12 Most-Anticipated (Non-Franchise/Reboot) Movies of 2017

12 Most-Anticipated (Non-Franchise/Reboot) Movies of 2017

Author’s Note: This article was published simultaneously on MonkeyGooseMag.com


Just like last year, given how much franchise films dominate the “most-anticipated movies” lists that flood the internet every January (which makes sense, given they’re known entities), we find it appropriate to shine a light on some other movies due out this year.

Quick Note: For the foreseeable future, it will be impossible for a Christopher Nolan release to fly under the radar or get lost in any shuffle, franchise movie or otherwise. For this reason, it felt appropriate to omit Dunkirk from this list (I think enough people are already well aware of it, especially compared to the 12 movies included here). So, despite its exclusion – and my opinion that Nolan’s last three movies have been disappointing, disappointing, and overrated – I’m personally very much anticipating Dunkirk, and you should too.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by: Martin McDonaugh

I can’t believe that In Bruges was nearly nine years ago. The darkly comic hitman caper remains funny, tense, significant, and one of my all-time favorites. After the meta and relatively middling Seven Psychopaths, acclaimed-playwright-turned-acclaimed-filmmaker Martin McDonaugh returns to In Bruges form, with a geographically-confined story of people dealing with the fallout of a horrible crime. Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage.

As luck would have it, I found my way into a test screening of this movie way back in October, complete with an NDA, a disclaimer that the movie was still a work in progress, a post-screening survey, etc. While the NDA legally prohibits me from discussing literally anything about the movie – unless I’m prepared to give my first-born child to Fox Searchlight – I’ll just say that I cannot wait to see it again.

Annihilation

Directed by: Alex Garland

After her husband disappears, a biologist (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition into an environmental disaster zone. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and also starring Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful 8), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Tessa Thompson (Creed, Westworld), and Oscar Isaac (too many good movies to name in the last five years).

Now that a little bit of time has passed and we can properly assess the films of 2015, Ex Machina has stayed with me more than most other releases from that year, including most of the Best Picture nominees (of which Ex Machina was left out – foolishly, in hindsight). After bringing us such a tightly-written, thought-provoking, tense but patient thriller in the vein of Blade Runner by way of Hitchcock, writer/director Alex Garland has more than earned my excitement and anticipation for his next project.

But he has apparently not yet earned the right to smile.

Baby Driver

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Release Date: August 11, 2017

Sounding remarkably like the comedic counterpart to Drive (2011), the movie follows a young in-demand getaway driver (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) who finds himself in over his head after a robbery-gone-wrong. Directed by the always-reliable Edgar Wright and also starring Lily James, Jamie Foxx, (St. Louis’ own) Jon Hamm, and the incomparable Kevin Spacey.

Mostly known for the Cornetto trilogy, the wonderful Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and a popular YouTube analysis by Tony Zhou, Edgar Wright has emerged in the last decade as quite the in-demand comedy director. His involvement alone pushed the hype machine to 11 for Ant-Man before he left that project in order to direct this one.

Suburbicon

Directed by: George Clooney

A crime mystery set in 1950s suburbia (specifically, in an aptly-named but on-the-nose quiet family town called “Suburbicon”), the fallout from a deadly home invasion brings out the worst in a seemingly-perfect family.

The script was apparently written by the Coen brothers way back in 1986 after they made Blood Simple (1984), and George Clooney has been reportedly attached to direct and star since 2005 (when his film Good Night, and Good Luck earned him a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards). While I have no idea what’s taken so long to finally get the movie made, I would watch literally anything Joel and Ethan write.

I mean, I did say anything…

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Based on a true story from 1858, a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy, is secretly baptized and then forcibly taken from his family to be raised Christian, sparking a political battle between the Pope and Italian unification. Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance (fresh off his Best Supporting Actor win) both star.

Regardless of what you’ve thought of his past decade of work, Spielberg is still Spielberg. I maintain that if anyone other than Spielberg made War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies (all Best Picture nominees) over the course of four years, they’d be hailed as a genius. And yet, due to his unparalleled résumé, people act like Spielberg’s been slowing down in recent years. Sure, it may look like “slowing down” when you compare it to Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders, and E.T. in a seven-year span, or Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan in a five-year span, but… still.

Plus, the movie was written by award-winning playwright Tony Kushner, adapted from a book by historian and anthropologist David I. Kertzer. Spielberg directing a Tony Kushner script adapted from a non-fiction text was the exact situation for Lincoln, which went on to receive an absurd 12 Oscar nominations.

American Made

Directed by: Doug Liman

Release Date: September 29, 2017

Based on a true story, TWA pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is recruited by the CIA to help fight the rise of communism in Central America. Through his work with the CIA, Seal becomes a pilot for the Medellin drug cartel out of Colombia. Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson also star.

Doug Liman has proven himself more than capable of handling action thrillers (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), and Tom Cruise is literally the face of several action thrillers. Plus, if we learned anything in 2015, it’s that Domhnall Gleeson has a dynamite agent and picks great projects (he was in four movies that year, all Oscar-nominated, including two Best Picture nominees).

Proficiency (left) and consistency (right) are normally at odds.

 

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Project

Directed by: Surely you can figure this out on your own

All we know is that it’s a drama about the London fashion industry in the 1950s, Daniel Day-Lewis is attached to star (in his first acting role in five years), and it’s expected to be put out by Focus Features in late 2017.

Paul Thomas Anderson is indisputably one of the best auteurs working today, but unfortunately he only makes a movie every 3-5 years. Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor currently on the planet, but he too only makes a movie every 3-5 years (at best). The only other time the stars have aligned and they’ve made a movie together, the result was one of the finest pieces of cinema of our young century.

Logan Lucky

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) plan a heist at a NASCAR event, because casino heists are so 2007. Filling out the rest of the cast is Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston (The Nice Guys), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), Katie Holmes, and Seth MacFarlane.

After a self-imposed hiatus slash semi-retirement from feature filmmaking – during which he made the critical darling The Knick for Cinemax – Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Oceans trilogy, among others) finally returns. His name has come up in the on-going discussion of the exodus of talent from film to TV as studios have changed their production strategies and priorities in recent years. While it may have nothing to do with that on-going discussion, I’ll take his return to features as good news.

 

Mother

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

The only known plot detail is that the movie centers around a couple whose “tranquil existence” is disrupted by uninvited guests. Jennifer Lawrence is attached to star, alongside Domhnall Gleeson (see above), Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris.

While I haven’t yet seen Noah (2014) – which was admittedly a departure from his typical style – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed five of the six movies Darren Aronofsky has directed (and I particularly love Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler). The modicum of plot we do have at this point indicates that perhaps he’s returning to the intimate, small-scale projects he’d done so well with before Noah (hell, even The Fountain was intimate in focus, despite spanning lifetimes in plot). Plus, half of Aronofsky’s movies have yielded an Oscar nomination for its lead, and Jennifer Lawrence has an absurd track record with the Academy.

She had more nominations at 25 than Meryl “Nineteen Nominations” Streep had at 33

The Circle

Directed by: James Ponsoldt

Release Date: April 29, 2017

Based on a novel of the same name by Dave Eggers (Away We Go, Where the Wild Things Are), the movie follows Mae Holland (Emma Watson) as she begins working at a powerful technology company. Directed by James Ponsoldt (director of the utterly delightful The End of the Tour) and also starring Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, and Bill Paxton.

This actually made the 2016 version of this same list, before STX pushed the release date to 2017. According to the trades, principal photography began in September of 2015, but apparently reshoots have been taking place as recently as this month (16 months after principal photography), threatening the already-pushed-back release date.

But at least now we have a trailer!

Song to Song

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Release Date: March 17, 2017

Two entangled couples, both featuring struggling musicians, search for rock ‘n’ roll success in Austin, Texas. Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara star as one couple, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman as the other.

I don’t care how meandering and divisive To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2016) were. When Terrence Malick has a movie in the works, he gets a spot on this list. Plus, that cast…

(That said, I’ll give the same disclaimer I gave when I put Knight of Cups on this list last year: if the name “Terrence Malick” means nothing to you, then you’ll probably want to skip this one. Just a guess.)

The Masterpiece

Directed by: James Franco

Based on The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero (played in The Masterpiece by Dave Franco), the movie recreates the genesis and production of one of the most head-scratching and beloved so-bad-it’s-good movies ever made, The Room (2003) – a midnight screening mainstay in Los Angeles and across the country for the past decade. However, like the book, it’s also a tale of the dogged pursuit of Hollywood dreams (despite little-to-no positive feedback or encouragement) by The Room’s enigmatic and peculiar writer, director, producer, and star, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Hannibal Buress, and June Diane Raphael also appear.

I’ve been a huge fan of The Room since college, and when I read The Disaster Artist, I honestly couldn’t put it down (seriously, the book is great). If you haven’t seen The Room, I recommend you either watch it start-to-finish (booze optional but highly encouraged) or at the very least look up clips/reviews on YouTube. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it really has to be seen to be believed, and it really does inspire baffled questions of “How and why was this made? Who thought this was a good idea?” The Masterpiece attempts to answer those questions.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that – like with Three Billboards above – I’ve seen a rough-cut of this movie, with a similar NDA, hush-hush situation preventing me from divulging too much. My purposefully vague and brief assessment: there’s a lot to love about it. If you’re a fan of The Room, it’s an absolute must-see.


 

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The Overwhelming Beauty of ARRIVAL’s Ending

The Overwhelming Beauty of ARRIVAL’s Ending

The following contains spoilers for the ending of Arrival (2016) and assumes the reader has seen the film. If you haven’t, go do so immediately. If you have, might I suggest some background music while you read? I don’t know, maybe this?

In a meaningless discussion of semantics, I would argue that the “twist” in Arrival isn’t really a twist so much as the fulfillment of a promise. The movie poses a question (“why are they here?”); the characters spend the run-time trying to answer that question; and Louise Banks (Amy Adams) finally arrives (heh) at the answer. Regardless of how surprising and revelatory that answer may be, it’s still just the movie holding up its end of the bargain in the implicit contract it made with the audience, that the posed question will be answered.

Whether you want to call it a “twist” or a “third-act reveal” or (more accurately) a “slowly unraveling mystery that gradually reveals itself from the very first line to the very last”, what makes the reveal effective is how much it propagates through the rest of the story. It’s more than showing that the prologue is actually the epilogue; it’s that there are no prologues and epilogues. There is just the story as it happens, and “before” and “after” are useless qualifiers.

arrival1

It’s crucial that we see the ups and downs (especially the downs) of Louise’s motherhood “before” we see the genesis of it, because Louise does too. Becoming a parent is often a purposeful decision that people come to carefully, but very few would-be parents take the leap knowing ahead of time that it will end with indescribable sorrow and suffering, which makes Louise’s decision all the more illuminating. She chooses to put herself (and her daughter) through the worst pain imaginable — and in fact “embraces every moment” — because, to put it simply, it’s worth it. She similarly chooses to be with Ian (Jeremy Renner) despite knowing it will end in a painful separation, again, because it’s worth it.

The ending of Arrival hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’m not the slightest bit ashamed to say I cried a lot (because, seriously, why would I be?). I’m sure part of it was due to the fact that a movie urging us to set aside our differences and unite in cooperation was probably something I needed to see after a divisive election days earlier (Amy Adams’ pleading line to Michael Stuhlbarg “We need to talk to each other!” might as well have been screamed directly into the face of 90% of Americans). Part of it was due to me being deeply moved by the idea that, in a world where brinkmanship and doomsday clocks have been the order of the day for decades, the world is saved by words (vis-a-vis diplomacy with General Shang and in the literal sense of the heptapod’s language giving Louise, a linguist, the time-perception power to execute that diplomacy). But I think it was mostly just that I thought Louise’s decisions — both to be with Ian and to bring Hannah into the world — were a tragic and achingly beautiful metaphor.

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Even without knowledge of the heptapod language and the powers therein, every one of us makes a similar decision. Part of the human condition is knowing that our life is going to end someday, and that it will almost certainly include pain and suffering, if not for us then for the ones we love, and yet we choose to live anyway. Because life is worth it. Love is worth the pain and hardship. Arrival is so convinced of that, it pins love against the most difficult and punishing life experience one can have, and Louise still picks love.

[And yes, I just published a 28-minute video on Boyhood, so I realize I’ve probably leaned on the term “human condition” wayyyy too much this past week, and I don’t want to turn into The Boy Who Cried Human Condition, but come on — choosing to live despite knowing we’re going to die? That shit’s textbook.]

Arrival is a clever, patient, life-affirming, meticulously constructed gift to science fiction canon on the level of Blade Runner (the long-awaited sequel to which is coincidentally director Denis Villeneuve’s next project). The circular structure of the film is not only a nice homage to the heptapods’ language (and therefore their reality), but it allows the audience to share in Louise’s unique, non-linear journey through Hannah’s story. And while that’s all well and good, these implications of the revealed non-linearity are what set it apart, inviting us to ponder these impossibly heavy ideas as the credits roll.

arrival2

Science Fiction has always been a useful tool for social and political commentary (The Day the Earth Stood StillBrazil, Children of Men, District 9, etc) but the more significant, lasting impact is usually in regards to the questions that sci-fi raises about humanity. What characteristics define our humanity (Blade Runner)? How far have we evolved, how much further will we evolve, and what is mankind’s ultimate place in the universe (2001: A Space Odyssey)? At what point does the technology we yield become an irresponsible rebuff of the natural order (Jurassic Park)? Is free will worth the destruction and mayhem it can cause (A Clockwork Orange)?

“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”

In Louise’s case, no. Because love is worth the pain that comes with it.

The Threat of Feminine Power in THE WITCH (2016)

The Threat of Feminine Power in THE WITCH (2016)

Author’s Note: This post was previously published by B*tchFlicks on October 28, 2016.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Judging it against other modern horror films, a lot is surprising about Robert Eggers’ outstanding debut, The Witch. It’s not a slow build like so many others in the genre, as one of the very first scenes shows us a witch and is as horrifying as anything I’ve ever seen in the first 10 minutes of a movie. It manages to be deeply unsettling and creepy without resorting to jump scares, a staple in the genre sometimes leaned too heavily upon. And it fully commits to its ending without going the ambiguous route that many have come to expect from this type of story.

The ending that the film ultimately commits to also illuminates another surprise: the eponymous witch alluded by the title may not be the hooded figure from the first 10 minutes or the bewitching woman in the woods who curses Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) in the second act. It could just as easily refer to the protagonist, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Sure, Thomasin’s climactic decision indicates this may be the case, but so does Katherine’s suspicion and treatment of her daughter. And that’s the biggest surprise: the film presents a family-vs-witch situation as the main dramatic conflict, but the fates of the characters show that – from a narrative standpoint – Thomasin is the definitive protagonist, and the antagonist is actually her mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie). Considering some of the heinous things done by the witches in the movie – and the fact that Satan himself is a literal character – revealing Katherine to be the ultimate antagonist is quite the statement.

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Recognizing the witch hunts dotted throughout the U.S.’s early history as a feminist issue, Eggers smartly constructs his film to be a power struggle between the two main female characters, each representing a different conception of femininity. Katherine, a middle-aged woman and mother, believes her power comes from her ability to give life, from her ability to have children. This fits nicely into the patriarchal Puritan society of the time, as women were relegated to be mothers and caregivers. The disappearance of her infant and the untimely death of her son compromise her caregiving abilities, leaving her powerless without her children (visualized by the nightmare image of her breastfeeding a crow, laughing maniacally as it gores her breast).

Unlike Katherine, the witches – who live outside the patriarchal Puritan society – at least partially draw their power from their sexuality, giving them (potentially) even more power than men. It’s no accident that Caleb’s demise stems from his male (hetero)sexual curiosity, as a witch takes the form of a young, attractive woman to lure him in and curse him. It’s also no accident that Caleb takes particular note of Thomasin’s developing chest (unbeknownst to her), around the same time Katherine announces to her husband, William (Ralph Ineson), that Thomasin needs to be sent away to work for another family now that she “begot the sign of her womanhood.” Now that Thomasin is a woman – with youth, beauty, vitality, sexuality, and fertility – she’s a threat to Katherine’s power.

In her final scene, Katherine, who is quick to blame all of the family’s hardships on Thomasin and her blossoming womanhood, attempts to strangle her scared and crying daughter to death. After Thomasin cuts her, Katherine bleeds all over Thomasin’s face, as if trying to insist that she (Katherine) still has the womanly power too (blood being “the sign of her womanhood”). But she doesn’t.

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Directly contrasting Katherine, the witches in this world reject motherhood in the most drastic way imaginable, as evidenced by young Samuel’s fate. Eggers has mentioned in interviews that the macabre scene involving the infant was inspired by legends of witches using the entrails of an unbaptized babe as a “flying ointment,” hinted at by a blurry image of the witch floating in front of the moon directly after rubbing the… “ointment”… all over herself. Following the above metaphor, the witches are literally stealing Katherine’s source of power (her children) to further their own.

By rejecting motherhood, the witches reject their feminine role in the patriarchal Puritan society (although they still seem to follow a male leader). And that is what makes the witches so scary to the family in the film (and to the Puritans in general); they refuse to use their feminine power in the service of the patriarchal family, which threatens the patriarchal family. Add this to William’s inability to either protect or provide for his family – i.e., the man’s traditional source of power – and Thomasin’s feminine power becomes even scarier to them.

In a symbolic final act of desperation, William locks Thomasin away with her young siblings, as if attempting to force her to be with children (perhaps as indirect punishment for her failed moment of motherhood, where her infant brother was stolen from under her nose). Instead, the witches – and Satan – rescue her from this prison of mandated maternity. Ultimately, Thomasin decides that she has no use for the societal structure (or pious religion) that her family tried to confine her in, and she leaves it behind in order to embrace – and fully realize – her feminine power. As a witch.