"Shutter Island" (Feb. 19)What it is: Martin Scorsese’s first fiction film since “The Departed” is an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) with a killer ensemble of award caliber talent: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow and Jackie Earle Haley.
Why you should care: Any Scorsese movie is worth caring about. The concern with “Shutter Island” is that it was originally due out last October, before being booted to early 2010 when the studio (Paramount) claimed they didn’t have enough money to promote it properly in the fall. Does that mean it’s not actually worth promoting? Early buzz is that the film works effectively as a thriller, but it’s not necessarily prime Scorsese.
"Alice in Wonderland" (March 5)What it is: Tim Burton’s 3D follow-up to Lewis Carroll’s classic features Mia Wasikowska as a slightly older Alice, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.
Why you should care: The trailer is visually astonishing, the cast is inspired and almost every time Burton teams with Depp the result is a seriously fine piece of filmmaking (we’ll forget about “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” for the moment). If nothing else this should be one of the year’s best head trips.
"Iron Man 2" (May 7)What it is: The hotly anticipated follow-up to one of 2008’s biggest blockbusters. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and director Jon Favreau all return with new co-stars Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle (stepping in for Terrence Howard, who couldn’t agree on terms to reprise his buddy role).
Why you should care: Chances are you already do care, but even if you don’t, at least this should be a better summer kick-off movie than 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
"The A-Team" (June 11)
What it is: The ‘80s TV action series about a band of ex-army special forces officers becomes a big screen action movie starring Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), Sharlto Copley (“District 9”), Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel and mixed martial arts fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the role made famous by Mr. T.
Why you should care: The filmmakers promise this won’t be a silly campfest but instead a serious minded action movie in the vein of the “Bourne” series and “Casino Royale.” Director Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “Smokin’ Aces”) just might be able to deliver on that potential. And it’ll be worth seeing how 2009 breakout stars Cooper and Copley fare in a movie that’s actually expected to be a hit.
"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" (June 30)What it is: The third film in the “Twilight” series picks up where last year’s “New Moon” left off, with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) back together despite increasing threats to their relationship—and Bella’s life—from the Volturi, Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and that pesky lovesick pup Jacob (Taylor Lautner).
Why you should care: If you’re not already excited about another opportunity to drool over Pattinson and/or Lautner, you might want to know that this “Twilight” promises the most action yet thanks to a book considered the series’ best and most exciting by many fans. Plus, there’s yet another new director behind the camera—David Slade, whose work on “Hard Candy” and “30 Days of Night” suggests he’d be comfortable giving the swoony series a slightly harder edge.
"Inception" (July 16)
What it is: Director Christopher Nolan’s first film since “The Dark Knight” has been shrouded in secrecy, and the cryptic (but extremely cool) trailer doesn’t provide much detail. At least we know it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and (of course) Michael Caine.
Why you should care: If you have any doubts, just check out the trailer. Nolan is every fanboy’s favorite filmmaker of the moment, but with good reason: he consistently delivers interesting well-made movies. Seeing what he does with an entirely original story should be one of the most intriguing cinematic events of the year.
"The American" (Sept. 1)
What it is: George Clooney plays an assassin hiding out in Italy for one final hit. Based on the book “A Very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth.
Why you should care: There are few actors making better choices these days than Clooney, even when he’s in a failure (like “The Men Who Stare At Goats”) it’s still an interesting failure. This collaboration with photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn (who directed the stunningly beautiful Joy Division bio-pic “Control”) sounds like a better bet for success.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (Nov. 19)
What it is: The first of a two-part adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s final “Potter” novel. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) ditch Hogwarts to pursue Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and avenge the death of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). (And if that’s a spoiler you really should feel ashamed for being so far out of the pop culture loop.)
Why you should care: You’ve already sat through six movies, so you must be invested. Director David Yates has reinvigorated the “Potter” franchise with back-to-back thrilling entries “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Fans are dying to find out how much of the book’s action this film will cover and how Bill Nighy, the latest addition to the exceptional cast, shapes up as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour. No matter what, anticipation for the epic final battle at Hogwarts in “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (due out July 2011) has already begun.