2012 was a landmark year in many ways. With the release of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man, the industry saw the true power of the superhero genre as it established itself as the new Hollywood mainstay. Indie comedies like Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister’s Sister ruled the underground, while big-budget giants like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Skyfall dominated the box office at the end of the year.
Going into 2013, the pattern seems to be repeating itself. As Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks off, audiences can expect an onslaught of interconnected universes in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World as they build toward the inevitable sequel to The Avengers. As if that’s not enough, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and James Mangold’s The Wolverine are both comic book films that are on-deck to try and salvage two characters who have only seen moderate success on the big screen for the past two decades.
In concert with the other major blockbusters of the summer, including Pacific Rim, World War Z, Monsters University, 300: Rise of an Empire, Despicable Me 2, and many others, it’s easy to overlook some of the more promising films of the year.
In July, Woody Allen is hitting the scene again with his new drama, Blue Jasmine. After wowing critics and moviegoers alike in 2011 with the stunning Midnight in Paris, Allen had a massive misfire with the lazy vignette film To Rome with Love. With an all-star but not overcrowded cast list – Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, and Louis C.K. are all onboard – Blue Jasmine looks like it might just be the thing to right Allen’s ship and bring him back into the good graces of his fans.
Back in 2009, previously unknown South African director Neill Blomkamp impressed audiences with his science fiction film, District 9. While some decried it as a not-so-subtle retelling of a well-worn narrative, it was hard not to admire the fidelity of the picture despite its low-budget origins.
Blomkamp is back this August with his film Elysium, starring Matt Damon as a gun-toting citizen of a futuristic dystopia and Jodie Foster as the mayor of a space habitat for the ultra-wealthy. The writer/director again seems to be targeting a social issue with the film, this time focusing on class disparities, healthcare, and the consequences of oppression. But if District 9 is any indication, a fresh coat of paint and smartly-placed drama will elevate the story beyond its relatively simple conceits.
Moving into September, B-movie action fans around the country will rejoice as they are treated to another bloody outing with Vin Diesel’s terse intergalactic convict, Riddick. Written and directed by David Twohy, the man behind the past two live-action Riddick installments, the simply-titled Riddick doesn’t seem to have much more substance than its predecessors according to its official synopsis. For many fans of the franchise, however, little more need be said than that the goggle-wearing, Ulak-wielding Furyan will be back onscreen, slicing and dicing once again.
Not long after Riddick, director Alfonso Cuarón will release his long-awaited film, Gravity; after two major successes with the Academy Award-nominated Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, fans are eager to see what else the director can do with vividly imagined fictional universes.
Gravity features Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who are stranded on a badly damaged space station. Early CinemaCon buzz indicates that the film will be beautiful – sweeping space vistas are reportedly awe-inspiring, the film opens with a 20-minute uncut long shot, and cinephiles everywhere are excited to see how this natural beauty clashes or compliments Cuarón’s decision to not to use any makeup on his actors.
2012 was a year of highs and lows as fans’ expectations were surpassed and dashed in equal measure. While 2013 doesn’t boast such a familiar or anticipated set of films, it certainly has the potential to engage audiences with unique, challenging, and ultimately satisfying stories.
So even if you don’t see Robert Downey, Jr.’s face mugging on the poster, give these films a chance – they may just surprise you.
This article was published in its original form in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on April 23, 2013.