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The Playlist’s Most Anticipated Films Of 2011 – Part 2

The Playlist's Most Anticipated Films Of 2011 - Part 2

Alright, continuing with our Most Anticipated Films of 2011 series which will roughly be in four parts (unfortunately, character/size limits prevent us from doing one massive feature). Here’s part one which we published yesterday. If you’re wondering where some of the tentpoles were yesterday — “X-Men: First Class,” “Cowboys And Aliens” and “Sherlock Holmes” — well, they’re here. If you were asking, whether indie-driven auteurs would be represented — Lynne Ramsay‘s return with “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” Mike Mills‘ “Beginners” or David Cronenberg‘s “A Dangerous Method” — well, they’re all here too. The way these lists are lumped together is a bit arbitrary, so don’t fret, lots and lots more Most Anticipated Films of 2011.

Without further ado, part two of the films we’re looking forward to this year.

The Beaver” – Summit Entertainment – dir. Jodie Foster
Synopsis: A depressed family man finds solace in wearing a beaver hand-puppet which he uses as a tool for communication.
What You Need To Know: The 2008 Black List topper, “The Beaver” was originally set to be tackled by the director-actor team of Jay Roach and Steve Carell which, quite frankly, seemed on track to be another run-of-the-mill comedy for Carell to complete during his “The Office” off-season. But with Jodie Foster starring and directing, and Mel Gibson as the nutball lead, the comedy — from all accounts, dark and twisted — was something we all were dying to see. However, you might have heard Gibson has had just a few problems in 2010 with his ex-girlfriend and the virulent, violent, racist phone calls he made that leaked onto the Internet, making his 2006 drunken anti-semitic rant seem like child’s play. Co-starring Anton Yelchin as Gibson’s son and Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone“) as Yelchin’s girlfriend, Summit could have easily shelved this one for years until Gibson’s explosive tantrum’s were semi-forgotten. But they ante’d up and the film hits next spring. Let’s not forget that the trailer also looks deliriously appealing and strangely uplifting. Everyone will have to see this with their own eyes to be sure.
Release Date: TBD April

Restless Sony – dir. Gus Van Sant
Synopsis: Mia Wasikowska stars as a 16-year-old teenager preoccupied with death who falls in love with an off-beat boy (Henry Hopper) who likes to attend funerals and is suffering from the death of his family — which somehow produces the appearance of the ghost of a young, Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII (Ryo Kase). No really.
What You Need To Know: Think “Terms of Endearment” meets “Harold & Maude for the emo generation. Jason Lew‘s script for “Restless” was funny, sad, weird, and in many ways all over the map with lots of interesting, potentially dubious, tones and tenors. After reading it, we thought in lesser hands, this drama could truly turn into a disaster. And truthfully, while we love Gus Van Sant, the jury is still out after seeing the trailer, which looked like a quirkier, perhaps more insufferable version of “The Notebook.” The lead is actually Dennis Hopper’s son in his first starring role and Sissy Spacek‘s daughter Schuyler Fisk also has a significant part as Wasikowska’s older sister.
Release Date: Originally pegged with a January 28th, dumping-ground season release that did not bode well for the picture, perhaps Sony has slightly underestimated the film and has now has left it with a TBD 2011 date. But almost anything is better than kiss-of-death January. The true quality of the film will probably become apparent depending on when it lands, but early trailers do not suggest a fall awards contender, so our guess is the Spring or the in-between month of September.

We Need to Talk About Kevin” – TBD – dir. Lynne Ramsay
Synopsis: The mother of a teenage boy (Tilda Swinton) who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief — and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions — by writing to her estranged husband.
What You Need To Know: Having not directed a film since “Morvern Callar” in 2002, gifted Scottish director Lynne Ramsay then spent two years trying to adapt Alice Sebold‘s “The Lovely Bones” before it was released and became a best seller. While she never quite said why, she’s suggested the popularity of the book steered it away from the dark adaptation she had envisioned (and look how poorly the Peter Jackson version turned out). She then set her eyes on adapting and directing Lionel Shriver’s disturbing novel about a high school massacre, and while it took seemingly forever to get off the ground, the principal cast of Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller shot the film last year.
Release Date: TBD — Steven Soderbergh is an executive producer and we were hoping this one would appear in the 2011 Sundance line-up, but that announcement came and went. Maybe Ramsay’s expressive arthouse sensibilities are more at home in Cannes.

X-Men: First Class” – Fox – dir. Matthew Vaughn
Synopsis: A prequel to the Marvel superhero franchise, this sees the first meeting of the mutants who would become known as Professor X and Magneto, as they team up in 1960s America to battle a dangerous foe.
What You Need To Know: For all its failings, and there were plenty, Matthew Vaughn proved on “Kick-Ass” that he was ready to be handed a big action tentpole, which he swiftly was — the Bryan Singer-produced prequel to Fox‘s prized “X-Men” franchise (having previously come close to directing “X-Men:The Last Stand“). Coming off “Wolverine,” it can only be an improvement, and Vaughn’s take on the series seems distinctive enough to be interesting, particularly with an impressive cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the central characters, with Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng and future Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence joining them. But we’re worried that the same mutant overload that beset the last two films in the series could be repeated here, and the shoot’s been battling a… somewhat fluid script, which is never a good sign. Still, if there is one super-hero film from 2011 we are looking at with the least amount of skepticism, this one is it, mostly because of the cast, the director and the producing team at hand.
Release Date: June 3, 2011

Jane Eyre” – Focus Features – dir. Cary Fukunaga
Synopsis: Another take on Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic romance.
What You Need To Know Cary Fukunaga surprised film dorks with the announcement that he’d be shifting from his acclaimed debut, gritty immigration indie “Sin Nombre,” to yet another interpretation of Brontë’s reading list standard, but the darkness of the source material makes it less of a stretch than one might think. Remarkable for her plainness and quiet intelligence, Jane Eyre (played here by Mia Wasikowska) has been an idol of bookish nerds for centuries. The classic novel follows the titular heroine as the orphan moves from the home of her evil aunt (Sally Hawkins, eschewing the sweetness of “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Made in Dagenham”) to a borderline-torturous orphanage to the home of Mr. Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). The trailer proved that Fukunaga will focus on the Gothic elements of the story, as well as the, umm, complicated relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester. As bookish nerds, we’re psyched for this one, largely thanks to Fukunaga’s style and great casting (Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, and The Playlist favorite Imogen Poots round out the cast), and we hope it can be as good as the excellent 2006 BBC adaptation.
Release Date: March 20, 2011

Young Adult” – Paramount – dir. Jason Reitman
Synopsis: A divorced, thirty-something young adult novelist returns to her home town to attempt to reconnect with an old boyfriend.
What You Need To Know: Spiteful “Juno” backlash aside, Jason Reitman‘s been going from strength to strength, hitting a high with 2009’s “Up in the Air.” For his fourth film, he’s reteaming with the writer of his second film, Diablo Cody, for this, the divisive screenwriter’s most mature work to date. We really dug the script when we got our hands on it, and it should see star Charlize Theron, in a role unlike any she’s played before, garner major awards attention. She’ll be ably matched by Patrick Wilson and, in what should be a breakout role for the comic, Patton Oswalt. It’s a surprisingly small-scale film for Reitman — another character study, really — but it’ll be his darkest film to date, and one that we really can’t wait for.
Release Date: Fall TBD is our guess.

Bridesmaids” – Universal – dir. Paul Feig
Synopsis: A lonely, unlucky-in-love thirty-something female (Kristen Wiig) has to do battle with the bridesmaid from hell (Rose Byrne) to gain control of her best friend’s wedding party (Maya Rudolph).
What You Need To Know: Been complaining that all of Judd Apatow’s film’s have been a boy’s club? You’re not alone, but Apatow puts his money where his mouth is and gives undervalued SNL star Kristen Wiig her first deserved shot at a starring gig. Furthermore, Apatow’s old pal Paul Feig — the creator of a rather beloved show called “Freaks & Geeks” — is at the helm and it’s been a long time coming for the filmmaker, who has made good use of his time directing many episodes of “The Office.” The supporting cast is stellar and full of TV newsmakers getting a feature film shot including: Jon Hamm, Oscar winner Dianne Wiest (known recently for great work on HBO‘s “In Treatment“), Michael Hitchcock (“”Best in Show,” “Glee”), Matthew Lucas (“Little Britain,” “Alice in Wonderland“), Chris O’Dowd (“The I.T. Crowd,” “Gulliver’s Travels“), Ellie Kemper (“The Office“), Melissa McCarthy (“Gilmore Girls“), and Wendy McLendon-Covey (“Reno:911“). The film will also feature the final screen appearance by the great Jill Clayburgh who passed away in 2010. We read an early draft of the script by Annie Mumolo and while it was incomplete, it had a lot of heart and humor and should be a strong female equivalent to something like “Knocked Up.”
Release Date: May 15, 2011

Super 8” – Paramount – dir. J.J. Abrams
Synopsis: An ’80’s Spielberg-inspired sci-fi tale rumored to follow three siblings who catch a glimpse of a creature in some footage in the titular film format.
What You Need To Know: In true J.J. Abrams style, the buzz for “Super 8” began simply with a mysterious teaser trailer which hit in May and featured some sort of creature breaking out from a wreck of a train crash in 1979 New Mexico en route to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from Area 51. And just like that, J.J. Abrams’ latest feature film was born, with giants Amblin Entertainment on board and Steven Spielberg as producer in collaboration with Bad Robot Productions and Paramount. The cast is led by Elle Fanning, after her coming-of-age performance in Sofia Coppola‘s “Somewhere,” and Kyle Chandler with Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Gabriel Basso, Joel Courtney, Zach Mills, A.J. Michalka and newcomers Riley Griffiths and Ryan Lee rounding it out.
Release Date: June 10, 2011

Source Code” – Summit Entertainment – dir. Duncan Jones
Synopsis: An amnesiac soldier wakes up aboard a train and finds himself reliving a bombing in order to solve it.
What You Need to Know: Director Duncan Jones proved himself an able hand at the thoughtful reimagining of the sci-fi genre with his debut, 2009’s “Moon,” and for his follow-up he has stayed within the futuristic, sci-fi realm, but added some action to the mix. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in what sounds like a mashup of “The Matrix,” the ‘Bourne‘ films, and “Groundhog Day,” and the excellent cast is rounded out by Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright. Our review of the script by Ben Ripley revealed the story to be a riveting and fresh twist on its influences, with a killer plot. In the deft hands of Jones, who clearly understands the ins and outs of the genre, it’s sure to be one of the most exciting films of 2010. Clint Mansell (“Moon,” “Requiem for a Dream“) is unfortunately no longer handling the score, so Chris Bacon (“Gnomeo and Juliet,” additional music on Peter Jackson‘s “King Kong“) has some very big shoes to fill.
Release Date: April 1, 2011, and the picture will premiere in March at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival.

Attack the Block” – Optimum – dir. Joe Cornish
Synopsis: An alien invasion begins in a South London council estate, but the creatures haven’t reckoned on the local gang of hoodies.
What You Need To Know: For those who don’t know him as one-half of cult comedy duo/DJ team Adam & Joe, Joe Cornish is certainly one to watch. He’s Edgar Wright’s co-writer on “Ant-Man” and “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” and he’s making his directorial debut in early 2011 with this sci-fi/action/horror/comedy. The script is early-Walter-Hill-tight, beautifully and satisfyingly structured, and Cornish has been saying all the right things about his approach. Aside from Nick Frost and “Venus” star Jodie Whittaker, the cast are all newcomers, but that should work in the film’s favor, and this could easily turn out to be the genre sleeper of the year.
Release Date: April 8, 2011 (U.K.), TBD (U.S.)

One Day” – Focus – dir. Lone Scherfig
Synopsis:One Day” follows a British man and woman on a single day in each of the next 20 years after they have a one night stand at university.
What You Need To Know: The romantic comedy is a sullied field these days — more of the “Valentine’s Day“s and “Leap Year“s, fewer of the “When Harry Met Sally“s. Can Lone Scherfig, the director of the acclaimed “An Education,” turn it around? She’s got plenty on her side — hugely appealing leads in Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, strong support from the likes of Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai, Ken Stott and Rafe Spall, and most importantly, excellent source material from David Nicholls. Nicholls was behind one of the better recent cracks at the genre, “Starter For Ten,” and the novel, which he’s adapted himself, is rather lovely — moving and truthful, without ever taking the easy way out. Originally intended for a spring release, it was moved back to the third quarter, which suggests that Focus is feeling bullish about the film’s award chances.
Release Date: September 30, 2011 (U.K.), September TBD (U.S.)

Sherlock Holmes 2” – Warner Bros. – dir. Guy Ritchie
Synopsis: Holmes and Watson travel to Europe to take on the man who will become Holmes’ greatest adversary — Professor Moriarty.
What You Need To Know: One of the most pleasant surprises of the past few years was Guy Ritchie‘s “Sherlock Holmes.” A film that we, and most others, were dreading, but buoyed by leads with excellent chemistry, Hans Zimmer‘s hall-of-fame score and, most importantly, a real sense of fun, it turned out to be a pretty good time at the movies. Thus, hopes are high for the sequel, particularly with new additions in the shape of Noomi Rapace as a new love interest, Stephen Fry as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, and most importantly, “Mad Men” star Jared Harris as Moriarty, who landed the part after Warners‘ pursuit of Daniel Day-Lewis was left unrequited (trust us, they did try hard). As long as it doesn’t fall into the ‘more more more’ sequel trap, we’re looking forward to seeing Holmes and Watson again.
Release Date: December 16, 2011

The Hangover 2” – Warner Bros. – dir. Todd Phillips
Synopsis: Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) head to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Hilarity hopefully ensues, featuring a former U.S. president.
What You Need To Know: Todd Phillips came off “The Hangover” a comedy golden boy — but the hugely hyped “Due Date” failed to satisfy. We were personally turned off by the awkward tonal shifts and a lack of emotional authenticity that weighed down much of the film. But that’s got little to do with this sequel — eyes are on Phillips to match the gargantuan-grossing original and sending the boys far from familiar shores is a good move. While the production created some commentary when Mel Gibson was unceremoniously let go and replaced with Liam Neeson as a mysterious (and possibly wise) tattoo artist, Phillips has also promised the return of Mike Tyson, a delight for Phil Collins fans around the world. While we’re still months away from even a teaser trailer, we are fairly sure that “Due Date” is a rare misfire for the “Road Trip” and “Old School” director. But the question is, will they use the same blackout conceit again and if they dare to, how can they make it fresh?
Release Date: May 26, 2011

My Idiot Brother” – TBD – dir. Jesse Peretz
Synopsis: A naive idealist in a downward spiral crashes the homes of his three sisters, wreaking havoc.
What You Need To Know: Paul Rudd‘s at an interesting crossroads of his career. No longer the best-kept-secret that he once was, he’s had some modest hits like “Role Models” and “I Love You Man,” but also recent disappointments like “Dinner For Schmucks” and “How Do You Know.” Sundance 2011, however, will see him reunite with director Jesse Peretz, with whom he worked on the acclaimed, little-seen indie “The Chateau,” something of a favorite of the few Playlisters that have seen it. And, while the plot sounds like the kind of generic comedy Rudd’s been making the past few years, Peretz has assembled maybe the best cast of the year, with Rudd being backed by Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, T.J. Miller, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Adam Scott, Hugh Dancy and Kathryn Hahn. We’ll find out in only a few weeks if this’ll see Rudd get his mojo back, but the signs are good.
Release Date: TBD, but the film is premiering at Sundance 2011, so we assume if all goes well it will be picked up shortly thereafter.

Jeff Who Lives at Home” – Paramount – dir. Mark and Jay Duplass
Synopsis: A slacker who hasn’t yet flown the nest and his high-strung brother team up to discover if the latter’s wife is having an affair.
What You Need To Know: We weren’t sure if the Duplass Brothers would be able to convert their very particular mumblecore stylings to working with the mainstream, but “Cyrus” turned out to be one of the very best comedies of 2010. Of course, by the time it hit theaters, they’d already wrapped on their next project, another semi-improvised comedy, with an even more high-profile cast — Jason Segel and Ed Helms as the two brothers, with Susan Sarandon as their mother and Judy Greer as Helms’ wife. The premise isn’t an immediate home-run, but after “Cyrus,” we’re more than prepared to give the brothers the benefit of the doubt, particularly as Mark Duplass is calling ‘Jeff‘ “our favorite movie that we’ve ever made.”
Release Date: TBD, but we presume it’ll premiere at the SXSW 2011 Film Festival as most Duplass mumblecore films are wont to do.

Hanna” – Focus Features – dir. Joe Wright
Synopsis: A 14-year-old Eastern European girl (Saoirse Ronan) suffers through the pangs of adolescence and then eventually discovers that her father (Eric Bana) raised her to be a killing machine in a CIA prison camp and must fight her way to a free life.
What You Need To Know: Uhhh…doesn’t a teenage assassin film and the guy who directed “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” sound like they fit like a glove? This is why it always sounded interesting to us. Much like Soderbergh‘s “Haywire,” the film mixes “La Femme Nikita” and the ‘Bourne‘ action-adventure sensibilities together, only with a teenage girl. But truthfully, with a fairytale theme at its center, it’s become a vastly different film. Co-starring Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams and Tom Hollander, the project was hot over the summer of 2009 and Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuarón were both circling it at one point. The final draft of the script by David Farr and Seth Lochhead had excellent forward propulsion, however, we’ll be honest: the footage we saw at the 2010 New York Comic Con was not great. Still, the Chemical Brothers are writing the score and we’re still holding out hope.
Release Date:
April 8, 2011, which means there’s a good shot it may premiere at SXSW in March.

The Future” – Match Factory – Dir. Miranda July
Synopsis: A young couple’s relationship is put to the test when one of them embarks on an ecological mission and the other starts a dangerous flirtation with an older man.
What You Need To Know: The multifaceted artist Miranda July boldly followed her breakout film “Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) with an Off-Broadway performance, “Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely are Not Going to Talk About,” and most notably a collection of mediocre short stories titled “No One Belongs Here More Than You.” Apparently some of these stories have helped shape her forthcoming sophomore film — formerly titled “Satisfaction” — a triangular love story about the elusive quest for satisfaction, which she again, wrote, directed and stars in. Hopes are high for July to deliver something as refreshing and unique as her Cannes‘ Camera d’Or-winning debut, but we read the script and were a little disappointed. Hamish Linklater plays July’s aimless boyfriend and David Warshofsky plays the older man.
Release Date: TBD, but it is having its premiere at Sundance, so depending on its reception a buyer should surface quickly.

Larry Crowne” – Universal – dir. Tom Hanks
Synopsis: A man is forced to find a new career and reinvent himself as he enters the second half of his life.
What You Need To Know: It’s been over 15 years since Tom Hanks made his directorial debut with the light, if somewhat forgettable “That Thing You Do!” but for his second crack at directing, he’s lined up a heavyweight of talent. Julia Roberts co-stars and leads a huge ensemble that includes (deep breath) Peter Scolari, Bryan Cranston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Jon Seda, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Rami Malek, Malcolm Barrett, Maria Canals Barrera, George Takei, Holmes Osborne, Pam Grier, Grace Gummer, Rita Wilson, Dale Dye and Bob Stephenson. The big question is whether the Hanks/Roberts star power has the wattage it once had. Roberts couldn’t make a hit out of the seemingly slamdunk “Eat Pray Love” and even Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie weren’t starry enough to salvage the mediocre “The Tourist.” However, it’s been a long time since Hanks exercised his funny bones in a feature film and if he can deliver the laughs like he used to, this could be the blockbuster comedy of the summer.
Release Date: July 1, 2011

A Dangerous Method” – TBD – dir. David Cronenberg
Synopsis: An examination of the relationship between legendary psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and their differing approaches to the treatment of a disturbed young woman.
What You Need To Know: The last decade has seen a surprising maturity in the work of David Cronenberg — the Canadian helmer has, for the most part, left the sci-fi and body horror behind to translate his skills to more “serious” fare, and it’s been fairly effective — “A History of Violence” proved to be one of the best films of his career. His latest is an adaptation of the play “The Talking Cure” by Christopher Hampton, and promises an incisive look at the birth of modern psychiatry. He couldn’t have asked for a better pair of actors to play Freud and Jung than Viggo Mortensen (who replaced Christoph Waltz at the last minute) and Michael Fassbender. Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel should provide solid support.
Release Date: TBD

Friends with Benefits” – Screen Gems – dir. Will Gluck
Synopsis: The relationship between two friends becomes complicated when they decide to get romantic.
What You Need To Know: You’re thinking, “Christ, do we need another fuckbuddies rom-com?” And it’s true, there’s an outbreak of these types of contact-sex-as-sport films coming in 2011 (see Liz Meriwether’s “Fuckbuddies” which became “No Strings Attached”; an entirely different film). And six months ago we would have easily placed this picture on our least anticipated films feature and/or at least our escapist, “hey, it’ll be dumb fun” feature. But Will Gluck more than proved his mettle with “Easy A,” the talent is great and the trailer looks just as entertaining as his previous hit, only this time it’s probably R-rated. On-the-rise actors Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis (coming off her big “Black Swan” breakthrough role) star as the friends who decide to fuck, plus the cast also includes Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Andy Samberg and Jenna Elfman. This could easily be a big, broad breakout film in the summer and one of Screen Gems‘ biggest hits ever.
Release Date: July 22, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens” – Universal – dir. Jon Favreau
Synopsis: In a heartwarming tale of finding understanding in spite of differences, Apache Indians and Westerners encroaching on the Old West must unite forces to defeat a threat not of this world. The title tells (and sells) the story, pretty much.
What You Need To Know: A rugged Daniel Craig awakes in a desert surrounded by equally rugged lawmen who are none too happy to see him. With no recollection of how he got there and a strange bracelet firmly strapped to his wrist, Craig disposes of the posse and heads into town. There he will butt heads with Harrison Ford and no doubt dangle the possibility of romance in front of Olivia Wilde. Then aliens will show up, presumably wreaking havoc on the small Western town. As Jon Favreau’s next picture after “Iron Man 2”, “Cowboys & Aliens” seems intent on building a tentpole out of thin air with a beguiling premise and the most fanboy-saliva-inducing title since the immortal “Snakes on a Plane.” The trailer was uniformly impressive, and with a cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Walton Goggins, Keith Carradine and Ana de la Reguera, the film will hopefully meet and surpass expectations. And after all, as long as it brings the cowboy and alien good stuff, what more can you ask for?
Release Date: May 29, 2011

Horrible Bosses” – Warner Bros. – dir. Seth Gordon
Synopsis: Three friends have their lives made hell by their three very different, but equally awful, employers. Can a murderous plan turn things around?
What You Need To Know: Ever since it became a monster hit in the summer of 2009, every studio in town has been chasing the wake of “The Hangover,” with any spec described as “The Hangover”-meets-X being snapped up quickly. That film gets a sequel this year, but there’s a pretender in the ring, in the shape of “Horrible Bosses.” It takes the same idea of promoting three well-liked comic actors to leads — in this case, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis — gives them big names to play off, in the form of Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell, as the titular bosses, and lets the fun begin. The script, co-written by former “Freaks and Geeks” lead John Francis Daley, is very funny indeed — in fact, the only hitch here could be director Seth Gordon, who tarnished the reputation he earned from documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” with the execrable “Four Christmases.” Is there a comeback in the air for him with this film? We sure hope so.
Release Date: Summer, TBD

Beginners” – Focus Features – dir. Mike Mills
Synopsis: As he goes over the ashes of another failed relationship, a writer thinks back to the final years of his father’s life, in which the elderly man came out as gay.
What You Need To Know: It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but there was a lot to love about “Thumbsucker,” the feature debut by music video veteran Mike Mills. He’s taken a while to follow it up, but when ‘Beginners’ premiered at Toronto this year, it was almost universally warmly received, and quickly snapped up by indie behemoths Focus, who hope to repeat the success they had in 2009 with “The Kids Are All Right,” placing the picture in much the same summer counter-programming slot. The clips we’ve seen from the film look hugely promising, with what look to be excellent performances from Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent, while the cutting alone is stunning. It’s fairly low-key, by all accounts, but looks likely to be something of a gem among the FX and explosions of 2011.
Release Date: June 3, 2011

The Darkest Hour” – Summit Entertainment – dir. Chris Gorak
Synopsis: A group of American students get caught up in an alien invasion in Moscow.
What You Need To Know: Little-known director Chris Gorak made his debut behind the camera with L.A. thriller “Right at Your Door” but before that, made a name for himself as the art director for such films as “Fight Club,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” It’s a fairly solid background which, coupled with the exciting cast in Emile Hirsch, Rachael Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella (the Winklevi’s confidante in “The Social Network“) and breakout “Snabba Cash” star Joel Kinnaman promises big things. The Russian Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, is producing a script from Gorak and Josh Zetumer, a Black List favorite who was one of the writers on board the now-dead “Bourne 4.”
Release Date: August 5, 2011

Dream House” – Universal – dir. Jim Sheridan
Synopsis: Things don’t go as planned when a successful New York publisher (Daniel Craig) moves his wife (Rachel Weisz) and children to a New England town into what they believe is the home of their dreams.
What You Need To Know: The latest work from acclaimed director Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father,”) sounds like a run-of-the-mill exercise in genre but, after his remake of Danish film “Brødre” brought out stellar performances from the unlikely trio of Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman, there’s definite promise here, with the cast at hand consisting of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Elias Koteas and Martin Csokas. Production ran into some complications with reshoots and scheduling and, consequently, won’t see a release until late 2011 but that shouldn’t deter you too much.
Release Date: September 30, 2011, making it prime for a TIFF premiere.

Now” – 20th Century Fox – dir. Andrew Niccol
Synopsis: In the future, technology has essentially put a stop to the aging process, and time is traded as a unit of currency. A man from the underclass is wrongly accused of a murder, and forced to go on the run, with an heiress as his hostage.
What You Need To Know: New Zealander Andrew Niccol‘s had a funny old career, from the highs of “The Truman Show“(which he wrote) and “Gattaca” to the lows of “S1m0ne.” It’s half a decade since his last film, the interesting failure “Lord of War,” but he’s coming back in force with this dystopian sci-fi thriller. The premise is intriguing, and the cast is a who’s-who of hot young talent, including Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Matt Bomer, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki and Vincent Kartheiser. Most importantly, it’ll be the first real post-“The Social Network” test of the ability of Justin Timberlake, who has the lead, to carry a movie. We’re cautiously optimistic, but considering Niccol’s unpredictable form, not quite sold yet.
Release Date: September 30, 2011, which could mean a TIFF 2011 premiere if all goes well.

Rampart” – TBD – dir. Oren Moverman
Synopsis: Based on a real-life scandal in the ‘90’s, the story centers on an investigation of crooked L.A. cops that ends up with 70-plus officers implicated and convicted.
What You Need To Know: Oren Moverman‘s follow-up to his acclaimed debut, war-drama “The Messenger,” reunites him with the two leads — Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster — and also features a comeback to the big time for actor/rapper Ice Cube who stars here as a homicide detective sent to investigate a crooked cop. The script is based on the eponymous scandal and was co-written by Moverman (who also wrote Todd HaynesBob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There“) and iconic crime novelist James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential,” “The Black Dahlia“). All the pieces seem to be in place here: an accomplished helmer, strong source material, great leads. And let’s not forget the great, surprisingly female-heavy supporting cast in Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Steve Buscemi and Stella Schanabel.
Release Date: TBD

Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom” – Paramount/DreamWorks – dir. Jennifer Yuh
Synopsis: Having attained his dream of becoming the Dragon Warrior, panda Po (Jack Black) and legendary buds The Furious Five now must journey across China to defeat an enemy harnessing a new weapon that may make Kung Fu obsolete.
What You Need To Know: “Kung Fu Panda” was an unexpected hit for DreamWorks, not to mention their strongest effort until this year’s step-up for the animation studio with “How To Train Your Dragon.” It also spawned a minor fortune in associated toys and straight-to-video offshoots with promising titles like “Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five,” “Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special” and especially the upcoming TV series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.” That said, the first film had rare moments of non-Jack Black related beauty and the sequel sees the impressive voice cast reprising their roles. That includes Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane) and Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu). Even more promising is Gary Oldman being cast as the new villain, as well as voice appearances by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michelle Yeoh.
Release Date: May 27, 2011

Immortals” – Universal – dir. Tarsem
Synopsis: When King Hyperion declares war against humanity, a peasant named Theseus comes forth as our only hope, teaming up with a visionary priestess and a cunning slave.
What You Need To Know: Visual magician Tarsem is still a bit of an unknown quantity after “The Cell” and “The Fall,” but his description of his swords-and-sandals film, “Immortals,” as Caravaggio [an Italian Baroque artist circa the 16th Century] meets “Fight Club,” Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” and Park Chan-wook‘s “Oldboy” is certainly an exciting prospect. If nothing else, expect an array of absurd 3D visuals set in the world of “Clash of the Titans” and/or “300” with a strong ensemble cast led by the unlucky Henry Cavill as Theseus, attempting to find his first break-out as a tentpole lead, and featuring Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz and John Hurt.
Release Date: The aesthetically pleasing 11/11/11

Tower Heist” – Universal – dir. Brett Ratner
Synopsis: An overworked manager of a luxury building, along with the rest of his staff, loses their pension to a Bernie Madoff-like Wall Street crook. When the fraudster is held under house arrest in a luxury penthouse upstairs, the manager and four cohorts figure a heist will even the score.
What You Need To Know: OK, keep in mind this has Brett Ratner at the helm, which could throw any potential greatness this project has right out this window. But when the comedic talent is led by Ben Stiller (whose character received a polish by Noah Baumbach) and Eddie Murphy (doing his first role for those over the age of five in years) the promise is too good to ignore. Not to mention the the support talent is aces with Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch (!), Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Peña joining the proceedings. Certainly this has the makings of a new comedy heist classic but the big question remains if the utterly edgeless Ratner will puree the film into humorless mush or if he’s wise enough to stand back and let the talent go wild.
Release Date: November 4, 2011

OK, that’s it for part 2. More later today. – Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Simon Dang, Kimber Myers, Drew Taylor, Jessica Kiang, Mark Zhuravsky, Erik McClanahan

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