This is a good time to list what's worth watching in cinema this calendar year, mostly because my second choice (see below) began its slow release earlier this month. As with past years, an inclusion here is no guarantee that I'll see it -- my movie tastes veer toward what I can screen in advance -- but these are the ones I'd most likely pay to see in their first run:
1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Expect an even more sullen and stubborn hero, who could solve his problems (and be part of much shorter books) if he just asked for help. Also new: Harry's romantic yearnings, which will test Daniel Radcliffe's ability to act. And will Snape (Alan Rickman, above) reveal his true alliegiances? Watch for clues. (July 13)
2. The Namesake. Like the book (reviewed here), the director, and the cast. And I especially like the subject matter, perhaps the first authentic example of the Indian-American experience captured on film. Having enjoyed his comedies, I look forward to Kal Penn getting serious for a change. (March 9 in limited release)
3. The Bourne Ultimatum. Say what you will about Matt Damon, but he signed on to one heck of a franchise. This film should end the trilogy, as he finishes the puzzle of his past. Returning are his frenemies Joan Allen and Julia Stiles. (August 3)
4. Knocked Up. Boy meets girl; boy impregnates girl. If you thought Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek were too realistic a match, here are Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl -- brought to you by Judd Apatow, who gave us The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The future of R-rated comedy looks a lot younger than Will Ferrell. (June 1)
5. Spider-Man 3. The 4th movie is not yet a certainty, so I'm concerned whether director Sam Raimi will cram too much into this for the sake of closure. Other than that, I'm on board. (May 4)
6. Ocean's Thirteen. Unnecessary sequel? Absolutely. But while most actorly ventures with bloated casts are usually self-indulgent, the Ocean movies are harmlessly entertaining. The trailer suggests that Andy Garcia gets in on the action; watch it to see the above frame in context. (June 8)
7. Waitress. The trailer made me laugh, which is a good sign. It appears that small-town waitress Keri Russell upgrades in the romance department from deadbeat boyfriend Jeremy Sisto to doctor Nathan Fillion. It's sad that murdered indie actress Adrienne Shelly only has this one film to prove her worth as a writer and director, but I have hope. (May 2 in limited release)
8. Evan Almighty. Has Steve Carell made a single misstep since he left The Daily Show? In this, his riskiest and most expensive project yet, he plays a modern-day Noah. On deck are Morgan Freeman and Lauren Graham. (June 22)
9. Fanboys. There are actually two period pieces this year about the Star Wars fandom. (The other, probably out in May, is called 5-25-77.) It's Halloween 1998, and four young fans want to steal a print of Episode I so they can watch it 6 months in advance. Cameos abound. (August 17)
10. Lucky You. I'm not sure why this long-completed film wasn't released at the height of poker's popularity on TV. But I have some faith in director Curtis Hanson, who made 8 Mile and In Her Shoes much better movies than they had any right to be. (May 4)
Release dates can be tricky; even if a month and day have been set, it can change at any time. The following honorable mentions have indeterminate arrivals:
My Blueberry Nights. The description is flimsy: "A young woman takes a soul-searching journey across America to resolve her questions about love while encountering a series of offbeat characters along the way." Sounds like an excuse for a nonsensical disaster. So why do I care? The young woman is played by Norah Jones, one of the sexiest women in music. She'll try to work her cool charms on the big screen.
Sicko. Michael Moore tackles the health care industry. This should be his triumphant return to pre-Oscar form, when he was on a consumer crusade to expose the holes in big business. The issue is important to both red and blue states, so I hope it gets more attention than controversy.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This made the cut last year, and the release date is still unknown. Here's what I said then: "Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) joins the gang of Frank and Jesse James (Sam Shepard and Brad Pitt). Then you have the title. Presumably, this film explains what happened in between. I hope it's better than I Shot Andy Warhol."
Sex and Death 101. A mini-Heathers reunion for Winona Ryder and writer Daniel Waters. Premise: "A guy's life is turned around by an email, which includes the names of everyone he's had sex with and ever will have sex with. His situation gets worse when he encounters a femme fatale who targets men guilty of sex crime."
My Name is Bruce. And he is funky. Cult movie hero Bruce Campbell, who plays himself, faces the kind of real-life situation that he only sees in his movies. Originally scheduled for a February release; info has all but disappeared. Pity.