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The Notable Films of 2011: Part Four

By Garth Franklin Monday December 27th 2010 11:58PM

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Damsels in Distress
Opens: 2011
Cast: Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Ryan Metcalf
Director: Whit Stillman

Summary: The story revolves around a group of style-obsessed college girls who take in a new student (Gerwig) and teach her their misguided ways of helping people at their grungy university.

Analysis: The first film in a decade from arthouse darling Whit Stillman, a filmmaker's filmmaker whose three Manhattan-based, yuppie-themed mannerist comedies - "Metropolitan," "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco" - were a big influence on the likes of auteurs such as Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Stillman says this film varies somewhat from his previous trilogy of sorts, telling First Things that "This film is different, Completely different. Okay, not completely different, but it’s different".

Independently financed by Castle Rock CEO Martin Shafer, the project recently wrapped filming in Manhattan where Stillman returned to last year after having spent much of the past decade in Paris. In Europe he worked on several scripts that never took off including an adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel "Little Green Men", the 60's Jamaica-set "Dancing Mood" and the Francis Marion biopic "The Swamp Fox".

There's talk that Stillman's onscreen good luck charm, actor Chris Eigeman, might make a cameo in this but if he does it won't be as any of his previous characters. Stillman won't confirm anything much about the project and is highly secretive in regards to it, which is why there's no materials for it or even paparazzi set photos which is a rarity. No word yet on a release either, though a splashy festival debut seems a certainty.

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A Dangerous Method
Opens: 2011
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
Director: David Cronenberg

Summary: Set on the eve of World War I, the story is based on the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, the troubled but beautiful young woman who comes between them.

Analysis: It seems fitting that a story about two of the most influential figures in the endeavour of understanding the human mind is being told by a filmmaker who earned his reputation on some of the most psychologically f*cked up movies ever made. Certainly one of my most keenly anticipated films of next year, Cronenberg's €15 million historical biopic about the birth of psychoanalysis marks the helmer's third collaboration with Viggo Mortensen after the brilliant "A History of Violence" and the strong "Eastern Promises".

Here, Cronenberg is helped by a stellar supporting cast; on location filming in the likes of Vienna, Cologne and Berlin; and a screenplay adapted by Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play "The Talking Cure". The play itself was based on a 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr entitled "A Most Dangerous Method" which is where the film's title comes from.

Cronenberg has reinvented himself in recent years from a master of venereal horror to more mature and accessible dramatic works. Here he tackles a setup which some have already compared to his earlier twisted medical tale "Dead Ringers", however don't expect much in the way of gynecological terror this time out as apparently it's "like nothing he’s ever done before" said actor Vincent Cassel in a recent interview. Cassel added that what will be seen will be more 'fun' than we might expect, but whatever tone it sets I'm extremely curious about this one.

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The Darkest Hour
Opens: August 5th 2011
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnama
Director: Chris Gorak

Summary: The story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack.

Analysis: Seventy years ago Winston Churchill used that titular phrase in the days before the Nazi army crossed into Russian territory. Now it aptly fits an invasion of a different kind, one where the jackbooted soldiers and German tanks have been replaced by aliens and destructive spacecraft in Summit's $40 million action thriller said to be in the style of "28 Days Later" and shot natively in 3D.

The last release in a wave of alien invasion films of late that began with "Skyline" and continues with "Battle Los Angeles" and "Apollo 18" next year, the big selling point of 'Hour' is the setting. Aside from the various attacks that seem to kick off in the UK in "Doctor Who", films and shows about alien forces attempting to gain a foothold on Earth have always been set either primarily or completely within the United States. Here, both the film's production and the onscreen action takes place entirely in Russia.

The project is helmed by Chris Gorak ("Right at Your Door"), a former production designer and art director turned filmmaker who also penned the currently shooting "Man on a Ledge". Here he's heavily supported by "Night Watch" and "Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov who is producing and supervising the shoot at his personal studio Bazelevs in Moscow. Though much of Eastern Europe has become a filmmaking mecca since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hollywood hasn't made much use of Russia as a filming locale which means at least there's a chance of some fresh visuals and location work beyond the confines of Red Square.

The film has been written by three scribes, one (Jon Spaihts) did the script for Ridley Scott's upcoming "Alien" prequel, the other (Leslie Bohem) penned the likes of "Dante's Peak," "The Alamo," "Daylight" and the upcoming "Real Steel". The cast is a healthy international mix of two Yanks (Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby), a Brit (Max Minghella) and an Aussie (Rachael Taylor) in the leading roles with local talent filling out the rest of the cast.

Production was suspended for a planned two weeks due to the extraordinary air pollution caused by heavy smoke from the wild fires surrounding Moscow in August 2010. It eventually resumed three weeks later, and the release date has been unaffected. Coming out late Summer, it will suffer comparisons with the other films of this type opening next year, let us hope it's different enough to distinguish itself.

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The Debt
Opens: 2011
Cast: Sam Worthington, Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Martin Csokas
Director: John Madden

Summary: In 1965, three young Israeli Mossad agents on a secret mission capture and kill a notorious Nazi war criminal. Now, thirty years later, a man claiming to be the Nazi has surfaced in the Ukraine and the former agents must go back undercover to seek out the truth.

Analysis: A victim of the delays pertaining to Miramax's closure and change of ownership, this remake of Assaf Bernstein's acclaimed 2007 Israeli film apparently sticks fairly close to its originator with just a slight polish by Peter Straughan ("The Men Who Stare at Goats") and Matthew Vaughn ("Kick Ass," "Stardust") to adjust it for Western audiences. Director John Madden shot this in London & Hungary almost two years ago and early last year it looked like this was being setup as a potential awards candidate with a release being targeted for this week in fact.

Plans changed however after a bow at the Toronto Film Festival yielded mixed reviews. Madden's direction, the performance by Jessica Chastain, and the story were well received. The opening hour in particular was praised for creating tension and suspense even during a long stretch set entirely within a small apartment. However the last act is said to have some big credibility issues and a love triangle subplot that doesn't work. While it may not be awards worthy, it still seems to be considered an above average thriller that's worth checking out - that is one day when it's finally scheduled for a release by whomever now owns it.

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The Deep Blue Sea
Opens: 2011
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Hadden-Paton
Director: Terence Davies

Summary: Hester Collyer is the middle-aged trophy wife of a high court judge in 1950 who begins a self-destructive affair with a traumatized RAF World War II fighter pilot pilot turned alcoholic who shows her the meaning of true passion. When he walks out on her, the now smitten Hester takes a drastic course of action.

Analysis: Acclaimed British filmmaker Terence Davies ("The House of Mirth," "Of Time and the City") tackles the historical romance genre with this effort based on the 1952 play by late scribe Terence Rattigan ("Goodbye Mr.Chips," "Brighton Rock"). Having literally just wrapped filming last week in the UK, the project will spend much of next year in post production and could well get a Fall release with either a Toronto premiere and/or a late year awards qualifying run on the cards.

The play itself became infamous at the time for its controversial depiction of female sexual awakening, the turning point of the whole play revolves around Hester experiencing her first orgasm, in a period before women's liberation and the sexual revolution rendered the topic far less taboo. The 50's was a time of an overly simplified moralistic society which punished those for love that was either excessive or different, something that still happens in many places today. As a result, much of what was able to be shown was only allowed to be implied which hampered previous film adaptations to some extent.

Several decades on however it can be much more overt, and with the skilled Davies in charge it'll no doubt push boundaries without becoming tacky or tasteless. Some great actress have played the role on stage including Peggy Ashcroft, Penelope Wilton, Isabel Dean, Blythe Danner, Harriet Walter, Greta Scacchi and even "To The Manor Born" actress Penelope Keith (I hope she didn't call out "Brabinger" during the bedroom scenes). Here it's one of our great modern actresses, Rachel Weisz, in the role opposite stage legend Simon Russell Beale as her husband. Rising newcomer Tom Hiddleston, who makes a strong impression in the BBC "Wallander" TV movies and is the villain in "Thor", plays the pilot. Definitely sounds like it'll have a lot of potential.

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The Descendants
Opens: 2011
Cast: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster
Director: Alexander Payne

Summary: Matt King is an indifferent husband and father of two girls forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. Learning that his wife had been unfaithful, he takes their daughters, ages 17 and 10, on a road trip to find her lover as he considers selling the family's land handed down to him from Hawaiian royalty.

Analysis: Alexander Payne's first feature film since 2004's acclaimed "Sideways", there's a lot of good will riding on this after Payne's previous works, including "About Schmidt" and "Election", were so well received. Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and shot on-location in Honolulu earlier this year, George Clooney takes on the lead role which at one point comedian Louis C.K. apparently auditioned for - talk about a wide casting net.

Payne is apparently taking his time in post-production and doesn't plan to be finished until about February. An extended interview reveals that Clooney and the two girls are the only major roles in the film with everyone else literally small but important cameos from Lillard as the lothario to Bridges and Forster as relations of Matt's.

Payne, who has confirmed that he intends to use 100% Hawaiian music throughout, calls it a "family drama with comedy touches". However there's enough adult themes that he expects distributor Fox Searchlight won't be planning a release until next Fall where it'll undoubtedly come up for awards consideration. By that time he'll probably be at work on his next project which is said to be an adaptation of Denis Hamill's "Fork in the Road".

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The Details
Opens: 2011
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Tobey Maguire, Laura Linney, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes

Summary: When a family of raccoons discover worms living underneath the sod in Jeff and Nealy's backyard, this pest problem begins a darkly comic and wild chain reaction of domestic tension, infidelity and murder.

Analysis: A rather strange sounding "Fargo"-esque black comedy from "Mean Creek" writer/director Estes that's premiering at Sundance in January, early reviews should hopefully give us some proper insight into what in the world this is all about. There's a strong cast on hand which includes not only the names above but "True Blood" shapeshifter Sam Trammell and former "24" President Dennis Haysbert.

Maguire replaced James McAvoy in the lead, a bit of a downgrade but not enough to affect the overall picture. Certainly Laura Linney cast as an eccentric neighbor is reason enough to get excited, though other plot descriptions to come through indicate elements of bed-hopping infidelity, organ donation, cat murder and archery all configure into the story somehow.

The project did suffer a slight delay due to some financial trouble, but it was quickly resolved and everything was completed in Seattle back in mid-2009. Estes scored a lot of deserved love for "Mean Creek", so will be interesting to see if the reaction out of Park City in a few weeks time will be the same.

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The Devil's Double
Opens: 2011
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast, Raad Rawi, Dar Salim
Director: Lee Tamahori

Summary: 1980's Baghdad, the playground for the rich and infamous like Uday Hussein, the sadistic son of leader Saddam, whose depraved lust for debauchery and immorality are indulged at every turn. Into this world is thrust army lieutenant Latif Yahia who is forced to become Uday's 'fiday' - his body double, or have his family condemned to death.

Analysis: An Iraq-set "Scarface" rather than another tedious treatise on the moral dilemmas/depression of those who served in the war, 'Double' is far more an entertainment driven piece than potential awards bait despite its premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival. Shot early this past year in Malta and based on Latif Yahia's two books, this has been described as a gangster movie, not a biopic, about a psychopath with near unlimited power and the innocent guy caught up in his wake.

The backdrop is Baghdad before (and during) the first Gulf War, a time when the wealthy Ba'athist ruling class lived in opulence amidst the overwhelming poverty of the masses. Michael Thomas ("Ladyhawke," "Backbeat," "Scandal") penned the script while Lee Tamahori ("Die Another Day," "XXX: State of the Union") is helming the film which, though not heavily politicised, will depict some of the darkest and often least reported elements of the Hussein regime.

"We're telling a soft story compared to what I've heard about this guy" says Tamahori of Saddam's brutish son Uday. Both Uday and Latif are played by rising "Mamma Mia" and "An Education" star Dominic Cooper. It's not the only unusual casting choice here as amongst others there's French actress Ludivine Sagnier, and Australian veteran Philip Quast as Saddam himself. It's definitely a curious project, reviews out of Sundance however will play a big factor in determining whether this'll be worth catching.

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Dibbuk Box
Opens: October 28th 2011
Cast: Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis
Director: Ole Bornedal

Summary: Based on a true story. Clyde Breneck and his 10-year-old daughter Em purchase an antique box at a yard sale. When Em opens the box, she accidentally releases an ancient spirit that has one goal: to devour her. Her father must work with his ex-wife to put an end to the curse.

Analysis: Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures has been pretty quiet in recent years, mostly producing dire direct to video sequels to their earlier work. Now, they're back two years on from "Drag Me To Hell" with this spook tale based on an LA Times article by Leslie Gornstein.

Said article tells the story of the events surrounding a Dibbuk box, the commonly-used name of a wine cabinet which is supposedly haunted by a Jewish spirit known as a Dybbuk. Details on the apparent legend are up at Dibbukbox.com, but essentially the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor sold it a decade ago and since then its been something of a jinx to those who've owned it.

Ole Bornedal, who helmed the acclaimed "Deliver Us from Evil", the well received Danish serial killer thriller "Night Watch" and its less well-received British remake, directs this $12.5 million budgeted production which is about to begin filming shortly. Stephen Susco was originally hired to adapt the script, though the final credited writers are Juliet Snowden and Stiles White who both co-wrote the awful "Knowing" and "Boogeyman".

With the "Saw" franchise thankfully in its well deserved grave, Lionsgate quickly nabbed the distribution rights to this story to fill its Halloween release slot where it'll compete with Paramount's third "Paranormal Activity". It looks a little more interesting than the most recent "Saw" films, but frankly there's nothing particularly exciting here unless Bornedal is able to draw something special out of it.

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The Dilemma
Opens: January 14th 2011
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum
Director: Ron Howard

Summary: A man is unsure if he should tell his best friend and business partner that his wife is cheating on him with another man after catching them in the act.

Analysis: Filmmaker Ron Howard's first comedy since his take on "The Grinch", there has to be something more on the surface here than meets the eye. Aside from Kevin James, whom this marks a step up for, everyone else here seems far too talented to be wasted on a story that is throwaway at best.

Maybe it's something in the script by Allan Loeb ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," "Things We Lost in the Fire") that drew some big names, Connelly replaced Jennifer Garner in one role while Ryder beat out the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Carla Gugino and Uma Thurman for her part. Whatever the case, there's been a distinct whiff of bad odor surrounding this, long before the whole overblown gay joke controversy gave it a hell of a lot of free publicity.

The central premise is a joke, one made more unbelievable by pairing two guys with two women who're quite frankly way out of their league. Channing Tatum as the lothario and Queen Latifah in a supporting role are cute casting choices, but certainly not enough to sustain a film nearly two hours in length with an apparently problematic first act. I smell another "Couples Retreat" or "Four Christmases" coming on, a fact not helped by the poster which had Kevin James and Vince Vaughn airbrushed to the extent of rivalling the ladies on the "Sex and the City 2" one-sheet.

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Dolphin Tale 3D
Opens: September 23rd 2011
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble
Director: Charles Martin Smith

Summary: A boy befriends an injured dolphin who lost her tail in a crab trap. Through their bond and friendship, the boy motivates everyone around him to help save her by creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin's tail. The marine mammal's strong survival instincts become an inspiration to people with special needs throughout the world.

Analysis: Inspired by a true story at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, this family oriented feature wrapped filming only a fortnight ago after a shoot around various locations in Florida. Shot in 3D, not converted, the underwater sequences are said to be quite spectacular. Certainly the strong cast should generate more interest in this than the modestly budget effort would've attracted on its own.

Actor turned director Charles Martin Smith ("Air Bud") helms the project and says a major aim was to differentiate this from "Free Willy" despite the very similar subject matter. The handicap element was a big part of that, although it now has brought up comparisons to "How To Train Your Dragon" funnily enough. A September bow indicates a relatively quiet launch, hopefully this won't suffer the same fate of Rob Reiner's little seen family friendly "Flipped" this past Summer.

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Opens: 2011
Cast: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Garry McDonald
Director: Troy Nixey

Summary: A young girl moves into an old mansion that her father and his girlfriend are renovating. The girl soon finds a hidden basement with a sealed fireplace, behind which she hears voices that beg her to open it so they can be her friends. The creatures inside get out and start to torment Sally an plan to eventually take her down into the fireplace and their domain.

Analysis: There's something highly appealing about Gothic horror, those old-fashioned tales that are all about atmosphere, sound design, suggestion and unsettling dread. Slasher films and torture porn ruined much of the genre as it became much more about the visceral, but the best efforts of this field from the original "The Haunting of Hill House" to "The Innocents" still work superbly today.

In recent times though its been Spanish filmmakers that have been leading the charge in this field with the one-two blow of Alejandro Amenabar's superb "The Others" and Guillermo del Toro's delicious "The Devil's Backbone" almost a decade ago showing the genre still has plenty of fertile ground. del Toro went on to produce 2007's "The Orphanage" which used the formula well, and returns as producer for this remake of a surprisingly creepy 70's TV movie about a couple who move into a house with a previously sealed up basement fireplace populated by sinister small creatures tormenting the wife.

One of two great Gothic horror TV movies being remade this year, the other being a new version of the chilling 1989 British tale "The Woman in Black", 'Dark' was shot in Melbourne in mid-late 2009 under the helm of Troy Nixey. Nixey makes his feature filmmaking debut here, following on from his brilliant work with the animated short "Latchkey's Lament", and has managed to turn a film with a modest $12.5 million budget into something that looks like it cost considerably more.

Some of the plot elements have been changed, namely the couple is now a father, daughter and the father's new partner with the daughter becoming the target of the creatures. The creatures themselves have gone from looking like old school "Star Trek" villains to CG creations more akin to something out of a Lovecraft tome. Their small stature, sinister whispering and creepy scuttling is all still very much there and will likely be used to much greater effect thanks to the kind of money and talent on offer that a TV movie of the week in the 70's could only dream of having.

A teaser trailer showing off only a little footage proved very effective, while reviews from very early screenings have been raves and claim the filmmakers have achieved the aim they started out with - to make a genuinely frightening film. Originally aiming to be a PG-13, the MPAA awarded the film an R for 'pervasive scariness' and said the filmmakers essentially couldn't trim anything out. So they've kept it intact and thank god for that.

The only downside here is that the film was produced by Miramax, which means it became caught up in all the hassle of that sale. Now 'Dark' and "The Debt" mentioned above are sitting in vaults awaiting Filmyard's full takeover of Miramax. With both films currently unscheduled, there's no telling when this will hit theatres or what kind of release is planned. However having seen quite a bit of this production (I can't go into details just yet), I can definitely say this will be worth the wait.

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Dream House
Opens: September 30th 2011
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Gregory Smith
Director: Jim Sheridan

Summary: A successful New York publisher moves his wife and children to a New England town, where they buy the home of their dreams. But the dream is shattered when they learn that the previous tenants were murdered. The husband teams with a neighbor to learn the truth about the crime, and a killer who has made them the next target.

Analysis: Acclaimed Irish helmer Jim Sheridan ("In America," "Brothers") tries out the mystery thriller genre with this tale of digging into a small town crime. Apparently there's supernatural undertones with the house haunted by the victims of the crime. Specifics on the $60 million project are still uncertain, especially the film's tone, but the cast is a solid mix and Universal is planning a strong marketing push for it.

'Dream' was originally slated to open in February next year but got pushed back until the late Summer as two weeks of required reshoots couldn't take place until earlier this month. The reason? Craig has been committed to filming David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" adaptation and this month was his first opportunity to get back to this.

The film's writer, David Loucka, is mostly known for penning the 1996 comedy flop "Eddie". Since he sold his "Dream House" script however, he's become an in demand horror writer and is doing the script for the upcoming third "Ring" feature. Actor Gregory Smith briefly went on record about this film, saying his role is a punk rocker character and the leader of a group of young people who are obsessed with the crime and worship the killer in a Manson-like fashion.

I'm all for a good supernatural thriller, but the trouble is the good ones are few and far between. The plots are also fairly familiar, this one sounds like a fusion of "The Amityville Horror" and "What Lies Beneath", but I hope the presence of the likes of Sheridan, Craig and Watts indicate more substance than what we've come to expect from the genre.

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Drive
Opens: September 16th 2011
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Summary: The story follows a nameless Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a freelance getaway driver during robberies. When a bank heist goes wrong, he ends up on the run with a contract on his head and an ex-con’s girlfriend in his car.

Analysis: Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn is becoming a rising star thanks to acclaimed works like "Pusher," "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising" showing a exciting new voice and talent even if the story details aren't always on the ball (most notably in 'Valhalla'). It's no surprise that Hollywood has come calling and, though he was offered numerous high profile projects, Refn chose to move forward on this high-energy thriller.

Various people have been attached to at one point or another, one previous incarnation had Neil Marshall ("The Descent") slated to direct Hugh Jackman. Here though Refn has settled on a mix of superb talent like Gosling, Mulligan and Perlman rather than marquee names. "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston's role is presently unspecified, though perennial nice guy Albert Brooks apparently has a juicy villain role this time. "Mad Men" actress Christina Hendricks and rising actor Oscar Isaac ("Robin Hood," "Balibo") also have parts.

Hossein Amini ("The Four Feathers," "Jude," "Shanghai") penned the script, an adaptation of the James Sallis novel, and shooting kicked off earlier this Fall. With Refn involved, there's a lot of real potential here that will hopefully be explored, certainly it sounds ten times more exciting than the next entry in this guide.

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Drive Angry 3D
Opens: February 11th 2011
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, David Morse, Billy Burke, William Fichtner
Director: Patrick Lussier

Summary: A vengeful father hunts down the people who brutally killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby. As the chase gets bloodier by the mile, his rescue spins out of control, leaving bodies strewn along the highway.

Analysis: Budgeted at a surprisingly large $75 million and shot natively in 3D, this just looks down right silly, as if Nic Cage's "Ghost Rider" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" had a freakish baby together. There were rumours this would be toned down to a PG-13, but instead it's being promoted as a "balls to the wall, R rated" feature which will be one of the film's selling points beyond its two main co-stars, a 1969 Dodge Charger and a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle, which should get the auto-lovers of the audience aroused.

Editor turned filmmaker Patrick Lussier ("Dracula 2000") previously tackled 3D with the remake of "My Bloody Valentine", a movie mostly remembered for an extended scene of female frontal nudity. That film's writer Todd Farmer ("Jason X") also penned the script for this, a film where the villain of the piece is the enjoyable William Fichtner playing the devil's enforcer known as 'The Accountan0't. I kid you not, though to be fair it looks like the most fun role of the film.

The trailers released thus far, like this, indicate a film far too self-aware of its campiness and so goes way overboard in every way possible. That makes it a love it or leave it proposition, one you really have to be in the mood for (ie. preferably stoned) to enjoy.

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Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
Opens: 2011
Cast: Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Taye Diggs, Peter Stormare
Director: Kevin Munroe

Summary: In New Orleans, Dylan Dog is an ace detective whose specialty is paranormal cases. Now, he must deal with vampires, werewolves, zombies and a guardian of the Hell, due to a client's case. With the help of Marcus Adams, his un-dead assistant, he will have to preserve the sake of the Earth.

Analysis: Based on the Italian comic by Tiziano Sclavi, this $20 million independently produced horror/action film was shot early 2009 and finished a year ago. A March 18th Italian release is scheduled which means a U.S. release is likely being setup for around the same time.

Adapted by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, the project comes from director Kevin Munroe and marks his second feature after the lacklustre "TMNT" which attempted to revive the Turtles franchise and instead essentially buried it. The cast is decent and Routh is usually pretty good if a bit stiff at times.

First footage for this came from an Italian promotional trailer and looked disappointingly cheap, almost Syfy telemovie in filming style. Part of that is due to the toning down of the rather gory comic to a PG-13 film which has worn down much of the edge, leaving behind only a bland "Buffy" ripoff.

Screened at the AFM this year, a review at Dread Central gave it a 2/5 and that's a site predisposed to like this kind of movie. It's still early though, but the production's backers have some way to go if they hope this will make a splash outside the countries where the comic has an in-built fanbase.

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The Eagle
Opens: February 11th 2011
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, Tahar Rahim
Director: Kevin Macdonald

Summary: In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, a young centurion arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father who commanded the team.

Analysis: This time last year, late 2010 was shaping up to be a fight of duelling sword and sandal movies about the famed lost Ninth Legion. The first was "The Descent" director Neil Marshall's $12 million, blue-tinted, action-heavy chase movie "Centurion" starring Michael Fassbender which explores those svents. The second was this $20 million action/drama which, though bearing no direct relation with "Centurion", could easily serve as an unofficial sequel considering the storyline is set several decades later.

'Eagle' has a stronger pedigree with "The Last King of Scotland" and "State of Play" director Kevin Macdonald at the helm, and a script based on Rosemary Sutcliff's acclaimed 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" that is quite well-known. Macdonald intends his film to be more concerned with being historically authentic and an exploration of anti-imperialist themes, whereas Marshall's was more a take no prisoners thrill ride.

Then the game board changed. "Centurion" premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and scored mixed reviews. Poorer reaction followed from regular critics a month later as the movie went into wide release in the UK. As a result, the movie was essentially dumped in the final week of Summer in the U.S. and ultimately flopped at the box-office.

'Eagle' meanwhile, originally set to open a month later, got pushed back five months and had its title shortened from the original book title to just "The Eagle" - some amusing speculation had people mistaking it for a golfing movie on title alone. Most delays are usually due to issues with the movie, this however is one of the few cases where there wasn't any problems. Shot in Hungary and Scotland late 2009, the production scored worldwide distribution deals before a single frame was shot so there's lot of faith already about the film's quality.

An early trailer is promising if not particularly exciting, and it does show off a more serious Channing Tatum who is pushing to be taken more seriously as an actor this year with a healthy mix of blockbusters and solid indie dramas. Bell, Strong, Sutherland and Rahim in key supporting roles along with Macdonald's generally superb filmmaking skills make this one of the few pre-Summer mainstream films that holds some promise.

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Even the Rain
Opens: 2011
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, Karra Elejalde, Raul Arevalo
Director: Icíar Bollaín

Summary: Filmmaker Sebastian travels to Bolivia in 2000 to shoot a film about the Spanish conquest of America. They arrive during the tense time of the Cochabamba water crisis and the lines between past and present, fiction and film, become increasingly blurred.

Analysis: Spanish actress turned filmmaker Icíar Bollaín ("Take My Eyes," "Mataharis") returns with this fascinating and slightly meta story which is the official Spanish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars, beating out her fellow countrymen's efforts like "Celda 211" and "Lope". U.S. distributor Vitagraph Films made a rare acquisition picking this up, they only release 2-3 films a year and their last foreign purchase was Germany's "The Baader Meinhof Complex".

It's a film rich with metaphor and themes from runaway productions to the continued exploitation of Latin America by richer countries and multinational corporations who believe human rights should bow down to the almighty dollar. Bolivia is the poorest country on the South American continent, one of the reasons why the filmmakers in the story choose it because it's so cheap to film there.

As they make their movie about the Spanish conquistadors and their pillaging of the country centuries ago, the parallels with the present day events become pretty clear. In this case, the backdrop is Cochabamba Water Revolt in 2000 in Bolivia when the Government privatised the country's water supply and the cost jumped overnight by 300% (which inspired the plot for the hugely disappointing 2008 James Bond film "Quantum of Solace").

Reviews for this have been strong, the film apparently making its points just enough to avoid being labelled as either overbearing or too subtle. Gael Garcia Bernal's main character for example is deeply upset about the historical injustices but finds it far more difficult to be sympathetic to the modern plight when it interrupts his filming schedule and money becomes a major issue. It actually sounds quite fascinating, and certainly one to look out for.

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Every Day
Opens: January 14th 2011
Cast: Helen Hunt, Liev Schreiber, Carla Gugino, Ezra Miller, Brian Dennehy
Director: Richard Levine

Summary: A dissatisfied TV writer finds himself suffering a mid-life crisis. his teenage son has just come out of the closet, his younger son is scared of everything, a sexy female co-worker is tempting him, and his wife has moved her sick and embittered father from Detroit into their home in NY which adds stress to an already strained marriage.

Analysis: Former "Nip/Tuck" scribe Richard Levine's debut feature is an indie 'family in crisis' drama that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year to decent but unremarkable reviews.

Shot in just three weeks on a shoestring budget, one review describes it as a "low-key film about an average family dealing with average problems". There's nothing major at stake so it's said to feel more like episodic TV than a film, but Levine's writing and solid performances from Hunt and Schreiber apparently have a very lived in and realistic feeling to it.

Carla Gugino pops up as a free spirit and possible temptress, but you can kind of guess where that predictable storyline is going. Image Entertainment hasn't a lot of hope it would seem, throwing this out in limited release mid-January before a likely bigger push on DVD and Blu-ray just a few weeks later on March 8th.

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Everything Must Go
Opens: 2011
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Stephen Root, Michael Pena
Director: Dan Rush

Summary: Nicolas Halsey is having a bad day. He's been fired from his job of sixteen years, his wife has left him, his bank accounts are frozen, he's been locked out of his own house, and all of his worldly possessions on his front lawn. He has five days to clear his lawn and proceeds to setup a yard sale that will soon lead to a change in his life.

Analysis: 'Go' marks the debut filmmaking effort of writer/director Dan Rush, based on a short story by Raymond Carver whose works were big influences on films like Robert Altman's ensemble drama "Short Cuts" and the Laura Linney-led Australian thriller "Jindabyne". The script itself scored rave reviews and a BlackList placing in 2007, while the film premiered in Toronto and London earlier this year to generally positive reviews, though there have been some complaints about pacing.

It also marks a change for the normally manic Ferrell who dominates much of the screen time in this $8 million melancholic drama with some occasional darkly comic touches. It's a much lower-key endeavour than his most remarkable 'straight work' thus far in "Stranger Than Fiction", with several reviews saying Ferrell's performance is almost unrecognisable compared with his usual antics.

One of the nicer compliments it received was that it apparently tackles the issue of the lead character's battle with alcoholism without either "demonizing him for his addiction or letting him off the hook for his failings" says a review from Twitchfilm's Todd Brown. Yet one wonders if either Ferrell fans or indie cinema lovers will warm to a film where one of the two key ingredients - slow emotional character drama and Will Ferrell - seems to almost cancel out any interest they may have.

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The Eye of the Storm
Opens: 2011
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Charlotte Rampling, Robyn Nevin, Dustin Clare
Director: Fred Schepsi

Summary: Set in the Sydney suburb of Centennial Park in the 1970's. Two nurses, a housekeeper and a solicitor attend to Elizabeth Hunter as her expatriate son and daughter convene at her deathbed. But, in dying, as in living, Mrs. Hunter remains a powerful force on those who surround her.

Analysis: Acclaimed Australian filmmaker Fred Schepsi ("Roxanne," "Six Degrees of Separation") has kept relatively quiet in recent years with his last on screen directing effort being 2003's "It Runs in the Family". In 2008 he failed to get funding for the proposed Vietnam war feature "The Last Man" with Guy Pearce and David Wenham, and instead shifted his attention to this film adaptation of Patrick White's 1973 novel, a book so good it was the key to scoring the author a Nobel Prize for Literature.

It took some time but Schepsi managed to secure around $10 million in funding and shot the film earlier this year, over two decades since 1988's "Evil Angels" (aka. "A Cry in the Dark") which was the last time he made a film in his native country. There's still a bit of question lingering over whether actress turned scribe Judy Morris ("Happy Feet," "Babe: Pig in the City") was able to fully translate White's rich prose.

Even if she didn't, the fact is what's on offer here is a truly delicious sounding black comedy/drama about a dying tyrannical matriarch (Charlotte Rampling) and her scheming adult children (Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis), a kind of witty "King Lear" set against the backdrop of Sydney's eastern suburbs in the 1970's. An 'In Production' early trailer released a few months ago looks great if a tad over the top.

Transmission Films, who released the likes of "Samson and Delilah," "Balibo" and "Beneath Hill 60," are set to release the film in Australia this year. No word yet on an international rollout, but with the big name talent involved it'll likely sell quickly overseas.

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

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