More of the same and something different
Did the 2010 film slate leave you generally unimpressed? We'd be lying if we told you that 2011 was going to be significantly better, but there certainly are a few potential gems amid the usual clutter of retreads and unimaginative fare. And we'd like to think that any year that brings us films by Terrence Malick, Whit Stillman, Cameron Crowe, Alexander Payne, Robert Redford, and two by Steven Spielberg can't be all bad.
In fact, before we begin our film-by-film look at 2011, let's take a quick peek at the most anticipated films of the year, as determined by an informal survey of Metacritic contributors and key film publications.
|The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn||Animated pic is one of two 2011 Spielberg films||Dec. 23|
|Captain America: The First Avenger||Can Marvel score with another hero?||Jul. 22|
|Contagion||Soderbergh goes viral with a huge cast||Oct. 21|
|Cowboys & Aliens||James Bond battles aliens in the Old West||Jul. 29|
|A Dangerous Method||Analyze this: Cronenberg's Freud/Jung biopic||tba|
|The Descendants||Alexander Payne directs George Clooney||tba|
|The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo||Can David Fincher match the Swedish original?||Dec. 21|
|Green Lantern||"Wait ... didn't this just come out?"||Jun. 17|
|The Hangover Part II||Easily the year's most-anticipated comedy||May 26|
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2||It's the end of the end||Jul. 15|
|Hugo Cabret||Scorsese for kids ... in 3D!||Dec. 9|
|The Ides of March||George Clooney adapts acclaimed political play||tba|
|Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol||Let's hope the movie's better than its title||Dec. 16|
|The Muppets Movie||A star-studded Muppets reunion? Count us in||Nov. 23|
|Paul||Sci-fi comedy stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost||Mar. 18|
|Scream 4||After a decade away, this almost feels new||Apr. 15|
|Source Code||More trippy sci-fi from Moon's Duncan Jones||Apr. 1|
|Sucker Punch||Action film from 300 director has major buzz||Mar. 25|
|Super 8||J.J. Abrams' mysterious sci-fi tale could be big||Jun. 10|
|Thor||Please, hammer, don't hurt us||May 6|
|The Tree of Life||Terrence Malick's poetic epic finally arrives||May 27|
|War Horse||Spielberg's WWI-era equine adventure||Dec. 28|
|We Bought a Zoo||Cameron Crowe's first movie in six years||Dec. 23|
|X-Men: First Class||Can Matthew Vaughn revive the franchise?||Jun. 3|
|Your Highness||Medieval comedy has year's funniest trailer||Apr. 8|
This year, our look ahead to the year in film -- spanning over 170 of the year's biggest and most interesting films -- will be in three parts. Today, in part one, we preview Hollywood at its least creative (films based on existing properties) and its most (films from notable directors). First, the bad news.
Sequels, remakes, reboots
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore get stranded on an island. Hijinks and high-pitched singing ensue.
Get excited: If you were to change the subtitle to Chipwrecked in 3D, we’d be talking! Hopefully, David Cross will return as Ian, the Chipmunks’ two-timing former agent and best part of the first two movies.
Then again: Moving the Chipmunks to a remote island is a bit of a stretch when the suburbs seem like an appropriate fit for the furry threesome (or sextet, if you count the Chipettes). And we’ll bet that the chances of the Chipmunks singing a Justin Bieber song are pretty high.
To secure his inheritance, Arthur (Russell Brand), a happy-go-lucky drunk, must enter into an arranged marriage with Susan (Jennifer Garner), which is fine with him, until he meets Linda (Greta Gerwig).
Get excited: The original 1981 comedy garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Dudley Moore, and two wins, most notably for Sir John Gielgud in a supporting role as Arthur’s butler, Hobson. In this remake, Helen Mirren takes over the role of Hobson, but otherwise the main story remains intact.
Then again: Is Russell Brand too polarizing to play Arthur? Part of Dudley Moore’s success in the original is imbuing Arthur with a child-like innocence that gets the audience on his side. Will Russell Brand’s audience come out to see a remake of a thirty year-old film and will lovers of the original film want to see it?
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) goes on yet another undercover mission in drag after his stepson witnesses a murder. Naturally, his stepson then assists the investigation while also wearing a wig and women's clothing.
Get excited: Movie theaters will not be requiring audience members to dress in women's clothing.
Lightening McQueen and Mater venture beyond Radiator Springs to be part of the World Grand Prix only to become mixed up in a diabolical espionage plot. Together, the two friends must work to save the world.
Get excited: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy and original Cars mastermind John Lasseter are all back, along with new additions Michael Caine and Jason Issacs. Pixar seems to be able to do no wrong, whether it's an original story or a sequel.
Then again: Putting the characters into a larger than life situation could leave little room for the strong emotional story the first movie had.
Conan the Barbarian
In this remake of the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan the Cimmerian seeks revenge on those who destroyed his village and murdered his father.
Get excited: Although star Jason Momoa is a newcomer to the big screen, he has fans from his years on Stargate: Atlantis and here he is joined by a strong supporting cast that includes Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Rose McGowan (Planet Terror) and Stephen Lang (Avatar).
Then again: It’s hard to imagine Conan the Barbarian without Schwarzenegger even though the character has been around since the 1930s. Director Marcus Nispel’s previous sword fighting action film, Pathfinder, does not inspire confidence.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules
Greg Heffley enters the seventh grade, where he continues to be tormented by his older brother, Rodrick.
Get excited: Though sequels to family films can be problematic, this movie (like its predecessor) is adapted from a specific book, so there is plenty of material to draw from. Almost the entire cast -- save for Chloë Moretz -- returns, and new director David Bowers had some critical success with 2006's Flushed Away.
Then again: The movie was made very quickly, coming almost exactly a year after the first film.
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and the rest of the crew are in Rio trying to pull off one last job, but this time a federal agent (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is out to get them.
Get excited: Over-the-top action sequences in beautiful locations with an all-star cast from the previous four Fast and Furious films (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and Sung Kang also appear) and it’s directed by Justin Lin (2009‘s Fast & Furious, 2006‘s Tokyo Drift) ... what else could a fan of this series ask for?
Then again: These movies are a take it or leave it proposition for most. If the previous four aren’t your cup of tea, number five will surely disappoint as well.
Final Destination 5
Once again, a group of people escape death (this time it's a collapsing suspension bridge) when one of them has a premonition of the end. Of course, you can't keep death down, and soon the group begin dying one by one.
Get excited: The Final Destination franchise usually does a fairly entertaining job of finding new (and ridiculous) ways for people to die.
Then again: Part 4 (The Final Destination) was supposedly the last installment, suggesting that this series may have already been running on empty. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer also gave us the Nightmare on Elm Street remake which wasn't all that well received by critics or fans.
This musical remake of the 1984 film once again centers on a city teenager who moves to a small Southern town where he rebels against a ban on dancing and rock music.
Get excited: Writer-director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) seems like a good fit. The soundtrack will combine new songs with updated versions of the original's "Footloose" and "Let's Hear It for the Boy."
Then again: Can relatively unknown dancer (and inexperienced actor) Kenny Wormald carry the lead role now that Zac Efron and Chace Crawford have backed out? And is anyone really dying to see a Footloose remake?
A remake/reboot of the modest 1985 Tom Holland horror classic takes the suburbs setting of the original and moves it to Las Vegas. Anton Yelchin plays Charley “You’re so cool” Brewster, who finds out that his neighbor (played by Colin Farrell) is a vampire.
Get excited: Director Craig Gillespie will surely build off of the uniquely off-center Lars and the Real Girl and deliver an odd and suspenseful vampire tale that will stand out from the glut of fanged material.
Then again: The original vampire hunter Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) was a horror TV host and the new Peter Vincent (David Tennant) is a Vegas magician. Not as cool.
The Hangover Part II
The R-rated comedy dream team returns for more craziness, this time in Thailand. Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married and he wants his homies to join him. What could go wrong?
Get excited: Two words: Zach Galifianakis. Actually, if the chemistry from the three leads is working again, it should make for a good time.
Then again: The original’s clever screenplay will be hard to beat, with its “what happened last night?” mystery. Uninspired return appearances from Mike Tyson, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, and an already spoiled appearance from former U.S. President Bill Clinton could cause the movie to suffer from major sequelitis.
Happy Feet 2
Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) now have a son of their own, who has to discover his own secret talent. Once again danger rears its ugly head and the penguins find themselves dancing and singing their way through a big adventure.
Get excited: If director George Miller (flying solo this time) can do for Happy Feet 2 what he did for Babe 2, then this could be a spectacle worth watching over and over.
Then again: The plot sounds very similar to the first movie, just with the original hero's son going through the motions this time.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
What happens after Voldemort finds the sword of Gryffindor? The battle for Hogwarts, that’s what!
Get excited: The second half of the book is seriously action-packed and emotionally wrenching to boot. It’s the last Harry Potter movie -- it has to work!
Then again: Director David Yates isn’t the best at pulling off the action set pieces. His ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a massive fail. He and the production need to seriously raise their game to pull off what was beautifully laid out in the book. Deathly Hallows Part 1 ditched its 3D release at the last minute, and Part 2 is still scheduled to be in 3D. Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)
In this even more graphic sequel to 2010's controversial The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a madman continues to stitch unfortunate human victims together via their digestive tracts. You know, for fun.
Get excited: You thought three human beings strung together was shocking? Try a full dozen.
Then again: We were hoping the parenthetical portion of the title would read "Final Sequence."
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
This 3D sequel to the 2008 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth finds Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) heading to a mythical island to rescue his grandfather.
Get excited: Brendan Fraser is gone; in his place is Dwayne Johnson, joined by an appealingly eclectic cast that includes Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman, and Kristin Davis. The story is inspired by Jules Verne's "The Mysterious Island."
Then again: The Rock isn't necessarily an upgrade over Fraser. New director Brad Peyton's previous feature film experience consists solely of the unremarkable Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Po, now the Dragon Warrior, must travel across China with his friends, the Furious Five (Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper, and Monkey) to face a new villain, Lord Shen, who threatens to conquer China and destroy kung fu forever.
Get excited: This sequel to the hit 2008 film returns the original cast members (Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan) and writers and adds the voice talent of Gary Oldman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh, and Victor Garber.
Then again: Rarely are sequels better than the originals, even in animation. This film, along with Cars 2, will be watched carefully to determine whether future sequels are made for theatrical release or home video.
Arthur Bishop is a master assassin, out for revenge against the people who killed his friend Harry. But things get tricky when Harry's son shows up, hoping not just to avenge his father's death but also to learn all of Bishop's trade secrets.
Get excited: Jason Statham's charisma coupled with Ben Forster's menacing creepiness could provide a much needed kick to an already well-worn plot. The red-band trailer makes it clear this isn't going to be a cut-down PG-13 actioner.
Then again: Even with the two leads it's hard to imagine this will equal the 1972 film with Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Mission Impossible 4 sees Tom Cruise return as Ethan Hunt, possibly to hand over the reigns of the franchise to a younger star. The Incredibles and The Iron Giant director Brad Bird helms his first live-action feature.
Get excited: How sweet, fresh meat! An infusion of new faces, including Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Josh Holloway (Sawyer!) wielding weapons and sporting disguises should be fun to watch.
Then again: Directing an animated film is about as different as you can get from directing live action. Cruise going back to the Mission franchise may seem a little desperate after a string of disappointing projects. It could take the rest of the year and millions of dollars just to figure out how to punctuate the title.
The Muppets Movie
Gary (Jason Segel) and his friend Walter (a Muppet who thinks he’s human) team up with the Muppets to save their old theater from being destroyed by a rich oilman.
Get excited: Now this is a reboot we can get behind: The Muppets are coming back to the big screen! Much like with The Muppet Movie, there will be many cameos, in addition to your favorite Muppet characters. Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Zach Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais and many more will populate the adventure.
Then again: While Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher composed the unforgettable songs for the original, here the task falls to the adept but more spoofy Segel and Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. Will they be up for the challenge? It ain’t easy being green.
Paranormal Activity 3
The horror series returns with its third installment in three years.
Then again: This film is nothing more than a title and a release date at this point; there's no director, cast, or script, and the clock's ticking. Is there a compelling story left to be told?
Piranha 3D was one of the unexpectedly better offerings at the multiplex last year, and while the film didn’t perform as well as it should have, a sequel was quickly moved into production. Project Greenlight Season 3 winner/director John Gulager (Feast) directs.
Get excited: The first film was a well-executed comment on American excess and hopefully that spirit will carry over into the follow-up. The ridiculous title is kind of amazing.
Then again: Since the last film didn’t do well, the budget probably won’t be as high. The movie hasn’t started shooting yet and it’s scheduled to come out in September. Did you see Gulager’s Feast 2 or Feast 3?
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Captain Jack Sparrow is back -- and he’s looking for the fountain of youth -- as director Rob Marshall takes over for Gore Verbinski and shoots in 3D.
Get excited: The cast includes Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Keith Richards and others.
Then again: Has Captain Jack outworn his welcome? Each Pirates of the Caribbean film has been worse than the previous one (The Curse of the Black Pearl 64, Dead Man's Chest 53, At World’s End 50). Marshall hasn’t had a hit since 2002’s Chicago.
Rise of the Apes
After five original movies and one remake, Hollywood decides to go back to the beginning and tell the story of how Planet of the Apes started.
Get excited: Attempting to reboot the Apes franchise by revealing a part of the story we haven't seen before is a solid plan. Star James Franco had a stellar year in 2010; his involvement alone is enough to keep people interested.
Then again: Fox's previous attempt to restart the Apes franchise (with Tim Burton directing) only made people miss the original movies more. Fans are already upset that the apes will be computer generated rather than people in makeup. British director Rupert Wyatt has never attempted a movie on this scale.
Ghostface is back, and Sidney (Neve Campbell) is back to deal with the killer. Dewey and Gale (David Arquette and Courteney Cox) also return and join new cast members and potential victims Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Kristen Bell, and Anna Paquin.
Get excited: It’s been over ten years since the last Scream movie, and a return to Woodsboro might be welcome.
Then again: Extensive rewrites and creative differences caused original creator Kevin Williamson and actresses Lake Bell and Lauren Graham to depart the production. Craven’s output over the last decade has been pretty anemic. Did anyone go see My Soul to Take in 3D?
Sherlock Holmes 2
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) returns along with his trusted friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law) to battle their arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty.
Get excited: While not loved by critics, the first film still did $524 million in worldwide box office. The cast gets added punch with the additions of Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jared Harris (Mad Men) as Professor Moriarty, and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.
Then again: A sequel better than the first film is rare (see Iron Man 2 in 2010).
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World
The first installment in the family action-adventure series since 2003 finds a retired spy-turned-housewife (Jessica Alba) teaming up with her twin 10-year-old stepkids to save the world.
Get excited: Robert Rodriguez returns as director, and inspired new casting choices include Joel McHale as the twins' oblivious father and Jeremy Piven as the evil Timekeeper. Expect a cameo from the original kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara).
Then again: The previous Spy Kids was a major disappointment, though perhaps rebooting the series with a new family will be a step in the right direction.
A screenwriter (James Marsden) moves with his wife to her hometown in the South, where old relationships create new conflicts, resulting in a violent outcome.
Get excited: The relatively strong cast includes Alexander Skarsgard, Kate Bosworth, and James Woods. Director Rod Lurie has a good sense of character, as demonstrated in The Contender and the short-lived TV show Commander in Chief.
Then again: Sam Peckinpah's original Straw Dogs was a complex examination of man's violent nature. It's hard to imagine that this new version will be much more than a watered-down revenge flick.
In this prequel, we find out what happened to the Norwegian camp that first discovered the alien monster before it wreaked havoc on Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's classic 1982 film.
Get excited: Early set reports have been encouraging, suggesting that the filmmakers have a lot of respect for the original and want to honor it as much as possible. Having Scott Pilgrim star Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Animal Kingdom's Joel Edgerton doesn't hurt, either.
Then again: The idea of a follow up -- even a prequel -- to Carpenter's brilliant film that doesn't have Carpenter involved has many fans concerned. And prequels, as Star Wars has shown, aren't always the best idea.
The Three Musketeers
Alexander Dumas' classic story comes to the big screen once again, this time with Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, and Christoph Waltz.
Get excited: The two most recent Dumas adaptations (Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask) were solid entertainment. If Musketeers sticks close the source material, it's easy to believe it will be a fun ride.
Then again: Director Paul W.S. Anderson is an odd choice for a period piece, with an unimpressive resume filled mainly with rehashed sci-fi schlock fests.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
A Cybertronian spaceship is on the moon, and the Autobots and Decepticons race to reach it. Michael Bay returns to “direct” and Shia LeBeouf cashes another large paycheck.
Get excited: Anything would surely be an improvement from the completely incomprehensible and intellect-offending Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The cool transformation scenes will now happen right in front of you in 3D!
Then again: Michael Bay seems to indulge only his worst instincts, one of which was to replace fanboy fave Megan Fox with Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One)
Bella and Edward's new marriage is threatened by a troubled childbirth and the rise of the evil Volturi as the Twilight Saga begins its final chapter (which will be concluded in a second movie in 2012).
Get excited: The choice of Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) as director could prove to be inspired ... or a huge mistake. A honeymoon in Rio should provide the series' raciest on-screen moments to date.
Then again: We're still waiting for the first good Twilight movie. Will the filmmakers find a natural place to split the story into two films?
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
Celebrate Christmas with your favorite stoners, Harold & Kumar, as they search for a replacement Christmas tree…in 3D!
Get excited: John Cho and Kal Penn’s chemistry in itself should be enough to fuel a third vehicle. Neil Patrick Harris returns as himself and Danny Trejo, Patton Oswalt, and Elias Koteas join in the celebration of the wacky tobacky.
Then again: Harold & Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay was at times deeply disappointing and mean-spirited. With luck, the new film will be closer in spirit to the more positive original. Don’t harsh our high, man!
X-Men: First Class
After the X-Men franchise’s last two disappointing movies, Fox is rebooting the series by making a prequel directed by Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn that follows Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) before they assumed their rightful place in the Marvel universe.
Get excited: The rest of the cast is impressive, with January Jones, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon playing both sides of mutantdom.
Then again: X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a shockingly bad movie full of sub-par special effects and a story that made little sense. The new film is being rushed to meet a June 3rd release date when it only started shooting on August 30th of last year.
XXX: The Return of Xander Cage
Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) has been left for dead, but when a new assignment comes up that only he can accomplish, Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) brings the original XXX back into the game.
Get excited: After the overly serious nature of the recent Bond and Bourne films, it could be fun to see a rousing spy action-adventure movie with a central character that actually enjoys his job.
Then again: It's been over ten years since the first XXX, and Diesel's star power has dwindled significantly. Original XXX director Rob Cohen initially dropped out of XXX3 in favor of directing Medieval, but when that film stalled he came back to this one.