Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #130-134

#130. Belle (2014, Asante)

“I have been blessed with freedom twice over, as a negro and as a woman.”

Belle is much more than the following sentiment, but all the same; Amma Asante’s gratifying yet subversive period piece makes my heart go pitter-patter. Some may scoff at the love story (indeed a few reviews I’ve read knock it down a peg for just that) but what about how sweetly investing it is? The adorable abolitionist with unshakable moral footing (Sam Reid) is so steadfast that he amusingly dips into caricature at times. It becomes part of his charm, as does Reid’s slight woodenness. More importantly, Amma Asante gives a mixed race character the otherwise non-existent pleasure of participating in British aristocratic romance with all the heart-racing and letdowns of love and its foibles.

Belle is inspired by a rare 18th century painting (a rare marker of what could and should be), and the life of its black subject, who is portrayed in the piece with equal height, dignity, and grace to her white counterpart. The film takes on a bit of everything (coming-of-age, race relations, period piece, romance, courtroom drama), a juggling that at times threatens to capsize. Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a biracial aristocrat, allowing her a unique position not only in history but also in film’s depiction of history. She is ‘blessed’ with relative agency through her bloodline and financial independence, but while the white half of her is lauded, the other half of her lineage robs her of standing, saddling her with the self-loathing society embeds in her. She has a place in her family and is genuinely loved by them, but certain basic customs still keep her at bay. Her upbringing quarantines her from her slave heritage; she is an anomaly, with no connection or relation to her blackness, always aware of the ways she is made limited by it, but otherwise kept away from the accompanying culture and systemic atrocities. A lot of Belle is about the title character finding some sense of racial identity in a world that shuns her from doing so.

It’s not just Belle who is restricted. Her cousin and best friend Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, a favorite up-and-comer) has to barter herself a husband to secure status. The fact that she has no dowry makes her an undesirable despite her standing and revered porcelain beauty. For her, and women in general, there’s also a bartering of flesh. You feel the humiliation and self-worth slipping from Elizabeth as she casts her line out, waiting for some dweeb or scumbag to hook. When Elizabeth and Belle fight, we don’t hate her. We’ve grown invested in their bond and in Elizabeth’s misguided infatuation and her peripheral disquietude. And then there’s our abolitionist who comes from a class lower than Belle or Elizabeth, his occupational drive seen as having a shallow ceiling.

There are a ton of subversive subtleties at work. In case you didn’t get the memo, race, class, and gender constructs are constantly being prodded at. The Jane Austen framework and conventions are used to further engage with obliviously embedded mindsets of racism. It’s a different angle for this kind of historical film, and in some way more complex than depicting the hard-hitting horrors of slavery. It takes the conversation outside the slave experience and more explicitly mirrors the racial politics of today.

This is a historical space where a feisty, playful, astute, contemplative and determined young woman fights to find a place and identity for herself, to embrace her heritage in a world that isn’t ready to afford her that. Somehow Belle keeps from feeling too weighty without ever glossing over its social, racial, or gender concerns. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw is just incredible. I don’t know how else to put it. Anyone who sees this will have her on their permanent radar. Raw flips through Belle’s youthful contradictions and the myriad number of her differing facets (that hey guess what, all young women have! But film rarely crafts or performs them this thoughtfully) with ease.

In some pockets there’s an interesting, for lack of a better word, streak of hesitancy to engage with the more vicarious tropes of period dramas. Belle plays in the same pond its characters do, recognizing that these obstructions are part of what can make period romances, well, so romantic. And for once, changing history to imagine direct historical impact and a conveniently happy bow is a hopeful and earned statement. It’s entirely moving instead of a cop-out. It’s a conclusive statement for Belle being an unapologetically revisionist romance, and by the end I had to wipe a happy tear away.

It’s the Little Things:
Tom Felton. And Tom Felton’s wigs.

Joe Cage Sheridan
#131. Joe (2014, Green)

“Smile through the pain”

Probably, and so disappointingly, my least favorite film of 2014 thus far (granted, I’ve only seen 30) and the second worst I’ve seen from David Gordon Green (I’m a fan). It comes down to the critical difference between letting ‘regional authenticity’ materialize naturally, and using it as your sole playing card for the deluded support of yet another masculine-soaked redemption narrative. Joe is, quite frankly, a barrel of overkill. I felt like one of those damn trees the characters inject with poison. Joe (Nicolas Cage) begrudgingly bonds with a boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan), who is stuck in a hopelessly repellent family situation. And guess what guys; Joe sees a bit of himself in this kid.

It’s a shame about Joe because the two lead performances, particularly their organic chemistry, are very good. I’m not going to play the Nicolas Cage Returns to Acting headline (it’s a reductive and uninteresting way of looking at his career) but yes, this is engaging work from him. Tye Sheridan stands out more though. There’s such a messy and loaded moment that must have been on some level improvised by Sheridan (it’s the standout moment of Joe), where he taunts his father with the drink. Gary Poulter and his story are an uneasy illustration of contradiction. Contradiction isn’t the right word, but I’m not sure what is the right word. Of course Poulter has some serious chops and it’s great that he was given this opportunity to play this character. I realize there’s no solution or responsibility that comes saddled with his casting, but then he’s just released into the last throes of alcoholism, playing out the end of his onscreen character and himself.

The couched hillbilly miserablism is used as a distraction/qualifier to fill out a thin and exhausted story. Not even the sense of hidden humanity that Green is able to peer at can make up for bleak tedium. Men make their living by illegally poisoning trees. There’s a dog named Dog. Lots of visual dog metaphors. Deer are butchered. Joe won’t take his girlfriend out to dinner. There’s a guy who works at a general store and collects war paraphernalia. There are lounging prostitutes. There’s incest. There’s endless mumbling and drudgery. There’s also a scene where Poulter and one of Joe’s employees yell the same things back and forth to each other at an escalating rate, a microcosm representative of the approach to Joe.

Its best moments all feel improvised. Gary asking Joe to buy his truck. The ‘smile through the pain scene’. The snake. There’s a lighthearted touch to these moments the rest of the film could take a note from. Not that Joe needs to be lighthearted. Far from it. I mention these moments because they were touches of texture otherwise missing. It’s as if the actors themselves subconsciously injected a bit of levity into the proceedings.

It’s the Little Things:
-The first shot
– Cage’s delivery of “Kristy, call the cops before someone gets killed. Would you do that for me honey?”
– I will say that the scene the brutal murder of that homeless man was profoundly disturbing. And not in just a shock value kind of way. It had a genuine effect on me in ways few things do. Yes, it’s the kind of unproductive ugly the rest of the film goes for, but it’s also frightening in that you don’t often see murder take place in film with this blend of senselessness and intimacy. I can’t properly articulate it.

#132. Enemy (2014, Villeneuve)

Enemy had been one of my most anticipated films of 2014. I’d read José Saramago’s The Double, which became a favorite book despite its callous dismissal of women. Doppelgängers, bifurcated identities, dream logic, psychological angst, etc. This all screams ‘KATIE’. But I don’t know what to make of Enemy. Much of it feels somehow easy; artificially symbolic and existential. Like Denis Villeneuve looked at a stripped down template of psychological mind-fucks and never followed through with expansion. It has a simple recurring framework; spiders, Toronto as a piss-cream smog factory with an endless emphasis on presence of skyscrapers and criss-crossing wires (webs), music and scale that recalls German Expressionism. Ever notice that a clarinet, if used in a certain solitary way, suggests an off-key almost paranoid melancholia? Well, Enemy understands and makes good use of that. This isn’t Villeneuve re-teaming with Jake Gyllenhaal after Prisoners; Enemy was shot first. This is the re-teaming. Lacking as these two films are, in one sense it’s worth it for the  Gyllenhaal performances, which have double(triple?)-handedly made me invested in his career again.

Sarah Gadon (hello again!) leaves the biggest imprint out of anyone or anything here. Her expressiveness, and the way she shares her secrets and fears with the camera represent the best work I’ve seen from her. Anthony (Gyllenhaal) looks past her constantly, so she carves out a special bond with the audience in these silent scenes. I do like the disbursement and sense of psychological space taking place within the inner. But Enemy’s few developments (there’s a way to do effective minimalism; this isn’t it) are rendered blank because the flow is careless to anything outside conveying monotonous dread. The first meeting between Adam and Anthony is inertly underexplored. It doesn’t release any of its built-up energy. It’s so concentrated on maintaining atmosphere that character becomes background, in a frickin’ doppelganger story, despite Gyllenhaal’s subtle rendering. How do you have a film about identity without, in some way (again, this can do this visually but these are just not enough), foregrounding character? Even its final image is desperate, a last gasp at food-for-though, but the joke seems to be on us.

#133. The Story of Qiu Ju (1992, Zhang)
“He’ll pay. That means you’re right and he’s wrong”

Qiu Ju’s (Gong Li) efforts to be heard are emphasized by sight and sound. Qiu Ju is not made special by the camera. She is not centered visually, always caught in long or medium shots. She also isn’t especially heard, her voice always threatening to be drowned out by those around her. She is compromised or diluted in her own ramshackle environment, and in the big city she is simply overwhelmed. The characters knock about different ideas of justice, none of them particularly fulfilling. There are increasingly comic dead ends as we climb up the bureaucracy, and enter fish out of water territory. There is repetition through the same piece of music, linked with the tiresome act of travel. Qiu Ju chases something that doesn’t really exist. The higher up she goes the more elusive her goals are as well as and the powers that be. Her chiles are gone. And her husband is upset.

The cyclical comic roundabout of the story didn’t engage me; it’s just a taste thing. What I find most interesting is admittedly extratextual; its placement in Zhang Yimou’s career (trading prestige for rural), how China felt about him and Gong Li up to this point, and how this turned the tides. Also, the hidden cameras give us a priceless look at modern day China. It is unprecedented in that way, but not much else.

#134. Hyènes (Hyenas) (1992, Mambéty
“Life made me a whore, so now I’ll make the world a brothel”

I shamefully, but perhaps unsurprisingly, have very little experience with African cinema so I can’t speak to a larger context. Explicitly anti-colonialist, using the cautionary fable to illustrate the slippery slope into superficial Western modernity. Colobaine is in an economic crisis, and all it takes is one person to come in with their vendetta, their goods, their temptations; but change comes with a blood price. The mayor says the village’s decision is not for the sake of money. He uses the values of past wrongdoing as a transparent excuse for turning on their most popular resident. Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf) is literally consumed. The transition from incorruptible to corruptible is a bit forced in its mechanization, point or no. Linguere Ramatou (Ami Diakhate) is transformed into an icon of power, using money for revenge but not as reconciliation for her own experiences. So money doesn’t make up for hardships, but it does sustain bloodlust. She is surrounded by adornments and even a Japanese security guard! The tone is perfectly gentle and lacerating.


List: Top 30 Fall Films to See (September-December)

We are two weeks into the Fall Movie Season; that lovely time of year when theaters are crowded with anticipated releases big and small. I have to admit that there are not a ton of films I’m dying to see these last several months of the year. My Top 30 is a strong group indeed, but this is the first year in a long time where I didn’t have about 45 films clamming for a spot on the Top 30. To put it simply, several of the bigger fall releases I’m feeling ambivalent towards. These include Flight, Promised Land, The Impossible, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Hyde Park on Hudson and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m really looking forward to On the Road, Therese Raquin, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Detropia, This is 40 and The Sessions but not enough to earn them a spot on the list.

If all of those highly anticipated films do not appear on this list, the question begs; what does? These are the 30 films I am most looking forward to. What are yours?

30. Barbara (Germany)
Synopsis: A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.

Germany’s official submission for this year’s Oscars. I have yet to see a film directed by Christian Petzhold although I always meant to see Jerichow. I’m always going to be a sucker for films set in East Germany.

29. Lincoln
As the Civil War nears its end, President Abraham Lincoln clashes with members of his cabinet over the issue of abolishing slavery.

The recently released trailer for Lincoln felt admittedly stuffy and anticlimactic. But I have faith in this film, despite the actors playing historical dress-up vibe and not caring about Spielberg’s 2011 one-two punch of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. But look at this cast! Look at it! Daniel Day-Lewis appears in one film every few years, so any opportunity to see him on screen must be seized immediately. Especially since his last film role was the start-to-finish miscalculation known as Nine.

28. Dredd 3D
In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Out of nowhere, Dredd 3D is getting really solid notices. Like, ridiculously solid review. In a world where the film industry deals in remakes and comic book adaptations as a daily ritual, I don’t think anyone had this on their radar. For the countless middling forgettable release and anticipatory disappointments, there aren’t as many ‘where did this come from’ surprises. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, whose credits include Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Color me intrigued. But if the notices are to be believed, this is more than worth checking out.

Bonus: Olivia Thirlby sporting blonde hair while kicking ass and taking names.

27. Sister (France)
Synopsis: A drama set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.

This sibling drama doesn’t seem to fit too comfortably into any easy box (outside of the aforementioned ‘sibling drama’) which is what draws me to it.  Lea Seydoux continues to stamp her presence as a French arthouse bombshell with her second release of the year after Farewell, My Queen.

26. Smashed
Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

I have had my eye on Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a while now. Forget Scott Pilgrim. We’re talking the days of Final Destination 3, Death Proof and Black Christmas. Yes that’s right; Black Christmas. Last year she got a starring role in the remake of The Thing, walking away with all of her dignity in a film as forgettable and rote as they come. I think what most people are excited about in regards to Smashed, is Winstead finally gets a chance to show us what she’s got. And by all accounts, it was worth the wait.

Bonus: Aaron Paul, people. Aaron Paul. Aaron Paul: that is all.

25. How to Survive a Plague
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

This documentary has the subject matter and the kind of upcoming exposure to really get some attention. It looks like the type of inspiring impassioned history lesson that I look for in this type of doc.

24. Killing Them Softly
Synopsis: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

I have to admit that the trailer for this left me really underwhelmed and relatively uninterested in the story. However, the pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt has me salivating for this. Considering that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in my top 10 of the 2000’s, you best believe this earned a spot.

23. Argo
Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Ben Affleck’s first two films managed to impress me enough without bowling me over. But it’s clear the man’s got a sure and efficient directorial hand. The cast, the based on a true story concept and 70’s period detail are all promising, not to mention its warm reception on the festival circuit.

22. Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osams Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, chronicling the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t wait to see how the film depicts its subject matter and how functionally rooted in factual reconstruction it is.

21. The Other Dream Team
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement, and – with help from the Grateful Dead – triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.

Been hearing a lot about this documentary (one of only 3 on this list since the majority of documentaries come out during the Spring and Summer months). This is a truly fascinating subject, ripe for potential exploration, and it looks genuinely educational and uplifting to boot.

20. Sleep Tight (Spain)
Synopsis: An embittered concierge at a Barcelona apartment building plots to make one happy-go-lucky resident completely miserable in this psychological thriller from [REC] and [REC 2] co-screenwriter/co-director Jaume Balaguero.

I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a reliable, solid slice of horror. It looks like the kind of low-key, suspense ratcheting creepfest that focuses on its antagonist over other characters. And Spanish directors certainly know how to deliver the scares: The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, REC, The Others and last year’s The Last Circus to name a few obvious examples.

19. V/H/S (seen)
Synopsis: When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.

I’ve already seen this one but this is where it would have been placed. Horror anthologies are always worth a watch and these directors take the stylistic experimentation that videotapes inherently offer, with its glitchy worn-down visuals and static white noise, and channel it through the possibilities of the genre. That alone makes this worth watching. For all the mediocrity of the stories themselves and the fevered gender-based discussion it has incited, V/H/S has a DIY aesthetic that makes its mark.

18. Keep the Lights On
Synopsis: In Manhattan, filmmaker Erik bonds with closeted lawyer Paul after a fling. As their relationship becomes one fueled by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries while being true to himself.

This looks emotional and moving with strong lead performances. It has been impressing audiences since Sundance.

17. Bachelorette (seen)
Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Another film on the list I have already seen, this is where Leslye Headland’s self-adapted mean streak of a comedy would have been placed.

16. Sinister
Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Since premiering at SXSW in March, I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Good horror films that get wide releases are far and few between, but this looks like it will garner Insidious levels of attention with the buzz I’ve been hearing.

15. Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Winning the Audience Award at Toronto today is a huge signifier as to how this film will be received. The trailer didn’t do much to impress, looking too by-the-book with empty quirk thrown in. But all signs point to David O. Russell having a huge hit on his hands post-The Fighter. Russell is one of my favorite directors working today so I cannot wait to see him working in the comedic realm again.

14. Girl Model
Synopsis: A documentary on the modeling industry’s ‘supply chain’ between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S., told through the experiences of the scouts, agencies, and a 13-year-old model.

The second of two documentaries on this list, Girl Model looks like a chilling and illuminating look at the international modeling industry.

13. Seven Psychopaths
A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell as well as Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, both of whom starred in his play “A Beheading in Spokane”. McDonagh a master of the kind of dialogue that knows it’s clever, a Snatch-like trait that I usually veer towards not liking. Somehow he pulls this style off with aplomb and if it’s anywhere near as good as In Bruges, we are in for a treat. Oh, and Tom Waits people. Tom. Waits.

12. Wreck-It-Ralph
Summary: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

This is the only children’s film I really can’t wait to see this Fall. The trailer had me full-on cracking up in a way no trailer has in ages and it has got a golden goose of a high concept. Add in the voice work of John C. Reilly at the helm and the smorgasbord of video game references and this looks like a guaranteed winner.

11. Looper
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

A brainy sci-fi headed by Rian Johnson? The amount of hype going into this one is considerable, but it looks like it will live up to expectations. I’m a huge fan of Brick and Johnson has directed two of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes in existence (“Fly” and “Fifty-One” respectively). So to see him get the opportunity to headline a considerably mounted genre film with its own world and rules is sure to impress. It is already well on its way to its own spot in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

10. Wuthering Heights (Seen)
Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

I got the opportunity to see this at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and this is where Andrea Arnold’s adaptation would have been placed had I not seen it. It would have been one of my favorite 2012 films had the last hour not been entirely unbearable. Here is my review:

9. Django Unchained
Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

I realize that it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest gets a pretty low spot. Surely this is Top 5 material, right? Well, while I’m sure this is going to be fantastic, I’m also feeling ready for the director to do something else besides revenge across different genres. But this promises memorable characters, references galore and the type of crackling two-person dialogue scenes we love from him. I think I’m most interested to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in one of the auteur’s films and as a villain at that. It’s a much-needed and refreshing step out of his comfort zone.

8. Perks of Being a Wallflower
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

I’ve had high hopes, really high hopes for this, for a long long time. A lot of us have been waiting forever to see if Stephen Chbosky seminal coming-of-age novel was ever going to be adapted, and lo and behold, the day is almost upon us. It has a remarkable trio of actors in the lead roles. I am particularly amped for Ezra Miller, who quickly climbed his way onto my list of favorite young actors. There hasn’t been a memorable high school flick in a while. And this soundtrack, which takes from the book, is to die for. To. Die. For. The fact that Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat” is going to be in this film is a fact that single-handedly earns ‘Perks’ a spot on the list.

7. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Synopsis: A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. He won Best Actor at Cannes for The Hunt (which will hopefully get a Spring release for 2013), he is set to star in a TV series as Hannibal Lecter and he received excellent notices in the very well-received historical drama A Royal Affair. This looks like an intriguing much better-than-average historical drama that is right up my alley. It also stars Alicia Vikander, a young actress to watch out for who also will appear in Anna Karenina.

6. Rust and Bone (France)
Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

This being the latest from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Read My Lips) with a reportedly stellar lead performance by Marion Cotillard gives this a very high anticipatory spot. Cotillard has been relegated to pretty thankless roles since catapulting to the Hollywood A-List. It’ll be nice to see her in a meaty lead once again.

5. Holy Motors (France)
Synopsis: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…

All I heard during this year’s Cannes coverage was Holy Motors, Holy Motors, Holy Motors (well, that and a certain other film to appear on this list shortly). By all accounts, this is a surreal whackadoo head trip in the best way possible. It seems well on its way to earning a cult status and I intend on checking it out the moment it comes near me.

4. Cloud Atlas
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

What will likely be the most divisive film to come out this season, I for one am counting down the days until this film gets released. The 6-minute trailer is a thing of beauty, bringing tears to my hypersensitive eyes. We can attribute a lot of this to the inspired use of M83’s brilliant “Outro”.  And I am over halfway through David Mitchell’s novel as we speak.

The way I see it, whether the film turns out to be a disaster or a triumph (or both at the same time), these filmmakers are going for it. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tykwer have together tackled what is widely thought to be an unadaptable novel (more so than most novels given the unadaptable label). It’s weaving six stories in one film, all in different time periods, with the same actors with the tired old theme of interconnectedness. No matter what the outcome, the film will be discussed for years to come. Without having seen it and going on gut instinct, it feels like the type of film that will possibly be reassessed for the positive as decades pass. As you can see, I’m preparing myself for the bashing to come. I can already see that Cloud Atlas is going to bring out the worst in the blogosphere, Prometheus-style. But no matter what the outcome, this is going to be an ambitious, epic and challenging work that nobody can fully write off. It may end up becoming a flop, but it sure as hell will go down swinging.

Ridiculous Bonus: Bae Doona, one of my very favorite actresses working today is going to get some serious international exposure here as Sonmi-451.

3. Amour (Austria)
Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

New Micheal Haneke. That not enough for you? It won the Palme D’Or. That still not enough for you? Haneke regular, and my favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert appears. Want more? This is Haneke doing a tearjerker about the elderly with two lead performances that supposedly devastate. My common sense tells me that Amour is going to stomp out my soul. Part of me has been mentally preparing myself for this film since this year’s Cannes.

2. Anna Karenina
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

Another film that is sure to divide. Joe Wright’s decision to set the Tolstoy adaptation on a stage and to use theatrical stylization is sure to distract some. But frankly, if all we are left with are the visuals evident in the trailer, this will still likely land a spot on my favorites for the year. The costumes, production design and overall look of the trailer is sickening. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today. He pushes himself into challenging and creative directions that breathe new life into familiar tales. Wright reteaming with Keira Knightley, surely one of modern cinema’s most rewarding director/star collaborations, is always thrilling. The way his camera illuminates this woman (who is already stunning to begin with) is beyond my ability to comprehend. We’ve got a screenplay by the great Tom Stoppard, cinematography by the great Seamus McGarvey, music by the great Dario Marianelli and costume design by the great Jacqueline Durran. So basically what it comes down to is that lots of great people are involved in this. I plan on reading this monster of a novel before the film comes out. Now that’s anticipation for you.

1. The Master
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

I honestly feel like I don’t even need to put reasons here. It’s at the top of everyone’s list. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director. It’s been 5 years since his last film. This was very close to not getting financed. It’s a near miracle we even get to see this. His films engage me more than any other director. They make me feel things that are unrepeatable, unfamiliar and challenging. His films are dense, complex, elusive, pretentious and indefinably uncomfortable.  I live for his films. And on Friday I will finally be seeing his latest in 70mm. Oh, and welcome back to Joaquin Phoenix. It’s been too long. And if the trailers are any indication, this performance is one for the books.