The Most-Anticipated Films of 2020

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2020)

The new year will bring a presidential election, the summer Olympics in Tokyo, and probably Brexit to boot. As for the movies of 2020, our first substantial preview arrived last month when the Sundance Film Festival announced its features lineup. We’ll soon be hearing quite a bit about the new films from Josephine Decker, Kirsten Johnson, Dee Rees, Garrett Bradley, Miranda July, Julie Taymor, Sean Durkin, Michael Almereyda, Hubert Sauper, Benh Zeitlin, and many others, so for now, we’ll be looking past Sundance to the standouts slated to premiere after the festival wraps on February 2.

Right off the top, we have to note that what had been one of the year’s most anticipated films, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, won’t be ready before 2021. But one of Scorsese’s crucial early collaborators, Paul Schrader, has written and is preparing to direct his follow-up to the critically acclaimed First Reformed (2017). In The Card Counter, Oscar Isaac will play a gambler who aims to straighten out his own life by dissuading a young man from taking revenge on a mutual enemy. Principal photography is scheduled to begin soon, and at the end of this month, we’ll be launching a series of Schrader’s films on the Channel.

Another director who’s done pretty well for himself since emerging from the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, Steven Spielberg, is in postproduction on West Side Story, a new adaptation of the 1957 musical based on Romeo and Juliet. Tony Kushner, who’s worked with Spielberg on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012), has written a screenplay that adheres closer to the original show by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Steven Sondheim than to Robert Wise’s 1961 award-winning adaptation. The Jets and the Sharks are set to face off once again on December 18.

That same day sees the release of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, the first of a two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel that launched Frank Herbert’s sci-fi saga chronicling the struggle for control over a desert planet that happens to be the only source of an invaluable “spice” that can extend lifespans and enhance the mind. Before David Lynch made his version in 1984, Alejandro Jodorowsky famously tried to get a project off the ground with much of the creative team that went on to work on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Scott himself picked up the pieces of that failed project but let it go to make Blade Runner (1982). And of course, it was Villeneuve who made that sequel, Blade Runner 2049, in 2017. Timothée Chalamet heads up the cast of Dune, which also includes Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.

No date has yet been set for the release of Terrence Malick’s The Last Planet, and even though Malick has announced that the shoot has wrapped, postproduction may “take at least a year because we have a lot of material, and since we go digital, we end up with many more images. My favorite moment of the work is the editing.” Géza Röhrig, the Hungarian actor and poet who broke through internationally playing a prisoner at Auschwitz in László Nemes’s debut feature, Son of Saul, will portray Jesus, whose life story is to be told through a series of parables. The Last Planet will also feature Mark Rylance as Satan as well as Ben Kingsley and Joseph Fiennes.

A24 Flexes

Back in November 2018, the Film Stage’s Jordan Raup sketched a brief history of Malick’s plans to make a film based on the fourteenth-century Middle English chivalric romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The project had even gotten to the location scouting stage. Just how much of Malick’s preparation will inform David Lowery’s Green Knight is unclear, but following his work with Disney on Pete’s Dragon (2016) and the ad hoc group of production companies on The Old Man & the Gun (2018), Lowery is reuniting with A24, who distributed A Ghost Story (2017), for a retelling of the medieval fantasy starring Dev Patel, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Alicia Vikander, and Sean Harris.

Speaking of A24, when Amy Taubin interviewed Todd Haynes on the Film Comment Podcast back in November, it seemed that his documentary on the Velvet Underground was just about ready to roll. Around twenty interviews, starting with the late Jonas Mekas, were completed in 2018. “My goal was really to talk to people who were there,” says Haynes. Including, of course, John Cale (“such a specific and detailed memory, and so beautiful to watch”) and Mo Tucker. Following a theatrical run overseen by A24, Apple will begin streaming the documentary.

A similar release has been set up for Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, in which Rashida Jones plays a young mother who reconnects with her playboy father—Bill Murray, naturally—during an adventurous outing in New York. The cast also includes Marlon Wayans and Jenny Slate. A24 will also release After Yang, the second feature from Kogonada, whose video essays we’ve featured over the years and whose debut feature, Columbus (2017), was met with critical accolades. In After Yang, a sci-fi drama based on Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith play parents who try to revive Yang (Justin Min), their robot babysitter who has become unresponsive.

Netflix Presents

It’s no longer a surprise that some of the biggest movies of the year are going to be financed and distributed by Netflix. As Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story head into what looks to be a promising awards season for both, we now have Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, David Fincher’s Mank, and Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things to look forward to. In Lee’s first feature since BlacKkKlansman (2018) won the Grand Prix in Cannes, an Oscar, and a slew of other awards, four African American vets return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader—and buried treasure. The cast is led by Chadwick Boseman.

It’s long been a dream of Fincher’s to realize the screenplay written by his father, Jack, a chief editor for Life magazine who passed away in 2003. Mank is based on the months-long period in 1940 that prolific screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz spent working with Orson Welles in the screenplay for Citizen Kane (1941). Erik Messerschmidt, who shot Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014), will shoot Mank in black and white, and the cast includes Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, Tom Burke (The Souvenir) as Welles, and Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. Fincher’s relationship with Netflix dates back to the early 2010s and the launch of the streaming giant’s very first original series, House of Cards. And since 2016, Fincher and Netflix have been teaming up on the serial killer series, Mindhunter.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, though, will mark Kaufman’s first outing with Netflix. We can probably assume that, with his adaptation of Iain Reid’s critically acclaimed debut novel from 2016, Kaufman will not be taking the liberties he took with Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief when writing Adaptation (2002) for Spike Jonze. The book is “a stark, cerebral thriller” with “psychic traces of Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo) and Margaret Atwood (Surfacing) for the way that Reid massages facts through the filter of extreme anxiety,” writes Naomi Skwarna in the Globe and Mail. The story of an afternoon that leads to a very dark night as a young man takes his girlfriend to meet his parents stars Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.

In another adaptation for Netflix, Antonio Campos has cowritten and will direct The Devil All the Time, based on Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 debut novel about a disparate array of characters in Ohio and West Virginia coping with the horrors brought home from the Second World War. “It’s tempting to say that Pollock has set loose a crew of grotesques,” wrote Josh Ritter in his review of the book for the New York Times, “but grotesques, for all their twisted absurdities, are still capable of arousing sympathy amid revulsion, and The Devil All the Time is a darker book than that. Pollock seems vigilant against acts of grace; whenever any flicker of light appears, he pinches it out with grim purpose.” Campos’s cast includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Bill Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, and Riley Keough.

It’s been nearly ten full years since Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) first announced that he’d cast Naomi Watts in an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde, a 700-plus-page fictionalization of the life of Marilyn Monroe first published in 2000. In 2014, Jessica Chastain replaced Watts. In September, Dominik finally began shooting with Ana de Armas in the lead, Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, and Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio. Netflix and Brad Pitt’s Plan B have teamed up to make it possible. “My previous three movies have relied on a lot of talking and I don’t think there’s a scene in Blonde that’s longer than two pages,” Dominik tells the Film Stage. “I’m really excited about doing a movie that’s an avalanche of images and events.”

Steven Soderbergh, who made two features for Netflix last year, High Flying Bird and The Laundromat, is taking his next one to another streamer, HBO Max. Written by the award-winning short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, Let Them All Talk stars Meryl Streep as a celebrated author on holiday with her old friends. The cast also includes Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, Gemma Chan, and Lucas Hedges.

The Magnificent Andersons

Now that he’s teamed up with Focus Features, Paul Thomas Anderson is scheduled to begin shooting his next, as-yet-untitled feature in the spring or summer. Via interweaving narratives, perhaps somewhat along the line of Magnolia (1999), the film will center on a child star attending high school in Southern California in the 1970s. If he and his team move it right along, it’s conceivable that we might see this one before the year is out.

Wes Anderson, in the meantime, is well into postproduction on The French Dispatch, which Fox Searchlight describes as “a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth-century French city.” Stories in a magazine also called The French Dispatch will be brought to life by—once again—a dazzling cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Kate Winslet, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Elisabeth Moss, Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Griffin Dunne, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Bob Balaban, Mathieu Amalric, and Lois Smith. Anderson is also working with long-time collaborators such as cinematographer Robert Yeoman, composer Alexandre Desplat, editor Andrew Weisblum, and production designer Adam Stockhausen.

Frances McDormand, by the way, will be joining Denzel Washington and Brendan Gleeson next month as her husband, Joel Coen, begins shooting Macbeth, his first solo project without his brother, Ethan. A24 hasn’t yet let on whether this new version of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays will be released this year or next.

Big Bangs

Chloé Zhao (The Rider), whose debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), will be streaming on the Channel this month, should have two features out this year, and one of them is a Marvel movie. Angelina Jolie will embody Thena in The Eternals, a story spanning seven thousand years as an immortal alien race seeks to protect all of humanity from the threat posed by the evil humanoids known as the Deviants. While The Eternals will surely see an extravagant launch on November 6, no date has yet been set for Nomadland, which Zhao has based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Frances McDormand will play a woman who, having lost everything in the Great Recession, sets out in a van on a journey through the American west.

So far, only one summer blockbuster has caught our eye, and we know next to nothing about it. Christopher Nolan is keeping tight-lipped when it comes to Tenet, but the trailer suggests that John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) will be part of a team of spies attempting to thwart the onset of a third world war by traveling through time. The trailer also gives us fleeting glimpses of Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh.

A Prequel and a Sequel

David Chase, whom many credit with launching the era of peak TV with The Sopranos, has cowritten a prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, set against the backdrop of the race riots of 1967 that led to wars between African American and Italian American gangs. Alan Taylor, who directed nine episodes of The Sopranos, will direct Saints as well. The young Tony Soprano will be played by the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, and Vera Farmiga has been cast as Tony’s abusive mother, Livia. Talking to Rebecca Nicholson in the Guardian, Alessandro Nivola, who will be playing Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Christopher in the series, recalls finding himself “at a table with a bunch of guys who really were living this life. Trying to determine whether these guys are imitating the movies or the movies are imitating them is such a tricky thing.”

Last fall, Joanna Hogg told Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage that The Souvenir: Part II will pick up the story of Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) immediately where last year’s The Souvenir left off and then take us to the end of the 1980s. So “it’s Julie at film school and the next stages of film school and the work that she does and how her life experience is fused with her creativity.” Besides Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, and Ariane Labed are returning to reprise their roles.

Brits at Home and Abroad

When Esquire’s Tom Nicholson asked Hogg’s compatriot Edgar Wright a couple of months ago whether Last Night in Soho might be described as a “psychological thriller,” Wright agreed that that would be “fair, absolutely. It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time. I didn’t start writing it until 2018, but I’ve had the plot worked out for years. And I knew it was something that, after Baby Driver, I wanted to do something radically different.” Thomasin McKenzie plays a woman in contemporary London who is somehow given the opportunity to experience the “Swinging Sixties.” Wright has referenced Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Nicolas Roeg’s Don't Look Now (1973) as influences, and we can look forward to appearances from Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, and Rita Tushingham.

In 2017, actor-turned-director Francis Lee, won a directing award at Sundance for his debut feature, God’s Own Country, which would go on to scoop up four British Independent Film Awards. His follow-up, Ammonite, is set on the southern coast of England in the 1840s and stars Kate Winslet as a fossil hunter entrusted with the care of a younger woman played by Saoirse Ronan. James McArdle, Alec Secareanu, and Fiona Shaw round out the cast.

While Lee’s stories are firmly rooted in his home country, two other British directors are set to tell tales set in the U.S. In Sally Potter’s The Roads Not Taken, a father and daughter (Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning) spend a hallucinatory twenty-four hours trekking across New York City as the father slips in and out of his parallel lives. The film, which also features Salma Hayek, Laura Linney, and Chris Rock, will open in the States on March 13.

Paul Greengrass will direct Tom Hanks in News of the World, an adaptation of Paulette Jiles’s 2016 novel. The year is 1870, and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widower and veteran of three wars, travels across Texas, giving live readings to audiences eager to hear the latest news from the farthest reaches of the globe. At one point, Kidd is presented an offer he can’t refuse: Fifty dollars in gold to transport a young orphan (Helena Zengel) to San Antonio.

Yorgos Lanthimos

Early last year, it was reported that Yorgos Lanthimos’s next feature after The Favourite would be an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1964 novel Pop. 1280. Thompson “was the pulpiest of pulp writers,” wrote Stephen Marche for NPR in 2012, but “he was also the densest and most intense and most complicated.” And Pop. 1280 “is his true masterpiece, a preposterously upsetting, ridiculously hilarious layer cake of nastiness, a romp through a world of nearly infinite deceit.” Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon (1981) is based on the novel, and Lanthimos is slated to write and direct the new version.

But Lanthimos has suddenly got a lot more on his plate as well. In November, Deadline reported that Lanthimos would direct and executive produce a limited series based on Mark Seal’s book The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor, the true story of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who managed to pass himself off as a true Rockefeller and worm his way into the top offices of a string of Wall Street firms. The book is “a brisk narrative that has all the pace and drive of a suspense novel,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times in 2011.

And then, just last month, news broke that Lanthimos is in talks to direct an adaptation of Richard Brautigan’s 1974 novel, The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western, the story of two gunslingers hired by fifteen-year-old twin sisters to kill a beast living in the “ice caves” beneath their house. For decades, Hal Ashby tried to get an adaptation off the ground, and he even had Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman on board, but Ashby and Brautigan could never settle on a final version of the screenplay. When Ashby died in 1988, Tim Burton picked up the project, Nicholson stayed on, and Hoffman was replaced by Clint Eastwood. But that version fizzled out as well. Prominently placed on the cover of the book is a blurb from the Sunday Times: “Reads like a spaghetti Western crossed with Frankenstein, viewed through an opium haze.” That could be right up Lanthimos’s alley.

The Europeans

In the interview conducted for the October 2019 issue of Cahiers du cinéma and recently translated by Srikanth Srinivasan and Andy Rector, Jean-Luc Godard discusses his next project, Scénario, and it’s difficult to make out just how far along it’s come. The screenplay, at any rate, has been completed as a series of six sequences, suggesting an essay-like formal resemblance to The Image Book (2018).

Since Holy Motors (2012), Leos Carax has been struggling to realize Annette, his first feature in English. Written in collaboration with Sparks, the band formed in 1972 by the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, Annette is to be a musical love story with Adam Driver as a stand-up comedian and Marion Cotillard as his wife, a world-famous soprano. Their lives are turned upside down when their daughter, Annette, begins showing signs of being especially gifted.

Another production to overcome a bump or two in the road is Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, but producer Saïd Ben Saïd confirmed a couple of weeks ago that it is indeed “coming soon.” The story of nun (Virginie Efira) who joins a convent in Italy in the seventeenth century and strikes up an affair with a woman “must be deeply infused with a sense of the sacred,” says Verhoeven. “I have been interested in the sacred ever since I was a child, both generally and more specifically in music, painting.”

Besides The French Dispatch, Léa Seydoux will be appearing in two more films this year. In Bruno Dumont’s On a Half Clear Morning, she’ll play a famous television journalist juggling her career and personal life when a freak car accident suddenly forces her to rethink everything from the ground up. And in The Story of My Wife, Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi’s follow-up to her 2017 Golden Bear winner, On Body and Soul, Seydoux plays a woman who walks into a café unaware that the sea captain inside has just bet his friend that he’ll marry the first female to step in through the front door. The film is based on the 1946 novel by Milán Füst.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is set, of course, on Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his films, including Persona (1966). In Hansen-Løve’s first film in English, an American couple arrive intending to complete their respective screenplays. Some of the unexpected distractions may be rooted in the supernatural. Mia Wasikowska, Vicky Krieps, and Tim Roth lead the cast.

Michelangelo Frammartino hasn’t made a feature since 2010’s Le quattro volte. Il buco will tell the story of an expedition undertaken in northern Italy in 1961 by twelve speleologists—played by actual local shepherds. The deep caves they discover further south could be said to “constitute the absolute off-screen space, as the eternal night that reigns within them could seem the most hostile to the camera,” Frammartino tells Cineuropa. “However, those who love cinema know very well that the off-screen space, the invisible, represents our deepest ‘substance.’ I am struck by the coincidence that speleology, cinema, and psychoanalysis were born in the same year, in 1895.”

Stylistically, Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, The New Pope) could hardly be further removed from Frammartino. Sorrentino is teaming up with Jennifer Lawrence, who will produce and star in Mob Girl as Arlyne Brickman, a real-life New Yorker who turned on the mobsters she’d fallen in with as a teenager in the 1950s. In the late 1960s, she was beaten and raped by gangsters, and when she discovered that the mob wouldn’t come to her aid because she was, one, a woman, and two, Jewish, she contacted the FBI and became an informant.

For further news from Europe and beyond, turn to Ioncinema, which is currently counting down its list of the most anticipated foreign films of the year. Among the many titles the Ioncinema team is gathering details on are Dominik Graf’s Fabian, an adaptation of Erich Kästner’s 1931 novel; Agnieszka Holland’s Charlatan, based on the true story of Jan Mikolasek, who dedicated his life to caring for the ill; Benoît Jacquot’s Suzanna Andler, with Charlotte Gainsbourg as a woman tempted to abandon a loveless marriage for a carefree lover; Arthur Rambo, the latest from Laurent Cantet, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2008 for The Class; Oskar Roehler’s Enfant Terrible, with Oliver Masucci as Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibules, in which two friends decide to train a giant fly to perform tricks; and Brigitte Bardot the Wonderful, Lech Majewski’s adaptation of his own novel, in which a young man watching Godard’s Contempt (1963) is transported into a star-studded fantasy world.

From Asia

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been seeing Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin (2015) turn up on several best-of-the-decade lists—as it well should, but here’s the thing. The Assassin is the only feature Hou directed in the 2010s. Immediately after he won the best directing award in Cannes for The Assassin, Hou began talking about adapting Shulan River, a novel by Hsieh Hai-meng, one of the screenwriters who worked on The Assassin. Shu Qi would play a river goddess discovered by a waterway enthusiast in Taipei. There is no sign to be found anywhere that would suggest that we might see Shulan River this year, but one can’t help but cling to the hope that Hou’s vision will eventually be realized.

One also has to hope that Zhang Yimou’s One Second, an ode to cinephilia set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, will be released at some point. Days before its scheduled premiere in competition in Berlin last year, China pulled it from the program. As Rebecca Davis reports for Variety, at last fall’s Pingyao International Film Festival, Zhang said that he was “still not sure” what would happen, but: “I hope it can be seen by everyone as soon as possible.” In the meantime, Zhang has completed his first gangster movie. Rock Solid, he says, is “very urban, with a very grave and stern realistic style, and the visuals are very unique.”

As mentioned on Tuesday, Jia Zhangke’s documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, an eighteen-chapter portrait of Chinese society narrated by three novelists from three generations, will be out this year. In the meantime, Jia has produced The Best Is Yet to Come, the debut feature by Wang Jing, who has worked with Jia as an assistant director on the latter’s three most recent films. The Best focuses on a group of young people looking to start new lives in Beijing in the early 2000s.

The matchup between Tilda Swinton and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a cinephilic dream about to come true in Memoria, which has recently been picked up by Neon, the distributor that has shepherded Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite to box office success in the U.S. Swinton will play an insomnia-stricken horticulturalist who visits her sister in Columbia, where she meets a French archaeologist preparing to burrow a tunnel through the Andes Mountains.

We should also mention that Hong Kong director Ann Hui has been working with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai, on Love After Love, the story of a woman who moves from Shanghai to Hong Kong, where she falls in with a crowd of rich friends and begins living beyond her means. Filipino director Lav Diaz will likely have When the Waves Are Gone, in which a man just released from prison seeks revenge for his friend’s betrayal, ready later this year. And working with Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour, Asako I & II), Kiyoshi Kurosawa has cowritten his next, as-yet-untitled film, a conspiracy thriller set in Kobe in 1940.

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