It’s an annual tradition to spend the first few weeks of January chewing over the previous year’s movies while looking ahead to the prestige releases of spring, summer, and fall. Previews like the one below are a way of reminding us that even as theater screens are currently hosting The Grudge and Underwater, better things lie ahead. Our list of 2020’s most anticipated titles is by no means comprehensive: Some of what will turn out to be the year’s best and buzziest movies haven’t been announced yet, and there’s no such thing as a sure thing—even the must-sees could turn out to be disappointments. Still, speculation is irresistible, especially when we’re talking about new work by David Fincher, Leos Carax, Kelly Reichardt, Charlie Kaufman, Paul Verhoeven, Josephine Decker, and (yes) Jaume Collet-Serra. It’s a list to warm the heart—think of it as California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
Nobody makes movies like Leos Carax, the French iconoclast behind Holy Motors; he’s got a poet’s eye, a romantic’s heart, and a weirdo’s brain. Carax has been trying to make Annette for a long time, and the stars finally aligned in the form of Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. They play an artsy couple (he’s a stand-up comic, she’s a singer) whose newborn baby has … wait for it … special powers. And it’s a musical! With original songs by the ’70s cult band Sparks! You couldn’t make it up if you tried.
It’s probably easier to list who isn’t in Denis Villeneuve’s deluxe adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune: Any movie with Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Dave Bautista, and Zendaya will be a meme machine. Supposedly, this is just Part 1 of a really long and expensive diptych, a risk akin to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. While Blade Runner 2049 didn’t fully blow people’s minds, Villeneuve’s ability to work slickly and innovatively inside the contours of a sci-fi classic bodes well for his work here. “In a way, it’s Star Wars for adults,” claims Villeneuve, who’d just be throwing shade if The Rise of Skywalker hadn’t landed with such a thud. In the meantime, there’s an opening in the epic sci-fi marketplace, and Dune is poised to fill it.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Canadian writer Iain Reid’s 2016 novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things is concise, ingenious, and terrifying—a psychological thriller pivoting on a series of twists that have as much to do with the reader as its characters. The story follows a young couple driving to the woods for a visit with one set of parents. That a decorated surrealist like Charlie Kaufman chose Reid’s novel for adaptation says plenty about its tone, and for those of us who’ve read the book, the marriage of director and material sounds ideal. Kaufman excels in interior landscapes, and the psychological terrain here is jagged and vast—the best kind of head trip.
David Fincher’s return to feature filmmaking after a not so long but still agonizing interlude of six years is, on paper, 2020’s most compelling new release: a biopic about the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his conflict with Orson Welles over the screenwriting credit for Citizen Kane. Their battle was the subject of a book by Pauline Kael; the script for Fincher’s movie was written by the director’s father, Jack—an all-in-the-family touch that should personalize the story beyond its subtexts of creative control and perfectionism (both themes that Fincher is intimately familiar with). Bonus points for tapping The Souvenir’s dashing, monstrous Tom Burke to play Welles.
Tom McCarthy helmed the most surprising Best Picture in recent memory in Spotlight, and now he gets a blank check to do whatever he wants—which turns out be a small-scale crime drama starring Matt Damon as a father trying to exonerate his daughter for a crime she did not commit. Not much is known about Stillwater beyond its slim plot synopsis and Oklahoma shooting location, but its November release date suggests it’s styled as a prestige picture.
West Side Story
Maybe making an old-school musical has been on Steven Spielberg’s bucket list for a while. The legendary director first expressed interest in doing a version of West Side Story in 2014 and now, with help from Munich and Lincoln writer Tony Kushner and choreographer Justin Peck, his wish has come true. Leonard Bernstein’s urban-operatic take on Romeo and Juliet is one of the most durable shows of the 20th century, with a flawless score and irresistibly star-crossed plot line; the lack of stars in the cast (sorry, Ansel Elgort) is weirdly reassuring, suggesting a faith in the material that will hopefully be repaid by 21st-century audiences seeing and hearing “Maria” for the first time.
Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure was one of the best foreign-language imports of the 2010s—a wry, unsparing satire of male cowardice that follows a bourgie tourist who flees his family’s side during an ultimately harmless avalanche and has to subsequently justify himself for the duration of an expensive ski holiday. Based on the trailers, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s remake hews pretty closely to Östlund’s source material, with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus superbly cast in parts that should ideally be played as unsympathetically as possible.
The question of why U.K. genre specialist Ben Wheatley would attempt—or maybe the word is dare—to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Best Picture winner is worth asking. Hitch’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic novel about a bewildered young bride cowering in the shadow of her husband’s late wife is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. But Wheatley, whose American debut, Free Fire, stalled at the box office, is nothing if not ambitious, and he has repeatedly demonstrated the skills to make funny, frightening, surprising thrillers. Pray instead for Armie Hammer, cast in a part already played to perfection by Sir Laurence Olivier.
Paul Verhoeven’s transformation into Luis Buñuel would seem to be complete with this strategically sacrilegious drama based on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Said sapphic novice is played by Virginie Efira, who costarred in Verhoeven’s excellent Elle. As with that film, the potential for controversy is off the charts. “I have been interested in the sacred ever since I was a child,” said Verhoeven after announcing the project. If we’re lucky, and Verhoeven is on his usual worst behavior, he’ll also find room for the profane.
A critical hit at the New York Film Festival last fall, Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to Certain Women plays out as a modest, suggestive American origin myth. In 19th-century Oregon, a pair of outsiders (a cook and a Chinese immigrant) team up for a risky entrepreneurial scheme involving the four-legged title character. Reichardt’s previous foray into history, Meek’s Cutoff, was a brilliantly revisionist Western, and First Cow continues her project of mournful, subversive national history lessons—this time with a sense of tenderness recalling her road-movie breakthrough, Old Joy.
Set to premiere later this month at Sundance, Josephine Decker’s biopic of the American writer Shirley Jackson—best known for her canonical allegorical horror story “The Lottery”—has been building buzz for nearly a year. Decker is a wild, visionary filmmaker, and Jackson’s rocky personal life and interest in mysticism provide the makings of potent psychodrama. Hence the presence of Elisabeth Moss, who’s become our first lady of falling apart on screen—an actress who’s willing to go as far as a movie requires, which, with Decker behind the camera, could mean a long way indeed.
We Love the ’80s
Top Gun: Maverick
Insert “Danger Zone” joke here. If it seems absurd for Tom Cruise to still be playing Maverick as a punky rebel inside the military-industrial complex 35 years after the fact, that’s because it is. And yet it wouldn’t be Top Gun without Tom, whose late-career transformation into a death-wishing stuntman adds its own level of intrigue. Is he really going to fly a fighter jet? Probably. Is he really going to take enemy fire, get hit with a missile, and eject over the ocean? Very possibly—hopefully all in one take à la the Halo jump from the last Mission: Impossible. Odds also look good for more shirtless beach volleyball.
Coming 2 America
John Landis’s 1988 comedy remains one of Eddie Murphy’s signature star vehicles and was supposed to spawn a television spin-off in 1989 (a pilot episode was produced but never picked up). How Murphy’s beaming, arrogant Prince Akeem will play in a more politically correct climate is an intriguing subplot in the actor’s current comeback bid. Murphy’s recent appearance on Saturday Night Live showed a willingness to play his greatest hits straight up. Also returning: Arsenio Hall, whose shape-shifting supporting work in Coming to America launched his entire career.
No Time to Die
The fondest wish for a lot of Bond fans would be for the franchise to abandon the increasingly intricate continuity that’s been building up since the end of Casino Royale—to stop worrying so much about 007’s history and just set him loose, the way the 1960s movies did. The returns of Christoph Waltz and Léa Seydoux indicate that No Time to Die isn’t going to give Bond a clean slate—maybe, though, with the gifted Cary Fukunaga writing and award-magnet Phoebe Waller-Bridge contributing to the screenplay, they can give him a lift out of his current rut.
Wonder Woman 1984
The only DC superhero movie so far to really work (apologies to Aquaman), Wonder Woman got the job done by working in broad, populist strokes, and deferring to the charms of its lead. Whatever the film’s flaws, Gal Gadot emerged as a star. This time-traveling sequel seems to be taking the cutesy route by stranding Diana as a fish out of water in Reagan’s ’80s. The clothes and soundtrack should be enjoyably retro, and tapping an ace physical comedian like Kristen Wiig to play a superpowered villain is potentially inspired.
Bill and Ted Face the Music
OK, so Bill and Ted are sort of superheroes: That’s not the point. The prospect of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reuniting to take the Wyld Stallyns into middle age is pure and good, and the decade it took for writer Ed Solomon to put together a workable script seems to have been well spent. Seems like the boys are going to have to save the planet by writing a song so good it unites all of humankind—beats all that stuff about Infinity Stones, I say. William Sadler returns as the Grim Reaper from Bogus Journey; maybe this time he’ll get the Oscar he should have won the first time around.
The title is a palindrome, and that’s all we know. Well, that and the fact that real-life Greatest Showman Christopher Nolan shot footage for his new thriller in seven different countries on a combination of 70 mm and IMAX film and the screenplay was such a closely guarded secret that star Robert Pattinson was forced to read it in a locked room. The teaser trailer’s frequent references to “World War III” fit nicely into our panicked zeitgeist, and Nolan’s return to Memento/Inception territory should please his cabal of die-hard fans.
The Jordan Peele Effect is real: The success of Get Out has led to a wave of sociopolitically minded horror films, with the freaky-looking Antebellum one of the more interesting titles slated to drop in 2020. The trailer’s juxtaposition of blindingly bright plantation scenes with a present-tense 9-1-1 phone call is spooky and provocative, blurring the reality/dream divide while piling on the sociopolitical portent.
Billed as a “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 classic (a definite influence on Get Out), Candyman has a killer cast (Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and, yes, Tony Todd) and a lot of room to play around with the first film’s mythology. As good as Bernard Rose’s original is, its ambiguities and unanswered questions are ideally suited to a follow-up. Nia DaCosta (Little Woods), a young, female African American director, should help revise (and complicate) the original’s potent but problematic racial and gender dynamics.
The Invisible Man
Reimagining the story of the Invisible Man from the point of view of one of his victims is quite ingenious. That it also works as a metaphor for gaslighting is going to give it even more 21st-century currency. In Leigh Whannell’s version, Elisabeth Moss stars as a woman whose late boyfriend seems to be haunting her from beyond the grave, when really he’s just hiding in plain sight, flummoxing authorities and making her look insane. The trailer gives a bit too much away, but promises gory shocks. Very promising.
Last Night in Soho
The good news is that Edgar Wright’s new horror movie cites Repulsion and Don’t Look Now as inspirations—both classics through and through. The bad news is that the director is coming off of Baby Driver, a movie that took his many strengths and turned them into weaknesses: Its deep immersion in pop music and crime movie clichés felt less like a filmmaker stylizing reality than keeping it desperately at bay. The idea that Wright could ever ditch his winking, self-reflexive style and deliver something legitimately bleak and terrifying seems far-fetched at this point, and the world needs more clever horror-comedies like a hole in the head. But fingers crossed Wright has picked the right moment and project to reinvent himself, even if only a little bit.
The Many Saints of Newark
The cynical response to The Many Saints of Newark is to say that we need a Sopranos prequel about as much as a Star Wars or Alien origin story: not at all, so please leave well enough alone. The optimistic response is to say that David Chase oversaw 80-plus hours of a great television series without ever really betraying his own personal quality control, and that he’s such an exacting, precise (and self-critical) artist, he wouldn’t have written and created this movie if it wasn’t actually good or worth it. Right? Right?? Lots of good actors are on hand, of course, including Ray Liotta, Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga as the young Livia—a perfect companion piece to her work as Mrs. Bates.
After a string of underperforming grown-up movies, Jason Reitman claims his birthright by redoing Ghostbusters—more specifically in the boys-will-be-boys image of his dad’s 1984 blockbuster, pivoting away from the 2016 distaff reclamation version. That movie wasn’t very good, but the cultural fallout around it was exponentially uglier. The idea of a Ghostbusters that panders to the fan base that mobilized against it—the one that misses the good old days of Dan Aykroyd getting undead blowjobs—is depressing as shit, but the presence of Paul Rudd is potentially leavening: We’ll see.
The selling point here is not the Rock or even Emily Blunt, both of whom look like they’re cashing checks in a Disney movie based on a theme park ride (cough, cough Martin Scorsese cough). No, the attraction here is director Jaume Collet-Serra, a great B-movie craftsman drafted—or, depending on your point of view, sentenced—to Event Movie duty. Serra’s track record (Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter, The Shallows), with or without Liam Neeson, speaks for itself. Whether he’s able to orchestrate his usual clean, precise action in the context of a family adventure movie starring the aforementioned Rock as a wily riverboat captain will be the summer’s biggest auteurist subplot.
Sonic the Hedgehog
The delayed release of Sonic the Hedgehog due to a hasty redesign of the CGI title character is one of the most bonkers developments in the recent history of studio filmmaking. It was a Twitter backlash that ended up costing Paramount some serious money. Sonic’s cocreator, Yuji Naka, was apparently appalled by the ratio of Sonic’s head to his abdomen (just like the rest of us). This has train wreck written all over it.
Adam Nayman is a film critic, teacher, and author based in Toronto; his book The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together is available now from Abrams.