I know we’re more than a month into 2011, but so far all that’s happened was January, a month generally devoid of interesting art and popular culture beyond that which is left over from the previous year. The only thing I dropped from this list because it already happened is the return of Parks and Recreation (which has been absolutely wonderful), so the lateness isn’t really an issue.
So looking ahead, what is there to look forward to in 2011? Quite a lot. Let’s do this.
25. Sucker Punch
If the trailers are to be believed, Zack Snyder’s first original movie is a non-stop orgy of geekery. Even if it doesn’t entirely deliver, it will still have hot girls fighting dragons, robots, and fifteen-foot-tall samurai warriors. And Jon Hamm. There’s also a part of me that wants it to be good just so I can rest easy knowing that Superman is in good hands.
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
It’s the second half of the so-far marvelous final installment in one of the best and most consistent franchises in movie history. At this point I will be flabbergasted if it doesn’t stick the landing, since all signs point to a massive, wonderful conclusion.
Yes, it’s back for its second appearance in two years! I haven’t loved any of the trailers (I haven’t disliked them, either), but the premise, the cast and crew, and the early buzz are enough to have me plenty excited.
Right after I saw Atonement, which I loved, I remember thinking how interesting it would be to see Joe Wright make an action movie. It’s taken a few years, but now it’s happening. From what I can gather, this is the gist of Hanna: Saoirse Ronan as a badass killing machine on the run from C.I.A. agent Cate Blanchett set to an original score by The Chemical Brothers. That certainly sounds like a movie I want to see.
21. Grant Morrison’s Multiversity
This was on last year’s list, and while there’s no release date yet, I’m really hoping it comes out in 2011. I don’t know much about the plot, but it’s a project Morrison has been working on for a couple years, an 8-issue mini-series that explores DC’s Multiverse and features a different artist on each issue (so far only Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart have been announced). This is exactly the kind of thing I read comics for, and whenever it does end up being released, I think it’s going to be pretty incredible.
20. The Guard
I had no idea this existed until reviews from Sundance started popping up a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen anything other than a couple stills, but I’m dying to see it simple based on the following information: It’s an Irish black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson, written and directed by the brother of Martin McDonagh. So far the consensus is that it’s at least as good as In Bruges, and if that’s anywhere close to accurate then we have a very good movie to look forward to.
19. Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding
I wrote a whole lengthy post a while back about why I’m excited about this album, and so far the reviews are confirming what I’m hoping for. Noel Gallagher’s departure from Oasis has somehow energized Liam and the rest of the band, and it looks (and sounds) like they’ve made a pretty kickass album. I wouldn’t have guessed that the dissolution of my favorite band would lead to them making their most interesting music in years, so this comes as a very welcome surprise.
18. I Saw the Devil
March 4 (limited release)
I don’t know what it is about Korea and revenge movies, but it just works. This is the new movie by Kim Ji-woon, the director of The Good, the Bad, the Weird and A Tale of Two Sisters, and if those movies taught me anything it’s that I need to see whatever he makes from now on. The trailer for this looks incredible, and so far the reviews back that up.
17. 30 Minutes or Less
Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, and Danny McBride in a movie by Ruben Fleischer, the director of Zombieland. I don’t really know anything other than that it involves McBride as a criminal forcing Eisenberg and Ansari to rob a bank. This is one of those movies where all I need to see is the cast and crew list and I’m ready to hand over my $10.
16. Thor/X-Men: First Class/Green Lantern/Captain America: The First Avenger
May 6/June 3/June 17/July 22
The four big comic book movies of the summer, all of which I desperately want to be great but can’t help but be nervous about. I know some people complain about the endless number of comic-based movies, but as a fan of the source material, these are movies I’ve been waiting for my whole life. This summer is a big test for the genre, since each one of these movies is something of a risk: Thor is about an Asgardian god who is far from well-known among non-geeks, Captain America is a period piece about a character with a name that can be hard to take seriously, and X-Men: First Class is a prequel with no Wolverine (and is following two terrible entries in the franchise). Green Lantern, the one I’m most interested in, is probably the trickiest. It’s a full-on space opera filled with aliens and centered around a character who lacks the name recognition of Batman or Superman. The trailers for these movies have ranged in quality from “not great” to “pretty cool,” so I’m hoping that the marketing campaigns improve as we get closer to the release dates. I’m optimistic, but not enough to relax just yet.
15. Batman: Arkham City
I still can’t believe that Arkham Asylum was as good as it was, not just the best comic book-based video game ever made but a legitimately great one regardless of source material. Unlike with movies, video game sequels are usually superior to their originals, since making them is mainly a matter of repeating what worked while making minor tweaks. A large part of why the first game was so successful was that it allowed the player to do just about everything one would want to do as Batman (i.e. dropping from gargoyles to snatch unsuspecting criminals from below). Arkham City places the action in an actual city and adds smoke bombs, thus completing the full Batman fantasy. It also has Two-Face, Hugo Strange, and Talia al Ghul and is once again written by Paul Dini. It’s safe to say that this is going to be awesome.
14. The Tree of Life
I’m not a rabid Terrence Malick fan. By that I mean that I love Days of Heaven, haven’t seen Badlands, and merely like The Thin Red Line and The New World. Still, I have the sense to get excited about any new movie he makes. The trailer for The Tree of Life is so good that I would pay money to watch the movie on mute. It’s that gorgeous. So far what I can gather is that much of the film involves Sean Penn’s character as a child growing up in the ’50s with Brad Pitt as his father, then some stuff with him as an adult, and then some sort of science fiction aspects I’m not clear on yet. This looks like it could be one of the great movies of the year. If you’re not excited yet, you should work on that.
13. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The book, which of course is an international phenomenon, is a fun, pulpy thriller that at this point is both over-and-underrated. It’s the kind of book that is perfect material for a far superior adaptation, and as much as people love the Swedish film starring Noomi Rapace (who is admittedly excellent), there is a lot of room for improvement. David Fincher is going to knock this out of the park. He’s at the absolute top of his game right now, and if he wants to do an easy serial killer movie that’s guaranteed to be a massive hit, that’s cool with me. No, it won’t be an achievement in the same league as The Social Network, but it will be awesome.
12. Cowboys & Aliens
After the two trailers that have been released, if you still can’t take this movie seriously because of the title then there’s no hope for you. I haven’t read the comic this is based on, so I have nothing invested in it as an adaptation, but as a movie it looks, for lack of a better phrase, pretty fucking sweet. Jon Favreau really kicked his directing level up a few levels with the Iron Man movies, where he showed a serious skill for balancing spectacle and character, not to mention getting great performances out of his actors. What seems so cool about Cowboys & Aliens is that it takes two very different, very specific genres, and then, playing them totally straight, mashes them together. A western where all-around badasses Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford (who appears to be awake for the first time in quite a while) battle aliens sounds exactly like the kind of movie I want to see, and knowing that Favreau has Steven Spielberg as an executive producer and Damon Lindelof as one of the writers makes me even more confident that this is going to be one of the standouts of the summer movie season.
11. Your Highness
Somehow, and I’m not sure what could have done it, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Ben Best convinced Universal to put $150 million into an R-rated medieval stoner fantasy adventure comedy. God bless those guys. This is the second year I’ve had the movie on this list, as it was pushed back from October to April, but if that brilliant trailer is any indication, it will be worth the wait. I don’t want to jinx it, but right now I can’t see how a movie that has Danny McBride speaking in an English accent and Justin Theroux as an evil wizard with a flat-top can be bad. Oh, and there are puppets, too. We can always use more puppets.
10. Doctor Who season 6/Sherlock season 2
It’s not often that one person can be the head writer for two of my favorite shows in a given year, but in 2010 Steven Moffat pulled it off. Last year’s overhauled season of Doctor Who was my favorite of the show’s run, and the modern reimagining of Sherlock Holmes he created with Mark Gatiss, which was more a series of movies than a regular TV show, was one of the most exciting version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work I’ve seen. So this entry is an obvious one. Since those seasons were awesome, I can’t wait for the new ones. I have no idea what to expect from Sherlock (I don’t think they’ve even started shooting yet), but DW seems to have all kinds of amazing stuff in store, namely the show’s first trip to the U.S. and the resolution of River Song’s story. Oh, and did I mention that one of the upcoming episodes is written by Neil Gaiman? Yeah, that’s really happening.
9. Hugo Cabret
This is going to be an interesting year for the ongoing debate over 3D, because 2011 is the year that Martin Scorsese (and Steven Spielberg, scroll down for more on that) releases his first movie shot in 3D. While I’m curious to see how he uses the format, it’s not really what I’m excited about. Any Scorsese movie would immediately have a spot on this list, but in his entire, incredible career, this is his first children’s movie. It’s an adventure movie about a young boy living alone in a Paris train station in the 1930s. The cast includes Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Chloe Moretz, Jude Law, and Ray Winstone. Robert Richardson is the cinematographer. So yeah, I’m just a little bit excited about this one.
8. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys
Elbow is a band who have managed to improve with every new album, with their previous one, the Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, being far and away my favorite of 2008. All I’ve heard from the latest is the live track embedded above, so I’m simply going on the fact that there’s new music on the way from one of the best bands in the UK, and if things go as they very well will, it should be magnificent. Maybe this will be the album to finally crack America, which would be good for the band, since they totally deserve it. If that happens, be prepared for me being the asshole who keeps talking about how he liked them first.
7. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Brad Bird. That’s all I needed to hear. For those who need a reminder, Bird is the director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He was the executive consultant for the first eight seasons of The Simpsons. He was the voice of Edna Mode. What I’m saying here is that Brad Bird is not only a genius when it comes to animation, but one of the best filmmakers working today. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the awkwardly-titled fourth installment in the series, is his first live action film, an occasion that’s a cause for rejoicing. Anything he does is worth seeing, but this one is especially intriguing because of the franchise. What’s cool about the Mission: Impossible series is that aside from being a vehicle for Tom Cruise to run a lot and look intense (and don’t get me wrong, he does those very, very well), it’s also a place where great directors come in and pretty much make whatever kind of espionage action movie they want. Aside from the presence of a couple core characters, each movie has been completely different. Now Bird is following Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams (who produced and co-wrote this one) and making his very own huge, globe-trotting spy movie.
6. The Last Guardian
In the neverending “can video games be art” debate, my position remains that there’s the potential for it to happen, but the medium hasn’t gotten there yet. Currently, two of the games that have come the closest are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both by the Japanese developer Team Ico. This is their first game in six years, and it appears to feature many of the same traits that made the other so incredible: a beautiful, ancient, somewhat fantastical world with no recognizable language, incredible visuals, amazing use of light, and of course, a simple, emotionally devastating story. All I know is that the game mostly consists of a boy and his giant bird/dog creature exploring a massive ancient city, and chances are that by the end of it, grown men everywhere will be in tears.
5. The Strokes – Angles
It’s about god damn time. This might sound weird, but I sort of rediscovered The Strokes a couple years ago, and went from casually liking them to becoming a rabid fan (“The Modern Age” is by the far the most played song in my iTunes library). As much as I liked Julian Casablancas’ solo album, it doesn’t quite take the place of a new Strokes album. I don’t know what else to say than that I’m tired of waiting. It’s been over five years since the last album. I’m really liking the first single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” but one song can only satiate me for so long. March 22nd can’t get here soon enough.
4. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
I’ve never read a Tintin comic, so I have no investment in the character. I do, however, love adventure movies, particularly period adventure movies. I’m now going to list the people involved with this to give you an idea of why I’m so excited: it’s directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s produced by Peter Jackson. It’s written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. The cast includes Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis. The motion capture animation is by Weta Digital. If you’re reading this, most of those names probably mean something to you. The amount of talent here blows my mind, and the project looks to be the perfect place for this kind of collaboration. These are people who are responsible for several of my favorite movies and TV shows of all time. My only problem is making sure my expectations don’t get too high.
3. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Last fall I finally got around to playing Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games, and immediately developed something of an obsession. The first game was great, but it was the second that really made an impression on me. Yes, it was gorgeous, had perfect control and some of the most enjoyable gameplay I’ve ever encountered, but what really blew me away was that it had the best integration of gaming and storytelling I’ve ever encountered. The writing and acting were the best I’ve ever seen in the medium, and instead of watching hour-long cut scenes, the action would never stop for more than two minutes at a time. I hate to use a cliché, but it really did feel like playing a truly great action movie. The game ended on a perfect, emotionally satisfying note, so I was a little hesitant when I learned that there would be one more game in the series. I shouldn’t be, though. This is Naughty Dog, and if anything they’re constantly improving and perfecting what they do. I’ve never been more excited about a video game than I am for this, and not because I want to run around and shoot more bad guys, but rather because I sincerely want to see where the story goes and what happens to the characters. I’m looking forward to this less like it’s a game and more like it’s the conclusion to a great movie series.
2. The Muppets
Everyone loves Muppets, yet for some reason it’s been decades since they’ve had a proper movie. I don’t mean like a Muppet retelling of a famous book, but a legit Muppet movie (for the record, I really like A Muppet Christmas Carol). Luckily Jason Segel, a man who can seemingly do no wrong, recognized this puppet-sized hole in our current popular culture and vowed to bring them back. Now we’re only nine months away from the movie I’ve been waiting years for. Flight of the Conchords co-creator James Bobin is directing from a screenplay by Segel and Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, and the two leads (aside from the Muppets, of course) are Segel and Amy Adams, probably the best possible choices to star alongside the Muppets. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Disney revealed that Bret McKenzie would be working on the music. Here’s hoping that the movie is a massive hit, bringing Jim Henson’s characters back to the prominent pop culture position they deserve.
1. Super 8
I was pumped for Super 8 simply from knowing that it’s written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced (not executive produced, but full-on produced) by Steven Spielberg, two men who are responsible for many, many things that I love. But it wasn’t until the thirty-second ad during the Super Bowl that the movie shot to the top of the list. What became clear from this quick peek is that Super 8 is an Amblin movie, and by that I mean it’s exactly the kind of movie that Spielberg either wrote, directed, or produced in the ’70s and ’80s that did a lot to shape a generation of movie watchers. So why is this movie at the very top of the list? Well, because this is my list, and this is the thing I’m more excited about that anything else this year. Like everyone (I’m assuming), there are certain types of stories that appeal to me, that I can’t help but be interested in. One big one is “kids in a small town encounter something extraordinary and have an adventure,” which includes movies such as E.T., The Goonies, The Monster Squad, and of course, The Iron Giant. Another less prominent one is “kids making movies.” What excites me about Super 8 is the combination of both of these stories, and the fact that Spielberg, the undisputed master of this kind of movie, is overseeing it. I love that after several years of giant franchise movies, Abrams is making a small[er], personal movie in the mold of the classic Spielberg movies that he grew up with. This is the first movie he’s both written and directed, so clearly it’s an important project to him. I grew up watching movies like this, and have been hoping for years that another one would come along. It’s hard to put into words the rush of nostalgia I felt watching that brief Super Bowl ad. I haven’t read any reviews and I haven’t seen more than about thirty seconds of footage. There’s always the chance I’ll be disappointed, but from where things stand now, it looks like it could really be something special.
It’s written by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s Bennett Miller’s first film since Capote, and it has cinematography by Wally Pfister. That’s all I need to know.
For his first post-Pirates of the Caribbean movie Gore Verbinski has made what appears to be a really weird animated western about a chameleon. That sounds just crazy enough to work.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
I will forever be fascinated by Michael Bay, and nothing will stop me from turning up to see his final word on those giant fighting robots. While I did kind of enjoy the second movie in a weird way, it’s nice to hear him acknowledge its failures and vow to improve things this time around.
Batman: Earth One
I enjoyed Superman: Earth One, but what I really loved was the concept and presentation. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are one of my favorite creative teams working in comics today, so the idea of them reimagining Batman in an original hardcover graphic novel sounds alright to me.
Tarsem, the director of the most visually astounding film in years, The Fall, is making a huge-budget epic about Greek mythology. At its absolute worst, it should be the prettiest movie of 2011.
Game of Thrones
I haven’t read George R.R. Martin’s books, and I haven’t been blown away by the trailers, but I’m pumped for this simply on the basis of it being an HBO fantasy series. With Peter Dinklage.
A futuristic science fiction thriller by Andrew Niccol. That’s all I need to know.
The Curiosity List
Kung Fu Panda 2
I didn’t like the trailers for the first one and ended up liking the movie a lot. I haven’t liked the trailers for this one, either. The big question mark, though: what is up with Charlie Kaufman working on the screenplay?
James Gunn’s low-budget Troma-esque take on superheroes with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as sociopathic vigilantes. It will probably be either amazing or horrific. Maybe both.
So far Pixar hasn’t made a single false move, but this is a sequel to their weakest movie, and the trailers don’t inspire confidence. I have all my fingers crossed for them to pull this off and maintain their perfect record.
Roland Emmerich, the man who built his career on spectacularly destroying major world landmarks, is making a historical thriller about William Shakespeare. I have no idea what to think about this, but I’m certainly curious.
It has Hugh Jackman and professional robot boxing…but it’s directed by the same guy who made Night at the Museum and Date Night. Hmm…
We Bought a Zoo
It’s Cameron Crowe’s first movie since Elizabethtown back in 2005. Please, please, please be good.
I like Russell Brand and I like Helen Mirren. This has a scene where Brand and Luis Guzman dress up as Batman and Robin. All I’m asking is that it makes me laugh.
Cabin in the Woods
This would be in the top 25, but with MGM’s financial clusterfuck, it might never be released. I really, really hope it does, though. A horror comedy by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon? Why yes, that does sound like something I would like to see.
Yup. For real. Twilight. I’m curious about three things: 1. Can Bill Condon, a terrific director, make this remotely watchable? 2. Will the sex and birthing scenes be as horrifically fucked-up as they’re supposed to be? 3. Will a werewolf fall in love with a baby?
And that’s it! It only took me a month and a half to get through this whole series. It’s time to actually do stuff. I’m gonna go practice the concertina. Maybe after that I’ll do some work on that Black Box thing. We’ll see.