Another year, another several hundred movie trailers have gone online promoting films both big and small. Of course trailers are separate to the films themselves, and a great film doesn’t necessarily mean a great trailer. Today, I take a look at what I thought were the best film trailers for this year.
The rule here is the trailer (not the film) had to come out this calendar year. As a result some trailers don’t qualify, such as “Stoker” which released all its previews last year. Others like “Pacific Rim,” “Iron Man 3,” “Oblivion,” and “The Great Gatsby” did have trailers this year, but those weren’t as strong as their initial teaser trailers launched back in 2012.
Onto the winners:
1. Man of Steel – Trailer #3
The first trailer was a bit of a wash, the second trailer was a one of the better trailers of the year on its own with its astonishing visuals and choral music. Yet it was the third time out that Warners utterly nailed it with a three-minute short film that perfectly encapsulated everything that was so great about the character of Superman. It soars with a grand sense of nobility, self-sacrifice, triumph and hope – it’s a piece of epic myth, something Snyder’s problematic and often awkward final film isn’t.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street – Trailer #1
A two minute blast of pure kinetic energy, thanks in no small part to Kanye’s “Black Skinhead” backing track, the first trailer for Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” cares little about the plot. Instead it’s a glorious celebration of relentless, all consuming greed – a party anthem for the pure, unbridled capitalism of a Western corporate culture driven by ego-fueled fratboys with no scruples, no guilt, and no fear of consequences. The editing with Kanye’s song is incredibly well done, and a great juxtaposition of two of the world’s most ridiculously overpaid occupations (stock marketers, hip hop artists).
3. Under the Skin – Teaser
The most ‘out there’ trailer of the year, the teaser for Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” boasts an incredibly creepy aesthetic akin to 1970s/1980s European horror works by greats like Dario Argento or Nicolas Roeg. The unsettling music, the desolately beautiful Scottish coastal locations, Scarlett Johansson as a seductress who doesn’t seem to fit quite in, and of course all the nightmare imagery of demonic figures and men being engulfed by some sort of liquid black mass. It’s just a stunning looking creation.
4. Gravity – Triptych Trailer
Warners didn’t put a foot wrong with the marketing of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity”. Each trailer was electric, tense and superbly constructed. Yet the single most memorable move of the entire campaign was three days back in August when three separate near two-minute trailers were released, one a day. Unlike the other trailers which were edited for time, each of these were essentially clips – three single scenes utilising Cuaron’s single take approach. The lack of cutting helped to increase the already high levels of suspense and tension from the previous teaser, while the final trailer a few weeks later seemed like an afterthought after this feast.
5. Laurence Anyways – U.S. Trailer
How does one sell a near three hour, French language film about a male-to-female transsexual’s relationship with her lover? If you’re rising young French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan you do it by cutting together a dialogue-free trailer that plays far more like a trippy 1980s music video. Set to Visage’s new wave classic Fade to Grey, the trailer showcases the film’s stunning party sequence filled with garish fashion, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. I’m not sure how well it sells the film, but it’s definitely memorable.
6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Trailer #1
The first trailer for Ben Stiller’s tale of a meek corporate drone breaking free and living life to the full is a great piece of art on its own. Driven purely by Monsters and Men’s “My Head is an Animal” song, aside from a standalone joke at the end, you get a basic idea of the plot and a rush of wild imaginative imagery. The subsequent full trailer is just as good, though the need to explain the plot gets a little bit in the way of the sheer purity of this first teaser.
7. Godzilla – Teaser
Following on from the the wondrous San Diego Comic Con ‘proof of concept’ trailer from 2012 which was made before the film was shot (and subsequently leaked online earlier this year), the first actual teaser trailer for the “Godzilla” reboot hit the other week and, though not quite as memorable, was still excellent. The first two-thirds in particular are perfect, a single scene showing several men doing a parachute jump through eerie looking clouds into the ruins of a major metropolis, glimpsing the monster and its scale in the process. The use of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Requiem” (the monolith music from Kubrick’s “2001”) adds a nice touch of class and scope as well, it’s almost a shame the trailer has to cut to more ordinary human scenes in the last third.
8. Need for Speed – Teaser
Music can make or break a trailer, combining the right song with the right material and careful editing is what can make an ordinary film look extraordinary. Case in point is “Need for Speed,” a video game adaptation that, on concept alone, sounds bland and familiar in the extreme. Yet, the trailer works wonders. A combination of Max Richter’s haunting “Sarajevo” music, Aaron Paul delivering an almost Shakespearian monologue about revenge, Scott Waugh’s impressive visuals, non-CG enhanced car chase action, a tagline already familiar to many, and skilled cutting all combine to deliver something beautiful.
9. Only God Forgives – Red-Band Teaser
It ended up being one of the most divisive films of the year, some adoring and a lot hating Nicolas Winding Refn’s so style-driven approach to this relentlessly violent Thailand-set underground fighting revenge tale. Yet, it was the kind of film that boasted numerous great teaser trailers filled with shots of neon-soaked locations as Ryan Gosling with his v-necks and smouldering hunky appeal beat the crap out of various people. Of all the clips, it was this one set to the trippy karaoke number that closes out the film that blends best with the movie’s hypnotic imagery.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Teaser
Marvel had a couple of strong trailers this year, the easy standout being the first teaser for its “Captain America” sequel. While I didn’t mind the first film, I wasn’t much of a fan and the character himself always seemed the dullest of the Avengers. So I was somewhat shocked by the complete shift in tone for the sequel, moving towards something with far more depth, weight and potential than the retro 1930s adventure tone of the first film. From the thorny moral issues in play to a refreshingly restrained use of CG beyond a handful of money shots, it showcases an intriguing grown-up sensibility to the Marvel universe.
11. Captain Phillips – Trailer #1
One of the most tense and succinct trailers of the year, the first preview for “Captain Phillips” keeps much of the film, specifically the second half, under wraps. Instead it focuses on the film’s setup and strong suspense elements involving the boarding of the ship by Somali pirates. The concept is clearly laid out, the style and tone of the film perfectly conveyed – it’s a great model of pure efficiency.
12. The Conjuring – Teaser
Creepy. There’s no other way to describe the first trailer for James Wan’s “The Conjuring” which keeps the focus small and relatively grounded. There’s no explanation of the setup, most of the film’s major characters don’t appear. Instead it’s a well-paced cutting together of two of the film’s creepiest linked moments involving Lili Taylor playing a clapping game with her kids. It’s so effective because it’s all suggestion, unlike the subsequent trailers and the film itself which had to show the ghosts (ie. fat extras in albino make-up and period costume hand me downs) and thus reduced their impact.
13. The Raid 2: Berandal – Red-Band Teaser
Gareth Evans’ original “The Raid” did so much with so little, taking a bare bones concept and very little in the way of plotting or character and delivering a viscerally thrilling action film. The same came be said for this first trailer for the sequel. When you think about it, all we’re really seeing is a guy punching a wall, and some random unknown faces and acts of violence. Yet Evans’ slick editing, the incredible skill of the actors/fighters, and much more varied and intriguing looking locales make it all look thrilling.
14. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Official International Trailer
“Take your hands off my lobby boy” has to go down as one of the more memorable trailer line deliveries of the year. Ralph Fiennes is the focus of the first trailer for Wes Anderson’s quirky new comedy. This is the first time they’ve worked together, but the fact that Fiennes seems to deliver Anderson’s humor like he was born for it makes the trailer work all the more. It’s an out and out broad farce, with a stunning cast getting up to a ton of old fashioned slapstick fun. It’s also one of the few 4:3 aspect ratio trailers released for a major modern film in recent years.
15. X-Men Days of Future Past – Teaser
Considering it was released just after filming was finished and only contains one or two completed visual effects shots, Bryan Singer’s first trailer for this epic X-Men team-up is remarkably complete. Lacking punchy visuals, the trailer instead shifts the focus in a way that both succinctly explains Logan’s time jumping consciousness, and conveys an ultimately hopeful message. It does lose points for overused score elements, particularly Hans Zimmer’s “Journey to The Line”. Still, an extremely promising first teaser.
16. You’re Next – Trailer
Segueing from an emotional family reunion drama setup to a horror story about home invaders in creepy animal masks, it’s a fast and scary trailer that works effectively without showing any gore. Juxtaposed wonderfully with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” it lets the simple setup and unsettling visuals do all the work for it.
17. Spring Breakers – Trailer #1
While several versions made it online, the original teaser is still the best for Harmony Korine’s tale of gun-toting, bikini-clad babes that exploded across your eyeballs with its Starburst on steroids aesthetic. It, and the subsequent previews, took what was essentially a low-budget indie no-one had heard of and helped turn it into one of the more iconic looking movies of the year, and one that is popping up on numerous top ten lists. It helps that the preview is an utterly wild mesh of fluorescent colors, nubile bodies in barely there costumes, booze, drugs, money, guns, ski masks, and James Franco with dreadlocks and gold teeth just milking it for all its worth.
18. Room 237 – Trailer
There’s a lot of strong reactions to this documentary about fan obsession with Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining,” to the point that some (including myself) found the film so pedantic it was almost torture to watch. The trailer on the other hand is pure Kubrick fan service, a homage to the famous blood elevator scene of the film combined with the unsettling score and stark credits-like critical blurbs for the film. Simple, clever.
19. Her – Trailer
While we are some time off from mass sexting with Siri, the trailer for Spike Jonze’s story of a lonely man and his love for a computer operating system with a feminine voice actually sets up this rather awkward scenario with such comfortable ease it’s almost startling. The subsequent full trailer does a better job with the film’s more heavy emotional character beats, but this first trailer sells the premise, a far trickier accomplishment. It’s also a more complete story in itself.
20. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Teaser
Antiestablishmentarianism is always an effective theme and the first trailer for the “Hunger Games” sequel was surprisingly a strongly political one about standing up to corrupt authority. There’s little focus on Katniss’ trials and the arena antics, and in some ways the trailer is better for it – showcasing the ruthlessness of President Snow, the rebellion of an oppressed people, and Katniss coming to realise her true role as a reluctant revolutionary. Plus it’s hard to top that great uilleann pipes synth music which is strongest in this preview.
Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground” track doesn’t so much support as overwhelm the teaser trailer for Sofia Coppola’s take on celebrity-obsessed youth culture “The Bling Ring”. The full trailer dials it back down a bit whilst also playing up the more outright ridiculous nature of these vapid characters, resulting in a stronger preview.
While brevity is not a quality you’ll find in “The Hobbit” final films, they do make for damn good trailers. The ‘Desolation of Smaug’ final trailer perfectly teases its title character in its last thirty seconds. The two minutes before that though are just as good, blending some truly epic visuals with themes of betrayal, greed, and even forbidden love.
The red-band trailer for “This is the End” is actually quite daring with its single scene bit of acidic humor from Danny McBride along with some quick cuts.
Micro-budget thriller “The Purge” sold itself well on the high concept of its premise rather than the fairly standard home invasion movie the final film ended up becoming. Great use of “America the Beautiful” as well.
Too many trailers, especially with similar cuts, can be a problem. Both the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” had strong trailers, and a LOT of them, to the point that the different variations blurred together and thus were hard to pick apart.
Whatever your feelings for the final film and how useless of a remake it was, the first red-band trailer for Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” sold its premise well and looked promising enough that many were wondering if this would be one of the few remakes that could work. Turns out it didn’t.
How does one pull off a rom-com trailer without relying too much on formula? Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a good case with the “Don Jon” trailer with its clever repetition and use of Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”.
If there’s one thing that’s shocking about the full trailer for Paul Schraeder’s “The Canyons” is how appealing it makes the film look. From the dilapidated cinemas to what looks like Lindsay Lohan actually acting for the first time in a while, it’s impressive. Shame about the film.