Film Previews

A rundown of the season's movies— handpicked for their potential wondrousness or probable woefulness.

Whiteboys Midwestern farm kids want to be gangsta rappers in performance artist Danny Hoch's first film, based on one of his stage characters. Too bad Hoch can't decide whether to mock or sympathize with his corn-fed, clueless poseurs. (Jessica Winter) October 10

Beefcake Hanging Garden director Thom Fitzgerald turns his attention to the world of '50s muscle mags. Features interviews with Jack LaLanne and Joe Dallesandro, among others. (DL) October 13

Fight Club Body slam and head trip, David Fincher's screen version of Chuck Palahniuk's novel feels like Alphaville on steroids. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton play doppelgängers of a peculiar kind; Helena Bonham Carter is their determined third wheel. Fincher rocks their world with camera movements and digital effects that make you feel like you're in the middle of an earthquake, or trapped inside the psyche of a lunatic, or both. (AT) October 15

The Surreal Deal: Diaz and Cusack In 'Being John Malkovich'
The Surreal Deal: Diaz and Cusack In 'Being John Malkovich'

The Straight Story David Lynch goes Saturday Evening Post in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of an elderly, resourceful, taciturn midwestern farmer who drives a small tractor across three states to see his dying brother. Either Lynch has lost his mind, or he has a yen to do Preparation-H commercials. (AT) October 15

Being John Malkovich John Cusack, married to an unrecognizably dowdy Cameron Diaz, plays a put-upon puppetmaster who tunnels into the head of John Malkovich. Spike Jonze's insane, ingenious first feature more than delivers on the promise of his whacked-out music videos. Think of it as a pomo pop parody of a Czech surrealist allegory— you won't see another film remotely like it this year. (DL) October 29

Last Night Best apocalypse movie of the season, hands down. Actor-writer-director Don McKellar's vision of the end of the world, Canadian style, moves with grace and assurance from deadpan quirk to understated heartbreak. (DL) November 5

American Movie Chris Smith's appallingly hilarious documentary about Mark Borchardt, a Wisconsin ne'er-do-well with moviemaking running hot in his blood, and his Ed Wood­ian efforts to make a low-budget horror movie. Skirts exploitation of the dim-witted by a rat hair, and is all the more beautiful for it. (MA) November 5

Dogma An inspired, subversive, and hilarious vision of the battle between good and evil, Kevin Smith's pop-culture religious pageant follows the further adventures of movie-buff stoners Jay and Silent Bob as they try to prevent the apocalypse from starting in New Jersey. (AT) November 12

The End of the Affair Director Neil Jordan is inspired by romantic love at its most swoony and sinful. It's not unreasonable, therefore, to have high hopes for his adaptation of Graham Greene's quasi­mystery novel set in World War II London. It stars Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, two actors whose erotic appeal always carries a whiff of guilt. (AT) December 3

The War Zone Adapted from Alexander Stuart's novel, Tim Roth's first film is a tough, subtle, brilliantly acted drama about incest, set in rainy, wind-swept Dorset. A film that never loses its balance, it isn't afraid to pose difficult questions— and declare them unanswerable. (DL) December 10

Girl Interrupted One of those young filmmakers who has so far only got on base but seems destined for a home run, James Mangold does Susanna Kaysen's mental-ward memoir with a great cast: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, and Vanessa Redgrave. Whoopi Goldberg shows up, hopefully as one of the mentally stable. (MA) December 21

The Ninth Gate Roman Polanski cowrites and directs this ditty about rare demonic tomes and conspiracies and such. With Johnny Depp (adding Polanski to his Cool Directors I've Worked With list), Lena Olin, and Frank Langella. (MA) December 22

Mr. Death Errol Morris has one of his most disturbing subjects in Fred Leuchter, who went from perfecting electric chairs so that they operate in humane fashion to using scientific methods to prove that the Holocaust never happened. (AT) December 24

Is It Last Year Already?

Jakob the Liar If anybody can, Robin Williams can (in the words of the studio publicity) "keep hope and humor alive" during the Holocaust. No kidding. You were hoping the world would forget about Benigni, weren't you? Now look where we are. Somebody, do something. (MA) September 24

Liberty Heights Just as many expatriate directors are only fluent in their homeland (think Neil Jordan and Ireland), Barry Levinson can only make bearable movies in Baltimore. Here, he returns for the fourth time to Diner territory; Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, Adrien Brody, and Justin Chambers go with him. (MA) November 19

Angela's Ashes Good luck to the not unlucky Alan Parker in adapting this charming book for the screen and making of it something more than a wailing, burping litany of beery histrionics, dead children, and toilet hell. Robert Carlyle has his greatest opportunity to demonstrate his innate John Barrymore­ishness, while Emily Watson will doubtless surpass herself in weeping self-crucifixion. (MA) November 26

Sweet and Lowdown Woody Allen, still, again, seemingly forever. He's gotten around to doing another jazzy period piece, which is some sort of mild relief, with Sean Penn as a band member and Samantha Morton and Uma Thurman as his squeezes. (MA) Early December

The Green Mile Stephen King will be treated about as reverentially as he ever will in this one, which has Tom Hanks being humorless again as a prison guard on Death Row in the '30s; Frank Darabont, he of The Shawshank Redemption, directs. (MA) December 17

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