Monday, March 7, 2011

On the Horizon: Notables for early 2011

Having been so busy (or just tired) the past two months or so, I've realized that I failed to make my quarterly Season Preview post for the first three months of the new year. And while January and February haven't exactly offered much (though I did see unintentional howler The Room Mate), March and beyond have plenty of new and "old" films to look forward to. And now that I've finally decompressed from Oscar Season, it's time to start looking forward in 2011, because there are a surprisingly large group of films that appear worthwhile. For the sake of this post, I'll only be covering March and April (with one exception), albeit excluding some films which have already opened (Rango and The Adjustment Bureau, which I do plan on seeing). Even though the first two months of 2011 have provided little of interest, March and April are filled to the brim with potential:

Of Gods and Men [February 25 - Limited]In addition to the haunting trailer, this real-life religious drama picked up the Grand Prix Award at Cannes. Reception has been strong, though some have faulted the film for being overly pious. Still, it looks very mature in its treatment of the story, and refreshingly hysteria-free in its presentation of religious conflict.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives [March 2 - NYC]Speaking of Cannes, here's the film that beat Of Gods and Men for the Palme D'Or last may. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest film is said to be a hypnotic and mesmerizing modern ghost story. Judging from the trailer (and previous footage), it's easy to understand why the Tim Burton-led Cannes jury picked this for the top prize.

Certified Copy [March 11 - NYC]Another Cannes favorite, this one from Abbass Kiarostami, has been noted mainly for its acclaimed performance from leading lady Juliette Binoche. It looks like a slightly more melancholic Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, though that's certainly not a bad thing. Oh, and the promotional posters are absolutely gorgeous.

Red Riding Hood [March 11 - Wide]Alright, onto something more mainstream. Despite my general hatred for all things Twilight, this film from Catherine Hardwicke (who directed the first TW film) does look interesting, and not just because of its cast (Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, some guys with faux hawks). In addition to some striking visuals (the red cape on the snow), this reinvention of the Red Riding Hood legend may have some real merit to it; the script was placed on the 2009 Blacklist, which highlights the best unproduced screenplays in a given year.

Battle: Los Angeles [March 11 - Wide]We need another alien invasion movie like we need another romantic comedy with Katherine Heigl, so credit my interest in Battle: LA to the film's strong marketing. The film's whole look boasts a more gritty, dirty look to it, and it looks like an intense, non-stop thrill ride. And unlike Skyline, which was made by two VFX artists who broke off of Battle: LA, this film won't be about a bunch of idiot 30 somethings arguing in an apartment for most of the run time.

Jane Eyre [March 11 - Limited]Probably the last thing anyone was expecting from Cary Fukunaga (director of border thriller Sin Nombre) was a take on Bronte's classic novel. Starring rising actress Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, Fukunaga's film looks grim and Gothic, and could prove to be an invigorating look at a story that has been adapted countless times for the screen.

Win Win [March 18 - Limited]The latest from Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor and The Station Agent) tells the story of a high school wrestling coach who finds a surprise star athlete and takes him under his wing, only to have his mother come into the picture and threaten everything. I wasn't in love with The Visitor, but I adore The Station Agent, and the cast (Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynsky) is to die for. Early reviews have been extremely positive, which means this could be one of the first winners (no pun intended) of the year.

Paul [March 18 - Wide]Director Greg Mottola has been on a winning streak (Superbad and Adventureland), which makes me hopeful for this sci fi/road trip comedy. I like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and it will be interesting to see how the pair work with a different director (instead of usual collaborator Edgar Wright), and the ensemble is filled with talented and funny people. While there's sure to be a handful of gross-out jokes, Pegg and Frost generally forgo cheap gags in favor of funny word play, which gives me hope.

Sucker Punch [March 25 - Wide]If you've been waiting for the next green screen action orgy from Zack Snyder (300), fear not, because it's almost here. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Snyder's latest venture into the land of over-saturated colors tells the story of "Baby Doll," (Emily "I was almost Lisbeth Salander" Browning), a young girl forced into a mental institution. There, she and the other girls free themselves through batshit insane fantasies that will likely feature bloodshed and eyeliner in equal amounts. It'll have as much substance as a stick of Trident, but it looks like fun...and there's a dragon, which helps considerably. P.S., Abbie Cornish, you're better than this.

Source Code [April 1 - Wide]The real draw here isn't the talented cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan), rather it's the director, Duncan Jones, whose debut was the excellent Moon. Strip away Jones, and what you're left with is a pseudo-high concept thriller that will either be surprisingly strong, or a rehash of similarly themed thrillers that are unique in concept, but unfortunately ordinary in execution.

Your Highness [April 8 - Wide]The likely of result of what would happen if you smoked pot while playing Dungeons and Dragons, and that's not a bad thing. The (R-rated) trailer looks absolutely loopy, with a fun cast, including Natalie Portman and James Franco running around medieval sets, slaying dragons, and getting high with...whatever that purple creature is.

Hanna [April 8 - Wide]You can't accuse Joe Wright of making the same movie twice. After classy period adaptations (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) and a modern drama (The Soloist), Wright is back with this teenage assassin tale. Reuniting with Atonement star Saoirse Ronan, along with Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, the film certainly looks gritty and intense (I never thought I'd see Ronan snap someone's neck). Of course, the whole teenage assassin angle is bound to cause some level of controversy, and the handling of the material could prove problematic (will it be cartoony? Graphic? Both?). But if Wright and co. pull it off, we could have something special on our hands.

Meek's Cutoff [April 8 - Limited]Kelly Reichardt's latest, which premiered to generally strong reviews at Toronto last year, is finally making its way to US theaters. The film centers on a group of travelers in the mid-1800s, who become stranded in the desert. Led by a strong cast (Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan, and Paul Dano), this ensemble piece will likely be hit or miss, depending on how you take to Reichardt's preference for long silent stretches. Still, the trailer makes it look quietly intense, and some of the landscape shots are starkly beautiful.

Scream 4 [April 15 - Wide]It's been 10 years since Scream 3, but Wes Craven is finally back after a string of failures with a fourth installment of his meta-slasher series. In addition to old cast members (Neve Campell, Courtney Cox), 4 also boasts a host of new faces, all of whom will likely end of meeting grisly deaths. Frankly, I'll see any film if there's a chance that I'll get to see Anna Paquin bite it. Personally, I'm just looking forward to seeing how Allison Brie (NBC's Community and AMC's Mad Men) fits into it all. Guilty pleasure of the year? Signs point to YES.

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