Winter Film Guide 

click to enlarge "The Monuments Men," directed by George Clooney, is about a World War II platoon assigned to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • "The Monuments Men," directed by George Clooney, is about a World War II platoon assigned to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves.
Films released after Oscar season and before summer blockbusters arrive often are small gems. Here’s a short list of potential future favorites. (Opening dates are subject to change).

The LEGO Movie: The LEGO people already have scored with funny, smart, slick direct-to-video movies for kids, and this big-screen debut looks to up the ante. Coming from the directors of the surprise hit "21 Jump Street" and featuring the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks and Will Ferrell – with superheroes to boot – it could be the self-aware comedy highlight of the spring, a treat for kids and grownups. Rated PG, opens Feb. 7

The Monuments Men: Director-star George Clooney, who pulled the movie from a December release so he wouldn't have to rush its completion, may have made the right choice. The dramedy about a squad of American soldiers charged with rescuing priceless works of art from the Nazis might be funny and touching. Rated PG-13, opens Feb 7

Tim's Vermeer: Comedians, magicians and tricksters Penn and Teller have been in movies before, but here, in their first documentary, they ask: How could Johannes Vermeer have painted so photo-realistically in the 1600s? To answer, their pal, video engineer Tim Jenison, attempts to make a replica of a Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” using 17th-century techniques. Rated PG-13, opens Feb. 14

RoboCop: In a season packed with remakes, "RoboCop" perhaps has the highest profile, though it’s unlikely it will live up to the brilliance of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 satirical classic. Described as more serious than the original, it has an interesting cast (Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish) and director, José Padilha, who made the great documentary "Bus 174." Rated PG-13, opens Feb. 12

Winter's Tale: In 2006, Mark Helprin's romantic fantasy novel was voted one of the best books of the last 25 years. Now Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman makes his feature directorial debut bringing it to the screen. The upside? An excellent story and cast, including Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. The downside? As a writer, Goldsman is responsible for the 1997 turkey "Batman & Robin." Rated PG-13, opens Feb. 14

The Wind Rises: Master animator Hayao Miyazaki is officially retiring, and in his final feature he tells the very Japanese, not exactly child-friendly, story of Jiro Horikoshi, a pioneering aircraft engineer prior to World War II. Guaranteed to be beautiful, this English-dubbed version features the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Elijah Wood and Stanley Tucci. Rated PG-13, opens Feb. 21

Non-Stop: At 61, Liam Neeson, now an action hero and bankable box office star thanks to the “Taken” movies, plays an air marshal who is framed for murder and extortion. He attempts to find the real killer – on board a crammed international flight. Rated PG-13, opens Feb. 28

Bad Words: Jason Bateman was directing TV shows at age 18, but this is his feature film directorial debut; he also stars. Making use of his recently refreshed comic persona, he plays a middle-aged man who finds a loophole in the rules and enters a spelling bee, where he makes an unlikely 10-year-old friend. Expect some bad language and good feelings. Rated R, opens March 21

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Warm, funny, quirky director Wes Anderson cooks up a tale about a famed hotel concierge in the 1920s, a valuable painting and an accusation of murder. A huge cast – including Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton – helps out, as will, no doubt, an impressive visual design. Rated R, opens March 14

Walk of Shame: Elizabeth Banks, one of today’s many great, beautiful women comics, gets a shot at a name-above-the-title, high-concept role as a news anchor who wakes up after a one-night stand without money, her ID or phone – and has only a few hours to get to a life-changing job interview. Rated R, opens March 14

Muppets Most Wanted: After Jason Segel helped resurrect the famed felt friends with 2011’s brilliant "The Muppets," a sequel was apparently in order. Here, the gang acidentally gets involved in a European crime caper. Segel does not return, but “Muppets” director James Bobin and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller do. So does musician Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords” and many guest stars. Rated PG, opens March 21

Nymphomaniac, Volume 1: Daring, Danish button-pushing director Lars von Trier ("Melancholia") presents another of his discussion-sparking tales: an older man (Stellan Skarsgard) rescues the title character (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who proceeds to tell him of her sexual exploits. The movie is a little over four hours, and being released in two parts, the second scheduled for April 18. Not yet rated, opens March 21

Noah: Yes, Russell Crowe plays that Noah, the one with the ark and the flood and the pairs of animals. Last time out, director Darren Aronofsky served up the incredible "Black Swan”; let’s hope he has something surprising up his sleeve for “Noah” that isn’t another ancient-times epic (of which there are a surprising number this year). Not yet rated, opens March 28

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Superhero sequels are coming out as fast as actual comic books these days, so directors Anthony and Joe Russo have to bring some fresh energy to this one, in which Cap (and other Avengers) continue to struggle with life in the 21st century. The new super-villain is the Winter Soldier. Not yet rated, opens April 4

Dom Hemingway: Jude Law plays a volatile safecracker, who, after serving 12 years in prison, demands what he has coming to him for keeping his mouth shut to protect his boss. Directed by the underrated Richard Shepard ("The Matador"), it could be dark, slick, funny entertainment a bit off the beaten path. Rated R, opens April 4

Only Lovers Left Alive: Jim Jarmusch, the beacon of cool in the 1980s-90s, has maintained a low profile since his misunderstood "The Limits of Control" five years ago. Perhaps this love story about two old vampires that can't adjust to modern times (or deal with reminders from their past) will put him back in the spotlight. Rated R, opens April 18

Transcendence: Wally Pfister, cinematographer on Christopher Nolan's "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises," makes his directorial debut with this spooky story of artificial intelligence starring Johnny Depp as a scientist whose mind is is inserted into a computer, which goes haywire. Not yet rated, opens April 18

Also look for

Feb. 14: “About Last Night,” “Like Father, Like Son”

Feb. 21: “3 Days to Kill”

Feb. 21 : “Welcome to Yesterday”

March 7: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

March 14: “Need for Speed”

March 21: “Divergent,” “Le Week-End”

March 28: “Jodorowsky's Dune”

April 4: “Finding Vivian Maier”

April 11: “Rio 2,” “St. Vincent De Van Nuys”

April 18: “Bears,” “Nymphomaniac, Volume 2”

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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