15 Movies You Need To See In 2014

The only rule: no sequels. After all, you already know about the next Hunger Games installment, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, and the like. But here are 15 enticing films that may not have popped up on your radar yet.

15. The Double

Release: TBD

Director: Richard Ayoade

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska

Made the list thanks to its incredible, creepy, evocative trailer set to Son House’s “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ In Your Face.” Wikipedia’s intriguingly cryptic plot description states, “A man is driven insane by the sight of his doppelganger.” Sadly, although The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg, his doppelganger is apparently not played by Michael Cera.

14. Night Moves

Release: TBD

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

More Eisenberg! Due for an unspecified spring release (most likely pretty limited), Night Moves tells the story of three environmentalists (Eisenberg, Fanning, and Sarsgaard, a trio that should definitely consider remaking The Three Amigos) who decide to blow up a dam. Director Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) makes quiet, minimalist, but powerfully implosive films that may be too restrained or unhurried for most audiences. However, her fans are anxiously awaiting a film that The Atlantic has already called “a disquietingly beautiful, deeply intelligent thriller.”

13. Midnight Special

Release: TBD

Director: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton

If you liked 2011’s tense, paranoiac thriller Take Shelter, take note of Midnight Special, another sci-fi suspense film from the team of director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon. We know it’s a chase movie (a father and son on the run) and an interview with MTV reveals that it’s inspired by the films of John Carpenter, which is a really smart thing to say if you’re trying to get me to go see your movie.

12. Under the Skin

Release: April 4

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Cast: Scarlett Johansson

Things I know about Under the Skin:

  • Wikipedia says it’s about “an alien sent to Earth by a rich corporation to prey on unwary hitchhikers.” As you might expect, the part of the alien predator is played by Scarlett Johansson.
  • Many of her “co-stars” didn’t even know they were on camera. Scenes were shot on the streets of Scotland with a hidden camera, with participants being informed after-the-fact like some kind of art-house Jackass.
  • Its trailer, heavy on physical deformity and dark landscapes, is one of the most ominous and unsettling I’ve ever seen.
  • It’s getting polarizing reviews (having already screened at several festivals): some critics have heaped major praise on it, but Xan Brooks of The Guardian also notes that at the Venice film festival, “the film’s closing credits played out to an accompaniment of booing.”
  • You had me at the part about the corporate alien that eats hobos.

11. Boyhood

sinister-ethan-hawke-1-550x365

Release: TBD

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette

Director Richard Linklater and his cast have been filming this same familial drama piecemeal over the past 12 years as an experiment in visual storytelling. It follows a boy (played by the same child actor throughout) as he grows from a small child to a college freshman. As Hawke described it, “…it’s Tolstoy-esque in scope…Doing a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls, and have it be the same actor – to watch his voice and body morph – it’s a little bit like time-lapse photography of a human being.” Linklater told Parade in October that the film had wrapped and would come out sometime in 2014, but the nature of the project has me crossing my fingers. Whether this unique approach will help or hurt the film’s cohesiveness and overall quality remains to be seen, but it’ll be one-of-a-kind regardless.

10. Gone Girl

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Release: October 3

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

David Fincher adapts the popular novel in this mystery thriller about a woman who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention appearances by both Tyler Perry and Emily Ratajkowski (better known as the brunette model from the “Blurred Lines” video you furiously masturbated to over the summer) in the cast. That probably already guarantees your ticket, but there’s reason to be excited here. People seem to like the novel, which has won praise for being a suspenseful page-turner with depth, and I seem to like David Fincher, who is in the midst of an impressive streak.

9. Nymphomaniac

Release: March 21/April 18

Director: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater (for the win), Willem Dafoe, Uma Thurman

The kind of film that features Shia LeBeouf going down on a chick on its poster art, Nymphomaniac is the already-controversial hardcore sex opus from impish provocateur Lars von Trier. Following the erotic exploits of a sex addict (Gainsbourg), Nymphomaniac is long enough that they  split it into two separate releases, a la Kill Bill (as the old industry saying goes, “Two nearly un-releasable, graphic sex films are better than one”). Two separate versions exist as well: a softcore edition, presumably the one that will be released in American theaters, and a hardcore one with dongs and stuff. The trailer alone features on-screen fellatio, Rammstein, more semen than we’ve come to expect from mainstream films, and the line of dialogue “Would it be alright if I show the children the whoring bed?”

8. Maps to the Stars

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Release: TBD

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Cronenberg textie-bestie Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska

Putting a film from the uncompromising and unpredictable David Cronenberg on this list is a calculated risk – although not all of his movies work, even the ones that fail are usually spectacular failures. For example, I’m still not sure what I think of Cosmopolis, but if it’s a bad movie, it’s certainly an interesting one. Conversely, the successes are visually striking mindbenders that combine the sci-fi brilliance of Philip K. Dick and the twisted absurdity of David Lynch. Maps focuses on a dysfunctional Hollywood family as part of a satirical and apparently none-too-commercial take on celebrity culture… with exploding heads! Just kidding, but I wouldn’t rule it out either – Cronenberg himself has described the project as “very extreme.”

7. Knight of Cups/Untitled

Release: Both TBD

Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Knight of Cups – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett (with Antonio Banderas and Nick Offerman listed deep down in the credits!)

Untitled – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Val Kilmer, Benicio Del Toro, Holly Hunter, and presumably every other human being on the planet that I love dearly

I’m pairing these two Terrence Malick releases together because they share cast members and we know so little about them that it seems arbitrary to rank one higher than the other. Plus, it’s a fitting way to honor this sudden outburst from Malick, a cinematic recluse who released exactly one film between 1979 and 2004, and who now has THREE movies scheduled for ‘14 (I left off the third, Voyage of Time, because information on it was so sparse that it feels like if any of them don’t make it to theaters this year, it’ll be that one). Details are sketchy, although the untitled one apparently takes place in the world of the Austin, Texas music scene. Will either see the light of day this year? I certainly hope so, but these are decidedly less secure entities than your average blockbuster, which has a lucrative McDonald’s Happy Meal cross-promotion planned for its opening weekend. Malick makes big, bold, beautiful movies that that demand to be reckoned with – Tree of Life certainly didn’t care whether or not you liked it (I didn’t, but I sure as hell respected it) and neither will these films.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy

Release: August 1

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)

Seeing as how I’m about as knowledgeable about comic books as I am about neuroscience, lesser-known properties getting turned into film franchises typically don’t appeal to me. Guardians of the Galaxy is an exception because it’s being helmed by James Gunn, director of under-loved oddities Slither and Super, a guy who will use this lucrative opportunity to make an extremely strange, funny, and idiosyncratic movie. In fact, Super was a pretty wonderful (if also nihilistically dark) deconstruction of the superhero genre. It’s a film where Batman-style vigilante justice is taken it to its logical extreme – a superhero who hits people in the head with a wrench for cutting in line at the movies. In case you’re worried Gunn might compromise his eccentricity for a shot at a franchise, here’s some info to set you straight:

  • Vin Diesel is voicing Groot, a big-ass talking tree. Named Groot. Vin Diesel. Vin Diesel is the voice of a talking tree named Groot. Sorry, this inexplicable erection is making it difficult to type.
  • Bradley Cooper voices Rocket Raccoon, a deadly raccoon equipped with a gun to shoot off the legs of his rival.
  • Flesh and blood performances from Parks and Rec’s Chris Pratt, Benicio Del Toro (Gunn describes his character as “Liberace in outer space”), John C. Reilly, and Glenn Close.

That this property has absolutely no cache with 99% of the population is exciting – without the burden of rigid expectations that audiences bring to a Spider-Man or Star Wars entry, Gunn has the opportunity to create something wholly unique here.

5. Birdman

Release: TBD

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis

Pop Quiz: Who’s the coolest actor to ever play Batman? Christian Bale? Not even close. George Clooney? Pretty much the definition of cool, but still no. Val Kilmer or Adam West? Probably the 2nd and 3rd coolest people to ever walk the Earth, but still trailing the one and only Michael “I’m Michael ‘Freaking’ Keaton” Keaton. IMDB describes Birdman’s plot as, “A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.” Call me a shallow postmodernist, but I love this kind of meta-Charlie Kaufman stuff. It’d be easy to picture this is as Oscar-baiting drama, especially since it comes from the usually dark and disturbing Inarritu (Babel and 21 Grams not being exactly what I would call “laugh riots”). The fact that it’s actually a black comedy is both surprising and pretty tantalizing – I’m excited to watch the tensely hilarious Keaton sink his teeth into a meaty comedic role.

4. Godzilla

Release: May 16

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen

As far as large-scale urban disaster flicks go, I’m definitely more of a Guy in a Costume Attacks a City fan than a Realistic Natural Disaster fan or a Horrifying Terrorist Attack fan. Honestly, I think it’s less of an ideological stance, and more of a WOW COOL AN APE IS CLIMBING THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING stance. But if we’re going to turn hypothetical tragedy into popcorn entertainment, isn’t the prospect of being vaporized by a gigantic, fire-breathing lizard slightly more enjoyable than an earthquake or a nuclear weapon? Fortunately, the most recent Godzilla teaser renders any and all theoretical points moot – I mean, have you seen this freaking thing? It’s incredible! I’ve been burned by staggeringly epic teasers before (See: the 2013 edition of this list and the unsightly inclusion of Man of Steel), but it’s hard not to get swept up by the apocalyptic grandiosity: the chilling use of “Requiem for Soprano” (memorably featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey); the sumptuous, gothic cinematography; the deafening roar.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Release: March 7

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Tom Wilkinson

After a few disappointments (let’s call it an adorable slump), Wes Anderson is unquestionably back on top of his game. And all of the hallmarks of a delightful Anderson romp are in check here:

  • A story that seems to unfold in an alternate universe with no relation to our modern, everyday life.
  • An eccentric and wildly accomplished ensemble cast.
  • A physical space begging to be exhaustively explored and perhaps included in a diorama-inspired montage.
  • A color scheme comprised primarily of Easter egg hues.
  • One-liners so dry they chafe.

With Anderson, the difference between a classic and a misfire is emotion: can he use all of his trademark quirks to invest us in the characters and the story, or will everything collapse in a delicate crumple of self-conscious twee and ironic line readings? Let’s be honest: even the latter is better than 90% of other films.

2. Interstellar

interstellar-poster

Release: November 7

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow (presumably reprising his role from 3rd Rock from the Sun, though the lack of French Stewart here is disheartening at best)

The highly-anticipated teaser trailer for Interstellar was far more conservative than I expected, featuring mostly just newsreel footage from the golden era of the space program. But the thrust was inspiring and pretty stirring. It marks an exciting departure from the doom and gloom of the Dark Knight trilogy for director Christopher Nolan, and we know that the movie gets into some seriously trippy 2001 stuff like wormholes and space travel. Here’s hoping for a critical and commercial success on par with Inception.

1. Inherent Vice

Release: TBD

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short (!)

The thought of Paul Thomas Anderson adapting Thomas Pynchon is almost too good to be true. However, take the preceding statement with the following grains of salt: 1.) It comes from a guy whose sole Pynchon experience is a failed attempt at Gravity’s Rainbow that made him come directly face-to-face with his own stupidity and 2.) A lot of people said the same thing about Ridley Scott directing Cormac McCarthy’s script for The Counselor, and that resulted in what Salon called “the worst movie ever made.”

Let’s be real – Paul Thomas Anderson can adapt whatever he wants into a movie and he’s got your money, whether it’s a selection from the R.L. Stine oeuvre or a long-form Bazooka Joe comic strip. And Inherent Vice has plenty to whet your appetite – a 1970s Los Angeles backdrop, Joaquin Phoenix as a drugged-up detective, and that stellar supporting cast. TC mark

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