We may still be digesting “American Hustle,” “Her” and the surge of movies from the end of 2013, but with the calendar flipping to January, it’s not too soon to look ahead. The year 2014 promises to be a big and at times fraught period for American cinema, with anticipated sequels, resurgent genres and risky bets all making their way forth. Here are eight notable stories worth watching.
YA yammer. It’s been a truly strange time for movies based on bestselling young-adult novels -- they're either the greatest hits of the year or the biggest duds of the era. Studios will take three big new swings in 2014 with dystopian tale "Divergent" (March), terminall-illness drama "The Fault in Our Stars” (July) and another helping of teen dystopia with "The Maze Runner" (September). (That's in addition to the "Hunger Games" threequel out next November.) Will audiences be more receptive to this new batch than they were flops like "Mortal Instruments" and "Beautiful Creatures?" Or will this genre soon go the way of the jabberjay?
Starry-eyed Nolan. The last time Christopher Nolan departed from superhero fare it turned out both intriguing and wise, as his dream-weaver tale "Inception" became the breakout of 2010. Four years later he'll try something big but non-superhero-y again with "Interstellar," a sci-fi time-space-wormhole tale that stars Matthew McConaughey and seeks to do for advanced physics what "Inception" did for mind control. This time Nolan will play not in the big-action world of summer but in the critical high glare of fall, with the movie coming out Nov. 7. Meanwhile, longtime Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut in April with the similarly sci-fi-themed "Transcendence."
The "12 Years" factor. In 2006 some conservative Oscar voters found the gay-rights issues raised by "Brokeback Mountain" too socially tricky and/or difficult to contemplate to give the film best picture and instead voted for the race-themed "Crash.” In 2014 the shoe could be on the other foot. Voters will take up the question of whether the brutal "12 Years A Slave," a race-themed movie that deals with difficult questions about slavery and our assumptions around it, is something they're ready to wholeheartedly embrace. Will Oscar history reverse itself? Or will a less politically charged movie like "Gravity" or "American Hustle" walk away with the best-picture prize?
Marvel momentum. Even though its coup de grace, “The Avengers,” came out in 2012, Marvel Studios was able to keep its mojo in 2013 with "Iron Man 3" — a film that helped it capture the box-office top spot for the second year in a row — as well as a solid-performing "Thor" sequel. Can it continue that in 2014 as it brings out "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" in April and its new supergroup superhero movie, "Guardians of the Galaxy," in the summer? The latter will be especially interesting as Marvel and filmmaker James Gunn try to make the world of Star-Lord, Gamora and Ronan as appealing as that of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.
Meanwhile, Sony tries to keep its own Marvel magic going as Marc Webb returns to the comic franchise he helped reboot with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” while Fox goes back to the Magneto well with "X-Men: Days of Future Past," both in May. And in case all of these Marvel connections weren't enough, ex-"Iron Man" director Jon Favreau starts a new panel with quirky restaurant pic "Chef" that same month.
Gross-out gruel. After several years of renaissance, the shock comedy hasn't exactly broken new ground lately — just ask anyone who saw "Grown Ups 2,” or anyone who didn't see "The Hangover 3.” Can some of the messy fun be reclaimed with a November sequel to one of the movies that started it all, "Dumb and Dumber To”? It won't be the only shock-comedy franchise to give it a bladder-defying spin: "Horrible Bosses 2" hits two weeks later. And Seth MacFarlane, who put his own stamp on the genre with "Ted" a couple of summers back, will, with May's "A Million Ways To Die In The West, try his hand at a Western, or at least his twisted-mirror version of it.
Broadway blue. Broadway stage phenoms aren't exactly in favor after the middling response to "August: Osage County." But that isn't stopping movie producers from putting stage on screen in 2014, this time with a musical spin: "Jersey Boys" in June, "Annie" in mid-December and "Into The Woods" at Christmas. Can these fare better than other recent transfers? Also, in the adaptation department, toy movies, suffering a rocky time of late, look for some new smoothness courtesy of two big ones in the first half of the year: “The Lego Movie” in February and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” in June.
Kickstartin'. The last year saw several big names scouring for scratch on crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. In 2014 we'll find out of it was worth that bar-mitzvah savings bond you signed over. In January, Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here," a film starring and written and directed by the "Garden State" helmer and funded partly by fans, makes its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, while March will see the debut of Rob Thomas' return-to-Kristen-Bell-land movie "Veronica Mars," whose budget was similarly underwritten by the faithful. Expect phrases like either "bold new model" or "indulgent digital-age exercise" to soon follow.
Getting biblical. You thought they were just for TCM airings or Veggie Tales DVDs. But Bible stories will be back in a big way at the multiplex in 2014, particularly the Old Testament, as March sees the release of Darren Aronofsky’s "Noah" and Ridley Scott does his best Cecil B. De Mille with "Exodus" in December. Will the epic form enjoy a comeback, or will the people say let my disposable income go somewhere else?
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