1. THE TREE OF LIFE - Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick is one of the most revered figures currently working in film. He is Harvard educated, a Rhodes Scholar and a known perfectionist. It is this drive toward perfection that has brought us films like BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN and THE NEW WORLD. The latter film was released in 2005 and is his latest feature. Six years might seem like a lengthy hiatus for such a respected director, but it's relatively short considering he took twenty years off before THE THIN RED LINE. I'm just glad he's working more frequently these days; he even has an untitled project lined up for 2012, which would be the quickest turnaround of his career. THE TREE OF LIFE has been receiving a fair amount of pre-release buzz, which is not surprising considering how high Malick sets the bar. Its distributors pushed it back from a 2010 release to next year's Cannes, which seems an appropriate place for such a premiere. The trailer doesn't give away a ton about the film, but I'm liking the vibe I'm getting. Pitt and Penn seem to be in top form and the imagery was beautiful (no surprise there). The film's story doesn't seem to be very grandiose, it's a cross-generational tale about a man who grew up in the Midwest in the 50's, but all indications point to TREE OF LIFE being about something more than that. Malick has shown us so many times before how grand life can look and what an amazing thing it is, this time he appears to be taking that a little further. Bottom line: I'm very excited for this one.
2. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS - Francis Lawrence - 4/15/11
I haven't read the book on which this is based, but I've heard good things. No matter how you feel about Lawrence's recent films (CONSTANTINE, I AM LEGEND), they are proof that the director has a handle on a particular style; a style which I appreciate. It's dark and moody, but also detailed and glossy. I can see evidence of this in the trailer for WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. The circus setting seems almost a perfect fit for Lawrence's talents. I'm optimistic about what this film might yield.
Note: the music that opens the trailer is from Nick Cave's score of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Both a film and a soundtrack I couldn't more highly recommend.
3. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4: ON STRANGER TIDES - Rob Marshall - 5/20/11
I have never claimed to be a big fan of the PIRATES series. The first film was a lot of fun, but the sequels were bogged down in their own mythology and never matched the adventure of the original. This installment seems to be a fresh start for the profitable film series and a way to return to basics. There's a new director on board, who may or may not bring something new to the table. The Bloom and Knightley characters have been excised from the script, so the film can concentrate more fully on what viewers have always wanted: Captain Jack Sparrow. Penelope Cruz, who I don't normally care for, even seems to be fitting in well in this environment. Most exciting about this film though, is the inclusion of the historical/mythical figure known as Blackbeard, played by "Deadwood"s Ian McShane. I cursed PIRATES after AT WORLD'S END, thinking I would never be duped into paying for another film in the franchise ever again. Alas, it appears that they'll have a chance to get some coin out of me yet.
4. THOR - Kenneth Branagh - 5/6/11
THOR looks good. I was a bit worried there that it wouldn't. The trailer doesn't indicate the epic film I'm hoping for, but I don't feel that the preview played all the cards it could have. This is the first time we truly get to see Hemsworth in the titular role and I'm satisfied, he fills out the part nicely. I'm just interested to see how everyone else will perform in their parts and how the story will tie in to the greater Marvel universe and the forthcoming AVENGERS film.