The world may be tightening its belt, but no-one seems to have told Hollywood, with the year ahead featuring an array of big-budget films.
At least the themes are "on message", with numerous releases toying with the end of the world. And before the action, some seriously cerebral fare offers food for thought regarding today's politics. With some excellent foreign-language films and two home-grown musts featuring Steve Coogan, it's an enticing 12 months in the cinema.
Loading article content
Like every Quentin Tarantino film before it, Django Unchained is an event – a hugely original, inventive, frequently outrageous and flawed oddity. The genre-hopping director follows his war film Inglourious Basterds with his first foray into the western, and a tale of a freed slave turned bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) who takes on the Klu Klux Klan and evil plantation owners in search of his wife. Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz add classy support.
Steven Spielberg's biopic of America's most beloved president focuses on the last few months of the civil war, and Lincoln's attempts to pass the 13th amendment that would abolish slavery. Daniel Day-Lewis aims his prodigious gifts towards a masterly portrayal of "Honest Abe" as a man who is at once folksy, sincere and a superlative political animal. A talky, intelligent and unusually uncondescending film about idealism on the front line.
Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow's first since her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker has caused an almighty stir for its suggestion that torture garnered the first clues to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden. But rather than a right-wing apologia for human rights abuse, it's a terrifically thought-provoking and dramatic account of the long search for the terrorist leader. Jessica Chastain is the CIA agent on an obsessive quest who finally gets her man.
After TV's recent The Girl charted Hitchcock's obsession with Tippi Hedren, this focuses on his marriage with long-suffering Alma Reville, told against the backdrop of his struggle to bring Psycho to the screen. Anthony Hopkins's portrayal is cheeky and amusing, yet doesn't stint on this complex man's foibles; Helen Mirren is heartbreaking as the woman whose creative input to Hitch's films is finally being acknowledged. The look behind the scenes of Psycho is, aptly, a scream.
The concluding part of Pablo Larrain's trilogy about the Chilean dictatorship, which started with the pitch-black Tony Manero and Post Mortem, is, surprisingly, a feelgood movie. The subject matter allows Larrain to let his hair down, as he charts the successful "No" campaign in the 1988 referendum that led to General Pinochet's fall from power. Gael Garcia Bernal plays the ad man behind the unlikely TV spots whose slogan was "happiness is coming".
A Good Day To Die Hard
Of all the old-school brigade of action heroes, which includes Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme, Bruce Willis is the only one who still doesn't make viewers cringe. And that's because he was the everyman of the breed, who relied on personality as much as brawn. It's with some excitement that we greet the fifth Die Hard, which sees the Jersey cop talk Russian.
The Look Of Love
Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom do some of their best work together: 24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story, The Trip. Their latest is an intriguing proposition, with Coogan playing the late Soho porn baron and property millionaire Paul Raymond. A sterling comic cast includes Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Look out for Coogan in more familiar territory in August, with Alan Partridge: The Movie.
Beyond The Hills
With 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Romanian Cristian Mungiu made one of the best arthouse films of the 2000s. It was also a tough watch, depicting backstreet abortion during Ceausescu's repressive regime. Mungiu's latest is equally demanding, set in a rural monastery where Orthodox fervour is clueless, powerless, then shockingly cruel when confronted by an afflicted young woman.
The Biblical epic is a genre we don't see too much of these days. Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) has apparently long been fascinated with Noah, and what he believes was the character's "survivor's guilt". The formidable Russell Crowe no doubt sharpened his carpentry skills for the lead role. Eerily, filming in New York had to be put on hold when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.
The Great Gatsby
The fact that Baz Luhrmann is adapting Fitzgerald's classic account of the decline of the American dream evokes mixed feelings. On one hand, the Australian has a tendency to excess that destroyed his last film, Australia, and his decision to shoot this in 3D is perplexing. On the other, the creator of Moulin Rouge! could be just the person to evoke the Jazz Age. Leonardo DiCaprio would appear to be on-the-money casting as the socialite Jay Gatsby.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek movies had been lacklustre affairs until JJ Abrams gave his take on the saga in 2009, with a space epic that combined the character and tongue-in-cheek of the original TV series with contemporary hi-tech panache. That film's excellent young cast returns as Kirk & Co, with Benedict Cumberbatch promising an eloquent bad guy.
Man Of Steel
Poor old Superman has never had the big-screen success of Batman and Spider-Man. But now Zack Snyder of 300 fame is having a crack. Trailers suggest this could be darker and more mythic than previous adventures, which is a good start. Young Brit Henry Cavill from The Tudors is at least comfortable in tights, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner lend heft.
World War Z
The parameters of the zombie movie are set to be moved dramatically with this adaptation of Max Brooks's horror novel, about a zombie pandemic that leads to global panic and war. We're no longer dealing with a few comic stiffs trying to break into the shopping mall. Brad Pitt plays a UN worker struggling for answers. It's directed by the versatile Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace), with a trailer – which includes recognisable Glasgow locations – suggesting that it could pack quite a punch.
In a summer brimming with blockbusters, Pacific Rim might easily be put on the B-list of must-sees were it not for its director, Guillermo del Toro. Since the Mexican has so much kudos in the bank for Pan's Labyrinth, and such a genius for special effects, we're willing to waive the fact that the basic premise is a fist-fight between Godzilla-like monsters and giant robots.
The Lone Ranger
Johnny Depp has become a one-man must-see and it's testimony to the strength of his allure that he is not even the title character of this eagerly awaited comic adventure. The star looks to be having a hoot as Tonto, native Indian sidekick to the masked lawman played by The Social Network's Armie Hammer. Pirates Of The Caribbean director Gore Verbinski is at the helm, furthering one's hope that this will be Depp's best role since Captain Jack.