Picture This

Thrillers! Satires! Westerns! Indies! Blockbusters! Sequels!

The fall fanfare has begun: Ready to rock your world, DreamWorks is positioning Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous—the quasi-autobiographical adventures of a teenage Rolling Stone correspondent at the tail end of the '60s—as this year's American Beauty. Not to be out-MTV'd, the New York Film Festival kicks off with its most controversial opening night ever—Lars von Trier's love-it-or-loathe-it Björk-scored musical tragedy Dancer in the Dark.

Björk isn't the only star descending to Earth: In Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock plays an FBI agent gone undercover in a New Jersey beauty contest—her disguise is surely less elaborate than the prosthetic whatsits worn by Jim Carrey in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In another sort of vehicle, Anna Deavere Smith is a one-woman riot in Twilight: Los Angeles. The 6th Day presents Arnold Schwarzenegger battling the sinister clone people (speaking of which, Sylvester Stallone has the Michael Caine role in the remake of the vintage Brit gangster flick Get Carter). Little Nicky casts Adam Sandler as a satanic imp—further proof that he may be the Antichrist whom Jerry Falwell claims walks among us. In any case, the Walter Reade has a retrospective devoted to the Neapolitan comic genius Totò, while the American Museum of the Moving Image is preparing to showcase the "Man With a Thousand Faces," Lon Chaney.

Cast Away reunites Tom Hanks with his Gump director Robert Zemeckis in a Robinson Crusoe story that is already being anxiously compared to Survivor. But then, America wouldn't be America without at least one more monstrously inflated old TV show preparing for its close-up. Is your pacemaker up to the spectacle of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as Charlie's Angels? And are any of them as tough as the boxer Michelle Rodriguez plays in Karyn Kusama's first feature, Girlfight? Indeed, Kusama's scrappy independent heads a veritable conga line of Sundance prizewinners, including the West Hollywood-set Broken Hearts Club; the upstate New York brother-sister drama You Can Count on Me; the Staten Island romance Two Family House; the Appalachian period piece Songcatcher; and Sound and Fury , a documentary on the politics of deafness that enlivened Park City with a postscreening public argument between its subjects.

Willem Dafoe as real vampire Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire
photo: Jean-Paul Kieffer
Willem Dafoe as real vampire Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire

Last year's Sundance sensation, The Blair Witch Project, lives on. The official sequel, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, directed by documentary-maker Joe Berlinger, follows Columbia's crypto-remake Urban Legends: Final Cut. Other upcoming cheap thrills include E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire, in which F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) directs a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) in his 1922 classic Nosferatu. (You can prepare by catching Nosferatu when it's shown with a new Alloy Orchestra score Halloween night at the Walter Reade.) Geoffrey Rush impersonates a different kind of monster, the marquis de Sade, in Philip Kaufman's Quills, with Kate Winslet as his so-called laundress.

On the auteur front, '50s-western director Budd Boetticher gets his due with an AMMI retro and an NYFF tribute. People who pay attention to directors will be looking forward to Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, a dope-smuggling saga that features Michael Douglas as an Ohio judge and Benicio Del Toro as a Mexican cop. Myself, I'm waiting to see what puppet animator Henry Selick (director of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) does with Monkeybone, a phantasmagorical Walpurgisnacht set in a cartoonist's coma-induced netherworld.

On the subject of hallucinatory fun, Miramax is set to rerelease A Hard Day's Night, and several of the old '60s "new waves" are being celebrated: The Brits occupy Film Forum, the Russians take over the Walter Reade, and the Czechs are scheduled for the BAMcinématek. Examples of the new Chinese cinema will be everywhere. Film Forum is opening Edward Yang's domestic epic Yi Yi in early October and Lou Ye's Shanghai-set voyeuristic mystery, Suzhou River, in November—the same month that BAM reprises last year's wildly successful Hou Hsiao-hsien retro. And if we're lucky, Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love will be released before Thanksgiving. Ang Lee's martial-arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—with Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh—is set to open in early December.

Other seasonal gifts might include Gus Van Sant's holiday heart-warmer Finding Forrester, David Mamet's Hollywood satire State and Main, and the comedy The Family Man, in which Nicolas Cage's Wall Street tiger wakes up in an alternate suburban universe married to Téa Leoni. Sounds great, although the Christmas marvel I'm looking forward to is Jacques Tati's comic masterpiece Playtime, screening at AMMI in the original 70mm. In another seasonal miracle of the technological kind, Film Forum has resurrected Miss Rita Hayworth in the long-unseen stereoscopic version of Miss Sadie Thompson, showing with the 3-D Three Stooges short Pardon My Backfire. If that doesn't pop your cork, try complaining to Arnold's clone.

Listings compiled and written by Michael Atkinson, Mark Holcomb, Dennis Lim, Nick Rutigliano, and Jessica Winter.

Ten To Watch For

Dancer in the Dark
(September 23)

Lars von Trier's demi-Dogme musical, with Cannes-feted Björk as a factory girl whose downtrodden, headed-to-death-row reality is leavened by pro-am song-and-dance seizures. Cutting the crowd in half is what von Trier does best, so this could be the chat movie of the fall.

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