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January 20, 2011

Guide Into 2011: Movies

It seems rarer and rarer that we’re able to look back at the previous year and delight in knowing that we just experienced a strong, healthy year in film. Last year was one of those years. And as we now venture into the 2011 awards season, we recognize those movies for what they did for the industry and for their enthusiastic audiences. Will 2011’s crop of releases garner the same enthusiasm, or will they be vanquished by more discerning moviegoers and critics? Here is just a selection of what 2011 has in store for the silver screen.

Note: Since many of these films are still in production, release dates and details may change.

THE WAY BACK

by Janice Y. Perez

Director: Peter Weir

Writers: Keith R. Clarke, Peter Weir

Cast: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Dragos Bucur, Gustaf Skarsgard

Distributor: Newmarket Films

Genre: Drama

Release Date: January 21 (limited)

Based on the memoir The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz, The Way Back narrates the dangerous escape of a small group of multi-national prisoners who flee a Siberian Gulag (the government agency that administered the main Soviet penal labor camp systems during World War II), traversing thousands of miles across five hostile countries.

With a collaboration between screenwriter Keith R. Clarke and Peter Weir, the story narrates the treacherous journey of Janusz (Jim Sturgess) and his band of fallen soldiers who travel the wasteland of the cold Siberian front through the endless miles of the Gobi Desert, until their final destination at the bustling British Empire that is India.

Known to be one of the most stylistic filmmakers of his time, Weir returns to the big screen with this epic seven years after his last, grand undertaking, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Although Rawicz’s book has been the subject of controversy for its authenticity since it was released in 1997, Weir decided to take on this gargantuan novel and translate it into something just as majestic with an amazing ensemble cast.

RESTLESS

by Daniel Quitério

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Jason Lew

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Schuyler Fisk

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Genre: Drama

Release Date: January 28 (limited)

Official Site: http://www.restlessmovie.com

Gus Van Sant follows up 2008’s award-winning Milk with Restless, the story of a dying girl and a boy who likes to attend funerals, and their encounters with a specter from World War II. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right), a 2010 Limité Face to Watch, stars as Annabel Cotton. Joining her in this coming-of-age teen drama is newcomer Henry Hopper as Enoch Brae.

Restless was shot in Portland, Oregon on an estimated $15 million budget. Despite the relatively low budget, several big names are attached. Aside from Van Sant’s direction, Hollywood heavyweights Brian Grazer and Ron Howard produced and Danny Elfman composed the score. This quartet has earned a combined 14 Oscar nominations and three wins. Joining Grazer and her dad as producer is Bryce Dallas Howard, who reportedly attended NYU with screenwriter Jason Lew and encouraged him to write the script.

Van Sant seems to enjoy working with neophyte screenwriters, and he certainly has a habit of choosing strong scripts, as some of his past films have earned their new writers Oscar gold — take Milk’s (2008) Dustin Lance Black and Good Will Hunting’s (1997) Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as proof.

HANNA

by Stephanie Dawson

Director: Joe Wright

Writers: David Farr, Seth Lochhead, Joe Penhall, Joe Wright

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett

Distributor: Focus Features

Genres: Drama, Thriller

Release Date: April 8

Official Site: http://www.focusfeatures.com/hanna

Fourteen-year-old Hanna is a ruthless killing machine. Her ex-CIA father raised and trained her in the wilderness of Finland until she was ready for her first mission — to assassinate a high-ranking official. As Hanna traverses Europe, she is tracked by a cunning intelligence operative who may have something to hide. As Hanna closes in on her target, she is faced with revelations about her existence. She also connects with a French family who tries to teach her about humanity.

Hanna is directed by Joe Wright who gave us The Soloist and Atonement. This teenaged Bourne-like adventure is a departure from Wright’s previous works, but the cast of Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, blockbuster star Eric Bana as her father, and Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett as the operative tracking Hanna, is sure to deliver suspenseful screen candy. Hanna was shot on location in Finland, Morocco, Bavaria, and Berlin, and the soundtrack features music composed by the Chemical Brothers.

SCREAM 4

by Daniel Quitério

Director: Wes Craven

Writer: Kevin Williamson

Cast: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Erik Knudsen, Mary McDonnell, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Alison Brie

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Genre: Horror

Release Date: April 15

Official Site: http://www.scream-4.com/

“New decade. New rules.” This isn’t just a tagline spread across the top of Scream 4’s poster. It’s a sign of new and unexpected thrills in a resurrected horror franchise that many would deem a “modern classic” within the genre. Ten years have passed by with no sign of the terrifying Ghostface Killer. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is a published author and is finishing off her self-help book tour in Woodsboro, on the anniversary of the first killing. There, she meets up with her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell). Meanwhile, former gossip reporter Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox), a published author in her own right, finds herself bored in Woodsboro with her husband Dewey Riley (David Arquette). Somehow, I suspect she’ll find plenty of thrills soon enough.

The original Scream premiered in theatres in 1996 with the intention that the series would wrap in 2000 with Scream 3. Though the series was meant to remain a trilogy, rumors began circulating that a fourth installment might be in the works. Now, it’s been reported that Scream 4 will kick off a new trilogy with franchise director and writer Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, respectively, in for the long haul. So what will Scream 4 be serving up when it creeps into theatres this April? For awhile, not even the actors knew, as it has been reported that for awhile they were only given 75 pages of the 140-page script to protect the identity of the mysterious Ghostface Killer. (Note: 140 pages translates to 140 minutes in the movie world, though the film’s projected runtime has not been announced. Principal photography wrapped around September 2010.)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

by Daniel Quitério

Director: Rob Marshall

Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Genre: Action/Adventure

Release Date: May 20

Official Site: http://disney.go.com/pirates/#/movies_strangertides%7COfficial

Johnny Depp reprises perhaps his most beloved role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In his latest adventure, he meets up with Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a mysterious woman from his past. Together, they set sail in search of the Fountain of Youth, but the nefarious Blackbeard (Ian McShane) also has his sights set on it. Blackbeard may only be the beginning of Sparrow’s troubles, though, as he may find that Angelica is not being completely honest with him.

It may be difficult to ascertain whether Pirates 4 will be anything like its predecessors, as several changes were made to bring this latest installment to the big screen. Though Depp will be wearing that British accent once again (does he ever take it off?), true Brits Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley will not be joining the action. No worries. Cruz and McShane will be joining the cast for the first time, along with returning cast members Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally. Another significant alteration is the addition of Rob Marshall as director, in place of Gore Verbinski. Marshall (Chicago, Nine) is known primarily for his adaptation of Broadway musicals for film and television, so perhaps Captain Jack will grace us with a rousing rendition of “99 Bottles of Rum on the Wall.”

As would be expected, On Stranger Tides will be entertaining audiences in 3D and IMAX 3D (in addition to the standard formats) when it sails into theatres this May (see what I did there?).

THE HANGOVER PART II

by Janice Y. Perez

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Scot Armstrong, Craig Mazin, Todd Phillips

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Liam Neeson, Juliette Lewis, Ken Jeong, Jamie Chung, Todd Phillipps

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Genre: Comedy

Release Date: May 26

This is probably going to be one of the most anticipated films of the year. After 2009’s surprising, knock-out hit, The Hangover, a sequel was readily helmed in the works — a manifestation of the effectiveness of the foursome of Cooper, Galifianakis, Helms, and Bartha as a formidable laugh team.

The Hangover Part II takes the four friends to Bangkok where Stu’s wedding is set to take place. After their unforgettable misadventures in Las Vegas, Stu (Ed Helms) is not taking any chances for any more crazy antics. But what was supposed to be a simple destination wedding turns into even double the catastrophe for Stu and his buddies.

Although an army of fans is excited for the sequel to come out, the production has been halted for a while last month when an Australian stunt driver got into an accident while shooting in Thailand. Rumors have also floated that the film will have a cameo by none other than former President Bill Clinton. And the film’s director, Todd Phillips (who also helmed the original), plays a minor role in the film, too.

THE TREE OF LIFE

by Janice Y. Perez

Note: This preview is being re-published from Limité’s 2010 Fall Film Guide since the film’s release date has changed.

Director: Terrence Malick

Writer: Terrence Malick

Cast: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Kari Matchett, Jessica Chastain, Jackson Hurst

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Genres: Drama, Fantasy

Release Date: May 27

Official Site: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thetreeoflife/

Blue-blooded cinephiles are rejoicing all over upon the latest news that the very private, notoriously isolated director Terrence Malick’s upcoming fifth film, The Tree of Life, is about to hit theatres. Considering that there was a 20-year gap between his masterly crafted first and second films, Badlands and The Thin Red Line, many are relieved that it only took about five years for Malick to follow up 2005’s Oscar-nominated The New World.

What little is known about the The Tree of Life is that the film is a snapshot of a Midwestern family in the 1950s, with the focus on the emotional journey of the eldest son Jack (Sean Penn) through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years, as he struggles to reconcile a difficult relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack’s journey helps him to seek answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning faith’s essence, which might be the allusion to the film’s title.

Apparition Films was supposed to distribute The Tree of Life in December 2009, but after the distributor suddenly folded its operations, the film’s anticipated opening at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival was postponed. Thankfully, Fox Searchlight has come to the rescue, pushing the film’s release to late May 27, 2011. But for Malick fans who are used to the long wait, another year of waiting doesn’t seem so bad.

SUPER 8

by Morgan Goldin

Director: J.J. Abrams

Writer: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Genre: Sci-fi

Release Date: June 10

Official Site: http://www.super8-movie.com/

The enigmatic trailer is sole provider of information on J.J. Abrams’s latest foray behind the camera. In typical Bad Robot (Abrams’s production company) fashion, the formula for releasing the film is to keep the plot shrouded in mystery, slowly letting the hype build, and feature a marketing campaign devoted to releasing little clues along the way up until the film is in theaters. With Steven Spielberg sitting in the producer’s chair, this film is sure to be a major contender in the summer blockbuster Olympics.

Summertime is the perfect time for Abrams’s brand of aggressive cinema, and Super 8 looks no different. The little information that can be gleaned from the teaser is that the film concerns a secret government experiment where a genetically engineered creature (or something) escapes and causes a rampage in the 1970s. Is the film a loosely affiliated prequel to Cloverfield, the 2008 smash hit that Abrams produced about a monster loose in Manhattan, or something else entirely? Is the title Super 8 a clue into the type of aesthetic this film will employ, much like in Cloverfield, where the film was told in a first-person camera perspective? We’ll find these answers out on June 10.

GREEN LANTERN

by Janice Y. Perez

Director: Martin Campbell

Writers: Greg Berlanti, Michael Goldenberg, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Jenna Craig

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Genre: Action/Adventure

Release Date: June 17

Official Site: http://greenlanternmovie.warnerbros.com/

Green Lantern is the latest spate of superhero films to be released in 2011, based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot with the arrogance to match his unparalleled skills. He is the first human recruited by the Green Lantern Corps, a covert group of alien warriors who safeguard the peace and justice of the universe with a ring they each wear that grants them super powers. When Parallax, a new and powerful enemy threatens to destroy the balance of power in the universe, the Green Lanterns turn to Hal, whose humanity might be the missing key to defeating the evil Parallax to the end.

New Zealand director Martin Campbell, whose credits in action films include the James Bond films GoldenEye and Casino Royale, and the Zorro films The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro, latched onto the project after fellow directors Kevin Smith, Zack Snyder, and Greg Berlanti were first considered over a 13-year period.

Reynolds has admitted in TV interviews that prior to reading the screenplay, he was never an avid fan of the Green Lantern series while growing up, but he instantly fell in love with the character when Campbell met up with him in early 2009. Like his director, Reynolds was finally handed the role after fellow actors Chris Pine, Sam Worthington, and Bradley Cooper were first considered.

CARS 2

by Janice Y. Perez

Directors: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis (co-director)

Cast: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Keaton, Michael Caine, Jason Isaacs, Emily Mortimer, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar

Genres: Animation, Comedy

Release Date: June 24

Official Site: http://disney.go.com/cars/cars2/

Racing legend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns to the race tracks, but this time in an international stage joined by his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), where they compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix and hopefully win the coveted World’s Fastest Car Prize. The journey takes a wild detour when Mater suddenly gets involved in an international espionage scheme.

Cars is the second Pixar film — after Toy Story — to have a sequel, and unsurprisingly, both franchises have been helmed by the Pixar pioneer himself, John Lasseter. In Cars 2, however, he works with co-director Brad Lewis, who produced beloved animation gems Antz and Ratatouille.

Lasseter relayed that his inspiration for the story’s sequel came to him in his travels overseas while promoting the first Cars movie. Sadly, since the first film’s release in 2006, three of its actors have passed away: Joe Ranft, George Carlin, and Paul Newman, who voiced the characters Red, Fillmore, and Doc Hudson, respectively.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

by Morgan Goldin

Director: Michael Bay

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Hugo Weaving, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Frances McDormand, John Turturro

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-fi

Release Date: July 1

Official Site: http://www.transformersmovie.com/

The pillaging of our collective ’80s childhood continues this summer with the release of the third installment in the enormously popular Transformers series. Originally based on a line of toys from Hasbro in the early 1980s, the Transformers have branched out into comic books, video games, a cartoon series, animated films (that featured the voice talent of Orson Welles!), and currently in a live-action summer film franchise.

The choice of Michael Bay to helm these pictures is pretty much a no-brainer, as he’s proven himself capable of delivering loud, flashy, adrenaline-pumping entertainment to the masses. The one notable difference in the third entry is the absence of Megan Fox, the female lead from the previous two films. It’s doubtful that will have a negative impact on the box-office of these films, as the real attraction is the spectacle of seeing gargantuan robots rock and sock each other and blow shit up real good.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

by Stephanie Dawson

Director: David Yates

Writer: Steve Kloves

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Kelly Macdonald

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy

Release Date: July 15

With Voldemort in possession of the Elder Wand, the ultimate weapon, Harry, Ron, and Hermione must race to find and destroy the remaining heavily guarded Horcruxes. Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix, driven into hiding by the usurped Ministry of Magic, will rise again, joined by elves, goblins, and other magical creatures in the ultimate battle between good and evil. The final face-to-face showdown between Harry and Voldemort will be to the death. As the prophecy proclaimed, only one can survive.

Steven Kloves, who wrote six of the previous films, ends the series as screenwriter once again. David Yates directed both parts simultaneously and finishes out the series having directed half of the eight films. Part 2 will get the 3D treatment, in addition to presentation in IMAX. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint reprise their roles as Harry, Hermione, and Ron, respectively, for the last time after ten years of portraying these beloved characters. Part 1 was the highest-grossing film in the series so far, so Part 2 has some large box office coffers to fill.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN — PART 1

by Stephanie Dawson

Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg

Cast: Kristen Steward, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Kellan Lutz, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen, Anna Kendrick

Release Date: November 18

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Genres: Drama, Fantasy

Note: As details on this production have been kept under wraps, the following is the plot from the novel. The film’s actual plot points may or may not mirror those of the novel.

Breaking Dawn is the final book in the Twilight Saga and finds the human Bella married to Edward, the vampire. Bella becomes pregnant and the forthcoming half-vampire, half-human child grows rapidly in her body, posing her physical harm and forcing Edward to finally decide if he will turn Bella into a vampire. The child poses different threats to the Quileute wolf pack and the Volturi vampire council, and each become determined to destroy it. Other vampire covens across the world are called to assist the Cullens in saving the child, while Jacob Black must decide whether his allegiance lies with his wolf pack or with the woman he loves.

Following along with recent trends, Breaking Dawn will be presented as two films. The first will be released this November 18 and the second on November 16, 2012. Bill Condon is the fourth director to tackle the series. Condon previously directed Dreamgirls and Kinsey. Most likely in Part 2, half vampire Renesmee will be played by the newcomer, 10-year old Mackenzie Foy. As of this writing, it has not been determined whether either film will be in 3D. The film is shooting in Louisiana to take advantage of the recent tax credits.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

by Morgan Goldin

Director: Brad Bird

Writers: J.J. Abrams, Josh Appelbaum, Tom Cruise, André Nemec

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Genre: Action/Adventure

Release Date: December 16

Super-spy Ethan Hunt is back in a new chapter in the Mission: Impossible saga. Tom Cruise returns to reprise the lead role for the franchise based on the popular ’60s television show. This film marks the fourth entry in the series, which blends complex espionage plots with high-octane thrills.

The Mission: Impossible series is unique among other action franchises in that it allows for an auteur-based approach to deliver each of the films. Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams have directed the previous installments, and each filmmaker laid his signature style all over his entry. Abrams is returning, but this time with a producer and “story by” credit. The selection of Brad Bird for director is a particularly inspired choice, as he’s proven himself a visionary in the field of animation, especially with Pixar in films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. It will be interesting to see what he delivers in a big-budget summer action film.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

by Morgan Goldin

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Steven Zaillian

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Genres: Drama, Thriller

Release Date: December 21

The Swedish book series that everyone was reading on the subway finally gets that Americanized remake you knew was coming. The Millennium Trilogy was enormously popular, and then it was translated to a successful trilogy of films in Sweden, which eventually enjoyed a stateside release. The decision to start on remakes was only inevitable.

The decision to have David Fincher direct is a logical one, given his moody, atmospheric style and capability of working with twisted, surreal material. Fincher is one of the directors working within the mainstream studio system who is able to retain his signature on a film. One only needs to view films like Seven, Fight Club, and Zodiac to see an artist comfortable working in the dark. He looked far and wide to cast the troubled protagonist Lisbeth Sander, even claiming that Yo-Landi Visser from South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord was a potential choice. Eventually, the role went to Rooney Mara, who Fincher worked with in The Social Network. Whether this film covers well-worn territory for Fincher or goes to new, unexpected places remains to be seen.

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