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Singular Voices 

A look ahead at some of my most anticipated films of 2020.

click to enlarge “Shirley”

“Shirley”

Looking over my most eagerly anticipated movies of this year, I see that I leaned hard on filmmakers who have particular styles and obsessions—auteurs, in other words.

In an age that’s dominated by intellectual property, i.e. franchises, it’s more important than ever to celebrate films that have been fashioned by singular voices, which have been encouraged by the diversification of film distribution, especially streaming.

There are many, many good movies made each year, but their sheer number threatens to ensure that nothing is truly noticed or felt. Consider this list a first stab at making sense of the riches that await us in 2020.

“Mank” (David Fincher)
Director David Fincher’s first feature film since 2014’s “Gone Girl” follows Herman J. Mankiewicz as he works on the screenplay for Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane.” Reeling from alcoholism and suffering from a leg injury sustained from a car crash, Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) is sent by Welles (Tom Burke) out to Kemper Campbell Ranch to dry out and focus. A new Fincher film is occasion for celebration no matter what the subject matter, but this material sounds particularly enticing, allowing for an exacting formalist to explore the troubled creation of a masterpiece. Fincher, a painstaking and obsessive stylist, is said to be halfway through principal photography, which is shooting on location at the ranch. Will hopefully bow on Netflix late in the year.

“The French Dispatch” (Wes Anderson)
Described as a “love letter to journalism,” Wes Anderson’s new film is set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional French city. Anderson becomes a more confident conjurer of worlds with every film, and a love letter to journalism sounds particularly apt now in a divisive age in which we choose our own news. A typically eccentric and superb cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Benicio Del Toro, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, and, of course, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray.

“Shirley” (Josephine Decker)
“Shirley” was on my list last year, and I’m still impatient to see Josephine Decker bring her intensely subjective and visionary atmospherics to the world of horror author Shirley Jackson, who’s played in the film by the often-extraordinary Elisabeth Moss. As she showed in “Madeline’s Madeline,” Decker is a poetic renderer of the emotional states of volatile creatives.

“Zombi Child” (Bertrand Bonello)
Bertrand Bonello’s last film, “Nocturama,” was a piercing examination of surfaces, elaborating on the shopping-mall capitalist metaphor that drove George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” “Zombi Child,” which was been rounding the festivals for a while, sounds as if it will steer Bonello into more literal horror-movie territory. The film concerns a family secret in Haiti in the 1960s, with a man who’s brought back from the dead to work the hellish sugar cane fields. If “Zombi Child” is as propulsive and politically enraged as “Nocturama,” it should make for a resonant and exhilarating experience.

“First Cow” (Kelly Reichardt)
I go back and forth on Kelly Reichardt’s films, which can be too self-consciously austere for my tastes, but her prior two, “Night Moves” and “Certain Women,” are her best — a feverish thriller and a beautiful and heartbreaking modern Western, respectively. “First Cow” appears to be another Western, following a group of fur trappers in the Oregon Territory who collaborate on a business. The promising cast includes Alia Shawkat, Orion Lee, Toby Jones and the late character actor legend Rene Auberjonois.

“No Time to Die” (Cary Joji Fukunaga)
My desire to see the newest James Bond movie, reportedly the last with Daniel Craig as the British superspy, is admittedly a little odd. Firstly, I find director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s work to be profoundly overrated and secondly, Craig’s only been in one good Bond vehicle. But that Bond, 2006’s “Casino Royale,” was so good — so unexpectedly soulful and stylish — that I’ve been in the tank for this incarnation of the series ever since. Craig’s volatile, definitive take on the character — a sadistic working-class stud who’s gradually acclimated himself to tuxes and priceless drinks and women — gets viewers through even the murkiest and most desperate of Bond movies. Still, Fukunaga’s presence worries me. Given his general self-seriousness, he may try too hard to class up the joint, as Sam Mendes did in “Skyfall” and “Spectre.”

“Last Night in Soho” (Edgar Wright)
I was not a fan of Edgar Wright’s last film “Baby Driver” as the move to America diluted Wright’s satiric voice. “Last Night in Soho” sounds like a return for Wright to the land of the class-conscious British horror movie, a pairing that has yielded two masterpieces, “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End,” and one terrific blend of action and occult thriller, “Hot Fuzz.” “Last Night in Soho” is said to involve time travel and 1960s fashion and features a cast that includes up-and-comers (Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie) and true-blue icons (Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg).

“The Traitor” (Marco Bellocchio)
Marco Bellocchio’s new epic history canvas, “The Traitor,” played Cannes last year to mixed reviews, but the subject matter is too fascinating to resist. In the 1980s, Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), turned informant on his own Sicilian syndicate, resulting in the persecution of the Cosa Nostra, which is still said to be the largest trial in history. Bellocchio tends to favor an operatic tone, and so “The Traitor” promises to be a ripe, lurid mob movie. The film may also complement the recent documentary “Shooting the Mafia,” about photographer Letizia Battaglia’s own confrontations with the Cosa Nostra.

“Let Them All Talk” (Steven Soderbergh)
The plot of “Let Them All Talk” is unknown, but Steven Soderbergh continues to experiment and push his art to the formal breaking point. The cast includes Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest.

“Da 5 Bloods” (Spike Lee)
Like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee has been empowered by modern means of film distribution, largely streaming, and is operating at a peak of emotional, political power and aesthetic ingenuity. Like many of the directors mentioned here, I will see anything Spike Lee does, and “Da 5 Bloods,” concerning Vietnam veterans, features Lee MVPs such as Giancarlo Esposito and Clarke Peters and rising actors like Paul Walter Hauser.

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