First of all, 2020’s got a high bar to clear. Last year was a terrific one for movies, with tons of fun, interesting, thoughtful options for filmgoers, from spooky social commentary (Us) to gripping puzzle boxes (Knives Out) to riotous comedies (Booksmart) to superhero bonanzas (Avengers: Endgame) to, of course, psychologically astute class commentary (Parasite).
This year promises plenty of the same, as Hollywood appears to be slowly finding a renewed interest in smart, original filmmaking. Here’s some of the stuff we’re most excited about.
Pixar’s annual offering is set in Dungeons and Dragons suburbia, where two elves voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt go on a mission to revive their long-lost father, and features some spectacular animation along with a story that will target your heartstrings with military efficiency.
A QUIET PLACE PART II
The first one was an unexpected treat, featuring crowd-pleasing thrills and an innovative hook for its monster-spotted post-apocalyptia. Part two will see the Abbotts’ quest for survival continue, and introduce Cillian Murphy and Djimon Honsou to noiseless fray.
We haven’t been the biggest fans of Disney’s live-action remakes of its animated tentpoles, but everything about Mulan suggests that it might be the one to win us over. The superb trailers are full of life and color, and the Mulan story is the rare Disney classic that might actually benefit from real actors. We’re prepared to be proved wrong but consider us cautiously intrigued.
A24 has carved out a small niche for slick spooks and Saint Maud appears to be especially intriguing. A piece of sicky horror that follows the growing friendship/enmity between a pious nurse and her skeptical patient, and the battle of wills and spirits that grows from their complicated relationship. Not sure where this movie will land in terms of a spiritual reckoning, but it looks like a suitably scary ride.
THE NEW MUTANTS
Speaking of scary movies, this should be an interesting one. New Mutants is an X-Men spinoff starring an all-new cast of super-powered teens that’s been shelved for several years in post-production limbo and is finally seeing the light of day. It’s not clear why this movie has languished as long as it has but the cracking good cast (Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Maisie Williams, Blue Hunt and Henry Zaga) is at least intriguing.
NO TIME TO DIE
Daniel Craig is a terrific James Bond. Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies have been a little more mixed, veering between sublime (Casino Royale and Skyfall) and so-so (Quantum of Solace and Spectre). Hard to say which end of the spectrum No Time To Die will fall, but there’s reason to be optimistic, not the least of which is that it’s directed by Cary Fukunaga.
Better late than never. Scarlett Johansson made her first appearance in the MCU way back in 2010 when the whole thing was just an Iron Man franchise and been a game player in the Avengers movies ever since. Now she’s finally getting her long-overdue solo movie, but that’s not the only reason to show up. Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour are all on hand to give you plenty of reason to check this one out.
LEGALLY BLONDE 3
Like their protagonist, the Legally Blonde movies were always much smarter than anyone gave them credit for, featuring Reese Witherspoon overcoming imposter’s syndrome and exposing the patriarchal elitism of the systems around her while also revealing just how engrained those obstacles can be. Now, Witherspoon is returning to the franchise that made her an A-lister at a time when all eyes are once again on Washington D.C. and renewed conversations of just how difficult it is for American women to succeed in this country.
Are we excited for a movie springing from the Saw universe? That’s a complicated question. The Saw movies were exercises in visceral ugliness, elevating the cheapest elements of horror cinema and unfortunately making “torture porn” part of the national vocabulary. No thanks.
But the idea behind the Saw movies — that all actions have consequences, some of them emphatically unpretty — is an interesting one for a smart filmmaker to tackle, which is why Chris Rock’s involvement here is so interesting. Can Rock follow the Jordan Peele route of pivoting from beloved funnyman to scary social commentator, and evolve a miserable franchise into a thoughtful look reaping what we sow? We’ll know soon enough.
Speaking of elevating franchises, Peele himself co-wrote and produced this reboot from Little Woods‘ Nina DaCosta, which updates the pertinent themes of Chicago’s spookiest horror icon for a new era. The original Candyman was plenty scary but left a lot of thematic meat on the cutting room floor. Given the caliber of talent involved here, that’s not a franchise this mistake will make twice.
WONDER WOMAN 1984
Gal Gadot makes a belated return to the Amazon threads and updates the time and place from World War I to Wall Street in what sure looks like another very rewarding outing. The DC Extended Universe is in much better shape now than it was when the last Wonder Woman movie hit as the franchise’s only bright spot. We’ll see if it can keep DC’s new streak alive.
Soul is an audacious concept, following a jazz lover who dies suddenly and must figure out his passion in the afterlife. It’s a wild idea and it’s helmed by Pete Docter, who has a history of making strange concepts (Monsters, Inc., Up) work beautifully. And Pixar’s brought along its inspired-as-usual gift for voice casting, with Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove and Daveed Diggs all on hand to make you laugh and cry in equal measure.
IN THE HEIGHTS
Well, Cats was a bust, and puts a little speedbump into the attempt to make movie musicals the next big thing. But look for that to get back on track in a big way with In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other Broadway show. This one is helmed by Crazy Rich Asians‘ Jon Chu, features a lively, lovely collection of irresistible songs and a timely message. We’re crying already!
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Two words: Tom Cruise. Two more words: Top Gun. OK, two more: VOLLEY BALL. Do we really need to go on? OK, just in case. Two more: Danger Zone.
What is tenet? It’s hard to say. As per usual, Christopher Nolan is keeping the plot of his next movie under wraps and even the big IMAX sneak peek at the movie’s opening scene didn’t give too much away. By the look of it, we’re talking about a heist involving some sort of time travel hijinks but, well, the important thing here is that Nolan has assembled John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Debicki for another one of his madcap, globe-trotting imagination-stretchers.
BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC
There’s never exactly been a bad time to try another Bill and Ted movie but you could definitely make the case that 2020 is the best time, given that everyone has finally come around on the idea that Keanu Reeves is simply one of the kindest and most humble guys working in Hollywood today. Your mileage on interest in a third one of these movies might vary depending on how much love you’ve got for the first two but since just about everyone loves them, that’s not really a liability.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
We don’t know much about Edgar Wright’s new Anya Taylor-Joy-starring thriller but the fact that it’s a Edgar Wright thriller starring Anya Taylor-Joy is about all we need to know. Wright got famous on comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim VS. the World before edging into inventive action vehicles like Baby Driver. This next one seems a little outside of either wheelhouse but whatever it is, we’ll be there day one.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Aaron Sorkin’s ear for dueling dialogue rarely disappoints and it’s especially well-suited for courtroom dramas. In this case, it’ll be put to historical use, depicting the legal battle of the anti-Vietnam War protestors during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And check out this cast: Seth Rogen, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Michael Keaton and Mark Rylance.
Last time we got a grownup drama from director Tom McCarthy, it was called Spotlight and it won an Oscar for Best Picture. That’s why you might be interested in his next feature, which will star Matt Damon as a man trying to clear his daughter of a crime she didn’t commit.
The MCU’s post-Avengers plans are taking shape with Eternals, a superhero deepcut even many Marvel diehards aren’t overly familiar with. In the comics, the Eternals are a small race of nearly immortal beings who’ve lived among humanity in secret for thousands of years, but must band together to face an equally ancient threat to the earth. Whatever you interest in superhero flicks, the real draw here is ace filmmaker Chloe Zhao — who cut her teeth on tiny, homespun dramas — and an astonishing cast featuring Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Kit Harrington, Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan.
Denis Villeneuve brought us Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Prisoners and Sicario and is frankly just one of the most flat-out interesting, reliably terrific filmmakers in the game right now. He’s bringing an amazing cast to his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic (Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, John Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård …we could go on), and the novel’s themes of class warfare have only gotten more pertinent in the years since its publication.
WEST SIDE STORY
In the Heights isn’t the only musical making a play for theaters this year. West Side Story is going to aim for our hearts in December, and this one boasts the directorial talents of some guy named Steven Spielberg. Jets or Sharks, pick your side now.
COMING 2 AMERICA
Eddie Murphy is enjoying a nice little career resurgence of late which makes now the perfect time for him to revisit one of his most iconic characters: Prince Akeem, the sovereign of Zamunda. The sequel finds him discovering the existence of a long lost son, and will reunite Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones along with Wesley Snipes, Tracey Morgan and Leslie Jones in this hugely anticipated sequel from Craig Brewer, the director Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan.
David Fincher is back, and he picked an interesting subject: the real-life story of Orson Welles (Tom Burke) and Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), and their acrimonious battle over who deserved the credit for writing Citizen Kane. It’s the sort of idea that would sound dull in most hads but Fincher’s name (and the involvement of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the score) makes it as close to a surefire bet as movies get.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
We’re a sucker for a Wes Anderson around here, and when that Wes Anderson happens to feature the exploits of a fictional, New Yorker-inspired periodical and brings together this cast, well, what can we say? We’re not hard to please.