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Part 1

Best picks and hidden gems for 2019

January 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part column. See Part 2 in the Friday, Jan. 11 edition.

There are a few absolutes for the next year in film: 

“Avengers: Endgame” and “Star Wars: Episode IX” will undoubtedly haul in boatloads of cash when released in April and December, respectively.

“Avengers” aside, there will be no shortage of superhero films at the box office (there are currently 11 slated). Disney is doubling down on the trend of remaking its animated library into (somewhat) live-action films, with three scheduled throughout the year.

But there’s still a lot to discover at the theater, with countless smaller, hidden gems waiting to be dusted off. I will list some of the expected heaviest hitters on the calendar, along with some of the more obscure offerings (let’s call them “small-ternatives”). Despite early prognostications, box office revenue for the year will finish at a record high, and theaters are determined to keep that swing upward. Let’s take a look at the films slated to assist them in that endeavor (dates subject to change).

JANUARY 
  • Glass (Jan. 18) Those who stayed to the end of director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” were treated to a small cameo that revealed the film was actually tied to his previous “Unbreakable,” with Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis. Now, they will join “Split” star James McAvoy in this concluding film that brings all three front and center.
  • Small-ternative: A Dog’s Way Home (Jan. 11) Ashley Judd stars in this adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron’s best-selling follow-up to “A Dog’s Purpose” about a young pitbull travelling 400 miles to find its owner.
FEBRUARY
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Feb. 8) The talented directing duo of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord serve only as producers here, as Mike Mitchell steps in for the sequel. And while his resume may not be as impressive (“Trolls,” “Shrek Forever After”), here’s hoping that the manic energy is still in place as the Lego heroes face an invasion from the Duplo universe. The entire vocal cast returns.  
  • Alita: Battle Angel (Feb.14) Here’s hoping that the third time’s a charm for director Robert Rodriguez’s film (it was originally slated for last summer, then December), which is adapted from a Japanese manga about a cyborg girl (played by Rosa Salazar) who must face her past with the help of a scientist (played by Christoph Waltz) who saved her from the scrap heap.  
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Feb. 22) The third and ostensibly final chapter in the series finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) living in a dragon utopia with Toothless until a new love dragon love interest comes along and a new threat invades their village.
  • Small-ternatives: Cold Pursuit (Feb. 8) Liam Neeson gives his action hero persona a darkly comedic bent as a snowplow driver who seeks revenge on a gangster who apparently murdered his son, which looks like a cross between “Fargo” and “The Simpsons’” famous “Mr. Plow” episode. 
  • Fighting with My Family (Feb. 14) A young girl (played by Florence Pugh) from the UK looks to break into the world of professional wrestling in this comedy from “The Office” creator Stephen Merchant. This truth-based tale also stars The Rock (as himself), who also serves as the film’s producer.
MARCH 
  • Captain Marvel (March 8) Before we find out the fate of all the Marvel superheroes in April, we are treated to the first female-led superhero film of the MCU. Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who discovers her superhuman abilities.  
  • Us (March 15) Director Jordan Peele gave us a Christmas present in 2018 of the first trailer for his “Get Out” follow-up, which has been under tight wraps as far as details are concerned. We do know that it stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss, and we’re more than intrigued by its twisted, twisted trailer.  
  • Greyhound (March 22) Tom Hanks heads back to World War II as a commander of a naval ship pursued by German U-boats in the Atlantic.  
  • Dumbo (March 29) Tim Burton takes on another Disney animated classic and casts Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito as the various carnies who discover the big-eared elephant’s airborne talents.
  • Small-tentative: Where’d You Go Bernadette (March 22) An anxiety-ridden Bernadette (played by Cate Blanchett) has it all: bright daughter, loving husband and great gig as an architect, until one day, she vanishes without a trace. It’s based on a the best-selling book, and Oscar-winning director Richard Linklater assembled an all-star cast including Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Kristen Wiig and Judy Greer.
APRIL 
  • Shazam! (April 5) Fresh off the success of “Aquaman,” DC looks to take its lightest touch yet to its superhero franchise, featuring Zachary Levi as the adult version of an awkward teen who realizes he can morph into a caped crusader.  
  • Pet Sematary (April 5) With the success of “It,” and “Castle Rock,” Stephen King properties are the rage again, ushering in this remake of one of his most popular novels about a graveyard that possesses some powerful rejuvenating effects.  
  • Hellboy (April 12) Guillermo Del Toro’s original still holds up, so I’m not sure why we are in need of a remake already of the underworld’s foul-mouthed, big-horned crime fighter, but with Neil Marshall (who directed the excellent “The Descent”) at the helm, it’s worth a look.  
  • Avengers: Endgame (April 26) Very little has been revealed about the film, but it promises to bring to a conclusion the battle between the universe-destroying Thanos and the world’s mightiest heroes. From the cryptic trailer, we can see that Hawkeye and Ant-Man have joined the fight, but we are unaware as to who might be restored, and who will remain a dust pile.
  • Small-ternative: The Best of Enemies (April 5) Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell plays a KKK leader who squares off against Ann Atwater (Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson) in this based-on-a-true-story battle over school integration in the 1970s.
MAY 
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu (May 10) Ryan Reynolds decided to take his advice from Bill Murray, who voiced “Garfield” and lend his vocal talents to the world of live-action/CGI. He voices Pikachu, the most famous of the Pokemon characters, who actually has lines here and does not merely utter “Peek-ah-chooooo” over and over again as he did in the previous incarnations.  
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 (May 17) Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Anjelica Huston join Keanu Reeves, picking up right where “Chapter 2” left off, as John must survive a bounty on his head without the aid of the larger criminal underworld. 
  • Rocketman (May 17) Taking a more fanciful approach than the usual biopic, this look at Elton John’s early career adds a lustre of fantasy throughout while still following the musician as it takes him from knee-high to a man.  
  • Ad Astra (May 24) Brad Pitt plays an engineer who ventures out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy in search of his astronaut father who took a one-way trip to Neptune.  
  • Aladdin (May 24) Will Smith attempts to fill the slippers of Robin Williams in this live-action spin on the animated classic. Guy Ritchie directs. 
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31) Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and Sally Hawkins make up the human cast in this monster-mash sequel featuring Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. “Krampus” director Michael Dougherty steps in as ringmaster for this gargantuan title fight.
  • Small-ternative: The Kid (May 24) A biographical dramatization of the early life of one William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. Vincent D’Onofrio directs Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Dane DeHaan as young Billy.
JUNE 
  • The Secret Life of Pets 2 (June 7) Patton Oswalt steps in for Louie C.K. as the voice of Max, with the rest of the crew returning in this sequel to the inexplicably popular first film.  
  • Dark Phoenix (June 7) After “X-Men Apocalypse” left fans scratching their heads, the series attempts to steer things in a more straightforward direction with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence all returning.  
  • Men in Black International (June 14) The popular sci-fi- series focuses on new agents (played by Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, both from “Thor: Ragnarok”) and their efforts to keep the world safe and humans unaware of meddling extraterrestrial life on Earth.  
  • Son of Shaft (June 14) Three generations of the blaxploitation gumshoe, with Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson and newcomer Jessie Usher as the next in line.  
  • Toy Story 4 (June 21) The “Toy Story” trilogy is near-flawless, ending on a perfect note, so I am hoping there is a hell of a compelling reason to bring back the gang for another outing.
  • Small-ternative: Ford v. Ferrari” (June 28) The 1966 LeMans Endurance Race is the setting for this drama depicting the rivalry between a group of American engineers determined to overthrow the dominant Ferrari, starring Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal and Josh Lucas.
JULY 
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 5) This film’s mere existence should be some clue as to the ending of “Avengers: Endgame,” but that doesn’t take away from the previous film’s impact of Spidey’s heartbreaking fade into dust. In this, he faces off against Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio.  
  • The Lion King (July 19) Many are calling this a live-action remake, but so far all the clips reveal that there is more lifelike CGI than the previous animated version. Donald Glover provides the voice of Simba; Beyonce shows up as Nala and James Earl Jones as the one and only Mufasa.  
  • Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (July 26) Depending on whether you count “Kill Bill” as one film or two, this marks Quentin Tarantino’s ninth or 10th film about an aspiring actor and his stunt double making a name for themselves in 1969 Hollywood, right around the time of the Manson Family murders. And speaking of killers, he’s assembled a murderer’s row of talent, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino and Dakota Fanning.
  • Small-ternative: 7 Bridges (July 12) Chadwick Boseman stars as a disgraced NYPD detective who, after being thrust into a citywide manhunt for a cop killer, is given a shot at redemption.
  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.