james debate
james debate

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, and the essential new television in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to the cinema, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting movies set to hit the big screen in 2014 from March onwards, after this year's Oscars.

new movies cinema films 2014 ephemeric

Last year was very memorable for cinema with great variety in both subject matter and depth of quality. A cursory look at this year's Academy Award nominations shows everything from artistic sci-fi to historic epics and quirky indies, all of which deserve merit. At the same time it was a relatively disappointing year for the major blockbuster, in particular the hugely anticipated Superman reboot Man of Steel which was a major flop.

2014 has the potential to be another exciting year. A great line up of movies awaits, featuring some of the most talented story-weavers in the business and some excellent up and coming stars.

So behold, the top ten list of key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:

10. The Imitation Game

the imitation game benedict cumberbatch alan turingFirst up we have The Imitation Game. Generally considered one of the more promising scripts that has been floating around Hollywood these past years, the film recently topped the "Black List" of unproduced movies in 2011.

The Imitation Game tells the story of famed British cryptographer Alan Turing who was a key figure in cracking the Nazi Engima code during World War II, only to be shamefully prosecuted later on for his sexuality. The wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Turing, and direction is handled by Morten Tyldum, a relative unknown whose films from Norway have nevertheless gathered plenty of international acclaim. In addition the project was recently acquired by the Weinstein Company, a studio with a top record for picking award winners.

It's a movie with great potential, so why has it taken so long to make? Well even in this day and age no studio in America will take on a film featuring homosexuality, and it's fallen to the Brits to handle it. Originally mooted for a late summer release, talk now suggests it may be pushed back until the fall or winter, suggesting at least an aspiration for award nominations.

Release Date: Fall 2014

9. Wish I Was Here

wish I was here Zach braffFollowing his breakout success as star of the TV show Scrubs, Zach Braff was briefly Hollywood's hottest prospect: a Woody Allen styled writer/director/star all in one, whose debut project Garden State garnered critical acclaim. The following decade has seen his star cool somewhat, with Braff bemoaning the state of the industry and difficulty in balancing artistic integrity with the demands of those all powerful studios. His solution to these problems might just be the most significant development in Hollywood for a generation.

Wish I Was Here sidesteps the pitfalls of Hollywood studios by seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter, effectively funding through the passion and wallets of the everyday public, but leaving creative control with Braff alone. It's the first time such a thing has ever been attempted with a mainstream film, and having raised several million dollars, a new precedent for indie filmmaking may have been set.

This surprise crowdfunding success has allowed Braff to make the film he wants to make; handpicked staff and production crew from the cinematographer to the casting director and composers, and a bumper cast featuring the likes of Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad (fresh from Broadway success with The Book of Mormon), Jim Parsons (he of many Emmy awards), and Donald Faison (Braff's partner in crime on Scrubs).

What remains to be seen is just how well this grand experiment actually works. Reaction from Sundance has generally been positive, enough to be picked up by Focus Features for distribution. The rest of us won't get to see it until September of this year, when advanced screenings begin.

Release Date: September 2014

8. A Million Ways to Die in the West

million ways to die in the west seth macfarlane charlize theron neil Patrick harrisLightening things up a bit we have A Million Ways to Die in the West, the newest film from Family Guy and Ted creator/star Seth MacFarlane.

This outing continues MacFarlane's transition from TV to Hollywood, and for the first time will see MacFarlane himself star with a live action performance, as opposed to simply voicing a character. This will be a true test of MacFarlane's star power.

It helps that he has assembled such a talented cast to line up alongside him with Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and Giovanni Ribisi all household names.

Universal are looking at an early summer release, just in time for people getting out of school. At the very least it should hopefully be worth a few laughs, at best it could be as funny as Family Guy used to be. It could easily suck though.

Release Date: May 30th 2014

7. Unbroken

unbroken Angelina jolie coen brothers Louis zamperini laua hillenbrandNow we're onto some real heavy hitters. Unbroken is the newest film written by the many award winning Coen Brothers, and the directing debut of Angelina Jolie.

Based on the novel by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken tells the war time drama of athlete Louis Zamperini who survived a plane crash and spent years as a prisoner of war. It's a strong, critic-friendly premise for Jolie's first shot at the director's chair, and stars unknowns Jack O'Connell, Garrett Hedlund, and Domhnall Gleeson. The staff also tantalizingly includes long time Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins, ensuring that if nothing else this film is going to look amazing.

It's also very awards-friendly sounding, boosted by the fact that the film is penned in for release during the prime time of Christmas day 2014. Universal have picked up the rights and seem to be pushing this one pretty hard.

Release Date: December 25th 2014

6. Transcendence

transcendence chris Nolan johnny depp wall pfisterTranscendence on the surface looks like your average bit of science fiction. The story concerns AI, technological singularity, and all manner of other topics that are largely inaccessible to your average audience. The trailers as well have hardly set the world alight in terms of originality. What makes it especially worthy of note is its debut director.

Director Wally Pfister is the long-time cinematographer of the great Chris Nolan, who is attached as producer. Their collaborations have given us some truly stunning films from the more intimate indie style of Memento to the grand blockbusters that Nolan has since moved into with Inception (for which Pfister won an Oscar) and the Batman trilogy. Now Pfister is branching out as a director in his own right, and the speculation is that if he can capture half the magic that he has in Nolan's films, we could be in for something very special.

To help him along the way he has highly impressive cast that features Johnny Depp in the starring role, along with Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, and long time Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy.

There is a great deal of talent and hype on this project, and Pfister's directorial career bears a lot of promise. The only question remains is Transcendence really the right project? The marketing so far looks disappointingly generic, but we are holding out judgement for now.

Release Date: April 18th 2014

5. Knight of Cups

knight of cups Terrence malick Christian bale Natalie portman 2014It may be hard to believe from a director who famously took a twenty year break from the business, but Terrence Malick has a whopping four films scheduled for release in 2014 (but probably a few slipping to 2015), three of which he is directing.

The most exciting of these is Knight of Cups, a drama about celebrity excess. The cast is heavily star-studded, including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman.

This is Malick we're talking about so don't expect a laugh riot, expect depth, vulnerability, and absolutely gorgeous imagery, the last of which courtesy of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who formerly teamed up with Malick on The Tree of Life, and is himself likely to pick up an Oscar shortly for his work on Gravity.

Originally suggested to be slipping back to 2015, editor Billy Weber now says it will be with us this year, and it won't be as dialogue-free and experimental as some of Malick's recent films. Taking a stab at more mainstream success maybe? Interesting.

Release Date: TBA 2014

4. Inherent Vice

inherent vice paul Thomas Anderson Pynchon Joaquin phoenix josh brolinA darkly comic detective novel, Inherent Vice tells the story of a pothead detective investigating the disappearance of his ex girlfriend and her new boyfriend set against the backdrop of the Manson Family murders.

This film is set to make history as the first novel by acclaimed author Thomas Pynchon ever to be adapted into a feature film, and at the helm will be the inimitable Paul Thomas Anderson, whose CV would make any director envious, including the likes of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will be Blood, and The Master. All brilliant movies. To top things off the film will be scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.

Anderson will be joined by a fantastic looking featuring his The Master collaborator Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Benicio del Toro. It's a top notch ensemble with numerous Oscar nominations and wins between them, aside from the excellent Phoenix who is something of a persona non grata with the Academy following past altercations, but if he keeps turning in performances of such quality the Academy will have to take notice eventually. The same goes for Anderson, could this finally be his year at the top prize?

Originally slated for 2013 release, Anderson is known for taking his time in post production, and this is no exception. Expect a release towards the tail-end of the year though.

Release Date: TBA 2014

3. Big Eyes

tim burton big eyes walter keaneAfter many years seemingly in a self-designed Hollywood wilderness, director Tim Burton could be making a comeback to serious movies with his newest project Big Eyes, a biographical film about artist Walter Keane, who secretly took credit for paintings done by his wife Margaret in the 1950s and 1960s.

It has the backing of the Weinstein Company, who more often than not picks a winner, and stars the glorious award winning machines Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. The final cherry on top? Burton is teaming up again to write the script with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, a trio last seen in the classic Ed Wood biopic some twenty years ago.

This is an exceptionally exciting film due to be released in the latter half of the year. The talent involved at every aspect makes this potentially one to watch come awards season.

Release Date: August 2014

2. Godzilla

Godzilla 2014 aaron taylor Johnson bryan cranstonIt certainly won't trouble the Academy in 2015, unless they invent a new award for 'best trailer' anyway, but the newest American remake of Godzilla still looks absolutely fantastic.

When most people think of Godzilla they just picture a large lizard trashing some buildings, and this was reflected in the awful 1998 American remake. But the original Japanese version had a lot more to it than just this. The original Godzilla was not just some random monster to be blown up, it was mankind's retribution, a punishment (and metaphor) specifically for the horrors of atomic war that mankind had brought upon themselves. Godzilla is less a monster and more a force of nature. This point was completely missed in the 1998 remake, but this new version seems to get it.

The cast is also refreshingly nuanced, starring the supremely talented youngster Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the consistently excellent Ken Watanabe, and the criminally underutilized Bryan Cranston, who after Breaking Bad finally looks set to make a full leap into Hollywood.

But the most exciting name on the call sheet is director Gareth Edwards, a man with only one prior credit on his CV. His acclaimed 2010 indie gem Monsters, while not well known, stands as a mesmerising example that science fiction doesn't require gratuitous action or horror elements, but can be highly intelligent, focus on real people and deep relationships. Monsters was made on a shoestring budget, and yet for these reasons it still stands out as one of the most realistic and believable works of science fiction ever created. This was a hugely impressive feat for a first time director, and it is very exciting to think about what Edwards can do with a full studio budget and a great IP.

Legendary Pictures deserve great kudos for entrusting such a massive franchise with a relatively unknown director, and employing actors with real dramatic gravitas rather than simply pumping out another cheesy monster movie. 2014's Godzilla will finally see a return to the spirit and tone of the Japanese original, and it shows in the stunning trailer. Let us also not forget that it was Legendary who rebooted Batman with Chris Nolan and turned it into a far more impressive work than anyone ever thought possible, all signs point to them repeating the feat with the grand daddy of movie monsters.

Release Date: May 16th 2014

1. Interstellar

interstellar chris Nolan matthew mcconaughey anne Hathaway And now for the number 1 most highly anticipated film of 2014, Interstellar.

It's a symptom of our time that we have become more inwardly focused as a society, lost our sense of excitement at the world around us. This generation has no moon landing, and science fiction moved away from movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, full of wonder in the unknown, towards movies focused on monsters and explosions. Chris Nolan wants us to be excited by the unknown once again, and with Interstellar marks a return to this optimistic and idealistic style of science fiction, a movie about pure exploration.

It's the most ambitious film yet in Nolan's glittering career that to date includes both intimate and heart-rending indies like Memento and big budget super-blockbusters like Inception and the Dark Knight Trilogy.

He will be collaborating once again with screenwriter brother Jonathan Nolan, composer Hans Zimmer, and production company Legendary Pictures, while the absurdly stocked ensemble cast includes the likes of Matthew McConaughey, whose remarkable career resurrection has seen him hit a hot streak of critically acclaimed hit after hit, which now looks likely to culminate in an Oscar win in March. He is joined by Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, and Casey Affleck, possibly one of the best collections of actors ever assembled with a frankly embarrassing number of Oscar wins and nominations between them.

This is one of those rare films where every single detail looks perfect, the talent behind the camera and on it, the production company and crew, and the general premise all point towards a moment of purest movie magic. You should be very excited indeed.

Release Date: November 7th 2014

So there you have it folks: 2014 in movies. Tune in next week to find out what's new and exciting in the world of Videogames this year!

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