Previewing the Films of 2011: 39 Potential Oscar Contenders for the New Year


Here we are, the final installment of my 2011 preview and I have 36 new films to discuss, which means in the last four days I have brought you information on 133 different films opening (or expected to open) in 2011. I’d say that’s one hell of a comprehensive preview.

Today’s installment brings you a look at potential Oscar contenders and a dozen foreign language films I decided to single out. But before we get too far, let me remind you of the previous installments should you want to start at the beginning:

First we’ll begin with the Oscar Contenders. Below I’ve listed 39 films I feel will mark the start of the Oscar conversation for the new year. Fifteen of these films I’ve mentioned in my previous installments in some capacity and 24 of them are brand new to the preview. Each is discussed individually with a link to their official page here on if you want further information such as synopsis, full cast listings and pictures and trailers where available.

As we all realize, it’s very early and this is just a matter of speculation on my part, but you have to start some time. So once the Oscar winners for the movies released in 2010 are announced you better believe these are the films that will quickly make up the list of Contenders in my “The Contenders” section, so no better time than now to get acquainted.

Potential Oscar Contenders
(in alphabetical order)

Albert Nobbs [TBA 2011]: Rodrigo Garcia‘s Mother and Child was a rather good film last year with a very disappointing ending. The film, however, shows terrific directorial control and has some fantastic editing, piecing together a fractured narrative. The guy is one to watch and with Glenn Close (pictured to the right) reprising the same role that won her an Obie in an Off-Broadway interpretation of the short story by Irish author George Moore we may be talking about Close’s first Oscar win and first nomination since Dangerous Liaisons back in 1989. The film co-stars Michael Gambon, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Aaron Johnson and Mia Wasikowska.

August: Osage County [TBA 2011]: John Wells‘s feature directorial debut, The Company Men, isn’t exactly great. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. However, he definitely can bring a cast together and should August: Osage County make it to theaters in time for the 2011 awards season the fact he has Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the same movie could really become the talk of the town.

Beautiful Boy [TBA 2011]: Shawn Ku‘s Beautiful Boy made some buzz last year for Michael Sheen‘s performance. It went on to be recognized at the Toronto International Film Festival and was picked up by Anchor Bay Films. The question is whether or not Anchor Bay will have enough money to release the film, let alone mount an Oscar campaign.

The Beaver [March 23]: There is absolutely no telling what to expect from Jodie Foster‘s The Beaver as all eyes will be firmly set on lead actor Mel Gibson and I suspect Oksana Grigorieva will find a way to get her name in the news while trouncing Gibson’s come late March. Will the film be good enough to withstand all that’s happened? The Beaver co-stars Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence and Cherry Jones.

Contagion [October 21]: It’s Steven Soderbergh and it’s got a late year release date with an impressive cast. Anything can happen with this one. The film stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Josie Ho, Demetri Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, Elliott Gould and Sanaa Lathan.

Damsels in Distress [TBA 2011]: Whit Stillman‘s latest could definitely bring some screenplay attention as well as some potential acting kudos for Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody.

A Dangerous Method [TBA 2011]: I expect big things from David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method, the cast, which includes Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel is too impressive not to.

The Descendants [TBA 2011]: Alexander Payne hasn’t directed a feature length film since Sideways in 2004. It was originally thought The Descendants may be able to make it to theaters in time for Oscar season this year, but it will now certainly be a 2011 contender. The cast includes George Clooney, Matthew Lillard, Mary Birdsong, Nick Krause, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges and Robert Forster.

Dolphin Tale [October 7]: I added this one at the very last minute. It’s an October release starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd and I figured I’d go out on a limb with a Blind Side pick really early this year and this is it. Do I think the director of Air Bud will actually deliver an Oscar contender? No, but you have to take a chance somewhere. The film co-stars Kris Kristofferson, Harry Connick Jr., Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff. Oh yeah, and it’s in 3D!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close [TBA 2011]: Stephen Daldry‘s The Reader pissed off the world when it took a Best Picture slot originally thought to belong to The Dark Knight and then Kate Winslet went on to win the Best Actress Oscar. What will his latest do to ruffle some feathers? After all he has Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and John Goodman to help tell the story of Jonathan Safran Foer’s September 11-themed novel. If that’s not pure Oscar bait I’m not sure what is.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [December 21]: Some people were calling for Noomi Rapace to be nominated for her performance in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen, not with David Fincher‘s adaptation on the way. Expectation is for the film to be looked at as an Oscar contender, but I wonder if it will be unique enough to differentiate itself from the Swedish adaptation to build buzz. Chances are not many people saw the Swedish adaptation so he has that going for him, plus an impressive cast led by Rooney Mara (The Social Network) and Daniel Craig.

Hanna [April 8]: Instincts tell me Joe Wright‘s Hanna is going to have some problems, but hope has me cheering for it. Saoirse Ronan playing a teenage assassin is a concept rife with potential letdowns, but Wright has some excellence under his belt, enough to give me hope at least. The film co-stars Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Niels Arestrup, Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander and Jason Flemyng.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II [July 15]: Is there any chance the Academy awards the final part of half a movie considering the success this franchise has enjoyed? I don’t believe so personally, but what about you?

Haywire [TBA 2011]: It’s another Steven Soderbergh flick and this one is more likely to fall in the bin alongside The Girlfriend Experience, but personally I liked that film so perhaps if Soderbergh keeps making films of that sort someone will finally stand up and take notice. Outside of the unknown lead actress Gina Carano, the film features some serious talent in Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton.

The Help [August 12]: I was back-and-forth on including this one here but it’s got an impressive female cast in Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney and is based on a bestselling novel of which I’ve been told is quite good. Can’t ignore it.

Hugo Cabret [December 9]: It’s Martin Scorsese and it has a December release date. Of course it’s an Oscar contender. What categories does it have a chance at winning or being nominated in? As far as I know all or none of them. The first trailer may give us some indication as to what to expect, but I have a feeling this will be an unknown entity until late 2011 and outside of the fact it’s in 3D, I must admit I am starting to get a little excited for it.

The Ides of March [Releasing in December of 2011]: George Clooney‘s latest directorial outing could be good or it could be preaching political junk. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, Max Minghella and Jeffrey Wright so it has talent going for it, but will Clooney’s screenplay with Good Night, and Good Luck. co-writer Grant Heslov prove interesting?

Immortals [November 11]: The more I think about it, the more this may be my most anticipated film of 2011. Tarsem Singh makes beautiful films and directing some sort of a Clash of the Titans feature with an eclectic cast makes it all the more appealing. He’s brought on Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, John Hurt and Isabel Lucas to tell his story of the Gods and the possibilities are endless.

J. Edgar [TBA 2011]: I feel it would be a shame for Leonardo DiCaprio to win his first Best Actor Oscar on a film not directed by Martin Scorsese, but should the billing be any indication of this film’s success I won’t be surprised one bit if Clint Eastwood is the director to bring Leo his first statue. On top of that Eastwood has already brought on Social Network‘s Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and it is expected Charlize Theron will be joining the cast shortly. Hard to argue with those names.

Jane Eyre [March 11]: Cary Fukunaga impressed a lot of people with Sin Nombre and his latest brings a Charlotte Bronte’s classic to the big screen with talent that includes Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins and Imogen Poots. The only problem? The release date. Just like Sin Nombre, Focus is sending Jane Eyre to theaters in March… will the Academy’s short term memory be able to remember a 9-month-old film come December?

Larry Crowne [July 1]: Tom Hanks co-wrote Larry Crowne with Nia Vardalos. He’s directing and starring as the title character alongside Julia Roberts, Taraji P. Henson, George Takei, Peter Scolari, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Wilmer Valderrama, Jon Seda, Nia Vardalos, Natascha McElhone, Maria Canals, Pam Grier, Rami Malek and Rob Riggle. This is only Hanks’s second time in the director’s chair after 1996’s That Thing You Do! How will he do this time?

Love [TBA 2011]: Michael Haneke‘s latest may not be ready for awards season, but it can’t be left off the list. That said, news of this film is really too fresh to give much detail other than to say it stars Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva and centers on a married couple and their story after one of them suffers a minor stroke.

Meek’s Cutoff [April 8]: Kelly Reichardt‘s film was the talk of the festival circuit late last year and I unfortunately missed it in Toronto, but it’s hitting theaters early enough this year so the wait won’t be too long, but is it hitting too early to make much of an Oscar splash? Sounds like one of those films Oscar bloggers and critics will have to keep afloat if it’s deemed worthy.

Melancholia [TBA 2011]: Lars von Trier‘s latest is likely to not be ready for the awards season, but like Haneke’s Love it must be mentioned. The film is described as a psychological disaster film in which an enormous planet looms threateningly close to Earth. The cast includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and Udo Kier. It’s being shot on a $5 million budget and there was talk of it ending up at Cannes, but we’ll have to wait and see if von Trier was able to finish in time for the cut-off.

Midnight in Paris [TBA 2011]: Woody Allen‘s latest is always a potential Oscar candidate and with this cast how can it not be. Allen has rounded up Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Kurt Fuller, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill and Lea Seydoux for his latest French set feature that seems all-to-perfectly suited for a Cannes premiere.

Moneyball [September 23]: Yes, Moneyball will be released in 2011 and it was directed by the Oscar-nominated director of Capote, Bennett Miller. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Kathryn Morris and Chris Pratt star in the adaptation of Michael Lewis’s (“The Blind Side”) nonfiction book and I fully expect we’ll be debating its Oscar value come September if not earlier… such as right now.

My Week with Marilyn [TBA 2011]: Michelle Williams has been flirting with a second Oscar nomination for some time now and while a lot of people are talking about her performance in Blue Valentine this year I think they’re forgetting about how great she was in Shutter Island. While she’s looking like a dark horse for this year’s Oscar, perhaps a performance as Marilyn Monroe will be enough to earn her a slot among 2011’s Oscar Elite. Directed by Simon Curtis (“Cranford”) the supporting cast includes Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, Philip Jackson, Derek Jacobi and Dominic Cooper.

On the Road [TBA 2011]: Walter Salles‘s adaptation of Jack Keroac’s “On the Road” is sure to be closely scrutinized, but if he nails it it will likely be widely appreciated. The cast will also surely benefit as it features several recent younger stars in Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart as well as notable veterans Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams.

One Day [TBA 2011]: Lone Scherfig‘s An Education was one of the best of 2009 so of course her follow-up will be given great attention, not to mention it stars Academy favorite (and one of this year’s co-hosts) Anne Hathaway alongside Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai, Jamie Sives, Rafe Spall and Jodie Whittaker.

The Rum Diary [TBA 2011]: It seems we’ve been talking forever of Bruce Robinson‘s The Rum Diary, but I suspect we’ll finally see what this film has to offer this year and I wouldn’t put it past having a Cannes debut, bringing star Johnny Depp to the red carpet with co-stars Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli. Will it wow the South of France and enjoy a stream of kudos through Oscar season or simply fall flat?

Shame [TBA 2011]: Steve McQueen‘s Hunger was highly recognized by critics, but roundly ignored by the Academy. Don’t expect the same for his follow-up, which again has McQueen teaming with Hunger star Michael Fassbender as well as bringing in Carey Mulligan. This film could do big things this year.

The Tree of Life [May 27]: Oh yeah, remember that Terrence Malick guy? When it comes to Oscar this is likely to be the first movie out of everyone’s mouth this year, that is unless it disappoints at Cannes and falls flat after its May 27 release, a la The New World. Anything can happen with this film, which stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Fiona Shaw and Pell James, but for now it’s one of the year’s most anticipated features.

Triple Frontier [TBA 2011]: The latest word is Kathryn Bigelow‘s next film with The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal will film in mid-March or April with Tom Hanks currently the only actor signed on to star. Does that give the film enough time to make it through post for say… a Toronto Film Festival debut? It’s expected to be a massive location shoot “in a number of countries both down in South America and in North America” said producer Charles Roven, so it could be a tight fit.

War Horse [December 28]: Oh, Steven Spielberg has a film this year? He has two in fact and I didn’t include The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn above as it only releases five days before War Horse, but suffice to say Spielberg is going to have a busy December, with War Horse looking to be his bigger Oscar possibility as a live-action film is better suited for the Academy’s sensibilities.

We Bought a Zoo [December 23]: Remember Cameron Crowe? The guy that won an Oscar for his Almost Famous screenplay and directed Cuba Gooding Jr. in to relevance before Gooding thought Boat Trip would be a good post-Oscar career move. Well, Crowe has his first film in six years set to hit screens this December and he has Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johansson, Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning and Angus Macfadyen along for the ride, which offers up several Oscar possibilities should his screenplay, co-written with Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, Morning Glory) prove to have the goods.

The Whistleblower [Releasing in August of 2011]: I saw Larysa Kondracki‘s The Whistleblower in Toronto last year (my review here) and while I didn’t particularly love the film itself, Rachel Weisz gives a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Win Win [March 25]: Thomas McCarthy last directed Richard Jenkins to an Oscar nomination for The Visitor and now he’s returning to theaters with Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey and Jeffrey Tambor for Win Win. He directed Cannavale in a terrific performance with The Station Agent and Giamatti and Ryan speak for themselves as does Tambor. This may be an early release film, but so was The Visitor, which hit theaters in April, but Jenkins’s performance stuck with voters all year long. Like The Visitor, Win Win will debut at Sundance this year with a first screening set for January 21, so we’ll know soon enough what we’re dealing with.

Wuthering Heights [TBA 2011]: Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank earned plenty of kudos from the critical base and as an Oscar-winning shorts director she’s been a favorite for some time. The question now is whether one of her features can break through. I guess an Emily Bronte adaptation isn’t a bad way to start.

Young Adult [TBA 2011]: Jason Reitman is teaming once again with the Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, which is sure to be a story in itself in 2011. He’s also put together a solid cast including Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson for his latest dramedy centering on a ghostwriter of young adult novels (Theron) who realizes she has no identity with her pseudonym and plots to reclaim her identity by reengaging with her high school acquaintances and their experiences in trying to carry out all those hopes and dreams that often get crushed by the realities of life. Can the Juno duo strike gold twice?

Next I have a list of 12 foreign language films. I felt it was only appropriate to include these with the Oscar preview because a few of them may be included in the Oscar conversation anyway. Unfortunately I am not entirely up on the international scene so it will take my trip to Cannes to start to get a foothold on what films from overseas will make a splash this year, but I hope this serves as a modest start.

Foreign Language Titles
(in alphabetical order)

13 Assassins [TBA 2011]: I’ve heard Takashi Miike‘s latest isn’t all arterial spray as you may expect from a film from the director of Ichi the Killer and countless other bloodbaths. This is another film I missed in Toronto, but hoped to catch and now I have to hope it finds a release date here in the States.

Certified Copy [March 11]: Abbas Kiarostami‘s latest I have seen (my review from Cannes right here) and it is an excellent little film that includes Cannes Best Actress winner Juliette Binoche and co-star William Shimell in a small story about a couple that may, or may not, be more acquainted than they seem.

Heartbeats [February 24]: A lack of sleep prevented me from seeing Xavier Dolan‘s new film at Cannes, but we’re less than two months away from IFC sending it to theaters so I won’t have to wait much longer for a film, I’ve heard, is quite impressive from a director, I’ve heard, knows he’s quite impressive. I’m anxious to decide for myself.

The Housemaid [January 21]: This is another Cannes feature I saw and it is a wild, wild film that has an ending that may not surprise you considering everything that comes before it, but suffice to say it will leave a mark. You can read my Cannes review right here.

I Saw the Devil [March 4]: Ji-woon Kim‘s I Saw the Devil will be at Sundance and I’ve heard it’s pretty damned good. Kim is the director of the Korean horror A Tale of Two Sisters, which was later remade into The Uninvited, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird and he’s cast Oldboy and Lady Vengeance star Min-sik Choi and Byung-hun Lee (played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) in his latest.

In a Better World [TBA 2011]: I saw Susanne Bier‘s latest at Toronto and loved it and expect it to make a minor splash this year with art house sect.

Incendies [April 1]: Denis Villeneuve‘s Incendies has received acclaim from nearly everyone that’s seen it and Sony Pictures Classics quickly snatched it up out of Toronto. I have yet to see it, but an early April release means I won’t have to wait long.

The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen [TBA 2011]: Andy Lau Tak Wah is always worth looking out for and with Donnie Yen as part of the cast I definitely want to see what it has to offer.

Of Gods and Men [February 25]: I did see Of Gods and Men at Cannes, but I ddi not write up a review. It was the very last film I saw at the festival and shortly thereafter I rushed back to my apartment, packed up and was off to Nice to head home. However, it is an excellent film and one I’ll discuss further in a little over a month. Directed by Xavier Beauvois the film stars Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin and Sabrina Ouazani.

Ong Bak 3 [January 14]: Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai team to co-direct what I expect may be the last of the Ong Bak films, a franchise that abandoned its roots established in the first film and completely derailed in the second, but derailed to a point it’s so absurd it’s mildly entertaining. I’m curious to see how far they take things this time.

Reign of Assassins [TBA 2011]: John Woo and Chao-Bin Su team to direct a film centering on an assassin (Michelle Yeoh) who comes across the remains of a mystical Buddhist monk and when she sets off to return them to their rightful place she finds she’s being by a team of assassins who want the remains for the ancient power they possess.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives [TBA 2011]: Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and I have yet to see it. I only add it out of curiosity as I really have no overwhelming desire to actually watch it.

Whew! So that does it, 133 films previewed in a variety of categories. Once again, here are the links to the previous installments.

I would love to hear your comments on this batch of films as well as your thoughts on the year of films ahead of us. Are you looking forward to the films of 2011 or are you getting a sense they don’t really look that great? Speak up below and get the conversation started.

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