Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall 2010 Movie Preview

After a generally uninspiring summer movie season, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s looking forward to the fall—which is usually when 85% of the best movies of the year come out anyhow. Hard to believe that Labor Day just around the corner; maybe it’s the continued run of high 80 and 90-degree temperatures here in swampy, sweltering D.C., but it doesn’t really feel like summer is over yet.

Be that as it may, this is the time of year when I flag ten or fifteen films slated for fall release that I’m excited to see. Inevitably, for at least some of them my enthusiasm wanes—whether because of poor reviews or other factors—so that I don’t even end up seeing them after all. And as often as not, the ones I do see will disappoint me, while other movies not even on my radar end up becoming my favorites of the year. Therefore, rather than announcing the following as my “most anticipated films” of the fall season, I'll just say they are films that have piqued my interest, listed in order of release date:

THE AMERICAN (Tomorrow – Sept. 1)

It’s really all about the poster: retro in a good way. The trailer, not so much: a weary hit man carrying out one last job, a possible femme fatale or two, hints of a shadowy conspiracy – nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing that suggests a novel approach. But trailers are deceptive, and I place my faith in (1) George Clooney’s ability to pick smart, quality projects that hit the sweet spot of his acting range (within which he’s consistently excellent); (2) director Anton Corbijn, whose exquisitely composed “Control” wasn’t so much a biopic as, well, an étude on Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis.

NEVER LET ME GO (Sept. 15)

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favorite living writers, and Never Let Me Go one of his best novels. It’s never struck me as particularly filmable, however. As usual with Ishiguro, the narrative is filtered through a protagonist who spends a lifetime in quiet denial and an often frustrating passivity, only reaching belated recognition of certain essential truths when it’s too late to do anything about them. And even though the plot has some of the elements of a mystery, there’s no shocking climax or big reveal, nor is there any true moment of crisis or epiphany; in this respect it’s far more elliptical than The Remains of the Day, the only other Ishiguro novel that, to my knowledge, has ever been adapted for the big screen. Still, I’m extremely curious to see what kind of film could be made from a story that moves in ripples rather than an arc, and the casting—Carey Mulligan as the narrator, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as her two best friends—intrigues.

THE TOWN (Sept. 17)

Ben Affleck is back behind the camera, mining the same territory—the seedy criminal underbelly of working-class Bah-ston—that netted unexpected praise for his 2007 directorial debut feature “Gone Baby Gone.” This time, he’s put himself in front of the camera, too, a decision in which I hope vanity played no part. What really attracts me to this film is the rest of the cast: Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”), Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Frost/Nixon”), Pete Postlethwaite (“Inception” and a hell of a lot of films in the ’90s, most memorably “In the Name of the Father”), and, last but not least, Jon Hamm as a rather non-Don Draper-like FBI agent. Sold, barring terrible reviews.

EASY A (Sept. 17)

Let's face it, teen sex comedies have become pretty old hat by this point. “Easy A” tries a slightly different spin as a comedy about a teenager who everyone thinks is having sex even though she actually isn’t. That sounds an awfully feeble premise, yet “Easy A” looks surprisingly fresh or, at the least, reasonably engaging—thanks mostly to the wry, wise-eyed appeal of Emma Stone as the sardonic outsider who, through a mixture of misunderstandings and deliberate deception, goes from nobody to school slut. It’s no Nathaniel Hawthorne, but it may be good for some easy laughs.


If you’d asked me a year ago what I thought of the idea of a sequel to “Wall Street,” I’d have said either "no thanks" or, more simply, "why?" Yet something about the preview has sucked me in: I don’t know whether it’s the half-ironic, half-affectionate nods to the original film, the still-sharp gaze and easy demeanor of Michael Douglas as a newly sprung, remarkably unchastened Gordon Gecko, or the whisper of topicality that hangs about the movie’s themes in our post-bailout, post-Madoff, post-Enron times. It’s certainly not Shia LaBoeuf’s hair or Carey Mulligan’s tearful mug, though I’ve liked both those kids in other roles. Whatever it is, my attitude towards the movie has flipped from dismissive to weirdly hopeful. Then again, I had a similar shift in feeling this past spring towards “The A-Team,” which I never ended up watching or regretted missing. It remains to be seen whether “Wall Street 2” meets a similar fate or manages to hold on to my interest.


I doubt that this film will reveal anything especially illuminating about the founder(s) of Facebook or the clash of interests that drove them apart. Still, with David Fincher at the helm, a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on Ben Mezrich’s book, positive festival buzz, and a cadre of up-and-coming young actors—including a perfectly cast Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg and rising It Boy (and future Spiderman) Andrew Garfield—I can’t pretend I’m not intrigued.


I don’t have particularly high hopes for the penultimate Harry Potter movie, but as a devoted fan of the books I feel compelled to see it anyway. Director David Yates’ track record with the franchise is mixed: from my perspective, he has one hit (“Order of the Phoenix”) and one miss (“The Half-Blood Prince”), so all bets are off for the next one. However, I take some encouragement in the fact that Deathly Hallows, though perfectly satisfactory as a series capper, wasn’t one of my favorites in the overall saga. That bodes well for the film, since thus far there’s been an inverse relationship between how much I like a Harry Potter book and how much I’ve liked the big screen adaptation.


The story of how George VII, successor to the British throne after his older brother, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, learned to overcome a bad stutter and rally his country as it entered WWII doesn’t exactly sound like riveting material. But it boasts a stellar cast, including Colin Firth as the king, Helena Bonham-Carter (in non-Goth mode) as his wife, Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, Guy Pearce as Edward VIII, and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Indie wunderkund Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler," "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain") sets his sights on the gorgeous, effed-up world of professional ballet. This ain’t no “Center Stage,” though, or even an Altman-esque “Company.” Rather, it’s a psychological drama about a star ballerina (Natalie Portman) who, threatened by the presence of a rising star (Mila Kunis), starts to lose her bearings and her sense of identity. Judging from the thriller, the film has a compellingly creepy, almost horror-movieish vibe, but horror in the way that Hitchcock's films are horror. Aronofsky also scores extra points for casting Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder in key parts.


Helen Mirren as a gender-bending Prospero? Julie Taymor directing? A scantily clad Djimon Hounsou as Caliban? Yes, please.


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is by far my favorite of the Narnia series, so basically, I can’t not see this. I have mixed feelings about the trailer (when, oh when, will a movie adaptation ever get the character of Reepicheep right?), but I actually rather enjoyed the previous installment, “Prince Caspian,” (especially cutie Ben Barnes, who’s back as now-King Caspian) and am interested to see how the film evokes some of the more haunting images from the book.


From Shooter to Fighter: Mark Wahlberg knows where his strengths lie as an actor. (“Rock Star” being best charitably written off as an unfortunate lapse.) Based on a true story, “The Fighter” depicts an Irish American boxer’s unlikely ascent to the world championships with the aid of a troubled brother (Christian Bale) who helps train him for the big time. Doubtless nothing groundbreaking here, but I have a soft spot for Marky Mark and am quite fond of both Christian Bale (when not ranting) and director David O. Russell’s “Three Kings.”

TRON: LEGACY (Dec. 17)

I never even saw “Tron,” but I’m tickled at the idea of updating its Atari-era concept for our present digital age, and the buzz out of Comic-Con seems to be pretty good. Having Jeff Bridges (who starred in the original) helps, too.


Sofia Coppola resurfaces with a new film that, like “Lost in Translation,” takes place largely in a hotel and centers on a washed-up movie star (here, Stephen Dorff). This time, however, she hones in on the guy’s efforts to develop a relationship with the young daughter (Elle Fanning) he barely knows. This one's a no-brainer: Coppola's films are virtually must-see events for me. Not because they're perfect - they're not - but because hers is such a uniquely delicate voice in a Hollywood that seems to grow louder and brassier by the day.

THE WAY BACK (late December)

It’s unclear whether Peter Weir’s latest film, which premieres at Telluride, will actually open in theaters this year. But if it does, I’ll be there. The subject matter sounds like the stuff of rather grim heroics, as it’s based on the supposedly true story of a group of Polish prisoners who miraculously escaped a Siberian gulag during WWII and trekked all the way to India. Still, if there's any director who can make it work, it's Weir. No one else can capture the dynamics of a closed, cut-off society with such sensitivity and power: see, e.g., “Gallipolli,” “Witness,” “The Mosquito Coast, “Dead Poets Society,” ”The Truman Show,”and my personal favorite, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”

All in all, looks like a promising fall...Stay tuned to see if any of these babies live up to expectations.


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