Having wrapped up 2012 in film, it’s time to look ahead. There’s a great deal for movie-lovers to anticipate in 2013, but before we get to our most-anticipated films in the next twelve months, we wanted to highlight some must-watch festival debuts from the past year (and beyond) that will finally see US theatrical releases this year. From festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, New York and more, we’ve got 20 recommendations to kickstart the year with guaranteed quality. Check out the rundown below and let us know your festival favorites from the last year that are finally landing in theaters.

20. Byzantium (Neil Jordan; TBD)

Synopsis: A mother and daughter vampire duo form a deadly pact.

Why You Should See It: It seems as though Neil Jordan‘s next feature may sadly go as overlooked as his last one, the effective mermaid tale Ondine. Although we were in the positive camp at TIFF (review), there seemed to be a lack of buzz for this Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan-led vampire tale, which we called  “epic, bloody, and very enjoyable.” Although a release date isn’t set, be sure to keep it on your radar.

19. Passion (Brian De Palma; TBD)

Synopsis: A young businesswoman plots a murderous revenge after her boss and mentor steals her idea.

Why You Should See It: Despite the critical reaction for his latest erotic thriller (which, admittedly, wasn’t strong), any cinephile should know that Brian De Palma films are at least worth a view. Whether you buy into his hyper-sexualized melodrama is another story, but I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace under his direction.

18. At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani; April 26th)

Synopsis: A farming family’s business is threatened by an unexpected crisis, further testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son.

Why You Should See It: Although Zac Efron‘s last foray into the independent film world with The Paperboy left much to be desired, this spring will see him in a more substantial role under a director with a greater range of talent than Lee Daniels. Although we were mixed on At Any Price during its fall festival debut, I’m still anticipating Ramin Bahrani‘s drama, having admired the rest of his filmography.

17. Mud (Jeff Nichols; April 26th)

Synopsis: Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and reunite him with his true love.

Why You Should See It: If you’ve seen Jeff Nichols last two features, Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories, that’s reason enough to anticipate this Southern drama. Featuring another strong Matthew McConaughey performance in step with his recent resurgence, we were fans of it at Cannes, saying, “imperfect as it may be, this marks a step forward for Nichols as a filmmaker capable of making big entertainment that retains some intelligence and a palpable message as well.”

16. No (Pablo Larraín; Feb. 15th)

Synopsis: An ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum.

Why You Should See It: Following up his acclaimed drama The Loneliest Planet, the talented Gael Garcia Bernal is back in arthouses this spring with No, a film we praised at Cannes Film Festival last year. Calling it a “compelling examination of an important historical event,” we said “the most striking element is its bold visual aesthetic that is designed to look like a TV program from the ’80s. Colors are washed out, the aspect ratio is square and there is a shallow depth of field to every image, which may sound jarring to watch, but becomes surprisingly hypnotic.”

15. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan; TBD)

Synopsis: The 10-year relationship of a male-to-female transsexual with her lover.

Why You Should See It: One of the most promising emerging talents of recent years is the young Xavier Dolan. Having already debuted his third feature at Cannes earlier this year — where we called it “a big step forward” for the director, and one that displayed his “emotional range” — Laurence Anyways is now set to get a limited release, with Gus Van Sant attaching his name as executive producer.

14. Twice Born (Sergio Castellitto; TBD)

Synopsis: A single mother brings her teenage son to Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years ago.

Why You Should See It: One of the dramas that seemed among the most overlooked on the fall festival circuit last year was Sergio Castellitto‘s Emile Hirsch and Penelope Cruz-led drama Twice Born. We loved the film, praising the two leads as they are “authentic to a fault in their love for one another and the struggle to be the person they believe their partner needs, we watch both grow tired from the strain and constant need to assuage any and all assumptions they have about what the other is thinking.”

13. You’re Next (Adam Wingard; August 23rd)

Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of the victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Why You Should See It: Back during Toronto International Film Festival 2011, I expected this horror film to get distribution “mighty quick,” but little did I know it would take nearly two years for it to actually makes its way to audiences. Lionsgate felt that this late summer slot was the perfect release window for Adam Wingard‘s brutal, funny Straw Dogs-esque feature and I indeed hope they are correct, as this will likely outpace many of the other studio releases in the genre this year.

12. Reality (Matteo Garrone; March 15th)

Synopsis: A darkly comic look at Luciano, a charming and affable fishmonger whose unexpected and sudden obsession with being a contestant on the reality show “Big Brother” leads him down a rabbit hole of skewed perceptions and paranoia.

Why You Should See It: It’s been five years since Matteo Garrone‘s sprawling crime epic Gomorrah, and we are here to tell you the wait was worth it. One of our top-reviewed films at Cannes Film Festival last year, we said this “follow-up is decidedly more concentrated and deftly-paced, [as] the filmmaker [is] determined to explore the world of his anti-hero Luciano (the engrossing Aniello Arena), a family man living simply and happily in Naples who allows himself to fall apart in pursuit of his dream to be famous.”

11. Sightseers (Ben Wheatley; TBD)

Synopsis: Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn.

Why You Should See It: If you’ve been paying close attention to the film world in the past year, then you already know Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. After giving US audiences some thrills with Kill List last year, his latest film will make a spot on our upcoming most-anticipated list, but in between he delivered his dark comedy road trip film Sightseers, which we called ad “unusual blend of exquisite cinematography, hilarious ridiculousness and over the top death and gore.”

10. Wrong (Quentin Dupieux; Spring TBD)

Synopsis: Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to realize he has lost the love of his life: his dog Paul. During his quest to get Paul (and his life) back, Dolph radically changes the lives of others, risking his sanity all the while.

Why You Should See It: If this one got a theatrical release last year, it would stand alongside Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as one of the most delightfully absurd comedies of the year. Although their respective styles are quite different, few movies in recent memories hit the illogical funnybone as this pair. Dupieux’s sophomore effort exceeds his debut Rubber by quite a margin, delivering a surreal journey that’s impossible to forget.

9. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbuch; May 17th)

Synopsis: Follows an apprentice in a dance company who wants so much more than she has but lives life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

Why You Should See It: While his previous film, Greenberg, received a decidedly divisive response, Noah Baumbach’s latest project seemed to go over well with fall festival audiences, including us. Led by Greta Gerwig, we said this “coming-of-age story for the emotionally stunted delights.” For those wanting more from Baumbach, Frances Ha may not be the only feature from him this year, as he was recently spotted shooting a secret follow-up.

8. Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami; Feb. 15th)

Synopsis: A drama centered on the relationship of a young woman and old man in Tokyo.

Why You Should See It: Having beautifully captured the charms of Italy in Certified Copy, the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has ventured to the neon-lit Tokyo for his next project. One of our favorite films from Cannes, we called it “an enigmatic examination of the different forms of affection that people can have for one another.”

7. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine; March 5th)

Synopsis: Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug-and-arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.

Why You Should See It: Looking at the career of Harmony Korine, it’s difficult to believe the director would ever helm a crowd-pleaser, but it seems like his latest will fit that category. Despite the casting of Disney Channel icons Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as James Franco in a criminal role, we said the film doesn’t indicate Korine is straying away from his odd style, rather he’s crafted a “tone poem on the emotions of youthful idiocy,” one that “penetrates the evil and melancholy lurking under pop surfaces to a point of terror and unbridled entertainment.”

6. Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas; Spring TBD)

Synopsis: An 18-year-old man reacts to the social changes of late 1960’s Europe.

Why You Should See It: Though not nearly as long as (or with even half the scale of) Carlos, the new film from Olivier Assayas is no less an important step in the writer-director’s fascinating, thrilling career. Fans of his general output will be happy to count this among his greater filmography — formally and thematically, this is very much his own — while those simply looking for a classy piece of cinema entertainment won’t regret checking this one out, either. Whether it’s the beautiful cinematography, exquisite period design, or a terrific soundtrack, Something in the Air has got a little bit for everybody — and it also has Lola Créton. That’s a lot for all of us.

5. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher; March 22nd)

Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick‘s film The Shining.

Why You Should See It: his painstakingly-detailed exploration of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining goes through nine different theories and themes, opening up new wonders I never saw, even after many, many viewings of the horror classic. It is thoroughly thought-provoking and often times hilarious, as director Rodney Ascher takes on everything from the inane to the plausible. After a qualifying run late last year, the film will finally see a debut this spring and one can check out our Sundance review.

4. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg; May TBD)

Synopis: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

Why You Should See It: This beautifully-crafted drama concerning a mild-mannered teacher and the life-destroying accusation dealt upon him won Mads Mikkelsen the Best Actor jury prize at Cannes. The film also marks the long-awaited return of Thomas Vinterberg, who introduced himself to the world with fervor 14 years ago with Festen (The Celebration). Perfectly paced and never striking a false note even despite its taboo subject matter, Vinterberg has built a world of observation that’s deceivingly simple and undeniably thought-provoking. Check out our full review.

3. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance; March 29th)

Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician.

Why You Should See It: High up on our most-anticipated list of films last year, after a Toronto International Film Festival debut last fall, Derek Cianfrance‘s Blue Valentine follow-up will finally see a release this spring. We were in the positive camp, saying this “insanely ambitious,” sprawling family drama featuring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper has Cianfrance “retaining the gritty authenticity of his lyrically heartbreaking [debut].”

2. Simon Killer (Antonio Campos; April TBD)

Synopsis: A recent college graduate travels to France, where he becomes involved with a prostitute.

Why You Should See It: Although it’s been around a year since I saw the premiere of Antonio Campos’ haunting Afterschool follow-up, it’s searing images still reverberate in my mind. Featuring Brady Corbet‘s best performance to date, Simon Killer is yet another astounding, dark character studio from the filmmaking team that brought us Martha Marcy May Marlene.

1. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick; April 12th)

Synopsis: After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane.

Why You Should See It: The films of Terrence Malick have always been met with an initially divisive response and his latest was no different. Premiering on the fall festival circuit, we were on the positive side, praising the director for “continuing to strip the very medium of film down to its barest essentials [as] form once again trumps narrative in his beautiful account of love through memory.” Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem, we’ll be first in theaters when this one begins its limited release this spring.


What 2013 films have you already seen? What are you most looking forward to from this batch?

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