Part 2 of my 2011 preview commences…now! (Part 1 can be perused here, at your leisure.)
X-Men: First Class— By happy coincidence, the first trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s period prequel to the X-Men franchise hit just last week, and guess what? It looks really good. Focusing specifically on the relationship between Erik Lehnsherr, the man better known as Magneto, and Professor Charles Xavier, First Class parallel events in American history like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights Movement as the two prominent mutants’ friendship splinters apart amidst the divergence of their greatly differing philosophies and world views. Vaughn looks to be telling an intimate and personal story about two friends fragmenting apart from one another in between large-scale action sequences, and while more robust details elude me the footage has me well sold at this point, and ready (and more importantly, willing) to return to the X-verse again. Prediction: Sure, the last two X-Men movies were horrendous, but let’s give Vaughn and the stars the benefit of the doubt, huh?
Red Riding Hood— Catherine Hardwicke directs a solid cast consisting of Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, and Amanda Seyfried through a loose retelling and reinterpretation of the folk tale classic. I’ll admit that this looks in-line with Twilight in terms of content and sensibilities, but Hardwicke directing her own take on someone else’s story instead of just directing someone else’s story excites me, especially considering how the trailers appear to reflect her proclivities as a filmmaker and hint at the sort of themes that she’s best known for tackling. If Red Riding Hood hones in on its star’s coming of age and emergence into womanhood (which the bright reds of the promo material suggest), it could well end up being an intriguing and riveting modern fairy tale twist. Prediction: Hardwicke taps into the themes and ideas that helped make Thirteen such an effective movie, and surprises us all post-Twilight.
The Tree of Life— I’ll be honest, I hardly even know what this is about. All I know is that everyone and their mothers are all having shared orgasms over its script and over the trailer, which admittedly looks intriguing if somewhat vague and intentionally obfuscated. Following the synopsis, Tree of Life tells a tale about a young boy and the battle his parents wage over his loyalty and allegiance, and the continuation of that struggle into his adulthood as he grows up to be Sean Penn. It reads as a tone poem and a concept film, something that can either be beautiful and totally rewarding as a film-going experience or a total artistic disaster punctuated by pretension and skewed focus, and is being pitched so casually and ambivalently that it’s hard to tell where on that scale it might fall. Prediction: Malick is a great filmmaker whose talent deserves the benefit of the doubt, but this is going to be hit-or-miss; you’ll either love it or despise it.
Captain America— Is this the comic book movie to watch of 2011? I want to be reserved about this given director Joe Johnston’s shaky resume, but Captain America shares the same roots as the high-flying hero of one of Johnson’s best movies, The Rocketeer, and if the same sort of energy is applied appropriately here, then the story of the first Avenger should be a total home run. Not for nothing, either– Chris Evans is a star with enormous charisma and energy, and he’s got the chiseled features of the all-American hero to boot. If Johnston’s role in the film gives you pause then Evans’ presence should more than balance things out. If that’s not enough then consider the supporting cast, including Hugo Weaving as the villainous and aptly named Red Skull. Most of all, Captain America is one of the films that Marvel seems to have been so carefully building itself toward creating, kicking the door wide open for the Avengers in 2012; it’s hard not to admire and be enthusiastic for the kind of slow and patient crafting of a whole cinematic universe, and Captain America should be the first of many films to enjoy the benefits of the payoff of that buildup. Prediction: I’m on board 100% here. Captain America looks like it totally nails the Saving Private Ryan/Band of Brothers tone while keeping in line with its comic book sensibilities.
The Hangover 2— The sequel to 2009’s surprise smash hit has only one question to answer in order to work: Can Todd Phillips strike gold twice? Arguably there’s no appreciable reason for this to be made– the first film ended note perfectly– and given the amount of simoleons the first film earned it’s not hard to divine the source of the powers that drove this film into production in the first place. Still, even if the sequel’s existence can be credited to the bottom line, it’s not impossible for Phillips to capture what made the first movie work as a comedy and not just as a commodity; it just sounds an awful lot like more of the same, with returning cast members Cooper, Galifianakis, Bartha, and Helms heading to Thailand for Stu’s wedding to Jamie Chung and naturally bringing about more wacky hijinx for us to chuckle at. Will a second go-round be as satisfying as the first? Prediction: bless him for trying, but I don’t know if Phillips can make this concept work two movies in a row. Though the guest cameos have me intrigued, and the cast is solid as ever, I’m not sure if recycling the plot is going to surprise us the same way it did in the original movie.
Submarine— This one’s only come to my attention recently, to my surprise as well considering how much positive press it received both at this year’s Sundance and 2010’s TIFF. And as someone who takes pride in their Welsh heritage, the location almost guarantees I’ll check it out as soon as I get the opportunity to. The plot sounds fairly standard– it’s a coming of age story focused on a 15 year old boy (Craig Roberts) who entertains delusions of being a cool, literary genius whilst being socially awkward and inept in reality– but supported by a solid cast, including Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine. And there’s no rule that says that a standard plot can’t be made into something special with extraordinary storytelling. Prediction: anything that has either Hawkins or Considine pretty much has my ticket bought by default, but this sounds like it has the potential to be really special.
Thor— I guess I’m in the minority in that I’m excited for each of Marvel’s major 2011 releases, even Thor and in spite of how it takes such vile liberties with the cultural history of Nordic barbarians. (Note: that’s sarcasm. In case anyone who actually plans on boycotting the film stumbles upon this can’t figure it out for themselves, which wouldn’t surprise me given the inherently moronic nature of their misguided and at least subtextually racist stance.) Here, Branagh looks to have captured the tone and the atmosphere necessary to successfully carry out a movie in which Chris Hemsworth’s Norse god of thunder (and strength, destruction, fertility, healing, and so on) is cast from Asgard and stripped of his powers. Natalie Portman, your future Best Actress 2010, seems to be slumming it here, but even A-listers need a good franchise to latch onto. Prediction: should be good, comic bookish, mythological fun, provided you don’t take umbrage with the liberties it takes by casting a black man as a Norse god.
Super 8— The power of Abrams compels me. While we know a little bit more about the movie in the wake of the Superbowl teaser, we still know close to nothing beyond the obvious: Abrams’ films have a magnetic pull that guarantee I won’t be able to stay away from the theaters for this one. Prediction: I have no idea what it is, but the Spielberg comparisons have me curious, and besides, it’s hard not to at least wonder at what Abrams has up his sleeve.
30 Minutes or Less— Jesse Eisenberg goes back to comedy here, not that anyone should be complaining considering that a) he’s pretty damn funny, and b) 30 Minutes or Less teams him up with Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, along with Fred Ward, Michael Peña, and Nick Swardson in a film with a pretty solid concept. See, McBride and Swardson are scheming to get the former’s father’s insurance money, and lacking the funds to realize their plan, they kidnap Eisenberg’s hapless pizza delivery boy and force him to rob a bank for them. Seems like idiotic genius to me, and who could say no to re-teaming Eisenberg with Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer? Prediction: maybe this will end up being a minor film for Fleischer and Eisenberg, but anything that puts them together with some of the best comedy actors working today is worth taking note of.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn— Steven Spielberg directs a movie written by Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/Scott Pilgrim‘s Edgar Wright and produced by Peter Jackson. Oh, and it’s based on Georges Remi’s iconic Adventures of Tintin comic book series. And it stars Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig, and a slew of other great actors. Do you need more info than that? All of that aside, it’s exciting to see Spielberg tackle his first digitally shot picture, but the reality is that the mix of behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-camera talent here is too much to really ignore. Prediction: I’m having difficulty seeing this end up being anything less than fantastic considering the unadulterated talent collaborating on bringing it to life.
The Muppets— Jason Segel is directing a Muppets movie in which he is starring alongside Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and Rashida Jones, alongside the obligatory plethora of celeb cameos (including but not limited to Donald Glover, Alan Arkin, James Carville, Lady Gaga, Mila Kunis, and Ricky Gervais), and that’s really all that matters. Point blank, if you don’t like the Muppets, or if you don’t like Jason Segel, or God forbid if you don’t like the idea of Segel working with puppets once more, then I don’t want to know you. Prediction: best movie of 2011. Okay, maybe not, but I’m 100% confident that this is going to be in my top 10 and about 90% sure it’ll be in my top 5. I love the Muppets. I love the Muppets.
Battle: Los Angeles— This year’s District 9? Maybe. Certainly the film looks to share the same gritty, cinéma vérité aesthetic as the 2009 smash hit while aiming more for high-profile spectacle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where Battle: Los Angeles must prove its worth lies in how director Jonathan Liebesman answers the question central to films of this persuasion: what would really happen if aliens arrived upon Earth? There’s a clear idea presented in the trailers and promo material– they’d try to kill us all– and it falls on Liebesman to mine more out of that familiar plot and make his film stand out. Prediction: the cast is solid, the film’s look is great, and a lot of effort went into bringing the film’s core conflict to life. It’s all on Liebesman, a man whose resume includes Darkness Falls and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel, to make this work.
Contagion— Steven Soderbergh’s latest sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth as Outbreak; there’s a deadly virus threatening humanity, an international team of doctors, the presence of the CDC…in other words, the works. But it’s Soderbergh, someone who makes interesting, if not always necessarily good, movies, and the cast he’s assembled is impressive to say the least between the presences of Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law (not to mention Bryan Cranston and Elliot Gould). Bare bones synopsis aside, I can see myself heading to the cinema for this one when October rolls around. Prediction: Soderbergh is hit or miss with me, but his movies are unmistakably his and he has a unique enough voice that he can likely take a pedestrian sounding premise and make it feel high-concept and original.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark— The mere mention of Guillermo del Toro is enough to put my ass in a seat, but Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has a success story at its center involving first-time director Troy Nixey– del Toro’s protege– helps to further single it out as something worth the price of admission. Further, it’s a remake of a middling, made-for-TV horror movie from the 70’s with the same name, which means that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark falls right in line with my stance on when it’s acceptable to remake a film. Early press from 2010’s San Diego Comic Con gives the impression that the del Toro/Nixey combination is a winning one, and who doesn’t want to see gremlins terrorize Katie Holmes and her small child while Guy Pearce apathetically ignores the fact that his house is overrun with horrible things with sharp teeth? Prediction: could be the best horror film of 2011 with absolutely no problem, and it’s exciting to see a newcomer brought onto the scene with a guy like del Toro in his corner.