This weekend you'll be busy picking out which dark room will play host to your tryptophan coma: The ensemble-led BOBBY, or maybe a second helping of BORAT. If you're feeling more perky, perhaps Daniel Craig's new James Bond in CASINO ROYALE, or Denzel's DEJA VU. Or if you're feeling particularly brave, then maybe the first movie on my list. Whatever you do, just keep in mind that there's plenty more to come between now and the New Year. Here are ten more movies I'm excited about... and ten more (why have just one top ten when you can have two?)
(November 22 - Trailer)
Before a recent L.A. screening of THE FOUNTAIN, Darren Aronofsky's long-awaited and troubled follow-up to 2000's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the director made an announcement to the audience: Remember this moment, because you will never see a major movie studio release a movie like this ever again. Like Soderbergh's SOLARIS and Malick's THE NEW WORLD, THE FOUNTAIN is being paraded around by its studio as a normal genre movie (with Wolverine as its star, can you blame them?). Like every other studio film, it's purpose is to earn money at the box office; specifically to outdo other studio's movies at the box office, before it gets passed onto DVD to make room for the next big box office picture. But THE FOUNTAIN is pure cinema, pure art. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play a scientist and his dying wife in the present. In the past (or perhaps in her mind), he is a conquistador and she is the Queen of Spain. In the future (or perhaps in his mind), he is an intergalactic voyager, and she is... a tree. THE FOUNTAIN is an opera, scored beautifully by Clint Mansell, that organically converges these three metaphors of death and rebirth. It is moving, ambitious filmmaking that will anger most everyone in the audience. But I urge you to open your mind and just soak it in. Try it, and it will challenge your notions of what a movie is.
THE GOOD GERMAN
(December 15 - Trailer)
Renaissance man Steven Soderbergh goes to Post-WWII Berlin, bringing pal George Clooney along as an American war correspondent who uncovers a missing-persons plot involving his former flame (Cate Winslet) and possibly his driver, a mysterious American soldier (Toby Maguire). Everything-- the cinemography (black and white), the score (Thomas Newman. my favorite), the performances, and the great poster (brilliantly modeled after artwork from CASABLANCA)-- pays homage to the cinema of yesteryear; Soderbergh makes this one like they used to.
(January - Trailer)
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz have become, with VOLVER, one of the great director/actor pairs in the movies; This film is so full of love and adoration for its star, celebrating Le Cruz from her singing voice to her cleavage, and it offers the actress her best role yet as a young woman coping with the death of her mother and the upbringing of her teenager. Raimunda (Cruz) and her daughter don't know about her mother's ghost secretly hanging around to make amends, but her sister does (and even puts the spirit to work in her hair salon). It is a meeting of forgiveness waiting to take place, and Almodovar directs with such ease and such playfulness that this magical intersection feels perfectly real.
(December 8 - Trailer)
I know it's not "cool" for a guy like me to be hyping a chick flick like this, but you know what? Just like anyone else, all I really want for Christmas is a tear-jerking, holiday-themed, feel-good romantic comedy. From Nancy Meyers (SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE), THE HOLIDAY stars Cameron Diaz and Kate WInslet as two women, one in New York and one in London, who swap lives through an internet service. They're both sick of men, but when they reach their new destinations, they find new ones-- Jude Law and Jack Black-- free of charge and just on time.
Last week in L.A., David Lynch set up camp at an intersection with a live cow and a banner advertising his leading actress, BLUE VELVET's Laura Dern, "For Your Consideration." The movie, shot entirely on video, is three hours long and, according to my friend Jason Shawhan, reportedly more abstract and assaulting than the most headpinning moments of ERASERHEAD and MULHOLLAND DRIVE put together. Lynch is releasing the opus on his own, so we can only hope the Belcourt picks it up. Ever the studious Lynchian since hearing him speak on films and dreams at the 2002 New York Film Festival, I anxiously await the challenge of unraveling his latest puzzle; we'll see if Academy members are up for it as well.
(December 19th limited - Trailer)
Guillermo Del Toro, maker of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and HELLBOY, directs this grown-up fairy tale about Ofelia, a child living in rural Spain who creates and explores a dream world of her own while above ground her stepfather hunts down rebels in a fascist territory. Buzz is charting high for PAN, which should be a Best Foreign Film frontrunner at the Oscars. It opens at the Belcourt in Nashville in January, and I for one wish I didn't have to wait that long.
(December 25 - Trailer)
Remember back in 2002 when we all thought CHICAGO would usher a musical revival in Hollywood? After PHANTOM and RENT flopped, it's up to DREAMGIRLS to determine what happens next. All of the elements are in place: Stars Beyonce and Jamie Foxx, director Bill Condon (wrote CHICAGO and won an Oscar for directing GODS AND MONSTERS), an Eddie Murphy performance that's all the buzz, and a breakout performance by former American Idol Jennifer Hudson. The movie is hers, and a statue will likely be hers as well, thanks to the untoppable first-act closer, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving." But at the risk of offending Dreamgirls "fans," (and they're out there), the rest of the material just isn't memorable, and is executed with awkward cheesiness, the actors still struggling with that age-old challenge of Bursting Into Song. And the movie rushes so quickly through the decades, with songs that sound not like motown, but like the 80's showtunes that they are, that its characters and their relationships are never really developed. Apprently I'm in the minority; critics everywhere are eating this one up, and maybe you will too.
(December 8 - Trailer)
Mel Gibson's last PASSION project was one of the most controversail films of all time, yet after the dust cleared Mel came out quite the box office (and I think we can say artistic) victor. Well, a lot has changed for since then, and its anyone's guess as to how his current reputation will affect APOCALYPTO, an ancient Mayan epic about man on the run, sentenced to be sacrificed (it's also spoken in Mayan, with little dialogue at that). Controversy can only help a studio movie this experimental, yet so far there's surprisingly little talk about the film at all. I'm just here to remind everyone that the guy did make BRAVEHEART, and to reiterate how much I love films with hardly any dialogue, set in nature and/or ancient civilizations.
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER
(December 22 limited - Trailer)
Zhang Yimou has jockeyed back and forth between small, intimate character pieces (TO LIVE, this year's underseen RIDING ALONE FOR A THOUSAND MILES) and the crowd-pleasing, DVD-ready martial arts epics (HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) that keep the big studios happy. The latest in the latter category is CURSE, set in the 10th century Tang Dynasty and involving the hidden conflicts and affairs of the Imperial Family. Starring Chow Yung Fat as the Emperor and Gong Li as his alienated emperess who's having an affair with a Crown Prince (who himself is secretly in love with the Imperial Doctor's daughter). Yimou knows, possibly better than any other director, that great action sequences should exist only as a projection of inner conflict, and he knows just as well how to make those conflicts look breathtakingly gorgeous.
CHILDREN OF MEN
(December 25 - Trailer)
Alfonso Cuaron (one of my favorite directors, from GREAT EXPECTATIONS to Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN to HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) travels to a future London, where we've mostly blown ourselves up, where non-British immigrants are caged and camped, and where women have, for 18 years, been infertile. Julian (Julianne Moore) captures her ex Theo (Clive Owen), who she needs to get access to the proper immigration papers that will get Kee, a young pregnant woman with a miracle child, to safety. Almost without context, we follow the refugees as they narrowly escape death again and again and again, including an explosive battleground where Cuaron and cinematographer Emannuel Lubezki follow Theo and Kee's path in one long take. It's not just the best scene of the year (in possibly the best movie of the year); it's the most impressive, realistic, and meticulously choreographed war sequence that I've ever seen. When the final title card suddenly and ambiguously drops, it hits you, the ride you've been on. This story, about a newborn babe whose delicate birth will restore hope to the world, arrives on Christmas Day.
PLUS... Tom Twyker follows HEAVEN, one of my favorite movies ever, with PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MUDERER... Leonardo Dicaprio's South African mercenary exposes the BLOOD DIAMOND crisis in Sierra Leone... In THE PAINTED VEIL, a doctor (Edward Norton) drags his unfaithful wife (Naomi Watts) to research an epidemic in rural China... The Tony-Award winning play THE HISTORY BOYS comes to the big screen... Forest Whitaker leads the Best Actor race as ..... in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND while Will Smith may show up in the same category for THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS... Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman in GOYA'S GHOSTS... Renee Zelwegger plays the famous author Beatrix in MISS POTTER... An aging professor (Judi Dench) has a grudge with a new one (Cate Blanchett) in NOTES ON A SCANDAL... Robert Deniro directs Matt Damon with Angelina Jolie in the CIA story THE GOOD SHEPHERD... ERAGON, the novel by youngster Christopher Paolini, hopes to ride the Tolkien wave... and Julia Roberts leads an all-star voice cast in the live-action CHARLOTTE'S WEB.
Fall Movie Preview Update: For my Nashville readers, where movies often trickle in later than we'd like them to: LITTLE CHILDREN is highly recommended, and will come through sometime before the end of the year. The critically loathed TIDELAND will hit town as part of the Belcourt's mini-Gilliamfest between Christmas and New Years.