Coming to the big screen...

AFTER the hullabaloo of Boxing Day releases, there's the briefest of lulls at the cinema before things begin again with a vengeance.

In the next couple of weeks, there are many interesting films being released locally, including two that have polarised critics and audiences overseas. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, depicts the covert hunt for Osama bin Laden, and includes much-debated scenes of torture, while Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is a bloody blaxploitation-spaghetti western combo whose racial politics have been the subject of controversy. There's much less anxiety over Lincoln (opening February 7), Steven Spielberg's portrait of the American president during the final stages of the Civil War, and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance has been widely acclaimed.

Side Effects, reportedly Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical feature, opens in February. It is a psychological thriller with pharmacological plot elements: the cast includes Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And, as Soderbergh apparently quits movies, the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai returns with a new film, The Grandmaster, which has its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February. The peerless Tony Leung (pictured right) plays Ip Man, the legendary martial arts instructor who worked with Bruce Lee.

Among high-profile literary adaptations to come, there's Anna Karenina, from director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) teaming up once again with Keira Knightley. And in the category of supposedly ''unfilmable'' books brought to the screen, David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas is a prime example, with its six complex, linked storylines that stretch from the 19th century to the post-apocalyptic future. Suitably enough, the movie adaptation has three directors: the Wachowskis (The Matrix trilogy) have joined forces with German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).

In 2013, there are films about creative collaborations in crisis. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is the story of a Las Vegas double act secretly at odds; Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi are a celebrity magician duo, while Jim Carrey is the new illusionist on the scene, a cult up-and-comer who makes the famous pair look passe.

And in A Late Quartet, directed by Yaron Zilberman, Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir are members of a string quartet whose close relationship begins to unravel as circumstances change.

There are also new takes on familiar stories: Oz: The Great and Powerful is a prequel, directed by Sam Raimi, in which James Franco plays the Wizard of the Emerald City in his early days. Then there's The Lone Ranger, directed by Gore Verbinski, with Armie Hammer as the masked man, and Johnny Depp as Tonto. Superman puts the cape back on with with Man of Steel, directed by Zach Snyder: Henry Cavill is the mild-mannered reporter, Russell Crowe is Jor-El, and Amy Adams plays Lois Lane.

Actors and directors reunite: Ryan Gosling and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) are back together in The Place Beyond the Pines, in which Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to crime. He is also reunited with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for Only God Forgives, a police officer-versus-gangster face-off that takes place in a Thai boxing arena.

Also reuniting on screen: Charlotte Gainsbourg and writer-director Lars von Trier, together again after the harrowing Antichrist and the brilliant Melancholia. The cast of the new film, Nymphomaniac, also includes Stellan Skarsgaard, another von Trier veteran, and Shia LeBeouf (who has already told American TV that his sex scenes in the film will be unsimulated).

There are, of course, sequels of all kinds. Iron Man 3 has Robert Downey jnr's Tony Stark up against a legendary enemy from the comic books, the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. San Diego's favourite TV personality Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) will attempt to "stay classy" in a sequel, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, due for release at the end of the year. And there's another instalment of Richard Linklater's holiday encounter that began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, when Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke met in Europe, then went their separate ways. Before Midnight, the third in the series, is set in Greece.

Baz Luhrman has been receiving plenty of attention for his choice of 3D for The Great Gatsby, another widely anticipated movie - but who could fail to be even more fascinated by the prospect of Jean-Luc Godard shooting in 3D, in a film called Goodbye To Language?

New York stories come from both Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. Scorsese's feature The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a memoir of securities fraud, and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, while the Coen Brothers focus on the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 1960s with Inside Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac (Balibo) plays the title character, alongside Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake.

SCIENCE fiction, in various manifestations, looks to be a strong theme in 2013. There is more of the young James Kirk and Mr Spock in Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J.J. Abrams.

Guillermo del Toro makes a welcome return with Pacific Rim, an alien invasion adventure in which giant robots come to the rescue of Earth. Ender's Game (based on an Orson Scott Card novel) is about plans to combat a third invasion, preparing a group of talented children for the task.

Alfonso Cuaron (The Children of Men) has a new film, Gravity - co-written with his son, Jonas - which stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts adrift in space. Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) adapts a post-apocalyptic graphic novel, Snowpiercer, with Jamie Bell and Chris Evans as members of a group of train passengers who are the last people left on Earth. And District 9 director Neill Blomkamp has a new SF feature, Elysium, which contrasts a devastated Earth with a luxurious space station where the privileged live. The cast includes Matt Damon and Jodi Foster. And Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski, is another Earth-in-ruins scenario, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.

Speculative fiction with a more personal spin includes Spike Jonze's Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix, about a writer and his romantic relationship with his new operating system. And Shane Carruth, who directed a terrific ultra-low-budget time-travel movie called Primer in 2005, has finally made his second feature, Upstream Color, about a man, a woman, identity, illusion and an ageless organism.

Even Richard 'Love Actually' Curtis has a romantic comedy, About Time, about time travel.

And The World's End, the tale of a marathon pub crawl reunion, from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), turns out to be about impending apocalypse.

There are plenty of Australian releases to look forward to. There's The Turning, a portmanteau film featuring adaptations of Tim Winton short stories from a range of directors, including Cate Blanchett and David Wenham, working for the first time behind the camera.

The French director Anne Fontaine has made Two Mothers, adapted by Christopher Hampton from a Doris Lessing novella. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are the title characters, with James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) and Xavier Samuel (The Twilight Saga) as their sons. I, Frankenstein is a new take on a familiar story, directed by Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow, When The War Began), with a cast that includes Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy and Yvonne Strahovski.

Australian actor Jai Courtney, who has several Hollywood roles this year, is in I, Frankenstein, and in Matthew Saville's forthcoming Felony. It also stars Joel Edgerton, who wrote the script. David Michod (Animal Kingdom) has a feature set in the outback, starring Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce.

Ivan Sen's Mystery Road stars Aaron Pedersen as an indigenous detective investigating the outback murder of a young girl. And John Curran (Praise) directs Tracks, based on Robyn Davidson's memoir of her trek across the desert on a camel, with Mia Wasikowska in the lead.

Documentary filmmaker Mark Hartley makes his feature debut with a remake of the 1970s horror classic Patrick, starring Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths. And, finally, Max Rockatansky - played this time by Tom Hardy - returns to the screen after years of absence. Mad Max: Fury Road is scheduled for a December release.

This story Coming to the big screen... first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.