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The Notable Films of 2012: Volume One

By Garth Franklin Wednesday December 28th 2011 08:25AM
The Notable Films of 2012: Volume One

Back for its fourth year in a more truncated and concise form, today kicks off the first in a ten-part look at the various cinematic releases hitting the U.S. in 2012. Each volume contains an analysis of twenty five films set to hit both the big multiplexes and the small art houses next year with the remaining volumes to go up between now and late January.

Last year's ultimately incomplete attempt was simply far too ambitious for one already overextended person to assemble in the time allotted. As a result strict guidelines were put in place this year with my analysis kept short, sharp and most of all manageable.

I've confined my list to films that have either set a 2012 release date or have begun/completed production, and only films that have a good chance of getting some kind of theatrical release. Work on the next two volumes is already well underway, and each individual volume should hit within 2-3 days of the previous one.

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2 Days in New York
Opens: 2012
Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Vincent Gallo, Kate Burton, Dylan Baker
Director: Julie Delpy

Analysis: A follow-up to Delpy's 2007 indie "2 Days in Paris", this continues the story of French-born photographer Marion living in New York City. Adam Goldberg's love interest is no longer in the picture, while she's now living with their child and a new American boyfriend (Chris Rock). 'Paris' scored solid notices for being a rom-com that broke the mould, making these characters unlikable and almost resentful of the fact they're together.

Yet the sharp observational writing and character humour won out. The loss of Goldberg is definitely a disappointment, and Rock isn't really an adequate replacement. Where the story will go from here though is anyone's guess, but the return of her real life parents as her scene-stealing on screen ones is welcome news.

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21 Jump Street
Opens: March 16th 2012
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Analysis: An action comedy spoof of the late 80's/early 90's TV series that made a star out of Johnny Depp, this seems to only retain the show's basic premise of cops going undercover in high school.

Edgy and fresh for its time, these days the concept seems rather trite - yet would still work better than the practically unsalvageable mess that the terrible first trailer (both red-band and regular) hinted at. A cameo by Depp will be worth a laugh though.

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47 Ronin
Opens: November 21st 2012
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kou Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi
Director: Carl Erik Rinsch

Analysis: A 3D fantasy-adventure, the first full feature from acclaimed commercials and short helmer Rinsch, 'Ronin' fuses Japanese-influenced magical elements including giants and witches to the titular true story.

The tale of outcast samurai who together seek vengeance upon the treacherous warlord who killed their master is a costly $170 million gamble considering the likes of "Sucker Punch" and "Immortals" have fizzled at the box-office.

The presence of Reeves and a mostly authentic Japanese cast does make one curious, while Rinsch's shorts demonstrate he can make a little money go a long way.

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Opens: June 22nd 2012
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Analysis: The first of Seth Grahame-Smith's works to hit the screen sounds like a slightly more familiar (and digestible) bit of nonsense than his "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". Here is a story that re-imagines President Lincoln to have a secret identity as a vampire killer who seeks the beast that killed his mother.

With a fairly restrained $69 million budget, Tim Burton producing and "Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov helming, it will hopefully prove better than expected - the choice of stage actor Benjamin Walker is a smart one (check out his great work in the zero-budget indie "The War Boys") as he seems poised to break out.

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Act of Valor
Opens: February 17th 2012
Cast: Names Withheld, Alex Veadov, Rosalyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano
Director: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh

Analysis: What began life as a recruitment video for the U.S. military's NSWC division has become a full-fledged feature set to score a wide release. While a few actual actors have small roles, 'Valor' is being sold on the fact that most of the people in the film are real-life active duty Navy SEALs and the action is being approached as to be as authentic as possible to actual military operations.

Produced for a cost-effective $15 million (already mostly covered by Relativity's purchase of the project back in June), it'll be an interesting experiment to see if audiences will turn out for essentially a live action "Battlefield 3"/"Call of Duty"-style movie.

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The Amazing Spider-Man
Opens: July 3rd 2012
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary
Director: Marc Webb

Analysis: A film initiated for the most cynical of reasons - to avoid rights to this cash cow franchise slipping back to Marvel - may not be a good starting point, but it's not necessarily a deal breaker either. Still, Sony's decision to skip a fourth Sam Raimi-directed "Spider-Man" in favour of producing a more cost-effective reboot has many scratching their heads.

The more obvious 'Ultimate Spider-Man' influence and a definite casting upgrade with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone give one hope, but the studio is on the back foot in that it has to make us care about essentially starting over on a franchise still quite fresh in many's memories.

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American Reunion
Opens: April 6th 2012
Cast: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott
Director: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

Analysis: A true fourth film in the series after numerous direct-to-DVD pieces of shlock, is there still an interest in these characters almost thirteen years on from their first outing? Funnily enough I expect there is.

Old fans of the series who graduated around the same time will now want to see where these characters comparatively are and how much they've aged. The first teaser trailer scored a lot of laughs, though a more conventional second trailer wasn't nearly as fun. Still, one of the surer titles of the Spring - something Universal needs right now.

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Amour
Opens: 2012
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, William Shimell
Director: Michael Haneke

Analysis: After his last three films ("Cache," the "Funny Games" remake, "The White Ribbon") scored both awards and a lot of recognition overseas, Austrian director Michael Haneke returns with this €7.3 million French/German co-production that'll no doubt be bleak and uncompromising like the rest of his work. Reuniting Haneke with his "The Piano Teacher" and "Time of the Wolf" star Isabelle Huppert, many are expecting a prestigious debut in competition at Cannes in May.

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The Angel's Share
Opens: 2012
Cast: John Henshaw, William Ruane, Gary Maitland, Roger Allam
Director: Ken Loach

Analysis: While he's never really broken through beyond a very loyal cult art house following, British helmer Loach has a four decade-plus strong track record of delivering great films including "Kes," "Looking for Eric" and "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" which have all scored multiple awards and acclaim.

Here, with the help of the writer and actors from those last two aforementioned titles, he tackles what's being called a bittersweet comedy set in Glasgow about a ned who makes a last try to stay out of prison by enlisting community support workers to help him create a small whiskey distillery. Expect a festival debut sometime this year (Cannes maybe?).

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Anna Karenina
Opens: 2012
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen
Director: Joe Wright

Analysis: After two contemporary-set features, British filmmaker Joe Wright returns to the realm of acclaimed literature adaptations with this cinematic take on Tolstoy's most famous work (sorry "War and Peace" lovers) which follows a married woman in late-19th-century Russian high-society who becomes a social outcast when she has an affair with an aristocrat.

Throw in his "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement" leading lady Keira Knightley, a script by Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love," "Brazil," "Empire of the Sun"), and a likely late 2012 release - this looks certain to be set up as a major end of year contender. The question is, even if it's critically praised, will it be good enough to be an awards heavyweight - something this year's stellar "Jane Eyre" adaptation sadly failed to achieve.

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The Apparition
Opens: August 24th 2012
Cast: Tom Felton, Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Julianna Guill, Luke Pasqualino
Director: Todd Lincoln

Analysis: Dark Castle's horror entry for this past September, this PG-13 sci-fi meets haunted house tale was delayed a full year - so something could well be reshot. It was filmed in Berlin, but set in a part of the San Fernando Valley where houses go unfinished though with no obvious reason, unlike say Réunion Island where it's for tax purposes.

The obvious influence here is "Paranormal Activity" but with a proper budget and a desire to beef up the number of scares, yet Twilight scene-stealer Ashley Greene and the still under-rated but always fun Sebastian Stan probably won't be able to salvage the material.

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Arbitrage
Opens: 2012
Cast: Tim Roth, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Josh Pais
Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Analysis: Nicholas Jarecki made a name for himself both as an author and documentary filmmaker of the likes of "The Outsider" and "Tyson". His first attempt at a narrative feature was as writer and executive producer on "The Informers", the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation that infamously went down as one of the worst premieres at Sundance in recent years.

Undeterred he began work on this financial drama, the story of a troubled hedge fund magnate forced to turn to an unlikely person for help after a crucial mistake involving a sale in his trading empire. Jarecki then became embroiled in a legal battle with the film's producers in March and despite the case continued on with shooting the film - ultimately winning his tussle a few months later.

How things fare at this year's Sundance world premiere next month will be interesting to see, as will an apparent surprise appearance from helmer William Friedkin in the film itself.

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Argo
Opens: September 14th 2012
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Clea DuVall, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Director: Ben Affleck

Analysis: What looks like a quirky historical dramedy, this true story looks at the plan by the CIA to rescue six U.S. diplomats held hostage at their embassy in Iran in 1979 by convincing officials they were members of a camera crew scouting the area for a Hollywood movie.

Affleck's third directing effort after the acclaimed "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town", this will hopefully continue his so far stellar track record behind the camera. He's certainly got a strong cast assembled and the subject matter is ripe with potential, but the concern is this proving not a dud so much as a misfire like 2009's "The Men Who Stare At Goats".

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The Avengers
Opens: May 4th 2012
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner
Director: Joss Whedon

Analysis: Though it sounds a slam dunk on paper, it's hard to deny that the 'Avengers' tie-in elements in the lead-up films to this event - "Iron Man 2," "Thor" and "Captain America"- have proven the worst parts of each respective film.

Still, years of planning and fan anticipation finally come to fruition for Marvel Studios and it has one of the biggest weekend's of the year to itself which should ensure bumper box-office.

The choice of "Buffy" and "Firefly" creator Whedon as writer/director should make for some fun banter and character scenes, the question is more if this whole endeavour will work in terms of overall storyline and big scale theatrics.

The first trailer certainly got fans of these characters fired up, even if Downey Jr. pretty much walked all over his co-stars. Will it be worth the wait? More importantly what the hell are they going to do with Hulk and the Skrulls?

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A.W.O.L.
Opens: 2012
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer, Chris Lowell, Aimee Teegarden, Max Adler
Director: Danny Mooney

Analysis: Mooney’s directorial debut is this indie drama set in the Vietnam War-era and based on a true story of a U.S. soldier (and his best friend) who go A.W.O.L. and return to his Michigan hometown to win back the love of the girlfriend who dumped him.

It sounds almost Nicholas Sparks-ian in tone, with some hot young stars thrown in including 'Hunger Games' hunk Liam 'brother of Chris' Hemsworth. However the inclusion of certain historical events, such as the anti-war demonstrations at the University of Michigan, means there might be more going on here than a cursory glance would indicate.

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Bachelorette
Opens: 2012
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott
Director: Leslye Headland

Analysis: No doubt drawing many comparison to this year's "Bridesmaids", this story follows a trio of women asked to be the bridesmaids to a woman (Rebel Wilson) they used to bully back in high school. Cast member Marsden calls it an R-rated comedy which is "just a good 'Bridesmaids,' sort of 'Hangover'-type movie" with the focus very much on the female cast members.

Don't make the mistake of dismissing this as cookie cutter studio fare though - this is premiering at Sundance, boasts a strong cast of great young talent, and comes from the mind of Leslye Headland who made a name for herself as a writer on FX's short-lived but highly acclaimed "Terriers".

Reviews out of Park City will play a big part in determining what kind of release to expect for this, but I'd expect something with a darker edge and more bite than the usual sentimental Judd Apatow-produced schtick.

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Bait 3D
Opens: 2012
Cast: Julian McMahon, Xavier Samuel, Sharni Vinson, Lincoln Lewis
Director: Russell Mulcahy

Analysis: A freak tsunami traps shoppers at a coastal Australian supermarket inside the building ... along with a pack of aggressive and very hungry tiger sharks.

You're not supposed to take this $20 million creature tale seriously, which already makes it more fun than this past year's god awful "Shark Night 3D". The cast is mostly former local soap actors who've had some U.S. success like Julian McMahon, Xavier Samuel and Sharni Vinson - perfect fodder for the beasties swimming along aisle three.

Director Mulcahy made his name with one of the all time great Aussie B-movie creature features - "Razorback" - before finding Hollywood success with "Highlander," "The Shadow" and "Resident Evil: Extinction". He should ensure a cheesy fun time which a leaked promo trailer earlier this year seemed to confirm.

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Battleship
Opens: May 18th 2012
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker
Director: Peter Berg

Analysis: It's the film you can't really believe they're making - a whopping $250 million action epic based on the Hasbro game of the same name. In concept, the idea is laughable, in execution though the first teaser trailer confirmed this owes plenty to "Transformers".

Say what you will about director Peter Berg, the man can direct action and the money does seem to be up there on the screen, even if the plot is just an excuse for a cast of hot young things (Kitsch, Skarsgård, Rihanna) to dress up in Navy uniforms and shoot at aliens in epic battles. The only thing that'll get me excited? Gruff boat captain Liam Neeson hopefully growling the line "You sunk my battleship".

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Beauty and the Beast in 3D
Opens: January 13th 2012
Cast: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Analysis: Despite the Blu-ray coming out three weeks later, Disney's limited-run 3D theatrical re-release of "The Lion King" this year was an astonishing success. As a result the studio quickly announced 3D re-releases of several titles with the next on the list being this 1991 classic.

It will be an interesting test in that the Blu-ray release for it took place in late 2010 (and the 3D Blu-ray shortly after) along with the fact the film has already seen several re-releases over the past twenty years. If it works, other non-Pixar films from their back catalogue already on Blu could find themselves popping up every few months.

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Being Flynn
Opens: March 2nd 2012
Cast: Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby, Joe Urban
Director: Paul Weitz

Analysis: An adaptation of playwright Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir "Another Bullsh*t Night In Suck City", the story follows a young writer (Dano) who goes to work at a Boston homeless shelter only to encounter his long-absent father - a con man and self-proclaimed poet (De Niro).

Helmer Paul Weitz's works have gone either way in the past so it's no guarantee of quality with this decidedly art house looking tale of a son both wanting to both reunite with and yet not become his father. However with Flynn's memoir as the source material, and a top notch cast led by De Niro doing what looks like his first serious role in god knows how long, there is good reason to check this out.

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Bel Ami
Opens: 2012
Cast: Uma Thurman, Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Analysis: Though it shares the same name as Europe's most prestigious hardcore gay porn studio, this is an adaptation of French author Guy de Maupassant's much beloved 1885 novel about a young former soldier who screws his way up the social ladder of Parisian high society.

Recent trailers show a period faithful film that's pretty to look at but oddly inert in emotion, a not unexpected sign considering the author's legendarily efficient and involving prose is very difficult to translate on screen. As a classic French tale, if this English-language adaptation proves anything less than adequate it will likely get torn apart by European critics.

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Beneath the Darkness
Opens: January 6th 2012
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Aimee Teegarden, Tony Oller, Devon Werkheiser
Director: Martin Guigui

Analysis: A $7 million Texas-shot horror indie being shuffled out early in the year, Dennis Quaid turns up the crazy as a respected small town hero and mortician who has the nasty habit of burying people alive and playing around with corpses. A cast of unknown actors as good looking school students stumble upon his hobby, and of course no-one believes them.

It's direct-to-video shlock hoping to catch horror fans who've shown they can come out in force early in the New Year. It probably won't earn much, but then again it doesn't have to.

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Bernie
Opens: March 2nd 2012
Cast: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine, Rip Torn
Director: Richard Linklater

Analysis: This first film in three years for Richard Linklater debuted at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival where it scored quite good (but not great) reviews with many critics in attendance claiming "Bernie" was Jack Black's best work in years.

The kicker here is that it's based on a true story of a local mortician who strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow and then kills her - going to great lengths to maintain the illusion that she's alive.

Residents of Carthage, Texas where the real incident took place are reportedly unimpressed that a black comedy is being made out of what was a rather brutal murder.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Opens: May 4th 2012
Cast: Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson
Director: John Madden

Analysis: A group of British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive India. With a cast of acting legends, an exotic locale, a script by Deborah Moggach (2005's "Pride & Prejudice"), and with John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love," "The Debt") directing - one would've expected a potential awards candidate.

Yet Fox Searchlight bumped the film from late this year to March and then May, indicating they're more concerned with its economic viability. It's a smart move as it could potentially score good notices and word-of-mouth business amongst a demographic rarely catered for at the cinema these days - especially around that time of year.

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Big House
Opens: 2012
Cast: Claudia Gerini, Ciro Petrone, Nunzia Schiano, Angelica Borghese
Director: Matteo Garrone

Analysis: Matteo Garrone's mafia-themed "Gomorrah" was a critical masterpiece so many have been keen to see what the filmmaker has next in store. Earlier this year came the announcement of the project which was entitled "Big House" and sounds like a scathing satire of modern celebrity and reality shows.

'House', shot in Naples and Rome this past Summer, reunited him with much of the crew from "Gomorrah". For now it's one of the most secretive projects of next year so we'll have to wait and see.

The Complete Notable Films of 2012 Guide

Volume One: 2 Days in New York, 21 Jump Street, 47 Ronin, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Act of Valor, The Amazing Spider-Man, American Reunion, Amour, The Angel's Share, Anna Karenina, The Apparition, Arbitrage, Argo, The Avengers, A.W.O.L., Bachelorette, Bait 3D, Battleship, Beauty and the Beast in 3D, Being Flynn, Bel Ami, Beneath the Darkness, Bernie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Big House

Volume Two: Big Miracle, The Big Wedding, Blackbird, Black Rock, The Bourne Legacy, Brave, Bullet to the Head, The Bully Project, Butter, The Cabin in the Woods, Casa de mi Padre, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Chimpanzee, Chronicle, Cloud Atlas, Cogan's Trade, The Cold Light of Day, The Company You Keep, Contraband, Cosmopolis, The Dark Knight Rises, Dark Shadows, Decoding Annie Parker, The Deep Blue Sea, The Devil Inside

Volume Three: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Dictator, Disconnect, The Divide, Django Unchained, Dog Fight, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, Dredd, Drift, The End, The End of Love, The English Teacher, The Expendables 2, A Few Best Men, Finding Nemo in 3D, The Five-Year Engagement, Flight, Footnote, For a Good Time Call…, Foxfire, Frankenweenie, The Frozen Ground, Fun Size, Gambit, Gangster Squad, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Volume Four: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III, Goats, God Bless America, Gods Behaving Badly, Gone, Goon, Grabbers, The Grandmasters, Gravity, Great Expectations, Great Hope Springs, The Great Gatsby, The Grey, Halloween 3D, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Haywire, He Loves Me, Here Comes the Boom, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Hotel Transylvania 3D, House at the End of The Street, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, The Hunger Games, Hunter Killer, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Alex Cross

Volume Five: I Hate You Dad, Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D, Imogene, The Impossible, In Darkness, Inside Llewyn Davis, Intruders, Iron Sky, Jack and Diane, Jack the Giant Killer, Jeff Who Lives At Home, John Carter, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Joyful Noise, Juan of the Dead, Killer Joe, The Lady, Laurence Anyways, Lay the Favorite, Learning to Fly, Les Miserables, Liberal Arts, Life of Pi, Lincoln, The Longest Week, Long Time Gone

Volume Six: Looper, Love and Bruises, The Lucky One, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Magic Mike, Man on a Ledge, The Man with the Iron Fists, The Master, Mental, Men in Black 3, Mirror Mirror, Moonrise Kingdom, The Moth Diaries, Movie 43, MS One: Maximum Security, Mud, My Mother's Curse, Neighborhood Watch, Nero Fiddled, No One Lives, Not Suitable for Children, Nurse 3D, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Of Men and Mavericks, On the Ice, On the Road, One for the Money

Volume Seven: Only God Forgives, Outrun, The Paperboy, ParaNorman, Parental Guidance, Parker, Perfect Sense, Phantom, Piranha 3DD, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Place Beyond the Pines, Playing the Field, The Possession, Post Tenebras Lux, Premium Rush, Price Check, Project X, Prometheus, The Raid, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Hook Summer, Red Lights, Red Tails, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Resident Evil: Retribution

Volume Eight: Return, Rise of the Guardians, Robot and Frank, Rock of Ages, Rust and Bone, Safe, Safe House, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Sapphires, Satellite Boy, Savages, Searching for Sugar Man, The Secret World of Arrietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Seeking Justice, Seven Psychopaths, Shadow Dancer, Side by Side, Silent House, The Silver Linings Playbook, Sinister, Skyfall, Smashed, Snow White and the Huntsman, Something in the Air, Song for Marion

Volume Nine: Sparkle, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D, Step Up 4ever, Stoker, Straight A's, The Surrogate, The Sweeney, Syrup, Taken 2, Take this Waltz, Ted, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Thanks for Sharing, Think Like a Man, This is Forty, This Means War, A Thousand Words, The Three Stooges, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Titanic in 3D, Total Recall, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two, Under the Skin, Underworld Awakening, Untitled Bin Laden Project

Volume Ten: Untitled David Chase Movie, Untitled Ramin Bahrani Film, Untitled Terrence Malick Project, Upside Down, V/H/S, The Vow, Wanderlust, Warm Bodies, Welcome to the Punch, Welcome to People, The Wettest County, What Maisie Knew, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Wish You Were Here, The Woman in Black, The Woman in the Fifth, The Words, Words with Gods, World War Z, Wrath of the Titans, Wreck-It Ralph, Wuthering Heights, Your Sister's Sister

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