Top movies to watch in 2011

Since we're a heartbeat away from being sick-to-death of this month's crop of Oscar-seeking masterpieces, we've decided to cast a quick glance forward to the ten 2011 films we're excited to see. We've seen some of the below, and make no promises for the others, but, as ever, we're hopeful. (And as always, dates are subject to change.)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Opens March 2

Thailand's official submission for the upcoming Foreign Language Oscar has already won this year's Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or. The middle-aged Boonmee has liver disease and is being guided toward death by the ghost of his dead wife and the spirit of their late son, who appears in the form of a very hairy monkey. As with everything director Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates, plot specifics are reductive, so worry not about the ghostly specters and the rumors you'll hear about a catfish sex scene.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Opens March 18

You probably weren't expecting to find a Matthew McConaughey flick on this list, but this one's based on a truly fabulous Michael Connelly novel. McConaughey plays an L.A. lawyer who works out of his Lincoln Town Car while wasting his considerable talents on drunks and drug dealers. Ryan Phillippe costars as his new super-rich murder defendant client. Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy also appear, as does John Leguizamo, who gave one of his finest performances in director Brad Furman's little-seen but emotionally harrowing 2007 drama, The Take.

Rubber

Opens April 1

Yes, this is a movie about a stray car tire that's rolling along desert back roads killing wayward humans with its psychic powers. Like Carrie at the prom, this loveless batch of angry tread ("probably brandless") has some serious issues to work out, a process that's gruesomely funny, thanks to the decidedly off-kilter worldview of French musician-turned-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux. Both loved and hated on the festival circuit, Rubber, if nothing else, may discourage grown men from heedlessly kicking their steel-belted radials.

Source Code

Opens April 1

Director Duncan Jones' virtuoso debut film, Moon, about an astronaut (Sam Rockwell) adrift in time and space, marked him as a major new talent. In Jones's newest, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a U.S. soldier who wakes up to find himself inhabiting another man's body aboard a passenger train that's going to blow up in eight minutes unless he can locate and stop the bomber (thereby saving the beautiful woman in the opposite seat — Michelle Monaghan — with whom he's about to fall in love). Hopefully, he's wearing a watch.

Hanna

Opens April 8

Saoirse Ronan, the Oscar-nominated young actress from Atonement, reunites with director Joe Wright for a film that sounds much less delicate. Ronan plays Hanna, a 14-year-old raised in a remote region of Sweden by her father (Eric Bana), a former CIA agent who's been training his only child to become a great assassin. When Hanna heads across Europe on her first mission, she finds that, newbie or not, she already has ruthless enemies. Cate Blanchett co-stars. Music by the Chemical Brothers.

Meek's Cutoff

Opens April 8

The Oregon Trail. 1845. Three families riding ox-drawn wagons to the new lands of the West are taking a "shortcut" through the Cascade Mountains suggested to them by their guide (Bruce Greenwood). Low on food, thirsty, and quietly desperate, the group encounters a Native American whose inscrutability tests the pilgrims' patience and belief systems. Reuniting with her Wendy and Lucy director, Michelle Williams stars alongside Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Zoe Kazan, and Will Patton.

The Tree of Life

Opens May 27

For cinephiles, the release of a new film by Terrence Malick, the metaphysically minded director of Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and 2005's The New World, is an event of Kubrickian importance. As ever in Malick-land, plot specifics are hard to come by, but we do know (or think we know) that the film tracks the life of a man named Jack (Sean Penn) from his childhood in the 1950s Midwest. Brad Pitt reportedly plays Jack's father in the early years. The rest is rumor, which is fine because the wonder of Malick lies in the mystery.

Hugo Cabret

Opens December 9

It's the late 1800s. Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a 12-year-old orphan, lives alone inside the Paris train station. When his secret life is discovered, Hugo is launched on an adventure featuring puzzles, lost keys, and a robot man with a secret. Beautifully drawn as well as thematically complex, Brian Selznick's 2007 young adult novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, set a new standard for what is possible in children's literature. Presumably aiming just as high, director Martin Scorsese is shooting his live action version in 3-D, a technique new to the filmmaker, as is the challenge of making a movie his little girl can actually see.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Opens December 23

Aided by his faithful dog Snowy, Tintin is a young Belgian newspaper reporter who leads a life of mystery and adventure in a series of comic books created in 1929 by the writer and illustrator known as Hergé. Successful in America but truly beloved in Europe, the Tintin stories have long appealed to Steven Spielberg, whose dream of bringing them to the screen comes true with this stop-motion 3-D film. This is the first of a projected trilogy, the second of which will be directed by coproducer Peter Jackson. If all goes well, the two men will codirect the third installment.

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