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01.02.11

2011's 11 Most Anticipated Movies

With 2010’s disappointments—Wolfman, all those rom-coms!— behind us, we can move on to the excitements of the coming year. From The Hangover Part II to The Muppets, Marlow Stern surveys the best prospects.

With 2010’s disappointments— Wolfman, all those rom-coms!— behind us, we can move on to the excitements of the coming year. From The Hangover Part II to The Muppets, Marlow Stern surveys the best prospects.

1. The Hangover Part II

Release Date: May 26, 2011

Yes, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms) are back for more crazy hijinks in the sequel to 2009’s comedy smash from filmmaker Todd Phillips. This time, they’re headed to Bangkok for Stu’s wedding to his new fiancée, played by actress Jamie Chung, so expect plenty of ladyboy jokes. The production looked to be in disarray following Mel Gibson’s unceremonious firing from his cameo role in the film as a tattoo artist, following a rumored coup spearheaded by Galifianakis. However, things are looking better than ever, with Gibson being replaced by Liam Neeson, as well as additional cameo appearances by Bill Clinton and Paul Giamatti. “I think we’re on the verge of making something truly special and I’m really excited about that,” Phillips told The Daily Beast.

2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Release Date: December 21, 2011

How do you follow up The Social Network, the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture, and arguably the best film of the year? If you’re director David Fincher, you give the first novel in Swede Stieg Larsson’s bestselling trilogy the studio treatment, and, after a long casting ordeal where it seemed like every hot young actress in Hollywood was after the role—including Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, and Ellen Page—you cast one of your film’s breakout stars, actress Rooney Mara, in the lead role of hacker Lisbeth Salander. The pictures of Mara on set, with her myriad piercings and shaved-off eyebrows, look promising, and even the trilogy’s die-hard fans seem to be impressed with the casting choice, as well as the selection of Daniel Craig in the other lead role as lady-killing journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Mara seems to be taking her newly anointed “It Girl” status in stride: “It’s -9 degrees Celsius. 37 takes down, only about 42 more to go,” Mara jokingly told Entertainment Weekly from the film’s set. “Every time he says, ‘OK, last one,’ I fall for it. Every. Single. Time. If only I could get this damn shrug right, then maybe I could go inside and my nipple ring would have time to thaw out…”

3. The Muppets

Release Date: November 23, 2011

Marking the feature filmmaking debut of director James Bobin ( Flight of the Conchords, Da Ali G Show) from a screenplay by actor Jason Segel and his Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, this is, without question, one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2011. Why? The cameos. While the main cast includes Segel as a human named Gary whose best pal is Walter, a new, geeky puppet, Amy Adams as his girlfriend, and Chris Cooper as evil oilman Tex Richman, the film is peppered with appearances from what seems like every actor in Hollywood. Jack Black will play himself as a kidnap victim, Zach Galifianakis plays a hobo, Alan Arkin plays a tour guide, Emily Blunt, Ricky Gervais, Billy Crystal, Jean-Claude van Damme, and Sean Penn will also appear. And last but not least, Lady Gaga herself is rumored to be making a cameo, with Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and The Office’s John Krasinski and Ed Helms as members of her entourage. “My goal is make it like the 1970s, early ’80s Muppet movies,” Segel told MTV.com of his Muppet franchise resurrection. And if the hilarious Dracula puppet scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is any indication, Segel seems like the right guy for the job.

4. Contagion

Release Date: October 21, 2011

If the retirement rumor that’s being spread by Matt Damon is true, this will be one of Steven Soderbergh’s final films, and if the cast is any indicator, he’ll be going out with a bang. The film, an action-thriller about the outbreak of a deadly disease and an international team of doctors hired by the Centers for Disease Control to stop the outbreak, stars Jude Law, Matt Damon, and Gwyneth Paltrow—who are reuniting for the first time since The Talented Mr. Ripley—as well as Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, and John Hawkes, who delivered one of the year’s best performances as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone. “The movie is a really exciting movie,” said Paltrow. “We all kind of have these little parts in it. We’re all important parts in the whole overall thing.” Soderbergh has proved he can handle large ensembles in the Ocean’s films and his Oscar-winning multi-layered drug saga, Traffic, and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns penned one of the best action-thrillers in recent memory, The Bourne Ultimatum.

5. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Release Date: July 29, 2011

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the filmmakers behind the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, this film should breathe new life into the Hollywood romantic comedy, a subgenre that suffered one of its worst years ever in 2010. The film stars Steve Carell as Cal, a guy whose life is going smoothly until he learns his wife, played by Julianne Moore, wants a divorce. His world soon unravels—that is, until a suave, thirtysomething player, Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), takes Cal on as his wingman, where Cal’s eyes are opened to the world of flirty women, man-drinks, and a new sense of style. We’ve never seen indie prince Gosling in a mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy before, and his pairing with Carell is quite intriguing. Then factor in one of our breakout stars of 2011, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, and Marisa Tomei, and you have what’s shaping up to be the next great comedy that may help you forget all about How Do You Know.

6. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Release Date: December 16, 2011

Rumors of Tom Cruise’s career demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, his last film, the terribly titled action-thriller Knight & Day, had a disappointing domestic box-office gross of just north of $76 million, but it made an additional $185 million in foreign markets, proving Cruise’s movie-star appeal abroad. Cruise was forced to take a drastic pay cut for this film after banking $90 million from the first Mission: Impossible due to backend participation, which may motivate him to give it his all in what looks like his most promising comeback vehicle to date. With director Brad Bird, who was responsible for one of the best animated films in Pixar’s distinguished canon, Ratatouille, at the helm and the addition of actor Jeremy Renner, fresh off his Golden Globe nomination for The Town, as Cruise’s sidekick, it should be a helluva ride. Add in the inspired casting of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Mikael Nyqvist, Inglorious Basterds’ Léa Seydoux, and Slumdog Millionaire’s Anil Kapoor as the film’s villains, and you’ve got all the makings of a great action-adventure.

7. Hugo Cabret

Release Date: December 9, 2011

Martin Scorsese goes 3-D for the first time in this film adapted from Brian Selznick’s bestseller The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan, who scripted Scorsese’s The Aviator and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the film tells the tale of an orphan boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives a secret life inside the walls of a Paris train station and gets swept up in a fantastical adventure involving a broken automaton, a strange girl played by Chloë Moretz, and an off-putting toy shop owner. Moretz has been named one of our rising stars of 2011 thanks to her terrific performances as the ninja assassin Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and a creepy vampire in Let Me In, so it will be exciting to see her paired with an auteur like Scorsese, and the film boasts a fantastic supporting cast, including Ben Kingsley, Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg, and Christopher Lee. Although I wasn’t a fan of Scorsese’s last film, Shutter Island, with its vexing score and awful “twist” easily predictable from the trailer, the film still managed to become Scorsese’s biggest box-office hit. But this new film, with its popular, family-friendly source material and great cast, stands a great chance of topping it.

8. Moneyball

Release Date: September 23, 2011

The last film adapted from a book by acclaimed author Michael Lewis, last year’s The Blind Side, was both a critical and commercial success, earning a whopping $255 million at the domestic box office, as well as a Best Actress Oscar for star Sandra Bullock. Based on Lewis’ popular book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the feature was originally set to have Steven Soderbergh write and direct, but disagreements with Sony over his reportedly awful screenplay led to his departure. He was replaced in the director’s chair by Capote’s Bennett Miller, with The Social Network’s Aaron Sorkin rewriting the screenplay. The story centers on Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who takes over as general manager of the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics baseball team and, through analysis and a new, nontraditional Sabermetric approach to scouting players, creates a competitive baseball team. The film also stars Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, Beane’s assistant general manager, and Capote’s Oscar-winning star, Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Art Howe, the A’s manager. Sounds like Oscar bait to me.

9. War Horse

Release Date: December 28, 2011

Steven Spielberg is adapting Michael Mopurgo’s acclaimed novel about a young man, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and his close relationship with his horse, Joey. When Joey is sold and sent to the front lines of World War I, Albert travels to France to save his longtime friend. The book was also adapted into a play by Nick Stafford that not only earned rave reviews, but also was the most successful play in the history of The National Theatre in London and was even attended by Queen Elizabeth, making her first private visit to the theater in four years. The play will transfer to New York City’s Lincoln Center in March, and the film, one of two big Spielberg flicks—along with the stop-motion animated The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn—to be released during the holiday season. It boasts a fantastic international cast, including the underrated David Thewlis (star of Mike Leigh’s Naked), Emily Watson, The Reader’s David Kross, and Niels Arestrup, who starred as the ruthless Corsican gangster César Luciani in one of the year’s most overlooked films, A Prophet. And, if Jaws and Jurassic Park taught us anything, it’s that nobody does animals better than Spielberg.

10. Now

Release Date: September 30, 2011

In what could perhaps be this year’s Inception, filmmaker Andrew Niccol, helmer of the criminally underrated 1997 sci-fi flick Gattaca, is directing this intriguingly premised film about a dystopia where the aging gene has been switched off, so people must pay to stay alive. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is a poor guy who’s accused of murder after inheriting a fortune from a rich man and is forced to go on the run from the law. Yogi Bear notwithstanding, its been a great year for Timberlake, whose performance as Sean Parker in The Social Network earned critical raves. Here, he’s starring alongside Dear John actress Amanda Seyfried and Tron: Legacy’s Olivia Wilde, as well as Inception’s Cillian Murphy and Alex Pettyfer, who’s bound to be one of the breakout stars of 2011 with his starring role in I Am Number Four.  Although filming was temporarily halted on the flick when Timberlake injured his calf, 2011 is poised to be another banner year for Justin Timberlake, Serious Actor, with Now and the rom-com Friends With Benefits, directed by Easy A’s Will Gluck, and also starring Black Swan’s Mila Kunis and Emma Stone.

11. The Tree of Life

Release Date: May 27, 2011

Have you seen the fantastic, visually sumptuous trailer? Acclaimed director Terrence Malick’s ( Days of Heaven, Badlands) film has been mired in production and distribution hell, including not being finished in time to make its long-awaited premiere at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. But this film, about the evolution of an 11-year-old Midwestern boy (Hunter McCracken) who’s torn between the contrasting outlooks of his two parents (played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) on life as a young child, and then grows into a lost adult, played by Sean Penn, looks like it could be Malick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (if the Kubrick-esque scenes of the creation of the universe actually make it into the film). The trailer looks so good, one commenter on IMDB wrote: “I customarily have to wait and actually see the whole movie in a theater in order to get tears in my eyes, but this is the first trailer that actually managed to move me to tears,” according to The Guardian

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Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.