Thursday, January 13, 2011

My 35 (or 36) Most Anticipated Films of 2011

We are going to do this countdown style (just because I feel like it) so let us begin, as it were, at the end, and work our way up to number one.

35) Captain America: The First Avenger - Being a comic book geek from way back and a rabid cinephile from nearly as long ago, the sudden boom of cinematic superhero adaptations has been both a welcome sight and a harbinger of doom.  Though I love seeing my old friends from those halcyon days of yore, projected twenty feet tall on the big screen, the ability to create great cinema out of such is a thing of great difficulty.  Sure, Chris Nolan can do it, but can anyone else?  Joe Johnston, who practically killed The Wolfman with his horrendously dull adaptation, is probably not the guy for the job, and the casting of Chris Evans as the man to don the stars and stripes could be construed as a travesty, but Cap still squeaks onto the list due to him being one of my childhood faves (along with his socio-political nemesis and Avenger teammate Hawkeye) and my having at least some semblance of hope - faint as it may be.

34) Your Highness - Natalie Portman, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel in Medieval times - what more can you ask for.  In all actuality I am not really expecting much from this film.  Director David Gordon Green has done some good work (All the Real Girls and Snow Angels were both subtly sublime without anyone really noticing) but he seems to be going the Judd Apatow road these days, and that is never a good thing (unless you are looking for frat boy humour that is) and the film also stars the rather annoying Danny McBride as well.  But then we do get Natalie and Zooey in Medieval garb - what more can one ask for.

33) Red Riding Hood - Yeah yeah, I know, there's the whole Twilight connection, but Catherine Hardwicke does have an interesting visual style which lends itself to this iconic story and Amanda Seyfried is a good call for the titular wolf-lover/slayer and Julie Christie as Red's Grandma could be fun and Gary Oldman looks to be his old sinister self, all of which could bode well for the film.  Of course, Hardwicke will have to go beyond the typically tweeny mentality she was forced to play with in Twilight when it comes to the sexuality of the movie (the carnality even) for it to succeed on anything but a superficial level.  It has potential indeed, now let's just hope it can live up to it.

32) The Green Hornet - I must admit right off the bat that I am not a fan of Seth Rogen.  I enjoyed him in the long lost TV show Freaks & Geeks (the first and last time I actually liked something created by Judd Apatow also) but other than that, he just gets on my nerves.  No real reason, he just gets on my nerves, simple as that.  Of course one must wonder why a film starring the aforementioned Mr. Rogen makes this list at all - not to mention (though I am mentioning it!) a film done in that ever-annoying, cinematography-killing 3D craze that is sweeping multiplexes across the world.  The answer to that wonderment is simply put - un film de Michel Gondry.  Though to be honest, even that is probably not enough.

31) Paul - Two sci-fi geeks find an alien outside of Area 51 and all proverbial Hell breaks loose.  This is not what one looks for in a good movie necessarily but the film does have something worth noting - well, two somethings.  The two things that put this one on the map are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the aforementioned sci-fi/alien adopters.  Otherwise it could fall flat on its face (and again Seth Rogen is on board, albeit in voice only).

30) Thor - Again with the superhero movies and my inner cinephile battling my inner comic book geek.  Yeah, I know, one should not look for great cinema in such a genre (except when Chris Nolan is involved), but instead how much fun that inner comic book geeks is having watching the screen.  The reason this one makes the list, other than a nostalgia for my childhood and the Marvel Comics of the nineteen-seventies (before the industry lost its soul and went corporate), is the palpable excitement at seeing just how Asgard, home of the Gods, looks on the big screen.  Again, like with Captain America, there is probably just disappointment in my future, but one must have a little hope. 

29) Rise of the Apes - Starring James Franco, the busiest man in show biz (seriously, check out the guy's bio, he is working on about a dozen projects right now with another bunch in the wings) this origin story of The Planet of the Apes may have disaster written all over it, but my love for the original movies (and TV show) force my hand, so here it is at number 29.  At least it cannot be as bad as the Tim Burton version, right?  Right?  Right?

28) X-Men: First Class - And here we go again.  The first X-Men movie was well done (all things considered) and the second was one of the better films of the genre, but the third was just an unnecessary mess of a movie (as was the Wolverine prequel) so now here we are with a hopeful reboot of sorts, placing the story in the nineteen-sixties and showing the rise of the mutants.  My main attraction to this one is the cast.  James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw.  Of course, the highlight of the film may very well be January Jones in full Emma Frost costume (those fellow comic book geeks know what I'm talkin' 'bout).

27) Take This Waltz - For not being a fan of Seth Rogen, the guy is involved in quite a few films on this list, but I suppose when you star in just about everything out there, that is bound to happen.  Anyway, the inclusion on this list is not for Mr. Rogen, but for the director, Sarah Polley (well, and costar Michelle 'My Belle' Williams).  I have been a fan of the lovely miss Polley since first seeing her in The Sweet Hereafter (technically Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen was the first time I saw her, but it was in The Sweet Hereafter that she first blew me away) but here she acts as writer/director.  Her previous directorial feature, Away We Go, had a moodiness to it that can best be described as Canadian (although on a lesser scale, she shares a certain unique moodiness in her directing style with fellow Canucks, Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg). This moodiness is why her film makes the list - that and Michelle Williams (Rogen be damned!).

26) We Bought a Zoo - Though the auteur has never made a great film, Cameron Crowe has created some great scenes inside those not so great (but some very good) movies.  He does have a bad habit of going overboard on the sap and sentimentality (and this is coming from the admitted sentimentalist this critic is) but he has still managed to gather together some pretty good moments throughout his career - many of them involving the director's seeming sixth sense at musical inclusion.  All that being said, Crowe's latest film, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning, should, even if not a great film, at the very least, have some rather enjoyable moments throughout.

25) The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - I am one of the last people to anticipate a Spielberg film, but here I am doing it.  Technically speaking, Spielberg is a talented filmmaker, I just find the guy rather soulless, yet here I am looking forward to his latest film.  I have never read any of the Tintin comics of yore, but from what I have seen, it seems rather interesting visually speaking (seeming to be more unique than your typical modern day animation) - and it has Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in their strange motion-capture selves.

24) The Raven - John Cusack is Edgar Allen Poe and he is solving crimes.  What the !!???  The absurdity alone, of changing Poe into a Sherlock Holmesian character hellbent on tracking down a serial killer using Poe's fiction as his M.O., is well worth any anticipation I may have for this film.

23) The Cabin in the Woods - A self-proclaimed "twist" on the usual formula, this Joss Whedon written horror movie is co-written and directed by Drew Goddard, one of the writers of Lost, so we should possibly expect something that perhaps makes no sense at all.  The Joss Whedon connection makes it an interesting-looking movie though.  I am not one of these Whedon fanatics (he is not God folks!), but I do have respect for the guy's work.

22) The Descendants - Alexander Payne has been one of those filmmakers who have sort of flown just below the radar of the hypemongers and general public both.  With an albeit small array of quality work behind him - Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways - Payne has been quietly amassing an impressively esoteric, yet quite defining oeuvre.  Perhaps Payne has yet to give us his masterpiece (some directors, even the better ones, sometimes just do not have such in them) though Sideways has come closest in a classical kind of way, and perhaps this new film is not it either (who knows) but hopefully it will help him to keep amassing that impressively esoteric, yet quite defining oeuvre - quietly or not.

21) Bernie - When it comes to Richard Linklater films, one cannot help but be impressed by such works as Dazed & Confused, Waking Life and Before Sunrise and Sunset both, but as of late, the once promising auteur seems to be slipping with such films as School of Rock and The Bad News BearsMe & Orson Welles is an enjoyable film, though still not up to the Linklater of past days).  There is still hope though, even if Jack Black is involved, but I still do not rank this one in the top twenty because of a slipping of artistic genius in its director. (granted, his most recent film,

20) Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen is back, and this time his traveling show is moving onto the city of lights.  After a serious drop in quality, Allen left his beloved New York and moved his wares to the UK (Match Point) and Spain (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and now, ever forward, onto Paris.  His post NYC films have been a mixed blessing (I still long for the Woody of the late seventies thru the early nineties - his golden period if you will) so you never know quite what you are going to get.  Here's hoping we get a Match Point or another Vicky, and not something more akin to last year's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Yada Yada Yada.

19) My Week With Marilyn - It comes with an untested director (having only Brit TV under his belt) and is one of those dreaded biopics, but seeing Kenneth Branagh as Sir Lawrence Olivier, Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh and (the capper to them all) Michelle Williams as the titular blonde bombshell herself - and from what I can tell, she (of course) looks gorgeous - is well worth the anticipation (at least I hope so).

18) Source Code - When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought it had some interesting ideas, sort of Inception meets The Matrix, but when I saw that Duncan Jones' name was attached as the director (a thing I completely missed when I first watched the trailer!) I got much more excited.  If it has the moody qualities of Jones' Moon, it should be a winner.

17) Shame - A film directed by Hunger director Steve McQueen (no relation!) and starring Michael Fassbender (also of Hunger fame, as well as Fish Tank and Inglourious Basterds) as a sexual compulsive and Carey Mulligan as his little sister would of course make this list. That's all I have to say about that - for now.

16) Super 8 - J.J. Abrams has been keeping the film's premise under tight wraps (under lock and key is probably a bit more apt) but judging from the unique, though unfulfilling in the end Cloverfield and me being one of those Trekkers from long ago who just loved Abrams' Star Trek reboot, I do have some rather hopeful high hopes for this one - at least enough to place it at number sixteen.

15) Cowboys & Aliens - Han Solo and James Bond fighting aliens in the old west - how could this not be the coolest fucking movie of all-time!?  Seriously though, we get Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in an old west-set sci-fi adventure film, directed by the guy who gave us the first Iron Man movie (and the second one, but let's not mention that).  This is one of several films based on comics and/or graphic novels to make this list, which once again, shows my inner geek coming through with glaring audacity.

14) The Skin That I Inhabit - Pedro Almodovar is back with a rape and revenge scenario starring Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon hunting down the men who raped his daughter, and with Almodovar being one of the most visually enigmatic directors working today (think Nick Ray crossed with The Archers and then covered with a rich gooey topping of a vividly homosexual Hitchcock), I am sure we are in for quite the colourful film.  Quite indeed.

13) A Dangerous Method - Here is what we get with A Dangerous Method - Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung.  What more could one ask for?  How about David Cronenberg as director?  Hells yeah!  I have not seen the play the film is based on, but judging from what I know of Cronenberg, I envision something akin to Chris Nolan's The Prestige, but darker and more disturbing in that way that only Cronenberg can disturb us.  Whether we will see another all-nude knife fight as Viggo gave us in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, I do not know though.

12) Hanna - Saoirse Ronan as a lean mean fourteen-year-old killing machine.  This looks like a very interesting film (visually I know it will succeed considering Joe Wright's weaving, panoramic directorial style) and the creepily lovely little Ms. Ronan just adds to the strange interest I have in said film.

11) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - The only reason this film (and I am assuming the sequels as well) is because American audiences refuse to watch subtitled films.  There is nothing wrong with the original Swedish version (though I did not go all gaga like many, and I think the sequels were considerably lesser, comparatively speaking) but since the Swedish films only did lackluster business in the multiplexes (though they did fantastic biz at arthouses) Hollywood thinks it needs to redo the foreign film (along with pretty much every other well-received foreign film out there) for audiences who cannot read a movie.  Then again, unnecessary or not, David Fincher is at the helm so that does give us something to hope for, even if there is no way Hollywood producers will allow the brutality necessary to make the film(s) properly.

10) Sucker Punch - Blend the visual audacity of Zack Snyder's 300 (and ugly-sexy middle finger to the audience, but in the most alluring way) with the school-girl fetish of the average male and combine these things into some sort of kick-ass battle royale in an alternate dream reality full of sword-wielding, scantily clad asylum girls with names like Rocket, Blondie, Amber, Sweet Pea and Baby Doll, and you get Sucker Punch.  This will have to be seen to be sure - it could go either way (the good of the wrongly oft-maligned Watchmen or the bad of the inexplicably bad-for-bad's-sake 300) - but at this point it cracks the top ten.

9) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Thomas Alfredson, the director of the sublime Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, is coming to English speaking cinema with this UK-funded new version of the John le Carre espionage novel.  Why Hollywood didn't get him to remake his own film instead of having Matt Reeves do it and (for the most part - actors aside) give it a lesser mirror image, I do not know (well, I do know, but for the sake of argument, yada yada yada) but this could be a good way to introduce this filmmaker to the so-called West.

8) On the Road - How many years has one director or another, one producer or another, been trying to adapt Kerouac's Beat classic for the big screen?  A Lot, that's how many.  Now finally it comes to said big screen under the kino-eye helmsmanship of Brazilian auteur Walter Salles, the man who gave us Che before Soderbergh took him over in more epic scale.  A pair of relative unknowns headline the cast (the man who played Ian Curtis in Control is playing Jack's alter-ego Sal Paradise) and we also get Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, the man based on Old Bill Burroughs.  Now let's hope all these many years have been worth the wait to see this iconic Benzedrine-fueled novel on the big screen.

7) Haywire & Contagion - a pair of films from the ever-prolific Steven Soderbergh (and the reasoning behind the parenthetical 36 in the blog post title), one an action-thriller involving the CDC (a sort of Outbreak redux, but hopefully much much much better) and the other a straight-up Black-Ops action movie.  Soderbergh has always been a director who could straddle the fence between indie arthouse fare and star-studded Hollywood blockbustery type things.  Here, Contagion seems to be the latter, starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and the lovely Marion Cotillard and Haywire, though seeming kinda Hollywoody in its own way, stars the "lesser" star power of Ewan MacGregor, Michael Douglas and Michael Fassbender (again!!!) and is therefore the more arthouse pick - if there even is one here.  Actually, the Soderbergh I am most looking forward to is his upcoming Liberace biopic (I know, biopic...ughhh) starring the aforementioned Mr. Douglas in the title role - but alas, that is a movie for my 2012 list.

6) Meek's Cutoff - My love of Kelly Reichardt's slow, meandering sublime cinema (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy), the Western genre, of which this seems to be part of, and of anything whatsoever involving the sublime Michelle Williams (if I had such a thing as a cinematic dreamgirl, and who doesn't, it would most surely be Ms. Williams) puts this film pretty high on my list.  I unfortunately missed this film at the NYFF, and am still beating myself up over it.

5) The Turin Horse - Bela Tarr has always been an auteur of great procrastination, not only in the slow slow slow moving of his camera and characters both, but also in his production and distribution of his usually epic-length films, which means this film may not see US screens (or any screens for that matter) in 2011.  Nevertheless, here it is in the top five.  The plot, you ask?  From IMDb, one can glean this synopsis: 1889. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse while traveling in Turin, Italy. He tossed his arms around the horse's neck to protect it then collapsed to the ground. In less than one month, Nietzsche would be diagnosed with a serious mental illness that would make him bed-ridden and speechless for the next eleven years until his death. But whatever did happen to the horse? This film follows up this question in a fictionalized story of what occurred.  Does anything else need be said?  Well, I suppose one can mention that Tarr claims this is his final film as a director, but the man says a lot of shit, so who knows.

4) Hugo Cabret - Martin Scorsese's latest is based on a graphic novel (again!) set in 1930's Paris, and shot in 3D (Scorsese does like to use every possible cinematic contraption he can get his hands on and three dimensional photography is his latest dalliance) and stars Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and the cute but dangerous teen spitfire Chloe Moretz (her creepy adult-like demeanor, hidden away in the crooked smile of a thirteen year old makes one assume her one of the successors of Dakota Fanning).  I am guessing this film will not live up to the majority of Scorsese's oeuvre, which is a shame considering Shutter Island took him back nearer the top than he had been in a while, but a unique 3D experience I am sure it will be.

3) The Tree of Life - Five films in a thirty-eight year career doesn't exactly make Terrence Malick the most prolific of filmmakers, but it does make it all that more important that we get everything we can out of each of his five (so far) films, because one is never quite sure when another might come along.  This one, from what I can tell, has the distinction of having Sean Penn playing the child of Brad Pitt.  From the trailer it doesn't seem your typical Malick (if a man with five films in nearly forty years can have a typical anything) but it does look gorgeous, if nothing more - but I do think there will be much much more.

2) Melancholia - The provocateur is back (my wife and I have a love/hate relationship with the acidic auteur - she hates him and I love him) and he's bringing Charlotte Gainsbourg back with him.  Danish bad boy Lars von Trier hands us a film nobody seems to know anything whatsoever about.  Trier is keeping quite the tight lip on this one, but he has pronounced no more happy endings.  Yeah, because he is so well known for his happy endings that he needs to say he won't do any more!?  I can't remember one at all.  For Christ's sake, the man hanged poor Bjork at the end of Dancer in the Dark, and that is probably his most upbeat ending of them all.

1) The Grandmasters - And the number one spot rightfully, and quite inevitably, belongs to my favourite working director.  Wong Kar Wai's latest film is the story of the man who taught Bruce Lee everything he ever knew, which means it is a martial arts movie from the man who can paint the most luscious of designs on the canvas of the big screen (I know, I am spilling over with hyperbole, but I just cannot help it when it comes to Wong and his cinema).  Whether this film makes it to US screens in 2011 is probably a pretty valid question, but until it does, it is number one - with a bullet.

As I more than alluded to in several paragraphs above, several of these films may not actually make their way to US movie screens in the next calendar year (Lars von Trier, Bela Tarr and Wong Kar Wai are all quite notorious for delays in their production and/or distribution schedules) but here is hoping.

I would also like to mention one other very very highly anticipated movie coming out in 2011.  Actually it is a mini-series on HBO.  It is the Todd Haynes directed version of Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet in the role originally made famous by Joan Crawford.  I leave it off the list since it is a TV, not a theatrical release, but I suppose one could say it is the 37th on the list.

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