Top 21 Movies to Keep an Eye on in 2011 (Part I)

We can whinge all we like about the barrage of Oscar bait thrown our way at the end of every year, but worse yet is the dearth of decent films that ring in the New Year.

January is always a bit thin when it comes to movie choices. The problem of course is that studios believe -- and they’re probably right -- that releasing a movie toward the end of the year, closer to awards season, increases its chances of winning shiny trophies. And that’s fine. We get it. Everyone’s ego needs a little bump now and again -- even the filthy rich’s.

But enough grousing. Let’s take a look at the best of what’s in store for us for the first three moths of 2011 'cuz there's some good stuff ahead:

Jan. 7
I Love You Phillip Morris
Yes, it already came out, but that was an awards-qualifying limited release. Finally folks who don’t live in New York or LA will get to see Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey as a pair of career criminal livers who will do anything to be together. Read our review and watch the trailer

Phil Ochs: There But for the Future
Few know who folk-music legend Phil Ochs was and fewer still know about his bizarre attempt at transitioning into the pop culture mainstream. It's a topic explored in this documentary featuring interviews with Sean Penn, Christopher Hitchens and Joan Baez. Watch the trailer

Jan. 14
The Green Hornet
First we were worried about Seth Rogen as a super hero, but he lost a ton of weight. And we were worried about director Michel Gondry tackling this kind of material. We were bummed by the first trailer. Then they retooled the film and test audiences loved it. Then Gondry called all the fanboys “fascists.” Now we just have to see it (we were gonna see it anyway). Watch the trailer

Barney’s Version
Paul Giamatti stars as a thrice-married soap opera producer who loses the love of his life and is accused of murdering his best friend in this darkly comic film featuring great performances from supporting players Scott Speedman and Rosamund Pike. Like “Philip Morris,” it’s already been in limited release but is casting a wider net. Read our review and watch the trailer

A Somewhat Gentle Man
Stellan Skarsgard stars in this comedy about a gangster fresh out of prison who’s trying to get his life back together. We haven’t heard much about it, but we stumbled across the trailer the other day and it seemed amusing. Watch the trailer

Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman is at the top of her game opposite the also-excellent Aaron Eckhart in this film from director John Cameron Mitchell about a couple navigating the grief of losing their 4-year-old son. Not as big a bummer as it sounds. Again, already out, but heading into other markets. Read our review and watch the trailer

Jan. 21
The Way Back
From director Pete Weir comes the true story of a group of WWII soldiers who escaped a Siberian gulag in 1940, starring Colin Farrell and Jim Strugess. We’re not entirely sold on this one, but we’ll see. Watch the trailer

Jan. 28
The Mechanic
Jason Statham stars in this remake of the Charles Bronson classic about a hitman betrayed by his protégé, now played by Ben Foster. There’s a better than even chance it will be terrible, but we have a soft spot for Statham and Foster is a rising star. Watch the trailer

One of the best and most emotionally draining films we saw in 2010 heads into wider release. Javier Bardme stars as a hustler trying to get his affairs in order and have his children taken care of before he succumbs to cancer. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s bleakest film -- and that’s not something we say lightly. Read our review and watch the trailer

Feb. 11
Ricardo Darin stars as Sosa, an ambulance-chasing attorney in a complicated romance with an ER doctor. After his turn in “The Secret in Their Eyes,” we’ll watch Darin in anything until he gives us a reason to stop. Watch the trailer

Cedar Rapids
Ed Helms (“The Hangover,” “The Office”) stars as a guy sent to the big city for an insurance convention only to fall in with the wrong crowd, one that includes John C. Reilly and Anne Heche. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Watch the trailer

Feb. 25
Of Gods and Men
A group of Trappist monks stationed in Algeria who come under pressure from fundamentalist terrorists and must decide whether to stay or flee. Watch a clip

March 4
We are loving the trailers for this film that sprang from the mind of director Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3”), about a chameleon going through an identity crisis. Stars the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fischer and Bill Nighy. Watch the trailer

The Adjustment Bureau
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick about a politican and a ballerina who defy their government-sanctioned fates, it stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. We were all kinds of stoked for this a year ago. But the first trailer was not-so-hot and then it got pushed back months and months. Now we feel as though we just need closure. We’re rooting for you, guys. Watch the trailer

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s haunting and trippy film, about a dying man who contemplates his past lives, won the Palm d’Or at Cannes 2010. Apparently it involves sex with a catfish. Watch the trailer

March 11
Jane Eyre
Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender star in the latest retelling of the Charlotte Bronte novel about a young woman who falls for her boss, who is hiding a deep, dark secret. Directed by Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”). Watch the trailer

March 18
Another film we used to be more excited about and now just need to see, this one stars Bradley Cooper as a going-nowhere writer who is one day introduced to a drug that lets him achieve his total potential as a human being. Soon Robert De Niro appears to tell him the bill is coming due. Watch the trailer

This year’s fanboy fantasy film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a pair of road-trippers who stumble upon an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who they must help escape the scalpel of government doctors. Directed by Greg Mottola and co-starring Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Sigourney, Blythe Danner, Jeffrey Tambor. Watch the trailer

March 25
Win Win
Paul Giamatti stars as a lawyer moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach who accidentally uncovers a star jock, but whose mother suddenly appears fresh from rehab with plans of her own.

Sucker Punch
Director Zack Snyder (“300,” “The Watchmen”) conceived of this film about a young woman whose evil step-father has her institutionalized and scheduled for a lobotomy. Instead she dives deep into her own psyche where she invents a world where she and a team of other young women battle Nazis and dragons. What can we say? We love the trailer.

The Beaver
Mel Gibson stars as a man who falls into a deep depression, one that he tries to escape from by communicating with his family and the world via a beaver hand puppet. Co-stars Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster, who also directed. Watch the trailer

We'll return at the end of March with a list of films we've got our eye on for April, May and June.

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