Feast of film

If you're a fan of hard-hitting Oscar-worthy drama, alien invasion movies and blockbuster sequels, then 2011 will be your happiest film year yet. Kate Whiting and Sophie Charara reveal all

With the glitz and glamour of the awards season almost upon us, it's time to focus on next year's movie line-up.

As always at the start of the year, the movie world will be focused on the Oscars, but British film lovers shouldn't worry as there's plenty of local talent to keep the competition interesting.

The King's Speech, which hits cinemas this week, stars Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist and is hotly tipped by critics.

"It's a traditional, old-fashioned period epic which is beautifully made in terms of costumes and art direction, so expect a lot of nominations," says Damon Smith, film critic for BBC London.

2011 is also the year of aliens. Forget vampires (they're so last year) – almost every month from February, the little green men will be invading our screens in various different guises.

Again, Brits will be leading the way in the form of Paul, a comedy from Spaced duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Having dispatched with the zombies in Shaun Of The Dead, they're now befriending an alien who's escaped from Area 51.

"They're two geeks who have been to Comic Con in San Diego and they pick up a grey alien, the classic X Files kind, who's voiced by Seth Rogen, and go on a road trip while being chased by the Feds," describes SFX magazine's deputy editor, Richard Edwards. And in a fanboy nod to Aliens and Avatar, the film also stars Sigourney 'Ripley' Weaver. Sounds wonderfully geeky!

Come summer, it'll be sequel time with the return of some very hotly anticipated (and some slightly less so) film franchises.

Harry Potter fans will be flocking to see the very last Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in July – and there'll also be a chance to see Johnny English, Rowan Atkinson's bumbling secret agent, again, eight years after he last tripped across our screens.

"I didn't like the original that much," admits Empire magazine's executive editor Ian Nathan. "But those kind of comedies have a traditional feel and they might have timed it perfectly. People are in the mood for a bit of Rowan Atkinson goofing around."

Oscar contenders

Rosie Fletcher, Total Film magazine's news editor is excited about the next few months in film: "Awards season always brings cinema treats so there's a lot to look forward to. The King's Speech is tender and reflective, Black Swan and The Fighter intense and exhilarating, and True Grit – it's the Coens at their best."

The King's Speech is directed by the relatively unknown TV director Tom Hooper, whose credits include Longford and Daniel Deronda, while Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are going head to head as ballet rivals in Darren Aronofsky's thriller Black Swan.

"This is a film directed to within an inch of its life," says Fletcher.

Portman, a trained dancer and long overdue an Oscar, gives an "intense, committed performance outside her comfort zone".

Critics are already raving about Danny Boyle's follow up to Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, which tells the story of a mountain climber trapped under a boulder.

"He holds the screen single-handedly and runs the gauntlet of every emotion in a very demanding role," says Fletcher.

The Coen brothers are also back with their Western, True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Fletcher recommends the tale of a US marshal helping a young woman find her father's murderer as "a rich and evocative Western and a stunning piece of film-making".

Look out for David O' Russell's The Fighter in the first week of February, too. Based on the early years of the boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother (Christian Bale) who helped him train, it has divided the critics.

It's a thumbs up from Total Film but Smith wasn't convinced: "Melissa Leo plays a hard as nails drug addict mother brilliantly, but you might as well have stuck a cardboard cut-out of Mark Wahlberg in there."

The aliens are coming...

On the same day that alien comedy adventure Paul hits our screens, February 18 sees the release of I Am Number 4, based on the teen thriller by Pittacus Lore. Brit actor Alex Pettyfer (who played the young spy in Stormbreaker) goes to High School like a normal kid, but is actually one of nine aliens brought to earth to protect them from evil aliens. Three have been killed already and he is... number 4.

Could this be the new Twilight? SFX magazine's Richard Edwards, says "maybe".

"I think it's more likely to appeal to boys. It's probably less romance and more weaponry."

And not to forget the little ones, Disney have teamed up with the brains behind The Polar Express to make Mars Needs Moms, out in April.

"I wouldn't expect people being vaporised in that one," quips Edwards. "It's about this kid's mum who gets taken to Mars because they want good mums, and he wants her back."

Comic book fans are eagerly awaiting the adaptation of DC Comics' Green Lantern in June. It stars Ryan Reynolds as a test pilot who gets inducted into an intergalactic peace-keeping force.

Meanwhile, Lost creator JJ Abrams has collaborated with Steven Spielberg on Super 8 – one of the most closely-guarded movie secrets next year.

"In Cloverfield style, he's keeping his cards close to his chest. There's a cracking trailer which has a train crash in it, and we know there's something in a container, but that's it."

By far the most exciting sounding of the lot is the Western film Cowboys & Aliens, out in August – a movie which, as Edwards quips, "sells you on its title".

"Then there's the fact you've got Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford as gunslingers facing off an alien threat – it probably doesn't need to do much else, does it?"

Edwards suggests this bumper crop of alien movies is testament to our enduring belief that "there's something out there".

"And aliens have cool spaceships too," he laughs.

More of what you like

Summer is sequel season – and 2011 is packing a swashbuckling punch.

Pirates Of The Caribbean On Stranger Tides, out in May, is the fourth instalment in the immensely popular Disney franchise, which sees Johnny Depp return as the ever eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow.

While the third one garnered lukewarm reviews, the audience loved it.

"What's interesting it that is has a new director, Rob Marshall, who made musicals Chicago and Nine, and there's an innate promise that it's going to be a return to the feel of the first film," says Empire's Nathan.

"It's a standalone adventure, and should be much more streamlined and lighter on its feet."

Sadly this time there's no Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightley, but instead Ian 'Lovejoy' McShane plays pirate legend Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz pops up as Jack Sparrow's "untrustworthy old flame".

The Transformers are having another outing in Dark Of The Moon, in June, but Shia LaBeouf's sexy sidekick Megan Fox has been replaced by Devon-born model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who's sure to appeal to male fans.

Also in June, X Men is getting a reboot from British writing-directing duo Matthew Vaughn and Jane 'Mrs Jonathan Ross' Goldman.

And The Hangover 2 will be trying to impress fans after the success of the original last year.

"The great difficulty is, will the joke still be funny?" ponders Nathan. "I know they go off to Bangkok and all these crazy things happen to them again, but the spontaneity will be lost."

Pixar studios will be hoping to replicate the incredible success of Toy Story 3, with the first sequel of Cars. This time race car Lightning McQueen hits the international circuit and get caught up in espionage.

Later in the year, there's Twilight mania afoot, Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are reteaming as Holmes and Watson in Sherlock Holmes 2 and Tom Cruise will be back in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the franchise.

"The most interesting element is not that Cruise has returned to it – he probably needs a hit and there's a degree of safety in returning to Ethan Hunt – but that Brad Bird is directing. He's an ex-Pixar man and if Pixar has anything to give to the world of real life film-making, it's storytelling skills," says Nathan.

"What I like about this and Sherlock Holmes 2 is that it's got real men in it, whereas all these superhero films tend to be teenagers."

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