News

The Notable Films of 2011: Part One

By Garth Franklin Monday December 13th 2010 09:39AM

Back for its third year (see the 2010 edition) and bigger than ever, today kicks off the first in a fifteen-part look at the various cinematic releases hitting the U.S. in 2011. Each 'part' contains brief descriptions and editorial opinion/analysis of varying length covering twenty films. Expect the remaining ones to go up between now and the first major releases in mid-January.

Like all cinematic lists set within a timeframe, there's some overlap. Some films here have already opened worldwide but have yet to hit the U.S., some upcoming films you'd expect to be here aren't because they're either still in development or have already announced 2012 release dates, some were on last year's list but got delayed so have been included again (but with all new analysis).

I confined my list to films that have either set 2011 release dates or had begun/completed production, and only films that have a good chance of getting some kind of theatrical release - even then its come out just shy of 300 titles at present. So, away we go:

image

5 Days in August
Opens: March 2011
Cast: Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Rupert Friend, Heather Graham, Johnathon Schaech
Director: Renny Harlin

Summary: A group of war correspondents are caught behind enemy lines when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. They manage to witness and film the most horrific of war crimes only to find the world media focused on Beijing. They must fight to get the footage out - a quest that may cost them their lives.

Analysis: With the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia still in question, the relatively short-lived conflict of 2008 when Russia annexed those Georgian territories is still prominent in the mindset of many living anywhere near the Black and Caspian Seas. How this $20 million feature about war correspondents caught up in the fighting will go down there is anybody's guess, though like any political-themed film one does expect it to be divisive in and of itself - supporters calling it a bold and gritty cinematic treatise, detractors dismissing it as a propaganda puff piece.

A trailer that went online a month ago shows Finnish director Harlin retaining his strong skills for shooting action with impressive scenes of helicopter gunship attacks and tank units launching devastating assaults, though it very noticeably avoids showing off any real dialogue in its scenes. An interview with him and a producer on the film claims that it's an "anti-war story that could take place in various countries."

Shot on-location in Tbilisi with the approval of the Georgian government, the setting is pretty much as on target as you can get. Yet like any real event movie with state-backing, one wonders how much of the truth will be adjusted to obey cinematic conventions and nationalistic pride. In spite of all the military hardware on display, this is essentially an independent film without any big marquee names attached, though does manage to employ a mix of veterans (Kilmer, Garcia), babes with talent (Graham, Schaech) and rising young stars-of-tomorrow (Friend, Chiquiri).

The other issue is marketability. In Europe and parts of Asia this will likely do well, around the rest of the world it's a much tougher sell. Films about the far more publicised and ongoing conflict to the south in Iraq have almost all fizzled at the box-office, and there doesn't seem to be much on offer here to separate this other than the setting. Even that is tricky enough, there's still quite a few out there who upon hearing the term 'Russia/Georgia war' think you're probably talking about some skirmish between Atlanta and Moscow back in the 80's. The synopsis hints at the lack of media coverage about the conflict as a plot point, something I hope does get explored.

image

11-11-11
Opens: November 11th 2011
Cast: Unknown
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Summary: After the tragic death of his wife and child, a famed American author tries to reunite with his estranged brother and dying father in Barcelona. His life soon becomes plagued with strange happenings, and the constant sightings of the number 11 a portent for an entity's arrival on our earthly plane.

Analysis: Filming doesn't kick off for another month on this, but Darren Lynn Bousman is used to turning around films fast like he did with the second, third and fourth "Saw" movie. Those skills will come in handy for this, what's essentially being called a "marketing department's wet dream" where the title and release date are one and the same (and work no matter what day/month/year configuration you care to make). The worry of course is "The Number 23", the tedious Jim Carrey-led thriller that tried to explain the conspiracy theories behind that particular figure and bombed badly with critics and at the box-office.

While this will look into a similar theory, there seems to be more of a vibe along "The Prophecy" lines with the idea that something from another world entering our dimension for 49 minutes via a heavenly gate. When Christian mythology is done right, you get the entertaining story arcs on "Supernatural" over the past few years. When done wrong, you get last year's truly terrible "Legion". Bousman is an interesting director with a keen visual eye, but any director is only as good as his or her material - on that front he hasn't lucked out so well yet. For now with no cast announced and a lot of details uncertain, it's far too early to make call either way on how this'll work.

image

13 Assassins
Opens: 2011
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya, Gorô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura
Director: Takashi Miike

Summary: Set in mid-19th century Japan, a Shogun advisor sets in motion a plan to be carried out by a samurai strike team to kill a sadistic but influentially growing noble lord while he's enroute home. However he's well protected and lead by a warrior who knows the leader of the strike team well.

Analysis: Not many 50-year-old Japanese men can get Western geeks sexually aroused, but one of the few is filmmaker Takashi Miike. With over four dozen films to his name (he churns out 2-3 films a year) and two bonafide underground genre classics in the forms of "Ichi the Killer" and "Audition", Miike is renowned for his excess, taking extremes to new heights of tastelessness and ultra violence. Topics like incest and necrophilia are common place, as are inventive camera angles ranging from the bottom of a toilet bowl to the inside of a vagina.

When genre directors like David Cronenberg and David Lynch have toned down their voraphiliac and surrealist tendencies respectively, it has resulted in some of their most wide-appealing and acclaimed works ("A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises," "Mulholland Drive," "Twin Peaks"). Miike looks to be adopting the same approach with this remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 black-and-white Japanese film - bringing a few touches of darkness and horror to the all too familiar avenging samurai story which seems to have stayed pretty comfortably in the same mold since Akira Kurosawa's highly influential "Seven Samurai" over five decades ago.

With producers Toshiaki Nakazawa ("Departures") and Jeremy Thomas ("The Last Emperor") onboard, Miike launched the film last year at Cannes and managed to score a nomination for the prestigious Golden Lion a few months later in Venice. Reviews were strong, calling it beautifully photographed, largely faithful to Kudo's original, epic in scale and refreshingly straight-forward for a Miike film. Celebrating both his and our love for the genre and carefully deconstructing it without mocking it, 'Assassins' should also be packing genre fans in for its last act which contains a "45-minute showdown that has to be the best final battle sequence in cinema" according to one review.

image

30 Minutes or Less
Opens: August 12th 2011
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Fred Ward, Nick Swardson, Aziz Ansari
Director: Ruben Fleischer

Summary: Two fledging criminals take a pizza delivery boy and a junior high history teacher hostage, strapping a bomb to the delivery boy's chest and forcing him to rob a bank within 30 minutes.

Analysis: With "Zombieland" proving both a critical and commercial success, director Ruben Fleischer pretty much had his pick of follow-up projects, including the fourth "Mission: Impossible", but instead opted for this caper comedy. The pedigree is good - Eisenberg coming off his "Social Network" success teamed with rising comics Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari who'll both pull in their own growing fanbases. Taylor Lautner's rumored cameo may have more of an impact though.

The storyline sounds like light fun, the script described by one outlet as "'Pineapple Express' with more heart", however scribes Matthew Sullivan and Michael Diliberti are unknowns at this point (Diliberti was a former assistant to Scott Rudin so he understands debasement). Ben Stiller is producing and shooting seemed to go smoothly in Michigan back in the late Summer. We'll know a lot more when a trailer hits sometime in the new year.

image

Abduction
Opens: September 23rd 2011
Cast: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs
Director: John Singleton

Summary: Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) comes across a picture of himself on a missing persons’ web site. Setting out to uncover his real identity, Nathan quickly learns his parents are far from who they say they are. When the police, government agents and shadowy figures start to pursue him, Nathan goes on the run.

Analysis: Taylor Lautner's first leading man role since the "Twilight" craze made him a household name, the box-office fate of this young-skewing Bourne-esque thriller will be watched closely to determine how much pulling power the 18-year-old has on his own. His co-star Robert Pattinson has taken the 'serious actor' route with roles in indie films and period dramas like "Little Ashes," "Bel Ami" and "Water for Elephants". His pull alone managed to turn throwaway romance drama "Remember Me" into a decent little $55 million grosser. Lautner on the other hand is trying to maximise his star power while he has it, setting up potential franchise features like "Stretch Armstrong," "Incarceron", and this.

While Lautner's involvement will certainly pull in the younger crowds, it's the other elements of the production that are actually more impressive. Musician Shawn Christensen penned the script on spec and Lionsgate won a bidding war for it back in February. The mini-major made it a priority, quickly getting Jeffrey Nachmanoff ("Traitor," "The Day After Tomorrow") to do some rewrites before locking down a shoot in Pennsylvania in July. The high concept story actually sounds quite interesting and could have a lot of potential if executed properly.

John Singleton is directing, his first time since 2005's "Four Brothers", and the rest of the cast is excellent though female lead Lily Collins is still essentially an unknown. Supporting turns from great veterans like Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello and Swedish "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" star Michael Nyqvist could hold promise. How the tone of this will come off is anybody's guess at this point, the mystery and action angles will hopefully be played up and give us at least an entertaining diversion in the early Fall.

image

The Adjustment Bureau
Opens: March 4th 2011
Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Terence Stamp, Daniel Dae Kim
Director: George Nolfi

Summary: Loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story "Adjustment Team". David Norris, a charismatic congressman meets a beautiful ballet dancer named Elise Sellas, only to find strange circumstances keeping them from getting closer. Norris discovers forces are at work to ensure they stay apart, and he pushes to find out why.

Analysis: Shot late 2009 on location all around Manhattan, Damon and Blunt seem like a good idea for an onscreen pairing and the central premise of the original story is interesting if not entirely original. The only concern at the time was writer/director Nolfi who, though having served as co-writer "The Bourne Ultimatum", was responsible for the scripts of the famously awful film adaptation of Michael Crichton's "Timeline" and the utterly forgettable Michael Douglas secret service thriller "The Sentinel".

Then around the early Summer things started to go awry. A trailer launch around Memorial Day wasn't that well received, the idea that fate exists and is being controlled by a bunch of guys in suits is fine on paper but comes off as somewhat cheesy and self-defeating on screen. A late July release was pushed back into September and then pushed back again to a March 4th 2011 date - a full eight months from its originally planned release.

With at least two sets of reshoots (late February, mid June), Universal is obviously hedging its bets and tweaking this like crazy. You can't help but get the feeling that the project might have been too ambitious for first-time director Nolfi and it got away from him, leaving the studio to clean up the mess. A PKD story is usually a good start but the quality can vary from solid sci-fi features like "Blade Runner," "Total Recall" and "Minority Report" to disappointments like "Paycheck," "Next" and "Impostor". Hopefully this will fall along the lines of the former, a Damon-led project rarely stinks, but the delay means the onus is now on the studio to justify the film's worth.

image

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Opens: December 23rd 2011
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig, Toby Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg

Summary: A computer-animated motion-capture feature based on a two-part story from the classic Herge comics. Murderous antique dealers, a wallet thief and three miniature replicas of a sailing vessel are the key to Tintin's search for the treasure of 17th century West Indies pirate Red Rackham.

Analysis: With the studios content on feeding from the seemingly endless trough of talking critter movies, even Pixar is slumming it this year with "Cars 2", it's up to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson to bring some inventiveness to the animation genre next year with this awkwardly titled first entry in a planned trilogy of films adapted from the famous Belgian comics.

"Tintin" is an unusual property for its inverse appeal you could call it. Comics in general sell very little outside the United States, with only the odd title like a Batman or Superman really establishing a foothold globally. "Tintin" was the opposite, a title that's still barely known within the United States and never went beyond a small cult niche there with much of that coming from the watered down kiddie animated show version. On the other hand for much of the 20th century, Herge's work was a staple in many households in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world.

Fusing well-paced adventure, mystery, political thriller and frequent character-based humor, Herge's 23 completed stories published from the 1930's through to the mid-1970's were wide appealing enough for kids yet still explored rather adult issues of drug smuggling, slavery, forgery, espionage, Government corruption and the control of oil resources. Despite being politically incorrect at times (especially in the very early books which are replete with colonialist attitude), many of the stories are produced with a very cinematic style and were a big influence on Spielberg when he came up with "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

So we come to this film and the big question is will it work? In terms of talent behind the screen, there couldn't be any finer. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost as Thompson & Thomson is perfect casting along with Bell and Serkis, while even small supporting parts are populated by the likes of Daniel Craig, Daniel Mays, Toby Jones, Tony Curran, Mackenzie Crook and Kim Stengel.

Spielberg's directing, Jackson and Kathleen Kennedy are producing, John Williams is doing the score, while beloved filmmaker Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Scott Pilgrim") and current "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" showrunner Steven Moffat adapted the script. While the use of mo-cap animation didn't enthuse many who wanted a live-action take, it has allowed the filmmakers to preserve Herge's unique style of artwork while updating it with more realistic textures.

That does bring up concern of the 'uncanny valley' effect seen in many of Robert Zemeckis' films ("The Polar Express," "A Christmas Carol") where the realism becomes disturbing to watch. The first batch of stills certainly raised my concerns sharply about this, but thankfully further stills have hinted at a more stylised take. Still, none of the shots have yet shown a full on facial shot of Tintin himself, and a LOT will depend upon how all of this looks in motion.

Internationally the film has a solid chance. Set to open in October throughout much of the world, the brand name awareness is already well in place and the anticipation is already there as it's one of the few remaining comic properties familiar to many that has yet to see a major film adaptation onscreen. The age of the property could have an impact, Tintin isn't anywhere near as big amongst the current younger generation as it was to those of us who grew up in the 80's and 90's. Still, expect this to have a long life throughout October and November.

In America however is where the real war will be fought. A battle not just of brand awareness but a shameful amount of wilful ignorance on the part of the geek community which usually has no problem rallying behind comic titles far more obscure and much more third-rate. You couldn't read an article about the film in 2010 without at least several comments decrying their beloved gods Spielberg and Jackson were working on a film they assumed to be something along "My Little Pony" lines because of the use of the word 'Unicorn' in the title. In fact, at a set visit I attended last year a writer for a certain blog known for being higher brow and knowledgable about what they write seemed to take pride in that ignorance. I love my news writing brethren, but on rare occasion the odd comment like that makes me want to grab one of them by the balls and squeeze painfully hard - harder than usual anyway.

Many still have zero idea of even the general tone of the property, which means Paramount has to 'hit it out of the park' as it were with the first trailer and really demonstrate the scale, the sense of adventure, the fun and the characters. It's much more an uphill battle, but one that could pay big dividends should it succeed. The one obvious hurdle I hope they can overcome is that this is one of the quieter and weaker works in the series, lacking the epicness of the other two-parters or the sheer brazenness of many of the standalone works.

image

Albert Nobbs
Opens: 2011
Cast: Glenn Close, Michael Gambon, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Aaron Johnson
Director: Rodrigo Garcia

Summary: In 19th Century Ireland, a woman has spent two decades disguising herself as a man to take advantages of the luxuries, opportunities and wealth not offered to women. She soon finds herself involved in an unusual love triangle and realises that she has confined herself to a prison of her own making.

Analysis: With filming about to get underway in Ireland, this long-gestating adaptation of the acclaimed off-Broadway stage play "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs" is finally happening. With its "Gosford Park"-esque class drama, introspective themes about losing ourselves in order to conform to society, acclaimed helmer Rodrigo Garcia ("Mother & Child," "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her") directing, and a great cast including Glenn Close reprising one of her most famous stage roles from the 80's - it would be a surprise for this to be anything but stellar.

Close herself is said to be personally involved in the writing and the producing of the adaption, and though there have been delays they've all been to refine the project and deliver the best possible interpretation according to sources involved. Presently an early 2012 release date is being targeted, but it's highly likely the film will have some kind of limited release late next year in order to garner a swag of potential award nominations.

Close's chances for a best actress nomination seems almost a fait accompli at this point, while the supporting cast including Michael Gambon, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Aaron Johnson, Mia Wasikowska and Janet McTeer along with director Garcia are likely to get some serious consideration should this come out right.

image

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Opens: December 11th 2011
Cast: Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Jason Lee, David Cross
Director: Mike Mitchell

Summary: Alvin, Simon and Theodore become shipwrecked on an island. Singing and chipmunk-related hilarity ensues.

Analysis: Two words: F*CK NO. When your poorly reviewed 'Squeakquel' pulls in nearly half a billion in ticket sales alone from a mere $75 million budget, it makes perfect economic sense why any studio would continue with such a franchise - it's a cash cow invulnerable to criticism. That doesn't make it any easier for anyone over the age of five being forced to sit through this nonsense, it's like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" being brainwashed without the random shots of breasts to keep you awake.

image

Amigo
Opens: 2011
Cast: Garret Dillahunt, Chris Cooper, Lucas Neff, DJ Qualls
Director: John Sayles

Summary: A fictionalized account of the Philippines-American War at the turn of the century that began after two American privates killed three Filipino soldiers in a suburb of Manila. The incident turned into a bloody war that lasted two years.

Analysis: Sayles remains Hollywood's go-to man for script doctoring, but hasn't really had a hit with his own directing efforts since 1996's "Lone Star". "Amigo" hopes to change that, this passion project is based on the nearly 1000-page historical fiction novel "Some Time in the Sun" which Sayles spent years writing. Profits from it raised the funds for this micobudgeted $1.2 million film adaptation originally titled "Baryo" and shot in April on the island province of Bohol.

Yet festival screenings have yielded mixed responses, reviews praising the historical accuracies but proving much more divided on the performances and politics of the piece. No U.S. distributor has yet been locked down and one wonders if this will see a theatrical release of any kind.

image

Anonymous
Opens: September 30th 2011
Cast: Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Roland Emmerich

Summary: A political thriller about who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare-- Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford-- set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her.

Analysis: Having destroyed the world countless times over in big-budget disaster epics like "Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow," "Godzilla" and "2012", filmmaker Roland Emmerich is trying a change of pace with this "political thriller" exploring the Oxfordian theory that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real author of Shakespeare's plays. That authorship issue is set against the backdrop of the failed coup by Essex and the political turmoil at the end of the Elizabethan age.

"Band of Brothers" and "A Mighty Heart" scribe John Orloff actually penned the script for this back in 1998. While it received strong reviews, the project never took off because "Shakespeare in Love" had just been released. Then back in 2005 Emmerich read the script and the pair did further research and revision before finally getting the green light to go ahead and film it this year. Emmerich himself says his past financial successes allowed him essentially carte blanche on this $30 million project in terms of letting him cast whom he wants and being able to film the script without studio interference.

Emmerich's FX work has come in handy as all but one of the many exterior shots in the film is being done entirely with green screen and a computer-animated late 16th century recreation of London to be used throughout. Interiors were shot in Berlin on seventy hand-built sets and Orloff claims in an interview that while the movie "takes it as a given that he [Shakespeare] did not write the plays", the film is "stunningly accurate" in terms of historical events and the period recreation.

Yet "Anonymous" also incorporates the far more dubious 'Prince Tudor' theory that de Vere was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth I. Emmerich himself says in an interview that "When Shakespeare wrote 'Henry V', he made things up and we’re making things up too." Orloff says in the same piece "there is a point where you have to go with the emotional truth, not the literal truth, because the drama is the primary concern." Stunningly accurate huh?

Given more serious subject matter in the past, Emmerich proved himself a robust director with "The Patriot". Whatever the quality of this, it has already sparked op-ed pieces and quotes from professors and actors alike - talk that will only grow in the lead-up to the film's release.

image

Apollo 18
Opens: March 4th 2011
Cast: Unknown
Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego

Summary: The story revolves around recently “found footage” shot by the crew of an abandoned moon mission that NASA claims never took place in the early 1970s. The footage reveals the existence of alien life and explains why the agency has hidden the evidence for all of these years.

Analysis: Another very low-budget 'found footage' style feature (ala. "Paranormal Activity," "Blair Witch Project"), this one works on the interesting sci-fi posit that evidence of alien life on the moon affected the future of the space program. Rushing into production this month, there's essentially no real facts out about this other than "Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov is producing and Dimension Films is pushing hard to get this done and in cinemas by March.

Yet there are causes for concern. These low budget, pseudo-doco style films seem to be on the wane, neither the recent well-received "Monsters" of the utterly panned "Skyline" set the box-office alight. The writer is an unknown, though one review says the script is better than that of Dark Castle's similar rival project "Dark Moon".

The cast is REALLY unknown at this point (they're still being locked down), and the little known director had the thankless job of taking over from a visual effects guru who'd previously been slated to direct. Still, the Weinsteins seem high on this project which hopefully means there's something here worth checking out.

image

The Apparition
Opens: September 9th 2011
Cast: Tom Felton, Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Julianna Guill, Luke Pasqualino
Director: Todd Lincoln

Summary: A young couple are haunted by a scary ghost-like form, apparently brought into existence by students testing a whole new form of science. Who will help them escape the terrifying apparition?

Analysis: Dark Castle's horror entry for this year is a sci-fi meets haunted house tale that takes its inspiration from "Paranormal Activity," "Poltergeist" and "Flatliners" - with the plot following a couple being terrorised in their home by something unleashed after a university parapsychology experiment goes awry. Producer Joel Silver says that despite being shot in Berlin, the setting is around a cul-de-sac in LA's San Fernando Valley in an area where a lot of houses didn’t ever get finished (an unformed neighbourhood of sorts). Their aim is to be "really, really scary", taking the setup of films like 'Paranormal' and then pushing it beyond into something darker.

Filmmaker Lincoln is an unknown, this marks his screenwriting and directorial debut. The young cast though is surprisingly pretty good, the best actress of the "Twilight" films, Ashley Greene, makes her debut in a leading role here opposite one of my favourite young actors Sebastian Stan ("Kings," "Gossip Girl," "Hot Tub Time Machine," "Black Swan") who'll hopefully hit it big this year as the sidekick of "Captain America". Brits Tom Felton, best known for playing Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" series, and "Skins" star Luke Pasqualino are also good choices to have onboard.

One thing this thankfully won't be is overly gory. Greene mentioned in a roundtable interview earlier this year that "It's not going to be that slash-gore movie. It's that thing that just scares you to the core, and it's terrifying. The way that I can best explain it is that we do everything that a normal person would do. Everyone is going to watch it and say, 'Do this!' And that's what we're going to do. Unfortunately, it doesn't solve things, and we're still having to deal with them. I think that's the scariest part, is when you do everything that you should do and you still end up ruined." Sounds like good fun to me.

image

Arthur
Opens: 2011
Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Nick Nolte, Greta Gerwig
Director: Jason Winer

Summary: Arthur is a drunken playboy and heir to a vast fortune which he is told will only be his if he marries a woman he doesn't love but whom his family expects will make something of him. Arthur proposes but then meets a girl with no money who he could easily fall in love with.

Analysis: The original multi-award winning 1981 Dudley Moore comedy is still considered a classic in various circles, so the idea of remaking it seems as heretical as another version of "Tootsie" or "Caddyshack". These three were classics in their day that are still hilarious even now, but nonetheless are very much products of their time.

The point of a remake is to take the original premise and explore new tangents or reconfigure it in a way that doesn't just work for contemporary audiences, but hopefully improves upon the flaws of the original. "Arthur" isn't everyone's cup of tea, I'm not the biggest fan of it myself I admit, but it did exploit its premise to full effect and did so with a style that nabbed it two Oscars - something very few studio comedies can claim.

So now comes the inevitable remake with Russell Brand in the starring role. Brand's schtick has quickly become old and yet oddly enough people still keep hiring him, much like Jack Black. Playing the role of a drunken rich prat allows him to turn up his obnoxious-meter all the way up, which fans will adore but will likely turn away anyone else with even a remote interest. What new angle can be brought to this premise? Why remake a property with a star whose fanbase is mostly made up of those who've probably never heard of the original?

If there's one consolation it's that he's surrounded by some top notch talent. Helen Mirren takes over from John Gielguld in the role of Arthur's butler. Rising star Greta Gerwig is the love interest while Jennifer Garner and Luis Guzmán add strong support. Actor-turned-filmmaker Jason Winer, who has directed many episodes of breakout hit comedy series "Modern Family", is at the helm. Peter Baynham, who penned "Borat" and "Bruno" along with Brit comedies "Big Train," "I'm Alan Partridge" and "The Day Today", wrote the update which should ensure some biting and darker laughs than we may expect. I'll wait until a trailer comes out, for now though this holds little interest.

image

Arthur Christmas
Opens: November 23rd 2011
Cast: James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton
Director: Barry Cook

Summary: 'So how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?' The answer: Santa's exhilarating, ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole. Inside is a family in a state of comic dysfunction and an unlikely hero, Arthur, with an urgent mission that must be completed before Christmas morning dawns.

Analysis: The first feature effort from "Wallace and Gromit" creators Aardman Animation since the well-received but far too expensive "Flushed Away" got washed down the sewer at the box-office back in 2006. An early trailer released the other week, a full year out from release, shows this to be at least a bit more promising than some of the other family-orientated CG movies due out next year. Backed by a cast of great British actors, the project is helmed by Barry Cook, originally an effects animator for Disney throughout the 80's and 90's who graduated to direct Disney's solid "Mulan" back in 1998.

Most exciting are the writers attached who specialise in some of the best British comedies of the past decade. Sarah Smith, who cut her teeth as a producer on "The League of Gentlemen" and "The Armando Iannucci Shows", is serving as co-director and co-writer on the project. She's being helped by Peter Baynham, who penned the screenplays for "Borat" and "Brüno" along with many episodes of "I'm Alan Partridge". Hopefully the pair will bring some freshness to a tale that could be far too sickly sweet in the wrong hands.

image

Atlas Shrugged: Part One
Opens: April 15th 2011
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, Graham Beckel, Edi Gathegi
Director: Paul Johansson

Summary: Dagny Taggart, a railroad heiress, tries to save her company and faces increasingly corrupt government, her incompetent brother, and the systematic loss of her best workers. She soon suspects a sinister force working against her as a country-wide helplessness is spurred by the phrase – “Who is John Galt?”.

Analysis: The first attempts at an adaptation of Ayn Rand's 1957 magnum opus began long before I was born. In 1972 Albert S. Ruddy wanted to film a version, Rand refused. Rand approved NBC's proposed eight-hour mini-series back in 1978 but the network scrapped it. Rand attempt to adapt her own work into a script in the early 80's, but died with only one-third of it complete. Her student was given the rights but knocked back one attempt. In 1992 he sold the rights to entrepreneur John Aglialoro who retains them to this day.

Aglialoro himself oversaw an attempted TNT mini-series in 1999 which fell through after the AOL/Time Warner merger, while in 2004 another film version fell apart - that version had the likes of Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron linked. Things changed earlier this year as Aglialoro realised the studios weren't going to get a film into production in time before the deadline on his ownership of the rights ran out. Thus in May this year came the announcement about this independently financed, first of a planned trilogy of films based on the property which would begin production on June 13th, literally two days before Aglialoro's deadline.

With a budget said to be around $10 million, only five weeks of filming and no major stars - the obvious concern is that of quality. Actor Stephen Polk was originally slated to direct but was replaced at the last minute by "One Tree Hill" actor Paul Johansson whose only directing credits so far include twelve episodes of that teen drama and the TV movie "The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie". The lead role of Dagny Taggart (a name that always conjures up the image of Dabney Coleman in my mind for some reason) ultimately went to little known but quickly rising Taylor Schilling, the female lead of NBC's short-lived hospital drama "Mercy" and the upcoming Zac Efron-led Nicholas Sparks adaptation "The Lucky One".

Aglialoro has indicated that one of the main reasons for doing this film independently is that he's keen on staying as true to the novel as he can, whereas studios wanted to make some obvious changes. Staying true in this case could be detrimental. For all its popularity and status, 'Atlas' is also a famously self-indulgent exercise in literary masturbation. Rand uses a flimsy narrative mixed with colourful prose to incorporate her passionate if misguided thesis for objectivism - essentially a form of unbridled and unrestrained capitalism where self-interest is the only real rule. Gore Vidal, a man far more wise than either you or me, famously called it "nearly perfect in its immorality" - and this is the man who penned the oft-banned "Caligula".

Getting people excited about a film that celebrates this philosophy could be hard, especially considering it asks people to sympathise and champion big business CEOs - those whose unrestrained greed caused the recent global financial crisis. The material is extraordinarily difficult on its own to adapt, for example the big climax is a speech over seventy pages long, and the man given the unenviable task is Brian Patrick O’Toole whose most notable work to date is as writer/producer on low-budget schlock like "Evilution" and "Cemetery Gates". O'Toole mentioned in a forum posting that this film adapts the first 336 pages of the book and he did his "best to stay true to the spirit of Ayn Rand's novel".

It's a noble sentiment but can't hide the fact that this is one project that probably should've stayed on the shelf a bit longer. A book of this scale and ambition deserves a film of equal size and balls, what we're getting is something that's been heavily compromised and rushed into production to meet a legal deadline. Aglialoro may yet surprise us, but what's not surprising is that with the low budget on offer, the first photos from the film are decidedly unimpressive and have a very TV movie feel to them. Whether this is seen as a bold vision or an absolute trainwreck, it'll be interesting to watch nonetheless.

image

Bad Teacher
Opens: June 17th 2011
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Molly Shannon
Director: Jake Kasdan

Summary: A comedy centered around a foul-mouthed, junior high teacher who, after being dumped by her sugar daddy, begins to woo a colleague -- a move that pits her against a well-loved teacher.

Analysis: Sony is confident enough in this comedy they moved it from a quiet April 1st release to slap bang in the middle of Summer on June 17th where it goes up against superhero juggernaut "Green Lantern". The premise is decent, especially if they retain the R-rated dark edge of the original script, and it's nice to see a studio comedy where the lead female character is allowed to be a bit of a bitch.

They've a solid director in the form of Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard," "The TV Set," "Orange County") who helms from a script by the duo whose only major credits are the odious Jack Black comedy "Year One" and a "Ghostbusters III" script that's not ready for production. That's the obvious downside, and a script review earlier this year indicated a previous draft took a decidedly strange turn in the final act that doesn't fit, hopefully that's a problem they've resolved.

More exciting is the strong supporting cast - Jason Segel gets what is said to be the film's best role as Diaz's roommate, while there's strong support from the likes of John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon, Thomas Lennon, Eric Stonestreet and Justin Timberlake as various other teachers. Diaz is fine given the right material, and her playing the schemer trying to steal the man from the lovely and innocent Punch marks a nice role reversal from her work in "My Best Friend's Wedding".

image

Barney's Version
Opens: January 14th 2011
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman
Director: Richard J. Lewis

Summary: Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) is a seemingly ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life. Barney's candid confessional spans three decades and two continents, and includes three wives, one outrageous father and a dangerously dissolute best friend.

Analysis: After thirteen years of development, the film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s final novel is finally making its debut in a few weeks following its premiere a few months ago at the Toronto Film Festival. Producer Robert Lantos reportedly went through several different writers, including Richler himself and two Oscar winners, with ultimately little known Canadian television writer Michael Konyves finally nailing a draft Lantos was happy with. "The book is extremely difficult to adapt. It’s sprawling in nature, [has] a huge cast of characters, with flashbacks and flash-forwards, and it’s narrated by this character who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s" said Lantos in an interview earlier this year.

Armed with a $28 million budget and a stellar cast, reviews out of Toronto were decidedly mixed with the performances in particular praised, but the rather straightforward and linear approach to the adaptation seen as a disappointment. Clocking in at over two hours with a rather despicable lead character and a tone that's all over the place apparently hasn't done the film any favours, the likely blame going on newbie scribe Konyves and TV director Lewis. This might explain why the film isn't getting much in the way of a big push for awards consideration beyond Giamatti's performance. Filmmakers David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan also make cameos which might be fun though.

image

Battle: Los Angeles
Opens: March 11th 2011
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo
Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Summary: When Earth is attacked by unknown forces and the world's great cities fall, Los Angeles becomes the last stand for mankind in a battle no one expected. It's up to a Marine staff sergeant and his new platoon to draw a line in the sand as they take on an enemy unlike any they've ever encountered before.

Analysis: Also known as "World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles" outside the U.S. to try and get us pesky foreigners onboard for the ride - thank you condescending focus group pricks. Presently the $100 million Sony-backed 'Battle' is famous more for its legal dispute over the $20 million indie "Skyline" than on its own. For those not up on the case, the visual effects company Hydraulx, which did the visuals for 'Battle', also produced "Skyline" on its own dime before Universal picked it up.

Both are films about aliens invading Los Angeles, both feature lots of handicam visuals to try and convey 'gritty realism', and "Skyline" locked in a release date several months before 'Battle'. Sony was understandably upset by this, and probably grew more concerned when the reviews for "Skyline" utterly savaged it while the worldwide gross thus far isn't a particularly crow-worthy $47 million.

Since then the mood has changed. The first few trailers for 'Battle' came out and are impressive, with a decidedly different visual style and some rather intriguing looking mechanical aliens. There's a slightly better director, Jonathan Liebsman, and certainly a better writer in the form of Christopher Bertolini ("The General's Daughter") with some uncredited work by Shane Black.

Yet the use of shaky cam, a trend that thankfully seems to be dying, is already annoying in the previews alone. Attempts by marketing to link it to a real life 'post war nerves' incident that actually took place in L.A. is utterly laughable, even the setting itself seems decidedly cliche - so much so that you could dedicate a whole genre to films that destroy Los Angeles via some disaster. I like the cast and the choice to release a big old action epic at that time of year, but Sony is going to have to improve upon what's there if it hopes of selling the film not just outside North America but inside it as well.

image

Beastly
Opens: March 18th 2011
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris
Director: Daniel Barnz

Summary: A spoiled rich kid is cursed by a girl who turns him into a hideous figure. His only solution is for someone to fall in love with him, and he tries to force it by making the daughter of an addict he has power over live with him.

Analysis: A teen gothic romance take on "Beauty and the Beast", this is a film tailor made for young women. An arrogant sleaze with a rippling six pack whom the girl manages to tame into a kind-hearted man devoted to them? Check. A touch of the supernatural to give it a slightly dark and forbidden (but still safe) edge? Check. A non-threatening tween starlet whom they can empathise with? Yep.

Early last year CBS films kicked off a very visible online marketing campaign eiyh trailer and photo launches making impacts on social networks across cyberspace. It was uninspiring, showing off something that looked more akin to a TV movie for The CW, certainly something that felt distinctly soft-pedalled. Scheduled to open July 30th, CBS did the smart move and pushed it back to the far less competitive slot of March this year. At the time they cited the reasoning being the Zac Efron fantasy-drama "Charlie St. Cloud" opening the same week and fans were complaining that "Zac and Vanessa's movies [were] opening on the same day". Sigh.

To be fair though the fledgling distributor has refocused its campaign, playing up the darker elements of the story in more recent trailers and keeping just enough clips and previews out there to keep the awareness up but without pushing so much as to become annoying. Its only danger now lies in the one real piece of competition it has that month which opens the week before - Catherine Hardwicke's more interesting looking "Red Riding Hood". For those of us who don't speak fluent BellaSwan-ian, the only saving grace in the previews is the potential comic relief from Neil Patrick Harris as a blind tutor.

The Complete Notable Films of 2011 Guide

Part One: 5 Days of August, 11-11-11, 13 Assassins, 30 Minutes or Less, Abduction, The Adjustment Bureau, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Albert Nobbs, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Amigo, Anonymous, Apollo 18, The Apparition, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Atlas Shrugged: Part One, Bad Teacher, Barney's Version, Battle: Los Angeles, Beastly

Part Two: The Beaver, Beginners, Bel Ami, Bernie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, The Big Year, Black Gold, Blackthorn, The Black Tulip, Blitz, Born to Be a Star, The Borrower Arrietty, Bridesmaids, Brighton Rock, Butter, The Cabin in the Woods, Caesar: Rise of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2

Part Three: Catch .44, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Ceremony, Certified Copy, Chalet Girl, The Change-Up, Clean Skin, The Cold Light of Day, Cold Weather, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, The Conspirator, Contagion, The Convincer, Coriolanus, Courageous, Cowboys and Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love, The Cup

Part Four: Damsels in Distress, A Dangerous Method, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Deep Blue Sea, The Descendants, The Details, The Devil's Double, Dibbuk Box, The Dilemma, Dolphin Tale 3D, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, Drive, Drive Angry 3D, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, The Eagle, Even the Rain, Every Day, Everything Must Go, The Eye of the Storm

Part Five: The Factory, Fast Five, The Fields, Final Destination 5, Flypaper, Footloose, Friends with Benefits, Friends with Kids, Fright Night, From Prada to Nada, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gnomeo and Juliet 3D, Goon, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Griff the Invisible, The Guard, Guns Girls and Gambling, Hall Pass

Part Six: The Hangover: Part Two, Hanna, Happy Feet 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two, Haywire, A Heartbeat Away, The Help, Henry's Crime, HERE, Higher Ground, Hobo with a Shotgun, Homework, Hop, Horrible Bosses, The Housemaid, House of My Father, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Hugo Cabret, The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, The Hunter

Part Seven: I Am Number Four, I Melt With You, The Ides of March, Immortals, The Impossible, In A Better World, Incendies, The Innkeepers, Insidious, Intruders, In Your Hands, Ironclad, Jack and Diane, Jack and Jill, Jane Eyre, Jeff Who Lives At Home, Johnny English Reborn, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Jumping the Broom, Just Go With It, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Part Eight: Kaboom, The Killer Elite, Killer Joe, Kill The Irishman, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Lady, Larry Crowne, Last Night, The Ledge, Life in a Day, Like Crazy, Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer, Little Birds, A Little Bit of Heaven, Little White Lies, Live With It, London Boulevard, The Loneliest Planet, Love and Bruises, The Lucky One

Part Nine: Machine Gun Preacher, Mad Bastards, Man on a Ledge, The Man with the Iron Fist, Margin Call, Mars Needs Moms!, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Mechanic, Meek's Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, The Mill and the Cross, Miral, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Monk, Monte Carlo, Mother's Day, Movie 43, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Muppets

Part Ten: My Idiot Brother, My Week with Marilyn, Neds, New Year's Eve, No Strings Attached, Now, Of Gods and Men, On the Road, One Day, One for the Money, Oranges and Sunshine, The Other Woman, Paranormal Activity 3, Passion Play, Paul, Peace Love and Misunderstanding, Peep World, Perfect Sense, Piranha 3DD, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Project X

Part Eleven: Prom, Puss in Boots, Rampart, Rango, The Raven, Real Steel, Red Dawn, Red Dog, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Red Tails, Restless, Retreat, Rio, Route Irish, The Rum Diary, Safe, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Salvation Boulevard, Say Nothing

Part Twelve: Scream 4, A Serbian Film, Serge Gainsbourg: A Life Heroic, Shame, Shaolin, Shark Night 3D, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Shelter, The Silent House, The Sitter, The Skin That I Inhabit, Sleeping Beauty, The Smurfs, Snabba Cash, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Snowtown, Soldiers of Fortune, Something Borrowed, Son of No One, Soul Surfer

Part Thirteen: Source Code, Space Battleship Yamato, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, Straw Dogs, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Take Shelter, Take This Waltz, Ten Year, There Be Dragons, The Thing, The Three Musketeers, This Means War, This Must Be The Place, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tower Heist

SHARE: