So, it's time for Another Year, meaning not just 2011 but also the latest film from Happy-Go-Lucky director Mike Leigh, a traipse through four seasons in the lives of ordinary people, exploring their small joys and tragedies. Kind of like Blue Valentine, but with no oral sex.
That pretty much sums up the next few months on the big screen: life as we know it, with the occasional foray into the supernatural, the horrific, the fantastic, and the absurd — films like The Green Hornet 3D, The Rite, The Adjustment Bureau, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which these days are also a lot like life as we know it.
The year starts with controversy, namely Derek Cianfrance's BLUE VALENTINE (January 7), depicting several years in the lives of a young couple who have ups and downs and also go down on one another; the MPAA rated the film NC-17 for a while and then thought better of it. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are the ratings-crossed lovers.
Also busted is the anti-hero of CASINO JACK (January 7), George Hickenlooper's fictionalized account of the crimes and punishment of Jack Abramoff starring Kevin Spacey and Barry Pepper. Sadly, this is Hickenlooper's last film; he died after making it.
Expect more bad behavior in Shana Feste's COUNTRY STRONG (January 7). Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country singer who's just out of rehab. Could she win an Oscar for it like Jeff Bridges did for Crazy Heart? Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meester offer backup harmonies.
Probably not planning on getting an Oscar is newcomer Claire Foy as the title suspected sorceress in Dominic Sena's SEASON OF THE WITCH (January 7). She might be causing the plague, so Nicolas Cage, as a 13th-century knight, escorts her to a monastery and says things like, "If she is not a witch, then she is not yours to burn!" Shades of TheSeventh Seal? Probably not.
These days our knights are superheroes like THE GREEN HORNET 3D (January 14), here directed by the always fascinating Michel Gondry. Seth Rogen plays the newspaper publisher who supplements his day job by fighting crime at night. And they say print journalism is dead. With Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, and Cameron Diaz.
Less heroic, but equally super is the down-and-out magician of THE ILLUSIONIST (January 14). Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) adapts this animated version of a script by Jacques Tati. Maybe magical powers can help solve THE DILEMMA (January 14), a romantic comedy in which Vince Vaughn plays a guy who discovers that his best friend's wife is stepping out on him. What should he do? If magic doesn't work, extortion comes to mind. Ron Howard directs, and Kevin James and Winona Ryder co-star.
Dilemmas aplenty trouble the lives in Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR (January 21), but somehow when the characters are played by actors like Jim Broadbent, it all seems much more touching, funny, and humane. Not to mention Ruth Sheen and the amazing Lesley Manville.
Now here's what a Mike Leigh film would be like if Guillermo del Toro wrote the screenplay: in Troy Nixey's DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (opening date TBA), a young girl moves in with her dad and his new girlfriend, and along with the usual conflict and resentment, she has to deal with bizarre creatures infesting the house. Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce star.