While Jon Favreau may say that 2011 looks to have a bloodbath summer on its hands with blockbusters galore taking 3D screens from each other, I’ll say right now that those aren’t the movies most intriguing me. Next year sees a return for Jack Sparrow, Lightning McQueen, Holmes and Watson, the Witwickys, Ethan Hunt, and, of course, everyone’s favorite Ghostface. Superheroes are king once more with Avengers, Mutants, and a delayed and beleaguered Black Beauty coming as well as our once beloved comedian Adam Sandler not only starring in a film (Just Go With It), but also writing and producing one (Born to be a Star), while the Farrelly Brothers return with Hall Pass.
Yet, again, none of these big name flicks really hit home and beg for me to watch when there is actually—who ever thought it could happen—a huge spate of original and inventive material on the docket. Some brilliant auteurs return to multiplexes around the country (hopefully) and their singularly creative visions look to make 2011 a cinematically memorable one. If only Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and Anderson’s The Master didn’t lose their funding …
Dates listed are correct as of publishing
Ten Films Not to be Dismissed (in alphabetical order):
Contagion (10/21/11) –
Director Steven Soderbergh re-teams with his The Informant! screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for an action/thriller about the threat of a deadly outbreak and the group of people enlisted to deal with it. Starring regular Matt Damon, Soderbergh culled together a fantastic cast for his still-filming production set for release late next year.
Cowboys and Aliens (07/29/11) –
The announcement of director Jon Favreau signing on to helm a film based on Disney’s Magic Kingdom be damned—at present, he is king of action flicks with more than just explosions and quick cuts. Taking a break from the Iron Man saga, he brings us a new comic book adaptation with help from three “Lost”-alums, (including co-creator Damon Lindelof) in Cowboys & Aliens. As the first trailer can attest, this is a real Western with the supernatural aspects of extraterrestrial invaders added in. Headlining an eclectic cast, Daniel Craig takes point, waking up with new tech weaponry, and Harrison Ford tackles the crazed old-timer lawman—a role he excels in these days.
A Dangerous Method (2011) –
After an early career of making dark horror-type work and a renaissance of late with more realistic worlds still containing his penchant for violence, the fact David Cronenberg has decided to make a historical biopic about psychiatrists Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the woman who came between them (Keira Knightley) is beyond me. But I’m very intrigued to see what he has done.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (07/15/11) –
I haven’t even had a chance to watch the first half of this final installment in the Harry Potter saga yet, but I know from reading the novel that the ending could be a fantastic way to end it all. I wasn’t too hot on director David Yates for his work on the 5th film, but the man redeemed himself by helming my favorite installment yet, The Half-Blood Prince. I just hope he kept some of that magic to send this phenomenon out in style.
Jane Eyre (03/11/11) –
My only knowledge of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre comes from seeing an old edition of it and her sister’s Wuthering Heights on my parents’ bookshelf as a child. The brief and vague description given about the film as a tale of a mousy governess discovering the terrible secret of her employer is just enough to intrigue my interest along with its brilliant cast of young actors in Mia Wasikowska, Jamie Bell, and Imogen Poots. The real draw, however, is director Cary Fukunaga who’s Sin Nombre was a revelation back in 2009.
The Muppets (12/25/11) –
Rumored ever since Jason Segel stole the show in Forgetting Sarah Marshall with his puppet rendition of Dracula, his vision to revive the Muppet franchise sees the light of day come Christmas. Getting some of his comedic friends involved and now including “Flight of the Conchords” director James Bobin behind the camera, Kermit and friends appear to be ready to save their old theater with a new show that will surely bring back nostalgic memories of my childhood.
Paul (03/18/11) –
One of the few films that were also on my 2010 list—unfortunately delayed—I’m still excited to see if the team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can complete a hat trick of superb laughs without usual collaborator Edgar Wright by their side. The images so far showing these nerds traveling to comic conventions on their way to discovering an alien (voice by Seth Rogen) are a ton of fun. I just hope the CGI, which I assume caused the prolonged release, holds up opposite a top-notch supporting cast.
Red State (2011) –
After helming a Hollywood flick in Cop Out, it’s nice to see Kevin Smith return to original material, especially since he’s genre-hopped into horror. With his effectiveness in lambasting religion in Dogma, watching what he does with extreme fundamentalism in Middle America—a concept that already breeds visions of horror without any blood or scares—only becomes amplified knowing Michael Parks plays the pastor at its center. You know he’ll add a few laughs in there as well.
Restless (01/28/11) –
Seemingly done for now with his minimalist experimentations, Gus Van Sant steps behind the camera for a more straightforward work like his previous Milk. Not to say normal will play any part, however, Jason Lew’s script contains Mia Wasikowska as a terminally ill girl who falls for a boy with the odd hobby of attending funerals (the adult acting debut of the late Dennis Hopper’s son Henry). Throw in a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII and you can assume Van Sant is just the man to make something special out of it all.
Thor (05/06/11) –
I don’t want to be misconstrued as some sort of elitist against mainstream work or popular culture; I didn’t forsake the entire comic book wave of 2011 and do really want to see Thor. With accomplished thespians in Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Hopkins, and Natalie Portman along with relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth, I’m most interested to see what Shakespearean regular Kenneth Branagh has done to this mythical origin story behind the scenes. This might be epic in its theatricality and pathos, but could also easily be an epic failure.
Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2011
10. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (12/09/11) –
Leave it to Martin Scorsese to pull in an amazing list of actors for a family film adaptation involving a boy who lives in the walls of a 1930s era Paris train station. I’d want to see his attempt at creating a film without any f-bombs either way, but couple that enigma with the fact this is also his first try at 3D and I’m buying a ticket opening day. I have a hunch he’ll do something special with the technology for sure.
9. Immortals (11/11/11) –
A repeat offender from my 2011 list—this time with a new title—Tarsem Singh’s tale of Theseus and titans imprisoned in the labyrinth finally has a release date, (the news that he has also signed on to direct an adaptation of Snow White bodes well for this to be screened next year too). This is one of those projects that may or may not have a great story, contains a mix of young newcomers (Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, and Kellan Lutz) and old character types (Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, and Stephen McHattie), and yet, whether any of that succeeds or fails, my want to see it lies mainly with the desire to glimpse what Singh’s Minotaur will look like.
8. Super 8 (06/10/11) –
I bought into the hype with Cloverfield and was redeemed with a pretty great monster flick, so why wouldn’t I be psyched for Round Two of viral media and top-secret filmmaking when J.J. Abrams isn’t only producing, but also writing and directing Super 8? He’s said early Spielberg inspired him—he actually worked on restoring some shorts from the master during college—and admittedly, the not knowing what it is gets me every time.
7. Atlas Shrugged: Part I (04/15/11) –
One of the best novels I’ve ever read, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is way overdue for a cinematic adaptation. While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie tried their best to get it done, I couldn’t be more excited to see independent production company “The Strike” Productions take on the daunting tale of intellectual and human value outside the system and meddling hands of Hollywood. The cast may include a lot of unknowns and be helmed by first time feature film director Paul Johansson, (who I will say did a great job behind the camera of some “One Tree Hill” episodes), but I look at all that as a positive. Supposedly Part One of Three, I can’t wait to check it out, even if we probably won’t catch a glimpse of The Valley just yet.
6. Hanna (04/08/11) –
One of the best directors working today, Joe Wright proved he could do more than just spectacular period pieces when he totally surprised me with the effective The Soloist after I had low expectations going in. Changing pace to the action/thriller genre, he enlists his Atonement star Saoirse Ronan to portray a cold-hearted killer who is taken in by a French family looking to break her from the dark lifestyle she was raised in. With Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana—two of my favorite actors—along for the ride, I don’t see why Wright can’t keep his perfect track record alive.
5. Source Code (04/15/11) –
Duncan Jones has decided to follow up the one-man show of Moon with a decent ensemble cast in his sophomore science fiction film Source Code. The obtuse plot description details that the story is about a soldier waking up in the body of a commuter who witnesses a train explosion, discovering he’s part of a government project wherein someone’s consciousness can be put into that of another human during the final 8 minutes of his/her life. Jones’s assured debut gives me confidence that he’ll follow it up with another winner, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the brilliance of its predecessor.
4. Sucker Punch (03/25/11) –
Genre maestro Zack Snyder, recently named director on the new Superman, finally gets the opportunity to put his singular visionary style towards a unique piece of art. Nailing the look and feel of two classics in the graphic novel canon—300 and Watchmen—his Sucker Punch looks to continue this aesthetic while also broadening his imagination’s scope as it deals with a story never before represented in other mediums. When the people next to me in the theatre during its trailer said, “it must be based on a comic or videogame”, you know he’s got the feel just right, drawing the masses in with his dark fantasy of an institutionalized girl using an alternate reality to plan her escape.
3. Melancholia (2011) –
The declaration of Lars von Trier relaying to the world he would film “no more happy endings” looms large behind his new thriller considering I can’t remember any piece he’s done that ever had one. A list of its intriguing cast is all I know to share—Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander and Stellan Skarsgård, John Hurt, and the ever-creepy Udo Kier—besides the fact that von Trier’s penchant to push the envelope and make his audience squirm is enough to place it on a list like this.
2. The Adjustment Bureau (03/04/11) –
Looking like a cinematic brother to a favorite of mine, Dark City, and based upon a short story from Philip K. Dick, George Nolfi’s romantic sci-fi film starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt has a trailer that captivated me to the fullest. When ‘adjusters’ make sure we stay on track to live the lives we’ve been placed on Earth to live, who’s strong enough to fight back and live the life he or she wants? The love affair between a politician and a ballerina was never supposed to last longer than one meeting, so when they cross paths again and seek to keep the spark alive, the suited men tasked to watch over us begin to make themselves known as they attempt to course-correct.
1. The Tree of Life (05/27/11) –
Having recently watched Terrence Malick’s complete filmography—a brilliant foursome of work spanning almost forty years—and discovering his newest has a firm theatrical release date now, I can be pretty confident this elusive piece will once and for all be seen. A perfectionist through and through, Malick has worked tirelessly and skipped festivals to make sure his vision came out just as he wanted, most likely giving a new masterpiece to study and appreciate for decades to come. Dealing with the loss of innocence and starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, we can expect voiceover narration, gorgeous cinematography, and a storyline that will cause us all to look inside ourselves and discover, through the work, something we never knew or thought about the world. Malick has a knack for that sort of introspection.
 Steven Soderbergh, director of Contagion
 DANIEL CRAIG stars as Jake Lonergan in Universal Pictures and DreamWorks’ “Cowboys & Aliens”, directed by Jon Favreau. Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC
 Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method
 (L-r) DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter and RALPH FIENNES as Lord Voldemort in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 Mia Wasikowska stars as Jane Eyre in Focus Features’ Jane Eyre (2011) Copyright © Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
 Jim Henson’s The Muppets
 Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Paul
 The first leaked image of Red State
 Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper in Columbia Pictures’ “Restless.” Photo by Scott Green.
 Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Left to right: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in Marvel Studios’ “Thor.” (c) 2010 MVLFFLLC. TM & (c) 2010 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
 Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield on location of Hugo Cabret in Paris. Photo from http://cosmic-girl.com.
 Mickey Rourke in Immortals. Photo from http://www.slashfilm.com/.
 Super 8 image from http://www.super8-movie.com/.
 Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) converses with her brother James (Matthew Marsden) at the Rearden Anniversary Party. ©2010 THE STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
 Saoirse Ronan in Hanna. Photo from http://www.collider.com/.
 Source Code Jake Gyllehaal and Michele Monaghan. Still taken from trailer.
 (L-r) ABBIE CORNISH as Sweet Pea, JENA MALONE as Rocket, EMILY BROWNING as Babydoll, SCOTT GLENN as the Wise Man, VANESSA HUDGENS as Blondie and JAMIE CHUNG as Amber in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action fantasy “SUCKER PUNCH,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Clay Enos
 Kiefer Sutherland, Lars von Trier, Kirsten Dunst, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Photo by Kirstine Kiilerich.
 MATT DAMON stars in the thriller “The Adjustment Bureau” as a man who glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he’s ever loved (EMILY BLUNT) across, under and through the streets of modern-day New York. Photo Credit: Andy Schwartz © 2010 Universal Studios
 Jessica Chastain on the set of The Tree of Life. Photo from http://theplaylist.blogspot.com/.