With the Toronto International Film Festival now over, the dust is beginning to settle on 2011 and we're moving into the final stage of the fall movie season. Many, if not most, of autumn's Oscar season big hitters have now been revealed, leaving principally commercial fare, and a few prestige-y films that are rushing towards completion. As ever, the benefits of opening your Christmas presents early is a mixed bag; it means that we're able to firmly recommend some big fall films, movies like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "Shame" and "We Need To Talk About Kevin." It means we can also tell you to be wary of the likes of "W.E." and "Butter."
But it also means that there are relatively few unknown quantities out there. Still, there are still a number of films as yet under wraps that we're excited about, as well as more than a few that look... mildly concerning to put it lightly. Read on after the jump for our preview of the five post-fall film festival movies we're most looking forward to seeing, and the five that we fear the most. And for everything else that we have seen, you can check out our coverage from Cannes, from Venice, and from Toronto.
5 Films We're Excited About
"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
Only two years since the books became a phenomenon, and barely a year since the Swedish film adaptations came to U.S. theaters, you'd be forgiven for feeling a bit "Dragon Tattoo"-d out these days. But if there's any way to keep our faith up on the film, it's by getting David Fincher to direct, and that much-talked about teaser trailer that landed earlier in the summer was as good a way as any to grab people's attention. For all those complaining about remakes, the Swedish versions were by no means untouchable classics, and Fincher has a killer cast, and his trademark immaculate visuals. We think those claiming that the film could be Fincher's "Chinatown" are off their heads, considering how silly the material can be in places; "Chinatown," after all, wasn't about a bisexual computer hacker. But eight minutes of footage screened last week suggested that our greatest fear -- the director's insistence on getting his cast to use Swedish accents -- wasn't going to be an obstacle. It may not become the second coming of movies, but we're hoping it'll be a grown up thriller of rare flair, and a nasty little antidote to all that Christmas cheer.
When? December 21st
In the first half of the last decade, Steven Spielberg made six movies. In the second half, he made one (being the dismal "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), a major step down for a director who's been alarmingly prolific for most of his career. 2011 is the year he hits back hard, with two movies hitting in the last ten days of December. We're looking forward to "The Adventures of Tintin" very much; despite its performance-capture medium, the extended footage that we've seen seemed like classic Spielberg escapism. But the heavyweight, clearly, is "War Horse." The mix of the director of "E.T." and the Michael Morpurgo tale of a boy who goes off to war in an attempt to find his beloved horse, recently adapted into a smash hit stage play that's left audiences sobbing in the West End and on Broadway, seems like a no brainer. And he's assembled a strong, eclectic cast, including Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Niels Arestrup, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis and many more. Regardless of whether it turns out to be an Oscar contender or not, there's little doubt that it's material that plays to all of the director's strengths, and normally when the stars align like that, history is made.
When? December 28th
Look, we get that you might not like "Juno." We get that some might not to be able to see the screenplay's impressive range of voices for the quirky slangfest of the first reel. We see that that girl from high school posting on Facebook about the Moldy Peaches may blind you to the deeply impressive tightrope-walk of tone. And we understand that some dislike writer Diablo Cody because they see her as a self-promoter, and that some have taken against Jason Reitman because his dad directed "Ghostbusters." And that's fine. The rest of us will look forward to the reteaming of Reitman and Cody, "Young Adult," without you. One thing's for certain from our read of the screenplay; it's going to be equally divisive, in a very different way. Charlize Theron plays a successful young adult writer who returns to her hometown to, basically, stalk her ex-boyfriend, and the part should prove almost as bold a departure for the actress as "Monster." It's an infinitely more mature script from Cody, and Reitman gets better with each film, so this is something that we're truly looking forward to. Even while we acknowledge that you might well hate it, given that it's full of ugly characters and situations. One thing's for sure, it's not going to be any easy pill to swallow and Reitman's most audience unappealing picture so far.
When? December 9th
Despite our preconceptions, Martin Scorsese is very much a director who's interested in challenging himself; for every "Casino" or "The Departed," there's a "Kundun" or "The Age of Innocence." From the trailer, "Hugo" looks like it could be his biggest left-turn yet; a very broad, young-skewing kid's flick, with Peter Sellers-style comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen and some heavy effects elements. And there's no denying that it' sports a faintly enervating trailer (albeit one cut to make a difficult sell look as widely-appealing as possible, so, fair enough). It could, of course, turn out to be his biggest misfire since "New York New York." It's expensive enough that we suspect it'll never make its money back. But it also has the potential to be something deeply personal from the great director, a love letter to magic, and the early days of cinema, and to childhood. And for that alone, we'll be lining up for it on Thanksgiving weekend.
When? November 23rd
The fall and winter are, rightfully so, a time when the serious movies dominate; considering the brain-dead fodder that dominates screen the rest of the year, it's the least that they could do, really. But variety is the spice of life, and sometimes we need something more fun to balance out the rape and murder and genocide and drug addiction. And nothing, nothing, looks as purely joyful as "The Muppets" in the closing months of 2011. We had issues with Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel's fitfully funny "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," so we'd wondered if they were really going to be the right people to bring Jim Henson's beloved creations back to the screen. But from what we can see (from an inventive marketing campaign that hasn't put a foot wrong forward yet), they seem to have gotten everything right, making a film very much of a piece with the Muppet classics, without feeling like a simple nostalgia-fest. It's possible that the finished product might yet disappoint. But if it does, it'll break our god damn hearts.
When? November 23rd
Honorable Mentions: We're yet to see much from "My Week With Marilyn," but the idea alone of Michelle Williams playing Marilyn Monroe is enough to sell us a ticket, even if we wonder if the film will be a performance showcase and little else. The picture will debut at the New York Film Festival thus being the big question mark from that last-man-standing fall film festival. Meanwhile, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is another being kept tightly under wraps, and we're cautious considering our dislike of Stephen Daldry's last film "The Reader," but it has enough pedigree that we're still keeping a very close eye on it.
From the more populist end of things, if anyone can make performance capture animation work, it's a dream team of Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, so we're excited to see "The Adventures of Tintin," particularly after some promising footage from Empire Big Screen last month. At first glance, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" doesn't seem to have messed with the formula of the original too heavily; not necessarily a bad thing, considering how unexpectedly entertaining the first film turned out to be.
And, while some on staff grew deeply weary of the franchise about halfway through the first movie, "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is still a spy actioner shot by "There Will Be Blood" DP Robert Elswit, scored by the great Michael Giacchino, and, most importantly by far, directed by "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles" helmer Brad Bird. If ever we're going to impressed by this series, we assume it will be on this film. Finally, we weren't wowed by the trailer for Cameron Crowe's "We Bought A Zoo," but if nothing else, Matt Damon looks like a rock solid center, and it physically can't be any worse than "Elizabethtown," so there's always that. Finally, we're still not 100% certain if "The Wettest County" or Joe Carnahan's "The Grey" end up platforming before the end of the year, although the possibility has certainly been raised. If the former does get a firm date in 2011, it'll shoot right to the top of this list. Joe Carnahan's Liam Neeson vs. wolves picture "The Grey" might also end up seeing the inside of theaters before the end of the year, although we've been burned a bit on Carnahan's recent work, so we'd need to see more before we were actively looking forward to it.
Five Films We're Approaching With Serious Caution
We are not, in any way, naturally disposed to defend the work of Zack Snyder, or his film "300," a nihilistic, airless actioner that you could call well-composed, were it not for the fact that all its shots are directly copied from the source material. But we have to say that next to "Immortals," the similarly toned Greek-myth flick from "The Fall" director Tarsem, "300" looks like a fucking masterpiece. Melding Snyder's film with "Clash of the Titans," and shooting everything as if Caravaggio had a baby with Marco Brambilla, Tarsem looks to be demonstrating why he was so reviled after his debut "The Cell." We've seen about ten minutes of footage from this one, including a major (very gory) action sequence, and it resembled nothing more than watching someone else play "God of War" after taking too much meth. But not to worry, because Tarsem's assembled a killer cast, led by Oscar-nominee Mickey Rourke, with seaweed on his face or something, and also including acting heavyweights Frieda Pinto and Stephen Dorff. Buyer beware.
When? November 11th
"Paranormal Activity 3"
It doesn't happen often, but very occasionally, you find a perfect match of filmmaker and material. The kind of pairing that, as soon as you hear it, makes you nod sagely, as if it was obvious from the beginning of time that the directors and the film would eventually come together. Such a synergy will take place this October, as douchey, disingenuous "Catfish" helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have made a second sequel to the all-hype-and-no-trousers horror flick "Paranormal Activity." The film promises to expand on the mythology that no one really cares about, in more gloriously ugly found footage. We're genuinely looking forward to the film's opening weekend, but only because we're going to camp outside theaters and sell spaces in our pyramid scheme to the deeply gullible people who keep going back to pay for these movies.
When? October 21st
"Jack and Jill"
It's rare for a movie star to offer such honest commentary on their own career in the way that Adam Sandler did in Judd Apatow's flawed minor-mastework "Funny People," but it feels even rarer for that star to do so, and the continue on with making the same old shit, shit that seems to have even been amplified, as if to spite those who wish better for their career. But between "Grown Ups" and "Just Go With It," Sandler seems to have reached an apex of hatefulness, one that's peaked with "Jack and Jill," a film that seemingly came into existence because the comedy star was jealous of "Norbit." Sandler plays both an average schmoe and the average schmoe's sister, a grotesque picture of womanhood, who in the film, is somehow romanced by Al Pacino, who plays himself, finally finding a career low deeper than "88 Minutes." Between this and the Sandler-produced "Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star," we can only imagine that the star is on some kind of "The Producers"-style self-destructive mission aimed at ending his career so he can disappear happily into obscurity. And like the end result in "The Producers," it'll probably be a giant hit.
When? November 11th
"New Year's Eve"
Seemingly assembled by the same crippled orphans in the same movie sweatshop that produced "He's Just Not That Into You" and "Valentine's Day," this is another rom-com that takes a selection of celebrities, some genuine acting talent like Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, some simply attractive people like Josh Duhamel, gives them all a banal plotline that would just about sustain a Mastercard commercial, and plasters it all over the sides of buses and commercial breaks of "The View." Reuniting the team behind "Valentine's Day," including director Garry Marshall, it should, like its predecessor, succeed in making "Love Actually" look as truthful and emotionally searing as "Blue Valentine." And remember, if you pay to see it, you're giving your tacit approval for "Martin Luther King Day" starring Tyler Perry, "Veteran's Day" starring Lauren Bacall and Mickey Rooney, and "Super Bowl Sunday," starring Tom Brady.
When? December 9th
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. One"
Sometimes, it feels like picking on the anaemic vampire franchise is aiming for low-hanging fruit. But then we remember how dismal much of the acting is, how the three films to date have only included enough actual drama and plot for one movie (and that's being generous), and how the films have looked cheap and dull. We'd wondered if the two-part final installment might pick things up a little. For one, it has a bona-fide Oscar winner, Bill Condon, at the helm. For another, it's where the plot seemingly kicks into gear, with sex, fights, a life-threatening pregnancy, and *spoiler,* and most importantly, A WEREWOLF FALLING IN LOVE WITH A BABY. But the clips and footage suggest that, while it might have stepped things up a touch from previous installments, it's still going to be mostly laughable, and only really appeal to the love-it-blindly Twihards. Still, after this, there's only one more to come, right? And in that one, A WEREWOLF FALLS IN LOVE WITH A BABY!
When? November 18th
Honorable Mentions: The easy-lay geek crowd seem to like "Real Steel," and in fairness the plot is only slightly more ridiculous than "Warrior," but we can still think of better things to do with our time than a kid-skewing robot boxing movie from the director of "Cheaper By The Dozen." On the comedy front, neither "The Big Year," which Fox seem intent on burying, or Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist," look like much fun, although some of us are secretly hoping the the latter will surprise. "The Three Musketeers" has a good cast, but still looks like an 18th century "Resident Evil," while Christmas brings, inevitably, "Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," which sees the squeaky-voiced CGI critters stranded on a desert island and, with any luck, being brutally murdered by the smoke monster.