With the winter solstice just come and gone, it’s time to look forward to the cinematic offerings of the imminent new year. Hope springs eternal for the quality of movies of all shapes and sizes, though many of them aren’t ready to register on the radar yet. Of course, the franchised gears of Hollywood continue turning, but there are at least three tentpoles promising a tricky thing indeed: closure. Time will tell as to whether they deliver, but for now, here follows what I’m most looking forward to in 2019.
First, a smattering of bonus picks. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (next in the so-far-so-good “Monarch Monsterverse” brings out the big guns of Mothra and King Ghidorah, with Vera Farmiga as a possible twist villain); Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino’s late 1960s epic is his ninth film, and he claims retirement after ten); Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (an artifact of profound nerd disorientation that could be a charming slice of 90s nostalgia); The Woman in the Window (outsized talent Joe Wright’s stab at a thriller with Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, in the vein of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc); Hobbs & Shaw (the Fast and Furious spinoff greenlit on the strength of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s chemistry together); Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi’s bonkers-sounding Nazi-adjacent domestic dramedy); “untitled Danny Boyle Beatles movie” (a big swing that could go either way, about a musician who finds that he’s the only person on Earth who can remember the Beatles – could go completely cornball, or it could blow Across the Universe out of the Liverpudlian water); John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (the follow-up to the excellent Chapter Two promises more audacious worldbuilding and killer gun-fu choreography).
10) Last Christmas
There’s something to the idea of being a reliable journeyman. Paul Feig is in the midst of an astonishingly solid five-movie run from Bridesmaids to last year’s delightful pulp-fizz fiction A Simple Favor. Last Christmas could well continue to keep up that quality, seeing as it’s co-written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Emma Thompson (who appears in the film as well, alongside Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh).
Jessica Chastain (my favorite actress) is starting to produce and star in a slew of action movies, and I couldn’t be more here for them. Not a whole lot is known about Eve, and it doesn’t help that the directorial choice of Tate Taylor skews more on the generic side (though, hey, I thought The Girl on the Train was underrated). But it’s a time for leaps of faith, plus the movie features Geena Davis, star of one of my all-time favorite action films, The Long Kiss Goodnight.
8) Knives Out
Of all the digital ink spilled, vomited, used and abused discussing Rian Johnson’s work on (the masterful) Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the visual aspect is often ignored. Johnson’s sublime camerawork has a lot to do with my high regard for that movie; the guy just speaks the language of cinema. And Knives Out looks to bring him back to the mystery neo-noir mode of Brick. That is, with an absurdly deep bench of a cast, including Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette, just to name a few. This is the type of middle-budget genre fare that can really kill if executed properly.
7) Captain Marvel
It’s taken 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but some firsts are coming to fruition in Captain Marvel. The first female-led MCU picture (Brie Larson), the first female (co-)director (Anna Boden). And less consequentially but also super important given the future of franchise filmmaking: the first time the de-aging process previously applied to Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Pfeiffer will be used for a whole runtime’s worth of Samuel L. Jackson. More prosaically, Captain Marvel will be a welcome cosmic MCU entry, even bringing back a couple lame-duck Guardians of the Galaxy villains for a second chance. This origin story for essentially Marvel’s equivalent to Superman has all the ingredients necessary to be a supersonic blast.
6) How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
After the stratospheric delights of two previous entries, The Hidden World promises much-delayed closure to this gorgeous animated trilogy. And as long as John Powell’s triumphant score is present and correct, the series should continue to soar. Given the inherent ticking clock on humanity’s bond with the dragons, there may not be much blood, but there will be tears.
Jordan Peele has set Us up a bit similarly to Get Out, but it’s a fool’s bet that this will be more of the same. Twisted-happenings-visit-a-family-unit is getting an airing here, and I can’t wait to see what layers Us will reveal. Get Out is a Swiss clock of a movie, paced and spooled out with a preternatural confidence. Look for more of that coiled tightness in service of fascinating theming here, though the trailer for Us promises even more overtly chilling horror right off the bat.
4) The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
Speaking of fascinating theming, the first LEGO Movie is a poster child for it. It’s incumbent on the sequel to continue that multi-pronged storytelling that runs the gamut from delightful silliness to sharp movie narrative pastiche to trope (and LEGO brick) deconstruction. But all the narrative pyrotechnics are worth nothing without The Second Part delivering a pastel-colored rictus-grin blast, which it almost surely will.
In a virtual three-way tie, I could make an argument for any of the top three choices to be my number one. That being said, the following pecking order works for me. (And yes, all three are distributed by the monolithic Mouse House.)
3) Frozen 2
As a Frozen superfan, I ride hard without irony for Frozen Fever, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and Frozen Live at the Hyperion (the stage musical version adapted for Disney California Adventure), all in anticipation of the legitimate follow-up to one of my favorite films. Frozen left the castle doors open in a fairy tale happy ending, so introducing a movie-justifying conflict is an interesting quandary to start the sequel from. And even more daunting, there’s the challenge of living up to some of the greatest Disney songs ever written. Even so, the movie has more than a snowball’s chance in Hell.
2) Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Infinity War ends on a stark note to say the least (pun intended), so the first teaser for Endgame made the laudable choice to focus entirely on character and emotion, which is simply unheard of for a superhero blockbuster. The (correct) assumption is that we keep coming back not just for digital spectacle, but also for the quiet and loud human moments between characters. We love these people. And Endgame, in addition to bringing some measure of closure to 21 films, will likely be the last time we see Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, and more besides. Fans should be in for one hell of a payoff.
1) Star Wars Episode 9
Here’s that word again: closure. This film will close out the Star Wars sequel trilogy begun in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but is predominantly being sold as the culmination of the “Skywalker saga”, spanning all nine numbered films. How it will feel as such is very much up in the air (Hayden Christensen appearance?), along with most things about the movie (including how Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa will be given her due justice). But any movie including Rey, Kylo Ren, Rose Tico, Lando Calrissian, and Luke Skywalker’s Force ghost is probably my most anticipated by fait accompli. J.J. Abrams steered the ship of The Force Awakens under very specific circumstances that called for a slightly conservative imagination, and I think with 9, he and his crew are ready to cut loose. Imaginative epics like Rogue One and superbly executed stories like The Last Jedi have helped to make me a bigger fan of Star Wars now than I ever was before, and Episode 9 is the gift I’m most looking forward to unwrapping next December.
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