By the end of the year, the story lines onscreen get rewritten into a series of critical dissertations on the state of the art (and business) of filmmaking. Annual top 10 lists and Oscar prognosticating derail forward progress for the first couple of months of the new year, and the release schedule has adapted itself to accommodate this rearview mentality by transforming the late winter months into a waste land of post-nomination expansions and retrograde retreads of badly executed ideas from the junk heap.

All of which flies in the face of the new year clichés of looking ahead and attempting to adopt resolutions to readjust our perspectives to a more modern approach; the kind espoused by Princeton University professor Cornel West, which encourages us to “use (our) critical intelligence to question and challenge the prevailing authorities, powers and hierarchies of the world” as we interpret developing narratives.

How about a little forward thinking in 2011? Let’s say goodbye to 2010, at least for a moment (because, like all new year’s resolutions, this one is inevitably doomed to fail) and focus on what is to come, not as the blind wandering around in search of flickering lights in dark art-houses and multiplexes, but with, at the very least, a penlight and an outline of the new horizon.

Who will be the modern masters of not just this New Year but also the new decade?

Terrence Malick, film’s one-time nomadic hermit, returns (following 2005’s The New World) with Tree of Life, featuring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and anticipatory buzz about the presence of CGI dinosaurs (and even more questions as to why Malick would resort to such technical vulgarities, as if in his role as a high evolutionary naturalistic guru, he could simply replicate a dino or two on his own). Transplanted from late-2010, this Tree takes root early (a May release), but will likely come to fruition in time for the 2011 awards season.

The dynamic duo of Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg will don capes, masks and multiple hats, directing and producing a slate of films comparable to a mini-major’s annual schedule.

Soderbergh plans to deliver two the action-thrillers.

The first, Haywire, stars Gina Carano as a double-crossed black ops agent out for revenge against the likes of Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas, while Contagion, with a decidedly more sci-fi bent, focuses on a team of doctors working with the CDC to prevent a deadly viral outbreak with Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet on board.

Not content with juggling two tours behind the camera, Soderbergh is also producing We Need to Talk About Kevin (with Tilda Swinton as the grieving mother of a teen who went on a killing spree at his high school) and The Prince of Providence about Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the former mayor of Providence, known as much for his celebrity as his politics.

Spielberg’s deck is stacked with two directing aces: War Horse, a World War I story about a young man who is separated from his horse and his journey to reconnect with the animal, and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, the anticipated adaptation of Georges Remi’s comic-strip series (both of these promise a high degree of Spielbergian magic and schmaltz). Mogul-in-waiting Spielberg also has a full of house of producing credits (I Am Number Four, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens, Real Steel and Super 8) that alone, during any other year, would guarantee box-office supremacy.

Then there are the next line of above-the-line directors, some of whom — like Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) — are following up success from the previous year (respectively Shutter Island and The Social Network, both of which are in the current conversation for 2010 Oscars), while others like Cameron Crowe (We Bought a Zoo) and Jodie Foster (The Beaver aka The Mel Gibson Career Resuscitation Project) enter the fray after sabbaticals.

Further ahead, a cadre of established and emerging filmmakers aims to challenge the upper echelon and rewrite the seemingly established narrative of 2011. Peter Weir (The Way Back), John Wells (The Company Men), George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau), Duncan Jones (Source Code), Joe Wright (Hanna) and Rod Lurie (Straw Dogs) have proven themselves to be curiously modern filmmakers, willing to challenge and coax audiences to step outside the box with them.

And, of course, no year is complete without its share of guilty pleasures, the kind of movies that offer no real threats to our critical sensibilities or the narrative revisions of 2011 that will come (beyond their box office impacts, some of which will certainly be sizable), but The Hangover 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: First Class, Paranormal Activity 3, Jack & Jill, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1, Sherlock Holmes 2 and Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol deserve shout-outs, if only because they show us exactly who and where we are in the moment. At the end of the day, we are in love with our comic book heroics, our movie monsters and magicians, and our deep-seated American mindlessness.

So, here’s to another year! (tt stern-enzi)