The last laugh
As we wrap up our preview of the year ahead in cinema, we can't honestly say that we saved the best for last (no -- wait -- don't click away), but that's not to say there aren't some potential winners among the comedies and dramas slated to arrive over the next 12 months.
While we covered some of the year's most promising dramas -- like Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, George Clooney's The Ides of March, Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo, and Alexander Payne's The Descendants -- in Part 1 of our preview, there are some we haven't yet discussed, like Bennett Miller's Moneyball and Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz. And comedy fans can look forward to several films from the Apatow school -- most notably David Gordon Green's stoner fantasy comedy Your Highness -- plus new films from brother duos Duplass and Farrelly.
These movies and more are previewed on the following pages, beginning with the comedies.
30 Minutes or Less
Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery boy who’s forced to rob a bank in 30 minutes or less after having a bomb strapped to his chest by two criminals.
Get excited: Director Fleischer is coming off of the enjoyable Zombieland, and the high-octane material seems to play to his strengths. The supporting cast includes comedy heavy hitters Danny McBride and Nick Swardson as the criminals as well as Aziz Ansari as Eisenberg’s friend who gets in on the action.
Then again: The film is based on a true story, and balancing the shifting tones of suspense and hilarity could be a challenge.
Cameron Diaz boozes it up to cope with her crummy teaching job, and looks to a substitute teacher played by Justin Timberlake for some sexytime happiness. Lucy Punch and Jason Segel play colleagues who are romantic foils for the two leads.
Get excited: Timberlake can’t really do any wrong at this point, and director Jake Kasdan has shown with Zero Effect and his work on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared that he can handle smart and dark comedy.
Then again: Diaz, while talented, has had a terrible time picking projects of late. Similarly, Kasdan hasn’t made any truly memorable comedies recently on the big screen, as Orange County and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story were both unremarkable.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A group of British retirees decide to spend their golden years living a life of leisure in India, but conditions there aren't quite what they envisioned.
Get excited: The cast is a strong one: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, and Bill Nighy. Director John Madden has been known to charm audiences in the past, most notably with Shakespeare in Love, and here he has quality source material to work from: Deborah Moggach's novel These Foolish Things.
Then again: Let's hope this trip to India is more Slumdog Millionaire, less Outsourced.
Jodie Foster directs and co-stars in this dramedy about a depressed man (Mel Gibson) who uses a beaver hand-puppet to better communicate with his wife (Foster) and two sons.
Get excited: The screenplay by Kyle Killen topped the 2008 Black List of best unproduced screenplays. Foster hasn’t yet directed a bad film yet; the touching Little Man Tate and cult fave Home for the Holidays were her previous efforts.
Then again: The film’s awards consideration release was delayed due to Gibson’s much-publicized negative behavior. Will critics and audiences be able to divorce Mel Gibson the actor from Mel Gibson the man? In addition, Foster hasn’t directed a film in 15 years. (And did we mention the beaver puppet?)
The Big Year
Three rival bird-watchers compete using any means necessary to see who can spot the largest number of bird species in a comedy based on a book by Mark Obmascik.
Get excited: If you see only one birding movie this year, make it this one; the surprisingly strong cast includes Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Joel McHale, Dianne Wiest, Rashida Jones, and Angelica Huston.
Born to Be a Star
A nerdy, small town grocery-store bagger (Nick Swardson) discovers that his unassuming parents used to be porn stars, so he sets off to Hollywood to follow in their footsteps.
Get excited: Adam Sandler co-wrote the script, and also serves as a producer. The cast includes Christina Ricci, Stephen Dorff, and Don Johnson.
Then again: Director Tom Brady's previous films were the poorly-reviewed The Hot Chick and even more abysmal The Comebacks. The last good movie written by Sandler was over a decade ago -- if there even is such a thing.
A maid of honor finds herself in a competition with a rich, snobby bridesmaid in the days leading up to her best friend's wedding.
Get excited: Though you may think this has "chick flick" written all over it, dismiss it at your own risk: Not only is the cast strong -- Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Rose Byrne, and Maya Rudolph -- but the film is co-written by Wiig, directed by Paul Feig (who, among other things, is the creator of Freaks and Geeks) and produced by Judd Apatow.
Then again: Bridesmaids? Wedding? Mostly female cast? OK, it's a chick flick. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
After discovering a new talent, an orphan girl competes in her Iowa town's butter-carving competition against a cutthroat housewife.
Get excited: If you see only one butter-carving movie this year, make it this one. The promising cast features Hugh Jackman, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, and Rob Corddry. Jason Micallef's satirical screenplay has good buzz, having appeared on a recent Black List.
Then again: It's the first movie written by Micallef, and director Jim Field Smith's only other film was the lackluster She's Out of My League.
An incredibly naive insurance agent heads to the "big city" of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to attend a conference, where he is struggles to fit in.
Get excited: Director Miguel Arteta has several interesting films (The Good Girl, Chuck & Buck) to his name, and here he's working with an especially appealing cast that includes Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root, and The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr. The film, which is produced by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Sideways) and features yet another buzzy script from the Black List, will debut this month at Sundance.
Then again: We really want to like this movie, but the trailer doesn't fully convince us that it will be more than mildly amusing.
The latest take on the Freaky Friday formula finds two one-time childhood friends -- now grown men -- switching bodies with each other.
Get excited: The cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, and Olivia Wilde. Director David Dobkin is responsible for Wedding Crashers, and The Change-Up should be raunchier than past body-swapping comedies.
Then again: We've seen this movie before ... many, many times. Wedding Crashers is Dobkin's only good film; he's also responsible for dreck like Fred Claus.
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Steve Carell’s first post-The Office comedy finds him left behind after his wife leaves him for another man. Enter indie heartthrob Ryan Gosling, who gives him advice on how to navigate a foreign dating world.
Get excited: Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the writers of Bad Santa) are coming off of the surprisingly enjoyable I Love You Phillip Morris, and much-publicized test screening scores sent the film from an April release into the heart of the summer. The excellent cast also includes Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, and Josh Groban!
Then again: Carell has a below-average track record on the big screen. Hopefully this is better than Get Smart and Date Night.
Friends with Benefits
Justin Timberlake stars (don’t you have a third album to work on, dude?) as a man whose purely physical relationship with a young professional (Mila Kunis) is complicated when feelings get in the way.
Get excited: Timberlake and comedy go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Teaming up with Kunis, who cut her teeth on comedy That '70s Show, could be a smart pairing. Co-stars Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, and Andy Samberg should keep things moving at a brisk pace.
Then again: By July, this same premise will have already played out on the big screen in the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman comedy No Strings Attached. And is it possible for material to be too clever for its own good? The ‘90s nostalgia in the trailer is so sweet, it’s almost saccharine.
A bouncer finds a new life as a hockey player and leads his mostly talentless semi-pro team to glory ... with his fists.
Get excited: If there's one genre that Hollywood hasn't overdone to death yet, it's the hockey comedy, so it won't take much for Goon to land on a list of classics that includes Slap Shot and ... well, Slap Shot. The script was penned by Jay Baruchel (who also stars, with Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy) and Evan Goldberg (Superbad).
Then again: Maybe there's a reason that there are so few good hockey movies.
The Farrelly brothers return with this crass comedy about two dudes (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) who are granted a week off by their wives (Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer) to sleep with anyone they want.
Get excited: Wilson and Sudeikis look appropriately foolish and are joined by The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Leon Black himself, the amazing J.B. Smoove. The Farrellys’ best work (Kingpin, Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) usually involves a pair of idiots getting into trouble.
Then again: It’s been a long time since the Farrelly brothers have made a great movie. The premise is beyond ridiculous and unrealistic ... isn't it?
This ensemble dramedy focuses on the struggles of young New Yorkers in love, friendship, and life as they grow into adulthood.
Get excited: Written and directed by How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, the film won the audience award at last year's Sundance festival. Radnor stars alongside Malin Åkerman, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, and Kate Mara.
Then again: Critics weren't as fond of the comedy as audiences were, finding it overly cliched and derivative, though mostly likable.
Three guys (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) plan to kill their horrible bosses.
Get excited: The wish-fulfillment premise will likely appeal to many (except those of us at Metacritic, of course --Ed.), and director Seth Gordon made the fantastic documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The bosses are played by Kevin Spacey (hopefully channeling his performance in Swimming with Sharks), Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston.
Then again: Bad project picker Aniston is in it, and director Gordon is following up his first non-documentary feature, the terrible Four Christmases.
Jack and Jill
Jack is visited by his twin sister Jill for Thanksgiving, but is annoyed when his house guest overstays her welcome. Oh, and both parts are played by Adam Sandler.
Get excited: Katie Holmes plays Jack's wife; Al Pacino plays Al Pacino. (Finally, a good use for his overacting!)
Then again: Anyone hoping for a return by Sandler to better material has to be dismayed by the prospects of seeing him in drag -- with a Bronx accent, no less. Director Dennis Dugan (Grown Ups, The Benchwarmers) has spent the past decade making terrible movies.
Jeff Who Lives at Home
The latest semi-improvised comedy from the Duplass Brothers centers on a stoner who runs an errand to fetch some wood glue for his mom, discovering his own destiny -- and helping his brother investigate whether his wife is having an affair -- along the way.
Get excited: Jason Segel and Ed Helms play the brothers, while the cast also includes Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon. Though their style isn't for everyone, Jay and Mark Duplass' last film, Cyrus, has many admirers.
Then again: The filmmakers are being intentionally cryptic and evasive about the plot while hinting that it has a "bigger scale" than their past films; hopefully, it's worthy of such secrecy.
Just Go With It
Adam Sandler plays a plastic surgeon who pretends to be married to sleep with women, but when he meets the right girl and she wants to meet his wife, he must enlist the help of his assistant to cover up his lies.
Get excited: Sandler brings people to the box office whether the film is good or bad; throw in a beautiful location (Hawaii), talented women (Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Brooklyn Decker), a romantic comedy premise and release it right before Valentine’s Day, and you probably have a hit.
Then again: Aniston has not exactly been box office or filmmaking gold lately (The Bounty Hunter and The Switch both failed in 2010). Are we really supposed to take this premise seriously? Probably not.
New Year's Eve
A new franchise of holiday-themed ensemble romantic comedies continues with Garry Marshall’s follow-up to last years Valentine’s Day, which follows several couples as they ring in the new year.
Get excited: Marshall’s light touch and the commercial success of his last film has brought in an impressive cast, including Robert De Niro, Lea Michele, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, and Halle Berry.
Then again: Valentine’s Day was about as cliché as you can get for a Hollywood romantic comedy, and it’s not likely that will change here. There are so many great ladies in the movie, but so far only Ashton Kutcher and Zac Efron have been announced as joining De Niro. Perhaps the future will hold a horror-themed Halloween Day to change it up?
This romantic comedy traces the relationship between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) over a 20-year period, who meet up just one day (July 15th) of each year during that span.
Get excited: The film is based on David Nicholls' clever 2009 novel of the same name, and Nicholls himself wrote the screenplay. Director Lone Scherfig hasn't made a bad movie yet, and her most recent effort was the much-praised An Education.
Then again: Convincingly aging 20 years over the course of a movie is a lot to ask of any actor -- or makeup staff. The one-day-a-year concept, while intriguing, could lead to a lot of talking about things that happened in the characters' lives rather than showing what happened.
This raunchy comedy about a teen house party will feature unknown actors and handheld camerawork.
Get excited: It's not a remake of the Matthew Broderick movie. (And that title will likely change before the film is released.) Todd Phillips (The Hangover) is a producer on the film.
Then again: The studio is guarding the script like it contains the launch codes for a nuclear arsenal, so nothing is known about the film. What could possibly be so shocking about a low-budget teen comedy that would spoil the film if we knew about it in advance?
Disney provides a look at that time-honored high school tradition: the prom.
Get excited: Aimee Teegarden is great in Friday Night Lights and director Joe Nussbaum made a terrific short film (George Lucas in Love). Could they elevate what looks to be pretty standard fare?
Then again: It could very well turn out to be a generic high school romantic-comedy/drama with few surprises.
A suspended college student (Jonah Hill) lives at home with his mom and is talked into babysitting the three kids living next door. Hijinks ensue.
Get excited: The film is being billed as Superbad meets Adventures in Babysitting, and is directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express). There is good buzz on the screenplay.
Then again: Jonah Hill seems better in small doses; can audiences handle an entire movie centered on him and three young child actors?
A single attorney (Big Love's Ginnifer Goodwin) falls in love with her best friend's fiancé.
Get excited: The cast also includes Kate Hudson and John Krasinski.
Then again: Luke Greenfield's two previous directorial efforts (including The Animal) were unimpressive, and he was replaced as the director on his last would-be film, Role Models. The plot seems unnecessarily complicated for a summertime romantic comedy (we didn't bother to mention all of the subplots revolving the romantic entanglements of minor characters in our description above). Even if you are in this film's intended audience, you'll probably wind up seeing Thor instead.
This Welsh coming-of-age tale centers on a 15-year-old boy who strives to keep his mother from running off with her life coach, while also attempting to lose his virginity to his pyromaniac girlfriend.
Get excited: The Ben Stiller-produced film is adapted from Joe Dunthorne's 2008 novel and is the directorial debut for British comedian Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd). Reviews from the film's premiere at Toronto last fall were extremely positive, with Slashfilm describing the dark comedy as "equal parts Rushmore, Election and Squid and the Whale." The soundtrack features new songs written by Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys.
Then again: There's a fine line between quirky and annoying, and we hope that Submarine isn't quite as derivative of Wes Anderson as its marketing materials suggest.
Take Me Home Tonight
It’s 1988; there’s a house party, and booze and drugs are readily available, so crazy things will happen and life defining decisions will be made by Matt Franklin, college graduate and Suncoast video employee.
Get excited: The trailer makes an inspired choice with its use of “Straight Outta Compton” and director Michael Dowse (It’s All Gone Pete Tong) and stars Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury), Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) have comedic skills.
Then again: The film has been delayed for years. The delay was at least partially due to a disagreement over whether certain scenes of cocaine use should remain in the film. (Don’t worry, they’re in there.)
This Means War
Two highly competitive spies -- who were once friends -- fall in love with the same woman. You know what that means.
Get excited: A cast that features Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, and Reese Witherspoon suggests that this McG-directed action-comedy has at least some potential.
Then again: The film has been in development since the Clinton administration (in fact, it was originally conceived as a Martin Lawrence vehicle, so you know it's been around a long time), and has been rewritten too many times to count. And the next positively reviewed film that McG directs will be his first.
The Tim and Eric Billion Dollar Movie
Cult favorites Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim move from television to the big screen for the first time, with a still-under-wraps, story-driven (not sketch-based) movie.
Get excited: Though not for everyone, Tim & Eric's brand of comedy -- as displayed on Adult Swim shows such as Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, Tom Goes to the Mayor, and Check It Out -- is truly unique and laugh-out-loud funny (when it isn't cover-your-eyes gross). And their reliance on amateur on-screen talent and cheap-looking effects belies an almost fanatical attention to detail, which could pay off on the big screen.
Then again: It's hard to get too excited without knowing what the movie will be about and who will be in it. (In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if the film doesn't exist at all, and is instead part of an elaborate joke.) Last year's hour-long Chrimbus special suggested that Tim & Eric work better in shorter formats. And why isn't Steven Spielberg directing?
After stealing millions of dollars in a Bernie Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is placed under house arrest in his penthouse apartment. The building manager (Ben Stiller) teams up with several of Shaw's victims and attempts to rob him.
Get excited: Tower Heist hopes to be the next Ocean's 11, boasting a big cast that also includes Matthew Broderick, Eddie Murphy, and Tea Leoni. The comedy element of having a group of people who aren't professional thieves (as opposed to the Ocean movies) could prove to be very funny.
Then again: The script has been rewritten by more than half a dozen writers. Director Brett Ratner isn't known for creating much more than generic comedies and action movies.
Fed up with modern life, a married couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) head from New York to Georgia, stopping at a nudist commune on the way.
Get excited: Director David Wain also wrote the script with his former State-mate Ken Marino, and Marino and other members of that comedy troupe will appear, alongside names like Justin Theroux, Malin Åkerman, Christina Hendricks, and Alan Alda (who, not surprisingly, plays the head hippie). Rudd and Aniston haven't appeared together since the final season of Friends.
Then again: We've already picked on Aniston several times in the course of this article, so let's just say that out of her three 2011 projects, this one isn't the worst.
What's Your Number?
When a woman (Anna Faris) reaches her self-imposed lifetime limit of 20 sexual partners without finding "the one," she tracks down the previous 19 men to see if there was anything she missed.
Get excited: The big roster of former lovers allows for some fun casting, including Chris Evans, Joel McHale, Chris Pratt (Faris' real-life husband), Andy Samberg, and Zachary Quinto. The R-rated comedy is based on Karyn Bosnak's novel 20 Times a Lady.
Then again: We liked this movie better when it starred John Cusack and was called High Fidelity.
A Dungeons & Dragons for the stoner comedy set, Your Highness is about a lazy knight (Danny McBride) who must save a princess (Zooey Deschanel) from an evil wizard (Justin Theroux) using the help of his handsome brother (James Franco) and a warrior princess (Natalie Portman).
Get excited: The red-band trailer was better than most full-length films that came out in 2010. Combining fantasy films and foul-mouthed humor seems to be an inspired pairing.
Then again: Director David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express ran out of gas way before it ended and didn’t live up to its promise. Hopefully, that won’t happen here as well.
Kevin James stars as the titular zookeeper, who uses the animals that talk to him at his zoo to help him win the heart of the woman of his dreams.
Get excited: It all comes down to who voices the animals, and the list is impressive: Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, and Faizon Love are among the pack.
Then again: Kevin James is neither the most original nor one of the most funny comedians out there. The first trailer shows very little of anything, either human or computer generated. Director Frank Coraci did okay with The Wedding Singer, but followed it up with The Waterboy, Around the World in 80 Days, and the horrible Click. Ouch.