January 1, 2014

2014: The 15 Most Promising Movies


Audiences to Hollywood:  Happy New Year!  And… what have you done for us lately?  2013 turned out to be a terrific year for high-quality movies, with so many good films and performances that some will inevitably be squeezed out of the Oscar race.  But that was so last year.  What does 2014 have in store?  Here are some films that, at least on paper, are worth looking forward to.  The first 10 are listed in their current chronological order of appearance (dates may change wildly–last year, Gravity, The Great Gatsby and 47 Ronin were just a few of the movies that opened months after they were originally scheduled), and the final 5 are in alphabetical order, since they don’t yet have any release dates at all.  There will, of course, be other worthwhile films that don’t even have studios behind them yet–hopefully, some of those will be unveiled just a few weeks from now at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Until then, to whet your appetite for the year to come:

THE MONUMENTS MEN (Sony – Feb. 7):  George Clooney’s historical action-adventure comedy-drama was expected to be a 2013 Oscar contender, but the film wasn’t quite finished and the competition grew fierce, so it was moved forward a few weeks.  The marvelous cast includes Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin in the based-on-truth story of allied soldiers trying to rescue priceless artworks from the Nazis.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Fox Searchlight – March 7):  At this point, the phrase “A Wes Anderson Film” conveys just about everything you need to know (just take a look at Saturday Night Live‘s brilliant parody “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders”).  This one centers around the concierge at an exclusive European hotel between the wars, and the star-studded cast includes Anderson favorites (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton) and newcomers (Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel).

NOAH (Paramount – March 28):  The year’s pair of Biblical spectacles kicks off with Darren Aronofsky’s first film since Black Swan, and it comes trailing some bad buzz, with stories about varying responses at test screenings, multiple endings, and disputes between Aronofsky and Paramount about how much the film needs to appeal to religious audiences.  Nevertheless, the result is certain to be worth seeing.  Russell Crowe builds the ark, and his family includes Jennifer Connelly (back as Crowe’s wife after their Oscars for A Beautiful Mind), Emma Watson, Logan Lerman (a mini-Perks of Being a Wallflower reunion!) and Anthony Hopkins.  Expect many, many CG animals.

X MEN:  DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (20th – May 23):  The most intriguing of the summer’s blockbuster tentpoles is sort of the X-Men version of The Avengers, as the present-day heroes (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, etc) have to combine with their youthful counterparts (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and a little-known actress named Jennifer Lawrence) to save humanity, the planet, and all that is good in the universe.  Director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two movies in the series, is back, Peter Dinklage is a prominent newcomer, and it all got so crowded that Anna Paquin’s scene has already been cut out.  (Of course, cities will be bombarded and Earth will be at risk in many other summer franchises, including The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the rebooted Transformers: Age of Extinction, a new Godzilla, and the latest Marvel extravaganza, Guardians of the Galaxy.)

JERSEY BOYS (Warners – June 20):  A Clint Eastwood musical?!?  Eastwood has confounded expectations repeatedly throughout his career, and at age 82, the noted jazz buff is tackling the early days of rock & roll, adapting the Broadway hit about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.  This particular musical does feature some gunplay, which may make it more down Eastwood’s alley, and Warners is showing confidence by scheduling it dead center in the summer blockbuster season.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (Warners – September 12):  Shawn Levy’s movie version of Jonathan Tropper’s novel about a family struggling to survive a week of sitting shiva has a dream cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton, Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Corey Stoll.

GONE GIRL (20th – October 3):  Thinking of novels… David FIncher follows his adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with another massive (and violent) bestseller.  Novelist Gillian Flynn wrote the script herself, and for anyone who’s read the book, the real mystery is how its plot twists will translate to a new and very different medium.  Rosamund Pike plays the gone girl, and Ben Affleck is the husband who has plenty of reason to be distraught.

INTERSTELLAR (Paramount/Warners – November 7):  Christopher Nolan’s latest utterly mysterious epic is so big that two studios combined to produce it.  It was originally developed by Steven Spielberg, and appears to involve travel through a wormhole  We do know that the remarkable cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, and Nolan’s good-luck charm Michael Caine.  (Also worth noting:  Transcendence, produced by Nolan and directed by his favorite cinematographer Wally Pfister, opens via Warners on April 18.  It features Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara and Nolan stock company members Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy in a very Nolan-ish sounding story about a scientific genius who transfers the entirety of his consciousness to a supercomputer.)

EXODUS (20th – December 12):  Back to the Bible, this time with Ridley Scott putting his misbegotten The Counselor behind him for territory that returns him to the scope of his Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven.  Christian Bale parts the red sea, with Aaron Paul as Joshua and Joel Edgerton as a (presumably) hairier Ramses than Yul Brynner’s in The 10 Commandments.

INTO THE WOODS (Disney – December 25):  Director Rob Marshall guided the musical Chicago to Oscar glory.  Can he do the same for Stephen Sondheim’s much trickier deconstruction of fairy tales?  If not, it won’t be the cast’s fault, a jam-packed A team that includes Meryl Streep as the Witch, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, and James Corden and Emily Blunt as The Baker and his Wife.

BIG EYES (Weinstein – no release date):  Taking a break from blockbusters, Tim Burton presents the true-life story of Walter Keane and his wife Margaret (Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams), who had an ugly divorce after creating the hugely successful line of kitschy paintings featuring children with, well, big eyes.  The script is by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote Ed Wood for Burton, and this promises not to feel like Alice In Wonderland.

BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight – no release date):  Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) isn’t exactly the first name that comes to mind when you think “comedy,” but he’s going to stretch his talents for the story of a former superhero star who tries to make a comeback on Broadway.  Assisting him will be Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Amy Ryan.

FOXCATCHER (Sony Pictures Classics – no release date):  Another postponed 2013 opening, from Bennett Miller, the director of Capote and Moneyball, and with a script by Dan Futterman (who wrote Capote) and E. Max Frye, writer of the cult classic Something Wild.  It’s the true-life story of a scandalous high-society murder, which makes the presence of Steve Carell in the lead a fascinating choice.  He’s supported by Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller.

INHERENT VICE (Warners – no release date):  Just inhale these words:  Paul Thomas Anderson directs the first-ever adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel.  In case that weren’t hipster heaven enough, Joaquin Phoenix plays private investigator Doc Sportello, and he’s supported by Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone and Maya Rudolph.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (Sony Pictures Classics – no release date):  Woody Allen is in the most fertile period of his career since his glory days.  His latest is a period comedy starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."