Last year’s slate of films was one to be excited for as we emerged from the pandemic, with upcoming films from establishment names like Spielberg, Chazelle, McDonagh, Park, Cameron, Luhrmann, and more. But it also yielded plenty of great unheralded films from upcoming filmmakers that will put them on the radars of film lovers going forward. 2023 is looking to be an even bigger year for movies, with headline films from Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, M. Night Shyamalan, Taika Waititi, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, and Ari Aster (plus many more).
We’ll also be treated to blockbuster spectacle sequels as Denis Villenueve wraps up Dune, James Mangold wades into the adventures of Indiana Jones with The Dial of Destiny, Keanu Reeves returns for John Wick Chapter 4, Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise reunite to cheat death once again with Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, and Miles Morales and pals return for Across the Spider-verse (part one?). Not to mention there will be the requisite slate of films from Marvel, DC, and Disney and Pixar. (Consider me an early believer in Elemental.) And it goes without saying that my own personal countdown has begun for How Do You Live?, the first Hayao Miyazaki film since 2013’s The Wind Rises. It remains to be seen if that film will be available in the US this year, or what that film will look like, or its subject matter, but rest assured I will be at the first available screening with bells on.
But, while there will be plenty of hype for those films, and plenty of worthwhile pieces will be written ahead of their premieres, here are five films that are currently flying under the radar in the early days of the new year.
The Iron Claw
Any list of anticipated films is mostly due to some combination of (a) a strong premise, (b) the star power attached in front of the camera, and (c) excitement based on the filmmaker’s previous work. The Iron Claw has all three, with writer and director Sean Durkin – who’s 2-for-2 after Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest – adapting the real-life tale of the Von Erich family, a pro wrestling dynasty beginning in the 1960s. The film stars Zac Efron, Lily James, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, and Jeremy Allen White, and has the backing of A24. While the plot synopsis may be a little unusual initially for Durkin, he’s a filmmaker that has shown an ability to create drama from characters that have a great deal hidden under the surface. No release date announced yet.
Bradley Cooper made a huge splash when he made his directorial debut the fourth iteration of A Star is Born, garnering 8 Oscar nominations and one win. His follow-up Maestro will still take place within the music world, but will be more autobiographical, focusing on the life of composer Leonard Bernstein. Cooper will once again direct himself as he plays Bernstein, and will star alongside Carrie Mulligan, Jeremy Strong, Maya Hawke, and Sarah Silverman. Though Bernstein is a towering figure in the orchestral world, I would venture to guess his personal life is relatively unknown to today’s audiences. Scorsese and Spielberg were both attached to direct at certain points of the production, which could be an indication of the material’s quality, and if Cooper can bring his unique directorial style to Maestro, it could perform on the same level as his previous effort. No release date announced yet, but expect a fall film festival rollout.
Writer and director Paul Schrader’s third film in his unofficial “men on the edge” trilogy – after First Reformed and the criminally underseen The Card Counter – stars Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver, with Edgerton as a gardener who has to take on his client’s niece. Reviews out of the Venice and New York Film Festivals were mostly positive, though distributor Magnolia Pictures is a smaller studio than Schrader has previously worked with. Regardless, Schrader has proven himself adept at making complex films with complicated protagonists over decades of work in the industry, and Edgerton feels like a perfect choice for his material. In theaters on March 30.
Kelly Reichardt’s last film First Cow may have been an unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic – it premiered at 2020’s Sundance and was released in theaters just before the world shut down. For Showing Up, Reichardt is re-teaming with Michelle Williams, who’s appeared in a number of her films, in the starring role as a ceramic artist. While she’s always been a favorite amongst indie film lovers, First Cow was Reichardt’s most accessible film, and reviews out of last year’s festivals confirmed that she hasn’t lost a step with Showing Up, while coasting on the feel-good vibes of her last film. Williams will have Hong Chau, John Magaro, and Judd Hirsch to work against, plus a pigeon she has to nurse back to health. I don’t know if I’m as fully on board as other film lovers when it comes to Reichardt yet, but I’ll be showing up for Showing Up. No release date announced yet.
Adam Sandler has been on roll lately, scoring stellar reviews for his performances in films like Uncut Gems and Hustle, coming the closest he’s ever been to an Oscar nomination. My hottest take of the year is this: Sandler will finally receive that elusive nomination with Spaceman, an adaptation of Jaroslav Kalfař’s novel Spaceman of Bohemia. It’s a melancholic story of a man who contemplates his own mortality, and the relationships he’s left behind on Earth, as he drifts through space. With a cast including Carrie Mulligan, Kunal Nayyar, Isabella Rossellini, and Paul Dano (voicing a spider-like alien that he befriends in space, of course), plus direction by Johan Renck (Chernobyl) Sandler will have plenty of solid support to play against. If Netflix can mount a good enough campaign, and times its release smartly enough (no release date has been announced yet), we could see another great entry for Adam Sandler, whose only venture in the sci-fi realm has been on the sillier side of the spectrum like Click and Pixels. No release date announced yet.