Twenty ’12: The 20 Most Anticipated Films Of 2012

It’s a brand new year, which means brand new movies. Largely, 2012 promises more of the same — more sequels, more comic book adaptations, more prestigious literary adaptations, more zombies and vampires. But at least a few motion pictures look to break the mold this year.

January’s a little early to be looking all the way ahead at next fall, when most of the awards season hopefuls are released, but the tentpoles are set in place, and amongst them are some highly qualified filmmakers taking on material that, in other hands, might not be so inviting. For me, it’s all about who’s making it, who’s in it, and what the story is. I’ll avoid some films like herpes, while others I’ll be drawn to like a moth to a really good movie.

So without further ado, these are the most anticipated film of 2012, based on filmmakers, cast, premise, and any marketing materials that have surfaced thus far:

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20. The Bourne Legacy (August)

Tony Gilroy (writer of all the Bourne movies, director of Michael Clayton) takes the reigns from Paul Greengrass, who made the last two (excellent) entries in this franchise. Joining the delectable Joan Allen (where, besides the Bourne movies, has she been lately?) are Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and Jeremy Renner — three reasons to be more excited than I otherwise might be. (Although the absence of Matt Damon may be a difficult obstacle to overcome.) Ordinarily, I might fear that in its fourth film, this series may have overstayed its welcome, but as Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol proved, sometime’s the fourth time’s a charm.

19. Vamps (TBA)

The good news: Amy Heckerling (director of Clueless) and Alicia Silverstone reunite! The bad news? It’s a comedy about vampires, a subject about as fresh as Dracula himself. So here’s more good news: Sigourney Weaver is also in it. Obviously, this one could really suck (hey, if the poster can make a “suck” pun, then I can too), but for now I’m just going to pretend it’s Clueless with fangs. Way harsh, Tai.

18. Savages (September)

It’s been more than a minute since Oliver Stone directed a decent movie — instead, we got the impotent W., the atrocious World Trade Center, and the snoozeworthy Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The last truly good film Stone made was way back in 1999, Any Given Sunday. So why am I holding out hope for this one? Well, it’s about marijuana growers facing off against a drug cartel, which hopefully means Stone has stopped trying to be blandly topical as in the above-mentioned films and is back to playing his strengths. At least he’s got the cast right: Uma Thurman, Benicio Del Toro, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively. (Also: John Travolta. No comment on that one.)

17. Rock Of Ages (June)

I haven’t seen the Broadway musical, so I’ll make no claims about how promising this story is for a big screen adaptation (looks semi-hokey). Movie musicals tend to be hit or miss, and it’s been a spell since we saw a truly great one. But this one features a respectable lineup of acclaimed actors — Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, plus more unusual choices Malin Akerman, Russell Brand, and Mary J. Blige — plus Tom Cruise, possibly back in Magnolia mode? Directed by Hairspray‘s Adam Shankman, it features guilty pleasure 80’s music, which is a step above most showtunes, if you ask me.

16. Life Of Pi (December)

Previously attached directors range from M. Night Shyamalan to Alfonso Cuaron, and now it’s official — Brokeback Mountain‘s Ang Lee is taking the reigns. Based on Yann Martel’s much-lauded novel, it’s about a zookeeper’s son who finds himself stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra. From a filmmaking standpoint, this presents obvious challenges — no CGI, please! — so it’ll be interesting to see how this tale translates to screen. Ang Lee is one of few directors I’d trust with this.

15. The Paperboy (TBA)

I was only so-so on Precious, and only partially because it insisted its full title was Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire. But Lee Daniels’ follow-up intrigues me — and not just because it’s not called The Paperboy: Based On The Novel The Paperboy By Peter Dexter (though that helps). I’m still not convinced Zac Efron can act, but if he can, here’s the movie to prove it, alongside Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack. Something about this cast in a thriller set in the sticky Florida heat is making me hope for something like the trash-tastic Wild Things. It also features a fantastically pulpy poster and Nicole Kidman returning to To Die For femme fatale territory. Yes, please!

14. Looper (September)

Brick director Rian Johnson reteams with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has proven himself a force to be reckoned both in smaller independent films and colossal ones. The story is about time-traveling mobsters and co-stars Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis (playing Gordon-Levitt’s older self). The advance buzz is good, so let’s hope it delivers. It’s been awhile since we saw a really good sci-fi movie of this sort. (Well, since Inception, anyway.)

13. Gangster Squad (October)

We haven’t seen a really good gangster movie in quite some time, either — Michael Mann’s Public Enemy, starring Johnny Depp, fell short of expectations. This one comes from Rubin Fleischer, director of the surprisingly wonderful Zombieland, is set in 1940’s LA, and stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, and Sean Penn. How can you not be enticed?

12. Django Unchained (December)

Say this for Quentin Tarantino — he’s never boring. And whatever he’s cooking up is bound to get people talking. After taking on Nazis in Inglourious Basterds, now Tarantino’s putting his own spin on slavery with a tale of a slave-turned-bounty-hunter (oh, that old chestnut?). The impressive cast includes returning Tarantino vets Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Christoph Waltz, plus newcomers Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Whether or not it’s a great movie, it’s bound to be a fascinating one — but there’s every reason to believe it might be great.

11. Magic Mike (June)

This year’s “what the fuck, that’s actually a movie?” entry is a film based on Channing Tatum’s real-life experiences strip club, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Ordinarily, a movie about a bunch of male strippers starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Matthew McConaughey would sound like a G-string train wreck, but this is Steven Soderbergh, who has made more out of less. (He turned a movie about a call girl, played by a porn star, into something quite memorable in The Girlfriend Experience.) The fact that the Warner Bros. is even making a movie about male strippers takes… well, balls. It may be too much to hope for something in the realm of Boogie Nights, but it’s Soderbergh, so you never know.

10. Titanic (April)

The trailer almost made me cry. If ever there was a 3D rerelease to entice me to pay $15 to see a 15-year-old movie I already saw four times in theaters back in the day, it is Titanic. That is all.

9. The Cabin In The Woods (April)

Yes, this could turn out to be total horror-schlock nonsense. But it’s produced by Joss Whedon! The trailer promises at least a few unexpected twists on the ol’ “young people alone in the woods” scenario, and it is written and directed by a Buffy The Vampire Slayer staff writer. I have faith.

8. The Amazing Spider-Man (July)

I only mildly enjoyed Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, so normally I would have only a small degree of interest in a too-soon reboot of the franchise, save for two factors: 1) Peter Parker is now played by one of my favorite young actors, Andrew Garfield, who many will recognize from The Social Network but delivered even better performances in Boy A, Red Riding, and Never Let Me Go. 2) The film is directed by Marc Webb, who brought us one of the best (un)romantic comedies of the last decade, (500) Days Of Summer — and the fact that he, of all people, was selected to helm a big superhero blockbuster is 500 kinds of awesome. Hopefully, this means the characters and humor will be as sharp here as they were in (500) Days — not so in most movies of this sort. Also, Emma Stone is the new love interest, which should be plenty of fun.

7. Prometheus (June)

Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel might just be a return to form for the director and the franchise, which lost its way with the bleak Alien 3, the campy-fun but not quite up to snuff Alien Resurrection, and whatever those Alien vs. Predator movies were. The trailer promises copious thrill and chills; if Prometheus is even half as good as the first two Alien movies, I’m all about it.

6. Cloud Atlas (October)

An acclaimed novel, a buzzy director — this list is starting to sound repetitive, isn’t it? Well, Cloud Atlas is still on my reading list, so I can’t speak for the quality of the book yet. But Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer brings us this adaptation of an epic story that leap-frogs through time and place, starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, and Jim Broadbent, which means this could either be a sprawling, bombastic mess or a masterpiece. We’ll see.

5. Lincoln (December)

Steven Spielberg essentially operates under two modes — the Oscar-worthy heavy stuff and escapist blockbuster fare. This year, he released one of each, but War Horse found sort of a middle ground (as in, it wasn’t too serious). So it’s about time the ‘Berg delivered another one in the vein of Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List (just hopefully not Amistad). I might have some reservations about this project if it didn’t have Daniel Day-Lewis as frickin’ Abraham Lincoln. Hopefully, DDL is already making room on his mantle for another Oscar. Also, here’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt again as Lincoln’s son! When does this guy sleep?

4. Gravity (November)

After Children Of Men, the third Harry Potter, and Y Tu Mama Tambien, Alfonso Cuaron could direct another High School Musical and I’d still be there opening day. I have yet to get a handle on what this film is really about — Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts stranded in space — but there’s buzz about it pushing boundaries with some mind-blowing new special effects. I care less about that, and more about the fact that Cuaron is one of the most viscerally exhilarating filmmakers we’ve got. Combine that with a terror in outer space, and I’m floored.

3. The Hunger Games (March)

Repeat after me: The Hunger Games is not Twilight. I know it’s tempting to compare them because they are both beloved book series aimed at young adults featuring female protagonists torn between the love of two equally strapping young men, but The Hunger Games has so much more going for it. As does its movie equivalent. For one — Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss (who’s no mopey, helpless Bella Swan, mind you — she kicks ass). It would be quite a shame for this film to not live up to the potential of these addictive books, so fingers crossed — wouldn’t it be great if the next Twilight-esque beheamoth was something that sentient adults could tolerate, too?

2. The Dark Knight Rises
(July)

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne…” Bet you thought this would be #1, didn’t you? As the third highest-grossing film of all time, The Dark Knight‘s footsteps will be hard to follow — especially since it spawned a legendary incarnation of a classic villain thanks to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance. But the trailer indicates that Chris Nolan is more than up to the challenge of besting himself with spectacle to spare and a pitch-black atmosphere that hasn’t been toned down any. (If anything, it’s been kicked up a notch.) Other reasons to be jazzed: Tom Hardy appearing as Bane and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman — plus, hey! Joseph Gordon-Levitt! There’s a name we haven’t heard for awhile…

1. The Avengers (May)

Kicking off the summer movie season is yet another superhero movie — rather, the mother of all superhero movies, featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and plenty more. Normally, such an overblown cast might signal a rather unwieldly movie — The Avengers wouldn’t have made this list at all were it made by some second-rate hired hand — but this one is directed by Joss Whedon, who is perfect. To date, the Buffy maestro’s only feature film is a continuation of his own TV series FireflySerenity, which was pretty spectacular. Now we’ll see if he can deliver on a larger canvas, using a story with its own intricate mythology, plus millions of fans around the world hoping that The Avengers is the ultimate comic book movie of all time. But no pressure!

Noteworthy absences: The Hobbit trailer looked almost like a parody of a Lord Of The Rings film. I’m not that excited about it. The dueling Snow White films both look moderately wretched in their own ways. Men In Black III feels about a decade too late — Men In Black Orthopedic Shoes seems more fitting. Battleship, starring Rihanna — is this a Saturday Night Live sketch or a summer blockbuster? I think I’ll hold out for something a little classier, like Adele starring in Balderdash. Pixar’s Brave seems disappointingly ordinary, while the Sacha Baron Cohen vehicle The Dictator looks extraordinarily tasteless. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Well, the title makes fun of itself, doesn’t it? Skyfall might be fun, as it’s directed by American Beauty‘s Sam Mendes, but how worked up can I get about the zillionth James Bond flick? I can’t get too excited about another zombie movie either, even if it does star Brad Pitt, so sorry, World War Z. And Baz Luhrman doing a 3D Great Gatsby just sounds so wrong in so many ways.

Oh, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 juuust missed my cut-off at #21. I swear.

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