According to Box Office Mojo, there were fewer movie tickets sold in 2010 than any year since 1995. Despite this dismal statistic, 2010 was a great year for movies – you just had to know where to look. But now we’re done discussing the past year, so it is time to make our New Year resolutions and look to the future (I, for one, resolve to never have another debate over whether The Social Network is better than Black Swan). So, without further ado and presented in chronological order, here are my most anticipated movies of 2011!
January: Blue Valentine
The gist: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star as a young couple whose marriage goes through dizzying highs and lows. Blue Valentine has already attracted some controversy for a sex scene that inspired the MPAA to slap the movie with an NC-17 rating. An appeal by producers and writer/director Derek Cianfrance brought the rating down to R, so now I’m curious just how racy the scene ended up.
Why you should see it: It’s all in the trailer. Armed with a deep croon and a ukulele, Gosling is clumsily charming within seconds. He and Williams are two of the most daring young actors working today, so I’m sure their searing portrait of modern marriage will pull no punches.
How you should feel about it: Wearily excited. By pulling no punches, there are some scenes that will probably leave a long-lasting, unpleasant impression. The shot of Gosling beating a guard rail has already left a potent memory burn.
February: Cedar Rapids
The gist: Ed Helms plays Tim, an ordinary insurance salesman who is sleepwalking his way through life. When work takes him to a convention in Cedar Rapids, all manner of shenanigans ensue. John C. Reilly plays Dean, Tim’s primary enabler who seemingly lives for such single-serving fun, and his partner in crime is played by none other than Isiah Whitlock Jr aka Senator Clay “Sheeeeeeeeeeeit” Davis.
Why you should see it: The screenplay. If you’re reading this blog, I think it’s safe to say meta-references to The Wire tickle your funny bone.
How you should feel about it: Cautiously excited. February is typically a cinematic wasteland, but this sort of offbeat counterprogramming may be the reprieve we need from horror schlock and, erm, the Justin Bieber movie.
March: Battle Los: Angeles
The gist: In this alien invasion thriller, Aaron Eckhart plays the leader of an inexperienced platoon. Together they must defend the titular city from attack, for it’s is all that’s left before a complete extra-terrestrial takeover.
Why you should see it: Alien invasion movies, just like ones about zombies and vampires, are essentially a blank slate that enable a director to flush out his/her unique style. From the looks of the trailer, director Jonathan Liebesman takes his inspiration from movies like Black Hawk Down, not Independence Day. His storytelling technique will no doubt be violent, but in its own way, it has the potential to be unique.
How you should feel about it: Moderately excited. Battle: LA could be another by-the-numbers borefest, but the excellent trailer coupled with real-life inspiration should be enough to get asses in seats on opening weekend.
April: Your Highness
The gist: David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, having previously worked together on All the Real Girls and Pineapple Express, reunite in this lewd comedy set in a medieval fantasy land. McBride and James Franco play Thadeous and Fabious, brothers who, with the help of Natalie Portman, Warrior Princess, must rescue Fabious’ bride from a villainous wizard.
Why should you see it: Wait, the movie is written by the Eastbound and Down guys AND features a scantily clad, not-so-pregnant Natalie Portman? Sold.
How should you feel about it: Comfortably excited. The creative team behind Your Highness has developed a reputation for irreverent comedy. Despite a bigger budget, there’s no reason to believe Green and McBride will disappoint their longtime fans.
May: The Tree of Life
The gist: Details are scarce about Terrence Malick’s latest, so let’s just say about it’s about two generations of Midwestern men, and how they struggle to find “the eternal scheme of which we are a part.”
Why you should you see it: Terrence Malick is one of the few directors whose latest endeavor can be described as a bona fide event. With a track record like his, I won’t be surprised if The Tree of Life is one of the year’s best films.
How should you feel about it: Unreservedly excited. The movie has been in development for over five years, and no other 2011 release looks as hauntingly gorgeous.
June: Bad Teacher
The gist: Cameron Diaz plays a lewd, money-grubbing teacher who sets her sights on Justin Timberlake, who works in the school as a substitute.
Why should you see it: Director Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence, has proved he’s comfortable with comedies in previous efforts like Orange County and the criminally underrated The Zero Effect. Besides, Diaz is a natural comic actor, so it’ll (hopefully) be rewarding to see a return to her roots.
How should you feel about it: Tepidly excited. Without a trailer, faith in Bad Teacher’s pedigree is all we have. Until June arrives, do yourself a favor and rent The Zero Effect. You won’t regret it.
July: Cowboy and Aliens
The gist: Jon Favreau directs this high-concept combination of two reliable Hollywood genres.
Why should you see it: With Favreau’s confident hand and a cast that includes Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, Cowboy vs. Aliens has the potential to be the rare summer blockbuster that’s actually pretty damn good.
How should you feel about it: Goofily excited. A concept like this is damn-near impossible to take seriously, but Ford and Craig are smart enough to know they must play their roles completely straight. This one could ignite an unlikely new franchise.
August: 30 Minutes or Less
The gist: From Ruben Fleischer, director of Zombieland, comes this action comedy in which two hapless criminals kidnap a pizza boy (Jesse Eisenberg) and force him to rob in a bank in, well, less than half an hour.
Why you should see it: With Zombieland, Jesse Eisenberg and Ruben Fleischer proved they’re comfortable with unlikely riffs on genre films. And in 30 Minutes or Less, Fleischer replaces apocalyptic horror with Hitchcockian thriller as his inspiration. Think Nick of Time, except with a layer of requisite inanity.
How should you feel about it: Tepidly excited, again. Once again, without a trailer, our excitement is proportional to faith in the director/cast. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and rent Zombieland. The outstanding opening credits, coupled with the 2010’s best cameo, make it the perfect movie for a rainy Sunday night.
September: Straw Dogs
The gist: Writer/director Rod Lurie updates Sam Peckinpah’s classic about a civilized man who is forced into an unexpectedly violent situation. James Marsden will reprise the role made famous by Dustin Hoffman.
Why you should see it: Rod Lurie is one the most talented, underrated directors working today. Deterrence and The Last Castle were both in intelligent and thrilling in equal measure. His political thrillers (The Contender and Nothing But the Truth) are among the best of the past few years.
How should you feel about it: Discerningly excited. The shoes of Peckinpah are considerable ones to fill, but it’ll be interesting to see how Lurie takes outdated material and imbues it with a modern take on our basest impulses.
The gist: Steven Soderbergh tries his hand at global paranoia with this thriller about a deadly disease outbreak.
Why you should see it: The cast includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law. Contagion marks the first time those three have worked together since The Talented Mr. Ripley. Also, Soderbergh’s prolific filmography has established he’s one of the most reliable directors working today.
How should you feel about it: Queasily excited. Remember how news networks terrorized us by overstating the threat of swine flu? Take that uneasiness, then multiply it by Soderbergh’s command of tone, and you have one what has the potential to be the year’s most terrifying film.
The gist: We here at BYT love love LOVE The Fall, Tarsem’s 2008 film about a Romanian girl’s unlikely imagination. Now Tarsem follows it up with this fantasy about Theseus and how he, along with Greek Gods, fights the Titans for mankind’s survival.
Why you should see it: Anything Tarsem directs promises to be eye-poppingly extravagant. No further explanation needed.
How should you feel about it: Skeptically excited. Tarsem is a fantastic director, there’s no doubting that, but Immortals is yet another tiresome 3D “event.” Muted colors and not-so-immersive 3D illusions do not bode well, so I hope Tarsem’s technical mastery overcomes the shortcomings of the medium.
December: Hugo Cabret
The gist: Martin Scorsese directs a children’s film (yes, really) about a Parisian orphan and his magical adventures.
Why you should see it: Admit it – you’re curious to see whether Scorsese will be able to pull this off.
How should feel about it: Again, skeptically excited. Like Tarsem’s Immortals, Scorsese is shooting Hugo Cabret in 3D. If A-list directors like this these transcend the novelty of an added dimension, I have little doubt the trend will become even more ubiquitous (insofar that it can).
So there you have it, folks! As always, forecasting like this cannot take into account sleeper hits or movies that seemingly come out of nowhere. That being said, there’s enough varied, promising fare to improve 2010’s poor box office performance. Now that I’ve outlined my picks, what 2011 movies have you the most excited?