Film Previews

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

Delicious and Good For You

American BeautyAn Ice Storm minus the puritanism and nostalgia. Director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball lay bare the horrors of upper-middle-class normalcy in this unexpectedly profound tragicomedy. With Kevin Spacey (never better), Annette Bening (in full control of a caricature), and a bunch of youngsters in career-launching roles. (Dennis Lim) September 15

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

Breakfast Of ChampionsThe record for Vonnegut adaptations is spotty, but the author might be the support rigging Alan Rudolph has always needed. Is Bruce Willis capable of the necessary loopiness? With Nick Nolte, who's becoming to Vonnegut what Harrison Ford is to Tom Clancy. (Michael Atkinson) September 17

Three KingsSounds like Kelly's Heroes for the Clinton era, but better: David O. Russell drops George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze into the Gulf War and gives them a Kuwaiti treasure to search for. (MA) October 1

The LimeySteven Soderbergh— clearly on a roll— uses inserts from Ken Loach's Poor Cow as ready-made back story for this seductive reverie, a nostalgia piece that eschews sentimentality throughout. Featuring Terence Stamp in a rich central performance and a very funny Peter Fonda. (DL) October 8

Bringing Out the DeadIf Nicolas Cage is to his EMS vehicle what De Niro was to his taxi, then Martin Scorsese will have his first box office smash since Cape Fear. And with Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader again providing the structure, history might repeat itself. (Amy Taubin) October 22

Holy SmokeHarvey Keitel plays a cult deprogrammer who has his hands full when he takes on Kate Winslet. Director Jane Campion returns to the problem of spirituality— how to distinguish the true from the half-cocked— that made her debut feature Sweetie so unique. (AT) October 22

Ride with the DevilAng Lee adapts Donald Woodrell's novel about bushwhackers on the Missouri frontier of the Civil War and makes up for longueurs with throat-catching combat scenes. Tobey Maguire, that Derek Jeter of movie actors, is a wonder, and Jeffrey Wright's performance as a semifree slave might be the year's best. Oh, yeah, Jewel plays a war widow. (MA) November 5

RosettaLuc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne follow La Promesse with an even tougher and more unsparing film about a young woman who desperately wants a job so that she can live a normal life. By syncing their hand-held camera to Rosetta's clumsy but fiercely determined gait, the Dardenne brothers push cinematic language where it's never gone before. (AT) Mid November

All About My MotherPedro Almodovar combines Law of Desire's anarchic genderfuck and the sleeker pop-surrealist production values of his recent films in a madly funny, through-the-looking-glass vision of Streetcar Named Desire. Women, transvestites, and transsexuals mix it up in a tribute to the maternal impulse and the glamour of the theater. The ensemble cast, headed by Cecilia Roth, is a joy to watch. (AT) November 19

Sleepy HollowWho better than Tim Burton to turn the Headless Horseman into a cinematic experience? With Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as his love, Burton directs a flesh-and-blood version of Washington Irving's gothic classic. Trailers can be deceiving, but this one practically leaps off the screen, wraps its skeletal arms around you, and sucks face. (AT) November 19

Magnolia Paul Thomas Anderson follows up Boogie Nights with this multithreaded Road Runner­meets­Short Cuts absurdist melodrama, starring William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards (all in one movie?), Julianne Moore, and a walk-through by Tom Cruise. (MA) December 10

The Cider House RulesHaving a Simon Birch­peeved John Irving write and control the casting of this rotund bildungsroman's filmization might be a good thing; it won't be a Hotel New Hampshire, but who said Irving knew anything about movies? Lasse Hallstrom directs, with ingredients he could work with. (MA) December 10

Cradle Will RockTim Robbins's homage to the Federal Theater of the 1930s and its production of Marc Blitzstein's rousing musical about labor organizing. Robbins is on the money when he shows the allure that radical art has for the filthy rich. The all-star cast includes Bill Murray and Joan Cusack as right-wing snitches, and Emily Watson and John Turturro as aspiring actors who give the performances of their lives when the cops take over the theater. (AT) December 10

Topsy TurvyMike Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan biopic is a celebration of theater, the creative process, and the coming of electricity to Victorian London. Extraordinarily written, directed, and acted, it's hilarious until the last moments when the women take over and break your heart. (AT) December 24

Man On The MoonJim Carrey makes a rather Deppian career move: incarnating the late and maybe great Andy Kaufman. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, directed by Milos Forman, and costarring Courtney Love, Christopher Lloyd (as himself?), and Paul Giamatti as Bob Zmuda, i.e., the Other Tony Clifton. (MA) December 25


Freak-Load Bullets

Plunkett and MacleaneWhiz-kid music video director Jake Scott (son of Ridley) overlights the 18th century, with Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller as highwaymen. There have never been enough movies about highwaymen. (MA) October 1

Boys Don't CryFor more than a year Brandon Teena charmed the young women of a small Nebraska town; even those closest to him claimed they didn't know Brandon was a woman passing as a man. Kimberly Pierce directs newcomer Hilary Swank and a fabulous supporting cast that includes Chloe Sevigny, Alison Folland, and Brendan Sexton III in a fictional version of this fascinating piece of Americana. (AT) October 8

WhiteboysMidwestern 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 ClubBody 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 Straight StoryDavid 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 MalkovichJohn 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 NightBest 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 MovieChris 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 AffairDirector 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 ZoneAdapted 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 InterruptedOne 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 GateRoman 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. DeathErrol 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 LiarIf 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 HeightsJust 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 AshesGood 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 LowdownWoody 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 MileStephen 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

Snow Falling on CedarsThe noble bestseller with the beautiful cover design gets Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, James Cromwell (as the judge, right?), and Shine director Scott Hicks. Courtroom suspense, tears, revelations, interracial romance, the whole megillah. (MA) December 22

The Talented Mr. Ripley Anthony Minghella will probably bring more taste and restraint to Patricia Highsmith's insidious pulper than it requires, the bouncy Mediterranean vibe that made Rene Clement's Purple Noon such a pleasure can't be recaptured, and Matt Damon may be twice the actor of Alain Delon, but he's half the star. Still, handicapping aside, it could cook. (MA) December 24

Any Given SundayOliver Stone does his high-pressure, frantic thing on pro football, with Al Pacino as a tired coach and Dennis Quaid as an aging QB. We're getting an eye-ache just thinking about it. (MA) December 25

Hanging UpThere is something worse than being alone, depressed, strung-out, and broke at Christmas time, and its name is Nora. We're supposed to believe that Meg Ryan is the daughter of Walter Matthau— as if Matthau wouldn't have to mate with the goddess Athena and then still be extremely lucky with the gene selection for that to happen. Diane Keaton (who directs the Ephron sisters' script) and Lisa Kudrow also belong to the family. You'll have too many gifts to buy or pills to choke down to care. (MA) December 25

The HurricaneNorman Jewison reverts to disingenuous-white- Canadian-director- doing-racial-melodrama mode with this biography of Rubin Carter, but Denzel takes the lead. (MA) December 29


Killing You Softly with Song Interludes

For The Love of the GameThe world has gone mad: Sam Raimi directs a mushy Kevin Costner romance. Next, David Lynch will get a G rating. (MA) September 17

Random HeartsHarrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas play a cop and a politico who get together after their philandering spouses die in the same plane crash. Count the shots in which they just stare at each other, not saying what director Sydney Pollack thinks we know they're thinking anyway. (MA) October 8

The Story Of UsBruce Willis works through his Demi-divorce on film; he and Michelle Pfeiffer suffer through a separation after 15 years of marriage; antics ensue. Rob Reiner directed, which is a lot like Nora but balder. (MA) October 15

Anywhere But HereMona Simpson's prime-cut novel gets the trembling-upper-lip treatment from scattershot director Wayne Wang, but Susan Sarandon is the nomadic Mom and Natalie Portman is the daughter, so it may kick cheek. (MA) October 22

Crazy in AlabamaAntonio Banderas directs— DIRECTS— Melanie Griffith— MELANIE GRIFFITH— as an eccentric Southern housewife— AN ECCENTRIC SOUTHERN HOUSEWIFE— who kills her husband and goes to Hollywood. (MA) October 22

Dreaming of Joseph LeesA Somerset melodrama about a young woman prone to bad romantic choices and hopeless pining. Rupert Graves, understated as the title character, can't coax this hysteric off its chosen ledge. (JW) October 29

Music of the HeartThe heart bleeds for poor Meryl Streep, resorting again and again in her forties to calculated treacle like this cockle-warmer about East Harlem violin instructor Roberta Guaspari. Someone get her Sarandon's or Russo's agent. (MA) October 29

Daddy and ThemActor-director-writer-caterer Billy Bob Thornton goes back to Arkansas and cooks up a little down-home romance, alcoholism, and family warfare for Christmas. (MA) December 23


Dependies, Stand Your Ground!

The Minus ManBlade Runner scripter Hampton Fancher comes out of the woods with this mysterious-stranger oddity and a great cast: Owen Wilson, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl, and a game, if-Jewel-can-do-it Sheryl Crow. (MA) September 10

Splendor Gregg Araki's loose (presumably very loose) retread of Design for Living, with Matt Keeslar, Johnathan Schaech, and Kathleen Robertson trying to work out a mutually satisfying living arrangement. (DL) September 17

Sugar TownThe L.A. music scene provides the setting for Allison Anders's somewhat satiric comedy about a tangle of women, each of whom is desperately trying to get ahead or cling to what she's got. (AT) September 17

DeterrenceStranded in a diner, the president (Kevin Pollak, as the first Jewish president) calls out WW III. Sounds like Rod Serling wrote it for a TV series with no budget. (MA) October 1

Happy, TexasRedneck crooks Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam masquerade as a gay couple in suburban Texas. Worth it for the casting alone. A Sundance fave, whatever that means. (MA) October 1

Joe the KingFrank Whaley writes and directs, as fading young character actors are wont to do after Oliver Stone has moved on, but this semiautobiographical stare into a hellish childhood is roughly twice as good as it should have been. (MA) October 22

Felicia's JourneyPsycho and Peeping Tom are the antecedents for Atom Egoyan's adaptation of William Trevor's novel, about an innocent Irish teenager who travels to England in search of the boyfriend who did her wrong. (AT) November 12

TumbleweedsJanet McTeer proves herself as mesmerizing onscreen as she is onstage in Gavin O'Connor's road movie about a woman and her daughter on the run from one bad relationship after another. (AT) November 19


Do They Still Make Movies in Other Countries?

EarthSince this account of the 1947 Partition of India is seen through the eyes of a small, polio-stricken girl, one hopes that Deepa Mehta's follow-up to Fire— controversial in Mehta's native India for its lesbian romance— doesn't stumble into the same sentimental traps as its predecessor. (JW) September 10

RomanceCatherine Breillat's strange combo of hardcore and theoretical sex is a conversation piece and then some. When the man in her bed plays hard to get, Breillat's heroine embarks on a series of more or less masochistic adventures. (AT) September 17

L'EnnuiCharles Berling (as tortured as usual) and Sophie Guillemin (remarkably unselfconscious) star in Cedric Kahn's astute adaptation of a Moravia novel. (DL) October 8

The GrandfatherAn elderly man returns to his homeland, Spain, after the death of his son, who has left a note stating that one of his daughters is illegitimate. Mawkish, but not sticky enough to cling to Academy voters' hearts: Benigni beat out The Grandfather for Best Foreign Film last year. (JW) October 8

Same Old SongAlain Resnais's Dennis Potter tribute. Lots of "popular French songs." Not for all tastes. (DL) October 15

Show Me LoveRetitled from the infinitely catchier Fucking Amal, this rude, sweet, funny Swedish import, without trying too hard, shames the recent crop of gay coming-of-age flicks. (DL) October 22

Princess MononokeThis second-only-to-Titanic- in-Japan anime has been bouncing around the Miramax schedule for a few years now. It's closer to Speed Racer than Akira graphically, and thwarted in its mythomaniacal nuttiness by American dubbing— Billy Bob Thornton and Claire Danes are particularly distracting. (MA) October 29

The Legend of 1900This magical-realist fairy tale about an orphan who grows up on a trans-Atlantic ship to become a piano prodigy destined to battle keyboards with Jelly Roll Morton sounds fabulous, but it's Guiseppe Tornatore's movie, and he might make another Cinema Paradiso out of it. (MA) October 29

My Best FiendIn this documentary, Werner Herzog chronicles his relationship with his mad-professor muse and nemesis Klaus Kinski, star of many Herzog epics. (JW) November 5

Train of LifeNothing is what it seems in Radu Mihaileanu's tragicomedy about the inhabitants of an eastern European shtetl who attempt to escape deportation to the death camps by posing as Nazi soldiers. An antidote to Life Is Beautiful, it's tough and tender and lets no one off the hook. (AT) November 5

Moment of Innocence/The SilenceSimultaneous releases for Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 1996 masterwork and his most recent film, about a blind 10-year-old with a heightened sense of sound. (DL) Both November 10

The Emperor and the AssassinIn the 20th century B.C., a king sends his concubine (Gong Li) to a rival kingdom as a spy; she's supposed to enlist an assassin whom her ruler can conquer but instead falls in love. (JW) December 17

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