Crouching Pussycats, Hidden Gems

Moviegoers Avoid Big-Budget Pitfalls

And so we emerge like depressed, tick-plagued groundhogs not from merely a winter of withering cinematic mediocrity but an entire year of moviegoing from which we've taken home with us little more than the conviction that if it's got Steven Soderbergh's name on it, it's safe to give an award to. OK, so there were imported high points amid the sweepings, but fewer than we have a right to—was this all the globe had to offer? Actually, no: The last three or more films by Godard, Hou, Kaurismäki, Sokurov, Makavejev, Gianni Amelio, Stanley Kwan, Miklos Jancso, Marta Meszaros, Jacques Doillon, and Bela Tarr—and a hundred less-renowned masters—have not tempted distributors who are otherwise plopping their bankrolls on 8 1/2 Women, Mifune, The Prince of Central Park, and Up at the Villa. As everyone has duly noted, 2000's domestic scene is best left to molder in the shallow roadside grave critics have dug for it. But having survived an ominous plague year with very little if any apocalyptic fall-of-cinema blather, we face the new season with prudence. Does the spring have more to promise?

Because we're dumb animals, we can hope, though the question might be what exactly do we hope for? Not the reliable dream-building filmgoers expected in the '40s, not the perspective-prisming epiphanies of the '60s and '70s; not much, it seems, beyond the privilege to be regarded as something other than lazy, flush adolescents, juiced for druglike bedlam and comic-book naïveté. 2001, by the looks of things, may not be much of an improvement, with the spring dominated by serial-killer procedurals (Along Came a Spider, 15 Minutes, etc.), gimmicky heist capers (The Mexican, Sexy Beast, etc.), and ill-advised westerns (Ring of Fire, Texas Rangers, etc.), topped off with the pickled cherry that promises to be Josie and the Pussycats.

But springtime isn't the traditional season for Bazooka Joe excess, nor is it the time for Oscar-priming, so the possibility remains that movies less stock-leveraged and more idiosyncratic may emerge. For sure, we've got a new union-rallying film from Ken Loach (Bread and Roses), the first film in nine years from Ousmane Sembene (Faat Kine), Michael Winterbottom taking on Hardy again (The Claim), Zhang Yimou taking up Crouching Tiger's Zhang Ziyi in a Gong-less world (The Road Home), and another gourmet crop from Iran: Jafar Panahi's acclaimed The Circle, Bahman Farmanara's gently funereal Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's wife/student Marziyeh Meshkini's The Day I Became a Woman. Likewise, Christopher Nolan's Mementoand Shinji Aoyama's Eurekahave already been hosannaed at festivals. What we cannot be so certain about, given their auteurs' hill-and-dale filmographies, are the new films by John Boorman (doing le Carré's The Tailor of Panama, which seems like somebody else's job), Woody Allen (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, whose title alone can make your eye veins redden) and James Ivory, who with The Golden Bowl returns to the Henry James waterhole like an old horse walking in circles. The optimists may be right this time, but the pessimists have the point spread—after all, Steven Seagal is back as well (Exit Wounds).

Often, the authentic deliveries come in reality-bite packages, and so both Ted Demme's Blowand Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gatesare generating anticipation, though they, like every 2001 film so far, muster very little saliva indeed next to the trailer for The Lord of the Rings(the first third of which opens in December). Even the Pearl Harborad, red white and goddamn blue as it is, is a stone-cold wimp, though the movie promises to at least prove again that if you spend $200 million on a movie and its marketing, you could probably make $100 million back and have it labeled a smash-hit. Sell your shares in Disney now, before Wall Street realizes that a headline in Varietyand a buck-fifty will get you on the subway.

No matter. If the prospect of a Kiss the Girlssequel or a James Van Der Beek oater doesn't make your weekend float, then act like the market you are by definition and don't go—force the industry to conform to your specs, not vice versa. Things can change. Every ticket sold to Josie and the Pussycatsis a Texan-like vote for new epic versions of Mork & Mindyor Land of the Lostor the already upcoming Scooby-Doo. Boycotting the deep-pocketed candidates amounts to a loud vote for the good guys. If you don't care about the contest, this Seagal's for you.


Listings compiled and written by Michael Atkinson, Dennis Lim, and Jessica Winter


TEN TO WATCH FOR

Memento
Second-time director Christopher Nolan ingeniously inverts and singlehandedly revitalizes neo-noir with this backward-spooling revenge drama, which plunges the audience mercilessly into the addled consciousness of its antihero (the astonishing Guy Pearce), a man with no short-term memory seeking his wife's killer. MARCH 16

Faat-Kine
Ousmane Sembene's new film again holds a steady microscope to the ever-changing political realities of Senegalese society as it juggles modern capitalism and tribal tradition. Focusing on a businesswoman and her struggle between economic success and familial stress, Sembene remains a filmmaker unambiguously dedicated to sociocultural truth, which puts him in august company. MARCH 28

The Day I Became a Woman
Marziyeh Meshkini, with a script cowritten with hubby Mohsen Mahkmalbaf, essays the societal cloud hanging over women in Iran, by way of three stories of three women at three ages. Could be preachy, but given the family and the buzz, we're there. APRIL 6

The Circle
Depicting the daily lives of women in Iran as an inescapable chamber of horrors, Jafar Panahi uses a fruitfully schematic framework to assemble a piece of raw, bracing social realism. Propelled by fatalist dread, the film is nonetheless a keening battle cry. APRIL 13

Freddy Got Fingered
Fledgling auteur Tom Green, in some danger of being upstaged by the Jackass boys, stages a father-son power struggle wherein his 30-year-old jobless slacker comes into conflict with fed-up dad Rip Torn. As oedipal domestic dramas go, could rival Chris Elliott's TV landmark Get a Life. APRIL 20

The Low Down
Twentysomething vacillation done right (and with more than a soupçon of nouvelle vague) by Brit first-timer Jamie Thraves. Fresh, loose-limbed, and determinedly off-the-cuff, but as a portrait of paralyzing indecision, it's painfully resonant. APRIL 20

Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story
One of Andy Warhol's most memorable and antiglamorous stars receives the E! treatment; it'll be a keeper if it's half as car-wreck fascinating as her fun-with-hypodermics turn in Chelsea Girls. APRIL 25

Eureka
At 217 minutes, Japanese director Shinji Aoyama's daringly patient road movie about the aftermath of a murderous bus hijacking is monumental in every sense of the word. As a profoundly empathic study of grief and reckoning, it belongs beside The Searchers, and its final scene is one of the most viscerally cathartic in memory. MAY 4

Under the Sand
François Ozon's ghost story of sorts, about a middle-aged woman who cannot accept the loss of her husband, is not only a tribute in close-ups to leading lady Charlotte Rampling's face but a beautifully detailed and psychologically acute departure—suggestive and sober where Ozon's previous films were emphatically unhinged. MAY

Ghost World
The most anticipated teen flick of the year. What better director to take on Daniel Clowes's cult serialized comic than Crumb's Terry Zwigoff (making his fiction-feature debut)? Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch play best friends navigating post-high-school turmoil. SPRING


MARCH

The Gleaners & I
Along with overlooked nouvelle-vague queen Agnès Varda's overdue career retro at Film Forum comes this new gonzo doc, in which she examines the current state of contemporary French poverty and scavenging, from the inside out. Premiered at the New York Film Festival. MARCH 7

The Dish
Aussie quirkfest from Rob Sitch, who directed the snide Disneyfied Ealing farce The Castle. This time, a Down Under town somehow gets involved in the Apollo 11 mission. MARCH 9

15 Minutes
More serial-killer hokum, unlikely to be elevated by disingenuous media-bashing or the pairing of homicide cop Robert De Niro and fire marshall Ed Burns. MARCH 9

Hit and Runway
A playwright and screenwriter team up in this gay/straight odd-couple movie, a genre that was dead even before Kiss Me Guido. MARCH 9

Joe Dirt
David Spade tracks down his birth parents, and discovers they're the whitest and trashiest of white trash. The one-liners will fly like badminton birdies. Christopher Walken and Dennis Miller provide support; Gary Busey and Joe Don Baker live out their stereotyped autumn years. MARCH 9

So Close to Paradise
Country boys in the big city fall for the same chanteuse. Director Wang Xiaoshuai shot the film in '95; this is the cut that made it past Chinese censors. MARCH 9

When Brendan Met Trudy
Roddy Doyle tries his hand again at the screenwriting trade—for the first time not adapting one of his own novels—with a romantic comedy about the courtship between a teacher (Brendan) and a thief (Trudy). MARCH 9

Exit Wounds
Newly defrosted Steven Seagal, as a trigger-happy detective, meets Tom Arnold in anger-management class (based on a true story, we guess) and they dismantle a cocaine ring with extreme prejudice. The War on Drugs was not won by Traffic, by God! MARCH 16

One Night at McCool's
Wreckage-trailing bombshell Liv Tyler prompts diverging Rashomon-ish recollections from Matt Dillon, John Goodman, and Paul Reiser. MARCH 16

Sordid Lives
Del Shores's forgotten play about a multigenerational family afflicted with theatrical quirks is now a soon-to-be-forgotten movie directed by Del Shores. We suppose Delta Burke, Bonnie Bedelia, and Beau Bridges didn't have anything better to do; we know for sure Olivia Newton-John didn't. MARCH 16

Town & Country
Warren Beatty mocks/self-appreciates his own reputation again; Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, and Charlton Heston round out the shuffleboard match. Speculating on the cast's total number of facelifts (Hawn counts for two, at least) could make the time pass. MARCH 16

Soul Survivors
The next teen-horror splotch, about surviving car wrecks and experiencing semi-supernatural portents thereafter. Casey Affleck, Luke Wilson, and American Beauty's Wes Bentley pay their rent. MARCH 16

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale
Tobias Schneebaum, 1950s painter-turned-anthropologist, spent a year with the Amarakaire (partaking in a cannibalistic ritual and taking tribesmen as his lovers). Now, almost 50 years after he returned to New York, filmmakers David and Laurie Shapiro profile him as he lectures to cruise tourists ogling New Guinea natives. MARCH 16

Say It Isn't So
Chris Klein and Heather Graham enjoy a sex-drenched courtship until discovering they're brother and sister, but then Chris discovers they're not, and must race cross-country to win Heather back. As improbably motivated road trips go, it sounds very Me, Myself & Irene, and since the Farrellys are producing, that can't be all bad. MARCH 16

The Brothers
A quartet of black buddies faces up to romantic reality in what its director rather recklessly dubs Refusing to Exhale. We're feeling muzzy already. MARCH 23

Heartbreakers
Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer "Love" Hewitt play mother-daughter con artists. Mom marries rich suckers; "girl on TV" serves as jailbait. MARCH 23

Amores Perros
A restless Mexican joyride centered on a devastating car crash, visited three times from three perspectives, all of them concerning beaten, lost, or otherwise harried dogs. A big hit at half a dozen fests last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu's debut could be a refreshing surprise, or it could be Snatch. MARCH 30

Someone Like You
Still gliding untarnished through one stinking tar pit of a movie after another, Ashley Judd inhabits a sex columnist studying the "male animal" (her character's name is Jane Goodale, yawn) and vacillating between overrefined twat Greg Kinnear and yummy wolfboy Hugh Jackman (type-casting alert!). MARCH 30

Spy Kids
Robert Rodriguez puts the "ulp" back in pulp once again with this cartoony, Hong Kong-inflected kids' adventure about can-do warrior kids saving their pro spook parents. Teri Hatcher, Alan Cumming, Cheech Marin, and Antonio Banderas are the mugging adults. MARCH 30

Deuces Wild
In anticipation of Scorsese's Gangs of New York, it seems, here's a post-teen gang-war epic set in the '50s, crammed with actors with atrophying résumés: Stephen Dorff, Matt Dillon, Fairuza Balk, Balthazar Getty, Brad Renfro, Max Perlich, Debbie Harry, etc. In the crowd, Blair Witch's Joshua Leonard proves he's not dead.

The Fast and the Furious
A Two Lane Blacktop for the new millennium? Aptly named Vin Diesel and Jolie-in-waiting girlfighter Michelle Rodriguez hop behind the wheel for this go-speed-racer saga, from the giddy braintrust that brought you guilty faves Cruel Intentions and The Skulls.

The Man Who Cried
Having somehow assembled Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett, and John Turturro, Sally Potter proceeds to neutralize their collective charisma in this tale of a Russian Jewish singer (Ricci) in prewar Paris. Never one to shy from a vanity train wreck, the director provides Ricci's singing voice.


APRIL

All Access Front Row. Backstage. Live!
IMAX extravaganza giganticizes Mary J. Blige, Kid Rock, Macy Gray, Sting, and George Clinton—when does he get his own damn IMAX movie? APRIL 6

Beautiful Creatures
In this pseudo-feminist Brit caper, Rachel Weisz and Susan Lynch escape abusive relationships and go on a murderous rampage. APRIL 6

Blow
The Hollywood coke binge continues with Ted Demme's period saga. Johnny Depp stars as dealer George Jung, who put Colombian cartels in touch with the U.S. market in the '70s. APRIL 6

Get Over It
Teen romance with three-word title but no Freddie Prinze Jr! Some kid called Ben Foster fills in. APRIL 6

On Hostile Ground
Pro-choice doc helmed from the perspective of several abortion providers, with voiceover by Julianne Moore. APRIL 6

Chopper
Fictionalized portrait of Mark "Chopper" Reid, notorious Australian psychopath, folk hero, and bestselling author. Stand-up comic Eric Bana's powerhouse performance holds it together. APRIL 11

Bridget Jones's Diary
No doubt a precursor to the inevitable Ally McBeal feature, the U.K.'s own dancing baby gets her movie, though nobody can humanize and humorize infantile regression like Renée Zellweger. Hugh Grant plays the Cleaver (natch); Colin Firth is Darcy (again). APRIL 13

Along Came a Spider
Morgan Freeman reprises his role as the serial-killer-hunting detective-psychologist from Kiss the Girls. Ashley Judd pulled a Jodie, so you're stuck with Penelope Ann Miller and Monica Potter. APRIL 13

Lakeboat
We never thought we'd miss David Mamet's nasty man's man shoutfests, but then he decided he was a master of light comedy. Here, underemployed Joe Mantegna attempts to enforce order over the non sequitur puns and worshipfully affectless performances. APRIL 13

Unconditional Love
Leave it to Aussie camp counselors P.J. Hogan and Jocelyn Moorhouse to come up with this beaut: Jonathan Pryce stars as a Tom Jones-style crooner who gets himself shot; nutty fan Kathy Bates and grieving lover Rupert Everett team up to find the killer. Julie Andrews shows up as herself, as does . . . Barry Manilow. APRIL 13

Shadow Magic
Silent movies come to China. Jared Harris stars in director Ann Hu's (and Sony Pictures Classics') bid to crack the Paradiso/Postino market. APRIL 16

The Center of the World
Wayne Wang and Paul Auster reteam (and Miranda July shares a story credit?!) for this supposedly explicit DV feature about a Silicon Valley geek (Boys Don't Cry's Peter Sarsgaard) who takes off for a Vegas long weekend with a stripper (Molly Parker). APRIL 20

The Charcoal People
Chronicle of the people directly responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest—the Brazilian migrant workers, prey of lung disease and malnutrition, who barely eke out a living by tearing down trees for the pig-iron and steel industries. APRIL 20

The Glass House
Teen adoptees Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan begin to suspect that new parents Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard might be responsible for their birth parents' deaths. Written by thriller hack Wesley Strick. APRIL 20

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine
Banned Iranian filmmaker Bahman Farmanara makes a film about his own rather desultory attempts to make a film about his own imminent death and funeral, maintaining the public ruse that it's a film about Iranian funeral rites for Japanese television. Formally tame but filled with exhausted bonhomie. Another NYFF straggler. APRIL 20

The Claim
Scarily prolific Brit Michael Winterbottom tosses off yet another one. Peter Mullan and Sarah Polley star in this Faustian Yukon gold-rush drama; Nastassja Kinski and Milla Jovovich try not to ruin too many takes. APRIL 27

The End of the Road
Deadheads reconsider their life-style on-camera, after violence and overcrowding force the first cancellation of a Grateful Dead show in 30 years (during the summer of 1995). Of course, then Jerry died and turned them all into peace-loving Phishheads. APRIL 27

The Forsaken
A traveler picks up a hitchhiker, and—what else—the guy turns out to be a warrior battling road-tripping vampires. Starring nobody. APRIL 27

The Luzhin Defence
Antonia's Line's Marleen Gorris goes for the international prestige project and adapts Nabokov, with bizarrely cast John Turturro and Stuart Wilson as 1920s European chess masters facing off, and Emily Watson as the love interest. Not Nabokov's best-known novel for a reason. APRIL 27

The Princess and the Warrior
German showboater Tom Tykwer follows up the breakneck Run Lola Run with an ostentatiously languid and ponderously cosmic romance between a psychiatric nurse and a weepy ex-soldier. APRIL 27

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Shakespeare in Love's John Madden returns with more amour fou, this set on a Greek island during WWII, where Italian officer Nicolas Cage falls for the wife (Penelope Cruz) of local fisherman Christian Bale. Who knows, but the casting and title do not bode well.

Josie and the Pussycats
The prospect of this is like the hot jaws of hell opening and geysering a hundred thousand raw torments upon us. As a Rachael Leigh Cook/ Tara Reid/Rosario Dawson movie, it's enough to shame us all into willow-switch penitence. Here's five-to-one the cartoons prove superior, particularly the music.

The King Is Alive
Dogma 4: A bus breaks down in the middle of an African desert, and a tour group stages King Lear while waiting for the inevitable freakout. The actors—including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer, and Bruce Davison—are alternately humiliated and overindulged.

Maybe Baby
Blackadder vet Ben Elton drives this Brit comedy about ardent couple Joely Richardson and Hugh Laurie trying to conceive a child.

Russian Doll
Wistful rom-com schmaltz from Australia, in which dumped and lonely private dick Hugo Weaving agrees to be the beard and marry his friend's Russian mistress so she can stay in the country. Antics and mush ensue.

With a Friend Like Harry . . .
Beginning as a hilariously claustrophobic portrait of familial tedium and class tension, this French Hitchcock derivative soon devolves into programmatic schlock provocation, as a creepy Pupkin type murderously insinuates him-self into the life of his too-patient childhood friend.


MAY

Moulin Rouge
Baz Luhrmann's doubtlessly garish musical is not a remake of John Huston's biopic, but it is set in fin-de-siècle Montmartre—where poet Ewan McGregor falls for courtesan Nicole Kidman—and (in a stroke of genius or madness) features John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec. MAY 4

Sidewalks of New York
Ed Burns is back with his particularly forgettable brand of trash-talking romance, this time sans ex-squeeze Maxine Bahns and featuring one-time honey Heather Graham. Stanley Tucci and Brittany Murphy round out the cute love stories, which are punctuated by faux street interviews. Let's hope Burns doesn't fall in love with Madonna next. MAY 4

The Man Who Bought Mustique
Documentary about the Scottish lord who bought a Caribbean island and turned it into a stomping ground for the fabulous and filthy rich. MAY 9

The Mummy Returns
Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and director-writer Stephen Sommers are all back, since every movie called The Mummy must by law have a string of increasingly tiresome sequels. MAY 11

startup.com
Jehane Noujaim and War Room codirector Chris Hegedus follow a new-media company from hubristic start to backstabbing finish. Un-avoidably insufferable protagonists notwithstanding, a patient, crafty piece of verité doc-making. MAY 11

Bread and Roses
Ken Loach goes American, training his distinctive guns on a pair of South American sisters working in L.A. as janitors who decide to unionize. Adrien Brody shows up as a sympathetic West Coaster. If Loach stays at the top of his game, it'll be an L.A. we haven't seen in movies before. MAY 18

Cheaters
Another collegiate melodrama; we hope it's a metamovie wherein the filmmakers explore the impossibility of making a teen genre flick that doesn't plagiarize other teen genre flicks. MAY 18

Petits Frères
Jacques Doillon brings his trademark—naturalistic kid performances—to the banlieu genre with this story of a 13-year-old and her missing pitbull in the Paris projects. MAY 18

Shrek
The Antz animators return with the tale of a big green swamp ogre. The lineup of voices is impressive (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz), though that didn't do Titan A.E. any good. MAY 18

Our Song
Three best girlfriends, one hot summer in Brooklyn—Jim McKay's second film has been likened to none other than Olivier Assayas's coming-of-age benchmark Cold Water. MAY 23

Pearl Harbor
What, now Michael Bay wants an Oscar? He certainly wants to be James Cameron, turning the eponymous attack into a Titanic-sized romance and trying to one-up From Here to Eternity in the process. MAY 28

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
New Woody, for anyone who still cares. Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, and Elizabeth Berkley evidently do.

Fast Food Fast Women
Depressing-cute New York indie Amos Kolleck hits the bricks again, essaying loneliness and missed connections between Jamie Harris (Jared's brother), Lonette McKee, Mark Margolis, Louise Lasser, and others.

Himalaya
The directorial debut of National Geographic photographer Eric Valli (and the first Nepalese entry for the foreign-language Oscar) uses a mostly nonpro cast to depict a power struggle in a Tibetan mountain village.

The Road Home
Zhang Yimou continues in sentimental neorealist mode, with this tale of a peasant girl (Crouching Tiger's Zhang Ziyi) and her utter devotion to the local schoolmaster.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
A Donald Westlake novel about an argument over a lucky ring between a wealthy schmo (Danny DeVito) and the burglar that tries to rip him off (Martin Lawrence) gets the aim-low, pay-per-view treatment, complete with William Fichtner and Nora Dunn stealing scenes.


SPRING

Born Romantic
Yet another intersecting-multithread relationship movie—do they teach these in scriptwriting seminars?—by Brit newcomer/Three Coins in the Fountain fan David Kane, and starring Jane Horrocks, Olivia Williams, Catherine McCormack, Craig Ferguson (not on the writing team, thank God), Adrian Lester, and, briefly, Ian Hart.

Just Visiting
For the English-language remake of a 1993 French hit, Jean Reno reprises his role as a nobleman transported from 12th-century France to present-day Chicago; Christina Applegate and Tara Reid are somehow embroiled.

Ring of Fire
The Johnny Cash tune presumably gets trotted out again, in this rodeo-circuit comedy written by James ("son of Robert") Redford. Daryl Hannah, Molly Ringwald, and Kiefer Sutherland try to recapture the '80s.

The Third Wheel
A first date is ruined when a homeless man tags along. With Luke Wilson, Denise Richards, and—together again under the Miramax banner—Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Wakin' Up in Reno
Or Kalifornia 2? Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron are crazy in love, but married respectively to Natasha Richardson and Patrick Swayze. As people in movies are wont to do, they all go on a long car trip together. (And then, we presume, Juliette Lewis shoots them all dead.)


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