Unless Smokin’ Aces is even more brilliant than trailer makes it look, January of 2007 may go down as one of the worst movie months in history. Seriously folks, it’s looking pretty bleak. But if it’s bad, it’s only because the rest of this year is jam packed with hotly anticipated movie properties. All three of the biggest grossing movie franchises of all time have sequels coming out this year, and that’s just for starters. Any year that packs in Pirates, Shrek, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Die Hard, a new movie from Pixar, giant freakin Transformers, the Simpsons Movie we’ve been waiting ten years for, another Rush Hour, another National Treasure, and oh yeah a new movie from Tarantino; has the potential be huge. We’re either looking at a new 1999 here, or the biggest 12 months of supreme disappointment in Hollywood history.

Below is my breakdown of the 2007 movies I’m most looking forward to, right at this moment. You won’t see many indie movies or art house flicks in this list. Not because I’m not interested in them, but because this early in the year we just haven’t heard about them yet. It’s only the big box office bluster that has much visibility in January, the rest will file in later on in 2007.

So without further pontification, here’s what I’m most looking forward to seeing in 2007.

Black Snake Moan
When the trailer for this first debuted in front of Snakes on a Plane, it was such a surprise that it seemed like a joke. Half the people in the theater assumed that it was a gag trailer, tacked on to the beginning of the movie as a way to heighten the whole Snakes on a Plane joke. But the trailer went on longer than any mere bit has any right to, and at some point I got it through my head that Black Snake Moan was for real. Samuel L. Jackson as a black, southern blues man who chains a half-naked white girl played by Christina Ricci to his radiator and teaches her to behave? Now that’s a movie that I have to see. It’s not just a gimmick either, the film’s getting amazing reviews from the few who have been lucky enough to see it. This thing may actually be an Oscar contender in 2007.


Reno 911!: Miami
The Comedy Central series is great, there’s no reason the movie won’t be too. In fact, I predict it will be better. The movie is rated-R for sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language, and drug use. You'd better believe they'll make the most of it. The Comedy Central show has always veered pretty close to the acceptable basic cable content line, and now without those admittedly rather weak constraints they're free to engage in all the edgy comedy they've only been able to tip-toe around before. Good for them, and good for us. I expect the Reno 911 gang to take it right to the limit.


300
The trailer for 300 is still one of the coolest things I’ve seen in years. If the movie is even half that good, Warner Brothers is going to have a massive hit on their hands. The film takes a dash of Sin City's literal comic book style, and adds a lot of color. That color's enough to make Snyder's gory film a hard R, after all this is the story of 300 Spartans fighting and killing thousands upon thousands of enemy soldiers. When I went to see Gladiator, this is the kind of movie I was hoping to get and didn’t. When I went to see Troy, in my head was Gerard Butler screaming “Spartaans!” When I endured Kingdom of Heaven, I went in wishing for insane swordplay and massive battles and instead I got fuzzy camera angles and Orlando Bloom. When I suffered mightily through Alexander, in my head was a movie like this one Zach Snyder’s 300 may finally deliver it.


Sunshine
Maybe it’ll turn out to be another disappointment like Supernova or Mission to Mars, but I’m not betting against Danny Boyle. Boyle re-invigorated the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, and now perhaps he’ll do the same for outer-space horror. It’s been a long time since the last good Alien movie, and we need something to counteract the damage done to the genre by AvP. This is it. Set in a near future where our sun is dying, a spaceship and crew of eight men and women travel through space carrying a device to revive our star. But deep into their voyage things fall apart, and they’re left fighting for their lives and their minds.


TMNT
2007 is 80s nostalgia year with first Ninja Turtles and then Transformers returning to theaters. Yes, I said returning. Both franchises have been there before, just in different formats. For the Turtles, this is the first time they’ll eat pizza in three dimensional CGI. It can’t help but be an improvement over those dumb rubber suits. The animation looks great, cartoony but slick enough to be cinematic. If the story’s even half good then TMNT could be a lot of pizza eating fun.


Grindhouse
Tarantino’s early discussions of Grindhouse made it sound like a bad Hostel knockoff. I should have known better. This is Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez after all, and in Grindhouse they’re giving you not just one killer, reto, pulp fantasy but two back to back in the same film. Tarantino writes and directs Death Proof, the story of Kurt Russell in the mother fucker of all bad ass hell cars. Robert Rodrigez directs Planet Terror a Zombie movie in which Rose McGowan has a big-ass gun where she ought to have a leg.


Spider-Man 3
It’s Spider-Man. No brainer. While he was away Captain Jack Sparrow broke his box office records, Batman drove around in his car, Superman flew with Lois Lane, and the X-Men crashed and burned in a big way. But Spider-Man is still the king. If Spider-Man 3 is as good as the first two films (and there’s every reason to think it will be), Spidey will become the first superhero franchise to maintain the same level of quality for more than two movies. It’s already the first to hold on to its original director past a second film. That should make all the difference. Let’s hope Raimi sticks around for Spider-Man 4.


Shrek the Third
By now the formula has been so well established, it should be easy to implement it. Shrek movies are topical and now, a product of whatever is current in pop culture and comedy, blended into a big swampy bowl. Some people bash the films for that, but for me it’s part of why embrace them. Maybe thirty years from now it will leave them dated, but for now there’s nothing wrong with having a movie that’s plugged in to the immediacy of the world around you. Shrek will be, as always, more plugged in than any other family movie you’re likely to see.


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
There’s work to be done if the Pirates franchise wants to win fans like me back over. Despite it’s massive income, for a lot of people the second movie was a big disappointment. Will At World’s End be Back to the Future III to Dead Man’s Chest’s Back to the Future II? I hope so, because I really want to get back to loving Captain Jack Sparrow. The first movie balanced fantasy and swordplay better, both found a place in the film. They can do it again, and the return of Captain Barbosa in the second movie should help them do that. The more pirates they add, the more giant McGuffin toting squids they can subtract. With Barbosa and his undead monkey back causing trouble, At World's End deserves a shot.


Knocked Up
Seth Rogen comes into his own with his first starring role in the new film from certified genius Judd Apatow. Their last movie together was The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the best movie of 2005 and one of the funniest movies ever to pop into existence. In Knocked Up Rogen plays a guy who has a one-night stand (Katherine Heigel) and ends up with a kid. Reviews from early cuts of the film have been positive, and until he misses on something, anything with Apatow’s name on or around it needs to be seen opening weekend.


Evan Almighty
If someone told me they were making a sequel to Bruce Almighty without Jim Carrey, there's no way I'd be interested. But tell me you're making a movie in which Steve Carell is commanded by God to build an ark, and you can count me in. If they’d brought back Jim Carrey to repeat the same shlock from the first film, or if they’d had Steve Carell stuck in exactly the same situation Jim was in the first movie, I’d be out on this one. Instead they really seem to be trying to build on the original premise to come up with something new, and potentially even funnier.


Live Free or Die Hard
If Harrison Ford isn't too old to play Indiana Jones, then why not let Bruce Willis Yippee-ki-yay his way back into the broken and battered body of tough cop John McClane. Besides with terrorism now at the top of everyone's biggest fears list, the once fantastical scenarios of city destruction familiar to the Die Hard series only seem incredibly more plausible. Bruce Willis is back and that's what matters. As long as Len Wiseman isn't tempted to tinker with Die Hard's already established formula, audiences should be content to sit back, relax, and Die Harder than ever.


Ratatouille
Ratatouille, for those keeping score, is the movie Incredibles and Iron Giant mastermind Brad Bird jumped on board in mid-stream to get back on track and properly tweak out. Anything Brad Bird is involved in is worth your attention, superheroes, rats, talking tennis balls. Brad's your man. If Pixar can make a movie about a bunch of lame looking cars fantastic, they should have no problem getting something great out of a script about a bunch of rats living in a restaurant. Rats and mice have been an animation staple since the art form’s earliest days. Heck, Disney’s own logo is a mouse cartoon character. For once, Pixar has a slam dunk on their hands.


Transformers
Letting Michael Bay loose on the Transformers is risky business, but how can I not be excited about the ultimate giant freakin robot movie? Thought some of his changes to the characters have been met with skepticism, the first full trailer for the movie looked great. Whatever his flaws, you can rely on Michael Bay to blow stuff up, and blow it up good. It’s the biggest geek movie since Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Transform you Megatron into a gun, throw him in a holster, and start lining up.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Those magical kids return with their obligatory authority figure adults in tow. Only they're not so little anymore and as the last movie proved, they're all well on their way to no longer being kids. Whatever plot lines director David Yates chooses to chase, it's essential that he makes following their slow bloom into adulthood a priority. The films have maintained a consistent level of not sucking and that's more than most other long-running movie franchises can claim. That and it’s rabid fanbase is enough to earn Order of the Phoenix a place on this list.


The Simpsons
Maybe the movie’s a decade or so too late. The Simpsons maxed out their popularity in the 90s. But the kids who wore “Eat My Shorts” t-shirts in high school are now grown up and ready to buy tickets. Count me as one of them. Better late than never. If Transformers is the year’s biggest geek movie then The Simpsons is the year’s biggest, well, everyone movie. Come one, who doesn’t like Homer? So they’re missing whiz-bang effects and fancy computer aided gimmicks? They don’t need it.


The Bourne Ultimatum
Casino Royale got a lot of credit for re-energizing the baleful Bond franchise with fresh ideas, but all it was really doing was aping the Bourne series. Daniel Craig’s movie is just a pale shadow of the Bourne movies, Jason Bourne did it first and Jason Bourne did it better. What Bourne does so well and Bond wants is take super-spying and plop it down in the middle of reality. Better still, it does that without losing any of the fun associated with movie screen international espionage. There’s action aplenty in the Bourne movies, and that’s part of why the franchise is getting a movie number three. With both Damon and Greengrass back, The Bourne Ultimatum should only improve further on the previous two Bourne efforts. Eat your heart out Daniel Craig, you’re just a wannabe Jason Bourne.


Rush Hour 3
After a lot of contract negotiation and some pretty unreasonable salary demands from half the Rush Hour starring duo, both Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker return for a third installment of director Brett Ratner’s fish-out-of-water action franchise. Is the magic gone, or can Tucker and Chan do it again? As long as Jackie and Chris haven’t lost the chemistry that makes them so strangely entertaining on screen, then Rush Hour 3 should turn out fine, as long as you’re not looking for anything other than light entertainment. Expect to reprise the whole “words coming out of my mouth bit”. It stopped being funny in 1998, but that’s one trademark of the series that’s not likely to go away.


Bee Movie
How do you follow up the best television sitcom in history? If you’re Jerry Seinfeld you don’t. Instead you take it easy, hang out with your family, swim in your money bin, and wait. Now nearly ten years later Jerry’s back, but not with more nothing. Instead he’s bringing us a bunch of animated bees. Sound crazy? Or is it so sane that it just blew your mind? Jerry has had the good sense to avoid the traps his ‘Seinfeld’ costars have fallen into, signing up for failed sitcom after failed sitcom in an attempt to recapture the ‘Seinfeld’ magic on their own. Jerry’s throwing out the old and going a completely different direction. It can’t really get much more different. Nobody knows what to expect from Bee Movie, but with Jerry involved it’s a must see. Prepare to buy a ticket and grab a box of Junior Mints. It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint – it’s delicious!


His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass
New Line has to make this movie count, because the other three books in Philip Pullman’s acclaimed series are so anti-god and anti-religion that they’ll put the pope into an epileptic seizure. They’re almost unfilmable in today’s overtly religious political climate. They may get made anyway, but the first one is the only one with any chance of making a profit. All the fantasy staples of magic, strange beasts, and world saving are right there. The novel is well written, if director Chris Weitz who does it right this could be the next big thing in fantasy.


I Am Legend
The original script on which this new version of I Am Legend is based was once considered one of the greatest unproduced scripts in Hollywood. I’ve read it, and can attest to it’s complete and utter genius. One problem, the moment Will Smith was hired the screenplay went to Akiva Goldsman for massive, unnecessary rewrites. The movie remains one of my most eagerly anticipated projects of this or any year, in the perhaps foolish hope that Akiva’s effort to give the movie “Big Willie Style” won’t have completely cut the heart right out of it. I Am Legend is one of the 2007 movies I’m most looking forward to, but it’s also the one most likely to turn out as a massive disappointment. Still, at least it’s getting made. I Am Legend starring Will Smith is better than I Am Legend - the coffee stained coaster.


National Treasure: The Book of Secrets
National Treasure is everything The Da Vinci Code wanted to be and isn’t. The first movie was good enough and successful enough that maybe it deserves a sequel, but how will they do it? National Treasure was about a generational mystery which culminated in a recent heir. How many mysteries can Benjamin Gate’s family have? Hopefully plenty, because there’s still fun to be had in watching Nic Cage do his history geek thing as he races around historical landmarks. The first movie did a wonderful job of bringing history to life, making it exciting and interesting in a way stuffy textbooks simply cannot. Usually Europe or Africa gets all the good treasure hunting movies. It’s nice to see the United States getting a turn. The second one should be just as fun as the first.


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