**Updated December 27, 2010**
This is about the time of year when most critics are looking back at the year we’re finishing. I will be doing that soon enough (still have a lot of movies to catch up on), but for now, I’m going to look forward. Right now, 2011 looks to be an exciting and kind of audacious year at the movies, and that’s not even taking into consideration all of the indies and art house films that will be buzzed about at festivals like Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto over the year. Will the major studios be able to live up to their own hype? We’ll have to wait for opening day, but these are the films right now I’m looking forward to the most:
Brian’s 11 “Must-See” Films of 2011
1. “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” (12/23)- This film- intended to be the first of a possible trilogy- is an unlikely and genuine event. Based on the cult favorite comics by French artist Herge about a boy and his dog, this motion-capture animated film is the first of its’ kind for the man directing it, Steven Spielberg, who is collaborating with Peter Jackson to make at least a pair of films based on the comics. Jackson is no stranger to motion-capture after his “Lord of the Rings” epics, but for Spielberg- who, fourth “Indy” film aside, is getting better and bolder with age- it’s a chance to show he still has the skills that made him a wunderkind in his early years, and that you can teach an old director new tricks. Word has it that Spielberg is directing film one of the trilogy, Jackson film two (in between directing the upcoming “Hobbit” movies). I’m already sold, and I haven’t even seen a frame from it.
2. “Cabin in the Woods” (N/A)- In all fairness, my inclusion of this film on my “must-see” list for 2011 is more about hoping to finally see it than knowing I’ll actually see it. You see, this horror entry from Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard (a “Buffy” vet who also wrote “Cloverfield”) has been in the can for a while. The reason we haven’t is purely financial- the studio that produced it is debt-ridden MGM. Things are starting to look up for the once-great studio, but I’ll believe we see this project onscreen when we finally see a trailer or poster around. And when it does come out, I’ll be there to support it.
3. “Thor” (5/6) & “Captain America: The First Avenger” (7/22)- Here is where things start to get interesting for Marvel. Up until now they were successful in introducing “Iron Man” (and more importantly, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man) into the public consciousness. “The Incredible Hulk” also successfully reintroduced that character, even though Edward Norton has been replaced by Mark Ruffalo for “The Avengers.” This coming summer, they have the unenviable task of bring two of their trickiest major characters into the fold in a way that will integrate them effortlessly into the cinematic Marvel universe for Joss Whedon, the writer-director of 2012’s “Avengers.” I’m not terribly worried: with Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston in the director’s chairs (Branagh for “Thor,” Johnston for “Captain America”), and the likes of Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving onscreen, and Marvel’s track record an “imperfect” 3-for-3 as a studio, I’m thinking they’ll be just fine.
4. “Hugo Cabret” (12/9)- Five years removed from an Oscar and Marty Scorsese is still trying new things. Who would have imagined the director of such gritty classics like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “GoodFellas” would make something the whole family could enjoy (and no, his 1997 Dali Lama biopic “Kundun” doesn’t count), much less shoot it in digital 3D? Based on the book by Brian Selznick, Marty is expanding his artistic palette in the service of a story unlike any other one he’s told, and he’s assembled a cast (including Jude Law, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Ben Kingsley and Sascha Baron Cohen) that will no doubt bring the story to vivid life for him.
5. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” (7/15)- So at last, here we are at the end of the most successful franchise in cinema history. November began the end with a gripping and epic adventure where Harry, Ron and Hermione were alone in their search for the pieces of Lord Voldemort’s soul. In part two of David Yates’s adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s book, we see the war that rages when the Dark Lord and his army finally wage war on those looking to stop him. July cannot get here fast enough for this cinematic “Potter” fan…
6. “Green Lantern” (6/17)- Marvel has had their stable of superheroes rolling to a larger cinematic universe (culminating in 2012’s “The Avengers”) since 2008. This is DC’s first step in that direction, bringing their sci-fi/fantasy hero Hal Jordan, who becomes part of an elite universal band of police to protect the cosmos, to the big-screen. Ryan Reynolds has proven himself to fans thus far more-than deserving to play Jordan, be it from his triumphant Comic-Con appearance to the film’s slick and fun teaser, while director Martin Campbell (who directed the two best recent Bonds, “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” along with “Edge of Darkness” and “The Mask of Zorro”) looks like he’s got a superb blend of space opera and comic book adventure in store for us in June.
7. “The Beaver” (Spring 2011)- Trust me, no one is more surprised than I am that this long-delayed dark comedy made my top 10, but after that trailer that came out in December, my interest was piqued. 2010 was a pretty crappy year for Mel Gibson; his supposed “return to form” vehicle “Edge of Darkness” failed to draw a crowd, and need I even mention his summer, where leaked tapes painted him as a violent and upsetting bigot? (Well you know, more than we already wondered.) That’s what makes this film, co-starring and directed by Gibson’s friend Jodie Foster, feel all the more fitting for a Gibson comeback. Mad Mel plays a husband and father in a mid-life crisis and intense depression. One day, he finds a beaver puppet that turns his outlook upside down. I’ve been genuinely conflicted about Gibson since the summer, but I must confess, this one looks like a good way to start rehabilitating his image so he can continue with what he does best.
8. “The Green Hornet” (1/14)- For what seems like ages, studios have been trying to get this offbeat comic book property off the ground. Filmmakers as diverse as Kevin Smith and Stephen Chow have been attached. Now, it finally comes to us from the screenwriters (and star) of “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad” and the director of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind.” I’ll let you stew over that disparity for a second. But you know what? I love it. It means we won’t be getting your usual “yawn” origin story. It also means we have Oscar-winner Michel Gondry (one of the most original cinematic voices of the past ten years) directing Seth Rogan, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson, and Christophe Waltz in a January movie that will look and feel like no other. The trailers have been less-than-solid, but certainly enough to get me excited.
9. “War Horse” (12/23)- What did we as moviegoers do to be so fortunate to have not one but two Steven Spielberg films arriving for the 2011 holiday season? In addition to #1 on this list, the “Schindler’s List” Oscar-winner has directed this adaptation of a Michael Morpurgo’s novel about a boy and his beloved horse who are separated when the horse is recruited for the British cavalry during WWI. And now that the fourth “Indiana Jones” is out of his system, Spielberg will be moving from this and “Tintin” to his long-awaited Lincoln film for 2012, with Daniel Day Lewis in the role of our 16th President. I don’t know what to expect, but with Spielberg, there’s little doubt as to whether it’ll be successful or not.
10. “Rango” (3/4)- Gore Verbinski has been an interesting director to watch. Before directing the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, he was in the Dreamworks stable with “Mouse Hunt,” “The Mexican,” and “The Ring.” And in 2005, he directed the quirky and underrated “The Weather Man.” Next March, he returns to the subversive family fun of “Mouse Hunt” with his first animated feature. The film stars Johnny Depp as a lizard in the desert trying to make his way in the world, and stay out of trouble. If the first teaser is any indication, the western-themed film looks to be a wicked and wild delight.
Other 2011 titles to look out for include: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (N/A), Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary exploring the first recorded cave paintings (created as early as 32,000 years ago) in a French cave; “Cowboys & Aliens” (7/29), a sci-fi western concoction directed by “Iron Man’s” Jon Favreau starring Daniel Craig (the newest Bond) and Harrison Ford (the only Indiana Jones); “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (12/21), the inevitable American re-adaptation of Steig Larsson’s best-seller, with David Fincher directing Daniel Craig as the investigative journalist and “The Social Network’s” Rooney Mara as the titular computer hacker; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strangers Tide” (5/20), the fourth film of Disney’s fantastically-successful franchise, this time with “Chicago’s” Rob Marshall helming Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack as he searches for the Fountain of Youth; “Sucker Punch” (3/25), Zack Snyder’s latest visually-astounding epic, this time from an original story that draws from Manga and Anime; “Rise of the Apes” (6/24), a new addition to Fox’s iconic “Apes” saga that looks at events prior to and depicted in “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”; “X-Men: First Class” (6/3), with “Kick-Ass’s” Matthew Vaughn taking us back to the early years of Professor Xavier and Magneto in this spin-off from the successful “X-Men” franchise; “Red Riding Hood” (3/11), a Gothic take on the classic fairy tale with a ravishing Amanda Seyfried in the title role, directed by “Twilight’s” Catherine Hardwick; “I Am Number Four” (2/18), an intriguing sci-fi thriller directed by “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye’s” D.J. Caruso and co-starring “Glee’s” Dianna Agron; “Scream 4” (4/15), the latest self-referential sequel in Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s ’90s franchise-the trailer promises more wicked screams, both the laughing & frightening kind; “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom” (5/26), Dreamworks’s inevitable sequel to their 2008’s hit that one hopes is as entertaining as the teaser seen on prints of “Harry Potter” this winter; “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (12/16), with Tom Cruise reportedly looking to hand over the franchise to Jeremy Renner, although I’m more interested since it’s the live-action directorial debut of “The Incredibles’s” Brad Bird; “Cars 2” (6/24), Pixar’s marketing-driven sequel to their 2006 hit-the trailer looks ok, but I’m still not convinced this was a sequel they needed to do; “The Hangover 2” (5/26), a sequel to 2009’s comedy smash that’s gotten more ink for it’s cameos than for the excitement of fans like me hoping for a sequel; “Drive Angry 3D” (2/25), a stupidly-titled action thriller with Nicolas Cage from the director of the underrated “My Bloody Valentine” remake; “The Dilemma” (1/14), a Ron Howard comedy with Vince Vaughn as a best friend who doesn’t know how to tell bff Kevin James his wife is cheating on him-the trailers look “meh,” but hopefully Howard will spin it into another winning comedy; “Transformers: The Dark of the Moon” (7/1), Michael Bay’s third epic actioner from the ’80s Hasbro toy line-he claims it tops the lame “Revenge of the Fallen,” but we’ll see; “Unknown” (1/7), an intriguing thriller starring Liam Neeson as a man whose identity has been taken from him; and “Season of the Witch” (1/7), a long-on-the-shelve epic starring Nicolas Cage that could have some campy entertainment value despite its PG-13 rating.
Viva La Resistance!