denis Villeneauve's "Arrival" was on this list last year, when it was still called "The Story of Your Life." At the time I wasn't entirely sold on the notion of returning to the "Blade Runner" universe, but now it's shaping up to be one of the promising science-fiction films of the year. Ryan Gosling is set to star, with Harrison Ford returning, and Ridley Scott thankfully only onboard in a producer role. Plot details remain scarce, but this is clearly the biggest project that Villeneauve has been involved in yet.
"Thor: Ragnarok" - The "Thor" movies have been among the weakest installments of the MCU films to date. However, "Ragnarok" looks like it may be the best of them by far, because it's hired New Zealand funnyman Taika Waititi to direct. Also, the film has been described as a comedic road movie, where Thor and the Hulk team up for an adventure together. The promise of more laughs and some great new additions to the cast (Cate Blanchette! Jeff Goldblum! Tessa Thompson!) make this my most anticipated superhero flick of the year.
"Murder on the Orient Express" - I confess that I never much liked the 1974 screen version of "Murder on the Orient Express," largely because I found Albert Finney's Hercule Poirot over the top and unintelligible. However, I've always like the Agatha Christie story, so I'm eager to see a new adaptation, especially one being helmed by Kenneth Branagh. An all star cast will play the suspects, and Branagh will be playing Inspector Poirot. And if this goes well, maybe we'll have a new Poirot-centric film franchise on our hands.
"Star Wars: Episode VIII" - Rian Johnson has come very, very close in the past to making a great film. I'm really hoping that he pulls it off this time. As with the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, this is the film that's really going to establish whether the sequel trilogy lives up to the original films. I think all the pieces for a great piece of pop-culture are in place, but we'll see if the filmmakers manage to pull it off. I'm currently wrestling with some theories about where the story is going, which I'll write up a post about later this month.
"Downsizing" - Now, Alexander Payne movies would usually go on the smaller film list. However, his latest stars Matt Damon, and has already landed a December slot with distribution by Paramount Pictures. Though it's clearly being positioned to be an awards contender, "Downsizing" might also gain some wider attention because it's a genre picture. It imagines a world where the hero decides to uncomplicated his life by literally shrinking himself.