It being Oscars month, and with the award’s season in full balleric flow, we thought a  sidestep right of Colin Firth’s perpetually sad face and a neat pirouette around Natalie Portman’s increasingly hysteria-laden performances would be in order. So instead of weeping for Michelle Williams and Jesse Eisenberg (let’s face it, they’re not going to win) we’ll just crack on with a preview of 2011’s best and worst.

The year has broken brightly with the Sundance Film Festival continuing to court the documentary after the commercial success of films like Catfish in 2010. Where the Facebook doco had little to do with the animal kingdom, Project Nim most definitely has. James Marsh’s subtle but powerful commentary on a chimpanzee raised in a human household is showing form and after the dizzying Oscar success of Man on Wire it’s nice to see a director settle for a simple subject like human nature. But with no release date in sight we’ll have to settle for a poetic start to 2011 as flavour of February James Franco stars in Howl. It’ll be counter culture chronicled in style with Franco playing a young Allen Ginsberg on the cusp of the greatest work in his career, and if it doesn’t already sound like the hippest movie this decade, check out the supporting cast that includes Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) who’ll add rhythmic touches to the beat generation.

Also of note this year is the fact that spring becomes summer as two blockbusters blow both ends of April wide open. Zack Snyder may not be everyone’s favourite director but the underrated Watchmen indicated he’s handy with a superhero. Sucker Punch lines up an all female cast and a ludicrous concept that has fingers crossed but hopes muted. The same could be said for Thor: Marvel’s Nordic powerhouse that’ll smash onto screen at the end of April. With Kenneth Branagh taking the helm of a sci-fi fantasy for the first time since 1994’s Frankenstein, and Anthony Hopkins playing the masterful Odin, this could be a more cerebral take on the comic book than Snyder’s leather-fest earlier that month.

And that brings us to June, July and August, where comedies rule the roost. Notably The Hangover 2 looming large on Hollywood calendars, but come September it’ll be a Tinseltown great dominating our screens. War Horse touched Steven Spielberg enough on stage for him to bring the story to cinema and his mainly British cast and crew look exciting if predictable on paper. Housewives hold your breath as the asexual Sherlock Holmes grows a pair as Benedict Cumerbatch plays Major Stewart and Richard Curtis inevitably provides the script. Spielberg’s not done though – his September continues with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn: another British love-in with Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig all providing their bodies for the blue screen. Herge himself said if anyone could do his books justice it was Spielberg, and for many their cinematic year depends on this being the case.

Sandwiched between the two comes yet another gem in what hopes to be a landmark year for British film, but is it altogether homemade? Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy will be directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) but should still retain a British sensibility that John Le Carre would be proud of. Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy and Colin Firth will make sure of that.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 25 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. February 2010