By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Meteor showers didn't wipe out humankind, Times Square didn't go up in flames, but millennial panic definitely hit the movies, for better and worse. Parties weren't meant to last, and the embarrassment of riches poured upon grateful audiences in 1999 felt like an exhilarating rush of giddy, fatalist delirium just before an apocalyptic blackout: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy, The Blair Witch Project, Magnolia, Fight Cluband those were just the idiosyncratic sparklers that happened to be in English. The morning after that glorious bender, movies found themselves knocked up, hard used, and hungover, and still haven't pulled out of their dehydrated funk. The last 18 months have been among the most dismal in recent memory; the long-hovering threat of an industrywide strike goes a ways toward explaining the proliferation of bad films but not the scarcity of good ones.
Ticket buyers unfortunately can't stage their own strike, or more precisely, they won't. The gloomy summer of 2001 once again proved that moviegoing is an unbreakable addictiona disease or a magnificent obsession, depending on the season. The multiplex keeps a short leash on the optimistic, the idle, and (during the blockbuster months) any poor soul without a functional air-conditioning unit. What else could explain the $67.4 million first-weekend take for Rush Hour 2, the biggest-ever opening for a comedy? Chalk it up to a bunch of movie winos staring at an empty cabinet on a muggy Sunday morn and guzzling rubbing alcohol to ward off the DTs. We need our fix in any form.
Lucky for us, many of the virtuoso cocktail chemists of 1999 return with follow-up films this fall, so maybe the directors and screenwriters who sent off the last century in such high style can succeed in blasting open the next one. After confounding fans and detractors alike with his ambling John Deere detour The Straight Story, David Lynch resumes fire-walk-with-me stride in Mulholland Drive. Master show-off Michael Mann presents Ali, which could well be as shamelessly rousing and feverishly stylized as his last fast-and-loose biopic, The Insider (though with, um, Will Smith trying to fill Muhammad's boxing trunks, we're already a bit nervous). The redoubtable gang at Pixar, who set a new bar for digital animation with the witty, wistful pathos of Toy Story 2, try to top themselves yet again with Monsters, Inc. French troublemaker Catherine Breillat, who garnered plenty of ink for her succès de scandale, Romance, delivers Fat Girl, a sensation at this year's Berlin Film Festival. She's joined by her hopelessly romantic countryman Patrice Chéreau, who stripped his bereaved Parisians emotionally bare in Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and now raises the melodramatic stakes in the naked-in-all-senses Intimacy.
Hope springs eternal all over the autumn movie slate, and nowhere higher than for The Royal Tenenbaums: Director Wes Anderson and cowriter Owen Wilson, peerless architects of transcendent absurdist melancholia, add to their brief but so far spotless track record with the best ensemble cast of the season. One of their stars, Ben Stiller, finally emerges from his filmmaker's exile (dating back to The Cable Guy) with the male-model farrago Zoolander. Old reliables always worth a visit check in: Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York), Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's 11), the Coens (The Man Who Wasn't There), Jacques Rivette (Va Savoir), Richard Linklater (Tapeand Waking Life). But name brands aren't the whole story: Sundance critical favorites get a place at the table (In the Bedroom, Donnie Darko), and so do a pair of festival hits from current cinema hotbed Argentina (La Ciénaga, Burnt Money). There's no telling if yet another movie season will end up passed out drunk in a gutter somewhere, but no matterdetermined cinephiles will always take another chance on love. Here's a selective preview; bottoms up.
Ten to Watch For
Directing for the first time since the acutely misunderstood Cable Guy, Ben Stiller plays an over-the-hill fashion model who's brainwashed to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister. The premise sounds one-joke, but never underestimate Stiller's capacity for unhinged comedy and queasy psychodramatics.
Lucrecia Martel's slow-burning first feature focuses on the daily lives of two large families during a hot, torpid summer in a forlorn former resort town in rural Argentina.
David Lynch's best since Blue Velveta TV pilot dropped by ABC, then molded by the director into a stand-alone featureis a tender lesbian love story, a Hollywood cautionary fable, a seamy tale of professional disillusionment and shattered romanticism, and above all an inspired structural stunt.
Not just a Jack the Ripper gorefest but an adaptation (by the Hughes brothers) of Alan Moore's graphic-in-both-senses novel, an epic, obsessive postmortem of the Whitechapel murders. Johnny Depp plays the investigator; hopefully Ian Holm and Katrin Cartlidge cancel out Heather Graham.
All unairbrushed sex and unquiet desperation, Patrice Chéreau's anguished character-study posits loneliness as a permanent human conditionthe passionate grapplings of extraordinary leads Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox stand in stark contrast to hyperreal scenes of conversational disconnect and meltdown, achieving a tension that's cumulatively devastating.
At its best, Richard Kelly's overstuffed first feature (teen-angst lament, sci-fi Christ allegory, and '80s nostalgia piece all in one) is worthy of the magnificent Andersons, combining Wes's skewed underdog empathy and Paul Thomas's bravura multitasking.
Richard Linklater rewrites the rules and astounds again with this energized use of digital animation, which begins as a live-action, Slacker-like perambulation and ends up a fluid, computer-generated dream work. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Steven Soderbergh, and Dazed and Confused everyman Wiley Wiggins are all in the mix.
Hands down, the best debut feature of the year. Todd Field's adaptation of an Andre Dubus short story is a compassionate, beautifully observed study of bereavement, family dynamics, and vigilante justice. The actors (including Sissy Spacek and Nick Stahl) are uniformly superb; you won't see a more heartbreaking performance this year than Tom Wilkinson's.
Scorsese finally gets to do late-1800s New York (shot in Italy), via Herbert Asbury's deathless 1928 volume about the Dead Rabbits and so on. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis star; a virtual catalogue of old-Oirish pusses (Pete Postlethwaite, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly) join in.
After two astutely goofy, unexpectedly haunted comedies about friendship (Bottle Rocket and Rushmore), Wes Anderson plumbs a family of geniuses who include Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ben Stiller. The all-star cast might indicate that Anderson has gone Hollywood, but more likely it's Hollywood that's gone Wes.
THE GLASS HOUSE
This vintage '93 Hong Konger has already gone to video, but Miramax sees theater potential anyway. Directed by Matrix/Crouching Tiger choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping.
Cory McAbee's first feature, an oddball black-and-white musical space western in the grandest of punk-era, ultra-indie traditions.
Crime-caper farce involving a bomb in a suitcase, a 13-foot python, and a hallucinogenic toad. Barry Sonnenfeld directs, so it'll be cute and clunky.
Mariah Carey's aspiring-popstar '80s fable was postponed while she took like a minute off to eat ice cream and look at rainbows. All hope is not lost: A nervous breakdown, after all, could have turned The Wedding Planner into Spice World.
Kenneth Carlson's love letter to a high school football team from a small Ohio steel town has gotten the best advance word of any sports doc since Hoop Dreams.
SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK
Ed Burns is back with his forgettable brand of trash-talking romance, this time featuring one-time honey Heather Graham.
Rookie po-po Ethan Hawke gets trial-by-fire treatment when he starts work in the narcotics division of the LAPD. Denzel Washington gives noble speeches; Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Macy Gray contribute wake-up cameos.
DON'T SAY A WORD
TIME OF FAVOR
Joseph Cedar's Israeli melodrama demonstrates un-Gitai market savvy by stewing up military strife and romantic tragedy.
VA SAVOIR (WHO KNOWS?)
Jeanne Balibar plays a stage actress who returns to Paris and puts her love life in order. Straightforward by Jacques Rivette standards, but a treat nonethelessa spry, supple romantic farce handled with a lightness of touch directors a third of his age would kill for.
When Dr. Dre runs out of money, his friend Snoop Dogg advises him to get a job at the local car wash.
In his first feature since 1988's Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber documents just about anything and everything that interests him, including himself, models, freaks, himself, movie stars, models, himself, and gay icons.
John Cusack's slow drift into conventional leading-man terrain is troubling, especially when the vehicle (costarring Kate Beckinsale) is a high-concept heartclutcher about Destiny directed by Town & Country's Peter Chelsom.
Four white-collar Canadians bet who can stay inside their massive office park-cum-bedroom community the longest in Gary Burns's thin but drolly observed comedy.
The French title of Catherine Breillat's latest sexual forensics lesson is "My Sister!," which better evokes its bloody core: the hopelessly entangled bond between two siblings, one gorgeous and cruel, the other obese and almost frightfully stoic. If Breillat doesn't earn her shocker ending, she certainly etches the sisterly dynamic with ruthless precision, blurring the lines between love and hate until they become indistinguishable.
Laura Dern and William H. Macy play a Brooklyn couple mistakenly identified as Jews by local anti-Semites during World War II. Adapted from Arthur Miller's novel with a release timed to add luster to producer Michael Bloomberg's mayoral campaign.
The fall of the Wall opened up a lotof coveted real estate, and this doc chronicles the maneuverings and spats among dozens of international companies and architects during the building campaign that ensued.
Neighborhood capo Snoop Dogg gets whacked, nabe goes to shit, Snoopy's spirit returns to avenge his death and reverse gentrification.
ON THE LINE
RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS
TREMBLING BEFORE G-D
Sandi Simcha DuBowski's thoughtful documentary explores the ostracization and chronic identity crisis suffered by gay Orthodox Jews.
LIFE AS A HOUSE
Pretty much what you'd expect from a collaboration between the director of At First Sight and a writer of As Good as It Gets: Terminal cancer patient bonds with his rebellious teenage son.
Iain Softley essentially remakes Man Facing Southeast: Kevin Spacey is a mental-ward nutcase who claims to be an extraterrestrial, and doctor Jeff Bridges notices something magical going on with the other patients. Oy.
THE TOWN IS QUIET
WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?
In which Tsai Ming-liang explodes the family unit of his previous features. Tsai's reticent muse Lee Kang-sheng sells his dual-time wristwatch to a young woman before she leaves for Paris, and is thereafter mysteriously compelled to go around Taipei resetting all the clocks to Paris time. A witty, considered summation of the director's work to date.
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
More warped Americana from the Coensthis time, a quasi noir about unhappy marriages and botched criminal schemes in late-'40s small-town U.S.A., gorgeously photographed in luminous black-and-white and doused in phony melancholy.
MY FIRST MISTER
Gender-reversed Harold and Maude, except much less weird. Pierced goth chick Leelee Sobieski befriends paunchy clothing-store manager Albert Brooks, who should cut the treacle a little.
Richard Linklater's other film of the season, a quickie chamber piece with an Oleanna-ish scenario. Stuck in a dingy motel room, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard yap their way around a date rape that may or may not have happened.
Based on a deadly encounter between German police and a West African refugee in late-'80s Stuttgart, Frieder Schlaich's somber drama doubles as a showcase for two terrific actors: Isaach de Bankolé (Ghost Dog, Claire Denis's No Fear, No Die) and Eva Mattes (Fassbinder's Jail Bait).
THE CAT'S MEOW
Peter Bogdanovich returns from TV exile to film Steven Peros's goofy, speculative play about the death of silent-movie mogul Thomas Ince aboard the Hearst yacht. The casting alone makes it a must-see: Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin.
The Farrellys give Jack Black his own moviehe's a louse who's hypnotized into only seeing women's inner beauty. His destiny: Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit.
John Woo tries to one-up Spielberg and Bay in this WW II drama about Navajo soldiersused as code masters because their language couldn't be deciphered by the Japaneseand the Marines assigned to guard them. Nicolas Cage broods over Smoke Signals' Adam Beach.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE
Presold, predigested, practically preseenthe marketing budget alone could feed Africa for a year. Chris Columbus knows how to pander, so expect it and its sequels to haunt us for years.
THE WAY WE LAUGHED
Despite the cringe-inducing title (the Italian translates roughly to Therefore They Laughed), this new film by Gianni Amelio (his first released here since 1994's Lamerica) holds forth hope for the starved cinephile, taking on a Taviani-like fraternal epic about Sicilian brothers travelling to Turin in the '50s.
THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE
A pre-Revolutionary aristocrat is stripped of her title and compelled to steal a priceless necklace to restore her family's honor. Hilary Swank plays the lead, supported by the period outfits worn by Adrien Brody, Joely Richardson, Christopher Walken, and Jonathan Pryce.
Michael Mann could film the phone book and make it seem fresh, and Ali seems like perfect biopic material. Will Smith doesn't look anything like Ali, and the script's been rewritten more often than Smith's résumé. Jon Voight stars as Howard Cosell, presumably because Tony Shaloub was busy.
THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS
NO MAN'S LAND
Sure, on paper, it's just a Rat Pack heist-flick remake with high-wattage cast (Clooney, Pitt, Roberts), but Steven Soderbergh turns crime-movie clichés inside out better than any A-lister.
Junkie/ex-convict/playwright Miguel Piñero gets the lost-weekend treatment, with the disconcertingly strapping Benjamin Bratt in the lead.
Cameron Crowe gives Tom Cruise a chance to wear, if not a fat suit, then at least disfiguring makeup. The mystery of exactly how Penélope Cruz's magnetic loveliness has been chronically misplaced by Hollywood will doubtless grow deeper.
Hard to imagine that the cataract of speculation and anticipation online won't be more enjoyable for the faithful than the film(s) itself.
An anxious bourgie makes a substitute baby out of a tree root for his child-craving wife, only for the kid to mutate into a carnivorous monster in Jan Svankmajer's mostly live-action rumble. Flabby at 127 minutes, it still brims with splendid Svank requisites (orifices real and imagined; revolting close-ups of swampy food).
A friend of a Voice staffer broke his DVD player through compulsive zooming and rewinding on Tom Hanks's big backyard pissing scene in The Green Mile. No doubt that Frank Darabont's follow-up will prove just as queasily inspirational, with Jim Carrey as a blacklisted '50s screenwriter determined to make a new life in a small town.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND
With Russell Crowe in the lead, Ron Howard adapts Sylvia Nasar's excellent biography of schizophrenic game-theory prodigy John Forbes Nash Jr. Maybe the gimme-Oscar combo of math and emoting is preemptive (cf. Good Will Hunting), but the source material is impeccable.
THE SHIPPING NEWS
For a third year running, Miramax hitches their Academy cart behind Lasse Hallström and his homespun paeans to tolerance, this time taking the form of E. Annie Proulx's egregiously overpraised Booker Prize winner. As quixotic Quoyle, Kevin Spacey surely italicizes his American Beauty sadsack.
THE TIME MACHINE