The Grudge (January 3, directed by Nicolas Pesce)
I quite enjoyed Nicolas Pesce’s 2016 horror flick The Eyes of My Mother. It was disturbing and gory in just the right ratio for me, there wasn’t an over-reliance on the violence, and when it happened, you definitely felt the impact. I didn’t realize he was directing the reboot of The Grudge, which makes me much more interested to see the film than before. If Pesce is allowed to inject some of his own style into this picture, it could rise above a throwaway January release. It also helps that Andrea Riseborough (Birdman, Mandy) has a prominent role, and she always does a great job.
The Turning (January 24, directed by Flora Sigismondi)
As I said last year before, this was delayed: Music video director Floria Sigismondi has worked on some tv series with her previous feature being the Runaways biopic in 2010. This follow-up, almost a decade later, is an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The roles of nanny and her creepy charges are played by Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, and Brooklynn Prince, respectively. While there have been many adaptations of this novel and variations on the theme, I have high hopes for this one, especially with Davis in that vital lead role.
Kajillionaire (January 25, directed by Miranda July)
I have enjoyed both of Miranda July’s feature films, Me and You and Everyone We Know & The Future. Yes, she is twee and hipster-ish, but her movies have genuine human emotional cores to them. This is a heist movie, something I wouldn’t have expected from July but am nevertheless intrigued. Evan Rachel Wood stars as the daughter of two criminals (Debra Winger & Richard Jenkins). They have decided to invite a fourth party into their plans (Gina Rodriguez), and a conflict develops between her and the daughter. July has never been big on plot-based films, more centered around characters and themes. I am interested to see how much this resembles a traditional crime film and what July brings to the table.
Shirley (January 25, directed by Josephine Decker)
Josephine Decker brought us 2018’s brilliant Madeline’s Madeline, a movie that got into the head of an emotionally troubled teenage girl. In 2020, she brings us a biopic of author Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House, The Lottery). Playing Shirley will be the fantastic Elizabeth Olsen. The plot involves a young couple renting a room from Jackson and her husband, which leads to their involvement in a psycho-drama. I suspect Decker is going to play with the truth of Jackson’s real-life and intermix elements of her fiction. If she brings half the creativity from her last film, this will be one of the best of the year.
Gretel & Hansel (January 31, directed by Oz Perkins)
Oz Perkins won me over with the criminally underrated The Blackcoat’s Daughter, one of the best horror films of the 2010s. His style is slow and methodical, letting the horror creep in around the edges until you have nowhere else to go. This is just what it sounds like, an adaptation of the classic fairy tale but with a much darker take. Alice Krige plays the witch, and Sophia Lillis (It) is Gretel. The trailer does a great job of communicating the tone but holds back the details of what precisely this version of the story will say and how it will play out.
Downhill (February 14, directed by Jim Rash & Nat Faxon)
Force Majeure is one of the great comedies of the last decade, and I am very wary about this American remake. Rash & Faxon won the Oscar for their remarkable adaptation of The Descendants, so that is a good sign. They have a good sense of comedy and timing, which is what this story needs to work. There shouldn’t be much physical broad comedy here. The humor comes out of the characters and the awkwardness of the situation. Helping boost my confidence in this picture is Julia Lous-Dreyfus being cast as the lead female role. Will Ferrell is playing the husband, and that leaves me a little more lukewarm. This is such a great story, and I am hoping the people making it can translate it as a whole and not dumb it down for an audience they perceive as not getting the joke.
Emma (February 21, directed by Autumn de Wilde)
I was hyped as soon as I saw the trailer. While not a fan of Jane Austen’s books (it’s a time period, stylistic thing), I do think the stories told, and the comedy of manners genre is always fun. Anya Taylor-Joy is playing the title role, and she has proven herself to be a formidable actress over the last five years or so. See Thoroughbreds as an example of how she played a layered spoiled rich girl. I’m also very fascinated by the director, first time filmmaker Autumn de Wilde. De Wilde is an accomplished photographer and music video director. I am hoping for something visually pleasing that can heighten elements of the story.
The New Mutants (April 3, directed by Josh Boone)
The film we thought would never come out appears to finally be getting a release. I am interested in this movie for several reasons, first because it is such an oddity. This is the last piece of Fox’s X-Men universe, which has been erased so that those properties can be brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Second, this is a superhero horror movie? Everything from the trailer leads me to believe this is a straight-up horror film. They even did reshoots to amp up the scariness. And finally, The New Mutants are a fantastic X-Men spin-off that has always gotten the short end of the stick in all forms of media. Here’s hoping they can get some well-deserved attention in 2020.
No Time to Die (April 8, directed by Cary Fukunaga)
After Spectre, another Daniel Craig Bond film doesn’t sound like something I’d be that into. But they keep pulling me back in, particularly with the director and co-writer Cary Fukunaga. Fukunaga gave us True Detective Season 1 and the remarkable Maniac mini-series on Netflix. He dropped out of IT when it was clear the studio didn’t want his vision of the property. This lets me know he isn’t going to work on something if he can’t make the thing he wants. Usually, I would pass this by, but knowing there’s something in here that appealed to his unique sensibilities has me intrigued.
Antlers (April 17, 2020, directed by Scott Cooper)
I enjoyed Nick Antosca’s Channel Zero anthology, and I’ve read the short story this is based on. Both things have me interested to see what a feature film of Antosca’s ideas looks and feels like. The trailer appears just as dire and bleak as this story needs to be. I do worry about the studio asking for the filmmakers to pull some emotional punches. This is the story of a teacher in a rural small town who suspects one of her students is being abused. What is actually happening involves something much much worse. I hope the script doesn’t over complicate the relationships because I see this story benefiting from keeping things simple.
The Personal History of David Copperfield (May 8, directed by Armando Iannucci)
Armando Iannucci gave us The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep, and The Death of Stalin. He’s name in comedy you can trust. This looks to be a relatively faithful adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel with Iannucci’s brand of dry, naturalistic humor overlayed. Dev Patel stars as David with a supporting cast that includes Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Wishaw, and Tilda Swinton. Iannucci teamed up with Simon Blackwell, whom he co-wrote In the Loop and Veep with. Every element of this production screams that it’ll be something I love. While some people might be looking forward to a Hollywood blockbuster as their summer movie, this is the one for me.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (July 10, directed by Jason Reitman)
After the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, I didn’t have a real interest in seeing anything more from the franchise. That film relied way too heavily on improv from the cast to pad out its runtime, and I felt sorry for the actors as a result. This is a different take, one invoking nostalgia but also trying to appeal to the Stranger Things crowd. Does Ghostbusters need any more films? No. But does this look like possible (if forgettable) fun at the theater this summer? Yes. Paul Rudd is in it, plus Carrie Coon, who was excellent in The Leftovers. I don’t think this will end up on my best of the year list at the end of 2020, but I might enjoy it.
Bill and Ted Face the Music (August 21, directed by Dean Parisot)
Now, this is the reboot I really hope is good. I loved the original Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a kid, and I think it still holds up as a silly, time travel comedy. It’s not trying to be anything profound, but there’s enough self-aware humor that keeps you laughing. The world of Bill and Ted is so strange that I think it’s worth exploring more. What I am most interested in is how the film addresses the fact that Bill and Ted didn’t save the world as prophesied. They have caught up to the era where Earth was supposed to be a utopia, and it merely isn’t. This could be a great comedic reflection on Generation X and the state of the world today. I’m very interested to see Samara Weaving and Bridget Lundy-Paine as Bill & Ted’s adult daughters.
Last Night in Soho (September 25, directed by Edgar Wright)
Edgar Wright makes a proper horror film? That appears to be what this picture is. The director has cited Don’t Look Now and Repulsion as significant influences on the project. There’s little out about the plot, but the cast does look promising. Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) seem to be the leads. Terence Stamp has a role, I suspect as an antagonist of some kind. The film will be set in London. Wright has never let me down with any of his movies before, so I suspect I will love this one.
Dune (December 18, directed by Denis Villeneuve)
I have been waiting for this one since Villeneuve gave his astonishing Blade Runner 2049 in 2017. Dune has always been one of those dense, impossible to adapt properties. David Lynch gave it a try in 1983 to disastrous results. There was a passable SyFy mini-series in the 2000s, but nothing has ever felt right. Villeneuve can walk that line between contemplative and visual spectacle that this project would need. Timothee Chalamet has been cast as the protagonist Paul Atreides. The rest of the cast is full of notable names: Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, on and on. The film will only cover the first half of the first book (smart decision), and I guess the box office will determine if the story continues. Warner Brothers are banking on this filling that Holiday Season tentpole spot.
After Yang (TBA, directed by Kogonada)
Kogonada’s Columbus was a brilliant picture from 2017. It was able to blend a clean visual style with deeply emotional stories. It was the picture that made me realize what a wonderful actress Haley Lu Richardson is. This will be a science fiction drama about a father (Colin Ferrell) & daughter trying to save their robotic family member Yang who has become unresponsive. I know it will look beautiful, and Farrell has shown a strong track record with indie films lately (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer).
Black Bear (TBA, directed by Lawrence Michael Levine)
This Sundance debut is getting lots of buzz mainly for the central performance of Aubrey Plaza. The film is about a couple expecting their first child (Christopher Abbott & Sarah Gadon). Plaza plays an out of town guest who’s a filmmaker struggling with creative block. At this respite in the woods, the three become entangled in a twisted love triangle. Director Lawrence Michael Levine said about the film, “Black Bear is a thriller that depicts broken characters wrestling with a seemingly shattered world that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.”
The Devil All the Time (TBA, directed by Antonio Campos)
Campos directed the powerful Christine in 2016, a biopic of a newscaster who killed herself on the air. This film is based on a Gothic novel by Donald Ray Pollock made of many different plotlines that converge by the end. The story is set in post-WWII southern Ohio and West Virginia and follows a mentally disturbed veteran, a serial killer couple, and a false preacher. The cast includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard, Mia Wasikowska, and Riley Keough. It’s Campos’ most ambitious work to date, and I am very keen to see if he can pull off something at this sweeping scale.
Freak Shift (TBA, directed by Ben Wheatley)
Wheatley has given us some very original films over the past ten years (Kill List, Sightseers, High Rise, Free Fire) and produced a ton of great pictures. This movie has been in production since 2017 and is a stop motion animated picture. The plot is described by Wheatley as a “cross between Hill Street Blues and Doom” with humanity fighting against giant alien monster crabs. He says it will have a 1950s B-movie sensibility. Everything about this is so strange I can’t help but be intrigued. Wheatley has given us subpar films, but I always know they will be different than anything else.
The French Dispatch (TBA, directed by Wes Anderson)
This is being billed as an anthology of three stories coming out of a fictional newspaper in an imagined French city. The cast is your mix of Wes Anderson returning regulars: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzmann, and Bob Balaban. Plus, we get some new faces to the Wes Anderson troupe: Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Lea Sedouyx, Kate Winslet, Elizabeth Moss, Christoph Waltz, and Henry Winkler. There’s also word this is going to be a musical? Which would be a new one for Anderson but a welcome change.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things… (TBA, directed by Charlie Kaufman)
I read this novel at the start of last year and found the first two-thirds to be great, the last part is where it sort of lost me. In the hands of Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Synecdoche New York), it should be a mind-bending and profoundly affecting picture. The premise is that a man takes his girlfriend home to meet his parents, and things get weird from there. Toni Collette and David Thewlis are set to play the parents, which has me looking forward to seeing how they play these disturbing characters.
Mank (TBA, directed by David Fincher)
David Fincher is directing this film, which tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz and his battles with Orson Welles over the script for Citizen Kane. This was written by David’s dad Frank Fincher who apparently wrote a version of The Aviator before Scorsese went with John Logan’s script. It sounds like reasonably pat material from the synopsis, but Fincher always finds exciting visual ways into the story, presenting us with angles we might not have imagined. Zodiac is also a fantastic period piece and my favorite Fincher film, so I am hoping for something great.
The Nest (TBA, directed by Sean Durkin)
Sean Durkin’s last feature film was 2010’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, the only movie to date I have done the Cinematic Isolation Tank with. It’s one of my favorite pictures of the last decade as a result full of subtle details and rich with themes. He directed the British mini-series Southcliffe (which I need to watch) since then, but The Nest will be a return to the big screen. The premise sounds deceptively simple: Americans relocate to England but find their rural home is psychologically affecting them. Jude Law and Carrie Coon star. The concept of Martha is a simple one too, but what Durkin managed to do with that material, and the performances he got out of his actors were magnificent. Huge item on my list for 2020!
Zola (TBA, directed by Janicza Bravo)
Janicza Bravo gave us the abrasive and hilarious Lemon in 2018, starring her partner and muse Brett Gelman. Bravo has also made many short films that have that same dissonant tone, blending horror and cringe comedy. You know that sitting down to watch her work will make you deeply uncomfortable in all the best ways. This film is based on a Twitter thread where a Detroit waitress made 148 posts detailing her trip to Florida with a stripper named Jessica. The tweets garnered cult popularity, and now we have this movie. I have complete faith Bravo will make something wild and unafraid, prodding at the audience to react. Can’t wait.