OK, we lied, three installments only, not four. Here’s the third and final installment of our Most Anticipated Films Of 2011. In case you missed it, here’s part one and part two, and if you don’t see the film you’re looking for here, then they’ve probably already been covered over there. Not much else to add, except to say go ahead and dive in.
“The Rum Diary” – Film District – dir. Bruce Robinson
Synopsis: Paul Kemp is a freelance journalist who finds himself, at a critical turning point in his life, drawn to the Caribbean. Self reflection, booze and destruction ensue.
What You Need to Know: Anyone who’s a fan of Johnny Depp in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (is anyone not?) should be looking forward to his long-awaited second role as a Hunter S. Thompson surrogate. Cult filmmaker Bruce Robinson (“How to Get Ahead in Advertising“) — who hasn’t helmed a feature-length film since “Jennifer Eight” in 1992 — is directing. He’s also a name you may recognize as the mind behind the wonderfully acidic English black comedy, “Withnail and I” – one of Depp’s all-time favorite films. Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Jenkins and the easy-to-look-at Amber Heard co-star, and it all sounds like a combination of willing elements, but the film has been complete for over a year now and the delays do suggest a stinker that the distributor is afraid to release.
Release Date: Or rather, there was no distributor for a long, long time (also worrisome), until the production company behind the picture, GK Films, formed the distribution company Film District. There’s talk the film will land in the fall of 2011, but no official release date exists.
“Butter” – The Weinstein Company – dir. Jim Field-Smith
Synopsis: In a small Iowan town, the year is dominated by the annual butter-carving competition. An African-American orphan makes an enemy of the wife of the reigning champion when she discovers a talent for the form.
What You Need To Know: One of the highest-placed scripts in the 2008 Black List, this dark comedy (supposedly a political allegory) from debut writer Jason Micallef — who was inspired after breaking into a refrigeration room housing butter sculptures after his car broke down on a road trip through Iowa one year — has seen all kinds of names circle it; Kate Hudson and Jim Carrey were both linked to the film, as was “Lars and the Real Girl” director Craig Gillespie. The latter was replaced by “She’s Out of My League” helmer Jim Field-Smith, while the cast is made up of Jennifer Garner, “Modern Family” MVP Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman, Rob Corddry, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone and Yara Shahidi. Garner also produces for the first time, and having shown a mostly strong taste in material in the past and having gathered a starry cast around her, we’re looking forward to this.
Release Date: TBD
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” – Working Title Films – dir. Tomas Alfredson
Synopsis: When evidence is uncovered of a Soviet mole within the British intelligence service, semi-retired spy-catcher George Smiley is brought back to find them.
What You Need To Know: Something of a classic in the genre, John Le Carre’s 1974 novel was adapted as an acclaimed BBC series starring Alec Guinness, but never hit the big screen. Until now, that is. Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One in”) has chosen to make his English-language debut on the new version, and he’s assembled a top-notch cast led by Gary Oldman, who takes over for Guinness, with Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham, David Dencik and Benedict Cumberbatch backing him up. The Cold War setting’s been retained, thankfully, and this could be a twisty, low-key espionage thriller of the kind we haven’t had in years. Firmly near the top of our list for 2011.
Release Date: September 16, 2011 (U.K.), Fall TBD (U.S.)
“2 Days in New York” – TBD – dir. Julie Delpy
Synopsis: Marion, the neurotic star of “2 Days in Paris,” returns with a new lover, and a child, now living in the Big Apple.
What You Need To Know: When details of Julie Delpy’s directorial debut, “2 Days In Paris” emerged, it seemed a little odd — wasn’t Delpy simply recreating one of her best-known roles from Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”? In fact, the finished film owed more to Woody Allen than to Linklater, and turned out to be a really enjoyable comedy, thanks to the tremendous performances by Delpy and Adam Goldberg. A sequel’s on the way, picking up with Delpy’s character a few years down the line back in NYC, and while Goldberg’s not returning, the hyphenate’s found a decent replacement to play her new beau in the form of Chris Rock. Rock’s always been a tricky presence on screen, but he should fit into the kind of neurotic comedy from the first film quite nicely. And let’s not forget, “Before Sunset” is one of the few sequels that surpasses the original.
Release Date: TBD
“Damsels in Distress” – Castle Rock Entertainment – dir. Whit Stillman
Synopsis: A group of fashion-obsessed college girls take a new arrival under their wings, as she becomes involved with a boy that they don’t approve of.
What You Need To Know: There are few returns that we’re more excited about for 2011 than the Whit Stillman comeback. It’s a full 13 years since his last feature, the marvelous “The Last Days of Disco,” and he’s been much missed — he was clearly a major influence on Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. The new project is described as the helmer’s take on something like “Mean Girls” and stars mumblecore grad Greta Gerwig, with “The O.C.” star Adam Brody as her love interest. Stillman veteran Chris Eigeman looks to cameo and, fingers crossed, it’ll see the writer-director return to favor and will enable him to get his Jamaican-themed script “Dancing Mood” going.
Release Date: TBD
“The Eagle“- Focus Features – dir. Kevin Macdonald
Synopsis: A young Roman soldier goes in search of his father, who disappeared in Scotland along with the rest of the famous Ninth Legion.
What You Need To Know: Anyone who’s ever been to a British school will be familiar with Rosemary Sutcliffe‘s children’s novel “The Eagle of the Ninth” — it’s been pretty much required reading since its publication in 1954. Now, Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland,” “State of Play“) is taking a run at a film version with an impressive cast, including Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, the omnipresent Mark Strong and “A Prophet” star Tahar Rahim. Neil Marshall‘s “Centurion” was the shlockier (read: dumber) version of similar subject matter, and this should be the classier take, but recent trailers have shown a film that only looks marginally better.
Release Date: Well, at first it was September 2010 and then the film eventually landed in February 11, 2011. By the looks of it, Focus doesn’t really know what to make of it.
“The Congress” – TBD – dir. Ari Folman
Synopsis: Based on the novel “The Futurological Congress” by Stanislaw Lem, the story follows an actress (Robin Wright) playing an aging version of “herself” whose popularity has waned as film studios sampled and used her image over and over.
What You Need To Know: We were utterly blown away by Ari Folman’s directorial debut “Waltz with Bashir” and have been eagerly awaiting his next project. This one has been in the works for a while now, with early footage unveiled last spring at Cartoon Movie, an animated sales conference that takes place in Lyon, France, hoping to lure in buyers (and thus, financing) for the film. Since then, word has been very quiet on the project but we hope that’s simply because Folman has been hard at work putting it together.
Release Date: Fingers crossed for 2011.
“The Grand Master” – TBD – dir. Wong Kar-Wai
Synopsis: It’s a biopic of Ip Man, Bruce Lee‘s mentor, starring Wong Kar-Wai regular, Tony Leung.
What You Need To Know: As a follow-up to 2008’s disappointing “My Blueberry Nights” (the director’s visually sumptuous but empty English-language debut) and 2005’s overly ambitious, romantic melodrama/sci-fi pastiche, “2046,” Wong Kar-Wai‘s first film of the new decade could either signify a return to the glory of his ’90s output (when he didn’t release even one mediocre picture), or could confirm the belief that some have — that his most vibrant and alive filmmaking is behind him. Production on “The Grand Master” was delayed for a few months when Tony Leung broke his arm while training for his part but things got going again late last year with shooting intermittently taking place ever since, and hopefully wrapping soon. Along the way, there has also been the addition of several cast members (Chang Chen, Zhang Ziyi, Song Hye-kyo, Bruce Leung) as well as action director/cinematographer Yuen Woo-ping (“The Matrix,” “Kill Bill“) whose talents should provide an interesting contrast to Wong’s.
Release Date: There’s loose talk of a 2011 Cannes release and it could happen. Wong Kar-Wai did deliver a dripping-wet print of “2046” in Cannes at the very last minute, the final reel reportedly arrived at the airport almost as the first was being shown.
“Submarine” – The Weinstein Company – dir. Richard Ayoade
Synopsis: Coming-of-age tale of an awkward Welsh teenager trying to save his parents’ marriage while falling for his pyromaniac girlfriend.
What You Need To Know: The feature debut of comic actor-turned-music video director Richard Ayoade (“The I.T. Crowd“), this had every sign of being something of a Wes Anderson rip-off — the helmer had certainly shown himself a fan of “Rushmore” et al in his video work. But the pedigree was high — adapted from the acclaimed novel by Joe Dunthorne, produced by Ben Stiller and with a cast including Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Consindine. Fortunately, while we missed it at both festivals (thanks to the LFF strangely deciding not to press screen it), word from TIFF and London was that the film was excellent, managing to absorb its influences without copying them, and marking the birth of an exciting talent. Plus, with a soundtrack from the phenomenally talented front man of the Arctic Monkeys, Alex Turner, it should be a pleasure for the ears at the very least. We’ll find out for ourselves when the film hits U.K. theaters in March, with a U.S. release, via The Weinstein Company, following in the summer.
Release Date: March 18, 2011 (U.K.), Summer TBD (U.S.)
“Albert Nobbs” – TBD – dir. Rodrigo Garcia
Synopsis: A woman in 19th Century Ireland disguises herself as a man in order to survive.
What You Need To Know: With the director-producer of the HBO television series “In Treatment” behind the film and a cast that features Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska (whose role in Garcia’s aforementioned television series played a big part in her rise), Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the project definitely has the ingredients of something notable. Add to that a script co-written by Close and Man Booker-prize winning author John Manville based on the short story by Irish author George Moore, which was also turned into a play that won Close critical acclaim during its off-Broadway run.
Release Date: TBD
“W.E.” – TBD – dir. Madonna
Synopsis: The parallel stories of the affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson which led to the royal’s abdication, and the contemporary story of a woman, Wally Winthrop, with romantic problems of her own.
What You Need To Know: Yes, it’s Madonna directing for the first time since her 2008 effort “Filth and Wisdom” and, in true rock star style, the project has already had its fair share of drama with an early cast exodus (Ewan McGregor and Vera Farmiga were attached early on) and rumors of production unrest. Through it all, rising actress Abbie Cornish stayed in the lead role and was eventually joined by Oscar Isaac, Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy, who’ll play the leading quartet in the romantic drama. Madonna wrote the script with collaborator Alek Kershishian, and it has a supporting cast that boasts James and Laurence Fox, Natalie Dormer and David Harbour. Only god knows how this will pan out.
Release Date: TBD
“For Ellen” – TBD – dir. So Yong Kim
Synopsis: A struggling musician in a struggling indie band returns home to a Midwestern town to sign his divorce papers, only to discover that he’s not ready to give up custody of his daughter.
What You Need To Know: The usually internalized and sweet Paul Dano stars as a young indie-rocker and it sounds like a fairly different role for the actor who described his character as a “selfish, sort of narcissistic prick who’s kind of a hard rocker: tattoos, jewelry, leather jacket.” Jon Heder and Jena Malone, presumably as Dano’s ex-wife-to-be, also star. Kim’s carefully observed indie drama, “Treeless Mountain” was a cause celebre for the minimalist indie set, so we’re definitely going to be keeping an eye on this one too.
Release Date: TBD. Since Sundance came and went without an appearance, possibly SXSW ’11 or the fall film festival circuit.
“Twixt Now and Sunrise” – TBD – dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Synopsis: Based on a short story by Francis Ford Coppola, details on the plot are being kept under wraps, but it’s said to be in the horror/thriller vein with imagery reminiscent of Hawthorne or Poe.
What You Need To Know: Francis Ford Coppola continues to inspire with a late career renaissance that finds the famed director shooting personal, moderately budgeted pictures. Following the underrated fantasy “Youth Without Youth” and excellent family drama “Tetro,” the latest film features an intriguingly eclectic cast including Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern, Val Kilmer, Joanna Whaley (at the suggestion by ex-husband Val Kilmer), Ben Chaplin, Don Novello (“The Godfather: Part III“), David Paymer and Alden Ehrenreich (the breakthrough star of “Tetro”). Shot on his own Napa Valley estate for the paltry sum of $7 million dollars, the prospect of another Coppola film is always something to look forward to, but following his two previous inspired and visually dazzling films, we can’t wait to see the helmer dip his toes once again into the horror genre.
Release Date: None yet, but with filming wrapped in late 2010, a Cannes premiere could be in the works if he hurries, and/or the fall film festival season later in the year.
“Cedar Rapids” – Fox Searchlight – dir. Miguel Arteta
Synopsis: A sadsack Midwestern salesman heads to a corporate retreat in the big city to save the jobs of his co-workers and snap out of a mid-life funk.
What You Need To Know: Since “The Hangover,” Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis have gone on to leading man status, and now Ed Helms finally gets his shot as a headliner in this ensemble comedy-drama. The whole thing frankly sounds somewhat middlebrow (and the presence of co-star John C. Reilly recalls the similarly unambitious “The Promotion“), but Arteta, who previously directed critically acclaimed flicks like “The Good Girl” and “Chuck and Buck,” is still looking for his first big-time directorial breakout (he swung and missed with “Youth in Revolt“). The supporting cast is pretty strong too and includes Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat, Anne Heche and Stephen Root.
Release Date: February 11, 2011, but the film will premiere at Sundance in late January.
“Wuthering Heights” – TBD – dir. Andrea Arnold
Synopsis: The classic tortured romance on the moors between Catherine Earnshaw and (sigh) Heathcliff.
What You Need To Know: We’re cynical enough to realize that “Wuthering Heights” likely wasn’t put into production just because of the public’s ever-growing hunger for adaptations of depressingly beautiful classics. Instead, we’re pretty sure that the project exists because the novel is a favorite of “Twilight” characters Bella and Edward, and thus teens (and their love-starved moms) will come a-running. But we’re willing to overlook the genesis of this second 2011 Brontë adaptation (see “Jane Eyre” and yes, we know that was by a different sister, but still) thanks largely to the involvement of director Andrea Arnold, making a shift from edgy, contemporary British dramas “Red Road” and “Fish Tank” to this adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel. “Skins” actress Kaya Scodelario is Catherine Earnshaw, while her romantic rival Isabella Linton is played by Nichola Burley (“Donkey Punch”). Arnold made news earlier this year for casting newcomer James Howson as the first non-white Heathcliff, and with her genius casting of unknown Katie Jarvis in “Fish Tank,” we’ve got high hopes.
Release Date: TBD
“Brighton Rock” – Optimum Releasing – dir. Rowan Joffe
Synopsis: An underworld thriller which centers on a young gangster who marries a naive waitress after she stumbles onto evidence linking him to a murder.
What You Need To Know: The film originally attracted our attention when thesps Sam Riley and Carey Mulligan signed on as the leads. Mulligan unfortunately later exited, presumably to join Oliver Stone‘s ‘Wall Street‘ sequel, though was replaced by her talented “Never Let Me Go” co-star Andrea Riseborough. The two were later joined by Pete Postlethwaite and Helen Mirren who play an older couple trying to save Riseborough’s character from her marriage. This will be Rowan Joffe‘s feature film debut after writing pictures like “28 Weeks Later” and Anton Corbijn‘s George Clooney-led “The American.”
Release Date: TBD and the main problem is that that TBD has been in the air for some time now. The film played at TIFF 2010 to minor buzz and we’re presuming this will limp into U.S. theaters in a very limited release.
“The Impossible” – Summit – dir. Juan Antonio Bayona
Synopsis: An English-language drama from the director of the spooky Spanish art house hit “The Orphanage,” centering around the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
What You Need to Know: Well, first off, that Bayona is a very, very good director. “The Orphanage” is an understated, emotionally charged gem that not many people saw (sadly) but clearly demonstrated that the director has a command over technical proficiency as well as thematic resonance. The new film mixes the new (big-time movie stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) with the old (virtually the entire line-up of behind-the-scenes talent is back from “The Orphanage,” including dynamite composer Fernando Velázquez). Plot specifics at this point are spotty, but we look forward to anything the director serves up, and at the very least it will be better than the tsunami sequence at the beginning of “Hereafter.” Groan.
Release Date: TBD
“Eye of the Storm” – TBD – dir. Fred Schepisi
Synopsis: A powerful, ex-socialite matriarch maintains a destructive influence on the lives of those around her — including her celebrated ex-patriate actor son and her daughter who married into French royalty — who convene at her deathbed.
What You Need To Know: The film sees veteran Australian helmer Fred Schepisi — directing his first film since 2003’s “It Runs in the Family” starring members of the Douglas family — adapt the acclaimed novel by author Patrick White with help from Judy Morris (“Happy Feet”). It certainly sounds like a real actor’s movie (a sentiment which was definitely evident in the first trailer) with the dynamic trio of Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis starring as the matriarch and her two children, respectively. Alexandra Schepisi, Robyn Nevin and Colin Friels co-star.
Release Date: TBD
“Project X” – Warner Bros. – dir. Nima Nourizadeh
Synopsis: A group of kids document a house party that suddenly goes awry.
What You Need To Know: Details on this one are being kept very tightly under lock and key. Led by a cast of unknowns, this low-budget comedy is being produced under the guidance of Todd Phillips and with a holiday release date set, Warner Bros. clearly has big expectations. The picture will be helmed by commercial director Nima Nourizadeh from a script by Matt Drake — which itself is based on a treatment by “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” scribe Michael Bacall—and the financial stakes on this one are small. The budget will come in under $20 million for the planned hard-R comedy but make no mistake, Warner Bros. is going to push it hard and is hoping they have a “Superbad” up their sleeve. Sony tried a similar stunt with “The Virginity Hit,” the Ferrell/McKay sex comedy that couldn’t spin its viral promotion into box office dollars. But if the laughs are big and if the studio can pitch the marketing beyond the teen set, “Project X” (just a working title so far) could be one of the smartest counter-programming moves in years.
Release Date: November 23, 2011
“The Innkeepers” – Dark Sky Films – dir. Ti West
Synopsis: It’s a horror film focusing on the last two employees of an out-of-business haunted hotel.
What You Need To Know: Ti West‘s “The House of the Devil” garnered a boat-load of attention, and it was well deserved — his 80s-slasher throwback was legitimately frightening and competently made. While we’d rather see his “Moon“-like sci-fi project or his hooker road movie, West has a knack for a genre that rarely shows smarts so we’ll take what we can get. Plus, set photos revealed something akin to “The Shining,” and anything resembling Kubrick’s masterpiece is cause for intrigue.
Release Date: Early 2011
“Detachment” – TBD – dir. Tony Kaye
Synopsis: The lives of teachers, advisors and students intersect in one troubled inner-city high school.
What You Need To Know: The mercurial Tony Kaye returns with something of a dark comedy featuring a stellar cast, including Adrien Brody, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and Marcia Gay Harden. When speaking to Tim Blake Nelson about his role in the movie, he noted, diplomatically, how chaotic and barebones the entire shoot was, which excited/worried/bewildered us as well. We’re hoping it’s more like “Teachers” than “Dangerous Minds” (though we do hope it’s better than “Teachers”).
Release Date: Very TBD, who knows if anyone will ever distribute this thing.
“Killer Joe” – TBD – dir. William Friedkin
Synopsis: A brother and sister put a hit out on their monstrous mother in order to collect on her life insurance.
What You Need To Know: Considering after “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection,” that William Friedkin was one of the most promising directors of the ’70s, there’s been a whole lot of zip ever since (well, OK, “Sorcerer,” “Cruising” and “Brink’s Job” are full of damaged goodness, but no one saw them at the time). But his last film, an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ “Bug” was his best work in years, and he’s reteaming with Letts on this, an adaptation of the playwright’s best-known work, which became something of a contemporary classic in the ’90s. Blazing young stars Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple play the central siblings, and they’re joined by Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and, in the latest move by a star who’s seemingly decided to put his shirt back on and live up to his early promise, Matthew McConaughey. So long as it doesn’t feel too stagy, this should be all kinds of fun.
Release Date: TBD
“Tyrannosaur” – Warp Films – dir. Paddy Considine
Synopsis: Drama following the relationship between a self-destructive, rage-filled man and a Christian shop worker.
What You Need To Know: Paddy Considine is one of the very best actors out there right now, as proven in films as diverse as “24 Hour Party People,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” “Red Riding: 1980” and “Hot Fuzz.” But he’s also begun to move towards a career as a director, winning a BAFTA for his 2007 short “Dog Altogether.” “Tyrannosaur” is an extrapolation of that film, reuniting original stars Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman (“Hot Fuzz”) in a dark drama, in which the two reprise their original roles, as well as adding the great Eddie Marsan to the mix. Knowing Considine’s usual interests, it’s unlikely to be an easy watch, but we’d be surprised if there were any better acted films this year.
Release Date: TBD
Untitled Lynn Shelton Project – TBD – dir. Lynn Shelton
Synopsis: A love triangle between a man and two sisters.
What You Need To Know: We may not have been the biggest fans of “Humpday,” but it was clear that Lynn Shelton is a director with a good deal of promise. She followed it up with solid work on an episode of “Mad Men,” and has moved on to what looks to be her most high-profile film to date. It could have been even bigger — it was originally announced as starring Emily Blunt and Rachel Weisz as the sisters, but the absurdly busy Weisz had to drop out. It’s a shame, but the excellent Rosemarie DeWitt (“Rachel Getting Married“) replaced her, and writer/director/actor Mark Duplass came on board as the man who comes between them. Details are still very thin, but it’s certainly one we can’t wait to hear more about.
Release Date: TBD
“The Human Centipede: Full Sequence” – IFC Films – dir. Tom Six
Synopsis: A mad science experiment yields a digestive system comprised of 12 human beings attached mouth-to-anus.
What You Need To Know: In titling the first film “The Human Centipede: First Sequence,” director Tom Six placed a warning right in the title. Sure enough, he’s back with an upgrade of the central concept of that movie, where three victims found themselves stitched together. The question remains: will Dieter Laser’s mad Dr. Heiter return for this installment? As morbid and unique as the first film’s sterile medical chills were, most of the charm emerged from Laser’s reptilian characterization, an all-time horror boogeyman. Whatever the case, ‘Full Sequence‘ is the one 2011 release where we can guarantee you’ll need a vomit bag.
Release Date: TBD
“The Adjustment Bureau” – Universal – dir. George Nolfi
Synopsis: A promising young senator (Matt Damon) crosses paths with a ballerina (Emily Blunt) and then discovers a shadowy organization is trying to keep them apart… potentially for the future of the planet.
What You Need To Know: Frankly, our expectations for this one are very low for a number of reasons even though we like Damon and Blunt. So it’s here, but read on. The success rate of Philip K. Dick adaptations is very much a mixed bag: for every rare instance (“Blade Runner“) at the top there’s a “Paycheck” and “Screamers” scraping the bottom of the barrel. Adapted from Dick’s short story “The Adjustment Team,” and the directorial debut of writer George Nolfi (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” an early draft of “Bourne 4” that never got made), “The Adjustment Bureau,” initially sounded like something very much up our alley; intelligent, left of center sci-fi. And the cast’s full of interesting actors like John Slattery (“Mad Men“) and Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker“), but internal studio word of mouth has been bad, the first trailers we saw failed to convince and Universal has kicked it around on the release schedule like an unwanted stepchild. While the chemistry between Blunt and Damon is hopefully decent, we’ve been hearing nothing but bad and botched reports for months.
Release Date: After a long await for a date, the film was plopped into the summer of 2010, then pushed to September and now it’s finally hitting theaters March 4, 2011.
“Miral” – The Weinstein Company – dir. Julian Schnabel
Synopsis: A chronicle of Hind Husseini‘s effort to establish an orphanage in Jerusalem after the 1948 partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel.
What You Need To Know: Even compared to twin abstract biographies “Before Night Falls” (featuring a sterling turn from Javier Bardem) and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (likewise, Mathieu Amalric), painter-cum-filmmaker Julian Schnabel‘s latest sounds ambitious and a little crazy. “Miral,” the director’s first film since his 2008 concert doc “Lou Reed’s Berlin” and first narrative since 2007’s ‘Diving Bell,’ boldly attempts to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was shot on location. The film stars Israel’s own Hiam Abbas, and other actors involved include Willem Dafoe and “Slumdog Millionaire“ actress Freida Pinto. We’d say ‘most anticipated’ based on his past work, but “Miral” was almost universally panned at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals this year and then in a telling move, The Weinstein Company immediately dropped the film’s December Oscar-hopeful date and told Schnabel to go back to the editing drawing-board.
Release Date: March 25, 2011, but TWC are notorious for bumping films not to their exact liking so don’t be surprised if it is pushed back once more if the editing doesn’t meet the expectations of a certain Scissorhands.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” – (Possibly) Lionsgate – dir. Lasse Hallström
Synopsis: A fisheries scientist is recruited by the British government to provide the Yemen with salmon fishing despite obvious regional difficulties.
What You Need To Know: Our excitement is notably tempered for this true-life adaptation, since the absurdist comedy angle is being replaced with a romantic comedy approach, with director Bill Condon departing earlier this year in favor of Lasse Hallström. Still, Ewan McGregor as the embattled scientist lent support by Emily Blunt and Kristen Scott Thomas is an able foundation to build from. Good luck, Lasse.
Release Date: TBD
“The Fields” – TBD – dir. Ami Canaan Mann
Synopsis: A tough-minded misanthropic Texan and his New York detective partner wind up waging something of a war against unknown assailants responsible for two decades of disappearances and homicides.
What You Need To Know: Originally conceived as “The Texas Killing Fields,” the project once had Danny Boyle attached and was described by the Brit as “a fantastic script, really special script, but it was just so dark it would never get made.” Boyle eventually departed the scene but the project has now been revived by Michael Mann on board as a producer, with daughter Ami Canaan Mann helming a top cast featuring Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the two lead cops, Jessica Chastain as Worthington’s wife, Chloe Moretz as a young street kid named Little Anne and Jason Clarke and Stephen Graham in unknown roles. Shot in New Orleans earlier this year, the film has stayed under most radars but should make a splash considering the pedigree of talent behind it.
Release Date: A SXSW premiere is likely as Mann is scheduled to appear at a discussion on crime films.
“Win Win” – Fox Searchlight – dir. Tom McCarthy
Synopsis: A struggling attorney and part-time high school wrestling coach becomes the guardian to an elderly client, only to have to take on his runaway grandson as well.
What You Need To Know: Two words: Tom. McCarthy. A character actor best-known for cropping up in middle-manager type roles in all kinds of big-screen work, as well as the less-than-truthful journalist in the fifth season of “The Wire,” he’s perhaps now best known as a tremendous writer-director. We’ve written at length about our love for “The Station Agent” in the past, and his follow-up “The Visitor” is almost as good — both display a low-key originality and command of performances that has made him one of the most exciting voices in indie cinema. His latest, “Win-Win,” teams him with Paul Giamatti, and it’s a combination so natural that you’re stunned it’s never happened before. Several of our favorites, including Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor and Amy Ryan will crop up in support, and The National are writing a song for the soundtrack. We think this could end up being the biggest hit of McCarthy’s directing career.
Release Date: March 25, 2011
“Homework” – Goldcrest Pictures – dir. Gavin Wiesen
Synopsis: A teenage loner, an expert at avoiding work, connects with the school beauty while being mentored by an older artist.
What You Need To Know: So we come to it, at long last: the coming of age of Freddie Highmore. The young actor became something of a fixture in the middle of the last decade in such films as “Finding Neverland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but he’s been mostly absent in the last few years. Now 18, he’s attempting to reinvent himself as a teen actor, both in the BBC drama “Toast” and in this indie comedy-drama, which will premiere at Sundance. He’s joined by the immensely talented, still-in-search-of-a-real-breakout Emma Roberts, and Michael Angarano, star of “Ceremony.” It’s very execution-dependent, certainly, but the cast is at least promising.
Release Date: TBD
“Like Crazy” – TBD – dir. Drake Doremus
Synopsis: An American boy and a British girl fall in love in college, but are forced into a long distance relationship when she overstays her visa.
What You Need To Know: 26-year-old wunderkind Drake Doremus already has two features to his name, 2009’s “Spooner” and the 2010 comedy “Douchebag,” which played at last year’s Sundance. His latest, “Like Crazy,” marks a shift for the writer-director, and not just because it’s got less shock value in its title. For one thing, the film’s allegedly a rather delicate, poetic romance, and for another, he’s working with a trio of fast-rising stars — Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”) and possible-Snow White Felicity Jones as the central couple, with “Winter’s Bone” star Jennifer Lawrence also cropping up. It’s obviously something of an unknown quantity until after it bows at Sundance, but it sounds very promising as far as youthful romances go.
Release Date: TBD
“Uncle Kent” – IFC Films – dir. Joe Swanberg
Synopsis: A cartoonist spends a weekend attempting to sleep with a female guest, one that he met on chat roulette.
What You Need To Know: Joe Swanberg‘s one of the few directors of this particular movement who seems to be pushing some boundaries, and if “Alexander the Last” is any indication, he seems to be aware of what he can do with the medium in addition to simply framing close-ups of actors. It should prove to be an enjoyable dramatic excursion, and although the ground seems overworked, the director has expressed interest in experimentation in recent interviews. Plus, the cast is filled with fresh faces (Kent Bewersdorf, Josephine Decker, Kent Osborne, etc.) rather than the same old seven people usually seen, which should breathe some life into things.
Release Date: TBD, Sundance
Honorable Mention: While Geoffrey Fletcher‘s modern-day “Thelma & Louise” indie drama “Violet & Daisy” starring Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan (co-starring Danny Trejo and James Gandolfini) has already wrapped principal photography and could likely get completed this year, 2011 is a particularly busy year and unless it’s got awards mettle behind it, we assume it’ll be saved for something like Sundance 2012. Eric Powell’s “Goon” has been looming in the news, and with one David Fincher on board as producer for this indie comic adaptation. A trailer (well, more of a teaser) premiered a few months back and while it delivered the requisite grim charm, Fincher’s involvement seems to promise more than just the bare bones zombie mayhem. While Michael Winterbottom makes films like he changes underwear, “The Promised Land” didn’t shoot last summer like it was supposed to and we’re not sure when it will, so maybe this drama will be a 2012 film if it happens at all (though surely we’ll get his latest, “The Trip” sometime in 2011). We missed “Skateland” at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, but were told if we love early David Gordon Green — which we do — we’d heart this film, so we’re looking forward to it. With a super strong female cast lead by Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek and Viola Davis, “The Help” could turn out to be a strong, worthwhile drama. John C. Reilly in a Sundance movie called “Terri” as a well-meaning high school principal who befriends an awkward, overweight teenager sounds worth checking in about. “The Woman in Black” starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer sounds intriguing; it’s scheduled for an October release in the U.K. which might mean it hits Stateside this year too. The economic crisis film, “Margin Call” starring Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and many more is an impressive cast and will premiere at Sundance. David Robert Mitchell‘s “The Myth of the American Sleepover” sounds good and has already been nominated for 2011 Independent Spirit Awards. The virus thriller, “Retreat” with Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell and Thandie Newton could be great (probably worth writing up as a full piece, but we’re out of gas). Terrence Davies‘ upcoming period romance, “The Deep Blue Sea,” featuring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston is also a picture we’re expecting great things from. Some of us wanted to throw in Wes Anderson‘s “Moon Rise Kingdom,” but that sounds like a 2012 films to most of us (the same applies to Angelina Jolie‘s directorial debut, smells like 2012).. As usual, we could go on and on and on, but we have to end somewhere. Did we “forget” something? No, there’s still three more most-anticipated features of 2011. Sit tight, we’ll be covering over 200 films. – Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Simon Dang, Christopher Bell, Kimber Myers, Drew Taylor, Jessica Kiang, Mark Zhuravsky, Erik McClanahan, Katie Walsh