1. The return of Chuck (premières January 10)
Almost as soon as Chuck’s much-improved second season began last year, speculation about its fate raged; in spite of a major reboot that included attention to serialized show elements; a much looser, funnier ensemble; and an unabashed embrace of nerdtastic pop-culture references, the show wasn’t drawing a crowd. Websites with “Save Chuck” headlines popped up all over the place, and star Zachary Levi orchestrated an outing to show-sponsor Subway that numbered in the hundreds. Finally, at almost the 11th hour, NBC came through with a third-season order, and show-runner Josh Schwartz has ensured it will thank supporters in a big way. Just when the Chuck’s-on-the-sidelines formula was growing stale, Schwartz shook things up by imprinting Chuck with a host of new spy skills—à la The Matrix—and thus Levi will be at center stage again. Expect many Casey witticisms, too.
2. Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring (January 26)
Welsh youngsters Los Campesinos! delighted fans in 2007 with two critically acclaimed albums—the band’s inaugural outings. Underneath a veneer of infectious happiness were two albums’ worth of heartache, despair, and wisdom beyond the twentysomethings’ years. It seems some of the outward cheer has worn off in the group’s third, Romance Is Boring: keyboardist Aleks Campesinos has left the group, replaced by Kim Campesinos, sister of frontman Gareth Campesinos; and the group’s first single, “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think,” which leaked on the Internet a few months ago, pulls listeners into its drab world with deep, swirling guitars and plenty of signature LC! shouting. The mood is more overt, but the album should be just as enjoyable as its predecessors.
3. The Killer Inside Me (premières at Sundance in January; wide release TBD)
Jim Thompson’s famous noir novel about a psychopathic small-town sheriff who hides behind a mask of banality was adapted once before, in a largely disastrous 1976 version starring Stacy Keach. But you can’t hold down a story this great; now, Michael Winterbottom—who’s shown himself capable of directing great work in almost every film genre—is tackling it, with an eerily calm Casey Affleck in the lead. (The rest of the cast is hit-and-miss; the two female leads being handled by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson doesn’t inspire confidence, but the supporting roles are rounded out by reliable pros like Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, and Bill Pullman.) An early trailer was long enough to show lots of promising scenes and a great-looking period setting, but the filmmakers pulled it; Thompson fans can now only hope the completed movie is as good as the preview.
4. Don DeLillo, Point Omega (February 2)
Don DeLillo has proved time and time again that he’s one of the few contemporary authors whose every release is cause for excitement. His next book, Point Omega, will be released next year, and while it’s terribly slight (just over 150 pages), DeLillo is certainly capable of doing a lot with a little. Describing the plot of any book by one of the most intricate of postmodernists is generally an exercise in futility; this one involves an experimental film about a legendary weapons designer which is interrupted by the arrival of his estranged daughter, but what actually happens will likely take a back seat to explorations of language, relationship, and human connection. Point Omega’s publishers also hint that there’s some kind of link between the book and DeLillo’s masterful Underworld, which is all the more reason to look forward to it.
5. The final season of Lost (premières February 2)
The Lost creative team has promised that the final season will answer all the major questions the show has raised over the years, though when season six begins, they’re first going to have to explain just what the hell happened to the past and present Lostaways in the wake of season five’s climactic “Incident.” Rumor has it that Juliet’s bomb-bashing and the subsequent cut-to-white signaled a timeline reset, and that the new season will begin with the crash of Oceanic 815 having never happened. If so, will our heroes remember anything from their island life? Will this season be about resetting the timeline, and thus re-killing old favorites Charlie, Boone, Faraday, and Juliet? Show-runners Damon Lindelof and Carton Cuse have maintained Lost’s creative momentum through flashbacks, flash-forwards, time travel, and an ever-fluid concept of genre. Whatever they have planned for the series’ farewell tour, it’s bound to be unexpected, divisive, and ultimately amazing.
6. BioShock 2 (February 9)
2K Games’ BioShock was released in 2007, and its mixture of exciting first-person-shooter play, gorgeous set design and art, and story filled with moral complexity instantly won it a place on lists of best-ever videogames, including the #1 spot on The A.V. Club’s Best Videogames Of The Decade list. February will see the release of the game’s much-anticipated sequel; early teasers show that the art and animation are even more fantastic, and the gameplay itself promises to liven things up with various multiplayer options, greater interaction with the environment, and best of all, a chance to play one of the game’s intimidating, monstrous “Big Daddy” bosses. The story sounds promising as well, with the undersea dystopia of Rapture now under the control of a collectivist who will seemingly make things just as nightmarish as did the first game’s individualist.
7. Shutter Island (February 19)
The ’09 fall movie season became a lot less exciting when Paramount decided not to spend Oscar-campaign money on Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Dennis Lehane thriller Shutter Island. This February, we’ll finally get to see whether Scorsese has succeeded in turning Lehane’s novel into an amped-up homage to horror movies past and present (and foreign and domestic), or if Shutter Island’s odd plot twists and thick Boston accents have defeated the best efforts of an American master. The trailer looks kind of nutty, but Scorsese’s movies are often more fun to watch when he goes for broke instead of aiming for prestige. If Shutter Island is as stylish and crazy as it looks, 2010 could be off to a good start.
8. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (March 2)
The jump in excellence between Frightened Rabbit’s first album, Sing The Grays, and its second, 2008’s incredible The Midnight Organ Fight, was huge—anticipating another such leap for the upcoming The Winter Of Mixed Drinks would be ridiculous. But if Drinks is even half as good as Organ Fight, it’ll be twice as good as just about anything else out there: The Scottish band perfectly combines raw emotion and the dourness of everyday life with spikes of roaring joy.
9. Alice In Wonderland (March 5)
Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story has been adapted for the big screen countless times, but none of those adaptations (not even the pornographic one) captured the spirit of the original book. Given the trailers and production art that’s been released so far, Wonderland looks like a good match for Burton’s pop-art gothic style, with a cast of excitingly familiar faces. The movie isn’t a straight adaptation of the source, but that could work in Burton’s favor as well; one of the reasons Alice In Wonderland has resisted traditional movie structure is that the novel is basically structure-free, and each new story gives Burton a chance to inject some much-needed momentum. Nightmare fuel, whimsy, and Johnny Depp mad as a hatter? Yes, please.
10. Greenberg (March 12)
A new film by Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Margot At The Wedding) is always cause for anticipation: No one else is currently as adept at milking comic misanthropy and abrasion for all it’s worth. But Greenberg promises more than usual, if only for the number of flashpoints it brings together: Ben Stiller exploiting his squirmy self-deprecation for pathos rather than annoying attempts at getting laughs opposite Greta Gerwig, break-out It Kid of the mumblecore scene (Hannah Takes The Stairs, Baghead) and seemingly a potential legit Hollywood star. Plus an original score by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Given his prowess in the wordless realm as shown by 45:33, it’s about time this happened. Fingers crossed.
11. Hot Tub Time Machine (March 19)
John Cusack is absolutely correct: A movie hinging on hot-tub-based time travel is the dumbest fucking thing we’ve ever heard in our fucking lives. Ever. But say those words with the same weight Craig Robinson gives them in the red-band trailer: “Hot tub time machine.” It’s simply giggle-inducing, as is the principal cast, which pairs Cusack and Robinson with Rob Corddry and Clark Duke as four longtime friends who inadvertently travel back to 1986 via a mountain-lodge hot tub. Like Snakes On A Plane, Hot Tub Time Machine has all the potential to be a stupid/genius premise fleshed out into a lackluster feature. Thankfully, unlike Snakes On A Plane, it’s an intentional comedy, and major elements of the film aren’t being crowdsourced to bunch of Internet bozos. It’s unlikely that the film will be anything greater than a minor cult hit, but Corddry, Duke, and Robinson could all use an ”Ed Helms in The Hangover”-style career boost, so here’s hoping Hot Tub Time Machine is the vehicle that takes them to that next level.
12-13. Season Of The Witch (March 19) / The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (July 16)
Nicolas Cage still has the potential to give terrific performances; his recent work in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans showed it. But the past few years have also given us a new kind of Cage acting that, while not as artistically defensible, is nearly as entertaining to watch as his best films. The Wicker Man, Knowing, and Ghost Rider are lousy movies, but Cage, at his worst in them, is truly the best thing in all three, delivering the sort of weird, mannered acting tics that one doesn’t usually expect to see except around that homeless guy who has seizures for quarters on the subway. Truth be told, we don’t know much about Season Of The Witch or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They could be brilliant, ground-breaking new entries in the cinematic canon. But judging by the trailer from the former and photos from the latter, the “How’d it get burned!” potential is very, very high. We remain cautiously pessimistic.
14. Dillinger Escape Plan, Option Paralysis (March 23)
It’s been almost three yeas since Ire Works, the last album by the Dillinger Escape Plan, and as is typical for the doomstruck band, the years have been rather eventful. Drummer Gil Sharone left the band, singer Greg Puciato and guitarist Ben Weinman both went through severe illnesses and injuries, tours were canceled, and DEP parted ways with its record label over the way it marketed Ire Works, a tremendous album that didn’t get the push it deserved. Now, DEP is getting set to release its new album, Option Paralysis, with a new lineup, mysteriously hinted-at special guests, and the risky choice of going with its own label in the U.S. If the path the band has taken since its early days is any indication, Option Paralysis could be another great leap forward for a group that seems to make them with each recording.
15. Iron Man 2 (May 7)
2007’s Iron Man was a surprise smash hit, with Robert Downey Jr. fitting comfortably into the metal suit. It’s almost a shame this next iteration might suffer from inflated expectations. Still, it’s hard not to get excited about Downey Jr.’s return to playing the fame-whoring Tony Stark, now in top fame-whore fashion, having just revealed to everyone that he’s Iron Man. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Stark’s best friend (a major upgrade), Mickey Rourke plays the film’s chief villain, Whiplash, and Mad Men madman extraordinaire John Slattery will appear as Stark’s dad. This film also puts director Jon Favreau one step closer to his original intention, which was to create an Iron Man trilogy; given the action and humor he spun out of the first film, it seems wise to give this man what he wants.
16. Toy Story 3 (June 18)
It’s become a cliché to say we’re looking forward to the next Pixar movie; anticipation for the next one sets in five minutes after the credits for the last one roll. Still, anticipation is particularly high for Toy Story 3, given the degree to which the second movie improved over the first one, and given how beloved and iconic the films’ cast of toy characters have become. And the plot—with those toys starting over at a day care after their owner leaves for college—seems surprisingly ambitious and even a grim for a series that’s always mined its deepest emotions out of the innocent but avid bond of love between toys and their children. Pixar reps have always said they wouldn’t delve into sequels without a really good story that justified returning to the same well. Here’s to that promise, and what it implies about Toy Story 3 being made for the right reasons.
17. China Miéville, Kraken (June 29)
Acclaimed British science-fantasy author China Miéville adamantly won’t speak about books in progress (on the occasions when he does interviews at all), so there’s precious little advance info about his upcoming novel, Kraken. Going by the novel’s listing on Amazon.co.uk—which, admittedly, Miéville has publicly discounted—Kraken will be released this spring, and disappointingly won’t be the fourth installment of his bizarre, beloved Bas-Lag series. Rather, like 2009’s The City & The City, it seems to be set somewhere within the borders of the real world, albeit a drastically darker and metaphysically scrambled one. And as the title implies, the book promises to have a giant squid in it, which proves Miéville didn’t get all the sea monsters out of his system in The Scar.
18. All Tomorrow’s Parties: Don’t Look Back (September 3)
In 2005, the newly reformed Stooges headlined All Tomorrow’s Parties’ first Don’t Look Back event by performing its 1970 album Fun House in its entirety. In May 2010, Iggy Pop and company will reconstitute 1973’s masterfully shitty Raw Power in honor of Don’t Look Back’s fifth anniversary in London. Thankfully for us Yanks, The Stooges will reprise that ATP festival in upstate New York in September—for which Sleep will awaken to perform its stoner-rock milestone Holy Mountain, and Mudhoney will barf up its proto-grunge masterpiece, Superfuzz Bigmuff. As an unexpected and wholly kick-ass bonus, Australian legend The Scientists—a band that never played the States during its original existence—will crank out its swampy, stunning 1983 classic, Blood Red River. Warning: There will be sludge.
19. Pavement reunion tour (launches September 21)
Considering that 2009 was a great year for new indie rock, the fact that Pavement’s upcoming reunion became one of the year’s biggest stories could be seen as an indication of the Pabst-and-ironic-tats set’s latent nostalgic streak. But consider this as well: In the 10 years since the slack-rock heroes’ last show, their already-considerable influence has spread exponentially, helped along by the Internet and a handsome reissue series. The likes of Los Campesinos! and Why?’s Yoni Wolf have covered its songs, while its hazy guitar textures echoed from other worthwhile young bands like Deerhunter and Cymbals Eat Guitars. There’s a whole generation of Pavement fans who never saw the band and aren’t satisfied with its members’ solo efforts—nor are they concerned by its reputation for being a shitty live act. As frontman Stephen Malkmus will sing to the rabid fans at ATP and Central Park, the music scene is crazy, bands start up each and every day—why begrudge one of the best for getting back together and not getting a new haircut?
20. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, part one (November 19)
Pottermania has waned since the seventh book hit shelves a few years ago, but expect a resurgence when its film adaptation hits theaters. Well, the first part, at least; the filmmakers have decided to split the final book into two installments, leaving as much space to tell J.K. Rowling’s epic tale as possible. This also marks the third film directed by David Yates, and his second collaboration with writer Steve Kloves (who penned all the movies except the fifth, Order Of The Phoenix). The two created some palpable dread in the last film, especially in scenes shot outside Hogwarts, like the seaside cave; given that this book transports Potter and friends all over the place, expect to inhabit many darkly affecting worlds, and see yet another great showcase for Rupert Grint’s dry sense of humor. We’ll take whatever little threads of Pottermania remain.
21. Tron Legacy (December 17)
We’ll be honest: Tron isn’t a great movie. It’s silly and unevenly paced, and the cast, apart from Jeff Bridges and David Warner, is largely charisma-free. But that isn’t the point. Tron doesn’t have to be great; the probably-coolest-when-you’re-12 art design of its fantasy world (because let’s face it, computer-lingo or no, this is pure fantasy) makes sitting through even the silliest dialogue a treat. Threats of a sequel have been floating around for a decade, but with trailers already floating through the data-sphere, it looks like Tron Legacy will be coming to a theater never all of us next year. Jeff Bridges is back, and Olivia Wilde, an impressive enough visual effect even without CGI, rounds out the younger cast. But really, it’s all about the light cycles, the MCP, and a strange world inspired by computer buzzwords and basic programming knowledge.
22. The Green Hornet (December 22)
Reasons to be jazzed for this comic-book adaptation film:
- A svelte Seth Rogen is the titular lead.
- Michel Gondry is going to direct so the film’s visuals might blow some minds.
- Edward James Olmos is making an appearance, hopefully with Battlestar Galactica-like stoic intensity.
- The band Anvil is in there, too.
- Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds plays the villain who tries to get every crime boss in Los Angeles to work together.
- Cameron Diaz, who actually wasn’t all that bad in The Box. Really!
23. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (TBD)
Jonathan Franzen’s darkly comic 2001 novel The Corrections afforded a certain tenderness to family dysfunction, shaking suburban malaise off its clichés while examining social mores of the turn of the century with cringe-invoking humor and unease. With Freedom slated for publication in fall 2010, only scattered details on the highly anticipated follow-up have begun to appear, but these include an extract published in The New Yorker on June 8. Good Neighbors finds Franzen comfortably snuggled in a gentrified neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, with a collection of nosy families watching the slow unraveling of the Berlunds, the once-perfect pioneers of Ramsey Hill. Franzen peels back the curtains of these family homes, skillfully and subtly moving from broad jabs at yuppie travails (“How to respond when a poor person of color accused you of destroying her neighborhood? Was it true that the glaze of old Fiestaware contained dangerous amounts of lead?”) to a cautious empathy—all of which bode well for the forthcoming Freedom.
24. Freshman Roommates, a.k.a. “That movie with Tracy Morgan” (TBD)
Details are scarce on this one, but what’s out there sounds mighty promising. The film is slated for 2010 (at least according to IMDB); it was written by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, two of the finest young stand-ups working today; it will star Tracy Morgan as the son of an African dictator who arrives in a college dorm when a student (T.J. Miller) drunkenly responds to an e-mail most others would assume was spam. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
25. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (TBD)
It’s a pretty safe bet that Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series will make an easy transition to film, what with the comic books’ relatable twentysomething slacker milieu and a youthful pop-culture sensibility that draws heavily on indie-rock and videogame references. But factor in director/co-writer Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz), who has shown a remarkable aptitude for the comedy-action hybrid that characterizes the books, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has the potential to be something more than a likeable adaptation. Also goosing the odds: a perfectly cast Michael Cera as the tweaky, bumbling lead, and Jason Schwartzman as the “big bad”; a rumored mix of live-action and animation done by O’Malley himself; and glowing early buzz from directors Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In The Air) and Greg Motolla (Superbad, Adventureland) after seeing an early cut.
26. Christina Aguilera, untitled fourth album (TBD)
Wait, wait, wait, come back. Just hear us out, okay? Yes, she’s one of the poster girls for millennial bubblegum pap—er, pop—and her penchant for over-the-top melismatic bombast is somewhat questionable. But for her 2010 studio album, tentatively titled Light And Darkness, Christina Aguilera has amassed such an incongruous roster of collaborators that we can’t help but be intrigued about what might come of it: M.I.A., Santigold, Sia, Goldfrapp, and Le Tigre (yes, Le Tigre) all show up on the album’s credits, among others, contributing to what Aguilera has unhelpfully dubbed a “futuristic” sound. There’s no telling how all that indie-sanctioned femme energy will mesh with Aguilera’s hyper-polished vocal style, but whether it adds up to pop perfection or a total train wreck, it should be a spectacle at the very least.
27. Doctor Who Series Five (TBD)
After getting a jumpstart in the form of Christopher Eccleston, the revived Doctor Who franchise received a major facelift in 2005 in the form of David Tennant—who, after a few clumsy episodes, grew into one of the best Doctors of all time. But after the announcement of Tennant’s retirement from the show, the relatively young, unknown Matt Smith was tapped as his replacement; in another major shakeup, show-runner Russell T. Davies will also be replaced in 2010 by producer-writer Steven Moffat. Whether Moffat and Smith will try to recapture Russell’s and Tennant’s goofball-with-an-undercurrent-of-tragedy appeal—or go for an entirely different interpretation of the iconic Time Lord altogether—remains to be seen. But the unveiling of a new Doctor is always an occasion, and the hiatus between series four and five has done nothing but heighten the anticipation.
28. The Wrens, TBA (TBD)
The Wrens’ website welcomes visitors with the words “Keeping folks waiting… since 1989,” and that’s no joke. Working at a positively Terrence Malickian pace, the band took seven years between 1996’s Secaucus and 2003’s masterpiece The Meadowlands. Announced projects came and went—1999’s Abbott 1135 EP was at one point due for some re-recording and reissue, only to be dumped unceremoniously by the wayside—but 2009 marked a relative frenzy of productivity for New Jersey’s finest, with new song demos and sessions actually happening, capped off with a 20th-anniversary show consisting entirely of (eek!) new songs. Mastermind Charles Bissell has cautiously predicted a record done by spring and out by summer, which would bring the outfit up to four albums in 21 years. No one else combines punk energy, positively chromatic melodic sophistication, and a no-nonsense rock backbeat quite the same way.
29-30. Nailed/The Fighter (TBD)
After the notoriously difficult shoot of I Heart Huckabees resulted in screwball comic triumph, David O. Russell was deep in purgatory. Nailed—a D.C. satire—was set to bring him roaring back, but production shut down after Capitol Films imploded financially with the film nowhere close to done. Jessica Biel claimed there wasn’t enough footage to bring it together in post, but now the money’s been raised and the movie’s allegedly on track for the 2010 Cannes market. Meanwhile, Russell managed to shoot a whole other movie—The Fighter, a boxing movie starring the perfectly cast Mark Wahlberg—that’s also on track for release soon. Assuming the currently all-shook-up indie market can get its act together and buy/distribute the movies quickly, 2010 should give us not one but two Russell movies—even as the man himself prepares to do Pride And Prejudice And Zombies.
31. Seaguy Eternal (TBD)
Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s 2004 Vertigo mini-series Seaguy was such a stunning piece of work—wildly enjoyable, but crammed with incredibly dense symbolism—that fans were understandably nervous when it looked like a promised sequel might never happen. Then, earlier this year, Seaguy: Slaves Of Mickey Eye was finally published, and it didn’t disappoint: It darkened the overall tone of the story while keeping it full of mystery and wonder. While no formal announcements have been made, Morrison has hinted that the final chapter of what he calls his Watchmen may be coming out in 2010; if it happens, it will complete one of the most fascinating meditations on superhero comics in the medium’s history.
32. The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace (TBD, now maybe 2011?)
Posthumous releases always represent a moral quandary for an artist’s fans. There’s the understandable interest in seeing new work from someone who won’t be producing anything new ever again, but it’s a ghoulish feeling, like going through the pockets of a corpse that’s still warm. When David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, he left behind an unfinished manuscript called The Pale King about a group of IRS workers struggling to deal with the massive boredom of their jobs. It’s problematic, to say the least—nowhere near finished, and with subject matter that doesn’t exactly promise grand thrills ahead. But Wallace’s fractal-like attention to detail makes for surprisingly compulsive reading, profound in its minutiae, beautiful in its tedium. The Pale King will, at best, be a depressing reminder of an abbreviated life, but at worst, it should have at least a little of Wallace’s insight and level-headed passion. And it will also have footnotes, and they will be excellent.