So far, the 2012 movie cycle is off to a fairly predictable start as Hollywood waits to crown its Best Picture for 2011 at the Oscars (Sunday, February 26th) while simultaneously, rolling out many unsavory leftovers to fill the void before spring. Among them, One for the Money, The Vow, Underworld Awakening, Red Tails, Loosies, The Devil Inside, and This Means War (sorry, Reese).

However, in between all the filler, there have been a few surprises like the terrific action adventure, Haywire, the inventive superpower thriller, Chronicle, and the old fashioned British chiller, The Woman in Black. Plus, some of 2011’s best foreign language films have just started to arrive in the U.S. like A Separation (Iran) and In Darkness (Poland).

What does the rest of 2012 hold, you ask?

For starters, plenty of familiar faces. You have Ridley Scott (Alien) returning to the sci-fi horror genre with Prometheus, Daniel Craig reassuming the role of 007 in Skyfall, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones saving the world from aliens in Men in Black III, and believe it or not, a new take on Judge Dredd (Dredd), sans Stallone, that will try very hard to avoid using: “I am da law!”

Undoubtedly, many are eagerly anticipating the next Twilight saga, aka The Hunger Games. Some can’t wait to see Spider-Man reborn. Or catch yet another animated film with a Scottish brogue (Pixar’s Brave). And how about the latest obsession of turning fairy tales into grotesque re-imaginings for the teen in all of us? Thankfully, in 2012, we’ll get our fill as Snow White spawns two different siblings: Snow White & The Huntsmen, featuring Kristen Stewart, and Mirror Mirror, with Julia Roberts.

All fairy tales and bad apples aside, here are 10 exciting films to keep a close eye on for 2012:

10. The Great Gatsby (December 25, 2012)

They’ve tried and tried. Roughly 6 film adaptations in total. And not one has been able to capture the sophistication and emotion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic about the corrupting influence of the American dream, although Jack Clayton’s 1974 screen version starring Sam Waterston, Robert Redford, and Mia Farrow comes close. For the seventh adaptation, famed Australian director Baz Luhrman, best known for Moulin Rouge, Australia, and Strictly Ballroom, will give it a twirl, a spin, and a much needed lift. The story takes place during the roaring 20’s and the Prohibition era, where a young Midwesterner named Nick Carraway becomes drawn toward the lavish lifestyle of well-to-do neighbor, Jay Gatsby. But as he soon discovers, it’s merely a façade. For underneath the glamorous parties and soirees, lies a world of materialism, madness, and unspoken tragedy. If Luhrman can transform Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman into musical superstars, he can certainly do a number on Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Isla Fisher ready to do The Charleston.

9. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (March 30, 2012)

Not to be confused with another successful Pirate franchise gone stale, this Pirates offers a refreshing change of pace – an animated tale from the creators of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run. It’s a plunderful life, yo ho, as Pirate Captain sets out to defeat his biggest rivals, Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz, for the prestigious Pirate of the Year Award. This quest takes him from the shores of Blood Island to the streets of Victorian London through leper colonies, scientists, big fish, and a whole lot of booty. With oodles of dry, British wit and tremendous voice overs by Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, and Jeremy Piven, Pirates! aims to be a fun, crowd pleaser – a rip roaring family adventure on the high seas.

8. Nero Fiddled (October 19, 2012)

To be honest, I’ve never been a big Woody Allen fan. Never got into his romantic comedies like Love and Death, Manhattan, or Hannah and Her Sisters. Never saw the appeal of the Bergman-esque films like Stardust Memories or Interiors. And never understood or liked the nebbish, overanalyzing characters he often portrayed or depicted. But over the past decade, his work has touched a nerve. The self destruction of a former tennis pro captured meticulously in Match Point, the tempestuous and seductive love triangle in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and most recently, the beautiful love letter to La Ville-Lumiere (The City of Light) in Midnight in Paris. Next up is Nero Fiddled, a romantic comedy that takes place in Rome and consists of four vignettes in the spirit of Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”  – newlyweds, in-laws, a mistaken movie star, and an architect on vacation. Allen will reappear in front of the camera. And if it’s anything like Midnight in Paris, get ready to be whisked away to the beauty of Italy.

7. Dark Shadows (May 11, 2012)

Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd? It should come as no surprise that the first supernatural soap opera/mystery featuring a sympathetic vampire, a gothic estate, and a family tree rife with dark and demonic secrets would fall into the hands of someone like Tim Burton. Or that the lead character, Barnabas Collins, would draw the attention of Johnny Depp. Over the years, the soap has become somewhat of a cult classic, spawning two films – House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. The story begins briefly in 1752 with Barnabas Collins, master of Collinwood Manor, and a rich, powerful playboy. But all of that disappears when he dismisses the affection of a young woman, who turns out to be a witch. Rather than kill him, she turns him into a vampire and buries him underground, forever locked in a tomb. That is, until 1972, when he is finally freed and able to return to Collinwood only to find his once magnificent manor turned into ruin and his descendants in utter dysfunction. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, and another outlandish performance from Depp, Dark Shadows looks hauntingly amusing.

6. Django Unchained (December 25, 2012)

Quentin Tarantino delivered his finest effort to date with 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, a genre blending, fictionalized tale of Jewish Allied soldiers out to assassinate Nazi leaders. Now, 3 years later, he follows up Basterds with, of all things, a spaghetti western set in America’s Deep South. Starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, and new muse, Christoph Waltz, the film depicts the story of a freed slave (Foxx) who travels across America with a German dentist turned bounty hunter (Waltz) to rescue his wife from a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner (DiCaprio). Very Tarantino. With influences ranging from grindhouse to kung fu, you can bet this will have tremendous style, great dialogue, graphic violence, and a pulp pounding soundtrack. And stand out like a Royale with cheese.

5. The Avengers (May 4, 2012)

Excelsior! Comic book fans rejoice! After seven years of buildup that included separate movies for Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk, Marvel Studios slash Walt Disney Pictures proudly presents the first mega action superhero mashup called The Avengers. At the helm is noted comic book writer, Joss Whedon, creator of popular television shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse.” Here,  Loki, Thor’s adoptive brother and nemesis, comes to Earth to subjugate it and rule the human race as their king. To save mankind, Nick Fury and the international agency S.H.I.E.L.D. assemble a team of the mightiest superheroes. Also features Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and numerous cameos from Paul Bettany to Gwyneth Paltrow. With a budget in excess of $220 million, a lot is riding on this venture, including more sequels and spinoffs, like The Avengers meets the Justice League meets X-Men meets Teen Titans.

4. Rock of Ages (June 15, 2012)

Nominated for five Tony Awards, the popular Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, makes its way to the big screen in a big, hair band infused way. Transporting audiences back to 1987 minus the hot tub, an aspiring rocker named Drew Boley works as a busboy in a Hollywood club when he first encounters a waitress named Sherrie Christian. Sherrie is an aspiring actress from Kansas, also hoping to make it big, and together, the two pursue their romance and dreams in the big city. With a playful, all star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Julianne Hough, and a soundtrack of classic rock hits from Bon Jovi, Journey, Pat Benetar, Styx, Twisted Sister, and many more, Rock of Ages has all the ingredients of a guilty pleasure. Air guitars welcome.

3. Lincoln (December 2012)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just excited as you to see Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter this summer. But this installment is all Spielberg. A passion project that has been stewing since the late 90’s, when he encountered Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book itself was deemed too big for a feature length film, so Spielberg opted to focus on the tumultuous final months – the politics, the road to abolition, the end of the Civil War, and ultimately, his death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. If done right, this has Best Picture written all over it, especially with Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln; plus, Sally Field, John Hawkes, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley, James Spader, and a cast befitting one of the greatest presidents to ever live.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20, 2012)

Batman by Christopher Nolan. That alone should be enough to get you into the theater. But in case you need a little more enticement, try adding the back breaking juggernaut named Bane, played by rising star, Tom Hardy. And an appearance by the seductive Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway. Rounding out the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises takes place some eight years after the events of The Dark Knight as Bane arrives in Gotham City to wreak havoc and pull Batman out from hiding. While it will be quite the challenge to follow up Heath Ledger’s stellar performance as the Joker, if there’s anyone that can put the pieces together from Knightfall, it’s Nolan. Says a muffled Bane, “When Gotham is in ashes, you have my permission to die.”

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14, 2012)

Has it really been 9 years since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King graced the big screen and took home Best Picture gold? Taking us there and back again, back to the beginning, is director Peter Jackson and many familiar faces including: Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, and the magnificent CGI artist extraordinaire, Andy Serkis. In this epic tale, home loving Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys outside the Shire, across Middle Earth, alongside Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, and a company of thirteen dwarves to battle goblins, orcs, giant spiders, and one treasure hoarding dragon named Smaug. Not to mention the creature that will forever change his life (Gollum).

Most intriguing is how Jackson and company will turn a 300 plus page children’s book, the shortest in the series, into two feature length films. But you can bet, we’ll all be waiting in line to see.

 

-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”

Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.

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