1. The return of Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, and many more (various launch dates)
The A.V. Club could have populated an entire Inventory just with ongoing TV shows we’re excited to see returning in 2012, but that wouldn’t have left room for all the films, books, and music we’re also excited about. Suffice to say we’re particularly excited about Downton Abbey (season two aired in Britain in 2011, and is coming to America in January), The Walking Dead (back in February after a four-month break), Mad Men (hopefully returning in March or April after a year and a half off the air), Game Of Thrones (picking up from its cliffhanger ending on April 15), and much more. Also on the heavily anticipated returns list: Treme, Doctor Who, Cougar Town, 30 Rock, Homeland, Sherlock, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Justified, Spartacus, The Thick Of It, and Boardwalk Empire. Also Community—we hope.
2. “Indecision 2012” (In progress, ongoing)
There’s an election coming up—you might not know, due to lack of media coverage and the surprisingly tiny number of Republican debates. This also means it’s time for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to begin ramping up its every-four-years “Indecision” election coverage, which always goes above and beyond the already high bars set by both shows. 2012 will be a delight for any program covering the insanity of the media, because just look at those Republican candidates. Seriously, take a moment and enjoy how robust with humor potential each and every one of them is. Daily Show and Colbert have both taken a bit of flak for struggling to farm material from the Obama administration, but the 2012 election should be a bountiful harvest, no matter who the Republicans end up choosing.
3. TIFF’s traveling Robert Bresson retrospective (January 6-May 10)
The A.V. Club receives plenty of tour announcements: “Major-Label British Act Returns To North America,” “Cash-Grabbing ’90s Reunion To Grab Your Cash,” etc. But none in recent weeks has had our nerd juices flowing like the recent notice that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will be touring the first complete retrospective of Robert Bresson’s films to hit North American arthouses and cinematheques in more than a decade. Called “The Poetry Of Precision: The Films Of Robert Bresson,” the traveling carnival of French cinematic asceticism collects masterpieces like L’Argent, controversial films like Le Diable Probablement, and a restored print of Bresson’s first feature, Les Anges Du Péché. Sure, it’s a little highfalutin. But this is beautiful, beautiful filmmaking. And now we’ll finally be able to call things “Bressonian” and actually know what that means.
4. House Of Lies (premières January 8)
No one can really complain about the dramatic work Don Cheadle has been doing for the past several years in films like Hotel Rwanda, Crash, and Talk To Me, but it’s terrific to think about seeing him return to comedy. (His recent work on Funny Or Die, first as Frederick Douglass, then as Captain Planet, was particularly choice.) Showtime’s House Of Lies, which also features Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson, and Glynn Turman, finds Cheadle playing a cutthroat management consultant who uses any means necessary to sign new clients and bill them as much as humanly possible, and the trailers show Cheadle in fine fast-talking form.
5. Alcatraz (premières January 16)
Produced by J.J. Abrams. Involves an island. Stars Jorge Garcia. No, it isn’t hard to see why Alcatraz has already developed two distinct fan bases: those who are psyched because they think it could be the next Lost, and those who are predisposed to hate it because think it might be the next Lost. There’s an X-factor here, though, and that’s the Alcatraz island prison itself, which has always been an intriguing subject. Series creators Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt, and Elizabeth Sarnoff have now upped the ante, first by positing that the reason Alcatraz closed in 1963 was because all 302 inmates inexplicably vanished from their cells, then by revealing that, in 2012, these inmates have suddenly begun to reappear, ready to commit more dastardly deeds. With Garcia, Sarah Jones, Sam Neill, and Robert Forster involved, Alcatraz seems worth the initial look at least.
6. Touch (previews January 25, premières March 19)
Given the amount of online vitriol inspired by Heroes during its four-season run, the geekier contingent of TV viewers will likely (and understandably) be gun-shy about taking a chance on a series created by Tim Kring… as opposed to mainstream audiences, who will likely only need to see Kiefer Sutherland’s name to be convinced to give it a shot. But the trailer for Touch, in which Sutherland plays a widower whose autistic son has an obsession with numbers that enables him to predict future events, is intriguing. This, of course, brings us right back to Heroes, which started strong but faltered quickly. Given that not only Sutherland—who almost certainly had his pick of projects in the wake of 24—but also Danny Glover has committed to the series, maybe it’s possible that Kring learned a few lessons from his last prime-time effort.
7. The Grey (January 27)
Luc Besson’s exceptional, Albania-phobic 2008 throat-puncher Taken redefined Liam Neeson’s career. Suddenly, the Irishman’s sheer hulking heft was being put to good use. And while Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2011 thriller Unknown derailed Neeson’s aging-action-star virility a bit, The Grey is bound to set him back on track. Directed by the hyperactive Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team), The Grey crash-lands Neeson in the middle of Alaska, where he has to survive a pack of CGI wolves while armed only with a cozy pullover and brass knuckles MacGyver’d together from liquor bottles. So basically, it’s The Edge without all the Mametian considerations of masculinity and wealth, and with Liam Neeson dummying a bunch of Timberwolves. Excellent.
8. John Mulaney: New In Town (January 28)
One of the most versatile, clever stand-ups working today, John Mulaney is poised to really hit it big this year, having built up a head of steam with his killer first album, The Top Part, and his work on Saturday Night Live, where he’s most renowned for co-creating Stefon with Bill Hader. But stand-up is where Mulaney shines brightest: He’s great at all the usual observational stuff but also at longer, more-involving stories that usually revolve around his life as a teenager. New In Town will première on Comedy Central on January 28, and an album and DVD will drop three days later.
9. Luck (premières January 29)
Luck has been rattling around HBO’s development slate for so long that we wrote about looking forward to it last year; the network screened the pilot in a one-time-only preview after Boardwalk Empire’s season finale. Now, however, it’s nearly time for the return of TV genius David Milch, who’s hooked up with film auteur Michael Mann (whose background is in TV) and acting legend Dustin Hoffman to tell the story of a racetrack and all the people—criminals, gamblers, and otherwise—connected to a horse-racing track in Southern California. The pilot is vintage Milch, all community as American microcosm and florid, poetic dialogue, but it has Mann’s glossy sheen and hard-edged shine, too. It’s a wondrous pilot, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
10. Old Ideas (January 31)
The conditions determining much of Leonard Cohen’s remarkable productivity over the past decade—namely, his former manager pilfering some $5 million from the 77-year-old’s retirement account—have implied that Cohen’s recent activity stems from necessity. But if “Show Me The Place,” the haunting, elegiac first track released from Cohen’s forthcoming Old Ideas, is any indication, the poet laureate of sadness is still on top of his game. Cohen’s 12th studio record, his first since 2004’s Dear Heather, Old Ideas, promises insight into the later life and career of a suddenly insanely productive singer-songwriter, with song titles like “Darkness” and “Going Home” putting a blunter point on the melancholy he usually finesses a bit more discretely. At the very least, against the wash of Cohen’s recent re-issues of slapped-together live DVDs, Old Ideas promises something new.
11. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (January 31)
Final Fantasy XIII didn’t connect with all fans of the long-running RPG series. The first 25 hours of the game were a hand-holding endeavor where the characters essentially ran down well-designed but limiting corridors. Exploration aspects of the game, a hallmark of the series, were all but stripped away; players only got to roam near the end of the campaign. Final Fantasy XIII-2 promises to keep what was strong about the first iteration (polished visuals, a deep combat system that married strategic and real-time aspects), but add more player freedom and a monster-collecting mechanic to assist in battles. Square Enix looks to have created a sequel that will please fans of the last game while satisfying players who felt the series strayed too far from its core attributes.
12. Smash (premières February 6)
NBC is hanging its hopes on the drama series Smash so much, the network withheld it until midseason in order to pair it with The Voice, even though it was by far the season’s best pilot. It’s essentially an adult version of Glee, with Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty squaring off for the chance to play Marilyn Monroe in a big-time Broadway musical. But it goes beyond the song-and-dance numbers; even in the pilot, the characters are well-drawn, and the veteran cast—especially Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, and Anjelica Huston—take their roles beyond clichés. And, yes, McPhee’s performance of “Beautiful,” which has been circulating since spring, is as spine-tingling in the context of the pilot as it is out of context. If the rest of the performances can come close to that, it’ll blow Glee out of the water.
13. The River (premières February 7)
It’s hard to do horror well on TV, particularly long-form horror. Horror defies easy explanation, and TV loves easy explanation. But it’ll be exciting to see Paranormal Activity mastermind Oren Peli give it a shot with ABC’s new found-footage drama The River, set onboard a rescue boat plunging through uncharted corners of the Amazon in search of a famous nature documentarian who went missing months ago. The pilot is an effective, scary bit of business, complete with intriguing mythology and gruesome scares happening just off-camera, in true found-footage tradition. This one seems like a potential obsession. One quibble: Why not make it a miniseries?
14. The Secret World Of Arrietty (February 17)
The latest Studio Ghibli movie to make it to America is a take on Mary Norton’s classic book The Borrowers, about tiny people living in and among the human world. Like all Studio Ghibli movies (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Grave Of The Fireflies, etc.) it’s sweet without being cloying, and gorgeously animated. Disney has a habit of half-burying the Ghibli releases it imports, and it’s always baffling—these are masterfully made, entirely child-safe and adult-enjoyable movies, without a drop of irony or pretension. They’re old-school entertainment that doesn’t feel musty, and The Secret World Of Arrietty—in which one of the last of the tiny people secretly living in a human home is spotted by one of the residents, who becomes obsessed with her—is no exception. Hopefully it’ll get the attention it deserves.
15. Toward The Low Sun (February 21)
Hate Nick Cave, if you wish, for recently suspending his sleazy Bad Seeds side project, Grinderman. If there’s one upside to the announcement, though, it’s that his Bad Seeds/Grinderman cohort, multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, has a little extra time to devote to Dirty Three. Ellis’ long-running trio dragged instrumental post-rock into rugged, primeval territory in the ’90s and early ’00s before fizzling to a halt with 2005’s relatively lackluster Cinder. The group’s new album, Toward The Low Sun, is finally due for release in February, and a tour might follow—assuming Cave can keep his hands off Ellis for at least a couple months.
16. Wanderlust (February 24)
It’s easy to be put off by Wanderlust’s wacky high-concept plot: A Manhattan couple, stuck in a rut and recently unemployed, moves to a “free-love” commune. Plus, when’s the last time Jennifer Aniston was in anything good? But there’s reason to hope, since this film is directed by the brilliant State and Stella alumnus David Wain, who co-wrote with Ken Marino. Their last collaboration (also starring Paul Rudd) was the underrated, endlessly rewatchable Role Models. And Wanderlust boasts an intriguing cast, with Lauren Ambrose, Alan Alda, and Justin Theroux in the mix. In the cinematic doldrums of February, it could be one of the few bright spots.
17. The Hunger Games (March 23)
Whether or not Gary Ross’ film-trilogy kickoff The Hunger Games does justice to the bestselling Suzanne Collins YA book it’s adapting, it should still be an exciting, spectacle-fueled ride, and a promising cast—with Jennifer Lawrence as a teenager tapped to fight to the death for her country’s entertainment, Woody Harrelson as her broken-down mentor, and Donald Sutherland as the president presiding over a corrupt system—suggests it’ll be fun to watch. More to the point, though, once the film is finally available, the annoying speculation and snotty second-guessing about all the reasons it’s probably totally gonna suck can at least give way to actual reactions.
18. Trespassing (March 20)
American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert (Kris Allen who?) is finally ready to make his first fully realized creative statement. His solo debut, For Your Consideration, was, like all Idol-finalist bows, rushed and manhandled. Trespassing is one small step toward the confidence and independence Lambert will seize over what should be a long, influential career. This time around, he’s hands-on as executive producer, and he worked with a pretty airtight group of songwriters to keep him on his toes, including Pharrell Williams, Nile Rogers, Nikka Costa, and Bruno Mars. (Let’s not forget that Mars co-penned Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” and B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You.”) Music history has been written by talents who gradually and assuredly found their voices, and only a handful have possessed Lambert’s vocal ability, charisma, and accessibility. He’s an easy pop star to root for.
19. The Pirates! Band Of Misfits (March 30)
Although it’s sure to attract a few comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin, the animated high-seas adventure The Pirates! Band Of Misfits has its own impressive pedigree. Based on The Pirates!, Gideon Defoe’s beloved series of buccaneer-spoofing novels, Band Of Misfits is directed by Peter Lord of Aardman Animations, the company behind Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run. If the film’s trailer is to be trusted, Lord’s dry wit, dark humor, and playful, virtuosic claymation should be a perfect match for Defoe’s tale of a bumbling crew of swashbuckling numbskulls. Having the Ramones on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either.
20. Port Of Morrow (March)
The first Shins album in five years isn’t really a Shins album—the band that recorded guitar-pop masterworks like Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow in the early ’00s has long since dispersed, leaving only singer-songwriter James Mercer. But so long as Mercer comes up with Shins-like songs that match the beauty and hooks of classics like “New Slang” and “Caring Is Creepy,” we won’t quibble with the band lineup.
21. The Republic Of Thieves (March)
Along with Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch is part of a wave of young, vibrant new authors who helped breathe new life into epic fantasy in recent years. The first two volumes of Lynch’s seven-book Gentleman Bastard series—the saga of Locke Lamora, a con man who pulls off staggeringly elaborate heists in a mythic, magic-filled world based on medieval Italy—were released in 2006 and 2007 to copious, well-deserved acclaim. And then… nothing. Lynch has since admitted in his blog that an overdue diagnosis and treatment of depression/anxiety has held up the third Gentleman Bastard book, The Republic Of Thieves. Signs point toward a release in 2012; then again, there’s another little ongoing, seven-book series called A Song Of Ice And Fire that’s proved just how easy it is for a talented fantasy author to get hamstrung by his own ambition. Amazon.com is taking a pessimistic view of the stated 2012 release date, claiming the book won’t be available until September 2013; we’re choosing to remain optimistic and believe the publisher on this one.
22. Saga (March)
Brian K. Vaughan is behind some of the best comics of the last 25 years, including Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Pride Of Baghdad. But he’s been dallying in the world of TV writing for the last several years, including a stint on Lost. He’s returning to the industry that made him famous with Saga, which he’s described as being heavily influenced by Star Wars and Game Of Thrones. As if that weren’t enough to whet prospective fans’ whistles, the pages Vaughan previewed at Comic Book Resources show a foul-mouthed, multiracial, multi-magical species couple, deeply in love and about to bring a baby into a war-torn world. Vaughan has always been great at bringing the epic down to an intimate level, and this sounds right in his wheelhouse.
23. Wii U (TBD, after March)
Nintendo’s Wii console was a huge seller that took off partly because of its popularity with casual gamers, but its technical shortfalls and lack of killer games not directly developed by Nintendo led to a lot of hardcore players dismissing the system. The intriguing, somewhat baffling Wii U, which includes a tablet controller and hi-definition graphics, is being positioned to lure back “core” gamers. So far, the details aren’t clear, and consumers may not want to shell out big bucks for a controller that basically amounts to a Nintendo iPad. But given that this is a first venture into the next generation of console gaming, it’s hard not to be intrigued.
24. The Wind Through The Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel (April 24)
Sometimes it seems like “retirement” has just made Stephen King write more, but it’s also sent him off into exploring his past, whether he’s polishing trunk novels like Blaze or dusting off the unrealized book ideas of his younger days with 11/22/63. His latest, The Wind Through The Keyhole, takes him back to the early days of his massive Dark Tower saga. Like the graphic novels Peter David has been writing for Marvel, Keyhole is a story about series protagonist Roland Deschain in his early days, from the flashbacks before the series’ action started with The Gunslinger. Given that the series’ best installment, Wizard And Glass, was another early-Roland flashback, that King is currently back at the top of his writing game, and that the Dark Tower epic has often been where he focused his serious attention while tossing off lesser books, there’s every reason to have high expectation for this one. As a side note, another thing to look forward to: February’s release of Road Rage, the graphic-novel adaptation of “Throttle,” the first collaboration between King and his son Joe Hill, who’s become a terrific novelist and comics writer (on Locke & Key) in his own right.
25. Veep (April)
The creator of influential British series like The Day Today; Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge, and The Thick Of It, Armando Iannucci is best known stateside for his scathingly funny, Oscar-nominated Iraq war satire In The Loop. In 2012, he brings his decidedly jaundiced sense of political humor to America with Veep, an HBO series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a senator who becomes vice president, “only to discover that the job is nothing like she expected and everything everyone ever warned her about.” Sign us up.
26. Girls (April)
Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010, a navel-gazing, autobiographical work about post-college malaise that somehow managed to be sweet, affecting, and bitingly clever. Her HBO comedy Girls promises to be along the same lines, but in bite-sized half-hour form—frank, disarming, and very funny. Judd Apatow, who’s producing, clearly knows talent when he sees it, and anyone who remembers how funny Chris Eigeman was in the Noah Baumbach and Whit Stillman’s films in the ’90s should be delighted to see him here as well.
27. The Drowned Cities (May 1)
Paolo Bacigalupi’s science-fiction worlds have the hazy feel of dreams that are slowly coming true. The majority take place in a weird, post-oil, post-global-warming, post-genetic-engineering future, and Bacigalupi has a unique talent for making the most ridiculous things feel vaguely plausible, as if it would be a surprise if the world didn’t end up the way it is in his novels. He had some success breaking through into the mainstream with his young-adult novel Ship Breaker in 2010, and The Drowned Cities is set in the same universe of grim prospects and backbreaking labor. (Some of Bacigalupi’s adult novels have been set there as well.) Bacigalupi has a real talent for blending the perils of dystopia with the forward momentum of the best YA novels. Here’s hoping this is another depressing, absorbing read.
28. The Avengers (May 4)
It remains to be seen whether Joss Whedon’s signature bantery-yet-grim style will serve to stitch together the protagonists of the recent Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk movies, and whether he can juggle that many big personalities into one coherent film that gives them all their due. Fan expectation may be too high for any film to live up to, particularly after three years of buildup in the form of entire blockbuster movies. Given that nothing precisely like The Avengers has been tried before, though, the anticipation alone is worth the risk of disappointment.
29. Dark Shadows (May 11)
In a never-ending search for stories that fit his style, Tim Burton has recently been turning to ever-classier source material—Sondheim musicals, centuries-old literary classics—as if he thinks he owes it to the fans who turned out for his blockbuster exhibition at MOMA, although it seems a safe bet that none of those people attended because they were looking for ideas on their graduate thesis on Washington Irving. So Dark Shadows, his long-promised adaptation of the ’60s gothic TV soap, with Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins, practically counts as a roots move for him. The man who first made his name engineering the apotheosis of Pee-wee Herman and raising Michael Keaton from the dead is likely better suited to slicking up Dan Curtis than dumbing down Lewis Carroll. And if it doesn’t work out, we’ll still have the Frankenweenie film coming out in October.
30. The Chemistry Of Tears (May 15)
Peter Carey has developed into one of the most varied, least predictable English-language novelists, drawing inspiration from subjects ranging from Ned Kelly to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations character Magwitch to the Ern Malley literary hoax. His new book is said to be about a London museum conservator who, while grieving her dead lover, loses herself in the efforts to revive a 19th-century automaton, and in the story of its creator. Based on past experience with Carey, all we can really know before we get our hands on it is that we can’t wait.
31. Moonrise Kingdom (May 25)
Wes Anderson can be polarizing, but he’s one of the few American directors of his generation with an instantly identifiable style that can be parodied, copied, and immediately noticed within five seconds of looking at any one of his films. His last two projects, however, have indicated a director looking to explore new territories: The Darjeeling Limited featured plenty of Andersonian quirks, yes, but also a middle section in which the characters visited an Indian village devoid of flourishes, and Fantastic Mr. Fox was about an animated fox much like other Anderson heroes. Details about Moonrise Kingdom are elusive, apart from its ’60s period setting and its plot description—young lovers run away, and their whole town looks for them—but it boasts an all-star cast full of people who seem like they might fit in well in Anderson’s milieu (including Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton), and it sounds like the culmination of a lot of things Anderson has been working toward.
32. The Afghan Whigs reunion shows (May 27 and September 22)
Greg Dulli has been busy over the past few years in his groups The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins. But fans have never stopped clambering for another chance to see the band that made Dulli infamous—The Afghan Whigs. The Ohio band brought sultry, soulful sleaze to Sub Pop in the ’90s, bypassing grunge entirely in favor of a far more complex, enduring, subtle approach that also totally fucking rocked. But the band’s breakup in 2001 has always felt anticlimactic—so Dulli’s two-show reunion with The Whigs as part of All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals in May and September is a chance to restore some classics to their former sweaty glory. And who knows? Maybe it’ll lead to something a little more prolonged. Or, knock on wood, permanent.
33. New Hot Water Music album (May)
Every year or so since 1995, when Hot Water Music released its debut album, Finding The Rhythms, another wave of gruff, earnest punk bands follow in the band’s wake. In spite of its massive perennial influence, though, HWM hasn’t released an album of its own since going on hiatus in 2004. In early 2011, the first two new HWM tracks trickled out in the form of a 7-inch single—and they showed that the band’s timeless, heart-weary angst still packs plenty of punch, even though it’s showing traces of maturity and twang. That trickle will become a flood in May, when HWM’s long-awaited, as-yet-untitled eighth album drops. If it’s half as good as the group’s recent single, HWM will once again be schooling the youngsters on how punk is done with tunefulness, sincerity, and true grit.
34. Wolf (May)
When Odd Future’s precocious godhead Tyler, The Creator self-released his LP debut, Bastard, he hinted at what was to come. “This is the first of three sessions,” his therapist alter ego grumbled on the opening track. He’s since transitioned from that titular kicked-aside kid to a spotlight-hogging amoral monster (Goblin), and Wolf finds Tyler poised to transform into a powerful beast with a quiet menace. He’s stated that this trilogy’s final installment will have less rapping and more focus on production (“weird hippie music for people to get high to,” he told SPIN). He’s also disavowed “talking about rape and cutting bodies up,” good news for those who’ve witnessed that unmistakable long-game twinkle in The Creator’s eyes. But lest anyone assume the dude who’s inspired angsty youth worldwide to chant, “Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!” is maturing, here’s an early song title to chew on: “Herpes And Cupcakes.”
35. New Bruce Springsteen tour/album (May 13)
After seeming lost for much of the ’90s, Bruce Springsteen re-teamed with the E Street Band at the end of the decade and went on to have a strong ’00s, adding worthy chapters to his legacy with the albums The Rising and Magic. It wasn’t all triumph for the Boss: Two E Street members, Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, died in the past few years. But Springsteen is firm about the band carrying on, and he’ll launch a European tour in May 2012, behind a new album whose title and release date is still being determined. He’ll also turn 63, but considering the quality of his recent work as a songwriter and performer, there’s no reason to expect a drop-off anytime soon.
36. Soula Coaster: The Diary Of Me (TBD, spring)
It isn’t super-likely that scandalous R&B icon and general weirdo R. Kelly will use his anticipated memoir as a chance to fully dish on notorious past indiscretions. And there are many, including child-pornography charges and an infamously rumored marriage to his late, then-underage protégé Aaliyah. Nor is it reasonable to expect that he’ll discuss the deeply surreal “Trapped In The Closet” saga with any compelling insight. But the 44-year-old hit-maker remains fascinating, and has always been an incredible songwriter and performer, one of the most talented of his time. Being troubled and making poor life choices tends to come with the territory, and it will be enormously entertaining to learn more about Robert Kelly and what shaped both his musical genius and self-destructive ego.
37. The Red House (June 12)
Mark Haddon’s prize-winning first adult novel, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, narrated by a seemingly autistic 15-year-old, set off literary reverberations that are still tingling eight years later. Haddon has since written a shelf full of children’s books and a second adult novel, 2006’s A Spot Of Bother, without fully settling the question of whether he’s a brilliant innovator or just a clever dick. The Red House, which deals with a family reunion and sounds uncharacteristically simple in approach, should sharpen the focus.
38. Brave (June 22)
After the critical sigh of disappointment over Cars 2, the media narrative has been that Pixar needs to get back to the quality of film that its fans expect, and that it’s trying to win back those fans by going ambitious with Brave, featuring its first female protagonist. But that version of events overlooks the fact that Cars 2 made more than half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, surpassing the first Cars; it’d be more accurate to say that Pixar can afford to take any chances it wants to at this point. At any rate, the initial peeks at Brave have been gorgeous, and Pixar remains the gold standard for original, exciting, well-told animated stories. It’ll be exciting to get back to the version of Pixar that doesn’t rely heavily on Larry The Cable Guy’s humor.
39. Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man (June 26)
Having recently acquired the rights to the works of Disney comics artist Carl Barks, Fantagraphics is now releasing a comprehensive reprinting of the Barks library, which has been a long time coming. The publisher recently kicked off the series with Donald Duck: Lost In The Andes, which focuses on Donald and his nephews. Only A Poor Old Man will bring Scrooge McDuck, possibly Barks’ greatest creation, into the spotlight. The bespectacled miser will dive around in his money bin and burrow through it like a gopher, and his timeless adventures will get the treatment they deserve.
40. The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
Rebooting the Spider-Man film franchise so soon after its lackluster third installment has been a controversial call on Marvel’s part. Hiring untested director Marc Webb, whose only previous feature is (500) Days Of Summer, hasn’t inspired much confidence, either—nor has the choice of British actor Andrew Garfield as the all-American Peter Parker, in spite of Garfield’s well-received turn in The Social Network. But dialing back Spider-Man’s origin to Peter’s high-school days—more in line with the Ultimate Spider-Man comics—is a promising palate-cleanser. And there’s no denying the poignant, gawky awkwardness of Garfield’s portrayal in the film’s trailer, which seems to hearken directly back to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original vision of the character.
41. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
The Dark Knight Rises is easily the most hyped film of 2012. Anticipation for the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman series is so high, fans have been consuming all sorts of leaked photos and a six-minute prologue being screened across the country. The film is said to pick up eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, with Batman having taken the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, but returning to Gotham to explore the emergence of two new villains. Still, Nolan has kept most of the plot under wraps. Feeding the anticipation is the film’s casting; while Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman are returning to their roles, Nolan has added Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Given the enormous critical and commercial success of the previous two films in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, there’s no reason to think this film won’t top them all, likely becoming one of the top-grossing films of 2012.
42. The Expendables 2 (August 17)
How do you one-up 2010’s The Expendables, one of the most comically overstuffed action spectacles ever made? Well, with The Expendables 2. The much-anticipated sequel injects Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Scott Adkins into the beefy franchise already bursting at the seams with Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Randy Couture. If that alone doesn’t send testosterone levels wheeling off the charts, The Expendables 2 also sees Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger descending from action-movie Valhalla, expanding their roles from the original film. With a script by Stallone, which will ensure a measure of tenderness in a film where a million terrorists or militiamen or whatever get their heads blown off, and a new director in Simon West (whose recent remake of the Charles Bronson hitman flick The Mechanic was pretty impressive), The Expendables 2 stands to be the most outlandishly over-the-top string of thinly plotted shoot-’em-up setpieces since, well, The Expendables.
43. Dallas (TBD, summer)
TNT scored success with a frothy courtroom buddy comedy (Franklin & Bash) and grittier originals like Men Of A Certain Age. So why not a glossy, sexy reboot of TV’s all-time favorite primetime soap, starring established young guns (Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster) and familiar old faces (Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray) alike? Yes, extended trailers have made some ridiculous boasts about how the original Dallas changed the landscape of humankind. And naturally, its reincarnate won’t often exceed indulgent fun. But what’s wrong with indulgent fun? Besides, could it be any more melodramatic than the last beloved hourlong drama that was set in Texas?
44. Twylight Zones (October 19)
David Chase has been silent since shutting down The Sopranos on an ambiguous note in 2007. But the TV veteran will make his big-screen debut at age 67 next fall with Twylight Zones, starring The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini, comedian Brad Garrett, and Christopher McDonald. According to the IMDB, it’s set in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, and centers on some friends who form a rock band. That sounds like an odd project for Chase, and raises the question of how the aforementioned actors, none of them rock-star types, fit in. But whatever. We’re there. Another possibility: It’s all a ruse, and Twylight Zones is another entry in the Twilight series, in which Chase offers his own spin on sparkly vampires. Can you imagine? (Actually, we can’t.)
45. Telegraph Avenue (fall)
Michael Chabon is one of the better American novelists working today, particularly after a decade that saw him stretching his wings by wedding his talent for intimate character sketches to larger-than-life genre conceits, like the pulp fiction of the ’40s bleeding through into reality, or an alternate-universe where there’s a new Jewish homeland in Alaska. His new book, however, is purportedly a return to the more small-scale territory of his ’90s work. Little has been revealed about Telegraph Avenue, which follows two families around the San Francisco Bay area, where Chabon lives, but he’s remarked in interviews that the book was just an excuse to spend a lot of time researching in record stores. The author of The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay taking on the world of music and obsessive music collectors seems like a natural match.
46. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14)
“Everyone knows the legend,” intones a voice in The Hobbit’s first official trailer, “but nobody knows how it all began.” Is that some bullshit or what? Even people who’ve never actually read the book have a pretty good idea of how it all began, in some cases because they learned the basic details from Rankin-Bass. But there’s a reason Rankin-Bass’ failure to continue the story didn’t leave a gaping hole in anyone’s heart, whereas if Peter Jackson hadn’t been able to finish what he started with the Lord Of The Rings film saga, the history of movies would have had another star exhibit for its Lost Dreams wing. Back in 2001, part of the thrill of anticipating the first LOTR movie was waiting to see if it would fall flat on its face. Part of the thrill of anticipating the subsequent installments was waiting to see if Jackson could do a better job than George Lucas or the Wachowski brothers of keeping all his plates in the air through to the final round of closing credits. The world is ready to feel that thrill again.
47. Untitled Kathryn Bigelow Osama Bin Laden movie (December 19)
Hot off their Oscar-winning (and excellent) Iraq War action movie The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal turned their attention to another journalistic thriller, about a failed attempt to kill Osama bin Laden. But real life presented crisis and opportunity when bin Laden was successfully killed back in May, changing the project’s creative direction and its political implications. When Sony originally slated the film’s release for just before the November 2012 elections—presenting a nice piece of advertising for President Obama—the timing rankled the right to such an extent that the film has been pushed back to the very end of the year. However, if The Hurt Locker is any indication, the as-yet-untitled film stands to be an exciting, process-oriented, non-partisan thriller.
48. Django Unchained (December 25)
With Inglourious Basterds, writer-director Quentin Tarantino spun an alternate history of World War II that coupled the grim specters of the Nazis and the Holocaust with the tradition of violent, low-down, men-on-a-mission B-movies. It wasn’t the most sensitive handling of the subject, but Tarantino’s revenge fantasy was nonetheless an exhilarating twist on genre and history. Django Unchained looks like another attempt to play with fire: It follows an escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with a German bounty hunter (Basterds’ Christoph Waltz) to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from the hands of an evil plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio, cast far against type). Will Tarantino be accused of exploiting the slavery issue for vulgar thrills? Almost certainly. Will that foreknowledge slow him down one iota? Not likely.
49. Morrissey’s autobiography (December)
In 2008, former Smiths frontman Morrissey set many a pale, despair-ridden heart aflutter when he revealed that he’d begun work on his autobiography, assuring the BBC’s Janice Long that he would be “setting the record straight.” In 2011, he announced that he’d submitted his first draft—660 pages’ worth—and initially offered a typically self-deprecating assessment of his efforts, shrugging, “I’m really not that interesting, so I don’t know why I’ve written so much.” Before long, however, he admitted that he viewed the still-untitled memoir as “the sentimental climax to the last 30 years.” Given that Mozzer’s interviews have always featured an imminently readable blend of wittiness, cattiness, and melancholy, it’s hard to imagine that his recollections of his life and musical career will prove to be anything less than a must-own.
50. Lincoln (December)
While Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and The Adventures Of Tintin are just now unspooling on screens, anticipation is already running high for his next big release, Lincoln. Based on parts of Team Of Rivals, the Doris Kearns Goodwin bio covering Abraham Lincoln’s political career, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular president, Sally Field as first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the couple’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Spielberg bought Rivals’ film rights in 2001, years before the book was even published, and Liam Neeson was originally eyed for the role of Lincoln. Photos of Day-Lewis dressed as Lincoln recently leaked, further heightening anticipation: This will be his first film since 2009’s Nine, and at this point, any Day-Lewis film feels like an event, given the multi-year gaps between his projects.
51. The Last Guardian (TBD)
Yes, this forthcoming PlayStation 3 game from Team Ico—the geniuses behind the pensive, artful puzzle-action titles Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus—was on last year’s most-anticipated list. It got delayed. Hopefully there’s no more where that came from. The Last Guardian has been hotly anticipated since its preview at the 2009 E3 conference, and given last year’s re-release of Ico’s two earlier titles, anticipation has reached a boil. The Last Guardian is about a boy caring for a giant griffin-like creature called a Trico, and using it to solve puzzles and escape guards, occasionally climbing on the beast like the main character did all the time in Colossus. In fact, the game has been hailed by many as a combination of Ico and Colossus. If it’s half as all-encompassing as those games, it might stick with its players for the remainder of 2012.
52. 4:44 The Last Day On Earth (TBD)
Abel Ferrara’s arthouse apocalypse may have been undermined a bit by Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Both films use a world-ending cataclysm as a way into the their characters’ private lives, with a sense of cosmic dread only putting their day-to-day doldrums in relief. (See also: Don McKellar’s Last Night, which did this way back in 1998.) But where Trier can be callous and formalistic, Ferrara is almost always the opposite; he brings plenty of manic bravura to almost anything he touches. If early reports from Venice are any indication, 4:44 is a bit of a mess. But we’d rather trek into the abyss with a half-crazy humanist like Ferrara than a chilly miserablist like von Trier any day. Plus, it’s the first film Ferrara, an incurable Gothamite, has shot in New York City in more than a decade.
53. The Master (TBD)
Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t make movies very often, but when he does, they’re uniformly excellent. (Roll call: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood.) He had a tough time getting The Master off the ground, with rumors circulating that the Church Of Scientology (around which the story is clearly at least somewhat modeled, though Anderson has denied that) was able to stop Universal from financing it. The cast changed somewhat since 2009, but the film has now been shot, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. There’s no solid release date yet beyond 2012, and not even 100 percent confirmation on the title: The teaser poster just calls it “Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project.”
54. Untitled Frank Ocean debut (TBD)
As lofty as Odd Future’s aspirations seem to be (delirious and scattershot, but still lofty), in-crew crooner Frank Ocean has long been operating on a plane unto himself. Behind the scenes, he’s written songs for Beyoncé, Brandy, and John Legend, and he had a public role in crafting tracks for Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne. But like any savvy artist who moonlights in the industry, he saves the best stuff for himself. Exhibit A: his singles “Novacane” and “Swim Good,” a pair of devastatingly good R&B pieces that illustrate so perfectly the shaky lines between love and lust, heartache and hope, that listeners are transported into Ocean’s low-lit lyrical tableaus. Exhibit B: His response to Kanye when the megastar offered to produce this pending debut LP: “As much as I want to work with you… I kind of want to do it on my own.” It’s that good.
55. Beams (TBD)
Arty house producer Matthew Dear ruffled some feathers with 2010’s Black City. To quote our own Chris Mincher, the guy left “the dance floor for a dimly lit lounge in which coolly detached people satisfy their impersonal indulgences.” Even the press release for Dear’s new Headcage EP seems to acknowledge a hiccup, calling the last LP “a triumph of slowly imploding romanticism,” but “ultimately just another step in [his] creative evolution.” Black City wasn’t bad, but it lacked the off-kilter ebullience that made 2007’s Asa Breed an instant classic, and all signs point to Beams as a more nuanced return to form. The January EP Headcage’s standout track, “In The Middle (I Met You There),” is lushly produced but brightly bursting, featuring a MGMT-worthy turn from The Drums vocalist Johnny Pierce, who fittingly sings, “You save me from myself.” With a little help from his friends, maybe Dear can make the pop masterpiece his fans know he’s had in him all along.
56. Untitled Terrence Malick film (TBD)
As with any Terrence Malick project, details remain thin on the ground for his next film, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, and Olga Kurylenko, among others. The film reportedly follows the romantic travails of a philanderer (Affleck), both in Paris and back in his hometown, promising less of a sweeping, cosmic scope than Malick’s 2011 masterpiece The Tree Of Life. But nothing’s really been confirmed, including the release date—much like the oft-delayed Tree Of Life, this one might get put off for a few years. But the mere fact that Malick is working consistently is exciting enough.
57. Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story (TBD)
Inferno is a possible long shot: Filming is set to begin early in 2012, but it was supposed to start this past year, before Lindsay Lohan, who was set to star in it, was deemed uninsurable. Lohan might have had a once-chance-in-a-million comeback shot with this role, but her replacement, Malin Ackerman, stands just as good a chance to hit it out of the park. Whoever gets to play it, it’s a great story for a movie that has the brass to tell it, and this one has the benefit of writer-director Matthew Wilder’s “Black List”-featured screenplay.
58. BioShock Infinite (TBD)
BioShock 2 was decent enough, but it suffered from the fact that it had no input from the creative lead of the original BioShock, Ken Levine. BioShock Infinite is Levine’s true follow-up. Only tangentially related to BioShock—the name is more of a marketing gimmick than anything—Infinite takes the action from down below the ocean’s surface to a glittering city in the sky, where players embody a Pinkerton agent trying to recover a kidnapping victim.
59. Scrolls (TBD)
Markus Persson (better known as “Notch”) could probably live off the proceeds from his ultra-successful indie game Minecraft for the rest of his life. Instead, he’s on to his next potential big thing, collaborating with developer Jakob Porser on Scrolls, a fantasy combat game that combines elements of board games with trading-card games like Magic. The game got a free burst of publicity early in 2011 when Bethesda (makers of the Elder Scrolls games) threatened legal action for Persson’s use of the word Scrolls—which only served to reinforce his indie cred.
60. Black Sabbath reunion tour and album (TBD)
It’s no real surprise that singer Ozzy Osbourne and guitarist Tony Iommi finally announced that Black Sabbath’s original lineup will reunite for a worldwide tour in 2012. After all, they’ve let the cat out of the bag more than once in interviews, and there isn’t enough animosity between the grizzled metal vets to get in the way of all those piles of dollars. What really got the buzz going was the news that the classic lineup would team with metal maestro Rick Rubin to record a new studio album—the band’s first with Osbourne since 1978. That disc, Never Say Die, is one of the worst albums in Sabbath’s catalog, regardless of era or singer; the chance to wash away the bitter taste of that 34-year-old turkey is something that has any true Sabbath fan salivating. But even if Rubin somehow fails to keep Osbourne and Iommi on point in the studio, the tour itself will more than make up for it.
61. Bunheads (TBD)
It’s been a hard few years for Amy Sherman-Palladino since her much-discussed exit from Gilmore Girls, the series that made her beloved by TV fans. Her multi-camera sitcom, The Return Of Jezebel James, just didn’t work, and worse, it wasted Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose. Then her recent CW pilot wasn’t picked up. But Sherman-Palladino’s talent for funny dialogue wedded to plots with surprising emotional complexity has been missing from TV screens for too long, and if there’s a network to bring it back, it’s ABC Family, which has featured a good many shows that would have fit right in on Sherman-Palladino’s old stomping grounds, The WB. Bunheads hasn’t been picked up to series—even the pilot hasn’t been completed yet—but Sherman-Palladino is due for a win, the concept (showgirl ends up running a small-town dance studio) sounds perfect for her, and she’s joined up with Broadway star Sutton Foster, a lead so suited to her particular style of rat-a-tat dialogue, it seems like she time-traveled back to 1999 and found Lauren Graham all over again.
62. Powers (TBD)
The game of adapting material from other media has become a hot one in TV, with True Blood and The Walking Dead settling in as two of cable’s biggest hits of recent years. And while FX already has the Elmore Leonard-based Justified on its slate, it’s getting into the genre game with Powers, based on the Brian Michael Bendis comics series, which just might be the most FX-ready comics series out there. The story of two cops solving crimes in a world filled with superheroes offers just enough of a twist on the standard detective drama to be intriguing, and this is a network that got the cop show really right with The Shield. The series hasn’t been picked up yet, but it’s hard to imagine it getting rejected, given the amount of hype surrounding the project.
63. Swift & Changeable (TBD)
New York rapper, producer, and cult hero Doom used to have a work ethic James Brown would envy. In his heyday, Doom pumped out classic releases under a slew of aliases, like King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughan. Doom has grown dramatically less prolific in the past few years, to the point where fans now wonder if he’ll ever get around to finishing and releasing the collaborative album with simpatico underground legend Ghostface Killah that has reportedly been in the works since 2006. Doom and Ghostface have collaborated here and there—most notably when Doom contributed production to Ghostface Killah’s classic Fishscale comeback album—and Nature Sounds and Serato are currently selling a vinyl Doom/Ghostface single called “Victory Laps” (credited to “DoomStarks”), but there’s currently no concrete release date or firm plans for the actual release of Swift & Changeable, reportedly of a full-length collaborative album like Madvillainy, Doom’s classic collaboration with Madlib, and a clear inspiration for the project.
64. Detox (TBD)
According to current Beats headphones entrepreneur and sometime hip-hop pioneer Dr. Dre, he has every intention of returning to work on Detox, his fabled follow-up to 2001. Collaborators like 50 Cent have also gone on record in recent weeks about advising Dre on the creative process. The rap legend is, it turns out, human, and seems to be struggling with whether to keep pursuing innovation or deliver his signature best. It’s understandable. The Chronic is incredible, but very much of its time. Its successor, 2001, had permanence in mind, and delivered. In many ways, it’s the superior record, and it placed Dre the producer alongside visionary heroes like Marley Marl, Afrika Bambaataa, and Eric B. Maybe Detox will find a middle ground. If not, it’s exciting all the same.