It’s the least wonderful time of the year: awards season stupidity is in full swing (thanks, Hollywood Foreign Press Association); studios are quietly releasing first-quarter loss leaders into theaters (sorry, Escape Room); and you’ve already read through every critic’s 2018 10-best lists (including Barack Obama’s, which looks suspiciously similar to The Ringer’s). What we need are some new movies worth talking about, and until the first batch of potentially intriguing premieres arrives later this month via the Sundance Film Festival, the only way to get our fix is via a big, sprawling preview feature. Note that not all of the movies on this list are guaranteed to be in theaters before December, but the heaviest hitters, including Quentin Tarantino, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Claire Denis, and Martin Scorsese, have release dates. But 12 months from now, we think this list will be useful for those sorting out 2019’s most crucial viewing experiences.
Uncut Gems, High Flying Bird
Adam Nayman: The addition of Kevin Garnett to the cast of Josh and Benny Safdie’s New York–set thriller—about a jewelry-store owner, played by Adam Sandler, struggling with a gambling addiction—is only half the story of Uncut Gems; supposedly, the Big Ticket’s character was originally described in the script as a Joel Embiid type, which makes me wonder whether the Safdies have traded up (Garnett’s a legend) or down (Embiid is hilarious). The cast also includes Mike Francesa, Trinidad James, and the Weeknd, all signs that the Safdies, who only a few years ago were cranking out excellent if semiobscure indies, have been given free rein on A24’s dime. Considering that Good Time was one of the most electric American genre films of the decade, the long leash has been earned.
Continuing with the NBA theme, Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird (written by Moonlight Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney) features André Holland as an agent scrambling to satisfy a high-profile client in the shadow of a league lockout; leave it to Soderbergh, whose recent movies have shared a theme of corporate, institutionalized villainy, to dramatize the unheroic side of professional sports. You can also leave it to Soderbergh to work quickly; after shooting High Flying Bird on an iPhone, the director went from wrapping filming to assembling a first cut in less than three hours—cinching his case as the poster child for digital-age efficiency.
The Irishman, The Beach Bum
Manuela Lazic: Martin Scorsese’s strange and profound Silence was released more than two years ago. It’s also been almost five years since the director first announced his follow-up project, The Irishman, a more direct return to the 76-year-old filmmaker’s roots. Based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt, the film will present the recollections of Frank Sheeran, a labor union official played by Robert De Niro—in his ninth collaboration with Scorsese—who doubled as a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. Supposedly, Sheeran was involved in the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, the legendary union leader interpreted by Al Pacino—unbelievably, making his first appearance in a Scorsese film. After reports of a skyrocketing budget due to the extensive CGI work required to make De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci look up to 30 years younger in flashbacks, Netflix purchased the film last February, rounding up the cost to $175 million but guaranteeing that it will see the light of day—and with Marty getting final cut. Hopefully, the streaming platform’s recent increased willingness to share its content with cinemas will mean that we will finally be able to see a fake young Pacino on the big screen, for better or worse.
Harmony Korine claimed the title of enfant terrible of contemporary American cinema in the mid-’90s when, at 19 years old, he wrote the screenplay for Larry Clark’s cult classic Kids. As a director, he fortified his position with a series of equally bold and fresh independent features, until 2012’s Spring Breakers took him further up the Hollywood ladder. With a cast that included a gold-toothed James Franco and bikini-clad ex–teen star Vanessa Hudgens dancing to Britney Spears’s “Everytime” while brandishing guns, Spring Breakers commercialized its creator’s provocations. But will success spoil Korine? After directing a Dior ad and a Rihanna music video, the director returns with The Beach Bum, starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a devoted stoner living it up in Los Angeles. Here’s hoping that the trailer’s feel-good tone isn’t true to the film itself, and that there will be much more to be surprised by underneath Zac Efron’s incredible biker look.
Ad Astra, Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Nayman: It happens at some point to most ambitious alpha-male filmmakers: Either you go to the jungle, or you make a movie set in outer space. James Gray ticked the first box with 2016’s The Lost City of Z, and the much anticipated, slightly delayed Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, pushes its predecessor’s exploratory vibe into orbit. During a recent onstage interview in Toronto, Gray talked a bit about the project’s combination of futuristic setting and perennial familial themes, although he didn’t confirm when the movie would be finished. Considering that five of Gray’s films have showed at Cannes (although he’s never won an award), it’s a good bet he’s trying to be ready for May.
Speaking of delays: Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s seriocomic novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette—about the mysterious disappearance of an agoraphobic architect—was originally slated for May 2018. That’s not necessarily a bad sign, and considering the mostly male focus of the director’s recent output—the growing pains of Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!!; the post-battlefield pathos of Last Flag Flying—a film dealing with maternal abandonment (with Cate Blanchett as the eponymous domestic deserter) should be a welcome change of pace.
Little Women, High Life
Lazic: Coming-of-age fanboys and fangirls of the world rejoice: All your 2018 faves are joining forces in this new year to make you once again swoon while contemplating the bittersweet passage into adulthood. Like an Avengers film for contemporary adolescence-centric indie cinema, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women will bring together the heroes of the director’s own Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), Call Me by Your Name (Timothée Chalamet), the teen urtext Harry Potter franchise (Emma Watson), and even Lady Macbeth (Florence Pugh) to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel. Add to this illustrious cast renowned members of the old guard Meryl Streep and Laura Dern, and Gerwig would seem set to continue on her trajectory. Adapting such a popular work carries risks, but it also marks the filmmaker’s determination to pursue her directing career with both bravado and taste, and to ensure that Lady Bird was not a one-off success, but rather the origin story of a new auteur.
On the other end of the female auteur spectrum is veteran French filmmaker Claire Denis, who is also expanding her ambition and reach to infinity and beyond. Not insusceptible to teen heartthrobs herself, Denis cast American idol and recent art cinema favorite Robert Pattinson to lead High Life, her first English-language film, which is set entirely in a drifting space shuttle in the near future. The festival circuit generally welcomed this UFO warmly, each walkout to be taken with a grain of salt: High Life is closer to a giant Star Child floating in space than it is to Matt Damon growing potatoes on Mars, and some people prefer the latter. One can dream that Pattinson’s army of fans will make the film a box office smash and introduce young viewers to Denis’s Beau Travail, or simply that High Life will gain its rightful place in the canon of existential space movies alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien.
Benedetta, First Cow
Nayman: I can’t say for sure that Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta—originally titled Blessed Virgin—will be finished this year, but if there’s a god, it will be. Or maybe not: Never one to bow to the Creator, Verhoeven eroticized the crucifixion way back when in The Fourth Man and wrote a biography of Jesus Christ as if he were a normal, farting human being rather than our lord and savior, so perhaps a movie about a nun who is compelled to become a lesbian after experiencing divine visions is something the man upstairs wouldn’t want despoiling his creation. At this point, only God can judge a director whose work inspires such (sac)religious devotion—and for the man who made Showgirls and Elle, the road to hell is paved with the best of bad intentions.
2016’s acclaimed Certain Women was the first Kelly Reichardt film written without input by Jonathan Raymond, whose short stories were the basis for Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy and who worked on the scripts for Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves. Now, Reichardt is adapting Raymond’s 2004 novel The Half-Life, which splits its narrative between stories set in 19th- and 20th-century Oregon. Reichardt has been gradually experimenting with different kinds of storytelling, and the parallel timelines of the source material should provide an opportunity to further refine her technique; while scant casting details have been revealed, few American filmmakers have a better recent track record with actors, from Certain Women’s heroic trio of Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart to Jesse Eisenberg’s career-best work in Night Moves.
Shirley, Velvet Buzzsaw
Lazic: After the critical success in festivals of her wildly ambitious and formally audacious film Madeline’s Madeline last year, indie American director Josephine Decker isn’t even close to slowing down. Shirley, her project for 2019, will tell the story of famed and controversial gothic author Shirley Jackson, whose short story “The Lottery” is a staple of horror fiction. More thrilling still, it is based on the semiautobiographical, semifictionalized novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, which imagines a young woman’s obsession with her new landlady—Jackson herself—and the connections between the author’s work and her real life that she notices. As Madeline’s Madeline made evident, Decker has a special handle on how fantasy clashes with reality, and an appreciation for actors and challenging performances—which makes the prospect of Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg playing Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, respectively, all the more exciting.
Dan Gilroy follows up 2017’s rather tender—and underrated—portrait of an old-fashioned and obsolete lawyer, Roman J. Israel, Esq., with what looks like a more explosive proposition. Reuniting with Jake Gyllenhaal five years after their violent news industry takedown Nightcrawler, Gilroy now takes aim at the seedy world of Los Angeles art collectors. Velvet Buzzsaw seems to have the same genre inflections as Nightcrawler but with a touch of fantasy, as greedy art appreciators start getting attacked by supernatural forces after paintings of unknown origins emerge on the auction scene. With his talent for despicable upper-class and arrogant characters, John Malkovich feels an ideal casting choice, and the fact Netflix should produce and distribute a film about the pernicious consequences of art colliding with commerce is an irony that could make for an interesting debate.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, Glass
Nayman: There are some good reasons to feel bad for Tom Holland’s version of Peter Parker. For one, he got disintegrated at the end of Avengers: Infinity War; also, the reviews for the Avengers-adjacent animated adventure Into the Spider-Verse keep pointing out that it’s the best cinematic treatment of the character to date. I myself quite enjoyed the MCU-inclusive Spider-Man: Homecoming, and am glad (if, of course, unsurprised) that Holland is being resurrected for a sequel, although the twisty inter-franchise timeline means that Far From Home might be set before Thanos cut New York (and the universe’s) population in half. I’m sure the people who make these movies have it all sorted out; I’m just looking forward to more of the oddly humble heroics showcased in Homecoming (and to more Michael Keaton as Vulture, who I’ll take over Birdman any day).
I haven’t seen or heard a movie theater audience react to a twist like the one at the end of Split in a long time; when James Newton Howard’s slow-burn Unbreakable score kicked in, at least two people behind me called out “holy shit.” After spending a decade or so guessing wrong on what studios and audiences wanted, M. Night Shyamalan seems to have regained his commercial instincts, both in expanding the narrative of his somber, compelling 2000 proto-superhero movie and in delivering what would seem to be a treatise on the genre and its discontents in a moment when it’s peaking. There are plenty of ways in which Glass looks ridiculous, but there’s something a bit Watchmen-esque in the idea of an everyday world wrestling with the revelation of superhumans in their midst. I also can’t wait to see what Samuel L. Jackson does with an older, even frailer incarnation of Elijah Price: Hell hath no (Nick) Fury like a comic book collector scorned.
John Wick: Chapter 3, Captain Marvel
Lazic: In a world now dominated by expanded universes, not playing the franchise game can be cause for FOMO. Fortunately, some serialized adventures still promise more than an endless cycle of live, die, mysteriously resuscitate, and repeat. John Wick, the badass puppy avenger played by Keanu Reeves, returns for a third film in John Wick: Chapter 3. Stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski is again at the helm, hopefully guaranteeing more balletic killings from the martial-arts trained hitman with a heart of gold. But after going international in the second chapter, Wick is now stuck in New York with killers after him, and apparently has to “use the service industry to stay alive” and escape the city. Leaked pictures of Reeves riding a horse on a busy road while pointing a gun at a man on a motorbike don’t quite match with this description, but let’s wait and see if maybe his latest victim is a vicious pizza delivery guy.
At long last, the highly anticipated Captain Marvel will make her appearance on our screens in 2019, joining the ranks of Marvel’s already too-numerous-to-count superheroes. First announced in 2014, the studio’s first movie led by one of its many female comic book characters went through several writers’ hands and found its directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, very late, all of which may not be a good omen for the final result. But Boden and Fleck, who previously made the Ryan Gosling–as-strung-out-teacher drama Half Nelson and the gambling comedy Mississippi Grind, are an interesting choice, as is Brie Larson to play the fighter pilot turned superhuman. And among the plethora of screenwriters were, at different points in time, Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), Meg LeFauve (Inside Out), and Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive (GLOW). Plus, Jude Law finally bit the superhero bullet, and Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, digitally deaged. With its HER/HERO wordplay, the trailer screams “Feminism!” a bit too loudly, but this might just be try-hard advertising for the post-#MeToo era. After so much effort, let’s give the Captain a chance.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Nayman: In his quest to become the new Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino has gradually shifted from fetishizing film history to enfolding significant real-life events into his personal cinematic universe: the films that make up the unofficial trilogy of Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight are all about large-scale atrocities remade in their director’s berserkly postmodern image. Making a fairy tale that pivots on the Manson murders is both business as usual and maybe a bridge too far for a filmmaker whose recent bad press has him poised for a backlash. Because it’s Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has a stacked cast (Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate) and the impending collision between true crime, industry myth, and the filmmaker’s own ambitions promises to be epic—or, for those wavering on the QT brand, exhausting.
Lazic: Some of us may never recover from reports that an Elton John biopic-musical starring Tom Hardy and directed by Michael Gracey, the man behind The Greatest Showman, almost happened in 2013. But the 2019 version at least doesn’t star the British singer’s first choice, Justin Timberlake, as his surrogate. Director Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall (known for Billy Elliot) deliver a “fantasy” version of John’s life, from his prodigious youth at the Royal Academy of Music to his later success and long-term collaboration with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Billy Elliot himself, Jamie Bell). Oversized glasses and funky shirts spill out of Rocketman’s trailer and drown Taron Egerton to almost make him unrecognizable. The singing is most definitely his, however, and not John’s—but perhaps he’ll look something like the man we think he is at home.
The Lighthouse, It: Chapter Two
Nayman: In November, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson had a chat for Interview magazine in which the latter admitted to wanting to punch director Robert Eggers on the set of The Lighthouse, a new horror movie set in Nova Scotia; no word on whether the feeling was mutual. It would seem that Eggers hasn’t strayed too far from the formula of his previous film, The Witch, which is: period setting + supernatural mythology + A24. But as The Witch was excellent—a scrupulously controlled, technically flawless exercise in atmosphere—that’s not a bad thing. The fact that Eggers shot The Lighthouse on black-and-white 35-millimeter film stock, meanwhile, suggests he’s feeling himself—it’s a commercial risk offset by the presence of Pattinson, whose reinvention as an arthouse leading man is a wonderful, unexpected development.
Quick, what’s the highest-grossing horror movie of all time? OK, it’s still Jaws, but only if you adjust for inflation; the $330 million earned by It is technically the record holder, and nobody saw those sort of numbers coming before its September 2017 release. A mix of ’80s nostalgia, a killer trailer, and some well-engineered, legitimately R-rated scares attracted the sort of audiences that “elevated” horror films like The Witch and Hereditary can only dream of, and it’s a good bet that Chapter Two—which picks up the story of “The Losers Club” with the characters in their adult incarnations—will open even bigger. A special casting award for having Bill Hader play the grown-up version of Finn Wolfhard, who, in turn, should be on call for HBO if they’re looking to do any childhood flashbacks on this season of Barry.
Us, The Addams Family
Lazic: After the astounding success of Get Out, Jordan Peele promised us he had more “social thrillers” to offer (and is producing a sequel to Candyman). The trailer for Us, coming out in March, is chilling and not without its similarities to the comedian’s 2017 film about the deep roots of racial discrimination in America: an African American family goes on holiday with their kids, but is soon pursued by speedy, smiling, demonic doppelgängers. However, the target of Peele’s sharp critique seems somewhat less evident in Us—but that may be because it’s right under our noses. The filmmaker has declared that this new film will be about ourselves: We are our worst enemies—but I wouldn’t put a double entendre on “Us” and “U.S. of A.” past him. More exciting still is the fact this film seems to finally let Lupita Nyong’o do some proper acting, alongside the talents of Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss.
The family unit is also somewhat cursed in the new project from the Sausage Party team of Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon: a new 3D animated version of The Addams Family. A reality-television host threatens to uncover the secrets of the beloved living-dead household, whose members also have to prepare for a big family gathering—many different types of monsters are bound to make their appearance, hopefully multiplying the number of crafty traps used to amusingly kill innocent human beings. But the real event here is the casting: In some perfect alignment of the stars, a worthy successor to the master Raul Julia (fantastic in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1991 and 1993 films) has been found in Oscar Isaac, whose voice is just as enchanting (and who not only is of Central American origins like his predecessor, but was also born on the same day of March 9—the stars aligned). The Morticia to his Gomez will be voiced by the equally talented Charlize Theron, promising some appropriately suave and darkly humorous exchanges between the horniest undead couple of gothic cinema.
Weird Flex, but OK
Nayman: “The most intensely challenging, daunting role that any actor can play is that of the clown that fights Batman,” tweeted one of the best American film critics a couple of years ago; Nick was being sarcastic but I am hard-pressed to think of a character who has been played by three different Oscar winners plus Cesar Romero. I suppose I’m curious to see what Joaquin Phoenix, one of the most physically stylized actors around, does with a part that’s already been effectively taken over the top by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger (the less said about Jared Leto’s version the better). Everyone involved with the project cites Martin Scorsese’s creepy, prescient 1982 psychodrama The King of Comedy as a major inspiration, to the point that Rupert Pupkin himself is second-billed after Phoenix: The credits list De Niro’s character as a talk show host, which is cool, but seeing as Marc Maron is also right there in the cast, it’s a waste to not have him be the one to ask the Joker who “his guys” are.
Lazic: Adapting a popular young-adult book series isn’t such a wild idea—but that Doug Liman should choose to do so is a little more surprising. The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow filmmaker is directing the first chapter of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking dystopian series, with Robert Zemeckis rumored to be in the producing chair. In a world where women have disappeared and all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts thanks to a constant flow of images and sounds—an ability called the Noise—Tom Holland plays Todd Hewitt, a young man who discovers a patch of silence caused by a girl, Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley), and together they have to flee. Ness’s inspiration for the Noise was today’s youth’s overexposure to information, and it will be interesting to see how Liman and Charlie Kaufman (together with the many other screenwriters), who both have demonstrated a sense for dynamic abstractions, will bring this high concept to the screen.
Nayman: I am Ethan Hawke in First Reformed, mixing Pepto Bismol and whiskey and throwing it down the hatch as I scan the Wikipedia page for Tom Hooper’s movie version of Cats. Did I know that, at one point, a mix of live action and CGI animation was considered and then nixed? I did not. The mix of liquids burns in my throat. Steven Spielberg will be executive producing; the warmth reaches my chest. I can feel it spreading through my lungs, like a fire. Taylor Swift, James Corden, Ian McKellen … Jason Derulo as “The Rum Tum Tugger” … my insides ablaze, I stare into the darkness. Andrew Lloyd Webber will be contributing an all-new song. The darkness stares back. Well, somebody has to do something.
The Rhythm Section
Lazic: Blake Lively’s film career is a fascinating series of weird choices (The Age of Adaline. The Shallows! A Simple Favor?) that she pulls off thanks to a keen combination of talent and evident enthusiasm. The Rhythm Section, based on the 1999 novel by Mark Burnell, will follow Stephanie Patrick (Lively), a woman who loses her family in a suspicious plane crash and takes on multiple identities to track down and kill the people responsible for this staged accident. Lively’s predilection for badassery and transformation thus continues, and under the direction of Reed Morano (who earned awards for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, another vengeful-woman story) and production by the people behind the James Bond franchise, the result could be genuinely good pulp.