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On the Radar… (Beginning of the Year Edition)

Warner Bros Pictures

Happy New Year, everyone! And Happy Marjorie Taylor-Greene Got Permanently Suspended from Twitter Day! Which was technically a few days ago, but I still feel like celebrating that. These first three months of the year are, with one exception, kind of a “dumping ground” for movies, not only the bad studio dreck that its distributors have no real faith in, but also the Oscar contenders that insecure studios don’t want the public to weigh in on until the precursors hype them up, first.

Our first preview article of 2022 will be a semi-split between those two types of releases, including two serious contenders for Best International Feature Film, one likely nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the first big superhero release of the year. Let’s get to it…

A HERO – In Theaters January 7, On Demand January 14

Prime Video

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Starring Amir Jadidi, with Mohsen Tanabandeh and Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy

What is it about? Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Last year’s Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival has made the December shortlist for Best International Feature Film, and considering how the legendary Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi (who Joey cites as one of the most insightful people he’s ever interviewed) is one of the few filmmakers to have directed not one, but two winners in this category, it’s pretty safe to bet that A Hero will be a serious threat to be nominated for this award and possibly even win (though Flee, The Worst Person in the World, and Drive My Car will put up a fight).

Which means Farhadi may join Vittorio De Sica and Ingmar Bergman as one of the very few directors to win this award three times, and just behind Federico Fellini for most wins ever in this category. He also, I think, stands a real chance of duplicating the success A Separation had at becoming a nominee for Best Original Screenplay. It might even win, depending on how guilty voters feel for their objectively wrong choice of awarding that Oscar to Woody Allen’s nice but forgettable magical realism romcom Midnight in Paris over one of the most powerfully-written human dramas of the previous decade back in February 2012.

But A Separation might actually be a problem for A Hero, oddly. Joey found nothing formally wrong with A Hero on any level but still believed it didn’t feel like anything new or above-and-beyond that breakthrough effort over a decade ago. It seems like that’s the consensus behind the movie: “No, it’s not going to blow your mind like A Separation… but it’s still great!” Probably enough acclaim to make the final five, but the looming shadow of that classic masterpiece will be hard to stand out under.

SCREAM – In Theaters January 14

Paramount

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Starring Neve Campbell, with Courtney Cox and David Arquette

What is it about? Twenty-five years after the original series of murders in Woodsboro, a new killer emerges, and Sidney Prescott must return to uncover the truth.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Oh god, I have to preview the next Scream movie, titled Scream because confusing audiences is now the Hip New Trend? Can… can I just wait for the sun to explode and kill us all on this godforsaken planet? Okay, so I don’t think this movie is going to broadcast the same contempt for its very existence the way Scream 4 did, because the director of that movie tragically passed away in 2015 and almost certainly wouldn’t have accepted any offer to make this one even if he was still with us. I’m not going to rehash my exasperation with the in-jokey smug self-referential “haha it’s okay when we do it because we’re pointing out how stupid it is!” humor of this franchise. If you’re a fan, I’m happy for you. 

This Scream is almost certainly trying to capture the same lightning-in-a-bottle that David Gordon Green managed to do with Halloween in 2018, down to the identical title it’s serving as a “legacyquel” to. This attempt is being made by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Ready or Not fame in the director’s chair (chairs?). Co-writing the screenplay is Independence Day: Resurgence’s James Vanderbilt and Ready or Not’sGuy Busick. And because this is by far the most successful movie franchise ticket they’ve ever been attached to – no offense directed to them, it just is what it is – Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette are all returning again to deal with the fifth masked killer of their lives.

It’s alluded to in the trailer, but I really hope they lean into and flex the inherent insanity of that fact for all it’s worth. I’m not talking about the “local legend” subplots that have been hanging around after the first one. Imagine if… let’s find an example far back enough that it won’t seem insensitive… okay, imagine if the sole survivor of the Palm Sunday massacre ended up being caught in the middle of four subsequent mass murders in New York from perpetrators who were all related to the original convicted killer somehow. That would make the front page of every major newspaper in America, right? The President would probably be asked about it. She would be the subject of dozens of true crime documentaries, podcasts, and maybe even an Oscar-winning biopic. There’d be endless conspiracy theories surrounding her speculated involvement and she’d almost certainly have to change her identity to hide from the conspiratorial weirdos who’d be hounding her.

I know I’m starting to sound like a Screen Rant hack, so I want to be clear that I’m not trying to poke LoGiC holes or talk about how PrObLeMaTiC the series has become. But if we’re going to be resurrecting the corpse of a moribund slasher franchise known for spoofing a horror genre that’s been all-but-extinct since at least the end of the 20th century in an attempt to replicate the success of another movie… you might as well run with it all the way, right? You might as well just commit whole-hog to all the weird and unbelievable implications of this “oh my god are you kidding me another Ghostface killer?!” premise, right? Just do something, anything, interesting with this.

CYRANO – In Theaters January 21

MGM

Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Peter Dinklage, with Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

What is it about? Too self-conscious to woo Roxanne himself, brilliant writer Cyrano de Bergerac helps young Christian nab her heart through love letters.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Oh look, a movie that technically had a qualifying run in, like, two locations in New York and Los Angeles last month to tightly control the awards buzz for it while gatekeeping any general audience participation until early this year! Ugh, whatever, let’s just put that frustration aside and preview this thing fairly…

If there is one Game of Thronesalumni who I think has a real shot at moving past the universally-reviled final season of that show and making a successful transition to regular feature film work after Jason Momoa, it’s Peter Dinklage (I’m sorry, Emilia Clarke, but every movie you’ve been in that I’ve seen so far has been… just… terrible). He’s an actor afflicted with achondroplasia and yet through his rugged good looks, commanding deep voice, and prodigious acting talents has overcome the limited opportunities afforded to most actors with dwarfism to cement himself as a reliable leading man in his own right. He won fourPrimetime Emmy Awards for his portrayal of fan-favorite character Tyrion Lannister, and has no less than seven upcoming feature film projects lined up, three of which list him as the top-billed actor as of the publishing of this article.

So if I had to bet on who will become only the third person with a physical disability (the first two being Harold Russell and Marlee Matlin) to win an Oscar for acting, Dinklage is almost certainly the most likely to achieve this, right? Even as he was otherwise raking I Care A Lot over the coals, Joey found the space the praise Dinklage’s performance. Now, with Cyrano, the actor has a nearly ideal vehicle for him to really show off his talents (and in fact, the stage musical was conceived and built entirely around him as the titular character by his wife Erica Schmidt). Cyrano de Bergerac, in case you may have forgotten, was a successful 17th century French writer who found a strange sense of immortality over two hundred years after his death when a fictionalized version of him became the protagonist of Edmond Rostand’s best-known play. In the play, he is a talented and brilliant writer who feels he cannot ever proclaim his love for his beautiful cousin Roxane due to his large nose, and so instead surreptitiously communicates his eloquent romantic gestures through his handsome-but-dimwitted friend Christian de Neuvillette. The play has become an iconic romance, and has been adapted to film several times, most famously the 1950 Hollywood movie that won José Ferrer the Academy Award for Best Actor and the 1990 French production that earned Gérard Depardieu an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (the latter of which is, for my money, the gold standard of Cyrano de Bergerac adaptations).

In this latest version, Dinklage plays the insecure swashbuckling poet and, in a welcome adjustment to the scenario, is not self-conscious over his nose but over his height. His true love Roxane is played by director Joe Wright’s wife Hailey Bennett and frequent Trey Edward Shults collaborator Kelvin Harrison, Jr. will be our hapless Christian this time around. Also, this is not technically an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play, but a film version ofSchmidt’s aforementioned stage musical from 2018 drawn from the play. And yes, Wright’s reputation has taken a bit of a dive after he directed The Woman in the Window BUT ALSO he directed the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and the trailer thankfully evokes the visually splendid and well-acted romantic vibes of Pride & Prejudice and not… whatever the hell he was going for in his last film.

It’s coming in just under the wire, and many critics’ own awards have already been doled out (mostly for Benedict Cumberbatch and Will Smith), but still… Joey is not counting out fiction’s most iconic eloquent lovestruck wordsmith, and neither am I.

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD – In Theaters February 4

NEON

Directed by Joachim Trier

Starring Renate Reinsve, with Herbert Nordrum and Anders Danielsen Lie

What is it about? The chronicles of four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.

How am I feelin’ about this one? The only other international release that has enjoyed a level of widespread critical adoration to rival Drive My Car’s is this movie, a romantic comedy written and directed by Joachim Trier about a young woman struggling with ambivalence over her personal and professional life that won the Best Actress prize for Renate Reinsave at Cannes last year (in what barely kept Joey and I from going full-on zero-for-zero in our predictions for that festival).

Once again, here is a movie that probably would have found an audience for it in the United States and would have built up more buzz if it hadn’t been kept away from us for so long. It has racked up a few wins from the Boston Online Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Portland Critics Association, Joey still has the film’s screenplay and lead performance from Reinsave in the mix, and it’s already set to receive the Criterion treatment early this year. But The Worst Person in the World is not getting the kinds of precursor attention one would expect it to receive, based on early buzz as soon as it made its debut at Cannes. 

So why is this happening? Did Joachim Trier piss someone off? Did its studio really think this would be less accessible to American critics than a three-hour drama about a grief-stricken theater director working through his feelings in Hiroshima? Honestly, I think it’s a matter of a studio with limited resources having to decide which of their films had a better shot at awards glory. NEON is in charge of the American distribution and promotion for this movie. They are also responsible for the awards pushes for Flee, Spencer, and Pig. And much like how I begrudgingly understood their decision to go all-in on Parasite at the expense of Clemency and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I imagine their choice to leave this one behind in order to guarantee a Best Actress winner in three months and possibly a Best Documentary and/or Animated and/or International Feature winner is probably justifiable from an objective, campaign strategy point of view.

Still, it’s not totally out of the running just yet! The film did make the December shortlist for Best International Feature Film, and honestly I wouldn’t say an Original Screenplay nod is out of the question, either. People are desperate to recognize a modern romantic comedy that doesn’t feel insulting or trite, and it looks like the conclusion to Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy” has done just that.

DEATH ON “DENIAL” – In Theaters February 11

20th Century Studios

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, with Annette Bening and Tom Bateman 

What is it about? While on vacation on the Nile, Hercule Poirot must investigate the murder of a young heiress.

How am I feelin’ about this one? Huh. That new trailer seems a bit… oddly cut, wouldn’t you say? And I’m not just talking about the line Gal Gadot warbles about twenty-five seconds in what sounds like it was spliced from two different takes. I’m talking about how it opens with an announcement of a newlywed couple… but only the bride has any real screentime while the groom barely shows up at all. The bride (and later murder victim) being Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle played by the aforementioned Wonder Woman actress and her husband Simon Doyle played by Armie Hamm-oh. Oh. Kay.

So that’s, as the kids would say, problematic. I won’t go into the details of the allegations made against Hammer, because they’re really disturbing. So bad that he’s already been dropped by his talent agency and dropped out of several projects. His IMDb profile lists only one other feature film role after this one, Taika Waititi’s sports dramedy Next Goal Wins, and it has already been announced to be replacing him with Will Arnett in reshoots. Death on the Nile very well be the last feature film we ever see him in.

So with that unfortunate business out of the way, how is the film shaping up? About as good as any mainstream, decently-budgeted, all-star whodunnit could after being delayed from its original release date of waaaaaay back in December 2019 and before we learned one of its headline stars was an alleged serial sexual abuser with a kink for cannibalism. You know, the Before Time. On the upside, such a long holdover resulted in an imminent release to coincide right around the time its director and star Kenneth Branagh is on his way to Oscar glory with Belfast

By the way, in case you forgot, Murder on the Orient Express, despite its trailer prompting a wave of mockery from the internet for its odd use of an Imagine Dragons song, as a sizable hit. It pulled in over $100 million in the United States alone, which might have been the thing that motivated Lionsgate to put their faith in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. That film managed to be an even bigger domestic hit than Branagh’s turn as Hercule Poirot, and I have to say, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this becomes a new trend in crime dramas. I’m sick of lurid serial killer hoo-hah; let’s get some more murder mysteries going for our crime drama fix!

THE BATMAN – In Theaters March 4

Warner Bros.

Directed by Matt Reeves

Starring Robert Pattinson, with Zoë Kravitz and Paul Dano

What is it about? In his second year of fighting crime, Batman uncovers corruption in Gotham City that connects to his own family while facing a serial killer known as The Riddler.

How am I feelin’ about this one? You know what I’m getting a little tired of, lately? Grim, serious, “dark” superher-oh wait, I already wrote a whole article about this. Darn. Well, what else is there to say about this movie that I didn’t already say over a year ago? Okay, here are some random thoughts I have about The Batman, sight unseen:

  • Why is Colin Farrell playing The Penguin? Did they seriously not think they could sell this movie off of this character being played by Josh Gad or Richard Kind? I wonder if this is some kind of industry thing, where these studios and producers are intertwined with in-house makeup departments and everyone keeps each other employed?
  • Speaking of Catwoman, the new trailer gives off the impression that this iteration of her will be the most prominent woman character in a Batman movie since… well, Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns thirty years ago. If this ends up being one of the most feminine or romantic Batman movies I might just have to be genuinely excited for this.
  • Ugh, there’s a lot of hinting that we’re going to find out a Dark Secret about Bruce Wayne’s Tragic Past, and I really hope Warner Bros didn’t learn all the wrong lessons from Marc Webb’s abominable The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Hollywood really needs to stop leaning on superhero origin stories as a crutch, trying to retcon and re-tinker with them. Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot in an alley. Everyone knows this, already. Move on.

So what say you, readers? Which last-minute contenders are you catching up on in the New Year? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a military veteran who now spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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