2012 has officially drawn to a close, ending a cinematic year that ranged from the bombast of superhero blockbusters like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises to the measured drama of prestige pictures like Argo and Lincoln. But the end of one year means the beginning of another, and there are already plenty of reasons to get excited about going to the movies in 2013. From January to June, what are the most promising bets for your box-office dollar? A guide to cinema in the first half of 2013:
1. Gangster Squad (Jan. 11)
Gangster Squad was originally scheduled for a September 2012 release date, but was bumped to January because of its unintentional parallels to the mass shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., in July. (Gangster Squad's climactic action sequence, which was set in a movie theater, was reportedly reshot.) But four months later, there's still a lot to love about Gangster Squad, which offers starring turns from Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone as they square off against Sean Penn's villainous Mickey Cohen in this based-on-a-true-story tale of cops versus gangsters in mid-century Los Angeles.
2. Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8)
There have been numerous attempts to spin off 1939's beloved family classic The Wizard of Oz, but none has garnered as much attention — or carried so high a price tag — as Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel starring James Franco as the titular wizard. Director Sam Raimi is appropriately reverential to the original film, aping The Wizard of Oz's shift from the black-and-white earthiness of Kansas to the Technicolor fantasy-land of Oz. If Oz: The Great and Powerful can rise above the garishness that characterized Tim Burton's ill-conceived Alice in Wonderland, this return trip to Oz might be worth taking.
3. The Place Beyond the Pines (March 20)
Director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling team up for the first time since their devastating 2010 drama Blue Valentine for this grim crime drama, which tells the story of a motorcycle stuntman who decides to become a robber in order to support his newborn son. The film, which also stars Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September to rapturous reviews.
4. The Heat (April 5)
The last time director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy collaborated on a film, we got 2011's mega-hit Bridesmaids. So expectations are sky-high for the duo's next film, which pairs McCarthy with Sandra Bullock as they play two loose-cannon cops attempting to catch a Russian mobster. Hollywood is littered with the skeletons of failed buddy-cop comedies, but The Heat's novel approach and likable leads makes it more promising than the genre average.
5. 42 (April 12)
Director Brian Helgeland takes on the story of Jackie Robinson, following his heroic first season as a Brooklyn Dodger under the watchful eye of team executive Branch Rickey (played here by the professionally grumpy Harrison Ford). Robinson's life story is deeply compelling, and the early buzz is that star Chadwick Boseman has managed to capture the essence of the legendary baseball great.
6. Oblivion (April 19)
Tom Cruise returns to science fiction for the first time since 2005's War of the Worlds with Oblivion, a drama about a drone repairman wandering the Earth in the aftermath of a decades-long war with a mysterious alien race. Oblivion's trailer is visually stunning, showing off a fully realized, eerily abandoned Earth that looks like a cross between 2007's I Am Legend and last year's Prometheus. The film is scheduled for a simultaneous release in IMAX, which will almost certainly be worth the surcharge.
7. Iron Man 3 (May 3)
The first Marvel superhero film since 2012's terrific The Avengers sees Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark returning to his solo gig, as he takes on Ben Kingsley's villainous Mandarin. Iron Man 2 (2010) was a disappointment, but the surprisingly somber trailer for Iron Man 3 suggests that the franchise is poised to get back on track. And the presence of director Shane Black, who directed Downey in 2005's criminally underseen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is another major step in the right direction.
8. The Great Gatsby (May 10)
Could the Great American Novel be the next great American film? Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Gatsby in this bombastic 3-D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, which was originally scheduled for release on Christmas Day but bumped to a summer release, giving it an intriguing position in the midst of the summer blockbuster season. Based on the trailer, director Baz Luhrmann is bringing his typical "more is more" approach to Fitzgerald's novel, offering a decidedly unconventional take that aims to highlight the debauched excesses of the privileged class in 1920s New York.
9. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)
Director J.J. Abrams has been characteristically coy about the sequel to his 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, which reunites the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to face off against a villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch — who may or may not be the iconic bad guy Khan. Whatever Star Trek Into Darkness turns out to be, we can expect strong performances, stellar action, and plenty of lens flares.
10. Much Ado About Nothing (June 7)
Ever-surprising director Joss Whedon is following up his $1.5 billion-grossing superhero epic The Avengers with this decidedly low-budget, black-and-white version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed over 12 days at Whedon's house, the movie features a number of his favorite actors, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Alexis Denisof, Dollhouse's Reed Diamond, Firefly's Sean Maher, and Nathan Fillion.
11. Man of Steel (June 14)
Superman fans are waiting with bated breath to see if director Zack Snyder can return the superhero to cinematic greatness with Man of Steel, the first Superman film since 2006's underperforming (but underrated) Superman Returns. Henry Cavill is strapping on the cape as he fights Michael Shannon's evil General Zod, but it's the sprawling supporting cast — which includes Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Superman's dad Jor-El, and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Man of Steel's adoptive parents — that really makes this reboot stand out.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis (TBA)
Compared with the rest of the films slated for release between January and June, we know virtually nothing about Inside Llewyn Davis, a drama about the folk music scene in 1960s New York, which is reportedly scheduled to screen in the first half of the year. But we do know that it's a new film by the Coen Brothers, which makes it an automatic must-see. Inside Llewyn Davis' intriguing, eclectic cast — which includes Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, and John Goodman — offers yet another reason to buy a ticket.
Actor Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character, on the New York City set of the Coen Brother's film Inside Llewyn Davis. (Photo: Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press/Corbis)
See Part 2 here.