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The Notable Films of 2010: Part Nine

By Garth Franklin Tuesday January 5th 2010 05:10AM

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Salt
Opens: July 23rd 2010
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Phillip Noyce

Summary: When a CIA agent is accused by a defector of being a Russian sleeper spy, she goes on the run to clear her name. Using her years of experience as a covert operative, she must elude capture or the world's most powerful forces will erase her entire existence.

Analysis: Originally pegged as a Tom Cruise film, the script was rewritten for Jolie who remains one of the few household name actresses than can credibly pull off the action hero routine. The reason to get excited though is due to the involvement of Aussie helmer Phillip Noyce, his re-teaming with Jolie ten years on from their work together on "The Bone Collector", and his first film since 2006's under-rated "Catch a Fire".

Even if they haven't always proven a hit with audiences, Noyce's critically acclaimed thrillers from "Dead Calm" and "Patriot Games" to "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Quiet American" generally rely on smart scripts and compelling characters over gimmicks, high concepts or flashy visuals/editing. Kurt Wimmer penned the original "Salt" script which Brian Helgeland later polished, and it is said to have had quite a good reputation when it was being shopped around town.

Jolie's action vehicles from "Tomb Raider" to "Wanted" have generally been derided for relying too much on guns and not enough on wits, hopefully this will tip the balance back the other way. The title is great and the first trailer looked strong, but if there is a concern it's the Bourne-effect. The main plot does sound like something from Cold War spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum or Frederick Forsythe, so the inevitable comparisons will be made to that Matt Damon-led franchise. The release is also a concern considering more comedic-toned spy thrillers starring Ashton Kutcher and Tom Cruise open only a few weeks earlier.

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Sanctum
Opens: Late 2010
Cast: Alice Parkinson, Rhys Wakefield, Christopher Baker, Daniel Wyllie, Sean Dennehy
Director: Alister Grierson

Summary: Based on a true story. An underwater cave diving team experiences a life-threatening crises during an expedition to the unexplored and least accessible cave system in the world.

Analysis: James Cameron's post-"Avatar" side hobby is serving as executive producer on this $30 million Australian 3D film currently shooting on the Gold Coast. Distribution rights have already been sold around the world, partly due to Cameron's name but also due to the fascinating true story that, if adapted right, could become a solid critical and commercial success.

2005's "The Descent" about people trapped in a vast cave system demonstrated how great atmospheric tension can be generated from a well-filmed spelunking thriller. Add the elements of underwater diving, 3D, and the fact that no silly mutant monsters pop up to ruin the rest of the film's credibility in the last act and you could essentially get something along "Touching the Void" quality lines. That assumes though that the script and direction are up to standard.

In the big chair is Aussie filmmaker Alister Grierson, four years on from his first feature "Kokoda". That film scored so-so reviews for focusing too little on its characters and too much on the gory details of war. It did though earn high praise for its technical skill as what was essentially a low-budget film by students had production values on a level to rival Hollywood studio films. Given the right script, Grierson could definitely make this a memorable experience.

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Saw VII 3D
Opens: October 22nd 2010
Cast: Tobin Bell, Tanedra Howard, Various Body Parts
Director: David Hackl

Summary: Jigsaw and his accomplice Hoffman laid some traps ages ago, some people get tortured, you know the drill. Oh, this time it's in 3D.

Analysis: Really? Are we really at this point? With Jigsaw having died several movies ago leaving various C-grade actors to play out his seemingly endless list of assistants and elaborate trap victims - any remote sense of credibility the series had flew the coop a long time ago. The critical slams of the film didn't matter as there was still a guaranteed audience out there able to turn these $10 million films into consistent $100+ million worldwide grossers.

Then came this year's "Saw VI" and the game changed. Audiences finally seemed to have grown tired of torture porn nonsense and opted to spend their Halloween with the lower budget atmospheric thrills of "Paranormal Activity". The result was that inspire of slightly better reviews than the previous few sequels, "Saw VI" made only half as much as those films and so there's thankful talk of finishing it up here.

Of course if it makes money, expect Saw VIII to go into production soon after. If the producers want to guarantee a box-office turnout and end their hallowed moneymaker with even a smidgeon of respect then they need to set an official end date (ala "Lost"). Having created an increasingly elaborate mythology over time, what an audience wants is some sign of closure. Make all the killings an elaborate trick, or all the events simply the dreams of a mental patient - who cares, so long as there is a definitive ending to it even I would happily come back and check out the final chapter.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Opens: August 2010
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzmann
Director: Edgar Wright

Summary: Scott Pilgrim is the bass guitarist for the Toronto garage band Sex Bob-omb who has just met Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams. To keep her though he must face her increasingly vicious ex's - from infamous skateboarders to vegan rock stars and fearsomely identical twins.

Analysis: Even if you don't know it yet, 'Scott' looks already set to be one of next year's most acclaimed comic adaptations. Bryan Lee O'Malley's cult series is a product that many have already stated is impossible to translate to screen. Yet the hiring of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" director Edgar Wright seems a perfect fit for the material.

While I can't talk about specifics, I can say what I have managed to see so far looks far more faithful than many are expecting. Currently a mid-August release is being targeted which means you can likely expect a big launch at Comic Con in July. Universal seems to be going worldwide almost day-and-date, a bold move for a property that many have admittedly never heard of. Confidence is high though and quite likely justified, definitely one to keep an eye on.

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Season of the Witch
Opens: March 19th 2010
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy
Director: Dominic Sena

Summary: A 14th century Crusader returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Death. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights to transport an accused witch to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence.

Analysis: History's greatest pandemics usually have very mundane origins. When the bubonic plague wiped out much of the human population across Europe and Asia in the 14th century, who would've suspected that it originated from coughing Mongolian marmots (essentially a groundhog). Of course never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or a not-so-good one in the case of this supernatural thriller.

There was hope, after all the last time they teamed director Dominic Sena and star Nicolas Cage gave us the not great but still quite decent "Gone in 60 Seconds" remake. Sena however is coming off the comic adaptation "Whiteout", one of 2009's worst films, and that film had a more interesting premise and setting than this. Last month 'Witch' laucnhed a truly awful trailer that looked like a Uwe Boll movie with a budget, and cemented the entire project's disposability.

There's also been reports of reshoots currently underway in Budapest to try and insert a prologue sequence and fix up problems found in test screenings during the Fall. Sadly even Sena's best films ("Kalifornia," "Swordfish") are lightweight action fluff which makes the dour period tone quite unsuitable, something no amount of reshoots can fix. Combined with Cage's nearly unblemished record of duds lately, "Bad Lieutenant" was a surprise exception, this will probably disappear as quickly as "Bangkok Dangerous" or "Next".

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Secretariat
Opens: October 8th 2010
Cast: Diane Lane, James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Dylan Walsh
Director: Randall Wallace

Summary: The story centers around Penny Chenery who took over the financially troubled Meadow Stable from her ailing father and guided the thoroughbred race horse Secretariat through his Triple Crown winning season in 1973.

Analysis: Only a handful of racehorses became household names and two of them, Seabiscuit and Phar Lap, have already had their own acclaimed films. Thus it comes as a surprise that it has taken until now for one of the single most famous horses ever to run the field to finally get their time in the spotlight.

Of course a film about a horse on its own doesn't work (thank you "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron"), so a lot depends on the story and in this case it's as much biopic of the horse's owner Chenery as it of the creature itself. Diane Lane, made up in a bright blond and elaborate hairdo that makes her almost unrecognisable, is a great choice for Chenery and is ably supported by an otherwise almost all male cast of solid veteran talents.

Currently being shot around Kentucky and Louisiana, the wonder is how accurate will this be to the events in question as Chenery herself is a famous stickler for the small details. Scribe Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester," "The Rookie") and director Randall Wallace ("We Were Soldiers," "The Man in the Iron Mask") will obviously avoid some of the darker chapters to pull off a Disney label film, but I'd definitely be curious to hear Chenery's own eventual review.

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Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Opens: 2010
Cast: Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Ray Winstone, Olivia Williams, Toby Jones
Director: Mat Whitecross

Summary: The film tells of the rise to fame of Ian Dury, who was stricken with the debilitating disease polio at a young age and defied expectations by becoming one of the founders of the British punk movement in the 1970s with his band 'Ian Dury & The Blockheads'.

Analysis: Scoring a release next week in the UK, this offbeat biopic about the rather unique gravel-voiced Blockheads lead singer may disappoint some who want a thorough examination of the early punk scene. Instead early reviews indicate it spends much of its time focusing on Dury's personal life including his childhood, his professional and romantic struggles, and his difficulties raising a child.

The upside to that is a uncompromising and already award-nominated performance from Andy Serkis as the fiery, hobbling musico who gets to pull off some great renditions of famed numbers - am quite curious myself to see how they handle "Hit Me With Your Rhythmstick". Award-winning "The Road to Guantanamo" and "The Shock Doctrine" documentary co-director Mat Whitecross helms from a debut script by actor Paul Viragh in what could be a cult critical success along "Sid and Nancy" lines.

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Sex and the City 2
Opens: May 28th 2010
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Catrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth
Director: Michael Patrick King

Summary: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda take another bite out of the Big Apple in the sequel to the 2008 summer blockbuster.

Analysis: Considering how many years it took to get the first "Sex and the City" film made, it's astonishing how quickly the sequel came together. Then again money wasn't a problem this time as, even with a 2.5 hour runtime and mixed reviews, the quite economical $65 million first film became an international success that generated $415 million in box-office and even more in DVD/Blu-ray and other tie-in sales.

All the key cast and crew have returned for the film which shot over much of the last half of 2009 in New York City. Part of the film was to be set in Dubai, not a big surprise considering how the emirate has become such a mecca for the ultra-rich and fashion-conscious. However UAE authorities blocked filming there because the show’s salacious content is seen to be at odds with the UAE’s more conservative culture. Filming moved to Morocco instead where a two-week shot was extended to over a month.

Storylines are being kept under wraps, though set photographs indicate we'll see flashbacks to the earlier years of the quartet while Samantha was spotted in a wedding dress. The film set scored a lot of famous visitors, some to cameo while others just dropping by with much speculation swirling over which ones will appear onscreen with Liza Minnelli, Miley Cyrus and Penélope Cruz all seemingly confirmed. John Corbett is also set to return as Carrie's one-time fiance Aidan Shaw.

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Shanghai
Opens: 2010
Cast: John Cusack, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chow Yun-Fat
Director: Mikael Hafstrom

Summary: In the months leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an American man arrives in Shanghai to find his friend recently murdered. In investigating his friend's death, he stumbles upon a secret the United States government has been keeping and falls in love in the process.

Analysis: After being granted permission to shoot in the Chinese city, the $10 million production found its permit quickly being revoked by the Government who expressed concerns about the script. The result is Bangkok and the United Kingdom standing in for the real Shanghai which seems kind of against the entire point.

Cusack himself has emphatically endorsed the project in interviews, calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", but being stuck at the cash-strapped Weinstein Company means that its release plans are unsure beyond a vague promise of a limited bow around Easter. Even if that is the case, it likely won't be able to afford the kind of promotion and marketing it truly deserves.

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Shelter
Opens: 2010
Cast: Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Conroy
Director: Mans Marlind

Summary: A female forensic psychiatrist discovers that all of one of her patient's multiple personalities are murder victims. She will have to find out what's happening before her time is finished.

Analysis: Swedish helmer Mans Marlind ("Storm") directs this supernatural thriller with a concept that sounded interesting until I came to a quick realisation. The script comes from Michael Cooney, the scribe who penned the decent if predictable "Identity" but more memorably the Z-grade mutant killer snowman "Jack Frost" series including the famous scene where Shannon Elizabeth gets raped by his carrot nose.

Thus it came as no surprise that though completed a year ago, "Shelter" still hasn't scored a release or premiere anywhere as yet. Actually one cute story about it is that the original casting director was apparently fired for putting out a call asking for "inbred"-looking extras. Certainly this is a genre that can be both good and very very bad, no matter how big the stars are in the leading roles - the longer this goes without setting a date, the more chance of it being the latter.

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She's Out of My League
Opens: March 12th 2010
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Mike Vogel, Krysten Ritter, Alice Eve, Lindsay Sloane
Director: Jim Field Smith

Summary: A young TSA officer with little ambition meets a smart, sexy, charming young woman and starts dating her. His initial excitement turns to panic, as his own insecurities and the advice of family and friends threaten to ruin the relationship.

Analysis: Their crude but at times surprising 2008 comedy "Sex Drive" may have bombed, but the scribes behind that return in force this year with two of Spring's big comedies - this and "Hot Tub Time Machine". While the latter certainly has a more interesting concept and stronger cast, Paramount/Dreamworks have smartly been testing the waters with this one which apparently has some edgy and quite bawdy humor to it.

The result is a movie that many have immediately dismissed (including myself) actually testing better than expected with exhibitors and early audiences. Yet word of mouth is useless without some promotion and right now it's a film that's on nobody's radar. A cast of barely knowns and a first-time director aren't selling points either which makes buzz all that more important in this case. If the studio really has confidence in the product, now is the time to get the push on it going.

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Shrek Forever After
Opens: May 21st 2010
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews
Director: Mike Mitchell

Summary: Having become a domesticated family man, Shrek longs for the days when he felt like a "real ogre" and signs a pact with the smooth-talking dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, and suddenly finds himself in a twisted, alternate version of Far Far Away.

Analysis: Please let this be the end. Hard to remember but there was a time when the original "Shrek" hit and its satire was both pointed and hilarious. Of course Dreamworks milked it to death with a disappointing first sequel, an essentially joke-free third film, and enough oversaturation of the whole series to numb even the dullest mind. Now we're coming to a fourth time around and thankfully the studio is putting its bloated cash cow out of its misery with what's apparently the final chapter in the series.

Having done romance, marriage and parenthood in the previous films, the studio has turned to the next logical step in your average joe's development - the mid-life crisis. Most men rebel in some way - buy a car their wife hates, or have an office dalliance with their 20-something blond secretary or the cute gay guy from the sales department. This 'Shrek' tries the alternate 'what if' history angle we've seen before where the titular character sees that not getting hitched is a disaster for him and everyone around him so he'd better conform.

Throw in some typical behind-the-times pop culture gags, a few celebrity voice cameos, a poppy soundtrack, and all the tie-in merchandise and bingo - Dreamworks' shareholders will line up to nuzzle from the green ogre teet. That's the problem here, these films seem to have lost much of the respect they once had for their audience or even good storytelling - compare this with Pixar's "Toy Story" franchise where I doubt you'll find a single person who looks at its upcoming third film with anywhere near the hesitation they have for this.

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Shutter Island
Opens: February 19th 2010
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams
Director: Martin Scorsese

Summary: In 1954, two U.S. marshals are summoned to a remote island off Massachusetts to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane. Once inside, one begins to doubt everything - even his own sanity.

Analysis: Much like Paul Greengrass' "Green Zone", this was originally pegged as an Oscar contender before a delay to the Spring and a first trailer came out which showed it to be a twisted mainstream thriller. This isn't Scorsese doing yet another mob crime drama or some biopic desperate for awards, this is Scorsese just indulging himself in a populist pulpy thriller - something he hasn't really done since his great remake of "Cape Fear" in 1991 and something I've been keen to see him tackle again.

What will be interesting will be the critical response. Scorsese and DiCaprio together usually means awards, as does an adaptation of work by Lehane ("Mystic River," "Gone Baby Gone"). When it comes out it'll almost certainly disappoint a big swath of critics who want mobster tragedy Oscar bait and can't handle the idea of their cinematic god Scorsese slumming it with such generic thriller nonsense. Or it could surprise and actually be far more original and exciting than the trailers have let on.

Reviews out of a screening in Texas the other month painted a somewhat confusing picture with both the aforementioned disappointment and surprise popping up, often in the same critique. The overall response seemed to indicate that while the twists and mystery elements weren't as well handled as they should've been, the film has been crafted with a lot of care with certain elements like the atmosphere and the performances scoring high praise. Don't be surprised if it ends up making an appearance on a lot of critic's 'Honorable Mentions' lists at the end of 2010.

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Skateland
Opens: 2010
Cast: Ashley Greene, Taylor Handley, Brett Cullen, Haley Ramm, A.J. Buckley
Director: Anthony Burns

Summary: In the early 1980s, in small-town Texas, dramatic events force a 19-year-old skating rink manager to look at his life in a very new way.

Analysis: Little is known about Anthony Burns' directorial debut set to have its world premiere in Dramatic Competition at Sundance. The early 80's East Texas setting should mean an interesting soundtrack and some beautiful landscapes, while the family infighting influenced by standard coming of age tropes and Bible belt rebellion will hopefully have more weight and gravitas than your regular sports drama. Yet the failure of the more commercially-friendly roller rink-themed "Whip It" a few months ago doesn't hold out much hope for this indie's future, even if a rave response is forthcoming from Park City.

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The Social Network
Opens: October 15th 2010
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rashida Jones, Max Minghella
Director: David Fincher

Summary: Deals with the three men - Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker and Eduardo Saverin - who were key in the founding of the popular social networking site Facebook and the eventual fall out between the three.

Analysis: When a movie about Facebook was first announced, many scoffed and laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea which was expected to be a rather dull biopic. Then came the two things that changed a lot of people's minds - "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin delivered an acclaimed script, and David Fincher came onboard to direct as his first post-"Benjamin Button" project. Combined with a producing powerhouse (Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca, Kevin Spacey) this is already being considered as one of 2010's biggest awards contenders.

Still is the story interesting enough to tell, after all do we really care about a bunch of spoiled teen nerds striking it rich? More importantly will the whole thing remain relevant in a few years time? After all MySpace was the big thing a few years ago until Facebook supplanted it. These days Facebook has essentially become a second-class citizen to the Twitter-verse. By the time the film comes out, we may already be into the next big social network craze where we only communicate through emoticons.

The cast includes some young but solid talents like Eisenberg and Garfield, even Justin Timberlake seems well cast in this case as Napster founder Sean Parker. Kevin Spacey says a lot of people will be surprised by how funny the film is which sounds promising. The mid-October release is a little confusing (not exactly a prime date by any means), but even with this pedigree I get the distinct impression that a lot of people are going to be surprised at how good this will be.

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Solitary Man
Opens: 2010
Cast: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer
Director: Brian Koppelman, David Levien

Summary: Ben Kalmen is feeling his age, but you wouldn't know it from the company he keeps. A former car dealership mogul, until legal troubles knocked him out of business, Ben now keeps a grip on the world through his relationships with women - many women.

Analysis: Scoring mixed reviews at Toronto in the Fall, the duo behind the scripts for "Rounders" and "Ocean's 13" penned and directed this comedy which essentially takes a look at the depressing middle-aged future of a once-charming roguish womaniser - a character that Michael Douglas has essentially played in much of his on-screen work from "Romancing the Stone" to "Fatal Attraction".

Though the casting is inspired and Douglas himself scored praise for a fully committed performance, reaction to the film itself proved much more divided with the character's highly unsympathetic antics pushing things so far that quite a few automatically dismissed it, no matter how effective its examination of middle-aged male insecurity proved to be.

Even with a strong supporting cast, from Douglas' old on-screen partner Danny Devito to the likes of Susan Sarandon, there was a tepid response to the direction and some final act issues that apparently don't justify what come before it. With a limited release set for around March, it should be interesting to see how the different demographics, especially older men and women, react to this.

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Solomon Kane
Opens: 2010
Cast: James Purefoy, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige, Max von Sydow, Mackenzie Crook
Director: Michael J. Bassett

Summary: 16th Century mercenary Solomon Kane learns that his brutal and cruel actions have damned him. Determined to redeem himself, Kane swears to live a life of peace and goodness but is forced to fight once more when a dark power threatens the land.

Analysis: The potential start of a fantasy franchise, this is said to be the first of a possible trilogy, "Conan" creator Robert E. Howard's 16th century Puritanical hero gets his time in the sun in this lavish but still economical $40 million supernatural actioneer. Though the costume of the lead looks like cast-offs from "Van Helsing", reviews out of a screening at Toronto a few months back were more positive - calling it a simplistic, old-fashioned almost 80's-esque rousing action spectacle.

Shot in early 2008, director Michael J. Bassett ("Wilderness," "Deathwatch") pushed his cast and crew hard during cold, wet and muddy conditions on the shoot in the Czech Republic. The effort showed though, reviews praising the practical elements, hand-to-hand fighting scenes and straightforward efficiency. 45-year-old British hunk and one-time James Bond candidate James Purefoy (TV's "Rome," "Resident Evil") scored decent notices as the titular square-jawed one-note hero, though the various CG monsters he faces do seem to suffer from the lack of major studio budget.

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Somewhere
Opens: 2010
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Benicio Del Toro, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius
Director: Sofia Coppola

Summary: The story of Johnny Marco, a bad-boy actor stumbling through a life of excess at the Chateau Marmont. With an unexpected visit from his 11-year-old daughter, Johnny is forced to look at the questions we all must confront.

Analysis: No matter what you thought of her period spin on teen rebellion with 2006's "Marie Antoinette", director Sofia Coppola is always fascinating and she finally returns this year with this Sundance competition entry that many have been anticipating. The story itself sounds rather trite, but her directorial style can make the most mundane subject matter fascinating and certainly it feels like a harkening back to her 2003 modern masterpiece "Lost in Translation".

Focus Features, who released 'Lost', has big plans for this should the launch at Park City go as well as expected. The film could kick off a Mickey Rourke-like career resurgence for the talented but generally under-appreciated Stephen Dorff, while one potential surprise will be Jackass's Chris Pontius in a supporting role as Dorff's friend. LA's famed landmark Chateau Marmont hotel also will make for a compelling backdrop. Definitely a must-see.

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The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Opens: July 16th 2010
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci
Director: Jon Turteltaub

Summary: A master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan recruits a seemingly average guy who demonstrates hidden potential, as his reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash course so he can help defend the city from the sorcerer's arch-nemesis.

Analysis: Though said to be a "live action re-imagining" of the famous Mickey Mouse short sequence from "Fantasia", this Bruckheimer-produced fantasy family film resembles both it and its original Goethe-penned poem originator in name only it would seem. Otherwise it's a fairly familiar mentor/student film albeit the mentor looking like a bum who can shoot blue bolts from his hands.

Molina as the gentlemen wizard villain of the piece and Monica Bellucci as Cage's ex-flame are the only casting here to get excited about. "National Treasure" series helmer Jon Turtletaub in the director's chair means it'll be crowd-friendly enough, certainly the visual effects actually looked quite good at certain points in the trailer. Maybe it'll surprise.

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The Special Relationship
Opens: 2010
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Michael Sheen, Hope Davis, Helen McCory
Director: Richard Loncraine

Summary: Follows the unique and sometimes turbulent political relationship between newly installed British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

Analysis: The third film in Peter Morgan's 'Blair' trilogy which started with 2003's TV movie "The Deal" and 2006's Oscar-winning "The Queen", 'Relationship' once again sees Michael Sheen playing former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair in this HBO Films/BBC Films co-production.

'Queen' stars Helen McCrory and Mark Bazeley will reprise their roles as Cherie Blair and Alastair Campbell respectively, though Chris Wilson will take over for David Morrissey as Gordon Brown. Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "Last King of Scotland") once again penned the script, but when previous director Stephen Frears opted out, Morgan was slated to make his directorial debut on the film. He later also opted out, the job ultimately going to Richard Loncraine ("Firewall," "Richard III").

The surprise here is that the relationship in question deals with the generally friendly Blair and Clinton, not the Blair and Bush relationship which historically is much more dramatic territory. No doubt if a fourth film gets made, it'll likely deal with that subject and how it contributed to Blair's downfall. Political subject matter aside, Morgan and Sheen's pairings have always yielded gold so far and there's little doubt the same will apply here.

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Splice
Opens: 2010
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Abigail Chu, Brandon McGibbon
Director: Vincenzo Natali

Summary: A couple who specialize in DNA splicing to create animal hybrids secretly use human DNA in an experiment to potentially yield medical benefits. The result is Dren, an amazing creature who exhibits an array of unexpected and soon terrifying developments.

Analysis: Cult Canadian genre film director Vincenzo Natali ("Cube," "Cypher") returns with this strange cautionary tale fusing themes of genetic engineering out of control with the anxiety of young parenthood. The result is something along early David Cronenberg lines, using the gory and grotesque for larger emotional and psychological metaphors its central characters explore which in this case cross the nature/nurture divide.

The star though is the creature itself, a combination of computer effects, make-up prosthetics and a practical girl in a suit - the result is something both convincingly real and very eerie, like the offspring of an orgy between a praying mantis, a cantaloupe, and an Icelandic supermodel. Solid thesps Brody and Polley as the doting scientists/parental figures should make for a strong combination, while Natali's involvement and foreign money means this pushes a lot of boundaries that Hollywood studio films dare not, from the grossness of the biology to a very strong and graphic amount of strange sexuality ("Chimeras Gone Wild").

Reviews out of the Stiges Film Festival in November called it Natali’s best film since "Cube", though admit the pacing is somewhat too deliberate (i.e. slow) for horror fans. There's also sadly talk of editors coming in and cutting back on a lot of the harder-edged elements for the American theatrical release which means this is one of those films that it's best to probably wait for the import DVD. More reviews to come out of Sundance in a few weeks may affect that, we'll see.

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The Spy Next Door
Opens: January 15th 2010
Cast: Jackie Chan, Madeline Carroll, Alina Foley, George Lopez, Billy Ray Cyrus
Director: Brian Levant

Summary: An undercover CIA superspy decides to give up his career to settle down with his next-door neighbour. When she must leave town, he volunteers to babysit her three opinionated kids who mistakenly lead the spy's archenemy, a Russian terrorist, to their location.

Analysis: One thought it couldn't get much worse than "The Tuxedo" or "Forbidden Kingdom", turns out it can. Jackie Chan's Hollywood career continues its roll through the ass end of major studio filmmaking with another riff on the "Kindergarten Cop"/"The Pacifier" scenario. From its trailers to its marketing material, no single film in 2010 looks worse than this poor excuse for cinema - although The Rock's "Tooth Fairy" comes damn close. Parents if you really want to blacken your kid's souls, take them to this.

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The Square
Opens: April 9th 2010
Cast: David Roberts, Claire van der Bloom, Anthony Hayes, Joel Edgerton
Director: Nash Edgerton

Summary: Raymond Yale becomes entangled in an affair with the beautiful and troubled Carla. Taking the proceeds from her criminal husband's latest crime, they set out to go on the run - but both her violent husband and a mysterious extortionist threaten to expose them.

Analysis: The 2008 Australian indie crime thriller is finally scoring a limited release around Easter in the US after successful runs at several global film festivals throughout 2009. Originally penned back in 2001 by actor Joel Edgerton ("Star Wars: Episode II," "King Arthur"), the film eventually got made by Joel's brother, stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton who is becoming a talent to watch.

Local reviews were favourable with numerous AFI nominations but no wins, while comparisons pegged it as a less incisive if stylistically similar work to the crime noir efforts of the Coen Brothers. Like almost all Australian films in recent years though, locals had no interest and it essentially fizzled at the box-office with little impact. The hope is that Apparition will have more success with a small theatrical bow States-side.

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Stay Cool
Opens: 2010
Cast: Mark Polish, Winona Ryder, Hilary Duff, Sean Astin, Josh Holloway
Director: Michael Polish

Summary: The story centers on a successful author who is forced to confront an unrequited high school crush when he returns home to deliver a commencement address to graduating seniors. Shasta O'Neil, a sexy high school senior flirts with the visiting author and invites him to the prom.

Analysis: Having delivered a strong indie film resume with acclaimed efforts like "Twin Falls Idaho" and "Northfork", the Polish brothers have generally been slipping with both "The Astronaut Farmer" and "Manure" proving disappointments. Though not a return to form, this high school homecoming comedy scored a slightly better response than their last two efforts when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009.

The cast of great 80's movie stars combined with nostalgic comedy and music that feels like an affectionate tribute to John Hughes should be enough to peak the interest of quite a few. Yet the forced nature of the humor and both Mark Polish’s character and performance scored quite negative reaction. In spite of the film's more commercially appealing aspects, it's unlikely this will be the Polish's break out vehicle.

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Step Up 3D
Opens: August 6th 2010
Cast: Adam Sevani, Alyson Stoner, Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson
Director: Jon M. Chu

Summary: A tight-knit group in New York's intense street dancing underground team up with an NYU freshman and find themselves pitted against the world's best breakdancers in a high-stakes showdown that will change their lives forever.

Analysis: Disney has created a stable low-cost franchise with its "Step Up" coming-of-age street dancing series. The first cost $12 million and made $112 million, the second cost $22 million and fared even better with $148 million. Thus a further sequel was inevitable, this time using 3D tech in a genre that admittedly hasn't really utilised it yet which will give this some novelty value of seeing hard-bodied teens essentially kicking the audience in the face.

Many familiar faces are returning, both the leads from the sequel (Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman) will have supporting roles, while Moose (Adam Sevani) has been upgraded to the male lead this time out. Channing Tatum is also returning briefly as his Tyler Gage character from the first. John Chu, who helmed the previous sequel, returns in the director's chair. No doubt the critical response will fall along the same lines as well.

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Stone
Opens: May 7th 2010
Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy, Enver Gjokaj
Director: John Curran

Summary: A convicted arsonist looks to manipulate a parole officer into a plan to secure his parole by placing his beautiful wife in the lawman's path.

Analysis: A psychological thriller of reunions - director John Curran and star Edward Norton previously worked on "The Painted Veil", while Norton and Robert DeNiro first teamed on the well-regarded if little seen 2001 heist thriller "The Score". Playwright and "Junebug" scribe Angus MacLachlan originally conceived this as a play and had a staged reading of it only once before turning it into a screenplay in 2005.

A promo trailer managed to leak online before quickly being pulled, and so far it remains the sole glimpse we've had of the project. Overture Films picked it up last month and has scheduled a May 7th 2010 limited release, a smart adult thriller alternate to the explosive big-budget antics of "Iron Man 2" on the same weekend. The film will almost certainly have its premiere at De Niro's own Tribeca Film Festival in late April.

The Complete Notable Films of 2010 Guide

Part One: 13, 44 Inch Chest, The A-Team, Abel, The Adjustment Bureau, After.Life, Agora, Alice in Wonderland, Alpha and Omega 3D, The American, And Soon the Darkness, Animal Kingdom, Area 51, The Back-Up Plan, The Baster, Beastly, The Beaver, Bitch Slap, Biutiful, Black Death, Black Swan, Blitz, Blue Valentine, The Book of Eli, Born to Be A Star, The Bounty Hunter

Part Two: Bran Nue Dae, Breaking Upwards, Brighton Rock, Brooklyn's Finest, Buried, Burlesque, Carlos the Jackal, Case 39, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Cemetery Junction, Centurion, Chloe, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Clash of the Titans, The Company Men, Confucius, The Conspirator, Cop Out, Cracks, The Crazies, Crazy on the Outside, Creation, Cyrus, Date Night, Daybreakers

Part Three: Dear John, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, Death at a Funeral, The Debt, The Descent: Part II, Despicable Me, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dinner for Schmucks, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, District 13 Ultimatum, Don McKay, Dorian Gray, The Dry Land, Due Date, The Eagle of the Ninth, Easy A, Eat Pray Love, Edge of Darkness, Enter the Void, The Exam, The Expendables, The Experiment, The Extra Man, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Extraordinary Measures

Part Four: Fair Game, The Fighter, The First Gun, Fish Tank, Flipped, From Paris with Love, Frozen, Furry Vengeance, Georgia, Get Low, Get Me to the Gig, The Ghost Writer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Glorious 39, Going the Distance, The Good Guy, The Greatest, Greenberg, The Green Hornet, Green Zone, Grown Ups, Guardians of Ga'Hoole 3D, Gulliver's Travels, Happy Tears, Harry Brown

Part Five: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, Heartless, Henry's Crime, Hereafter, Hesher, High School, Hippie Hippie Shake, Holy Rollers, Hot Tub Time Machine, Howl, How to Train Your Dragon, The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, I Am Love, I Love You Phillip Morris, Inception, The Irishman, Ironclad, Iron Man 2, It's Kind of a Funny Story, It's A Wonderful Afterlife, Jackass 3D, Jack Goes Boating, John Rabe, Jonah Hex, The Joneses, The Karate Kid

Part Six: Kick Ass, The Kids Are All Right, The Killer Inside Me, Killers, The King's Speech, Knight and Day, The Last Airbender, The Last Song, The Last Word, Leap Year, Legion, Let Me In, Letters to Juliet, Life as We Know It, Life During Wartime, Little Fockers, London Boulevard, The Losers, The Lottery Ticket, Love and Other Drugs, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Love Ranch, MacGruber, Machete, Main Street

Part Seven: Marmaduke, The Mechanic, Megamind, Micmacs, Middle Men, Morning Glory, Mother, Mother's Day, Mother and Child, Mr. Nobody, Multiple Sarcasms, My Own Love Song, My Soul to Take, Nailed, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Never Let Me Go, The Next Three Days, A Nightmare on Elm Street, North Face, Nowhere Boy, Oceans, Once Fallen, Ondine, The Other Guys, Our Family Wedding, Paul

Part Eight: Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, Perrier's Bounty, Piranha 3-D, Please Give, Predators, Priest, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, A Prophet, Rabbit Hole, Ramona and Beezus, Rapunzel, Red, Red Dawn, Red Riding, Red Tails, Remember Me, Repo Men, The Resident, Robin Hood, The Romantics, The Roommate, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, The Rum Diary, The Runaways, Saint John of Las Vegas

Part Nine: Salt, Sanctum, Saw VII 3D, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Season of the Witch, Secretariat, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Sex and the City 2, Shanghai, Shelter, She's Out of My League, Shrek Forever After, Shutter Island, Skateland, The Social Network, Solitary Man, Solomon Kane, Somewhere, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Special Relationship, Splice, The Spy Next Door, The Square, Stay Cool, Step Up 3D, Stone

Part Ten: St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold, Sympathy for Delicious, Takers, Tamara Drewe, Tell Me, The Tempest, Three Backyards, Toe to Toe, The Tooth Fairy, The Town, To Save a Life, Toy Story 3, The Tree of Life, Triage, Tron: Legacy, True Legend, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Twelve, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too, Unstoppable, Unthinkable, Untitled Mike Leigh Project, Valentine's Day, Valhalla Rising

Part Eleven: Vincere, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Warlords, Warrior, Waska, The Way Back, Welcome to the Rileys, What's Wrong With Virginia, When in Rome, The Whistleblower, Wild Grass, The Winning Season, Winter's Bone, The Wolfman, Womb, Wonderful World, The Yellow Handkerchief, Yogi Bear, You Again, You May Not Kiss the Bride, Young Americans, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Your Highness, Youth in Revolt, The Zookeeper

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