Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fall Movie Preview

Fall, as everyone knows, is the harvest season for high-quality movies: serious dramas featuring A-list actors and directors, prestige pics based on award-winning novels, and the usual overload of Oscar bait. But who's complaining?

Here are my top ten most hotly anticipated movies due out this fall, listed roughly in order of their release dates (though those, of course, are always subject to change):

1. 3:10 TO YUMA
Directed by James Mangold, starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol (Sept. 7)
It's a remake of a 1957 western, and remakes generally are toss-ups. But Russell Crowe squaring off with Christian Bale? I am SO there.

Directed by David Cronenberg; starring Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl (Sept. 14)
The last time Cronenberg and Viggo teamed up with "A History of Violence," Viggo knocked his part out of the park. (The movie wasn't bad, either.) From the previews for this one, he looks even more mysteriously menacing as a Russian mobster who may not be all he seems. And since Naomi Watts is one of my top five actresses working today, I foresee electric sparks flying between them. Not romantic sparks - in fact, given that it's Cronenberg directing, probably anything but.

Directed by Robin Swicord, starring Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt, Maggie Grace, Hugh Dancy; based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler (Sept. 21)
I seem to be one of the few people I know who really enjoyed this book. I admit I'm skeptical that the subtlety with which it weaves the themes from Austen's novels into the context of a modern-day book club can translate into a big-screen production. But the cast is appealing (though they all skew about a decade younger than the characters they play) and director Robin Swicord did write the screenplay for the 1994 film version of Little Women, which I adore. (Then again, she was also responsible for the screenplay for "Memoirs of a Geisha" - ugh.)

Directed by Ang Lee, starring Tony Leung, Joan Chen, and newcomer Tang Wei (Sept. 28)
A luscious-looking period thriller set in 1940s Shanghai, in which a young woman (Wei) seduces a corrupt official (Leung) with the intention of assassinating him. I trust Lee's craftmanship, and no one can look world-weary better than Leung or Chen.

Directed by Shekhar Kapur, starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish (Oct. 12)
If anyone can make lightning strike twice with the same character, it's Ms. Blanchett. I'm also looking forward to seeing Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh.

Directed by Terry George, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino (Oct. 19)
This looks like a major downer, or at the very least a feel-bad thriller: lives intersect and (I predict) angst and violence insue after a child is killed in a car accident. Still, with this cast, it's gotta be worth a look. Plus I needs me my seasonal dose of Ruffalo.

Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor (Nov. 2)
Speaks for itself. And finally, a movie that doesn't make me cringe for Cuba Gooding, Jr's career.

Directed by Chris Weitz, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Eliott (Dec. 7)
Word on the street is that the powers that be have gutted Philip Pullman's trilogy of all the blistering atheism that runs through the books. No surprise there, but how then is this gonna work? Still, the trailer looks awesome. Let's hope that Kidman and Craig have a better landing here than they did with last week's clunker, "Invasion" (which I confess I kind of want to see, but that's another story).

Directed by Joe Wright, starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, Romola Garai, Brenda Blethyn (Dec. 7)
Oscar bait at its baitiest. I didn't love last year's "Pride and Prejudice" as much as a lot of people did, but it did leave me with very favorable expectations for Joe Wright's directorial future. It'll be interesting to see what he does with this book, since it's so metafictional - it's as much about the act of writing and storytelling as it is about the rather tragic characters played by Knightley, rising star McAvoy, and Redgrave/Garai.

Directed by Tamara Jenkins, starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Christmas)
I reeeally wanted to see this at Sundance this year but unfortunately it wasn't playing during the second week of the festival, when I was there. PSH and Linney play brother and sister, reluctantly reunited when their father requires long-term care. The last brother-sister movie that starred Linney was "You Can Count on Me." 'Nuff said.

Also keeping an eye out for:
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Julie Taymor's take on the Beatles should be visually interesting, if nothing else); THE DARJEELING LTD. (lately Wes Anderson has gotten a little too preciously quirky for my taste - but I always have hope for the director of "Rushmore"); George Clooney vehicles MICHAEL CLAYTON and the lighter-looking LEATHERHEADS; the Coen Bros' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN; and Noah Baumbach's latest dysfunctional family dynamics festival, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (starring Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as sisters); ENCHANTED (fresh new spin on Disney princess tale? the trailer actually looks promising, and count me an Amy Adams fan after "Junebug").

And tooting the horn loudly for
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, which I saw and loved at Sundance (find my review here), and which is set for limited release on Nov. 2 (opposite AMERICAN GANGSTER, ack, what are they thinking?). It's a beautiful little movie featuring the venerable Frank Langella, who definitely deserves Oscar consideration for his performance. With any luck the film won't slip completely between the cracks in the fall for-your-consideration stampede.

I close with the usual caveat: any, if not all, of these movies may turn out to be lemons, and my top ten list of movies for 2007 may end up including films that I haven't even noticed or mentioned. But hey, that's what makes the fall season so fun - you never know what you're going to like.


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