Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Take heart: There are indeed good movies in sight!

I really can't remember a worse beginning to a movie year than we've had so far in 2008.

I was really hoping Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss" would lift us up out of the muck, but with its thoroughly cliched characters and meandering storylines it just couldn't do it. That makes exactly one movie I've loved almost unconditionally - Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" - in wide release so far this year. Man is that depressing.

But, of course, summer is just around the corner, which means Iron Man, Indy and a whole lot more fun. And I do have somewhat high hopes for Clooney's "Leatherheads" and slightly lower ones for Scorsese's Stones doco "Shine a Light," both supposedly opening wide this week (though as of yet I see no proof of Scorsese's flick hitting Macon.)

Today here, however, it's all about the fall, when the studios unveil the big guns for awards season. And frankly, surveying the field, it looks like it's once again the Coen Brothers' race to lose (how cool would it be if they actually managed to win back to back Best Picture kudos?!?) So, here's a look at some of the big contenders you'll see hitting your multiplexes come September:

(Brief aside: As I write this I'm listening to Bettye LaVette's album with the Drive-By Truckers, "Scene of the Crime." If you like Southern soul and blues music at all, it just doesn't get any better than this .. OK, I'm back now.)

Sept. 12: "Burn After Reading"
Why not start out with the reigning champs? The Coens' latest will star not only George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but also Tilda Swinton (pretty much a guarantor of kudos), John Malkovich and Frances McDormand (huzzah!). Here, as far as I can tell, is the rather twisted plot summary: Malkovich will play a CIA agent who, after getting fired, writes an inflammatory memoir. The disc containing it is stolen by his soon-to-be ex-wife, played by Swinton, who then accidentally leaves it at the gym, where it falls into the hands of a trainer (Pitt) and the gym owner (McDormand), who want to use it to blackmail Malkovich. Throw in Clooney as a CIA agent investigating all this mess, and I can only say bring it on.

Sept. 12: "The Duchess"
It seems like I've been seeing the trailer for this since last summer, and it just looks like nothing more than the most bland kind of period piece, but here's hoping I'm once again wrong. Starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, it is based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the scandalous 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. I can only assume that Knightley plays the duchess, but it might be slightly more interesting if the reverse were true.

Sept. 19: "Blindness"
Though I've made it clear there's nothing but mad love for the Coens around here, if I had to pick one single favorite director it would be Fernando Meirelles, and now he's finally back again. In what I'm hoping will be a return to smart science fiction on the big screen, Julianne Moore will play the wife of a doctor (the great Mark Ruffalo) who finds she is the only person who can see in a world where everyone else has gone blind. She feigns illness in order to take care of her husband as her surrounding community breaks down into chaos and disorder. I'll probably have to wait until like December to see this out here in the hinterlands, but I'm still rather jazzed for this.

Oct. 3: "Valkyrie"
Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer's World War II epic has been pushed back from a summer release to make time for the shooting of a crucial battle scene, but presumably also to put it squarely in the middle of awards season. This one, about a German soldier (Cruise, of course) who launched a plot to assassinate Hitler, represents a reteaming of Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, the team behind "The Usual Suspects," so it should be great.

Oct. 10: "Body of Lies"
In another high-profile reunion, Russell Crowe is back with director Ridley Scott, and Leo DiCaprio's on board too, for this second CIA flick of the season. In what should be a much more somber (and probably less fun) movie than the Coens', DiCaprio will play a CIA operative who is sent to Jordan to find a high-ranking terrorist and forms an uneasy alliance with the head of Jordan's covert operations.

Oct. 25: "Flash of Genius"
If it has the fun spirit of "Tucker," which it certainly looks like it could, I think this could be the sleeper hit of the Fall (and not just because it means - finally - a prominent role for Lauren Graham!) Greg Kinnear will play Robert Kearns, a Detroit engineer who claimed the auto industry stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper, and Graham will play his wife.

Nov. 14: "Australia"
Is Baz Luhrmann really going to manage to finish his first movie since 2001's "Moulin Rouge"? Given all that I've read about trouble on the set, I have my doubts, but if he does it promises to be a typically ambitious project. Nicole Kidman will play an English aristocrat who inherits a large cattle ranch in northern Australia prior to World War II. To save her inheritance from cattle barons she joins forces with a cattle-driver (Hugh Jackman) to drive her 2,000 head of cattle across the country just as the Japanese start to bomb the continent. This could be either epicly good or awful, but I seriously doubt it will be boring.

Nov. 26: "The Road"
After the success of "No Country for Old Men," it indeed seems like we'll be stuck with Cormac McCarthy's works on the big screen for a while, which will probably be a good thing. Ridley Scott has his eyes on "Blood Meridian," but before that John Hillcoat will director this Oprah-approved McCarthy work about a father and son who journey together for many months across a post-apocalyptic landscape that was once the United States, some time after a great, unexplained cataclysm. The big names for this one are Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen and, in a welcome return, Guy Pearce.

Dec. 5: "Frost/Nixon"
Peter Morgan adapts his own play about David Frost's famous TV interviews with Richard Nixon for director Ron Howard. Though I have my doubts about Howard, you can't knock the casting for this one: Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in "The Queen") is Frost and, in the leading contender for next year's Best Actor Oscar, Frank Langella is Nixon.

Dec. 12: "Seven Pounds"
I couldn't bring myself to see "The Pursuit of Happiness (yes, I insist on spelling it right!)", and I'll probably skip this Will Smith-Gabrielle Muccino collaboration too unless I hear tremendous things about it. In the flick, Smith plays a man who "will change the lives of seven strangers." Yep, I can tell already that I'm gonna just have to skip this one.

Dec. 19: "Revolutionary Road"
In what essentially sounds like "American Beauty" set in the 1950s, Sam Mendes will direct wifey Kate Winslet and Mr. Dicaprio in this flick. The duo play a husband and wife who grow bored of their lives in the Revolutionary Hill Estates, and eventually tear each other and their marriage down. Sounds cheery, eh? I didn't really care too much for "American Beauty," so I can only get mildly excited about this redux.

Dec. 19: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
This time I have indeed saved the best for last, because I think David Fincher's next flick will be a real dark horse contender come awards season (and surely one of my favorite flicks of the year.) In the flick based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald work, a man (Brad Pitt) is born in Baltimore (huzzah!) in 1919 at the age of 80 and ages backwards through the 20th century. Cate Blanchett is also on board as a woman he falls in love with round about the time he hits age 30. Here's what Fincher himself has to say about this promising project: "It's dark, it's romantic, and it also deals with mortality in a pretty unflattering way. The guy is born in 1919 - with the film itself beginning in World War I, traveling around the world and carrying on all the way through to the year 2000." Simply cool.

And there, for anyone brave enough to stick it out to the end of all that, you have it. Definitely plenty to look forward to in the next awards season. Peace out.


Bob said...

Sounds like some good stuff finally. Honestly you should see "The Pursuit of Happyness." It really is very very good. It's that rarest of inspirational movies. You know, the kind that's genuinely inspiring.

Reel Fanatic said...

Knowing your movie opinions like I do, Bob, I promise I will go ahead and take a chance on "Happyness" from Netflix (though my queue is stacked at the moment, so I can't promise when I'll get around to it)

Shorty said...

Did u read Saramago's Blindness by any chance? Phenomenal book and I can't wait for the film version...nice list...we need some good films desperately...

Reel Fanatic said...

I haven't yet, Shorty, but I plan to before the movie comes out ... I get most of my reading inspiration from the movie world, and with passing of Anthony Minghella, I just started 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' by Alexander McCall Smith because Minghella's last finished film was a teleflick based on that book .. So far, it's very good

Shorty said...

I'm the same way...I recently read Kite Runner & Into The Wild when I first found out they would be made into movies...

Eric said...

Sounds like an interesting lineup. though Blindness sounds like the basic plot for the day of the Triffids. And I remembering reading a review of the Book The Road and being intrigued. But Australia seems a bit...normal for Baz. I truely enjoy his work cause he is so stylized and i like that when done well. But we'll see. Maybe they will get Kyle Minogue to play a Kangaroo or a dingo. "Hi Im a Brown Dingo and I'm going to eat a baby"
That would be cool.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely with you on Baz, Eric .. even more than "Moulin Rouge," I just adore "Strictly Ballroom" because it's such a simple story yet so imbued with style and, most of all, color

Mercurie said...

I am really looking forward to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But then I am a Fincher fan from way back. I am just hoping it doesn't get overlooked, like a certain other Fincher movie I know....

Reel Fanatic said...

Assuming you're talking about "Zodiac" there Mercurie, I certainly share your love for that one .. I had it in my top 10 for the year, and had I cut it down to five it would have been there too

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