Films from notable directors
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Legendary Belgian comic strip The Adventures of Tintin is getting the royal Hollywood treatment, with Steven Spielberg directing this segment involving a treasure hunt, and Peter Jackson helming a 2012 sequel. The motion-captured animated movie stars Jamie Bell as Tintin, Daniel Craig as Red Rackham, and Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock.
Get excited: When Spielberg and new technology meet (Jurassic Park, Minority Report), it can be electric. Sherlock/Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat wrote the script, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) had a hand at rewriting, and the film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead! Having Peter Jackson around rather than George Lucas can only be a good thing.
Then again: Spielberg is coming off of the disappointment of a lifetime (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and is shooting this full-length adventure digitally for the first time. The international appeal of the stories may be lost on American audiences. And previous mo-capped films (see. e.g., anything recent from Robert Zemeckis) have been plagued by dead-eyed characters.
A dark comedy based on a true story, Bernie centers on a small-town Texas mortician who murders a wealthy widow, but then must pretend that she's still alive when the local district attorney begins snooping around.
Get excited: Director Richard Linklater (who also wrote the script) is due for a good movie, and re-teaming with star Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused) couldn't hurt. The supporting cast includes Shirley MacLaine and Rip Torn.
Then again: The film also stars Jack Black, who isn't exactly on a hot streak himself. Both the title and the premise might be too close to Weekend at Bernie's for comfort.
As the sole female charged in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, boarding house owner Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn) must rely on a reluctant lawyer (James McAvoy) to challenge public opinion and secure her acquittal.
Get excited: Robert Redford-directed films only come around once or twice a decade, and a courtroom drama feels like a good fit.
Then again: Redford hasn't directed a good film since 1994's Quiz Show. Reaction from last year's Toronto festival, though mostly positive, was restrained. Alexis Bledel and Justin Long are reportedly miscast in supporting roles.
One of two 2011 movies directed by Steven Soderbergh, Contagion marks his return to big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. Here, he teams with Warner Bros. and big stars in a thriller about a fast-spreading viral pandemic.
Get excited: The heavyweight cast includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Demetri Martin, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, and many more -- all in the same movie!
Then again: It's hard to find a reason to worry, but the subject matter may remind viewers a bit too much of the similar and Netflixable Outbreak.
Damsels in Distress
A misguided group of style- and perfume-obsessed college girls work at a suicide prevention center.
Get excited: Reclusive director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona) returns to the big screen for the first time since 1998's The Last Days of Disco. Stars Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody seem like they can handle Stillman's dialogue.
Then again: Stillman's stylized, talk-heavy style isn't for everyone, and the material here finds him working (a bit) outside of his usual Manhattan yuppie comfort zone.
A Dangerous Method
Writer Christopher Hampton (Atonement) adapts his own stage play The Talking Cure, about the professional relationship between psychiatrists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud -- and the troubled young woman who comes between them -- on the eve of World War I.
Get excited: Director David Cronenberg has been on a hot streak for the past decade, and the source material plus a cast that includes Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightley suggests that this film has multiple Oscar nominations in its future.
Then again: We almost would prefer to see Christoph Waltz, who was originally set to play Freud, instead of Mortensen.
tba late 2011
After his unfaithful wife suffers a severe boating accident, a Hawaiian attorney (George Clooney) takes his two daughters (aged 17 and 10) on a road trip to look for his wife's lover.
Get excited: It's hard not to be excited about a new dramedy from Alexander Payne, who hasn't directed a film since 2004's Sideways, another road movie based on a novel (this one is based on a book by Kaui Hart Hemmings). The supporting cast includes Judy Greer and Beau Bridges, and the film was shot on location in Hawaii.
Then again: Combining a tragedy, untested young actors, drama, and comedy without jarring tonal shifts could be tricky to pull off, though Payne seems to be the man to do it.
The relationship between two thirtysomethings (Miranda July and Hamish Linklater) is tested after the couple agrees to adopt a terminally ill cat, triggering a re-evaluation of everything in their lives.
Get excited: July also wrote and directed this film, a follow-up to her acclaimed 2005 debut Me and You and Everyone We Know.
Then again: The film sounds like it could be way too whimsical and precious -- did we mention that the cat (Paw Paw) narrates the story, and that the moon also talks?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Social Network director David Fincher follows his critical darling with a new adaptation (penned by Steven Zaillian) of the first part of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
Get excited: The original title of the book, Men Who Hate Women, applies to most of the director’s work. Unlike with the Swedish original, English-speaking audiences won’t have to read pesky subtitles to understand the movie.
Then again: Fincher’s female-led films, Alien 3 and Panic Room, were two of his lesser efforts, and both of them took place is hyper-testosteroned universes. Title character Lisbeth Salander is the focus of the trilogy, but may here be demoted to a mere supporting role in favor of bigger star Daniel Craig’s investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist. Also, the cast is rumored to be practicing Swedish accents -- which could be unintentionally comical. Finally, the movie will have a radically different ending than the book.
Also known as The Grand Master, this action-heavy biopic centers on Bruce Lee’s mentor, Ip Man, the first martial arts master to teach Wing Chun openly.
Get excited: Director Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) returns to martial arts for the first time since Ashes of Time. Longtime collaborator Tony Leung Chiu-Wai stars along with Ziyi Zhang (House of Flying Daggers). Acclaimed action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, Kill Bill) is also on board.
Then again: 2008’s My Blueberry Nights was a disappointment. Has Wong Kar-Wai lost his magic touch? With his shooting style, this is by no means a lock for 2011, but we can hope.
The first and more ambitious of Steven Soderbergh's two 2011 movies is an action thriller starring mixed martial arts champion and first-time actor Gina Carano as a black ops agent who seeks revenge after being double-crossed.
Get excited: The Limey dream team of director Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs return here for a Bourne-esque thriller with an amazing supporting cast that includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton. Frequent Soderbergh music man David Holmes is once again providing the score.
Then again: Carano is unproven as an actor, and Soderbergh’s recent indie fare has been more and more self-indulgent and hard to crack for audiences.
Based on the bestselling children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this live-action magical adventure centers on a boy secretly living in the walls of a Parisian train station in the early 1900s.
Get excited: Great source material, a big-time director (Martin Scorsese) and an intriguing cast (Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, plus young stars Asa Butterfield and Chloë Moretz) could easily combine into one of the holiday season's biggest hits.
Then again: This is Scorsese's first attempt at a family film, and his first time working in 3D. What could possibly go wrong?
The Ides of March
Director George Clooney's adaptation of the award-winning play Farragut North centers on a cocky press secretary for a U.S. presidential candidate who sees his life and career unravel through the back room dealings of seasoned political operatives.
Get excited: In addition to writing and directing, Clooney stars alongside an incredible cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jeffrey Wright.
Then again: Leatherheads, Clooney’s last directorial gig, was not a success; hopefully, better source material will lead to a better film.
When he is fired from his job, a middle-aged man (Tom Hanks) goes back to college, where he falls for one of his professors (Julia Roberts).
Get excited: It's only Hanks' second time in the director's chair, and it's also a rare chance these days to see Hanks in a comedy (even if the film is only part comedy, part drama), where he excels.
Then again: We've seen this movie when it was on TV, and called Community. The film was co-written by Nia Vardalos, who last gave us the debacle I Hate Valentine's Day. Do you remember Hanks' directorial debut, That Thing You Do? Didn't think so.
Lars von Trier follows his deeply polarizing Antichrist with a science fiction film about two sisters (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst) who deal with the impending destruction of Earth, which is on a collision course with another planet.
Get excited: Nobody gets closer to the razor’s edge of emotion quite like von Trier, and the potential cinematic possibilities of his handling of end-of-the world material are intriguing. Let’s not forget that cinema's top two Skarsgårds (Alexander and Stellan) are also in the movie, as is John Hurt.
Then again: If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably a Von Trier fan. If not, you aren’t going to see it anyway.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's 41st film is a romantic comedy centering on a young American couple who travel to Paris in the 1920s.
Get excited: The cast includes Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, and Adrien Brody.
Then again: It's hard to get all that excited about a Woody Allen movie anymore.
Julian Schnabel’s drama is centered around the Arab-Israeli conflict and tells the story of Hind Husseini, who created an orphanage in Jerusalem in 1948, and Miral, who is sent to the orphanage in 1978.
Then again: Those critics who have already seen Miral have not been kind, and an initial December 3, 2010 release date has been pushed back while Schnabel returns to the editing room.
On the Road
This adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac novel traces the journey of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) as they cross America in the 1940s.
Get excited: Director Walter Salles (Central Station) is no stranger to road films, having directed 2004's The Motorcycle Diaries. The impressive supporting cast includes Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, and Steve Buscemi.
Then again: We're still not sold on Hedlund. Producer Francis Ford Coppola has owned the film rights to On the Road since 1979, but previous attempts to film the book -- some with big name leads -- fizzled out. Perhaps it is better kept on the page.
Two outsiders, a terminally ill girl and a boy who enjoys crashing funerals and communicating with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot, find friendship and love together in the latest indie drama from Gus Van Sant.
Get excited: Van Sant has had previous success getting great performances out of talented young actors like stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Henry Hopper (son of Dennis Hopper).
Then again: After planning to open the film January 28, Columbia pictures delayed its release and pulled it from Sundance. Could it be too quirky and precious for even Gus Van Sant to save?
The Skin That I Inhabit
A plastic surgeon seeks revenge against the man who raped his daughter in this adaptation of the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet.
Get excited: Director Pedro Almodóvar re-teams with star Antonio Banderas for the first time since 1990's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Then again: Almodóvar's films usually have some comedic elements to lighten the mood; how will he handle this much darker (almost horror-like) material?
The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick's epic drama looks at the life of an eleven year old boy named Jack as he grows up in the 1950’s, suffers loss and later struggles as a grown man in the modern world. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star.
Get excited: This is Malick's first film since 2006’s The New World; each of his films is unique and beautiful, and the trailer hints at him reaching for something poetic.
Then again: Will the film able to live up to the hype building among cinema fans? Narrative drive isn’t Malick's strong suit, and the film could be too elliptical and slow.
Twixt Now and Sunrise
A rare horror film from Francis Ford Coppola, the low-budget Twixt Now and Sunrise stars Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, and Bruce Dern.
Get excited: Coppola is adapting his own dream-inspired short story, and it is supposedly reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe in tone. The film reportedly will have a short 3D segment, though most of the film will be in 2D. Electronica artist Dan Deacon will provide the score.
A boy and his beloved horse are separated when World War I breaks out. As the horse, Joey, goes on an epic adventure, the boy, Albert, strikes out on his own to bring Joey home.
Get excited: Already a children's book and a stage play, War Horse has all the elements of a touching story and with Steven Spielberg at the helm, it's in good hands.
Then again: Spielberg rarely stumbles, but War Horse needs to be closer to Catch Me if You Can than The Terminal if it's going to connect with holiday audiences. War Horse is set for release only a week after Spielberg's Tintin film, putting him in competition with himself.
We Bought a Zoo
Writer/director Cameron Crowe finally returns to the big screen with an adaptation of the Benjamin Mee memoir about the story of a man and his family who use their life savings to buy a rundown zoo.
Get excited: The material sounds rich, and the cast includes Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning and Crowe’s Almost Famous star Patrick Fugit.
Then again: The principal screenwriter who adapted the material is Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned the Fame remake, Morning Glory, and 27 Dresses. Crowe’s last film was 2005’s forgotten-for-a-reason Elizabethtown.
A struggling attorney (Paul Giamatti) who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach stumbles onto a major prospect through a questionable attempt to score some extra cash involving the kid's grandfather (Burt Young), only to wind up caring for both the boy and the old man.
Get excited: Thomas McCarthy has just two previous directorial efforts to his name, but they are both memorable: 2003's The Station Agent 81 and 2007's The Visitor 79. The dramedy features the requisite number of Giamattis (one) to automatically qualify as interesting, and the stellar cast also includes Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, and Jeffrey Tambor. The film will premiere at Sundance later this month.
Then again: It might not be the most major film event of the year, but McCarthy + Giamatti sounds like a win-win to us.
Charlize Theron stars as a divorced novelist of young adult books who returns to her hometown in an attempt to rekindle an old romance and rediscover herself. It doesn't help matters that the old boyfriend she's stalking is married with a kid.
Get excited: Director Jason Reitman is teaming with screenwriter Diablo Cody for the first time since 2007's Juno. Comedian Patton Oswalt has a key supporting role.
Then again: Juno was a fluke, right? And Theron's character sounds like she could be too unlikable if not handled correctly.
More coming soon
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Our 2011 Movie Preview continues with two more installments coming in the next week: Part 2 looks at the year ahead in sci-fi, horror, action, and other genres, while Part 3 (coming soon) examines the top comedies and dramas of 2011.
Writers Nick Hyman, Keith Kimbell, and Mike Thompson contributed to this article.