Friday, August 15, 2008

Fall Movie Preview: The 10 to Watch

With the summer movie season finally reaching its end (and considering that the only one movie on my summer preview list remains unreleased--Hamlet 2), it's time for Hollywood to enter its fall movie season, which also doubles as the starting line for the Oscar race *insert dramatic music here*. However, seeing as there are plenty of films-of-interest set to arrive in late November-December alone, this "Fall" preview will extend from September all the way through the middle of November. Though I usually try to keep these lists to 10 movies, I couldn't deny that there were a handful more films that have fallen on my radar, so this list will go up to 13.

Special thanks-in-advance to Entertainment Weekly for reminding me of a number of movies that I had forgotten about over the course of the summer....

13. Eagle Eye - I feel like something of a hypocrite for wanting to see this after I wrote several times that I was sick of having Shia Labeouf forced down my throat by Hollywood. In spite of this, LaBeouf's next project, titled "Eagle Eye" has caught my eye. The story (which reteams Labeouf with his "Disturbia" director DJ Caruso) centers on a young man who one day returns to his apartment only to find it filled with guns; lots and lots of guns. He then picks up a cell phone, where he hears a voice telling him that the FBI will arrive at his house in 30 seconds. As Jerry protests and claims that, "but...none of this is mine!" sure enough, a SWAT team bursts into his house and arrests him. During his arrest however, he gets broken out again, and must now start taking seemingly ludicrous (and life threatening) instructions from a mysterious shadow group. Meanwhile, a single mother (rising star Michelle Monaghan) finds her son has been kidnapped, and receives a call to enter an empty parked car and to, "insert the keys and start driving" from the same shadow group. All the while the FBI remains hot on the trails of both Jerry and Rachel, they find themselves potentially involved in something much bigger than just personal torment. Though parts of the trailer seem like standard action-thriller fare, I'm curious to see how the whole story plays out (there are scenes in the new trailer set near an electrical grid that's eerily remniscent of the conclusion of "Se7en").

Excitement Level: Solid

12. W - As much as my sixth sense is telling me that this will fail, I can't deny that I really want to see this movie. With a stellar (though not always appropriate) cast, this has plenty of potential. My greatest worry, though, is that Oliver Stone seems to have rushed the project just to get it out in time for election year. And then there's the issue of tone; is it a serious drama? a spoof? a Charlie Wilson's War-esque satire? Even after having read a draft of the script, I still can't tell what Stone and company are aiming for with this project. The only thing that is certain is that the movie is going to sidestep a lot of Bush's presidency, and focus more on his rise to power and his (supposedly) strained relationship with Bush Sr. Make up your mind Oliver; are you with us, or against us? (haha...see what I did there?)Excitment Level: Solid


11. Zack and Miri Make a Porno - yup, that's actually the title of what is sure to be THE raunchiiest movie both the fall season and the whole year (it just recently received an NC-17 rating). When roomates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (wonderful but often overlooked Elizabeth Banks) find themselves short on cash, they try to find something they can do that will make them lots of money, and fast; something cheap, easy, and requiring little in the way of real talent. So of course, they settle on making a porn film. Rogen is now an established comedic force in Hollywood after last year, and Banks is a gifted comedic actress who could finally find a breakout LEADING role in a comedy (Meet Dave doesn't count). An early trailer for the film (filled with tons of naughty adjectives) hit the internet for a short period of time, and promised to elicit gales of laughter from audiences (well...those old enough to actually buy a ticket). Though an NC-17 rating is often a kiss of death for box office returns, it does mean one thing; the film makes didn't have to cut out the film's raunchiest dialogue. Let's just the actual movie itself if better than the one being made by the characters in the movie....

Excitment Level: Good

10. Rachel Getting Married - As I said before, this is basically what would happen if the director of The Silence of the Lambs directed Margot at the Wedding, and traded out Nicole Kidman for Anne Hathaway (ie: someone still looking to prove herself as a strong dramatic actress). Rachel (Mad Men's Rosemarie Dewitt) is all set to be married in a low key wedding at her family's house. All the family will be there, and it'll be great! Well, except that all of the family includes big sister Kym (Hathaway) who, to put it mildly, has some problems. Though the whole "let's shoot this in grainy digital film to make it look even more like an indie film" schtick is starting to get old, this on still holds plenty of promise, especially from Hathaway. Even if the project as a whole sinks, Hathaway has generated plenty of buzz for herself; if she can live up to that buzz, expect at least a handful of accolades for this rising talent.Excitement Level: Good



9. Happy-Go-Lucky - Speaking of breakout performances, if there's one indie flick that's generated monumental amounts of buzz for its leading lady, it's Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. Taking a break from such heavy fare as Vera Drake, Leigh instead presents us with a comedy touted as both hilariously funny and delightfully life-affirming and charming. And of course there's the leading lady for whom all that buzz has been stirred up for: unknown Sally Hawkins, in the role of Poppy, a British school teacher who can see the good side of any situation. Though a small minority have found Poppy to be more irritating that charming, there's something irresistable about Hawkins, even in what little I've seen (just the trailer). Also, Mike Leigh has a habit of drawing strong performances from his female leads (again, Vera Drake and Imelda Staunton).

Excitement Level: Good

8. Synechdoche, New York - In this directorial debut, Charlie Kaufman (writer of Eternal Sunshine) presents what is sure to be the most original movie of the year. A depressed playwright (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) stages his new play withing a life-size reconstruction of New York City. Expecting plenty of mind warping, as well as strong performances from the talented cast, which besides Hoffman includes Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.Excitement Level: Very Good


7. Changeling - Though I'm not the biggest fan of Angelina Jolie in heavy dramatic roles, the fact that this is directed by Clint Eastwood is a major draw. The story centers on a woman in 1930s LA who greets her son on his return from....boarding school/the army (I have no idea which one it is) only to suspect that he isn't really her son. Her investigation leads her into a web of corruption and deception within the LA Police Department. With goreous period details and Eastwood's firm hand at the camera, this has the potential to be this decade's "LA Confidential", and that's quite an accomplishment. The only thing that's kept me from being truly ecstatic about this movie is the absolute lack of marketing for it. It opens in early October, and not a single damn trailer has arrived (and there are barely any screenshots from the movie).Excitement Level: Very Good



6. Body of Lies - Ridley Scott swung and missed last year with American Gangster, so now he's back this year to try and hit another homerun (okay, that's harsh. Gangster was very entertaining, but it wasn't the Oscar smorgasbord that everyone wanted it to be). Having finally seen the seconds (and much better) trailer, this one is starting to look like something that could rise above the realm of "well made popcorn entertainment" and into the realm of "high caliber film making worthy of recognition". Russel Crowe looks like he's in top form as a CIA agent who has more than a few hidden motives. The only thing that really worries me is Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems like he's once again doing his pouty little bitch routine. Seriously...it gets OLD.

Excitment Level: Very Good


5. Appaloosa - though this just recently came to my attention, the trailer and formidable cast are more than eye catching. A dark, gritty western in the vein of 3:10 to Yuma and Unforgiven, Appaloosa looks like it will provide some solid, old fashioned drama and thrills. That, and Renee Zellweger might finally be in a good movie again!Excitment Level: High



4. The Road - Another Viggo Mortensen starrer (the other being Appaloosa), this one comes from Cormac McCarthy's highly praised 2006 novel of the same name (which I hope to start reading within a few days). In a post apocalyptic future, a dying man (Mortensen) must try to transport his young son to safety while evading bands of murderers and vagabonds. Mortensen proved last year that he's truly a powerhouse actor, and this looks like it could be the leading role that truly catapults him onto the A-list. The rest of the cast is filled with huge talent in the forms of Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, and Robert Duvall, and the book has often been praised as McCarthy's most profound and emotional work. The only thing that worries me is that director John Hillcoat is relatively inexperienced, and after the Coen brothers did such a masterful job adapting McCarthy last year, it seems a shame that they couldn't have worked their magic on this McCarthy novel as well.

Excitment Level: High


3. 007: Quantum of Solace - Much like Batman Begins, Casino Royale proved to be a brilliant way of resurrecting a film franchise that had started to wear out its welcome. And, much like Begins, Casino Royale took away much of the glamour and injected a healthy dose of grittiness, making it one of the best, (if not THE best) Bond flicks to date. Now that same grittiness is back, in the first ever true sequel-Bond film. Still reeling from the death of Vesper Lynd (a sure to be sorely missed Eva Green, who was one of the best Bond girls ever), Bond sets out (against the order of MI6 boss M) to track down the organization responsible for her death. Headed by the mysterious Dominic Greene (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Mathieu Amalric), this shadow group is as strange as Greene himself; though it sports no outward and obvious traits of evil, the schemes that lie underneath are unbelievably sinister). Not to sound shallow though, but the only thing that concerns me are the two new Bond girls; no they aren't ugly, but there's something oddly lacking in their beauty that leaves them seeming somewhat uninteresting (although anyone having to follow up behind the gorgeous Eva Green is sure to face that challenge).Excitement Level: Very High



2. Australia - If there was anyone who could possibly prove up to the task of resurrecting the David-Lean-on-location-epic, it's Baz "Budget Be Damned" Luhrmann, the eccentric mad man behind one of my favorite movies ever, Moulin Rouge. The story (which unlike Moulin Rouge, is quite solid and unique) follows the uptight Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) who leaves England to confront her unfaithful husband who owns a ranch the size of Maryland back Down Under. One thing leads to another, and Ashley ends up having to transport thousands of cattle along the eccentric and harsh terrain of Australia in order to keep it out of the clutches of schemeing cattle barons. She's assisted by an outlaw, known solely as The Drover (Hugh Jackman). At first the two clash wildly, but slowly begin to fall for each other. And then there's still the looming threat of the Japanese sweeping the south pacific in WWII. Though I love all the talent involved (Luhrmann seems to have done a magnificent job of breaking the stereotype that Australia is just a giant desert), what excites me the most is the amount of thought and PASSION that everyone seems to have for the project. All of those behind-the-scenes features I've been posting have continually wowed me with the way Lurhmann and crew talk about the thought process that has gone into each aspect of filmmaking (my favorite being the way in which costumes would be used as outer manifestations of the characters' internal feelings). The actors too seem to have nothing but praise for the project. Jackman has said that there will never be a movie like this anytime soon, and Kidman said it was easily the most fun she'd ever had making a movie, and that she thrived in the rough on location shoots. And when actors profess love for a project so sincerely, it's almost always a sure sign that something wonderful is on its way to the cinemas for audiences to enjoy. This is going to (accoring to Baz) be the "big" movie of the year: big adventure, big action, big romance, big comedy, big thrills, and even big tragedy. Doubters be damned; this looks like a must-see in my eyes.Excitement Level: Ridiculously High



1. Burn After Reading - After the bleak masterpiece that was No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers return with this screwball comedy. When a couple of gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find a valuble CD containing CIA files, they decide to black mail the agent (John Malkovich). Getting thrown into the mix are the agent's unfaithful wife (Tilda Swinton) and her womanizing lover (George Clooney). The trailer (well...the R-rated one at least) left me in stitches, mostly because of the goof-tastic performance by Brad Pitt. Everyone else seems to be bringing their A-game as well (I can't wait to see McDormand working with the Coens again...it's such a brilliant match) and it's cool to see the Coens add the likes of Pitt and Swinton to the cast (with whom they've never worked before). Even though I doubt it will be as good as No Country, the entire tone of the movie feels just right, and the cast just seems too good to disappoint.

Excitement Level: Insanely High

9 comments:

Leah said...

As a fellow Baz-lover myself, I LOVE the descriptions you gave him- "eccentric mad man" and "Baz "Budget Be Damned" Luhrmann". So awesome.

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