Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Top 15 Most Anticipated Films of 2017...

Oh boy, was 2016 ever such a disappointing year. I think I speak for all of us when I say I'm happy that we can finally put that disaster (not merely in film) behind us, and look ahead to the future. Surely things must be looking bright going forward - I mean, aside from a petty and depraved egotist running the White House, but still...

And yes, one of those areas include a great number of potentially good-to-great films, with films covering various different genres and experimentation, as well as seeing the return of directorial talents like Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and many more. Admittedly, I've learned that I really need to tone down my excitement, knowing full well that quite a number of these could potentially disappoint, but my eagerness to see them all still stands. So once again, I'll be listing down my top fifteen most anticipated films of 2017.

I only have a couple select rules in putting this list together, as always: The film must have a guaranteed release for this year, or at least have some trajectory aimed at releasing it this year (hence why I'm leaving off Alfonso Cuaron's Roma). The film must also have not come out yet (ie. The Lego Batman Movie), and if the film made the list or the honorable mentions last year (like Personal Shopper with Kristen Stewart, or James Franco's The Masterpiece), it will not be eligible for this year.

Also, this list mainly caters to those films with bigger clout to them that many independent films don't, not accounting for smaller or more experimental films like Birdman making their way into the fold, so this list is purely how it stands at the moment. And if a film you're personally anticipating isn't on here, I either haven't heard of it, I'm looking forward to it, but not enough to put it on the list, or I'm simply not anticipating it at all (Hey there, Kong: Skull Island).

First up, we'll start with some honorable mentions:
25. Battle of the Sexes

24. The Greatest Showman

23. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

22. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

21. The Darkest Hour

20. The Death of Stalin

19. Mute

18. Molly's Game

17. Coldest City

16. Murder on the Orient Express

And now onto the big fifteen...

15. War for the Planet of the Apes
By all accounts, these reboots to the Planet of the Apes series shouldn't have worked, but they just keep getting better and more dazzling with every new entry, with New Zealand effects company Weta Digital continually pushing their motion-capture technology to their limits. This film looks to be no less exciting, looking to deliver on the harrowing and brutal war hinted to us at the end of Dawn, and with Andy Serkis' ape Caesar facing off against Woody Harrelson's Colonel, it looks to conclude the trilogy of new Apes films in intense fashion.

14. Untitled Detroit Riots Project
Director Kathryn Bigelow has largely kept out of the spotlight since Zero Dark Thirty, only reappearing for producer or documentary credits. This year, she'll team back up with her respective Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter and producer Mark Boal and Megan Ellison, giving us her latest film, which details the events of the 1967 riots in Detroit. Bigelow seems to have found her groove with documentarian type films set in chaotic environments, and with the cast like the one she's assembled for this film (including John Boyega, Jack Reynor, and Anthony Mackie), one can easily see this being another sweat-inducing thriller.

13. The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is one of our definitive fantasy talents, and even if not every film of his is a winner, his unique and unmistakable vision is always felt and greatly appreciated. As directing duties for the Pacific Rim sequel will be handed of to Steven DeKnight, del Toro will instead be focusing on another peculiar love story. In The Shape of Water, Sally Hawkins plays a woman who falls in love with a strange, aquatic creature (played by the always buried under prosthetic makeup Doug Jones) being held against its will in a laboratory. Who knows what fantastical quirks are to await in this strange story, but whatever comes of it, the pure spectacle and originality of del Toro's storytelling is still enough reason to be excited.

12. Beauty and the Beast
Hey, just because I'm skeptical of it, doesn't mean I'm not excited for it. Yes, the original Beauty and the Beast is perfect as it is, and there's just no way to fix the original film (one reason why the live-action Lion King shouldn't happen), especially as the film doesn't look to do much different from the animated rendition, although maybe the extra forty minutes to its running time could help it. Regardless, the film still looks like a visual stunner, bringing the iconic imagery of the '91 animated version to glorious and revisionist light, even evoking similarities to Cocteau's version, and the brilliantly selected cast, as well as the return of the legendary Alan Menken, has me very hyped to relive such a nostalgic classic.

11. Alien: Covenant
Against my better judgment, I've put a Ridley Scott film on my list. True that Scott's recent track record has been dodgy with only The Martian to brighten things up, and being a sequel to the thoroughly subpar Prometheus has me worried. However, Alien is still one of my top five favorite films of all time, and I'm always thrilled whenever revisiting the iconic and terrifying Xenomorphs (to my money, one of the scariest movie monsters ever created), but above that, the atmosphere and story of this new installment (in spite of some lackluster trailers) has me quite hooked, so I hope for great things to come of this new installment.

10. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson may have given us something of a mixed bag with Inherent Vice, but he's still by far and away one of the most exciting and interesting filmmakers we have. Anderson's new film will be an exploration of the 1950's couture scene in London, following one such dressmaker to be played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and if you know Day-Lewis, than you know that this is a big deal. The man is a very secretive and dedicated talent who selects his roles very carefully, and every time he accepts a new venture, it's definitely something to take notice of. This new film will see him teaming up with Anderson ten years after their last collaboration, the religion based drama There Will Be Blood, so I can't wait to see what this new film has in store for them.

9. The Beguiled
Even though she hasn't made anything since to match Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola has always been a favorite of mine. However, 2017 will see her stepping away from her usual glamorous trance-like films with trippy soundtracks, instead shifting focus to an 1860's period piece, adapting the Thomas Cullinan novel A Painted Devil. Despite adapting to fit a new style, I admire the fact that Coppola's artistic voice still manages to come through in the trailer, and the eerie atmosphere that the film is adopting almost seems like it's recalling modern horror films like The Others (perhaps no accident thanks to Nicole Kidman's involvement). I'll be keeping my eyes squarely focused on this one.

8. Annihilation
After serving as a great and talented screenwriter for years, Alex Garland finally took over filming his own scripts with his fantastic debut Ex Machina. So what's next after taking on such a terrific film? An adaptation of Jeff VanDermeer's novel about a group of four people (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychiatrist, and a surveyor) who are all brought into an environmental disaster zone. It sounds like a perfect match with Garland's style of writing and ambitions, even seeing him reteam with his Ex Machina collaborator Oscar Isaac, while also recruiting other great talents such as Natalie Portman. On top of that, Sci-Fi films have always been my favorite genre, and Garland has always been a strong voice in that field, so I look very forward to see how his directing career continues.

7. Lady Bird
Despite having never been a big fan of hers, I made a complete 180 on Greta Gerwig in the year 2016, to such a degree that I feel like revisiting and reevaluating her past films. While I do that, I'll eagerly be awaiting her debut as a director, Lady Bird. Truth be told, I don't exactly have a lot to go on at this point, with the only story info as of now being that it follows a young girl living in Northern California for a year. What I *can* go on, however, is the strength of the cast that Gerwig has assembled, including Manchester by the Sea breakout Lucas Hedges, and most importantly... Saoirse Ronan, whom readers are no doubt aware I absolutely adore. She'll also have three other films releasing this year that I'm excited for, but it'll be her turn here that will be my most anticipated performance of the year. Even without much info, all of that's plenty enough for me.

6. Coco
Pixar returns in 2017 with yet another double set of movies, the first being the expected (but not anticipated) third Cars film that will hit multiplexes this Summer. However, the film that has my interest is Coco releasing in November. Pixar has always been unmatched in pure originality within the realm of animation, here tackling a young boy's discovery of an ancient secret, set against the backdrop of the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, and best of all sees the return of Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich as the director. I'm excited to learn more about the film as its release date approaches, and though films like The Book of Life may have neat it to the punch, I'm glad that Pixar didn't pull a Newt, and decided to stick with this movie. The backdrop of the holiday and the cultural setting should give Pixar a limitless amount of potential, and seeing how it will all play out excites me.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues their winning hot streak with three films to come out this year, including Spider-Man: Homecoming and the third Thor film. But by far and away my most anticipated of them is the continuation to Guardians of the Galaxy, which still easily remains my favorite entry of the Marvel canon to date. I've no doubt that James Gunn will be able to deliver on more of the gut-busting hilarity and old-fashioned thrills that fans like me loved from the original, but the main reason I'm looking forward to this one is simply that it gives me more time spent with the first film's flawless ensemble cast, undoubtedly my favorite ensemble of the decade so far. The trailers have proven to show that the same great chemistry and hilarity between the players is very much alive, as if we never even left their side, and if this movie is as entertaining as I hope it will be, the remaining Summer slate will have a tough time topping it. Oh, and how sweet does Baby Groot look?

4. Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan has spent his career specializing in intellectually driven and complexly built thrillers the likes of The Dark Knight, Memento, and Inception. So with that said, a deviation into the World War II Era, specifically following the Dunkirk Evacuation, sounds like an odd choice. Except, when you really think about it, that type of story with battles of that scale feels perfect for Nolan's epic and practical method of filmmaking. The film already looks to be a feast for the eyes and ears, making extensive use of stunning IMAX photography that evokes the best of his usual technical collaborators, and a star-studded cast of incredible British talent who look to be giving it their all. So while World War II may be overexposed within the film world, I hope Nolan's unmistakable skill and scope will help it stand out from the crowd.

3. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
Yep. It wouldn't be my most anticipated list without Steven Spielberg showing up. This is actually one of two Mortara Case films set to release in 2017, the other coming from 2 Guns and Contraband director Baltasar Kormakur... Yeah, you can see which one will be better. Having taken steps away from his more whimsical side in recent years, Spielberg's more recent films have proven some of the most reserved, and inspired entries in his iconic filmography, with Lincoln and Bridge of Spies being two very powerful films dealing with communication over violence, while allowing his signature sentimentality in sparing doses. For this next film, we'll see him teaming up with Lincoln and Munich writer Tony Kushner, as well as a cast that will include his new muse, Mark Rylance. Even though the Mortara Case is unfamiliar to me, I've no doubt Spielberg will make it just as engaging as his prior films.

2. Blade Runner 2049
Truth be told, most of my anticipation for this film is not because I'm a fan of the original. If I'm being honest, while I have seen it, I don't remember most of it (something I plan to remedy in the near future). The reason that I am excited, however, is because of Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve has quickly and confidently established himself as one of the best and most eclectic filmmakers working today, and having tackled Sci-Fi successfully with Arrival last year, proving that he has a knack for high concept Sci-Fi, one could only imagine what he has planned for this next entry. Not much has been revealed to us story-wise, although I prefer that the film keep to that level of secrecy, and allow the smart marketing campaign and imagery to speak for itself. Without any exaggeration, the film's teaser trailer is easily the best trailer I've seen for a movie in a long, long time, effectively and efficiently setting up its world and conflict, while also leaving a great deal of mystery for the viewer to uncover upon release. Factor in a fantastic cast that includes man of the year Ryan Gosling, and the return of Harrison Ford, and this movie has all the ingrediants for a spectacular time at the movies. Only by a hair did it miss number one, which ultimately went to...

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who's been following me for a couple years, and with spin-off Rogue One having pacified us in between main saga entries, come December, Looper director Rian Johnson will take the stage to expand on the groundwork that JJ Abrams laid out with The Force Awakens. If Abrams alienated some viewers for (understandably) heeding very closely to the format and basic outline of the original Star Wars with Force Awakens, then this sequel looks to be giving Johnson a much greater sandbox of pure creativity and freedom, as well as deeper character discoveries. We haven't even seen a single frame of the film yet, and yet we're already left speculating and scratching our heads over what the film could be dealing with. At one point, the late, great Carrie Fisher stated that it would be the darkest Star Wars film yet (including Empire), and the marketing campaign, with the film's teaser poster decorating the Star Wars logo in deep red, certainly seems to indicate as such. But what about the subtitle as well? What does The Last Jedi mean? To Rey, meaning Luke will die? To Luke, meaning Rey (who already showed shades of vengeance in her duel with Kylo Ren) will be swayed to the Dark Side? But even aside from that, how will the events of the last film affect Ren? Will this character earn his redemption or sink further into the Dark Side? Will he and Rey eventually experience a protagonist switch (unlikely, but it's fun to wonder)? Who is Snoke, and what significance does he hold to the other players? What more will be done with the many new characters introduced in the last film, like Finn, Poe, Maz Kanata and others? What new characters can we expect Benecio del Toro and Luara Dern to play? There are so many unanswered questions, and all of them excite me to no end. So far, the December release of Star Wars films have been among the biggest treats the year has to offer, and this looks to be no different. Just hearing everything about this film so far has painted a portrait of a familiar, yet refreshingly new and darker direction for Star Wars, and here's hoping that when Johnson finally yields his time in the spotlight, he'll be giving just as grand an entrance and jumping point to Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow. Let the impatient wait begin...

So there you have it. The films I'm looking most forward to this year. I know I'm probably neglecting some other, smaller films that have yet to make their way into the mainstream, but we'll come to those surprises when we get to them. Maybe some of these disappoint, maybe they get pushed back, but I genuinely hope all the best for them. See you when they get here...

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