At long last, the summer doldrums are drawing to a close, and Hollywood, true to form, is gussying itself up for the critics and Oscar prognosticators. And also per usual, it’s reserving its heaviest ammunition for the winter holidays, which bodes ill for those of us movie buffs who would rather avoid the frantic cinematic binging that marks the end of every calendar year. But, starved as we are for quality fare by the end of August, I’ll venture a guess that most of us are happy to see the return of the annual ritual of courting Academy love, even if we have to prepare for a December cramfest and the de facto four-month hibernation period that follows.
Not that all the movies I’m looking forward to are necessarily awards contenders. But in reviewing my list of top ten movies I’m most looking forward to this fall, I can hardly call it a coincidence that most of them are clustered in November and December, i.e., primetime Oscar baiting season. Anyway, here they are, in order of anticipated release date:
BURN AFTER READING (This Friday)
I tend to prefer the Coen Brothers when they're in their comedic mode, and George Clooney playing dumb has struck gold for them before this (“O Brother, Where Art Thou”). From the trailer, Clooney looks like he’s mugging a little too hard this time around. But Brad Pitt’s antics, and the bit of interaction we see between him and John Malkovich, made me laugh out loud. Besides, who can resist a chance to see Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, two of the finest actresses working today, opposite those clowns? Not me.
IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME (I’ve Loved You So Long) (Oct. 24)
Three words: Kristin. Scott. Thomas. Luminous and totally underappreciated. Well, at least the French appreciate her. Her performance in this movie, as a woman with a secret who reenters her younger sister’s life, garnered major buzz at the Berlin Film Festival and just may get her some Oscar love.
THE SOLOIST (Nov. 21)
On paper, this tale of the friendship between an L.A. Times journalist (Robert Downey, Jr.) and a homeless schizophrenic (Jamie Foxx) who also happens to be a brilliant violinist sounds like one of those inspirational schmaltzfests that have imbued the words “based on a true story” with the opposite of cool. Except that the journalist in question is Steve Lopez, who rocks, and the director is Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement”), one of the most promising up-and-comers working in cinema today.
AUSTRALIA (Nov. 26)
It’s already being dubbed the Australian version of “Out of Africa” and the biggest movie to come from Down Under. This of course doesn’t necessarily bode well for its quality. But at the very least, director Baz Lurhmann looks to provide major visual panache, and Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman bring the pretty. Especially Jackman, who’s smokin’
. Yes, I really am that shallow.
THE ROAD (Nov. 26)
Adapted from the much-lauded novel by Cormac McCarthy about a father and son journeying across a postapocalyptic landscape and simply trying to survive. Viggo Mortensen is well cast as the father; Charlize Theron appears in flashback as his wife. Directed by John Hillcoat, whose debut film, “The Proposition,” I have not seen...but from what I remember reading about it, Hillcoat’s sensibilities seem perfectly matched to McCarthy’s stylized bleakness.
MILK (Nov. 26)
Gus Van Sant takes on a subject that’s near and dear to his heart: the life and death of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Co-stars James Franco (yum) as Milk's lover, along with Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin as the fellow supervisor who assassinated him in 1978. I am not the biggest Penn fan in the world, and Van Sant is hit-or-miss, but this film looks like it was crafted with care.
FROST/NIXON (Dec. 5)
A great play does not necessarily make a great film, and Ron Howard probably wouldn’t be my first choice to try to make that transfer with Frost/Nixon
. The good news is the powers behind the movie had the sense to retain the playwright, Peter Morgan (“The Queen”), as the screenwriter and the original leads from the stage versions: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost, the television host who in a series of interviews in 1977 got the disgraced ex-President to admit his role in Watergate. Either or both may get the Oscar nod that eluded them for past work—Langella’s sublime performance in last year’s “Starting Out in the Evening” and Sheen’s excellent turn as Tony Blair in “The Queen.”
DOUBT (Dec. 12)
I can’t not
see this one, for the simple reason that Doubt
was hands down the best play I’ve seen in the last ten years. (But see caveat for “Frost/Nixon,” above). John Patrick Shanley directs his own play, and heavyweight champs Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as the ramrod-straight Sister Aloysius and the charismatic priest she suspects of wrongdoing. Interestingly, though, it’s Viola Davis who’s getting all the early Oscar buzz as the mother of the boy at the root of the clash between them. Amy Adams also appears as the younger nun who doesn’t know what or whom to believe.
THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Dec. 19)
I dig heist/con flicks, and this one seems to have a light and whimsical vibe to it that I find appealing. Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo don’t look much like brothers, but they make funny con men, and I’ll watch Ruffalo in just about anything. Rachel Weisz stretches her range with a comedic role as the target of their con, and Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”) plays the Bloom brothers’ cohort and explosives expert. A striking change of pace and tone for director Rian Johnson, whose last film was the ingenious high school noir “Brick.”
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (Dec. 25)
I’ve never quite understood how this fantastical short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald could possibly be the basis for a feature-length film. That said, early glimpses of footage suggest that director David Fincher labored mightily to give “Benjamin Button” a lushly dreamlike feel that just might make it work. The pictures of an aged Brad Pitt’s face on a toddler’s body creep me out slightly, though. Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton co-star.
Other films I’m anticipating:
Interested but worried by bad early buzz:Blindness
, directed by Fernando Meirelles (“City of God,” “The Constant Gardener”) and based on the novel by José Saramago about an epidemic of blindness that strikes every living human except one woman (Julianne Moore). Costarring Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, and Gael García Bernal. Not well received at Cannes, though it's undergone some retooling since then.Synecdoche, New York
, directed and written by Charlie Kaufman. A theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) builds a life-sized recreation of New York City inside what must be a simply gargantuan warehouse. Yup, that’s Kaufmanesque all right. Co-starring Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, and Dianne Wiest. This film, too, received a mixed reception, at best, at Cannes, and Kaufman can sometimes be too quirky for my taste. Still, it's definitely got originality and a strong cast going for it.
Waiting for the reviews:Righteous Kill
: The Pacino-De Niro pairing is enough to pique my interest, but may not be enough, without more, to sustain it.Appaloosa
: Ed Harris directs himself and Viggo Mortensen in this old-school Western. Renee Zellweger plays the woman who comes between them. If she chooses Harris, that will be only because he’s the director.Miracle at St. Anna
: Spike Lee directs a WWII movie about an all-African-American regiment stationed in Italy. As best I can tell, something happens that haunts them years later. (Yeah, I know that’s helpful). To be double-billed with a “Celebrity Deathmatch” between Lee and Clint Eastwood.Body of Lies
: Ridley Scott directs this conspiracy-minded political thriller about a CIA operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) trying to fight the war on terror and the supervisor (Russell Crowe) who keeps messing with him. Sounds promising. Then again, so did last year’s Scott-Crowe combination, “American Gangster,” which I found to be a letdown.Changeling
: I don’t think Angelina Jolie fits in period films – she has far too modern a face. Nonetheless, she and director Clint Eastwood picked up great Cannes buzz for this eerie story about a young woman (Jolie) in the 1920’s whose son goes missing and who apparently isn’t sure, when he returns, that it’s really him.Quantum of Solace
: Never have been a James Bond fan, but “Casino Royale” was a step in the right direction.Revolutionary Road
: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition,” “Jarhead”) directs his wife, the lovely Kate Winslet, and Leo, reunited for the first time since the Movie That Shall Not Be Named. This time they play lovers in 1950’s New England who actually get married, only it all goes downhill from there. I think we’ve already seen plenty of books and movies about the stultifying effects of marriage and its attendant social responsibilities on love and self-fulfillment, but am willing to entertaining another if it’s really
Potential guilty pleasures:Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
is being billed as a kind of “Before Sunrise” for teenagers, with Michael Cera and Alexis Dziena as the potential soulmates who share a love for hip music. The presence of director Peter Sollett (“Raising Victor Vargas”) tempers any residual skepticism.The Day the Earth Stood Still
: Why remake a sci-fi classic? But if you’re gonna do it, why not cast Keanu Reeves? Have to admit I have a soft spot for both sci-fi and Reeves.