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12 for ’12: The New Year’s Most Exciting Movies

January 3, 2012

Now that I’m done with my lists of 2011’s best and worst movies, it’s time to look ahead to what’s in store for the new film year. Yes, you’ve already heard about The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, all of which I’m cautiously optimistic about (although I wish the Spidey reboot were an original story line instead of another version of the origins tale). But here are a dozen other, slightly less heralded flicks that already have me salivating. In alphabetical order, they are…

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Lincoln. Honest Abe gets a pair of very different big-screen takes, as Tim Burton produces an adaptation of the graphic novel (starring Broadway vet Benjamin Walker as the titular vampire slayer), while Steven Spielberg—hot off the double bill of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin—directs Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, via Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography. The latter’s more likely to be an Oscar contender, but the former sounds like bloody good fun.

Argo. Ben Affleck’s two for two as a director with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and his third effort, a dramedy based on a true story about a CIA agent who puts together a bogus film project as a cover story to rescue six Americans trapped in Iran during the revolution, sounds like another winner. The stellar supporting cast—Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin, Tate Donovan, Michael Parks, Zeljko Ivanek and Adrianne Barbeau(!)—certainly bodes well.

No. 1 with a "Bullet": Stallone is back in action

Bullet to the Head. Another graphic-novel adaptation, this one starring Sylvester Stallone—the buffest senior citizen alive (he’s 65!)—and marking action-movie genius Walter Hill’s return to the genre he perfected in The Warriors and 48 HRS. Hill’s mostly been working brilliantly in TV Westerns lately (Broken Trail, Deadwood) and he’s brought along an eclectic ensemble of small-screen talent, including Sarah Shahi (Fairly Legal), Jon Seda (The Pacific), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), Holt McCallany (Lights Out) and Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), who could use a comeback after Conan the Barbarian.

The Dictator. Okay, so Bruno was kind of a mess, but Sacha Baron Cohen has wisely dumped the undercover-prank format to go for straight scripted comedy in this timely-sounding farce about an embattled despot. Plus, the film reteams him with Hugo costar Ben Kingsley, who showed a surprisingly silly side in The Wackness. And hey, the concept worked for Charlie Chaplin…

Django Unchained. Inglourious Basterds just might have been Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, but this Western, which sounds like a cross between Mandingo and Death Wish, could be just as good. You can’t quibble with the cast: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Kenneth Williams and Tarantino alums Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz and Kurt Russell. Plus, in the John Travolta career-makeover category, Don Johnson, Tom Wopat and Breaking Away‘s Dennis Christopher. Wanna bet Kevin Costner kicks himself for dropping out of Russell’s role?

Mod "Squad": Gosling and Stone

Gangster Squad. This L.A. Confidential-esque film noir boasts a heavyweight cast, including Sean Penn, Crazy Stupid Love-rs Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, The Killing‘s Mireille Enos and more. The only question is: Can Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer handle such serious material?

Parker. Jason Statham can be hit (The Mechanic) or miss (Killer Elite), but this take on novelist Donald E. Westlake’s Robin Hood-ish thief could be a good fit. Like Bullet, Parker may benefit from a veteran director (Taylor Hackford) and an intriguing cast: Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Wendell Pierce, Michael Chiklis and Patti LuPone. Forget Statham’s bone-breaking antics; I’m hoping for a diva smackdown between J. Lo. and P.Lu.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Even kids would agree there are way too many animated movies these days, but the latest from Aardman—or in this case, is it Aarrrrrdman?—looks genuinely funny. The Monty Python-esque trailer has audiences for grown-up movies rolling in the aisles. After four increasingly weary Pirates of the Caribbean movies, we could use a good laugh.

Rock of Ages. Another great trailer—and a possible cementing of Tom Cruise’s career comeback after Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The hair-band Broadway musical hits the silver screen with a starry cast—Chicago Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand and Footloose survivor Julianne Hough. And director Adam Shankman proved he could do kitschy period tuners with Hairspray. How can this movie not rock?

This is Forty. The only (semi-)sequel on this list is a spinoff of Knocked Up, which doesn’t focus on Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s problematic main characters but rather their hilarious married friends played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, writer-director Judd Apatow’s real-life wife. Not much is known about the film, except who else is in it: Albert Brooks, Bridesmaids breakouts Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel and Megan Fox(!). You had me at Albert Brooks.

Twylight Zones. Even less is known about Sopranos mastermind David Chase’s  cinematic directorial debut, but here’s all I need to know: It’s about a fledgling rock band in ’60s suburban New Jersey, and the cast includes Boardwalk Empire‘s Jack Huston, insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, Brad Garrett, The Wire‘s Isiah “Sheee-yut” Whitlock Jr… and James Gandolfini. Fuhgeddaboudit—I’m there.

What 2012 movies are you most psyched for? Kick off the new year with a comment!

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