Best Films: 10 for 2012
Remember back in 2005, when George Lucas was making the press rounds to promote Revenge of the Sith, and he was all, "Now I can FINALLY make those experimental movies I've been talking about making for 30 years but for whatever reason have never actually made"? Instead of following through with that promise/threat, he financed Red Tails, an action period piece about the Tuskegee Airmen starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard. In development since the '80s, in production since 2009 under director Anthony Hemingway (Lucas reportedly directed reshoots himself because of Hemingway's Treme commitments) and set for release January 20, Red Tails will either benefit from or be overshadowed by Lucasfilm's other 2012 project, the 3-D re-releases of the Star Wars films, beginning with The Phantom Menace on February 10.
Soderbergh x 2
If Steven Soderbergh is still seriously considering a "sabbatical" from filmmaking, as he keeps threatening, it doesn't seem like it's going to start any time soon. As of right now, he has two directorial efforts due for release in 2012: Haywire (opening January 20), a tricky, kinetic action-mystery built around super-fox mixed martial artist Gina Carano, and Magic Mike (June 29), based on star Channing Tatum's pre-fame gig as a male stripper.
Spike Lee x Several
Although Red Hook Summer, an independently produced drama set in the titular Brooklyn neighborhood directed by and costarring Spike Lee, was originally rumored to be a sequel to Do the Right Thing, reports have since surfaced that this is not technically the case — even if Lee does reprise his role as Mookie from his 1989 film. Either way, Summer's Sundance premiere in January will kick off a busy 2012 for Lee, who hasn't released a feature film since Miracle at St. Anna in 2008. He'll start shooting a Josh Brolin-starring remake of Chan-wook Park's Oldboy in March, and after that will reportedly direct a biopic of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry for HBO starring Eddie Murphy, collaborating with Lee for the first time.
Damsels in Distress
With four years between dramatic features, Spike Lee has nothing on Whit Stillman, whose last directorial effort, The Last Days of Disco, was released in 1998. After more than a decade of aborted follow-ups and false starts, the Oscar-nominated writer-director (Metropolitan) is back with this quasi-musical about a group of girlfriends (including Greta Gerwig and Crazy, Stupid, Love co-star Analeigh Tipton) and their "distressing" boyfriends (including nouveau nighttime soap hunks Adam Brody of The O.C. and Hugo Becker of Gossip Girl). Similar to Stillman's previous deadpan deconstructions of group social life, but infused with a gleeful lunacy heretofore unknown in his films, Damsels is worth the wait.
Three years after the disappointing Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen is back with a fresh character in another Larry Charles-directed comedy. At least, we think it's a comedy — in typical Baron Cohen fashion, details on The Dictator have been kept under wraps. In what would suggest some kind of a break from the prankish faux-documentary style of Borat and Brüno, Dictator features stars such as Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley playing characters other than themselves. The film is rumored to be based on Zabibah and the King, a romance novel set in eighth-century Iraq believed to have been secretly written by Saddam Hussein, but it also apparently takes place at least partially in modern-day New York. All will be revealed, we guess, on May 11.
Wes Anderson's first live-action film since The Darjeeling Limited and his first period piece, Moonrise Kingdom stars newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman as two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play some of the adults flummoxed by the young pair's disappearance. Although no U.S. premiere date has yet been set (Focus Features is releasing), the film is scheduled to open in mid-May in France, so a Cannes slot seems like a good possibility.
Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to There Will Be Blood stars PTA regular Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a spiritual guru said to be inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Joaquin Phoenix co-stars as a Dodd follower, in his first post-I'm Still Here role. When the original financiers backed out of this long-percolating movie in 2010, the film was saved by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison's daughter Megan Ellison, who has become a new Hollywood player, also investing in True Grit, Bridesmaids and upcoming films from Wong Kar-wai and Kathryn Bigelow. No specific release date has been set for Master, but a Weinstein Co. spokesperson told us we can expect to see it in the fall of 2012. And speaking of Ellison and Bigelow ...
Untitled Kathryn Bigelow Osama bin Laden project
The Hurt Locker was not just the first film directed by a woman to win the Best Picture Oscar, but one of the lowest-grossing movies in history to do so — making it perhaps the only true underdog victor of the Hollywood popularity contest in decades. There's a cloud of secrecy around Bigelow's follow-up; its IMDb cast list is qualified as "rumored," and even its temporary working title is in dispute. What we do know is that the movie, apparently at one point titled Kill bin Laden, has something to do with the hunt to find and kill the Al Qaeda leader; that it's Bigelow's second collaboration with Hurt Locker writer/producer Mark Boal; and that the release date has already been bumped from October 12, allegedly because the filmmakers did not want to be perceived as trying to influence the presidential elections. As of press time, the film is scheduled for release on December 19. Maybe.
This Is Forty
Another not-quite-a-sequel, Judd Apatow's fourth directorial effort focuses on the marriage of Pete and Debbie, the characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up. While a few actors from Apatow's 2007 hit are returning — including Charlyne Yi, Jason Segel and Apatow-Mann daughters Iris and Maude — the film also features a few high-profile newcomers to Apatovia, including Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox and Albert Brooks playing the part of Rudd's dad. Originally scheduled for a summer 2012 release, Universal pushed Forty to December 21 so that the studio's Snow White and the Huntsman can beat that other Snow White movie, the Tarsem-directed Mirror, Mirror, to market by a month.
American indie film's most stalwart advocate for celluloid (he cut each of his previous, 16mm-shot features, Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax, on an outdated flatbed machine), Andrew Bujalski is pulling a 180 with his next film. Computer Chess, a period piece set in 1980, was shot in Austin in September on modified video cameras from that era. Having partially crowd-sourced his financing through unitedstatesartists.org, Bujalski has been editing Chess this fall (yes, on a computer) with an eye toward a festival premiere in 2012.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.