The Notable Films of 2012: Volume Five

By Garth Franklin Sunday January 8th 2012 08:03AM

In this fifth volume I look at films that include a mega-budget Martian epic, a Presidential biopic, another 3D 'Journey', a biopic of Burma's lady of peace, a Sandler and Samberg comedy team-up, and another adventure with Scrat.

There's also a tale of the Thailand tsunami, a live-action take on a certain folk story involving a giant beanstalk, an invasion from moon-based Nazis, the film version of THE classic stage musical, and a Cuban zombie comedy.


I Hate You Dad
Opens: June 15th 2012
Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Milo Ventimiglia
Director: Sean Anders, John Morris

Analysis: It's not sure what title this Sandler comedy is going by now as 'Dad' was the working title, then it changed to "Donny's Boy" last month, now there's talk that it's back to 'Dad' again. Confusing.

Anders & Morris penned the comedies "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "She's Out of My League", but have earned their own fan base with their first directing effort "Sex Drive" which went places fairly crude but often quite funny. I'd expect this to be just as R-rated.

They are back in the big chair for this story in which Sandler plays a guy who fathered a son with his teacher during high school. Years later, the man moves in with his son (Samberg) on the eve of the young guy's wedding and begins feuding with the bride.

The film's original scribe, David Caspe, created ABC's "Happy Endings". That show surprised many by posting a big jump in its ratings in its second season, along with becoming one of the favourite regular series of last year of several noted TV critics. How much of Caspe's work remains intact isn't sure as "Role Models" and "Wanderlust" scribes Ken Marino and David Wain re-wrote it - in either case it's already looking like far better material than you'd come to expect from a Sandler comedy.

The draw here for audiences though is the teaming of Sandler and Samberg, ably supported by talents like James Caan, Susan Sarandon and even Vanilla Ice in a role said to be more than a cameo. It's the kind of film where Milo Ventimiglia's role for example is the bride's brother, an Iraq War veteran who is overly affectionate with his sister. At least it's not "Jack and Jill 2".


Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D
Opens: July 13th 2012
Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott
Director: Stave Martino, Mike Thurmeier

Analysis: The CG animated franchise that just keeps on ticking, 'Continental' marks the fourth chapter in the "Ice Age" series from Blue Sky Studios and Fox. The second to be in 3D, the first to be in IMAX 3D, and the first with a CinemaScope aspect ratio (2.35:1), this one kicks off with a continental cataclysm and leads to a mostly seaborne tale including a ragtag group of animal pirates.

The cast assembled for this is pretty impressive including Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Aziz Ansari, Wanda Sykes, Rebel Wilson, Joy Behar and Alan Tudyk. While the sloth reunites with his family and the saber-toothed tiger finds love, most of the affection for the series is due to the antics of the acorn chasing Scrat who once again returns.

Despite the series having yet to really distinguish itself creatively, when the last film managed to rake in nearly $900 million worldwide from a budget 1/10th that size - you know Fox will keep milking it for god knows how many more sequels.


Opens: 2012
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annette Benning, Darren Criss, Matt Dillon, Natasha Lyonne
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Analysis: Many of us suspected it would only be a matter of time before former SNL star Kristen Wiig broke out and made it big - in 2011 she did just that with the success of "Bridesmaids". Now she's been able to translate that success into making this passion project she's been keen on doing for some time.

Wiig plays a modestly successful New York playwright who stages a fake suicide attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend. Unfortunately this leads to her being kidnapped by her gambling-addict mother (Benning) who takes her back to her hometown to shake some sense back into her.

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who helmed HBO's "Cinema Verite" telemovie, are directing what sounds like a refreshingly darker sense of humour for a film of this type. Along with Wiig's appeal, there's Benning getting to do a showy performance and "Glee" heart throb Darren Criss getting some big screen time as a love interest.


The Impossible
Opens: 2012
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Gitte Julsrud, Marta Etura
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Analysis: A lot of the team behind 2007's impressive Spanish-language supernatural tale "The Orphanage" have re-assembled for this English-language effort based around the 2004 Thailand tsunami which wreaked havoc along the coast of the Indochinese Peninsula.

This follows the story of one holidaying family caught up in the mayhem along with millions of others. Shot in both Spain and Thailand, many of the extras in the film are actual survivors of the tsunami while some of the locations used like a hospital were actually a big part of dealing with the crisis.

Bayona also reportedly used a huge man-made reservoir in Spain to shoot the crucial wave impact scenes. A foreign language teaser trailer released the other week showed a glimpse of how said sequences came off and it is quite impressive to say the least.

Though shooting wrapped almost a year ago, the extensive post-production and effects mean the film won't be ready to to deliver until later this Spring with a second half of 2012 release being targeted.


In Darkness
Opens: 2012
Cast: Robert Więckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader
Director: Agnieszka Holland

Analysis: Premiering at Telluride last year, this Polish WW2-set true story drama is the country's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars this year. Set in a Polish-dominated city in Nazi-Occupied Ukraine, the story tells of a Catholic sewer worker who tenuously protects roughly a dozen Polish Jews who hid from the Nazis for more than a year in the sewers under Lvov.

What's interesting here is the protagonist isn't someone with a higher cause about saving people or doing the right thing. Instead he's a grubby opportunist and former thief, something of a mercenary with no real higher motivation other than who makes him the best offer. Add in some tension and even irony-laced twists and you have a moderately fresh take on familiar material.

Reviews out of Telluride were strong, saying it's a tad unusual but still a strong work that art house audiences will lap up. Shot on the RED camera, the grimy sewer-set scenes lit only by torches are murky enough to occasionally cause confusion. The tradeoff however sounds like it's worth it.


Inside Llewyn Davis
Opens: 2012
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Jeanine Serralles
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Analysis: The Coen brothers get to indulge their love of folk music again with this story set against the backdrop of that scene in New York City in the 1960's. Though the protagonist is fictional, previous talk had them looking to Dave van Ronk and his memoir "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" for inspiration.

Coming off the major success of their western remake "True Grit" which not only scored critical acclaim but became a genuine crowd-pleasing hit, the Coens are once again teaming with Scott Rudin as producer. I'd expect a more straight up take on the material than their often more stylised work. With shooting not yet underway though, no-one is entirely sure what to expect yet.


Opens: 2012
Cast: Clive Owen, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten, Kerry Fox, Ella Purnel
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Analysis: A $13 million American, British and Spanish co-production shot in London and Madrid, this English-language project marks Fresnadillo's first feature since the well-received sequel "28 Weeks Later" back in 2007.

The filmmaker is something of a perfectionist, spending a great deal of time composing shots and tweaking which is why it has taken some time for this psychological thriller with supernatural overtones to get to the screen.

The story follows a young boy and girl who're having the same nightmares - he's living in Madrid, she's in London today. When their parents seek help, they soon learn each has been having visions of a sinister intruder in their homes nicknamed 'Hollow Face' who has designs on them.

This allows Fresnadillo to explore the differences of how people tackle the same problem through either religion or science. After premiering in Toronto last year, reviews were good but claim that the last act somewhat collapses due to a predictable twist and attempts to logically explain events. Should be a fun genre effort nonetheless.


Iron Sky
Opens: April 4th 2012
Cast: Udo Kier, Tilo Prückner, Götz Otto, Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby
Director: Timo Vuorensola

Analysis: Science fiction comedies remain one of the single hardest genres to crack with only a handful of efforts like "Red Dwarf" or "Galaxy Quest" effectively delivering on their potential. Now the makers of "Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning" are having a go with this ambitious high-concept but low-budget project boasting quite a few visual effects.

The story sets up the premise that just before the fall of the Third Reich, German scientists make a breakthrough in anti-gravity research. Using this technology, a bunch of them evacuated to the dark side of the Moon to set up a military base and construct a powerful fleet to return and conquer. It's now 2018, the fleet is ready and the descendants of the original Nazis launch their invasion.

The project has been in the works since 2006 and first came to attention in 2008 when financing was being sought in Cannes. Unlike most productions which are closed off or kept secret, the producers of 'Iron' were involved with a collaborative film-making web site which invited everyone interested to submit ideas and be involved.

Shot in both Frankfurt and Australia on a budget of 7.5 million euros, the cast is mostly German actors famous for supporting roles with Udo Kier the most recognisable. There's also a soundtrack from Slovenian industrial music group Laibach.

It's an odd project with a distinctly European cult feel - the concern is that with its low budget, the writing, direction and production values are going to have to work over time to live up to the promise of the premise? It'll be a tough sell so good luck to them.


Jack and Diane
Opens: June 1st 2012
Cast: Riley Keough, Juno Temple, Jena Malone, Cara Seymour, Kylie Minogue
Director: Bradley Rust Gray

Analysis: The latest effort from filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray ("In Between Days," "The Exploding Girl") is a lycan lesbian drama. As a concept it sells itself with the teen, gay and dirty old man demographics all likely to line-up to get tickets, or in the latter case sit at home in a raincoat and watch it on Netflix. Yet this indie genre tale was stuck in development for years as a revolving door of cast members came and went until Riley Keough and Juno Temple were ultimately locked into the titular roles.

Studios certainly love to flirt the sexual orientation divide in their monster mashes, but challenge them with the idea of an outright gay genre film and they scurry back to their corners reaching for the nearest kiddie cartoon adaptation. Here is a story in which two New York City teenage girls fall in love as one struggles with her newly awakened sexual desire giving her werewolf-like visions.

The actual amount of lycanthropic action in the film is said to be minimal - more metaphorical than literal aside from at least one nightmare sequence. I'm guessing something more akin to Natalie Portman's delusions in "Black Swan". Aussie singer Kylie Minogue puts in a cameo as the owner of a tattoo parlour and the ex-girlfriend of Jack's character - for those wondering, she does have a kissing scene. Magnolia Pictures are said to be targeting a mid-Summer limited release.


Jack the Giant Killer
Opens: June 15th 2012
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor
Director: Bryan Singer

Analysis: Another of next year's big action-fantasy films based on a fairy tale is this take on the classic British folk story 'Jack and the Beanstalk' from "X-Men" and "Superman Returns" helmer Bryan Singer.

Though initially a D.J. Caruso film, Singer and his "Usual Suspects" scribe Christopher McQuarrie came onboard soon after the release of Singer's last directing effort "Valkyrie" and the pair re-tooled the entire endeavour.

As a result there were a major delay on the project during pre-production. Shooting didn't get underway until early 2011, almost a year later than originally planned. The extra time however has given Singer more freedom to employ a variety of techniques to bring this story to the big screen, plus assemble a great cast of British thesps.

A combination of live-action and motion-capture elements, the story follows a young farmhand (Nicholas Hoult) who unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants bent on reclaiming the Earth they once lost - forcing the farmhand into the battle of his life to stop them.

A first look trailer a few weeks ago showed a solid if oddly generic film - blending giant battle vistas with some oddly very obvious CG effects for the giants and the beanstalk itself.

With Singer and McQuarrie involved though one does expect some solid characterisations for even the more fantastical elements of this story. However, opening two weeks after the so far more impressive looking "Snow White and the Huntsman" hits, will it get the opportunity to soar or will it be trampled by the competition?


Jeff Who Lives At Home
Opens: March 9th 2012
Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong
Director: Jay & Mark Duplass

Analysis: After decent success with their first studio effort "Cyrus", indie film comedy darlings Mark and Jay Duplass moved right along to this gentler New Orleans-shot story of two brothers with very different work ethics and personalities.

Segel plays a slacker who never got over his father's death and sits about getting stoned. In contrast Helms plays an overachiever whose marriage is about to collapse. Throw in Greer as Helms' potentially unfaithful wife and Sarandon as their mother who has been getting love notes, and you have a part mystery and part cute little contemplation piece on destiny.

The Duplass reportedly held onto the script for years in the hopes of doing it one day, and now with the bigger budget on offer they've done it the way they intended. Jason Reitman and John Malkovich produced the feature which screened at Toronto to good but not great reviews, the most common complaint being that it's almost too light weight.


John Carter
Opens: March 9th 2012
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton, Ciarán Hinds
Director: Andrew Stanton

Analysis: While Disney famously reigned in the budget for their upcoming "Lone Ranger" film, the same kind of thinking hasn't really applied to this sci-fi epic with an official budget of $250 million. In fact, some reliable sources have claimed it costs much closer to $300 million - big money and a massive gamble in anyone's terms.

Based on "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1917 book "A Princess of Mars", the first novel in his Barsoom series, the story follows an American Civil War veteran who is miraculously transported to Mars where he learns the planet is dying from the loss of its atmosphere and water. Only a peaceful alliance of its intelligent inhabitants can save the inhabitants from extinction.

Various people have been trying to translate this work for over eight decades, with this incarnation taking around ten years to come together. Ultimately it was "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E" director Andrew Stanton who ended up in the director's chair, his first live-action feature, while the cast is mostly a mix of British character actors with the odd American TV actor like abs-tastic "Friday Night Lights" star Taylor Kitsch as the titular hero, his "Wolverine" co-star Lynn Collins as his love interest, and even Bryan Cranston in a small role.

The big question is will this work? Burroughs' original work inspired many imitators in the sci-fi and fantasy realms, so much so that everything in 'Carter' will feel quite familiar. In fact the trailers for the film play like a mash up of the "Star Wars" prequels and "Dune" with some big FX-fueled action sequences but nothing really new on offer.

In fact some decisions seem baffling, like the Martian landscape resembling the American South West with some obvious CG extensions, or even the title change from 'Princess' to "John Carter of Mars" to ultimately just "John Carter" due to marketing factors - namely "boys don't like princesses, girls don't like planets". With the film only two months away, there still doesn't seem to be a large amount of interest - certainly not to the level that Disney is going to require to make its money back. Some over there will no doubt be hoping the word of mouth is good as it really needs to be.


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Opens: February 10th 2012
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Kristin Davis
Director: Brad Peyton

Analysis: Though resembling the Jules Verne classic story pretty much in name only, 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" scored decent reviews and an impressive $242 million worldwide. Walden and New Line initially considered an Atlantis-based tale for the follow-up, but instead opted for Richard Outten's spec script "Mysterious Travels" which was retrofitted to serve as a sequel to 'Journey'.

A fusion of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island", Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" and Verne's own "Mysterious Island", here the first film's nephew character (Josh Hutcherson) sets out in search of his missing grandfather (Michael Caine). With Brendan Fraser and Anita Briem out, Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Hudgens have stepped in to play the step father and love interest respectively.

The original Verne novel dealt with pirates and strange happenings on a remote South Pacific island. The work ultimately proved to be a direct sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" with an elderly Captain Nemo on his deathbed. That's not the case here as trailers indicate similar style shenanigans to the first film albeit in colourful CG jungle settings with lots of strange creatures rather than dim underground caverns with geographic obstacles.

The first film had the advantage of being one of the first live-action releases using the current 3D technology back when it was a novelty. With that gimmick quickly falling out of favor and with this chapter costing $110 million, almost double the budget of the first film, this is a bit of a gamble that might end up fizzling out ala Disney's "Race to Witch Mountain".


Joyful Noise
Opens: January 13th 2012
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan
Director: Todd Graff

Analysis: A Georgia-set choir movie with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton? This is one of those films that sells itself on the concept and stars alone - from that one line description you will be able to determine whether this holds any interest or not.

The story is fairly routine - gospel choir director dies and a tussle breaks out between his widow and a single mother over who should take over and what kind of music to sing. Throw in the choir undergoing financial problems, a young romance, and a national competition - you can pretty much see where this is going.

Supporting roles are filled out by "True Jackson VP" star Keke Palmer and Broadway actor Jeremy Jordan (NOT the 90's teen pop idol sadly) along with brief appearances from Jesse L. Martin, Courtney B. Vance and Kris Kristofferson who gets a duet in the afterlife.

Actor turned writer/director Todd Graff certainly has familiarity with this material, and his previous fun but often cheesy credits "Camp" and "Bandslam" are better films than their loglines let on. I'll be surprised if that's the case again here.


Juan of the Dead
Opens: April 2012
Cast: Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Luis Alberto García, Andros Perugorría, Elsa Camp
Director: Alejandro Brugués

Analysis: A Cuban zombie comedy, 'Juan' plays like a fusion of "Shaun of the Dead", the video game "Dead Island", and various low-budget horror comedies. The result is an assured cult film success that will only really appeal to a niche audience, but that group will love it.

The story centers on a 40-year-old slacker who finds himself in new employment - killing the undead members of other people's families during a zombie outbreak. The draw here is similar to that of Max Brooks' "World War Z" novel in that it we get occasional bits of fun socio-political commentary amidst the carnage such as the local Government swearing the U.S. is responsible for the outbreak.

Of course it wouldn't be a zombie movie without lots of jaw-ripping gory action and this seems to have that in spades along with its tongue planted firmly in its ripped out cheek. Focus World, the new digital distribution arm of Focus Features, will release the film through video on demand platforms in April following a festival circuit run.


Killer Joe
Opens: 2012
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple
Director: William Friedkin

Analysis: William Friedkin's first film since 2006's "Bug" is an adaptation of Tracy Letts' 1998 off-Broadway play which has been described as a twisted and blackly comic Texas noir, the tone both brutally funny and disturbing.

The story follows a debt ridden young brother and sister who employ a hired killer to take out their alcoholic mother in order to collect her life insurance. Thing is, they're not the only members of their family who wants their mother dead.

Friedkin hasn't delivered much in terms of strong cinematic output in the past two decades, but in quite a few of those cases the material and scripting, rather than the direction, was the decidedly underwhelming factor. Here, "August: Osage County" creator Letts is doing the adaptation himself.

Screened at Venice and Toronto last year, reviews were quite good with the performances (especially an understated McConaughey) receiving high marks. The ending however has divided some. The digitally shot indie was picked up by LD Distribution who'll release the film sometime early in the year.


The Lady
Opens: February 17th 2012
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse
Director: Luc Besson

Analysis: Biopics of politically contentious figures are usually period pieces for a good reason. Chief among them of course is the potential legal and personal ramifications for not just the person in question, but the filmmakers as well. French filmmaker Luc Besson isn't one to beat around the bush. As a result, his biopic of current Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was initially shot under top secret conditions in Burma, Paris, Bangkok and the UK.

For those unfamiliar, Aung San Suu Kyi lead the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to a landslide election win in Burma (Myanmar) in 1990. However the win was never recognised by the country's ruling military junta who had been in power since a coup d'état in 1962 and kept her incarcerated for most of the past two decades. She was freed late 2010 after seven straight years of house arrest at her lakeside mansion in Rangoon. General elections that year also lead to various reforms including the dissolving of the junta in March 2011.

Those involved in this film worked their asses off to try and recreate all the historical details with meticulous accuracy including a 1:1 scale model of her house built to the exact same cardinal directions so the sun's light would be the same. Many Burmese actors and extras were hired and even reenacted their own personal memories of events in some cases.

Yeoh herself reportedly watched around 200 hours of video of Suu Kyi and took lessons in Burmese to get her language and mannerisms just right. It got so uncanny that numerous takes of a speech scene had to be done as extras who heard the real speech kept bursting out in emotion. Yeoh also made headlines back in June when she was deported from Burma reportedly over her work in the film.

Suu Kyi herself has been hesitant to watch it because she wasn't sure she was ready - but has requested a copy for when she is. Some who have already have seen it though are film critics at the Toronto Film Festival last year who praised the film's sincerity and performances but generally found the story inert and somewhat clumsily handled. The melodramatics however won't affect audiences who'll likely warm to this truly inspiring tale.


Laurence Anyways
Opens: 2012
Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Karine Vanasse, Nathalie Baye, Monia Chokri, Yves Jacques
Director: Xavier Dolan

Analysis: He's only 22 yet he has already starred in several films and directed two features with this marking his third. Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan delivers a less autobiographical work this time with the 1989-set story of the impact on a love affair between a man and a woman when the man decides to have a sex change.

While shooting "I Killed My Mother", Dolan was inspired by a costume designer's story about her relationship with a transsexual. So came this $6.5 million feature funded by both French investors and even some online crowd sourcing. Dolan himself is not starring in front of the camera this time, rather scoring French talents Nathalie Baye and Melvil Poupaud for the key roles.

His previous two films premiered at Cannes, and with this essentially in the can already it's likely to happen again this time. It's tougher and more delicate subject matter to tackle than his previous films, can he live up to the challenge? We'll find out on the Croisette.


Lay the Favorite
Opens: 2012
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn, Joshua Jackson, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Stephen Frears

Analysis: Frears' last film "Tamara Drewe" scored some varied reviews with not everyone sparking to its sense of bawdy and silly British countryside humour. Here he tries his hand at a more crowd-friendly crime comedy tale about sports betting with the help of his "High Fidelity" scribe D.V. DeVincentis.

A $20 million adaptation of Beth Raymer's memoir of the same title, the story follows the rise of a lowly Vegas cocktail waitress who became one of the top sports gambling bookmakers in the city. Originally setup at Focus Features, the project was dumped and then resurrected by Pathe and Emmett Furla.

There's a fun cast here including those above plus Laura Prepon, Frank Grillo, Corbin Bernsen and Wendell Pierce. With a Sundance premiere set, many are wondering if Frears can do what Bennett Miller did with last year's "Moneyball" - turn a fairly bland sports-related topic into one of the year's best films and one adored by those who wouldn't have the first clue about the subject matter.


Learning to Fly
Opens: March 30th 2012
Cast: Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ving Rhames, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac
Director: Daniel Barnz

Analysis: With Davis a likely Oscar nominee and potential Oscar winner for her work in "The Help", opening this inspirational drama a month later seems like a smart move on the part of Walden Media and Fox.

Previously titled "Still I Rise", the based on a true story tale follows two strong mothers - one lower class, one upper class - who channel their frustration into action and join forces to transform an inner-city school to make a difference in the education and the lives of their children.

"Beastly" and "Phoebe in Wonderland" helmer Barnz directs the Pittsburgh-set sub-$20 million film which is also said to focus on America's educational crisis as a whole. But it's the presence and promise of Davis, Gyllenhaal and Hunter together that makes this sound more appealing than the Lifetime movie it probably would otherwise appear to be.


Les Miserables
Opens: December 7th 2012
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Tom Hooper

Analysis: While Victor Hugo's 1862 novel was the origin of the story, many of today's generation are most familiar with "Les Miserables" thanks to Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical - the longest-running stage musical in the world with songs that, even if you haven't seen the musical, are ones you'll know well such as "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Do You Hear the People Sing".

Now, "The King's Speech" helmer Tom Hooper tackles this film adaption of the classic tale of bread-stealing fugitive Jean Valjean and his relentless pursuer Inspector Javert. It's a project which has been in development for almost as long as the musical itself has been running but didn't really get moving until early last year when Hooper, fresh off of winning a Best Director award, came onboard.

A cast came together quickly over the Fall with some of the minor roles still being filled out ahead of rehearsals later this month - one particular bit of potential casting, Taylor Swift as Eponine, seems to have upset quite a few. Hooper's also made some interesting and welcome choices in regards to the production, from his refusal to shoot or convert into 3D to having the cast sing the songs live during filming rather than use pre-recorded tracks. If he pulls it off, Hooper might have another awards contender on his hands.


Liberal Arts
Opens: 2012
Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, John Magaro, Allison Janney
Director: Josh Radnor

Analysis: "How I Met Your Mother" star Josh Radnor's second feature following "Happythankyoumoreplease", this dramedy follows a guy in his mid-30's who still yearns for a college student life and eventually has to come to terms with his age and responsibilities.

Added to the mix is a 19-year-old college student (Elizabeth Olsen) who falls for him and wants to pursue a relationship, however the difference in maturity levels no doubt comes into play as a device. Shot at Radnor's actual alma mater in Ohio, this will likely follow a similar festival circuit ahead of a limited theatrical release like his first film.


Life of Pi
Opens: December 21st 2012
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussain, Irrfan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Tobey Maguire
Director: Ang Lee

Analysis: Something of a wild card during next year's award season is "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's multi-award winning 2001 novel. The story follows a young boy who survives a freighter sinking and is stuck in a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.

It's a tricky tale though due to its heavy multi-religion themes, use of allegory, the use of various wild animals as characters, and some quite dark moments in a warm and wry adventure tone. Throw in the mostly contained lifeboat setting and Fox's desire to release the film in regular and IMAX 3D and you have a challenge for even the most adept filmmaker.

"Finding Neverland" scribe David Magee adapted the script for the project which originally had the likes M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet attached to direct. With Lee they've got a classy sensibility, but the project itself is something of a marketing nightmare outside of the pre-existing fanbase of the book. Could be one of the year's best and boldest films, or a wasted opportunity of the worst kind - there's very little middle ground here.


Opens: 2012
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg

Analysis: Spielberg released two major films in cinemas at Christmas in the form of "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse". While they scored good critical reaction, there was enough varied opinion that both have already been dismissed as major awards contenders and neither has been particular big earners at the U.S. box-office (internationally though "Tintin" is a big hit).

Late this year however comes his Abraham Lincoln biopic which has been in the works ever since he picked up the rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Lincoln biography "Team of Rivals" back in 2001. Indeed, Liam Neeson was linked to the film for a full five years before bowing out in 2010 citing he was too old for the part. The actor was replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis as the former commander-in-chief in a performance that is already shaping up to score recognition during next year's awards run.

What's interesting here is that instead of opting for a full biopic, the focus has been shifted to keep the action specifically contained to the last few months of Lincoln's life. The big story points will be the close vote in the House of Representatives over the 13th Amendment which permanently ended slavery, and of course the end of the Civil War.

There's a stellar cast including those mentioned above plus Lee Pace, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, James Spader, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Walton Goggins, Gloria Reuben, David Oyelowo and Bruce McGill. Add to that a script adapted by John Logan, Tony Kushner & Paul Webb along with various frequent Spielberg collaborators like D.O.P. Janusz Kamiński, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams.

The result is a film with more of a chance than either of his 2011 features to score some awards recognition, especially considering this will be hitting around the time of the Presidential election.


The Longest Week
Opens: 2012
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jason Bateman, Billy Crudup
Director: Peter Glanz

Analysis: 'Week' marks one of the first efforts of YRF Entertainment, the Hollywood banner of a veteran Bollywood production company, which saved the film after the original financier bailed. Bateman plays a spoiled rich kid living off his parents in a Manhattan Hotel and in the space of a week is evicted, disinherited and falls in love with the object of his best friend's affection.

In these tight economic times, stories of spoiled rich kid finding themselves are a tough sell (hello "Arthur" remake). Bateman's appeal has also worn thin thanks to some dud choices of late, so hopefully the material is good enough it can escape both the standard rom-com trappings and its setup.


Long Time Gone
Opens: 2012
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Virginia Madsen, Sam Trammell, Zach Gilford
Director: Sarah Siegel-Magness

Analysis: "Precious" producer Sarah Siegel-Magness makes her directing debut on this Los Angeles-based indie drama about what happens to a family left behind after the father leaves his wife for another woman.

Based on the April Stevens novel "Angel, Angel" and adapted by Karen McCullah, the tale is a relatable one as most people usually know of someone who has gone through the situation. Though ultimately people come out the other side, how many scars they receive along the way and carry with them varies greatly.

There's a solid little cast here to join LaPaglia and Madsen. "Friday Night Lights" actor Gilford plays one of the sons trying to help his shattered mother, while "True Blood" shapeshifter Sam Trammell plays a handsome landscape gardener and potential new love interest for Madsen.

The scene stealer though looks to be Amanda Crew who plays a carefree spirit whose outlook changes the perspective of the family members and restores their sense of hope. Shot a few months ago, I'm guessing a festival debut later in the year is in the cards.

The Complete Notable Films of 2012 Guide

Volume One: 2 Days in New York, 21 Jump Street, 47 Ronin, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Act of Valor, The Amazing Spider-Man, American Reunion, Amour, The Angel's Share, Anna Karenina, The Apparition, Arbitrage, Argo, The Avengers, A.W.O.L., Bachelorette, Bait 3D, Battleship, Beauty and the Beast in 3D, Being Flynn, Bel Ami, Beneath the Darkness, Bernie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Big House

Volume Two: Big Miracle, The Big Wedding, Blackbird, Black Rock, The Bourne Legacy, Brave, Bullet to the Head, The Bully Project, Butter, The Cabin in the Woods, Casa de mi Padre, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Chimpanzee, Chronicle, Cloud Atlas, Cogan's Trade, The Cold Light of Day, The Company You Keep, Contraband, Cosmopolis, The Dark Knight Rises, Dark Shadows, Decoding Annie Parker, The Deep Blue Sea, The Devil Inside

Volume Three: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Dictator, Disconnect, The Divide, Django Unchained, Dog Fight, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, Dredd, Drift, The End, The End of Love, The English Teacher, The Expendables 2, A Few Best Men, Finding Nemo in 3D, The Five-Year Engagement, Flight, Footnote, For a Good Time Call…, Foxfire, Frankenweenie, The Frozen Ground, Fun Size, Gambit, Gangster Squad, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Volume Four: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III, Goats, God Bless America, Gods Behaving Badly, Gone, Goon, Grabbers, The Grandmasters, Gravity, Great Expectations, Great Hope Springs, The Great Gatsby, The Grey, Halloween 3D, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Haywire, He Loves Me, Here Comes the Boom, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Hotel Transylvania 3D, House at the End of The Street, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, The Hunger Games, Hunter Killer, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Alex Cross

Volume Five: I Hate You Dad, Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D, Imogene, The Impossible, In Darkness, Inside Llewyn Davis, Intruders, Iron Sky, Jack and Diane, Jack the Giant Killer, Jeff Who Lives At Home, John Carter, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Joyful Noise, Juan of the Dead, Killer Joe, The Lady, Laurence Anyways, Lay the Favorite, Learning to Fly, Les Miserables, Liberal Arts, Life of Pi, Lincoln, The Longest Week, Long Time Gone

Volume Six: Looper, Love and Bruises, The Lucky One, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Magic Mike, Man on a Ledge, The Man with the Iron Fists, The Master, Mental, Men in Black 3, Mirror Mirror, Moonrise Kingdom, The Moth Diaries, Movie 43, MS One: Maximum Security, Mud, My Mother's Curse, Neighborhood Watch, Nero Fiddled, No One Lives, Not Suitable for Children, Nurse 3D, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Of Men and Mavericks, On the Ice, On the Road, One for the Money

Volume Seven: Only God Forgives, Outrun, The Paperboy, ParaNorman, Parental Guidance, Parker, Perfect Sense, Phantom, Piranha 3DD, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Place Beyond the Pines, Playing the Field, The Possession, Post Tenebras Lux, Premium Rush, Price Check, Project X, Prometheus, The Raid, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Hook Summer, Red Lights, Red Tails, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Resident Evil: Retribution

Volume Eight: Return, Rise of the Guardians, Robot and Frank, Rock of Ages, Rust and Bone, Safe, Safe House, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Sapphires, Satellite Boy, Savages, Searching for Sugar Man, The Secret World of Arrietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Seeking Justice, Seven Psychopaths, Shadow Dancer, Side by Side, Silent House, The Silver Linings Playbook, Sinister, Skyfall, Smashed, Snow White and the Huntsman, Something in the Air, Song for Marion

Volume Nine: Sparkle, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D, Step Up 4ever, Stoker, Straight A's, The Surrogate, The Sweeney, Syrup, Taken 2, Take this Waltz, Ted, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Thanks for Sharing, Think Like a Man, This is Forty, This Means War, A Thousand Words, The Three Stooges, Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, Titanic in 3D, Total Recall, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two, Under the Skin, Underworld Awakening, Untitled Bin Laden Project

Volume Ten: Untitled David Chase Movie, Untitled Ramin Bahrani Film, Untitled Terrence Malick Project, Upside Down, V/H/S, The Vow, Wanderlust, Warm Bodies, Welcome to the Punch, Welcome to People, The Wettest County, What Maisie Knew, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Wish You Were Here, The Woman in Black, The Woman in the Fifth, The Words, Words with Gods, World War Z, Wrath of the Titans, Wreck-It Ralph, Wuthering Heights, Your Sister's Sister