In theaters Sept. 30
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, “50/50” is arguably the starting gun for this year’s Oscar season and almost certainly the first film to justify the use of the words “Seth Rogen” and “Oscar” in the same sentence. The cancer dramedy, which finds Levitt’s Adam dealing with the aftermath of a diagnosis that gives him a 50-percent chance to live, has been getting rave reviews and its cast (rounded out by Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and Bryce Dallas Howard) almost ensures it will be worth seeing.
In theaters Dec. 16
From director Roman Polanski (“Chinatown”) and based on the multiple Tony-winning play “God of Carnage,” “Carnage” promises to be filled with powerhouse performances by Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster. The film’s recent premiere at the Venice Film Festival received mostly positive reviews, with many praising the cast for their portrayals of two couples meeting to get to the bottom of an altercation between their sons. Even if the film is a mess, it’s reported 75-minute runtime will help, but with the pedigree of talent involved, that’s somewhat hard to imagine.
In theaters nov. 18
Director Alexander Payne hasn’t made a film since 2004’s “Sideways,” which is one of the all-time great ruminations on male friendship and easily one of the best films of the last decade. The mere fact that he’s back behind the camera here is worth the excitement for “The Descendants,” but if you add George Clooney in what appears to be another dynamite performance and a trailer that nails the tragicomic sensibility Payne built his career on, it proves “The Descendants” is one of the year’s biggest Oscar contenders.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy
In theaters Dec. 9
This intense spy thriller brings together “Let the Right One In” director Tomas Alfredson and an enormously talented cast including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong, among others. Alfredson proved himself a master of the intense slow burn with “Let the Right One In,” and Gary Oldman may be looking at his first Oscar nomination as a spy trying to find a mole in his agency.
In theaters Dec. 28
Perhaps the most significant film event in 2011 comes just as it’s winding down, when audiences are treated to two new Steven Spielberg films released only five days apart. The first film, “The Adventures of Tintin” narrowly missed inclusion on this list and might have made it if not for “War Horse’s” astounding teaser trailer, which looks like vintage Spielberg — openly sentimental, epic in scope and absolutely gorgeous to look at.