A non-comprehensive, entirely subjective list of films that will be worth at least a look this fall. The only criteria? No films written by, directed by, or starring former lead singers of bad '80s heavy metal bands. (Amazingly, there are two such films coming this fall: Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister is the creator of Strangeland; Poison's Bret Michaels stars in and penned A Letter from Death Row. It's official: Everyone really is a filmmaker.)
Results not guaranteed. Release dates not guaranteed. Quality not guaranteed.
A Merry War—Helena "Not Her Real Hair" Bonham Carter and cinematic god/dork Richard E. Grant star in this adaptation of a George Orwell novel about a pair of 1930s lovers. Bonham Carter's staid character is sorely tried by Grant as a rebellious poet trying to keep it real (as the kids say nowadays). Some reviews have complained that Grant's character is "unpleasant" or some such, which makes me all the more excited for a possible return to his great, hateful days of Withnail & I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising.
Touch of Evil—Big, fat re-release of what many call the greatest noir ever made, recut using director Orson Welles' editing directives, which were ignored by the studio at the time the film was made.
Pecker—You have to love a screenwriter who names his lead character "Pecker" and then has the gall to claim the name comes from the character's "childhood habit of pecking at his food." This time John Waters sends his numbnutted Balt'more folks into the New York art scene.
Permanent Midnight—Jerry Stahl's autobiography made a riveting read. It remains to be seen whether this adaptation—starring Ben Stiller—will make an equally compelling film.
Rush Hour—Just the latest from Jackie Chan, and that's good enough for us.
American History X—Normally I would be getting all hot about a film showcasing the talents of Edward Norton (People vs. Larry Flint, Everyone Says I Love You) as a hate-mongering skinhead. But I just sat through his tired, mannered performance in Rounders, so I'm a little less amped on an actor I once perceived as the great white hope of American leading men. If Norton returns to form, this could be a fine piece—especially with a great supporting cast in Edward Furlong and the underused Fairuza Balk.
Pigeon Egg Strategy—Shot in Hong Kong by a Chinese crew with an American cast, this brainy romp follows a couple who are fleeing some monsters. It's said to be a cleverly made jigsaw puzzle of language games.
The Mirror—An Iranian film that's the best thing you missed at SIFF this year.
Beloved—I don't know if it's going to be any damn good. There's been a funny kind of backlash against Toni Morrison's masterpiece in the last couple of years, with good readers whispering to each other that they didn't exactly, you know, get it. I remain a fan of this boggling ghost story of slavery, but wonder how such verbal slippages could be brought to the screen. Jonathan Demme is going to try, with Oprah Winfrey in the lead.
My Name is Joe—My notes for this one read, "Ken Loach soccer drunk love story." Peter Mullan won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in the latest from the King of Depression, Ken Loach (Raining Stones; Ladybird, Ladybird). This time the self-appointed deliverer of the bitterest truths is telling a love story, which sounds a promising departure . . . but don't expect too much sweetness and light.
Practical Magic—Perhaps the scariest thing about this black magic comedy is seeing Sandra Bollocks get billing over Nicole Kidman. From Bell, Book & Candle to Bewitched, comedies with witches seem to be barely concealed male fantasies about all-powerful women whose powers are tamed by the love of a good man. Still, this one has a light, romantic look that's appealing—maybe not a bad girls' night out.
Life is Beautiful—Jim Jarmusch favorite Roberto Benigni brings all his talents to his latest film, for which he has won awards as best actor, director, and screenplay, as well as winning the Grand Jury Prize this year at Cannes. His comic sensibility is set against World War II Europe and expanded into a fabulist tone.
Bride of Chucky—Just for the title.
Elizabeth—Shekhar Kapur, who directed the wildly insurrectionist Bandit Queen, turns his focus from India to its colonizer in this bio-pic of the iconic English queen, Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett stars, with Geoffrey Rush and Christopher Eccleston (Jude) co-starring.
The Waterboy—Not to be confused with The Waterdance. Although everyone keeps saying what a fine departure The Wedding Singer was for Adam Sandler, I have to admit I'm fonder of the Billy Madisonera oeuvre. The Waterboy looks to be a return to that kind of low-class, underdog, just-plain-bad comedy for Sandler, and not a minute too soon.
Velvet Goldmine—Todd Haynes, whose last film seemed almost excessive in its restraint, turns his talents to the epitome of excess: glam rock. As such, it stars all the cutest boys, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, and Christian Bale. With British comic phenom Eddie Izzard, recently so ill-used (like, he didn't even talk) in The Avengers. I'm hoping for a Sweet revival.
Seventh Heaven—A new film from Benoit Jacquot, who made 1996's lovely New Wave revisitation A Single Girl. Jacquot is adept at drawing mystery from ordinary lives (e.g., A Single Girl's heroine confronting all those closed hotel doors), a theme he'll treat more explicitly in this tale of a fainting woman and her unsatisfying marriage.
Babe: Pig in the City—Mickey Rooney co-stars, but we'll still be rushing to the theater to see if success has gone to the head of our favorite hunk of future
Wind in the Willows—If ever a film looked to be truly eccentric, it's this 1996 live-action version of Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book, in which grown men (including Eric Idle and John Cleese) barely disguise themselves as Mole, Rat, Toad of Toad Hall, and all the rest. Reviews have been (generally) ecstatic, but the film never received distribution and despite a growing cult following, has never yet made it to Seattle.
Little Voice—Well, from the early press releases, Shine sounded smarmy too, so we'll give this one a try. Based on an award-winning London play about a little girl who can only express herself through old tunes. Jane Horrocks reprises her stage role; Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan McGregor co-star.
Theory of Flight—Wheelchairs, luvvy British thespians, fated amours: It doesn't sound good. But maybe Kenneth Branagh and She of the Hair (Helena Bonham Carter), along with a reportedly witty script, can pull it off.
Celebrity—Another massive ensemble piece from Woody Allen, dealing with the notion of, well, celebrity and starring, all too appropriately, Leonardo DiCaprio. Also with Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Melanie Griffith, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, and two scoops of vanilla blonde du jour, Gretchen Mol and Charlize Theron. (But you know they're serious actresses because they've kept their funny names.)
The Thin Red Line—Terence Malick (Badlands) makes his heavily vaunted return to the screen with this war story.
Down in the Delta—The directorial debut from Maya Angelou. It's not difficult to imagine her acting properly imperious on the set, is it? Alfre Woodard plays a Chicago woman who returns with her family to the Mississippi delta.
Affliction—A Paul Schrader adaptation of a
Russell Banks novel.
Psycho—The press release says "not a remake in the traditional Hollywood sense," which you can bet is the understatement of the season. Vince Vaughn does the honors in the "title" role, with Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortenson, and William H. Macy co-starring. It makes me suspicious when a film's cast is this hip, but these are all quality performers aside from their annoying tendency to show up in Movieline wearing Gucci, or whatever this year's Gucci is. I feel I'm participating in a scam reporting that this film will be released in December: There's little chance Gus Van Sant will get this thing finished and distributed in time.