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.
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.
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.
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.
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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