A year is a very long time when it comes to film. Twelve months ago moviegoers were excited about Ridley Scott making Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, but had little knowledge of Tom Hooper's The King's Speech. Come year's end and the former is barely remembered, while the latter opens to great expectation on Boxing Day with Academy Awards participation to follow. Right now, 2011's release schedule – with 25 titles of varied lineage below – looks both promising and suspicious; some will exceed expectations, others will fail dismally. You just won't know which is which till the lights go down.
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky – January 20)
In the tradition of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes, Darren Aronofsky follows up the working class realism of The Wrestler with the story of an obsessive ballerina's descent into madness while dancing the lead in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Natalie Portman stars, with Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel supporting.
The Fighter (David O. Russell – January 26)
Mark Wahlberg has long wanted to play American boxer Mickey Ward, a middling fighter who retired and then came back after surgery to win a title belt in 2000. The ever unpredictable David O. Russell (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings) directs, while critical word has singled out the performance of Christian Bale as Ward's wayward half-brother.
127 Hours (Danny Boyle – February 10)
Will you look away? That's one question raised by Danny Boyle's first feature since Slumdog Millionaire, where in a real life story James Franco plays Aaron Ralston, a blithe spirit who finds himself trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon and eventually cuts off his own arm to escape.
Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell – February 17)
Nicole Kidman has had some of her best notices for years with this American festival circuit favourite, where the tarnished star plays a grieving mother trying to deal with her husband (Aaron Eckhart) after the death of their young son.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Daniel Alfredson – March 3)
The final part of the Swedish trilogy, adapted from the best selling Millennium novels of the late Stieg Larsson, reunites the iconic Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) as she struggles to stay alive long enough to clear her name in court.
A Heartbeat Away (Gale Edwards – March 3)
Emmy Award-winning Australian theatre director Gale Edwards (The Boy From Oz, Sweeney Todd) makes her feature film debut with the musical fish out of water tale of a rock & roll guitarist who must take charge of her father's brass band just prior to a competition. Isabel Lucas and Colin Friels play the leads.
Griff the Invisible (Leon Ford – March 17)
Another unexpected Australian release: the suddenly everywhere Ryan Kwanten (television's True Blood, Red Hill) plays a mild-mannered recluse who at night enters the world of superheroes as a very unlikely candidate for creating cape fear; writer/director Leon Ford helms his first feature.
Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathan Liebesman – March 24)
Alien invasion of Earth flicks are a recurring fixture in 2011. After Skyline, and with The Darkest Hour to follow, Battle: Los Angeles has a U.S. marine (Aaron Eckhart) and his comrades facing off against extra-terrestrial soldiers. South African director Jonathan Liebesman promises that Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down was an inspiration.
Sucker Punch (Zach Snyder – March 24)
After 300 and Watchmen, digital world builder Zach Snyder turns a fifties B-movie about a young woman (Australian Emily Browning) unjustly sent to an insane asylum into a fantasy epic when she and her fellow patients invade various imagined worlds to aid their escape. Fanboys take note: includes dragons, giant robots, airships and schoolgirl uniforms.
Potiche (Francois Ozon – April 21, pictured)
French auteur Francois Ozon reunites with his 8 Women star, the supreme Catherine Deneuve, for the seventies-set story of a hitherto trophy wife who must take charge of her husband's umbrella factory where the staff, including Gerard Depardieu, are in revolt.
Restless (Gus Van Sant – April 21)
What can Gus Van Sant do with the possibly maudlin tale of a teenage girl with a fatal illness (Mia Wasikowska) who finds love with an eccentric young man (Henry Hopper)? For starters, give the young man a Japanese ghost as a companion to converse with. Beyond that, who knows whether Elephant or Milk will prevail?
Mad Bastards (Brendan Fletcher – May 5)
After a breakthrough year for indigenous cinema with Samson and Delilah and Bran Nue Dae, this gritty drama set in a remote outback community and using an amateur cast could be 2011's standout. Based on the experience of the young actors, it's already won entry to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall – May 19)
Director Gore Verbinski and stars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom haven't returned for the fourth Pirates outing, but fulcrum Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush are joined by director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and Penelope Cruz for the story of Captain Jack Sparrow's search for the fountain of youth.
X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn – June 2)
It's a prequel. The ageing adversaries of the X-Men trilogy – Patrick Stewart's Professor X and Sir Ian McKellen's Magneto – are here seen in the sixties as young men and best friends, as the mutant world continues to draw thematic inspiration from the American civil rights movement. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender take the respective roles, with Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) directing.
Super 8 (J.J. Abrams – June 9)
From the fertile mind of J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Lost) comes his latest mysterious production, which like Cloverfield sports a teaser trailer suggesting some kind of fantastic creature and little more than a cast list featuring quite a few children. Abrams' teenage inspiration, Steven Spielberg, is among the producers.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates – July 14)
It's goodbye to Hogwarts – in 3D in selected cinemas – as the eighth and final adaptation of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard saga picks up where last month's rather solid Deathly Hallows: Part 1 left off. Expect to see the main teenage cast members as digitally aged 30somethings for the final scene, a coda set 19 years in the future.
Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau – August 11)
Last year's western mash-up, the comic book adaptation Jonah Hex, was a distinct failure, so here's hoping Iron Man director Jon Favreau can get the tone right with his picture about, ah, cowboys and aliens. Daniel Craig is his man with no name, while Harrison Ford saddles up as an adversary who becomes an ally.
The War Horse (Steven Spielberg – August 11)
Both Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese (January 2012's Hugo Cabret) are making children's films of a sort – Spielberg's is about a boy whose horse is sold to the British army for service in France during World War One, and his quest to rescue it. No American stars, just British character actors, in the cast.
Contagion (Steven Soderbergh – October 20)
For his fast-paced contagious epidemic outbreak adventure Steven Soderbergh has a strong ensemble cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard will all look for a cure; hopefully it's better than Wolfgang Peterson's Outbreak.
Intruders (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo – October 27)
The latest edge of your seat frightener from Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto, 28 Weeks Later) has Clive Owen as the father of an 11-year-old girl who has to literally fight her childhood demons. European o-stars include Carice Van Outen and Daniel Bruhl.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Bill Condon – November 17)
Dedicated fans aside, moviegoers haven't been well-served by the Twilight franchise, but Breaking Dawn is listed for two, possibly conflicting, reasons. Firstly, director Bill Condon is a classy, surprising choice, having made Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Dreamgirls. Secondly, some absolutely bonkers events occur in the book.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick – November)
It wouldn't be a Terrence Malick film, the writer/director being Hollywood's last true reclusive genius, if we knew much of anything about The Tree of Life. So, it's set mainly in the 1950s, Brad Pitt plays a disciplinarian father, with Sean Penn appearing separately as his adult son. Rumours of prehistoric dinosaur scenes may be part of this film, or a different Malick IMAX project.
Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn (Steven Spielberg – December 26)
Based on the adventure comic books by Belgian artist Herge, Secret of the Unicorn is the first of three planned Tintin movies. Peter Jackson is down for the second one and it's his FX house, Weta, that's animating the 3-D motion-capture footage. Jamie Bell plays Tintin, with Jackson favourite Andy Serkis (Gollum) as his seafaring pal Captain Haddock.
Happy Feet 2 (George Miller – December 26)
George Miller, who co-wrote and co-directed the 2006 Australian animated family hit, is in sole charge of the sequel, with Elijah Wood returning as the voice of Mumble the penguin. Listen out for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon cameoing as krill.
The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg (Steven Soderbergh – TBC)
When Steven Soderbergh was rehearsing the Sydney Theatre Company in 2009 for his play Tot Mom, the mornings were so productive that he decided they could make an improvised film about a theatre company doing Chekhov in the afternoon. Michael Gregg is the result, with Soderbergh and STC co-heads Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett also reportedly appearing alongside Essie Davis and Rhys Muldoon.