On paper this year appears primed to offer an embarrassment of cinematic riches as virtually every living director of note across the world has a film opening. This could easily be a list of my 50 most anticipated titles, but where’s the fun in that?
So I made a few rules for myself: No superhero movies, as I am beyond tired of them, and with one exception, no big-budget sequel fodder. I also left out productions by people whose work is singular but growing grating, such as Wes Anderson, whose “The French Dispatch” I found insufferable, and Jordan Peele, who is so far an ambitious but colossally overrated and ham-handed genre specialist.
What this list doesn’t allow for is surprises, as I normally anticipate work by trusted auteurs without having any idea as to what new voices are on the verge of arising. Without any further ado, let’s jump in.
“The Killer” (David Fincher)
Killers, usually of the serial variety, have been awfully good to the director of “Se7en” and “Zodiac.” Here, David Fincher teams up with actor Michael Fassbender and “Se7en” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker to tackle the assassin genre. Tilda Swinton, who is set to appear in roughly 700 movies this year, also stars. Due to hit Netflix late in the year.
“Crimes of the Future” (David Cronenberg)
Any film from the brilliant and long-dormant David Cronenberg is an event. This one, which borrows its title from one of the filmmaker’s earliest experimental productions, concerns a future in which humankind has reportedly evolved in some sort of synthetic fashion. Cronenberg MVP Viggo Mortensen stars along with Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux, and fellow Canadian director Don McKellar. Release to be announced.
“Decision to Leave” (Park Chan-wook)
I’m not the world’s most adamant admirer of Park’s ultraviolent “Vengeance” trilogy, but “The Handmaiden” found the South Korean auteur making a huge leap forward in terms of emotional maturity. “Decision to Leave” finds Park returning to the detective genre, and I’m eager to see whether or not “The Handmaiden” was a fluke. Release to be announced.
“Women Talking” (Sarah Polley)
Sarah Polley, a shrewd, acute actor turned tricky and intelligent filmmaker, returns with the story of a Mennonite female community in Bolivia that, per IMDB, “seeks to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.” Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Ben Whishaw star. Release to be announced.
“Avatar 2” (James Cameron)
How can you not be curious? The first “Avatar,” from 2009, was an aesthetically stunning, narratively asinine sci-fi version of “Dances with Wolves” that made massive amounts of money, and even spurred its own form of Proustian depression called the “Avatar blues,” only to be almost entirely forgotten in the wake of Marvel’s seizure of pop movie culture. What could possibly spur James Cameron to spend so many years on not one but four sequels, and will his ambition prove to be glorious or pathological? Due in December, though this thing has been delayed so many times the actual release is anyone’s guess.
“White Noise” (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach, on a huge roll lately, re-teams with MVP Adam Driver to tackle a novel by the legendary Don DeLillo. Don Cheadle also stars. Release yet to be determined, though it will almost certainly be positioned as an autumn prestige item.
“The Sky Is Everywhere” (Josephine Decker)
Through alternately brilliant and exasperating films such as “Madeline’s Madeline” and “Shirley,” Josephine Decker has established herself to be an uncannily perceptive and intuitive channeler of female subjectivity. This film, adapted from the novel by Jandy Nelson, follows a teenage musician recovering from her sister’s death. Due in February.
“The Northman” (Robert Eggers)
“The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” maestro Robert Eggers returns with what appears to be a similarly stylized Viking retelling of “Hamlet.” The trailer suggests that many heads will roll, and the top-shelf cast includes Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Claes Bang – and Icelandic singer Björk. Due in April.
“The Whale” (Darren Aronofsky)
Brendan Fraser, flirting with a comeback for a few years now, teams with Aronofsky for the story of a severely obese English teacher attempting to reconcile with his daughter. Sounds a little like “The Wrestler” which, come to think of it, is among the highly uneven Aronofsky’s most visceral and unexpectedly poignant films. Samantha Morton also stars. Release yet to be determined.
“Disappointment Blvd.” (Ari Aster)
So far, I’m not convinced that Ari Aster is the filmmaker that legends such as Martin Scorsese claim him to be. That said, “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” were extremely formally confident, and a collaboration with the wild-fire virtuoso Joaquin Phoenix could unleash fireworks. Rumored to be four hours long and said to be a “nightmare comedy,” whatever that means, spanning 30 years in the life of a successful entrepreneur. Parker Posey, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Michael Gandolfini, and Patti LuPone round out an incredible cast. Release yet to be announced.
“The Fabelmans” (Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg hasn’t felt relevant since “Lincoln,” but I’m impatient to see him wrestle with his legendary childhood as an Arizona boy with an unerring heart and eye for movies. I want, badly, for this movie to be a career summing-up, to be the autumnal John Fordian-style masterpiece that peaked here and there in the best portions of “War Horse.” Due in November.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Martin Scorsese)
David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction bestseller, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I.,” is a rapt and agonizing account of a series of Native American murders in 1920s-era Oklahoma that sparked a national investigation. It’s less a whodunnit than a who didn’t do it, though rumor is that Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Eric Roth, prompted by star Leonardo DiCaprio, have taken major liberties with the material. On pure cinephile terms, it will be fascinating to see if Scorsese, coming off three masterpieces in a row, can fashion perhaps the last great western. DiCaprio is joined by Scorsese’s other onscreen titan, Robert De Niro, as well as Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, and many others. Due late in the year.