Looking forward to a given year's movies is sometimes a sucker's game. You spend months and months hyping yourself up for John Carter only to see it disappoint, and then have no idea what Beasts of the Southern Wild is until it suddenly becomes your favorite movie of the year. The fun of moviegoing is often in the surprises, in thinking you've got the lay of the land only to walk into a theater completely thrown off.
At the same time, you can at least do your best to be prepared, and to keep a mental note for those movies that could sneak up on you in the end. Yes, everyone on the Internet is already anticipating Man of Steel and Pacific Rim and Saving Mr. Banks and the year's other heavyweights, but what about the smaller movies you might not see coming? We've picked five of those that you might not be looking out for yet, but really should be, whether they're festival hits from previous years finally coming to theaters, an adaptation of a weird and wonderful book, the return of a skilled director, or just movies that look awesome on paper. We can't guarantee any of these will live up to the hype, but if you want to look forward to some movies without superheroes or franchises behind them, these five are a good place to start.
The Sundance Film Festival is a place where the underdog can finally come out on top. For underappreciated comediennes Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, this means they and the road movie they co-wrote and headline will have a chance to shine. Centering on two friends who set out on a cross-country trip to their hometown in hopes of winning a pageant whose glory eluded them as kids, Ass Backwards appears to pull inspiration from such comedy classics as Romy & Michele's High School Reunion and Drop Dead Gorgeous.
This alone would be enough to have me pumped for this production, but I've been rooting for Wilson and Raphael for years now. The former went from being an overlooked cast member on Saturday Night Live to one of the funniest women on TV in the hilarious yet overlooked sitcom Happy Endings. The latter has popped up in such sidesplitting series as Human Giant, Party Down, and NTSF:SD:SUV. Basically, both have been plugging away and are poised for a breakthrough. With a wacky premise and a cast that also includes Bob Odenkirk, Paul Scheer, and Alicia Silverstone, Ass Backwards could prove a tipping point for these funny women, as well as a new comedy classic.
The Way Way Back
You may know Nat Faxon from stints on shows like Party Down and Mad Men, plus his current lead role on Ben and Kate, and you may know Jim Rash as the hysterical Dean Pelton on Community, but what you may not know is that they’re also Oscar-winning screenwriters. In 2011 they teamed up with Alexander Payne to make The Descendants and the result was one of the best films of that year. And now the duo is teaming up for a directorial project all their own: The Way, Way Back.
Set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this month, the movie is a coming of age story about a kid who strikes up a friendship with the owner of a local water park while dealing with his inattentive mother and cheating stepfather, and if Faxon and Rash’s involvement isn’t enough of a sell, take a look at the amazing cast. Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry make up the ensemble, which is headed up by Liam James (Psych, The Killing) as the main character. If a tiny little indie comedy can attract that much attention from such talented people you know it must be some kind of special.
It feels like an eternity since Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror thriller delivered the one-two punch of devastatingly exciting festival screenings at the 2011 editions of Toronto and Fantastic Fest, respectively. Praise for the unpredictable genre twister was damn-near universal – mirroring the over-the-top glee generated by another Cinema Blend favorite, Drew Goddard’s intelligent and electrifying The Cabin in the Woods.
Here’s what we know about Next. It’s set in a remote location, where an extended family has gathered to celebrate a 35th wedding anniversary. They’re attacked by strange, mask-wearing thugs bearing crossbows and knives, but the tables reportedly turn when one member of the family displays a unique ability to fight back. Wingard, who since has contributed to the horror anthologies V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, will finally see his cult-hit thriller reach theaters on Aug. 23, giving us the chance to see if it lives up to the hype. Our own Katey Rich, who caught You're Next at TIFF, called it “one of my favorite surprises of the festival,” so our hopes are high.
The adaptation for Joe Hill's novel Horns doesn't yet have a release date, but it has wrapped production (opens in new tab), with Daniel Radcliffe starring as lead character Ig Perrish. Part mystery, part dark fantasy, Hill's story begins with Ig waking up a year after his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) was brutally murdered. Hungover and disoriented, Ig soon discovers that he's sprouted a set of horns that give him the ability to draw the darkest thoughts and confessions from people. He eventually begins to use this ability to try to solve the mystery of his girlfriend's death.
Radcliffe in the lead might be reason enough for some to look forward to Alexandre Aja's adaptation of the novel, but it's the source material that has those of us who have read the book excited about this one. Hill's novel is a true page turner, with a story that's well paced and organized, suspenseful, emotional and ultimately satisfying right to the end. There's so much potential for a great movie with this story. We can only hope that Horns will be as compelling as the novel. And it should be especially interesting to see how Radcliffe does in tackling this dark role. Hopefully Horns will get a release date soon. In the meantime, if you haven't already, Hill's novel (opens in new tab) is well worth checking out.
Whether or not his feral and mystifying performance in The Master winds up landing him an Oscar nomination, Joaquin Phoenix has very much re-established himself as one of the most talented actors working-- which means that whatever he does next is going to be a must-see. Add in the fact that his next film pairs him with director Spike Jonze, and it's rocketed to the top of our personal lists for 2013. In the film officially titled The Untitled Spike Jonze Project, but rumored to be called Her, Phoenix plays a writer who buys a computer program to help him work… only to fall for the operating system herself.
We don't know who will be voicing the beloved computer, but Amy Adams, Samantha Morton, Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara all round out the cast, so there are plenty of good options. Her will be Jonze's first film since Where The Wild Things Are, and sounds like a return to the kind of brain-twisting, out-there collaborations with Charlie Kaufman that made him famous. With funding from Annapurna Pictures, who made Zero Dark Thirty and The Master possible, Her doesn't yet have a release date-- but with talent like that behind it, we feel confident looking forward to it in 2013.
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