That’s right, 2010 is already in our rear view and we’re looking far, far ahead into 2011. If 2010 was the year of audiences rewarding original, smart blockbusters (“Inception”) and punishing glossy, but empty big-budget tentpoles (“The Tourist,” “Tron: Legacy”) the new year will find studios hoping once again that comic franchises and sequels can bring in the big bucks. No less than five comic-book movies are on the way with “Thor,” “Captain America,” “Green Lantern,” “Green Hornet” and “X-Men: First Class” all swinging into theaters, while tried-and-true franchises get sequels with “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Transformers 3,” “The Hangover 2” and “Sherlock Holmes 2” among the films looking to bank on previous successes.
But for those you (like us) looking for a little more substance, 2011 will be a dream for new, director-driven fare as Alexander Payne, Tom McCarthy, Steven Spielberg, Cary Fukunaga, Andrea Arnold, Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar, (hopefully) Wong Kar-Wai, Nicolas Winding Refn, David Fincher, Cameron Crowe and Steven Soderbergh (x2!) will all arrive with new films under their arms. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It certainly bodes well that for every amped up franchise, we’ll have some other worthy options at the multiplex.
So grab a pen, sit back, and mark your calendar for what’s coming in 2011. Here's 100-something of our picks for Most Anticipated films of the year. Relax if you don't see your favorite tentpole/superhero film in here, as per our usual m.o., we'll be doing a Most Anticipated Escapist Films feature as well where you'll see things like "Thor," "Captain America," and more summer tentpoles.
"The Tree of Life" – Fox Searchlight - dir. Terrence Malick
Synopsis: The story of a family who must come to terms with a devastating loss. In doing so, they discover life's most important lessons of unselfish love and forgiveness.
What You Need To Know: Yes, the unnervingly patient and spiritual Terrence Malick takes his time in between films, but it feels like it's taken 'TTOL' forever to finally arrive to the screen. Announced in 2005, Colin Farrell was initially pegged to be the lead and Mel Gibson was also rumored to play a part, but the long-gestating project in fact spans over 30 years, beginning in an embryonic form as something known as "Q" in the '70s. Reuniting Malick with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and legendary production designer Jack Fisk, the same team who brought us "The New World" in 2006, the epic picture traces the evolution of an 11-year-old boy named Jack growing up in the Midwest during the 1950s. Sean Penn plays the adult Jack while Brad Pitt, in a role originally intended for Heath Ledger, plays the boy's father. Jessica Chastain plays the mother, with Fiona Shaw and Jennifer Sipes also starring. Alexandre Desplat ('Benjamin Button') composed the score and supposedly, over 3 million feet of 35MM film has been shot for the life-expansive film. Given Malick's track record of making meditative, naturalistic, and utterly poetic films, this is truly a long time coming and certainly the most anticipated release of the year.
Release Date: After what feels like two years of release date speculation, Fox Searchlight is putting out the drama on May 27, 2011. This pretty much guarantees the picture will debut at the Cannes Film Festival, as it was supposed to in 2010. We won't even get into the whole Apparition years (R.I.P). Little has been said lately about an adjunct documentary called, "The Voyage of Time," but very speculative reports hope for a late fall release to remind the academy of Malick's early year achievement.
“War Horse” - Buena Vista/DreamWorks - dir. Steven Spielberg
Synopsis: The story of a young man named Albert and his horse, Joey, and how their bond is broken when Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War I. Despite being too young to enlist, Albert heads to France to save his friend.
What You Need To Know: Consider this the Oscar picture to beat in 2011. Steven Spielberg + WWI + a story about a boy and his horse is pretty much a slam dunk guaranteed to woo audiences and critics alike. With newcomer Jeremy Irvine leading a cast of respected, though not name-brand folks like Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Niels Arestrup, Nicolas Bro, David Kross, Leonard Carow, Rainer Bock, Robert Emms and Patrick Kennedy, expect marketing teams on this one to center campaigns about the presumably family friendly drama around Spielberg. The big question that remains is how much the other Spielberg mega-project, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” opening five days earlier, will cannibalize “War Horse.” It seems like a marketing and press relations nightmare and don’t be surprised if one of the pictures moves (our guess is ‘Tintin’ which opens in overseas territories starting in October).
Release Date: December 28, 2011
“The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” - Paramount - dir. Steven Spielberg
Synopsis: Ace boy reporter Tintin encounters Captain Haddock for the first time in pursuit of a hot story and stumbles on a secret involving pirates, treasure and Haddock’s ancestry.
What You Need To Know: For fans and non-fans of the Hergé comic books alike, the announcement of a motion-captured CGI Tintin film (based on the combined storylines of three of the books) inspired either indifference or trepidation. But with Steven Spielberg on board and the caliber of the rest of the talent behind the camera (Peter Jackson producing, from a script by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish), in front of the camera (Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and Cary Elwes) and sitting at the myriad computers it will take to bring this thing in (WETA), we’re allowing ourselves to become cautiously optimistic. Both Spielberg’s and Jackson’s most recent efforts have fallen far short of greatness, but with ‘Tintin’ being something of a passion project for both, and the first in a projected trilogy, (Jackson was slated to take over the director’s chair next, though with "The Hobbit" shooting, it's likely to be on hold another two years) we’re going to believe they’re bringing their A game. And if they don’t, they will have the broken childhood dreams of this writer, for one, to answer for.
Release Date: December 23, 2011
“The Skin That I Inhabit” - Sony Pictures Classics - dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Synopsis: A plastic surgeon searches for the men who raped his daughter.
What You Need To Know: Even if not everything he comes out with is a home run like “Volver,” veteran Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s work is always, always worth seeing. Excitingly, 2011 will see him reunite with the man he made a star, Antonio Banderas, for the first time in 20 years, in an adaptation of a crime novel by Thierry Jonque. Almodóvar describes it as a horror film, and everything we hear about the source material suggests it’ll be easily the filmmaker’s darkest material to date. Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Eduard Fernández and José Luis Gómez co-star. If anything’s a shoo-in for Cannes this year, it’s this.
Release Date: November 18, 2011 (limited)
“Melancholia” - Tristar - dir. Lars von Trier
Synopsis: Two sisters, one of whom is about to be married, cope in different ways with the imminent end of the world.
What You Need To Know: It’s not as if Lars von Trier could ever make an uncontroversial film, but it seemed to us that the reaction to “Antichrist” was the most violently divisive of the eccentric Danish helmer’s career. Never one to rest on his laurels, von Trier’s following it up with his take on the kind of global destruction movie pioneered by Roland Emmerich, with a plot featuring the Earth being drawn into a collision course with another planet. Of course, being von Trier (and with a super-commercial title like “Melancholia”...) it’s likely to be closer to “Last Night” than “2012.” Nevertheless, the cast is an intriguing mix of indie staples and Hollywood stars, led by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters, with father-son pair Alexander and Stellan Skarsgård, and John Hurt also on board. It’s still mostly under wraps, but you can bet your ass it’ll be fascinating when it does debut (most likely at Cannes).
Release Date: TBD
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” - Sony - dir. David Fincher
Synopsis: A journalist (Daniel Craig) is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing -- or dead -- for forty years by a young female hacker.
What You Need To Know: Based on one of the most popular books of this decade -- ‘Dragon Tattoo’ has been one of the most coveted and widely reported on projects in 2010. And so you know, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian based his script on deceased Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling crime thriller and not the mediocre Swedish film series that had such diminishing returns. Daniel Craig stars as disgraced journo Mikael Blomkvist, and after a massive worldwide search -- which included the hottest young females in Hollywood actively chasing the role -- relative unknown Rooney Mara (a small, but crucial role in David Fincher’s “The Social Network”) landed the prestigious and much-sought-after gig (everyone wanted a piece of it: Brad Pitt was even interested in the role initially). Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård and Christopher Plummer co-star -- though we're extremely disappointed that Max Von Sydow had to bow out. This is easily one of the most anticipated films of 2011 for everyone, and in Fincher’s hands the soap-opera-ish melodrama of the text and original film will likely take a backseat to some propulsive and engrossing cinema. Look for Fincher to announce he’ll helm part two, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” later this year, unless Craig’s 'Bond’ schedule messes things up in which case the feisty filmmaker will probably bounce to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
Release Date: December 21, 2011 and we were recently told Fincher has completed 40 days of a 100-day shoot.
“Contagion” - Warner Bros. - dir. Steven Soderbergh
Synopsis: A thriller covering the spread of a swine-flu style virus across a series of continents, and the doctors who try to stop it.
What You Need To Know: You know it’s going to be a good year when you have two Steven Soderbergh films ready for release. Following hot on the heels of actioner “Haywire” is this, Soderbergh’s most high-profile pic since “Ocean’s Thirteen.” With a script from “The Informant” scribe Scott Z. Burns, a structure reminiscent of his Oscar winner “Traffic,” and a starry cast including Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould and Demetri Martin, the only reason this won’t turn out to be a giant commercial hit is if the subject matter turns out to be too close to the bone -- the script was terrific, but terrifying.
Release Date: October 21, 2011
“Haywire" - Relativity Media - dir. Steven Soderbergh
Synopsis: A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission.
What You Need To Know: The latest studio effort from Steven Soderbergh -- following a helluva 2009 that saw "Che," "The Girlfriend Experience," and "The Informant!" -- promises another iconoclastic work from one of America's most fascinating directors. Teaming for a third time with contentious screenwriter Lem Dobbs -- who wrote "Kafka" and "The Limey" -- this spy revenge thriller stars real-life mixed martial arts champion and first-time actress Gina Carano, plus a top-notch supporting cast that features Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Angarano and Bill Paxton. DJ David Holmes — who worked with Soderbergh on the 'Oceans' films and "Out Of Sight"— is back at work on the score. In the past, Soderbergh's mentioned the Bond film, "From Russia with Love," and "Point Blank" as his points of comparison, but one source close to the project described it as if Alfred Hitchcock made a Pam Grier movie, and all these references make for a tantalizing mix of possibilities.
Release Date: Lionsgate originally owned distribution rights, but Relativity Media, which produced the film and absorbed Overture to become its own distributor, bought it back and will be releasing it on April 22, 2011
"The Descendants" - Fox Searchlight - Dir. Alexander Payne
Synopsis: A tragicomedy that centers on the story of an attorney (George Clooney) who finds his life at a crossroads when his wife lands in a coma after a boating accident. He decides to take a trip with his two daughters to find the man she was having an affair with. Essentially, it's an unconventional tale about fatherhood.
What You Need To Know: The world has sorely missed Alexander Payne, who hasn't directed a feature length film since 2004's "Sideways" (though he did a short in "Paris Je T'aime"). Payne's had this one set up over at Fox Searchlight since 2007, and seemed to be ready to jump on "Downsizing" instead -- a sci-fi-ish dramedy about a miniaturization process that helps Earth reverse the effects of global warming and overpopulation. Budget concerns forced Payne go back to the drawing board, and then he decided to pick up the already-complete 'Descendants' script by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The film also stars Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster and relative newcomers Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as Clooney's character's daughters. Based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it sounds very much in Payne's wheelhouse, and the script, by Faxon and Jim Rash (who, trivia fans, plays the dean on NBC's "Community") has been widely praised.
Release Date: TBD, but we would imagine this would likely be a Fall 2011 Oscar-bait picture a la "Up In the Air." A trailer for the film was playing at a recent Fox Searchlight Xmas party, so we're sure that and further information will land soon.
“We Bought a Zoo” - 20th Century Fox - dir. Cameron Crowe
Synopsis: A single father attempts to fulfill his late wife’s wish of moving their family to the titular animal sanctuary.
What You Need To Know: With a meaty awards season/holiday friendly release date, Cameron Crowe comes guns blazing with his first film since 2005’s misfire, “Elizabethtown.” Matt Damon toplines a strong cast including Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning and Patrick Fugit, but the picture enters one of the most crowded, competitive December frames in years. Fox is hoping for another “Marley & Me”-sized weeper but they’ll certainly take any awards nomination options should they arise. However, whether this one will have a chance to stand out from the pack remains to be seen.
Release Date: December 23, 2011
“The Muppet Movie” - Disney - dir. James Bobin
Synopsis: A man and his best friend, who happens to be a puppet named Walter, team up with the Muppet gang to stop the evil Tex Richman from buying their studio to drill for oil.
What You Need To Know: We don't want to paint with a broad brush, but anyone who doesn't love the Muppets basically has a jagged piece of ice where their heart should be. But for too long now, the felt-and-wire wonders have been lost in sub-standard material like "Muppets in Space" and "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" (although the latter does at least include a deleted scene of Quentin Tarantino and Kermit together). But the "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller came to the rescue, teaming with "Flight of the Conchords" alumni James Bobin and Bret McKenzie to bring a new film to life with all the favorites, plus humans Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones and the usual wealth of cameos. To be totally honest, we're counting the days.
Release Date: November 23, 2011
“Hugo Cabret” - Sony - dir. Martin Scorsese
Synopsis: An orphan living in a train station in early 20th century Paris comes across a broken automaton, leading to a friendship with the filmmaker Georges Méliès.
What You Need To Know: Coming off the back of a series of increasingly dark films, culminating in 2010's "Shutter Island," which was essentially a full-blown horror flick, Martin Scorsese's taken a serious left turn and decided to make a mega-budgeted 3D family film based on a bestselling novel. But the cinephile subject matter sounds like a perfect match for the director, and he's assembled a hugely impressive cast, including Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone and Richard Griffiths, who are all in support of the two young leads, Asa Butterfield (“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas") and Chloe Moretz (“Kick-Ass"). If anything can convince us of the benefits of 3D, it'll be Marty.
Release Date: December 9, 2011
“On The Road" - TBD - dir. Walter Salles
Synopsis: An adaptation of the iconic Beat Generation novel which follows Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise on a journey across the North American landscape in pursuit of self-knowledge and experience.
What You Need To Know: After years in development hell, Jack Kerouac’s iconic novel finally gets the big screen treatment courtesy of the major team behind 2004 Che Guevara road film "The Motorcycle Diaries," including director Walter Salles, writer Jose Rivera, DP Eric Gautier, production designer Carlos Conti and composer Gustavo Santaolalla. Filling out the lead roles of Moriarty and Paradise -- surrogates for Neal Cassady and Kerouac himself -- are the rising duo Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley. They are joined by an illustrious supporting cast which boasts the likes of Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga and Elisabeth Moss. Early B&W photography from the production possibly hints at the film's aesthetic style, a notion Salles has previously described as a must for any adaptation of Kerouac's novel.
Release Date: Fall (we assume anyhow)
“Take This Waltz” - TBD - dir. Sarah Polley
Synopsis: A young woman tries to decide between her happy marriage and her flirtations with a man she’s just met.
What You Need To Know: Sarah Polley has been working in film for a quarter of a century, and made a stunning directorial debut in 2006 with the incredibly moving, surprisingly mature “Away From Her.” Her follow-up looks at a much younger group of people, following the travails of a twenty-something married couple. The script, which we looked at earlier in the year, is excellent, but the real intrigue here is the pairing of Michelle Williams, who’s rapidly becoming the best actress of her generation, with Seth Rogen, as her schlubby, faintly useless husband. If Rogen can pull off this kind of dramatic performance, and convince as an action hero, he’s going to open up all sorts of new roles. Newcomer Luke Kirby and comic Sarah Silverman complete the cast, and a killer soundtrack is also promised.
Release Date: TBD
“Moneyball” - Sony - dir. Bennett Miller
Synopsis: The manager of the struggling Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, teams with a mathematician for a statistical approach to picking his team that turns their fortunes around.
What You Need To Know: A year after it was originally meant to go before cameras, the adaptation of Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" finally got underway. Initially to be helmed by Steven Soderbergh with Demetri Martin supporting Brad Pitt, the film was canceled by Sony after a last-minute rewrite by the director caused panic. The studio's golden boy Aaron Sorkin came on to rewrite, with "Capote" director Bennett Miller finally making a belated follow-up to that film. Jonah Hill replaced Martin as mathematician Paul Podesta, and there's a strong supporting cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright. The Sorkin script was strong, arguably stronger than the Soderbergh one, and hopefully the project's tumultuous history won't be reflected on screen.
Release Date: September 23, 2011
“My Week with Marilyn” - The Weinstein Company - dir. Simon Curtis
Synopsis: The story of the friendship between a young British man and Marilyn Monroe, and Monroe’s tempestuous relationship with co-star Laurence Olivier, set against the background of the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl.”
What You Need To Know: For whatever reason, Marilyn Monroe has drawn the attention of development types in recent years, with a number of projects in the pipeline. We’re most excited about Andrew Dominik and Naomi Watts teaming on “Blonde,” but that seems to be a way off. In the meantime, the prospect of Michelle Williams taking on the iconic role is a more than adequate stop-gap. She’s joined by Kenneth Branagh as Olivier (an equally promising idea), Eddie Redmayne, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond and Dougray Scott, among others. We’re a little concerned by the ‘inside baseball’ quality of the plot, but even if the film’s a trifle, we’re sure that Williams’ performance will be worth the price of admission (and, whisper it, possibly the early front-runner for the Oscar?).
Release Date: TBD
“Midnight in Paris” - TBD - dir. Woody Allen
Synopsis: A young, engaged American couple in the 1920s travel to Paris, where their lives are transformed.
What You Need To Know: Like an abused spouse, every year we cover our bruises, put dinner on the stove and pray that Woody Allen has changed and decided to make a decent movie again. For the most part, that’s been thwarted in the decade since “Sweet & Lowdown,” with only “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” and "Match Point" standing out, with the rest of the films being far closer to rubbish like “Cassandra’s Dream” or “Whatever Works.” But Paris has inspired many of the greatest filmmakers to some of their best work, and Allen’s assembled one of his best casts in recent memory, with Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. We won’t celebrate until we see the thing for ourselves, but we’re more optimistic about this than any of his work in recent years.
Release Date: TBD and we assume Sony Pictures Classics will put this out as they do most of Allen's films.
“30 Minutes or Less” - Sony - dir. Ruben Fleischer
Synopsis: Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery driver and force him to rob a bank within 30 minutes. Either that or the homemade bomb strapped to his chest goes off.
What You Need To Know: After the success of “Zombieland,” director Ruben Fleischer could have easily just hurried “Zombieland 2” into production, but thankfully, this appears to be a filmmaker with smarts and a thirst for variety. Instead, he chose a funny and entertaining Black List script by Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari star as the pizza delivery driver and his best friend trying to survive this ridiculous, but serious ordeal, while Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play the white trash would-be criminals who try and extort the hapless man (they're an endless source of comedy in the screenplay). Michael Peña co-stars as a thug, and Fred Ward plays McBride's tough-as-nails, Vietnam-vet dad. While the comedy is broad, the script is a sharp, funny ride and this could prove to be one of the major breakout hits of the summer if all goes well.
Release Date: August 12, 2011
"Your Highness" - Universal - dir. David Gordon Green
Synopsis: In medieval times, a slovenly knight (Danny McBride) must try to save his father's kingdom and a princess (Zooey Deschanel) while also kicking a pot smoking habit. Luckily he has a brother (James Franco) and a warrior princess (Natalie Portman) to abet his quest. Justin Theroux plays the evil wizard.
What You Need To Know: Not all Playlisters are fans of "The Foot Fist Way" or the overrated "Eastbound & Down," but 'Fist' co-writers Danny McBride and Ben Best have really permeated the culture, and by scripting this medieval comedy with "Pineapple Express" director Green at the helm, it seems they've landed on an inspired mix of film elements in what is essentially a send-up of '80s fantasy/sci-fi films like "Krull." So another genre experiment, and another pot comedy for Green, and while an early and rather juvenile draft of the script had us initially worried, the trailer, first seen at New York Comic Con, is a well-played gas of action, laughs and ridiculous wizardry. McBride originally promised cheap, but amusing Ray Harryhausen "Clash of the Titans" effects, but the visuals we've seen so far almost make the picture look like a riff on the world of "Harry Potter."
Release Date: Originally pegged for an October 1, 2010, release date, Universal pushed the film back seven months to the more fitting April 8, 2011 date.
"Paul" - Universal - dir. Greg Mottola
Synopsis: Two British sci-fi nerds on an American road trip to Comic-Con in San Diego get sidetracked when they befriend an alien in the New Mexico desert outside Area 51.
What You Need To Know: Peanut-butter-and-jelly combo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as the nerds, with Frost taking the alpha male role this time, switching up a pretty familiar dynamic. Also changing the energy in the room is American director Greg Mottola ("Superbad" and 2009's "Adventureland") who branches out with what looks like a sci-fi comedy with traces of "E.T." and "Back to the Future." Normally movies about sci-fi and comic nerds yield shallow returns ("Free Enterprise" and "Fanboys" come to mind), but no one distilled the notion of being a proud nerd quite like Pegg did in co-creating the British sitcom "Spaced," so we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus the script (written by Pegg & Frost) was a joy, and Mottola is perfectly attuned for capturing these comedic sensibilities. The teaser trailer footage that leaked months ago displayed a young Amblin/Spielberg-ian aesthetic.
Release Date: March 18, 2011
"Bad Teacher" - Sony - dir. Jake Kasdan
Synopsis: After being dumped by her sugar daddy, a foul-mouthed, junior high teacher (Cameron Diaz) begins to woo a colleague (Justin Timberlake); a move that pits her against a well-loved teacher (Lucy Punch).
What You Need To Know: Featuring a great cast that also includes Jason Segel, Molly Shannon and Thomas Lennon, the only thing that might stand in its way are its creators. Granted, they've all done decent work, but once-hot writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg's stock has plummeted after "Year One" and Jake Kasdan (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "Zero Effect," episodes of "Freaks & Geeks") hasn't ever really made a truly great film. But perhaps this is his shot and he's certainly got great acting talent at his disposal. We're willing to take the leap of faith, and that's saying a lot considering Cameron Diaz isn't our favorite actress on earth. But Justin Timberlake has proven he can do no wrong and the two of them -- former paramours -- surely will have chemistry that translates onscreen.
Release Date: June 17, 2011
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” - Warner Bros - dir. Glen Ficarra and John Requa
Synopsis: When a middle-aged married man’s wife leaves him for another man, he teams up with a younger lothario, who teaches him how to re-enter the dating scene.
What You Need To Know: One of the biggest spec sales in some time, this romantic comedy, from “Cars” writer Dan Fogelman and directed by the duo behind “I Love You Philip Morris,” looks to have the potential to be a sleeper hit. Pairing a major comic behemoth, Steve Carell (in what’ll be his first role after leaving “The Office”), with a hugely acclaimed actress, Julianne Moore, plus, for the kids, the next big thing, “Easy A” star Emma Stone, and indie giant Ryan Gosling making a rare studio venture, there’s something here for everyone (plus Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, and more). We enjoyed the script a great deal, and recent test screenings went so well that Warners moved it from an April date to the heart of summer. It’s unlikely to be “Blue Valentine,” exactly, but for mainstream rom-com fare, this looks to be very palatable indeed.
Release Date: July 29, 2011
“The Sitter” - Fox - dir. David Gordon Green
Synopsis: A college student on suspension (Jonah Hill) is coaxed into babysitting the kids next door, though he is fully unprepared for the wild night ahead of him.
What You Need To Know: Those who want David Gordon Green to return to his indie-roots will have to keep waiting. OK, yes, it’s a modern take on “Adventures in Babysitting” essentially, but it’s an irreverent R-rated one that’s filthy, entertaining and rather hilarious, based on the 2009 Black List script we read by newcomers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. The cast also features an excellent troupe including Sam Rockwell as a drug dealer (we assume pulling a Drexler a la “True Romance”), ‘Wild Things’ child actor Max Records playing one of the neurotic children, and Ari Graynor as Hill’s selfish and manipulative girlfriend. Oh, and Method Man in an unknown role. While it’s Apatow-ian and not 100% different from say the zany adventures in “Pineapple Express,” if executed well, it could best the aforementioned stoner comedy which only seemed to tease us with Green’s action comedy abilities.
Release Date: July 15, 2011
“Bernie” - TBD - dir. Richard Linklater
Synopsis: A true crime story about a funeral home assistant who befriends an old lady.
What You Need To Know: It's been a rough few years for Richard Linklater -- the likes of "Bad News Bears," "Fast Food Nation" and "Me and Orson Welles" were all badly received both critically and commercially, and he's had two projects collapse under him -- "Liars (A-E)" and the spiritual sequel to "Dazed and Confused," titled "That's What I'm Talking About." But we're feeling a lot better about his latest, "Bernie," which sees him team up with another pair who could do with a little kick in the ass, creatively -- Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey. They are joined by Shirley MacLaine and Rip Torn in the film, a dark comedy based on a true crime story that Linklater describes as his version of "Fargo." With the Black List-topping script "College Republicans" set to follow it (knock on wood), let's hope that this sees the beginning of a rebirth for the Austin-based, super-affable filmmaker.
Release Date: TBD
“Wanderlust” - Universal - dir. David Wain
Synopsis: An urban couple (Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd) branch out to live a more counter-culture lifestyle, read: they drop out of society to live in a hippie commune instead.
What You Need To Know: If you’re half smart and funny in L.A. and have non-Hollywood douchebag sensibilities, chances are Judd Apatow is going to produce your film. So it seems like a long time coming that like-minded folks like David Wain and Ken Marino (principal creatives on "The State," "Stella" and "Wet Hot American Summer") would team up with the funnyman mayor of L.A. film comedy. Great ensembles tend to gravitate to these pictures and "Wanderlust" is the same. It includes: Malin Akerman, Ray Liotta, Justin Theroux, Lauren Ambrose, Alan Alda, Kathryn Hahn ("Step Brothers") and Joe Lo Truglio ("Superbad"). While we didn’t love Wain’s “Role Models” all that much the first time around, it’s turned out to be a grower on video so we’re hoping for big things.
Release Date: October 7, 2011
“Live with It” - Summit - dir. Jonathan Levine
Synopsis: A 27-year-old is diagnosed with cancer, and battles the disease with the aid of his best friend, girlfriend and family.
What You Need To Know: It sounds like a somber Lifetime movie, but we expect anything but from "Live with It." Formerly titled "I'm with Cancer," the project comes from an autobiographical script from cancer survivor Will Reiser, which was noticed by Seth Rogen, who co-stars as Reiser's best friend, as well as acting as producer. The film had a somewhat troubled pre-production, with Nicole Holofcener bailing (replaced by "The Wackness" helmer Jonathan Levine), and original star James McAvoy dropping out only days before production began. McAvoy was replaced by fast-rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, and things seem to have been smooth since then, with Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Angelica Huston all co-starring. Rogen's always shown a strong taste in material, and hopefully this'll be reflected in the finished film.
Release Date: TBD
“Shame” - See Saw Films - dir. Steve McQueen
Synopsis: A sex-addicted thirty-something in Manhattan falls for a co-worker, just as his troubled younger sister comes to stay.
What You Need To Know: "Hunger," the uncompromising directorial debut of acclaimed artist Steve McQueen, was one of the undoubted cinematic highlights of 2008 and featured a remarkable, star-making turn from Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender. They're set to reunite in 2011 for the drama "Shame," and they're bringing along the equally acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan, who'll play Fassbender's sister. "Rubicon" star James Badge Dale is also on board, and filming kicks off early in the year. From the script, it's going to be just as difficult a watch as "Hunger" was, albeit slightly more traditional, narratively speaking. Likely to be one of the real showcases of the year.
Release Date: Fall TBD
"Drive" - Film District - dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Synopsis: A Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver becomes embroiled with the ex-con husband of his beautiful neighbor.
What You Need To Know: Based on the novel by James Sallis, there was a time not so long ago when the adaptation of "Drive" was going to be helmed by Neil Marshall, with Hugh Jackman in the lead role. But in an upgrade seemingly aimed directly at The Playlist's sweet spot, cult Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn signed to make his Hollywood debut, with a tremendous cast including Ryan Gosling in the lead, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks. And, while the excellent neo-noir script is clearly indebted to the likes of Walter Hill's "The Driver," it's also going to be doing its own thing -- Gosling promises "a crazy cross between "Blue Velvet" and "Purple Rain." So, yeah, we're pretty excited.
Release Date: September 16, 2011
"The Ides of March" - Sony - dir. George Clooney
Synopsis: The young communications director for a presidential candidate in the primaries becomes embroiled in a battle of dirty tricks with a rival.
What You Need To Know: Even before it hit the stage, people were clamoring to turn Beau Willimon's play "Farragut North," based loosely on the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, into a movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way picking up the rights for the piece back in 2007. Over time, things have changed, with George Clooney coming on board to make it his fourth directorial outing, substantially rewriting the script in the process.
Release Date: December 2011
OK, that's it for our first section. Part 2 (and hopefully more) tomorrow. - Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Simon Dang, Kimber Myers, Drew Taylor, Jessica Kiang, Mark Zhuravsky, Erik McClanahan