At the end of the year, critics do all of the things readers think of when they consider what it is that we do — documenting the best films of the past year while also gazing into our critical crystal balls to offer predictions about the future of cinema. There is the notion that we are cultural prophets making grand pronouncements.
But I like to remind myself that, as a film critic, I’m nothing more than a lucky fan. With the special access afforded me, it is my responsibility to provide clear and relatable insights about what I imagine will engage audiences. Here’s my humble peek at what lies ahead:
The Public — The buzz is high as yet another film spotlighting the Queen City prepares to start pre-production (with hopes for a possible fall release). A decade ago, director/multi-hyphenate Emilio Estevez tried his hand at political drama with Bobby, which documented the story of the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy as seen through the perspectives of 22 people. Now, Estevez (The Way) brings Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling and Gabrielle Union to town for a politically charged feature about a homeless sit-in by the homeless at the main branch of the public library. It comes to occupy national attention during a particularly brutal winter. Whether this film graces screens in the Nati during 2017 or not, residents will bask in the production’s warm glow.
Crown Heights and Gook — Every year, Sundance creates the initial buzz that can propel films through the rest of the festival circuit and the crowded release schedule. So, faced with the impossible task of distilling the diverse Sundance slate down to a couple of films to watch out for, I pick these: Writer-director Matt Ruskin’s Crown Heights, a feature adaptation of a story from This American Life about the steadfast loyalty of a young man (Nnamdi Asomugha) who devotes his life to proving the innocence of a best friend (Keith Stanfield) who has been wrongfully convicted of murder. This is in Sundance’s US Dramatic Competition.
Under Sundance’s NEXT category, which presents “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling,” Justin Chon’s feature Gook captures the struggles of two Korean-American brothers (Chon and David So) as they attempt to keep their family’s shoe store afloat in 1992. The pair forms an unlikely friendship with an 11-year-old neighborhood girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker), and soon the odd trio finds itself caught up in the chaos of the first days of the Los Angeles riots.
Iron Fist television series — This choice means taking a diversionary lark away from the big screen. Iron Fist, the latest installment in the Marvel/Netflix canon, explores the mystical journey of the orphaned Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who returns to New York to reclaim his family’s fortune and solidify his position as a supreme martial arts warrior. The release of Iron Fist sets the stage for a multi-character team-up with The Defenders, which will air later this year. The Netflix-storytelling model extends the Marvel brand.
Fast & Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious — Back in 2003, director F. Gary Gray worked with Vin Diesel on A Man Apart, and now they circle back together for what could be a huge opportunity to solidify their status as box office royalty. How do you maintain a franchise (this is the eighth installment) that has experienced unprecedented revenue increases with its recent iterations? Staying fast and furious over the long haul is tough, but I expect Gray and Diesel to make it look easy.
The Snowman — Screenwriters Hossein Amini and Matthew Michael Carnahan team up with director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to tackle Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø’s signature creation, detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender). The film finds Hole investigating the disappearance of a woman, and the only clue is the woman’s missing scarf, which was wrapped around a snowman. With a top-notch cast (Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny, and J.K. Simmons) and a high level of behind-the-camera talent, expectations are high not only for this film’s success, but also for further adaptations to follow.