For me, 2010’s in the bag, but it’s not totally wrapped up until I take the time to ruminate over the upcoming slate of movies in 2011 that excite me, discourage me, intrigue me, or puzzle/offend me (and, of course, also post the rest of my top ten, which is, I promise, coming around the corner). This year’s crop of films to watch is pretty varied, ranging from stoner comedies to fantasy tales to stoner comedy fantasy tales to Muppets, with some high-concept arthouse fare and of course a barrage of new superhero movies mixed in for good measure. What should we be looking forward to, and what might be worth avoiding? Hopefully, I can help you with that.
Your Highness— David Gordon Green follows up on 2008’s weed-laced action comedy, Pineapple Express, with a weed-laced fantasy comedy. I can tell you which one I think sounds more inspired. Danny McBride and James Franco play two princes on a quest to save the latter’s virginal bride (Zooey Deschanel) from a most undignified deflowering at the hands of Justin Theroux’s evil, foul-mouthed wizard; they’re assisted by Natalie Portman, doing her Lucy Lawless impression. While I’d argue that Pineapple Express‘s genre combo actually makes some rudimentary sense on a very base level, mixing high fantasy with stoner humor surprisingly makes even more sense and feels bizarrely natural; add in the talented cast and you’ve got a must-see for the early summer season. Prediction: I loved Express, and I have a feeling that I’m going to be even more fond of this one.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides— Give me a break, Bruckheimer. Do you think I’m that easy? Do you think you can drop Verbinski, hire one of the most beautiful actresses on the planet and Al Swearengen, and sucker me into buying a ticket with whispered promises of a streamlined pirate story? Well…you’re right, you son of a bitch. You’re right. I’ve definitely got my reservations, as I’ve already been hurt twice before both in my heart and all around my gluteus maximus, but I can’t help getting excited over seeing Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp act like pirates with Ian McShane– even if Rob Marshall’s involvement doesn’t exactly light my fire. Prediction: I suspect my feelings will ultimately be lukewarm, but I’ll make lots of apologies for it due to my longstanding man-crush on McShane.
Harry Potter and the Gooey Kablooey (pt. 2)— Is this even worth mentioning? Everyone’s going to go see this damn thing just to get closure on the series, and frankly many probably already have their minds made up about its quality despite not having seen it yet. It’s worth noting that this is probably going to be the polar opposite to the first half, fast-paced and devoid of any slack; this is the part of the book where stuff happens, a lot of stuff, and with high frequency. Expect wizards to duel and Ralph Fiennes to be grouchy over his rhinoplasty. Prediction: oh come off it, of course I’m going to end up liking this.
Rango— Speaking of Gore Verbinski, look what he’s up to instead of working on another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Good for him, I say. More of interest to me than the film itself is the methods used to capture the voice performances of the cast; Verbinski gave his cast costumes and built rudimentary sets to help put them in a spaghetti Western frame of mind, an interesting idea with a kind of bland name. (Emotion capture. What a reach.) I’ll be blunt: I have no clue what to make of this movie, and I’m not at all sure what to expect from its apparent genre or the general weirdness on display in the trailers. And maybe that’s what will draw me to it. Prediction: whether I ultimately like it or hate it, I’ll need a few days to really nail down my reaction to it.
The Beaver— Be honest, you’re going to see this movie. You’re not necessarily going to see it because it looks amazing (the trailer kind of lowered my expectations for it), but you are going to see it because it’s a movie in which Mel Gibson plays a bona fide lunatic. Gibson hasn’t had a great track record lately, and hasn’t managed to go for more than a few months at a time without doing something horrendous in order to retain his standing on the “most despicable people on the planet” list, but if someone tells me they have no interest in seeing him star as a depressed man who communicates to people through a beaver hand puppet, I’m going to assume they’re lying. How meta is The Beaver going to be? We’ll only know once it hits theaters, but the combination of premise and star makes it too intriguing to ignore. Prediction: I want to like this, but I have a nagging suspicion that it’s going to let me down. Either way it’s not going to change public perception of Gibson.
Hanna— I’m a big fan of the film Leon, a.k.a. The Professional, a story about a hitman who takes in a 13-year-old Natalie Portman after corrupt DEA agents murder her family, and Hanna‘s synopsis falls into the same wheelhouse as Leon. So in short, it’s a must-see for me. Hanna follows the story of the titular character (Saoirse Ronan), a teenage girl raised in the wilds of Finland by her father (Eric Bana) to be the perfect assassin, as she comes of age and is sent on the mission that her dad has been training her for her whole life. Beyond the fact that the mission involves Cate Blanchett’s presence as an intelligence operative, I’m in the dark about the details, but the trailer looks very striking and the premise is incredibly strong. Maybe more than anything I’m curious as to what drew Joe Wright to this picture after he’s spent the last few years making movies like Pride and Prejudice and Atonement; (allegedly Ronona explicitly requested his involvement) Hanna is so separated from the period movies we’ve seen from him that I almost have to see it for that distinction alone. Prediction: seems really solid all around, with a great cast and a skilled director; the concept is wonderfully original, to boot. Should be right up my alley.
Sucker Punch— My expectations for this film come down to a simple quote from Deborah Snyder, director Zack Snyder’s better half: “What I think is amazing is that a lot of these women are so multi-dimensional. They can be strong and they can fight, but they can also be feminine and sexy and vulnerable at times. I think we haven’t really seen that yet in these female action films. I think that, for me, that’s what was so exciting for the project.” (Source.) Fair enough, but for me, Sucker Punch— a movie that based on the trailers reads as the sugar-and-anime-induced fever dream of a teenage boy– is going to work or fall apart at the seams based on how successful it is in realizing the preceding sentiment. I actually agree with Deborah; female action stars today tend to mirror the behaviors and attitudes of their male counterparts, which for me kind of undermines the idea of a woman starring in an action film in the first place. I’d like for this to hit the notes that the quote promises, and if it does I’ll consider it a huge success. Prediction: Sucker Punch will deliver on that promise, but I’ll be too busy suffering an aneurysm due to excessive speed-ramping to notice.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo— Well, if nothing else, I can’t possibly dislike it more than I disliked the original film. I don’t at all understand how this film got as much praise as it did on release; it’s slack, dramatically inert, and kind of pointless, but that’s exactly why Fincher’s remake is sensible. Why else should a film be remade if the original isn’t that great to begin with? Fincher can only improve on Oplev’s mess of an adaptation, is a truly masterful director, so I’m looking forward to seeing if he can make the material work on film in a way Oplev couldn’t. Prediction: it won’t disappoint me as much as the original picture did. And it might even totally wow me.
Kill the Irishman— Ray Stevenson, the only man worthy of playing Frank Castle on screen, teams up with Jonathan Hensleigh, who proved himself incapable of telling a Punisher story with Thomas Jane starring, to tell the story of Danny Greene, the Irish American mobster of the film’s title. Greene spent two decades making trouble for the local mafia organizations, and gained enormous notoriety for being seemingly impossible to kill, surviving numerous assassination attempts perpetrated by the mob by “the luck of the Irish”, according to Greene. If nothing else, Greene’s story is fascinating, and the talent involved should make it worth checking out. Prediction: some solid performances all around, most likely buffered by a half dozen explosions too many for a biopic.
Source Code— Duncan Jones’ follow up to 2009’s absolutely phenomenal Moon, Source Code sounds a lot like a science fiction Groundhog Day: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a military captain involved in a mission to discover the perpetrator behind the deadly bombing of a Chicago commuter train, utilizing a program called Source Code to see through the eyes of one of the victims in the last eight minutes of their life. The catch? He has six hours to figure out who’s behind the attack in order to prevent a second, larger one from taking place in the same city. Jones broke away from the action conventions of modern sci-fi with his debut film, and while Source Code sounds like it indulges in some of the explosive spectacle of the work of contemporary directors, but Jones seems to have far too much on his mind as a director to entirely rest on exhausted genre tropes. I expect Source Code to be more than what it seems. Prediction: Jones is very talented and Moon suggests a strong cinematic vision for the young filmmaker. I’m confident he’ll impress us with his sophomore effort and turn out another thoughtful, inspired picture.
The Green Lantern— I won’t lie, I’m not excited for this in the least. It pains me to write that; I love Ryan Reynolds, and he totally deserves a franchise to call his own that lets him make use of every one of his many talents, but I can’t help but be unimpressed by what I’ve seen so far of The Green Lantern. It’s a shame not just for Reynolds, but for the character, too, who innately feels fit for the big screen by virtue of his powers– which are only limited by his willpower. He’s a superhero powered by imagination. If that’s not cinematic I don’t know what is. I want The Green Lanter to succeed on all levels, but the promo material released to date for the film has read as cheap, flat, and incredibly tired to me, giving the sense that this is just going to be another superhero movie for us to watch and ultimately forget about. I’d love to be proven wrong, though. Prediction: will be half a good movie and half a misfire, probably on the “good” side of the “mediocre” fence thanks to Reynolds.
Cowboys and Aliens— If a movie about cowboys defending themselves against an extraterrestrial invasion with nothing but their wits, their rifles, their six-shooters, and Daniel Craig’s chiseled jaw (plus his inexplicable wrist-mounted piece of alien technology) doesn’t sound like a blast to you, I don’t want to be your friend. Looks like the kind of outrageous and campy genre picture that knows what it is and refuses to be self-conscious of that knowledge; in other words, it’s the kind of movie that begs to be seen in a crowded theater for sheer entertainment value and joy. Prediction: as long as the movie doesn’t wink at the audience over every bit of its ridiculousness, it’ll be enormous fun.
That’s the first chunk down; voice your thoughts below and let me know what films you’re looking forward to in the coming year. I’ll be back with part 2…soonish!