Rightly hailed as the quintessential American novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby centres around beautiful, young rich folk enjoying fine wine and great music in the ‘roaring twenties’. However, factor in the Prohibition, new-millionaire bootleggers, country manors and lost love, and The Great Gatsby becomes much more, it becomes one of the most faithful and accurate representations of 1920s America ever written. There have been a number of lesser film adaptations in the past, most notably the Francis Ford Coppola-scripted version in 1974, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, but none have been as ambitious or as buzz-worthy as Baz Luhrmann’s expensive, 3D-sized interpretation.
No stranger to glitzy, almost operatic film productions, Luhrmann is pretty much a perfect fit for the lush, timeless visuals of early 20th Century America, with it’s age-old style still mimicked in modern fashion. Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!) is highly regarded for its over the top theatrical style, contemporary pop soundtracks and uniquely bizarre characters. With Moulin Rouge!, he arguably reinvented the modern musical, making even bigger stars of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, whilst Romeo + Juliet kicked off the demand for ‘Leo-mania’ and became a staple of every high-school English class. He may have faulted slightly with the unfairly criticised epic, Australia, but it still remains a blockbuster with both stunning visuals and real heart.
Once again, Luhrmann has attracted an A-list cast of American, British and of course, Australian stars. Taking the titular role of Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio (who is set for a stellar year) reteams with the director for a second time, though now at a completely different stage in his career. He is joined by British darling, Carey Mulligan, playing against type as the shallow, often unsympathetic Daisy Buchanan, Tobey Maguire as the narrator of the story, Nick Carraway, and Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan. The cast is rounded out with a number of established, as well as up and coming Australian actors, including Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Callan McAuliffe, Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Ward.
Early promotional photos have initially pointed towards a faithful, beautifully designed production, though Mulligan did recently let slip that Luhrmann has been playing Jay-Z records on set, even when the scenes are being shot. Does this mean The Great Gatsby will use modern soundtracks like Moulin Rouge? Probably not, but don’t count on it being boring and schmaltzy. Preview screenings have also praised the 3D as gorgeous and the first dramatic film to use the medium to enhance storytelling, rather than as mere visual gimmickry.
Release date: Christmas Day (US)/Boxing Day (UK)
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In my opinion, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is the greatest cinematic achievement ever created. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the individual films are the best films ever made (though they are masterpieces), only that the sheer commitment from the cast and crew, production values and visual effects make them a truly astounding success. I will elaborate a lot more in a future article, but for now that is my stance on The Hobbit’s predecessors.
So, for obvious reasons, I am very excited for Peter Jackson’s prequel. The novel has been divided into two instalments, with the first coming this Christmas and hoping to repeat the billion-dollar success story of the initial trilogy. After a tumultuous development process, with original director Guillermo del Toro unfortunately having to step down for a number of reasons, though largely because of MGM’s bankruptcy a couple years back. It will always remain one of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ for fanboys, but del Toro is still on board as executive producer and a lot of his early ideas will apparently be included. However, the silver lining is that the project fell back into the hands of Peter Jackson, who has demonstrated three times before that he can present Tolkien’s universe in a way no one else can.
The story of The Hobbit involves young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (The Office’s Martin Freeman) teaming up with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan reprising his role) and twelve dwarfs to fight trolls and dragons in Middle Earth, ultimately leading to the finding of the ‘One Great Ring’ from the Lord of the Rings. It’s a massive task and Jackson has once again wrangled together an interesting cast of British thespians, including Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connelly and James Nesbitt. A number of stars from the original trilogy are also set to return, most notably Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Elijah Wood.
One of the most exciting and most anticipated elements of the project has nothing to do with the director or casting however, but actually the way the film is being shot. Film is, and almost always has been, shot in the industry standard 24 frames-per-second. Jackson is attempting something truly revolutionary, shooting at almost double the rate at 48 frames-per-second, reducing the motion blur and recognisable flicker of film. Recent press screenings have surprisingly been divisive of Jackson’s controversial method, with the majority arguing the film looks too real and not cinematic enough, making sets look like sets and essentially killing the suspension of disbelief. Bare in mind, the film is months away from release and a film shouldn’t be judged on ten minutes of footage, especially with Jackson at the helm. (James Cameron suffered a similar backlash with the technological advancements in Avatar and look how that turned out — the highest grossing film of all time, that’s how.)
Personally, I have my own reservations about the film, including the perceived need for two films when one should suffice, and the fear it surely cannot match up to the greatness of the original trilogy. Regardless, both are minor doubts and I have faith Peter Jackson can prove Middle Earth is a place people should want to return to, and not just a needless cash cow.
Release date: December 14
The festive period is fast becoming a release ground for challenging, often-brutal films to thrive, with tough dramas acting as counter-programming for the slew of family films and inspirational message movies annually released. Just last year, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was sold as ‘The Feel Bad Film of Christmas’, and marketed as such, with bleak visuals and an uncompromising narrative. It proved somewhat a success and 2012 has followed suit with Les Miserables and Kathryn Bigelow’s Bin Laden film, two films that could hardly be classified as ‘feel-good’, being released just in time for Christmas.
Quentin Tarantino is going one better, picking Christmas Day as the release date for his awesome sounding slavery-revenge western, Django Unchained. With perhaps the best cast of the year, Jamie Foxx leads as the titular Django, a freed slave teaming with a bounty hunter (Inglourious Basterds’s Christoph Waltz) to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from the evil clutches of a plantation owner. It’s a bold story, one that is sure to attract a fair amount of controversy, but there is no denying it sounds riveting and pure Tarantino. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Sacha Baron Cohen make up some of the supporting cast, alongside Quentin Tarantino himself in an unspecified role. The most exciting part? Leonardo DiCaprio takes his first ever villainous role as the aforementioned plantation owner; promotional stills promising there will be lots of charming sadism and beard twirling. Is an Oscar nomination on the cards akin to Christoph Waltz’s devilish turn as Hans Landa? I certainly hope so.
Some have voiced concerns over Tarantino staying too close to the revenge narrative utilised in Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds and would rather he tried something new. I completely disagree with these concerns, as even though Tarantino does use this narrative device frequently, he does so in a way that transcends genres and always remains fresh and inventive. Tarantino has expressed in the past how much he wants to make a western in his own way, but with obvious influences from Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. A Tarantino western is sure to be a fascinating affair and one of the best Christmas presents anyone could ask for this year.
Release date: Christmas Day
Ridley Scott isn’t exactly the granddaddy of all sci-fi, but with both Alien and Blade Runner, he did have a part in revolutionising the genre and creating some of cinema’s most memorable characters and chilling moments. After thirty years away from the genre, Scott is finally making a welcome return to sci-fi and it’s clear he still knows what he’s doing.
Originally, any connections to Alien were dismissed, but it has become clear from promotional material, characters and the story that Prometheus is essentially an Alien prequel. As more stills were released, the influence of Alien became more and more evident, with H. R. Giger’s renowned designs featured heavily in the marketing campaign. Scott recently announced the film will explicitly link to the Alien mythology in the final seven minutes, though the extent to how their similarities will ultimately relate and connect is still somewhat secret, which only increases the anticipation. We do know the film involves a team of intergalactic explorers stumbling upon a ‘star-map’, which they believe will lead them to the possible origins of mankind, prompting a terrifying journey into the unknown. Obviously all hell breaks lose and the team end up fighting not only mysterious entities, but also their own sanity. Like his previous sci-fi masterpieces, Prometheus mixes action elements with ambitious philosophical ideals, questioning modern technology and corporations, becoming much more than a generic summer blockbuster.
Cast-wise, the so-hot-right-now Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Michael Fassbender (Shame, X-Men: First Class) take lead roles, with the former as the Ripley-esque heroine, Elizabeth Shaw and the latter as android, David. Both character descriptions draw a comparison to the franchise’s mythology, and Rapace is shaping up to be a strong female character just like Sigourney Weaver’s original kick-ass lead. Charlize Theron portrays the film’s main antagonist with a conscience, embodying the shady Weyland Coperation, featured heavily on the sidelines in the past films. Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Rafe Spall round out the eclectic ensemble, though don’t count on them making it to the climax, Scott loves killing off his cast.
In my opinion, the marketing campaign for Prometheus has been the best of the year so far, with images, trailers and significant revelations being dished out in painstaking drips. Two viral videos have also been released, with one focusing on Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, the founder of Weyland Corp, who believes he is something of a God. The other acts as an advertisement for Fassbender’s android David, with chilling robotic lines such as, “I can carry out directives that my human counterparts might find… distressing.” Scott seems to be highlighting the connections to Alien, especially with the inclusion of a morally ambiguous android, but almost to the point of over-exaggeration, making us think we have an idea of what to expect. But if the trailer has proved anything it’s that we’re just as baffled as ever and to expect the unexpected, because Prometheus will be truly worth the thirty-year wait.
Release date: June 1
It has been six long years since Alfonso Cuaron made Children of Men, a superbly directed, thought-provoking modern classic. One of my favourite films, it has been hell waiting half a decade for Cuaron’s next project, though understandable when the film is as huge and as ambitious as Gravity. Already hailed by some circles as a ‘game-changing masterpiece’, the film contains a bold twenty-minute opening shot, is over 50% CGI and predominantly centres on one character marooned in space. Oh, and it’s in 3D. Wow.
After a number of casting issues, which saw Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman turn down the lead role over scheduling issues, many feared the film was too daring and original to get the greenlight without a proven box-office star. Luckily, Sandra Bullock had just walked away with an Oscar for the surprise commercial hit, The Blind Side, and Gravity was rushed into production. The role is an incredibly tough one, with Bullock spending much of her screen time alone desperately trying to return to Earth after her space station is destroyed and her crew members killed. Her only other companion comes from a fellow crewmember, played by George Clooney, though we can understand from the synopsis that he won’t be around for the majority of the film. Set to be a subtle, vulnerable performance, Bullock is sure to once again be praised come awards season.
With genius cinematographer and regular Cuaron collaborator, Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) on board, the film will no doubt look fantastic, even with only one main location. Lubezki has a keen eye for ethereal, out-of-this-world visuals and outer space gives him a limitless playground of opportunities. The most impressive thing about his work is the his ability to truly convey a story through visuals alone, perhaps best shown in Tree of Life’s incredible cosmos-creating passage of time. Whilst that particular scene may have drawn comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film shares a lot more thematic and visual DNA. It might not reach the distinguished heights of 2001, but Cuaron is definitely trying. Is it too premature to hope this is the new millennium’s 2001?
For me, the most exciting element of this project is how little is actually known about the film. With no images or trailers shown, Cuaron is making us wait for every tiny detail, increasing the element of surprise and making it my most anticipated film of the year. One thing you can guarantee is whilst the film may not be a ‘game-changer’, it will be a dynamic and tension filled thrill ride.
Release date: November 21