You can either look at January as a studio dumping ground and a wasteland, or you can see it as full of potential for the coming year. I’m not going to pretend to be able to guess what those crazy AMPAS people might like a year from now (who could possibly predict the next Les Mis?!), but I do have a good idea of what I like. Or at least I know which filmmakers are most likely to come through. This list is somewhat arbitrary, and limited by what I’m pretty sure is coming out this year, and what I have enough information about to make rash assumptions. I tried to mix things up a bit, but these are all fairly high profile, because that’s what we tend to hear the most about. Beyond the director’s name, loglines, cast listings, trailers,and in a few cases, early reviews, lead me to believe that any of the following ten movies could be among the best of the year.
Evil Dead (d. Fede Alvarez)
Okay, so I’ll start you off with a bit of a curve ball. It’s a mid-budget horror film—and a remake, to boot. I honestly was sort of vaguely aware that it was happening, and as a huge fan of Sam Raimi‘s original and its unique sequel, I was determined to be unimpressed. And then… and then… brace yourself… thishappened. And please, before you click on that link… just… maybe don’t. And then there was a second red band trailer that confirmed there might be something special going on here (for horror fans, at least).
Sightseers (d.Ben Wheatley)
I really liked Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace, with its deft blend of kitchen sink family and mob drama. Similarly, Kill List was a hitman story, but firmly entrenched in a vividly disintegrating relationship, until it turned head-scratchingly weird in the third act. Sightseers is a comedy, but in a sense, they’re all pitch-black comedies. A couple goes on their dream caravan vacation, which apparently turns into a killing spree.
The Iceman (d. Ariel Vromen)
This one also seems like a known quantity, despite Vromen not having a strong track record. It’s got a great cast, and played Venice to very strong reviews.Michael Shannon stars as Richard Kuklinski, the real-life mob hitman and serial killer, and it’s hard to imagine a better choice for the role. Winona Ryder, James Franco, Ray Liotta, and a nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans fill out the cast. The trailer shows too much, but it looks like an expertly made, gritty and disturbing period crime drama.
Much Ado about Nothing (d. Joss Whedon)
Did I mention I was a geek? Well, I also like Shakespeare. And I like Joss Whedon and Joss Whedon likes Shakespeare, so it all works out. This one played Toronto last year and got pretty good reviews. Not that I’d listen if they said it was terrible. I mean, it’s Joss Whedon and all the Joss Whedon people (including favorites like Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion) doing Shakespeare. Come on!
Stories We Tell (d. Sarah Polley)
Polley busted out of the gate with her debut feature, the beautifully measured dementia drama Away From Her, and shifted gears but didn’t slow down with last year’s gorgeously bitter romance Take This Waltz. I’m already convinced she can do anything, so sure, why not a deeply personal documentary about her family history, with larger implications about families and documentaries in general? The festival reviews for this have been phenomenal, and the trailer, which I watched with one eye closed so as not to spoil anything, is intriguing, to say the least.
Upstream Color (d. Shane Carruth)
Since I already speculated about its probable quality when writing up my 2012 Top Ten, I may as well include this as one of my favorites of 2013. Others will follow suit, I’m sure, after it debuts at Sundance later this month, but by then they’ll just be bandwagon-hopping. Carruth’s Primer was exemplary low-budget science fiction filmmaking, and this one looks equally brainy and strange. Carruth and Amy Seimetz star, and “identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.” What the hell are they talking about? Bring it on!
Computer Chess (d. Andrew Bujalski)
I’ve loved everything Bujalski has done to date, even when he was just acting in his friends’ movies. He pretty much started a new filmmaking movement withFunny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. He expanded his palette a bit withBeeswax, to little fanfare. He goes further afield with this Sundance-bound, ‘80s-set story about a pre-Big Blue man vs. machine chess tournament, featuring a cast of mostly non-professional actors. Bujalski is magic with actors, though, typically evincing perfectly pitched naturalistic performances, so it’s not like that’s a concern.
Pacific Rim (d. Guillermo del Toro)
Okay, I figured I should include at least one or two big-budget Hollywood blockbusters in here. You already knew I was a geek anyway, right? This is directed by one of the finest craftsmen working today, whose innate understanding of basic storytelling principles should help it avoid potential bloat. Not only that, but the cast includes Idris Elba, and Charlie Day playing a scientist. In fact, if you see only one giant aliens vs. giant robots movie this year…
Snowpiercer (d. Bong Joon-ho)
Here’s another filmmaker who hasn’t steered me wrong yet. Long before you’d ever heard of him, Bong helped to put South Korean cinema on my personal cinematic map with Barking Dogs Never Bite and the masterful Memories of Murder. This is probably the biggest crapshoot on my list, because this post-apocalyptic science fiction epic is his first English-language film, an international co-production. I have to believe that his commitment to expanding the parameters of genre and his precise eye will transcend any conceivable language barrier. At least the redoubtable Song Kang-ho (The Host) is part of the strong cast.
Night Moves (d. Kelly Reichardt)
Jeez, looking at this list, you’d think I was one of them auteurists, or something. Anyways, shooting on Reichardt’s eco-terrorism drama has gone forward, despite some frivolous-seeming legal setbacks courtesy of the guys who made Catfishand Paranormal Activity 3, who have their own potentially awful competing eco-terrorism drama. Reichardt’s movie stars Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, and Jesse Eisenberg as young environmentalists plotting to blow up a dam. I have loved all but one of Reichardt’s gorgeous, thoughtful, elegiac features, and if your least compelling work is Wendy and Lucy, you must be doing something right.