As far as I can recall, I have never written a spring preview, because the season has always been nothing but a dumping ground for movies the studios knew wouldn’t fare well against the competition during any other time of year.
American distributors have been trying for years to change that, though, by dotting the February through April months with releases that entice more moviegoers to the theater. This year, the spring season (as defined by the movie calendar) releases range from genuinely promising to at least interesting. Here are some to watch for:
“Labor Day” Jan. 31
Jason Reitman makes expertly crafted, witty movies with a unique voice (“Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”) — so unique, in fact, he has yet to truly catch the box office on fire. Here, he switches gears radically, directing Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in what appears to be a tense, comedy-free drama. It’s always exciting when young, talented directors challenge themselves.
“The LEGO Movie” Feb. 7
I’m not even going to try to hide my geek on this one. Sure, this is a barely veiled way of selling toys (The LEGO Group is already marketing LEGO Movie sets). Normally I would care about that sort of thing, but LEGOs were incredibly important to me as a boy, and they mean even more now that I am an A.F.O.L. (some of you understand that) and the father of a LEGO fanatic. Plus, the trailer alone is a riot.
“Monuments Men” Feb. 7
George Clooney’s latest directorial effort was supposed to be released on Dec. 18, and its distributor, Sony, had a whole awards campaign ready to go. It is almost always a bad sign when a movie’s release date is pushed back under those circumstances, because it signifies lack of confidence in the movie. Clooney has said simply that the movie was not ready for release in December. I’m willing to give Clooney the benefit of doubt in this case. Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban co-star in a movie about a World War II platoon who must rescue master works of art from Nazis. Who doesn’t want to see that?
“The Wind Rises” Feb. 8
Director and master animator Hayao Miyazaki pays tribute to engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori in this ambitious biopic. Jiro dreams of making beautiful airplanes. He accomplishes that but also lives through the Great Kato Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic and World War II. The film is rated PG-13 and, as you can tell by the previous sentence, addresses mature content. Touchstone Pictures will distribute this Studio Ghibli picture in the U.S. with an English language voice cast. This was the best animated feature of 2013, and despite the unnecessary overdubbing in English, every animation fan should catch this one, especially since it might be Miyazaki’s last film.
“Robocop”/“About Last Night”/“Endless Love”
None of these movies looks particularly good, but how interesting it is that remakes of three movies that left lingering impressions on 1980s culture will all be released on Feb. 14.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” March 7
Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) has made a movie. That’s enough for me. The March release date is somewhat disturbing, but this cast is anything but: Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson and F. Murray Abraham. We will roll our eyes when Anderson indulges in the same old stylistic ticks, but we’ll probably be laughing the rest of the time.
“Need for Speed” March 14
Yes, this movie is based on a video game, but don’t dismiss it just yet. This is Aaron Paul’s first chance to springboard from his role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad” into big screen success, and I for one am rooting for him. This appears to be a straight up car chase movie, and the publicity keeps tossing around words like “authenticity” and phrases like “exciting return to the great car culture films of the 1960s and ’70s.” Let’s hope the movie makes good on its promises and is, indeed, a throwback to the days of using real stunts rather than digital effects.
“Muppets Most Wanted” March 21
The previous Muppets movie was one of the best in the franchise, so let’s hope the producers build on that renewed momentum. James Bobin returns as director and co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, who co-wrote the 2011 movie. Rather than relying on the Muppets’ over-used ‘put-on-a-show-to-save-the-theater’ scenario again, the gang goes on a world tour and winds up in a crime caper. Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey in supporting roles give us two more reasons to get excited.
“Divergent” March 21
The latest candidate for “next big young adult franchise” at least has the benefit of a great cast. Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Miles Teller lead the fight against authoritarianism in this adaptation of the popular book. Fans and Summit Entertainment alike hope the film is strong enough to justify adapting the entire trilogy, but it will have to do better than recent young adult adaptations “The Mortal Instruments” and “Ender’s Game.”
“Bad Words” March 21
Jason Bateman’s directorial debut looks to be a subversive, satirical, guilty pleasure. The trailer is all kinds of wrong but hilarious. Bateman plays against his good-guy type and gets support from some amazingly funny women, including Rachael Harris, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney and Beth Grant.
“Noah” March 28
Before you organize a group outing to see this adaptation of the biblical saga of Noah, please note that it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose previous work includes “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler,” and “Black Swan.” It’s intriguing to see what he’ll do with a big-budget biblical epic, but the movie will almost certainly not be what many want it to be. Like all of his other work, it likely will be provocative, thoughtful and stylistically challenging.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” April 4
The first “Captain America” movie was solid at best but worked better after more of the Avengers storyline had been revealed. Like “Thor 2,” “Winter Soldier” will undoubtedly get a box-office boost from its Marvel/Disney brethren, but it remains to be seen whether Cap can anchor a truly quality movie.
“RIO 2” April 11
The first “Rio” wasn’t particularly memorable, but it was bursting with goodwill and very entertaining. Expect more of the same, and the addition of Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno and Kristin Chenoweth will definitely help.
“Transcendence” April 18
Wally Pfister is a great cinematography whose career has become closely associated with Christopher Nolan and the Dark Knight trilogy. Pfister steps out of Nolan’s shadow to direct a high-concept science fiction actioner with a stellar cast lead by Johnny Depp, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman and Rebecca Hall. Plenty here to get excited about.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.