Scan the upcoming 2012 movies and check out the gang’s-all-here vibe: Kathryn Bigelow, Viola Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter Jackson, Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, Christoph Waltz — and even last year’s go-to girl, Jessica Chastain — all have projects in the pipeline. What should you be looking forward to amid the March box-office doldrums?
Consider 2011-12 Brad Pitt’s warm-up year. Pitt reteams with writer-director Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“) to play a mob enforcer dispatched to clean up after a heist at a high-stakes poker game. And Pitt might be competing against himself, as the star of Marc Forster’s zombie thriller “World War Z.”
Man in an iron lung wants to lose his virginity. It was hard to tell whether the plot was a spoof or a tragedy, but at Sundance I discovered that this movie is all about John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone“) lying around, being wry, amusing, horny, and handicapped. Oscar contender? Slam dunk. And an education in physically challenged erotica!
Pixar blew a tire with “Cars 2” and was never in the Oscar running. But the perennial animation favorite will be back with the story of a girl-powered archer-princess (voice of “Boardwalk Empire’s” Kelly McDonald) struggling to rid her kingdom of a horrible curse. This is the one to beat in the category.
“Untitled International Thriller,” aka “Kill Bin Laden”
Kathryn Bigelow’s first project since she won the historic best-director award for “The Hurt Locker” has Oscar written all over it. Set for a prime awards season December 19 release date, it’s about the hunt for and capture of the al-Qaida leader, with a great cast bound for acting noms, including Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Chris Platt, and Chastain.
For those who thought Keira Knightley was robbed when she wasn’t nominated for her central turn in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” it’s payback time. She’s the title character in this oft-adapted Leo Tolstoy classic (Greta Garbo nailed the role in 1935), opposite Jude Law as her inattentive husband and Aaron Johnson as the love of her life, Count Vronsky. Expect a gallery of tortured, passionate looks and longing sighs. Toss in “Atonement” director Joe Wright and a script from the great playwright Tom Stoppard, and we have ourselves an Oscar party.
“The Great Gatsby”
The critics emitted a nearly universal groan at the thought of yet another “Gatsby” adaptation — enough already! But it seems that every generation wants its own GG, and this one is irresistible Oscar bait, with Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. With Australian Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge“) directing, expect this to be one passionate hothouse flower of a production — and a best-picture contender if he pulls it off.
So Steven Spielberg was snubbed this year, but wait until he pulls out this presidential biopic starring Daniel-Day Lewis as the lanky politician called the Great Emancipator. Oscar-winner Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln and — spoiler alert — the North beat the South in the Civil War. Winning!
Quentin Tarantino cooks up a spaghetti western with a Christmas 2012 release date that screams Oscar. Jamie Foxx plays a former slave turned bounty hunter who’s willing to break a few rules to reclaim his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Leonardo DiCaprio twirls his mustache as a villainous plantation owner, with Tarantino fave Christoph Waltz in a leading role as an established bounty hunter. Expect “Inglourious Basterds” on horseback with tumbleweeds and chains.
Ben Affleck (“The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone“) is back directing and co-starring with “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston in this espionage thriller hooked on the Iranian hostage crisis (when 52 Americans were held in Tehran for 444 days from 1979 to 1981). As U.S.-Iranian diplomatic tensions intensify — again — this movie could not be timelier.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Director Peter Jackson is always good for a best-picture nomination when putting J.R.R. Tolkien’s little men with hairy feet on camera. It’s been long enough since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (which took home 17 statuettes out of 30 Oscar nominations) that I’m actually hungering for a little Middle-earth magic. I doubt I’m alone.
Also potentially under consideration: David Cronenberg’s Robert Pattinson-starrer “Cosmopolis”; Viola Davis in “Won’t Back Down”; the George Clooney-Sandra Bullock thriller “Gravity”; “The Gangster Squad”; “Smashed”; “Les Miserables”; Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines”; and the Portuguese charmer, “Tabu.” Please chime in with movies that you think might join the list — and, remember, the 85th Academy Awards will be held in — eek! — early 2013.