“Gravity” is gone (from Memphis theaters), and so is “12 Years a Slave.” They may return if they garner multiple Oscar nominations, as expected, but their sudden absence is an indicator that it’s already a new movie year, even though critics and fans still are debating their lists of the best movies of 2013.
What will 2014 bring? Here’s a preview.
Tardy Prestige Pictures
It’s a Memphis tradition: Winter movies that top critics’ polls or attract Oscar buzz show up here at the start of the new year, rather than at the end of the year in which they made their first splash. Patience pays off Jan. 10, when three much-publicized movies already in release in some larger cities reach Memphis.
These include: Spike Jonze’s “Her,” a futuristic romance in which lonely writer Joaquin Phoenix falls for a cyberspace “operating system,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson; Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor,” an intense, fact-based war film that embeds the viewer with a small Navy SEAL unit pinned down by enemy fire in the mountains of Afghanistan; and “August: Osage County,” an epic of family dysfunction, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, that tosses scenery like bones to such expert chewers as Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor and Juliette Lewis.
Ready for a road trip? The area festival scene begins next month with the Oxford Film Festival, which runs Feb. 6-9 at various venues in Faulkner country. The 15th annual On Location: Memphis International Film & Music Fest follows, with features, documentaries, shorts and so on, screening April 24-27, mostly at the Malco Studio on the Square. Dedicated to movies with LGBT content, the Outflix Film Festival, which typically programs an impressive lineup of U.S. and international features starting the Friday after Labor Day, returns to the Ridgeway Cinema Grill, Sept. 5-11. The festival year ends with the Indie Memphis Film Festival, which in 2014 will take place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 at various Midtown venues, with Overton Square at its center.
The 2011 Captain America movie with Chris Evans as the star-spangled shield-slinger was one of the better Marvel Comics adaptations, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for the April 4 release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which adds Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie (as Cap’s colleague, The Falcon) to the mix.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” follows on May 2, with Jamie Foxx as Electro and Paul Giamatti — interesting choice — as a second supervillain, the Rhino. Then things get complicated in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (May 23), which crisscrosses the casts of the older X-Men movies with the actors who played younger versions of the same characters in the 2011 reboot, “X-Men: First Class”; let’s hope the conceit works better here than it did the last time Patrick Stewart did the time warp, in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.”
A harder sell will be “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Aug. 1), directed by Troma alum James (“Slither”) Gunn, a science-fiction saga with an overpopulated ensemble that includes Bradley Cooper pulling an Andy Serkis as Rocket Raccoon, a genetically engineered manlike raccoon who will be either the movie’s breakout star or the scapegoat for its failure.
From the producers of “Underworld,” the special-effects-heavy actioner “I, Frankenstein,” starring Aaron Eckhart, arrives Jan. 24; more digital than Gothic, it should please those who think Mary Shelley’s monster needs six-pack abs in place of neck bolts. More promising (judging from the awesome trailer) is the latest remake of “Godzilla” (May 16), directed by Gareth Edwards, a recruit from the indie ranks; the movie abandons the newfangled dinosaurian design of the misbegotten 1998 remake to return to the classic Toho Studios template of the 1950s: In other words, Godzilla looks like Godzilla. In the interim, “Vampire Academy,” inspired by the Young Adult paranormal romance novels of Richelle Mead, arrives Feb. 14, in hopes of biting off a bit of the audience that still misses Hogwarts and “Twilight.”
On Feb. 12, Brazil’s José Padilha delivers the new “RoboCop,” set in 2028 Detroit, with Joel Kinnaman as the cyborg “peace” officer. The budget is up ($120 million), but the bloodshed is presumably down: The robo-reboot is rated PG-13, unlike its R-rated 1987 inspiration. Martial-arts fanatics are more likely to be eager for “The Raid 2: Berandal” (March 28), a follow-up to the ultraviolent Indonesian action film that was a surprise hit in 2012. Ancient Greeks and Persians grunt and grapple again in “300: Rise of an Empire” (March 7), the belated sequel to 2006’s “300.” A different set of victims is recruited for “The Purge 2” (June 20). “The Expendables 3” (Aug. 15) adds Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford to the geriatric roll call. One to look forward to is “22 Jump Street” (June 13), with undercover officers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum being promoted from high school to college. And let’s keep our fingers and opposable thumbs crossed for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (July 11), in which man and super-simian battle for control of the planet; hopes are high, because the director is Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”).
The biggies arrive later. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” is set for Nov. 21, while Peter Jackson wraps his second Tolkien trilogy with “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” on Dec. 17.
For Kids (OK, and grown-ups, too)
“Muppets Most Wanted” — with Tom Hiddleston, Salma Hayek and Lady Gaga among the human companions of Kermit and Miss Piggy — arrives March 21. Taking a cue from “Wicked,” Disney’s “Maleficent” (May 30) retells the Sleeping Beauty story from the villain’s perspective; Angelina Jolie is ideally cast as the title sorceress, while Elle Fanning is the nap-cursed princess, Aurora. DreamWorks offers “How to Train Your Dragon 2” on June 13, while the chatty animated macaws, toucans and cockatoos of “Rio” return April 11 for “Rio 2.” Graduating to the movie screen from a supporting slot on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” in the 1960s, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (March 7) is the digitally animated story of a time-travelling genius dog (Mr. Peabody) and his average-boy companion (Sherman).
For Grown-ups (more or less)
Eccentric director Wes Anderson returns March 7 (possibly later in such second-tier markets as Memphis) with what might be his Wes Anderson-est movie ever, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; judging from the trailer, it’s a mix of Peanuts, “Fanny and Alexander” and “The Shining.” George Clooney directed and stars in “The Monuments Men” (Feb. 7), the true story of the military and civilian Allied unit assigned to retrieve stolen art from the Nazis in World War II. “Dark Knight” collaborators Christian Bale (star) and Christopher Nolan (director) reunite for the mysterious “Interstellar” (Nov. 7). Johnny Depp stars in “Transcendence” (April 18), which sounds like a mad scientist story for the cyberpunk age. Closer to home, director Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot” (no specific release date yet) retells the story of the West Memphis Three, with James Hamrick as Damien Echols and Reese Witherspoon as a grieving mother, Pam Hobbs.
For Grownups (for sure)
Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier begins rolling out his erotic epic “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” and “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” — a total of four hours of purported sexual explicitness, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LaBeouf — in mid-March in select U.S. theaters.
Have a Little Faith
A sort of spinoff of the hugely successful 2013 History Channel miniseries “The Bible,” “Son of God” (Feb. 28) stars Diego Morgado as Jesus in what promises to be a Gospel dramatization less violent than Mel Gibson’s. More old school (in Hollywood terms) as well as Old Testament is Darren Aronofsky’s all-star epic “Noah” (March 28), with Russell Crowe as the ark-builder and Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah.
One of the most popular screenings at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in 2013 was the “Internet Cat Video Festival.” A new edition of the “festival” — an anthology of mostly comical short cat films — returns to the Brooks on Feb. 14 and 15. The Brooks also hosts the extremely popular “British Arrow Awards,” a collection of the best European television commercials, on Jan. 18 and 19, and “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?,” a unique animated/experimental documentary by director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), on Jan. 25. The film was inspired by the war of words waged between linguist Noam Chomsky and Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek.
Last, But Not Least . . .
Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 16, and the Academy Awards ceremony will be held March 2. In between, you’ll have a chance to win Malco movie tickets when The Commercial Appeal launches its annual “Beat Beifuss at the Oscars” contest. Stay tuned for details.