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This is the season for unexpected greatness

Spring tryouts
By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 16, 2011

 Spring movie preview
HUNTING LICENSE Saoirse Ronan plays a 16-year-old assassin in Hanna.

Say what you will about cruelest months, but spring is a time of hope. It's a time when the dead revive, appearances deceive, expectations are reversed, and secret identities are revealed. It's the season in which teenage girls kick ass (Sucker Punch, Hanna), the God of Thunder dates Natalie Portman (Thor), and Mel Gibson stars in a movie by Jodie Foster called The Beaver. Anything can happen — at least, until the blockbusters start blooming on Memorial Day.

What more hopeful way to start the spring than with a film called WIN WIN (March 25)? Thomas McCarthy follows up The Visitor with another hard-to-synopsize movie about a lawyer/high-school wrestling coach played by Paul Giamatti who takes in a runaway who proves to be a star athlete, but then his addict mother shows up and . . . trust us, you'll love it.

Likewise hard to summarize is Abbas Kiarostami's CERTIFIED COPY (March 25), which toys with identity as Juliette Binoche plays a woman who pretends an art-forgery expert is her husband. Reality games and female empowerment also prevail in Zack Snyder's SUCKER PUNCH (March 25), which stars Abbie Cornish as a girl in an institution who retreats to an alternative reality to escape.

If an alternative reality doesn't suit your needs, how about an alternative identity? That's what Jake Gyllenhaal's character in SOURCE CODE (April 1) faces when he wakes up in the body of stranger and finds out he's a commando out to stop a terrorist. Duncan Jones (Moon) directs; Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan co-star.

A similar surprise awaits Robin Wright's victim of circumstance in Robert Redford's THE CONSPIRATOR (April 15), a historical drama about an innocent woman fingered as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It stars Robin Wright and James McAvoy. Rounding out these April Fool's Day releases is THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED (April 1), Jim Kohlberg's adaptation of Oliver Sacks's essay about a man who stopped processing new memories in the '60s. J.K. Simmons and Julia Ormond star. And in a post–April Fool's joke, Russell Brand revives Dudley Moore's title role in Jason Winer's remake of ARTHUR (April 8).

Memories of The Conspirator and Sucker Punch, not to mention Kick-Ass and The Professional, can be detected in Joe Wright's HANNA (April 8), as Saoirse Ronan plays a 16-year-old assassin sent on a mission by her father (Eric Bana). A more traditional female role is parodied in David Gordon Green's YOUR HIGHNESS (April 8). James Franco and Danny McBride from Green's Pineapple Express play inept princes out to rescue a princess (Natalie Portman). Portman might be doing the rescuing in Kenneth Branagh's take on Marvel Comics' THOR (May 6) — she's a mortal who tends to the fallen deity of the title (Chris Hemsworth).

Once Thor makes an appearance, you know the other franchises can't be far behind. Like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (May 20), which is directed by Rob Marshall and again stars Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, this time searching for the Fountain of Youth. Penélope Cruz and Geoffrey Rush co-star. But there's still room for THE BEAVER (May 20), in which Mel Gibson plays a man who uses a beaver hand puppet to deal with emotions. Hey, it could work, especially since Gibson won't be making his rumored cameo in Todd Phillips's THE HANGOVER PART II (May 26), which stars repeat debauchees Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms.

But let's end the spring on an uplifting note: Terrence Malick's TREE OF LIFE (May 27) starring Brad Pitt. It's the chronicle of a man's life, from innocence to disillusionment to redemption. Hope springs eternal.

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