SOME OSCAR-BAIT pictures will trickle into Seattle soon after their Academy Awards-qualifying runs in New York and L.A.; others will wait until after the Feb. 12 nominations or even the March 24 telecast. A few titles you remember fondly from SIFF will likely follow in the new year; look for others at your video store. In theaters, the month-by-month schedule is always liable to change, but we can provide a general overview for the first quarter ahead.
HOLIDAY-JANUARY: Christmas sees the biopic Ali, the literary adaptations The Shipping News and In the Bedroom, plus Oscar-winner Hilary Swank’s period costume drama The Affair of the Necklace. The latter represents the Bellingham-born actress’ first starring role since Boys Don’t Cry, while Bedroom‘s Sissy Spacek has been there, done that with regard to Oscars and nominations; this picture will probably earn her another nom. We’ll review them all next week, along with Final, with Dennis Leary as a mental patient, which sounds a bit like both K-PAX and Vanilla Sky.
The new year kicks in with Robert Altman’s latest sprawling megacast movie, Gosford Park (Jan. 4), which just earned him best director honors from the New York Film Critics Circle. We’ve seen it, and it’s one of his strongest works in recent years, no Nashville, but also no Dr. T & the Women. The same weekend the David Mamet-scripted Lakeboat begins a two-week run at the Grand Illusion; Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster is said to deliver a helluva performance there.
In a naked bid for an Oscar nomination, Sean Penn stars in I Am Sam (Jan. 11) as a retarded single parent fighting for custody of his 7-year-old daughter; Michelle Pfeiffer also appears in this shameless tearjerker. Busy Cate Blanchett plays a plucky Scottish lass who ventures into German-occupied France to find her downed pilot boyfriend in the WWII spy novel adaptation Charlotte Gray (Jan. 11); he’d better be pretty hunky for that kind of effort.
Films don’t get much more timely than Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar (Jan. 11), although Gladiator director Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (Jan. 18) may better suit our nation’s current martial mood. In it, Pearl Harbor‘s Josh Hartnett discovers the ugly reality to playing Third World cop in 1993 Somalia.
If you’re looking for a break from the headlines, SAM begins a Thursday night series of classic British flicks that runs Jan. 3- March 7. Over at the Grand Illusion, the Henry’s current “Superflat” show is accompanied by various weird Japanese films (Jan. 10-27); the series also includes some ’60s TV anime like Speed Racer! SAM also offers five family-centered films by Yasujiro Ozu Jan. 13-Feb. 10.
There’s an excellent Australian film, Lantana, due Jan. 25, that’s both marital study and murder mystery. Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, and Anthony LaPaglia are among its fine ensemble cast.
FEBRUARY: Attention sex maniacs! The Little Theatre is programming an “Erotic Tales” series of short films Feb. 14-24. Why rent porn when you can view efforts by Hal Hartley and other international directors? Titles include Touch Me, Wet, and—our favorite—Vroom, Vroom, Vroom. (Does it have motorcycles?)
Lovers of foreign cinema will welcome Majid Majidi’s Baran, a chaste, topical teen romance story involving Afghan refugees living in Iran, and Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room, which earned the top prize at Cannes this year. (Exact dates haven’t been set for either film.)
Billy Bob Thornton might pick up an Oscar nom for Monster’s Ball (Feb. 1), which also features Halle Berry in a trailer parky Southern drama about death row, forbidden interracial romance, and personal redemption. Although overwrought, it’s still powerful in the end. (Did we mention the steamy sex scene and Berry’s tattooed ass?)
Slightly less lurid is the Appalachian documentary Dancing Outlaw (911 Media Arts Center, Feb. 1), whose subject tries to break into showbiz despite his multiple personality complex. (Attention, Jim Carrey: Buy the remake rights now.)
Delayed by world events, the new Schwarzenegger vehicle Collateral Damage arrives Feb. 8; presumably the terrorist bombing revenge flick has undergone a few trims to reflect our new sensitivities on that subject. Still, Arnold’s career appears to be in sad, perilous decline in the new millennium.
Debra Winger, too, has been scarce on screen of late but reappears in Big Bad Love (Feb. 22), about a dysfunctional family in Mississippi. (Aren’t they all?) Also, 911 shows Gus Van Sant’s impressive 1985 debut feature, Mala Noche, Feb. 15; how did that guy ever sink to Finding Forrester? If his Happiness rubbed you the wrong way, Todd Solondz’s Storytelling (Feb. 8) will offer more of the same unflinching view of human pathology and deceit.
Lighter fare may be welcomed in the dumb-cop farce Super Troopers (Feb. 15), which drew many laughs at Sundance; think of it as Meatballs with badges. Even more yuks will abound in the Grand Illusion’s screwball comedy fest (Feb. 1-28), which includes such classic titles as His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night, The Lady Eve, and The Philadelphia Story. You can’t go wrong there.
MARCH: All bets are off on these dates (where provided). Get this—Josh Hartnett decides not to get laid in 40 Days and 40 Nights; now there’s an irresistible premise! Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey chase a serial killer in Frailty (March 15), another garden-fresh conceit. Kissing Jessica Stein (March 13) is apparently not about killing, but instead centers on a lesbian ad in the personals that leads our heroine in unexpected directions. A huge hit in Mexico, Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I> (March 15) stars Gael Garc��Bernal of Amores Perros and is reputedly a funny, raunchy road trip/battle-of-the-sexes movie.
On the darker side, 911 shows a documentary about a flophouse on N.Y.C.’s Bowery, Sunshine Hotel, March 1. On the lighter side, Steven Spielberg reissues E.T., with the guns digitally erased from the hands of pursuing adults. On the quality side, Last Orders (March 1) wonderfully adapts the Booker Prize- winning novel, with an outstanding cast of Brits including Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, and Helen Mirren. It’s about death but celebrates life.
The H.G. Wells adaptation The Time Machine (March 8) stars Memento‘s Guy Pearce (N.Y.C.’s near ruination had to be removed from the film’s edit). Bounty hunter Ice Cube goes to Florida in All About the Benjamins (March 8), while on the same weekend Jodie Foster cowers in Panic Room—a home-invasion robbery thriller directed by David Fincher (Fight Club) with a plot as old as D.W. Griffith.
Based on its title alone, Death to Smoochy (March 15), has our interest; set in children’s TV land, the black comedy teams Robin Williams, Edward Norton, and Jon Stewart. Everybody wants to see Ice Age (March 15), the newest digital-animation spectacular, with voice talent including John Leguizamo and Dennis Leary.
The trailers for Showtime (March 29) would seem to boast an unbeatable combination in Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy, except that they’re in another mismatched buddy/cop movie. Cross your fingers.
Lastly, don’t expect many big films to open March 22, since Hollywood studios want the full national publicity apparatus to concentrate instead on the following Monday night’s activities—yet another Oscar show, which will undoubtedly be boring as ever after 74 years. Do yourself a favor and rent a movie that evening.