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It’s that time again, when we look ahead to the coming year and hope against all previous experience that things will get better, that Hollywood will launch itself wholeheartedly into making original, entertaining, thought-provoking movies that aren’t creatively moribund. Well, perhaps, but in the continuing spirit of past changes on thedullwoodexperiment the movies highlighted here and in Part 2 won’t feature very many of the tentpole movies that will be hyped to death between now and their release next year, because, well, that’s what everyone else will be doing. So, here’s the first batch of contenders looking to conquer our hearts and minds in 2018. How many will you see, and how many will become new favourites?

1 – Annihilation – The first part of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy arrives courtesy of Alex Garland, whose Ex Machina (2014) showed that there’s room for intelligent, character-driven sci-fi on our screens. Focusing on the search for a biologist’s missing husband within an environmental disaster zone, Garland has assembled a cast that includes Natalie Portman (as the biologist), Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac (as the missing husband), and the movie promises to be as visually inventive as his previous foray into the genre, and a little mindbending too.

2 – Red Sparrow – Jennifer Lawrence reunites with her Hunger Games director, Francis Lawrence, for this action thriller that sees a Russian ballerina recruited into the titular intelligence service and trained to target a CIA agent on her first mission. But, inevitably, things don’t go as planned… After Atomic Blonde (2017), this could be another action heroine franchise starter, but even with Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher having passed on the project in its early stages, the movie is still an intriguing prospect, and features a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling.

3 – The Commuter – Another director-star reunion, this time between Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson, that sees Neeson’s businessman finding himself caught up in a criminal conspiracy while on his daily commute home. Neeson’s an old hand at this sort of thing now so should bring the necessary gravitas to his role (as well as kicking ass in a heavily edited way), while Collet-Serra’s confident staging and visual flair should make the confines of the commuter train seem less restrictive in terms of the action, something that will contribute heavily to the movie’s potential success.

4 – A Wrinkle in Time – A family-friendly adventure involving three strange beings – played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey – who help a young girl find her missing father, something that requires them to travel through space. Adapted from the well regarded children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle, this has the potential to be a firm favourite in years to come, but much will rely on director Ava DuVernay’s approach to the material, as this is a complete change of pace for her after 13th (2016), and Selma (2014).

5 – Christopher Robin – Another exploration of the world of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (after 2017’s Goodbye Christopher Robin), this sees Ewan McGregor as the titular character, now an adult and weighed down by the responsibilities of work and family. An encounter with the honey-loving bear leads to a return to the Hundred Acre Wood and a search for Pooh’s missing friends. Will Christopher learn to love life again? (Don’t bet against it.) Part animation, part live-action, this looks and feels like a love letter to forgotten childhoods, but should avoid being overly sentimental thanks to the presence of Marc Forster in the director’s chair.

6 – 12 Strong – originally titled Horse Soldiers, this tells the story of the first Special Forces team to be deployed in Afghanistan after 9/11, and their attempts to tackle the Taliban with the aid of an Afghan warlord. Director Nicolai Fuglsig has only made one feature before this, so is a bit of an unknown quantity, but he has a solid cast that includes Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon and William Fichtner, and a story that sounds very much like it’s from the “truth is stranger than fiction” camp. Whether this is a gung-ho war movie or something much more grounded remains to be seen, but just the images already seen of Hemsworth et al on horseback makes this look like it could defy expectations.

7 – The War With Grandpa – It’s a comedy and it stars Robert De Niro – not always a joyous combination – but this could be the movie where he finally loosens up and doesn’t look like he wants to flee the set at any given opportunity. The war of the title arises between a grandfather and his grandson (played by Colin Ford) when they have to share a room. There’s support from Christopher Walken, Uma Thurman and Jane Seymour, and director Tim Hill has a track record with family movies that should mean this can be sentimental and age-appropriately brutal all at the same time.

8 – The Peanut Butter Falcon – This indie movie tells the story of Zak, a young man with Downs Syndrome who runs away from the nursing home where he lives to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Along the way he meets a small-time criminal called Tyler (played by Shia LaBeouf), and their separate journeys become one. Zak is played by Zakk Gottsagen, a real-life Downs Syndrome sufferer, and though he’s surrounded by a terrific cast that includes Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson, and WWE legend Mick Foley, it’s highly likely that it’s his performance that we’ll all be talking about in 2018.

9 – The Sisters Brothers – Jacques Audiard, the director of A Prophet (2009) and Rust and Bone (2012), makes his English language debut with this tale set in 1850’s Oregon about a gold prospector, the wonderfully named Hermann Kermit Warm (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who finds himself the target of the titular brothers, a pair of assassins. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly are the brothers, and there’s support from Riz Ahmed and Rutger Hauer, but Audiard is the main draw here, a director whose skill behind the camera could make this an awards contender across the board.

10 – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – A movie that could and should be filed under “Finally!”, Terry Gilliam’s ode to Miguel de Cervantes’ famous knight-errant reaches our screens after several previous attempts have either ended in disaster or failed to get off the ground due to a lack of financial backing. With the basic plot of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court added for good measure, this sees Jonathan Pryce in the role of Don Quixote and Adam Driver as the advertising executive who finds himself travelling back and forth to 17th century La Mancha and encountering fiction’s most famous “tilter at windmills”. Let’s hope that Gilliam has finally been able to realise his vision for this story.

11 – The House That Jack Built – Jack (played by Matt Dillon) is a serial killer, and over the course of twelve years (beginning in the 1970’s) we see Jack evolve as a killer, and witness the increasing risks he takes as he strives to create art out of murder. Lars von Trier’s latest promises to be as controversial as any other movie he’s made so far, but its dark subject matter also promises to be leavened by both a philiosophical approach to the material as well as a degree of humour. von Trier always seeks to challenge his audience, and this looks as if it’s been assembled to do just that, but how violent or uncompromising it will be remains to be seen. However it turns out, this has the potential to be one of the most talked about movies of 2018.

12 – Mowgli – Delayed due to the release of Disney’s version in 2016, and originally called The Jungle Book, Andy Serkis’s imagining of Kipling’s classic tale promises to be darker and more confrontational than Jon Favreau’s take. Serkis has also managed to assemble an impressive voice cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett (as Shere Khan, Bagheera and Kaa respectively), while directing and taking on the role of Baloo. If it isn’t as self-congratulatory as Disney’s version, then this could be a treat indeed, because if anyone can bring a degree of realism to a fantasy story, then it’s the King of MoCap himself.

13 – Early Man – Aardman are back! Nick Park and co return to our screens with the tale of a Stone Age tribe that finds itself transported to the Bronze Age, and having to take on their future era oppressors at a game of… football. If it’s Aardman then you can expect wonderful sight gags, physical comedy, hilarious dialogue, and a top-notch voice cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Miriam Margolyes and Timothy Spall. Park is making his first solo outing as director since Chicken Run (2000), but don’t expect him to be feeling any pressure: this is a movie maker who has won six BAFTAs and four Oscars already.

14 – Robin Hood – Do we really need another version of the Robin Hood story? Possibly not, but whether this turns out to be as gritty as promised, what does it make it interesting is the casting. Taron Egerton as the titular hero seems to imply a younger take on the character, while Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham seems like perfect casting. But it’s the supporting roles that are intriguing, with Jamie Foxx as Little John, Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet, and comedian Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck. This could go either way, but there’s life in the old legend yet, despite the number of times he’s graced our screens, but as long as this production doesn’t go all Lock, Stock and Three Smoking Arrows on us (like a certain other revisionist take on British myths did in 2017), then this could be an action adventure movie everyone can enjoy.

15 – The Black Hand – An historical crime drama about the origins of the Mafia in the US, this adaptation of Stephan Talty’s 2017 novel of the same name, is set to feature Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life policeman Joe Petrosino as he went about trying to stop the Black Hand from establishing a foothold in New York City back in the 1900’s. There’s no director attached at present, and production hasn’t fully begun, so this may end up being released in 2019, but if we are fortunate enough to see this by the year’s end then unless things go very, very badly wrong, this could be another strong contender come awards season.

16 – Mary Queen of Scots – The story of Mary Stuart, cousin to Elizabeth I, has been told several times before, but this account of her efforts to overthrow the Virgin Queen features Saoirse Ronan as the doomed Mary, and Margot Robbie as the object of her displeasure. Neither actress is likely to be most people’s first choices for the roles, but both are more than capable actresses, and if the screenplay focuses more on Mary than Elizabeth, then this could be one of the better historical dramas coming our way. It will also be a test of director Josie Rourke’s abilities, as her main role is as the artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse theatre, a role that should see her ideally placed to make this a gripping piece of English history.

17 – White Boy Rick – Another story taken from the pile marked, “truth is stranger than fiction”, this is about Richard Wershe Jr (the White Boy Rick of the title), and is the second feature from Yann Demange after ’71 (2014). Wershe Jr became the FBI’s youngest ever informant when he was just fourteen, but the ensuing years saw him become a drug dealer, and he was eventually arrested – ironically – by the same FBI that he had worked for. Newcomer Richie Merritt plays the unfortunate teenager, while Matthew McConaughey plays Richard Sr, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is his mother.

18 – Fighting With My Family – A WWE Films production in conjunction with Film4 may not seem like a movie to look forward to (let’s face it, WWE’s movie track record isn’t something to shout about), but this may be the movie that bucks the trend. Featuring Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Merchant (who also writes and directs), this wish fulfilment tale of a former wrestler and his family who eke out a living peforming at small wrestling venues – while his kids naturally want to join the WWE – should prove to be better than expected thanks to its having Merchant at the helm, and in the DoP’s seat, Remi Adefarasin.

19 – A Rainy Day in New York – Woody Allen’s latest (his 50th) features another great cast – Jude Law, Elle Fanning, Timothée Chalamet, Diego Luna, Rebecca Hall, Liev Schreiber amongst others – and is a romantic comedy about a young couple who come to New York for the weekend and find themselves embarking on a series of adventures while coping with the bad weather of the title. Expect a wistful charm running throughout the movie, along with several quotable lines of dialogue, an air of sophistication, a great jazz-based soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography courtesy of the great Vittorio Storaro.

20 – Ophelia – Taking a break from the Force and lightsabre duels, Daisy Ridley plays the title character in a re-imagining of the story of Hamlet but told from Ophelia’s perspective. Adapted from the young adult novel by Lisa Klein, director Claire McCarthy has assembled a great supporting cast including Naomi Watts as Gertrude, and Clive Owen as Claudius, and if all goes well, this could be as entertaining in its semi-revisionist way as any other Shakespeare adaptation, and remind us that even when his work is being used as a launch pad for further artistic expression, the Bard is still as relevant today as he was over four hundred years ago.

21 – A Futile & Stupid Gesture – The poster states: If You Don’t Watch This Movie, We’ll Kill Will Forte. Whether or not Netflix really intend to go through with this threat remains to be seen (they probably won’t though), but it’s entirely in keeping with the movie’s subject matter, the building of a new media empire in the 1970’s and 80’s that came about thanks to the success of National Lampoon while under the guidance of Doug Kenney (Forte). Whether or not this is as wacky and laugh out loud as National Lampoon itself was during this period, we won’t find out until 26 January, but with a cast that also includes Domhnall Gleeson, Emmy Rossum and Joel McHale as Chevy Chase, this has a good chance of being a memorable Netflix movie – and for the right reasons for a change.

22 – The Women of Marwen – The latest from Robert Zemeckis is a fantasy drama based on the true story of Mark Hogancamp (played by Steve Carell), who after being nearly beaten to death in 2000, left hospital with little memory of his life up til then. Unable to afford therapy, and forced to find an effective alternative, he created a 1/6 scale World War II-era Belgian town in his back yard he called Marwencol. Just what approach to the fantasy elements Zemeckis has adopted, of course remains to be seen, but as a special effects pioneer over the years, the visual style of the movie is sure to be impressive, while the darker aspects of Hogancamp’s story should allow Zemeckis to examine what drives Hogancamp to do what he does.

23 – Three Seconds – Another literary adaptation, this time from the novel of the same name by the Swedish crime writing duo, Roslund/Hellström, the movie centres on an ex-con working for the FBI and attempting to infiltrate the Polish mob in New York. But when he has to return to the very prison he thought he’d left behind, and his identity is put at risk, it becomes a race against time to get out. Joel Kinnaman plays the lucky ex-con, while there’s support from Clive Owen, Rosamund Pike, and Ana de Armas. With its urgent, tense scenario and threat-filled location, this has all the hallmarks of being a muscular action thriller, but if the adaptation is locked in, then with a great deal of intelligence woven throughout as well.

24 – The Happytime Murders – More crime, but this time with laughs attached, as the cast of a 1980’s children’s TV show are murdered one by one, and the principal suspect is the disgraced LAPD detective turned private eye who is best placed to investigate the murders. The only problem? He’s a puppet, and he’s soon on the run with his human ex-partner (played by Melissa McCarthy). As scenarios go, it’s a little like The Muppets’ Murder Case (if such a movie had ever been made), but the movie will stand or fall on the way it integrates puppets and humans into a fully realised and convincing world. With Brian Henson directing, though, it stands a very good chance indeed.

25 – Mary Poppins Returns – Fifty-four years after she first graced our screens, (almost) everyone’s favourite nanny (played by Emily Blunt) returns to provide sympathy and understanding when tragedy strikes the now adult Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw). Disney has been prepping this one for a while now, and as sequels go it appears to be in safe hands, with Rob Marshall in the director’s chair (let’s hope Into the Woods (2014) was an unfortunate one-off disaster), Lin-Manuel Miranda providing new songs, and a cast that also includes Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and providing a link to the original, Dick Van Dyke. The only question that remains is how long it will be before a certain thirty-four letter word is spoken.

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