By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
CASA DE LOS BABYS
The season's worst title, and hardly top-shelf John Sayles by the look of it: Six fashionably semi-neurotic Western women (Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Mary Steenburgen) are stranded in a South American city waiting for the local bureaucracy to green-light their adoption requests.
Fearlessly experimental, Olivier Assayas's masterpiece cyber-trips through a virtual battlefield of manga-porn-hoarding multinationals before shape-shifting into the ungraspable, binary essence of itself. This first great film of the millennium defies all rational explanation, but it'll scorch a permanent space in your mental hard disk.
IN THIS WORLD
Michael Winterbottom channels the Iranian new wave in his Golden Bear-winning pseudo-doc that follows two young refugees on their journey from Pakistan to London. Stunning DV photography and uncute performances by the self-playing leads redeem what could've been a feature-length UNICEF promo.
TO BE AND TO HAVE
YOSSI & JAGGER
THE HUMAN STAIN
Philip Roth's Clintonian allegory becomes Miramax Oscar fodder. Anthony Hopkins plays a professor persecuted by the p.c. police; Nicole Kidman (affecting a woozy-floozy patois) is the unlikely keeper of his secret.
OUT OF TIME
THE SCHOOL OF ROCK
The combined psychosis of Richard Linklater (director), Mike White (screenwriter), and Jack Black (star) would seem to guarantee at least a few unhinged moments, even if the premise (an aspiring rocker becomes a substitute teacher) sounds a little too Daddy Day Care.
THE STATION AGENT
An audience hit at Sundance, Tom McCarthy's debut feature brings together a reclusive dwarf, a bereft painter, and a loquacious hot-dog vendor. The scenario is fatally cute, but the bullshit-free actingespecially from four-foot-five Peter Dinklagedefuses the land mines.
Celeb biopics can be a rip, and this is a humdinger: a police procedural based on the 1981 L.A. quadruple-murder case in which super-schlong porn-freak John Holmes was implicated. Directed by nobody James Cox, the upshot is impossible to forecast, but Val Kilmer, heading a massive cast as Holmes, will be something to see.
Providing a front-row seat to a hijacking of a Rio bus, Jose Padilha's psychologically acute doc simultaneously traces the poverty-to-crime trajectory that awaits too many of the City of God's street kids.
Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon play reunited childhood buddies in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's bestseller. Prizeless at Cannes, it nevertheless headlines this year's New York Film Festival and could be the studio
pic of the season.
THE FLOWER OF EVIL
Like a grandfather clock made of stainless steel, Claude Chabrol continues his annual factory production of lean, mean, sophisticated demi-noirs, this time focusing on a bourgeois family up to its earlobes in closeted skeletons and psychological affliction. Nathalie Baye is the matriarch and The Piano Teacher's Benoit Magimel the mature son.
An old Coen script returns to the brothers with a clutch of rewriters' names attached, pitting George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones against each other in a Chayefsky-meets-Tex Avery divorce-lawyer farce. Geoffrey Rush, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cedric the Entertainer grab the ludicrous dialogue and run.
It had to happen: Sylvia Plath gets her own biopic, ending in the oven. Who better to cast than Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia, and Blythe Danner as her imperious mom? The director is a rookie, and Daniel Craig (the worm in Road to Perdition) is a tepid choice for Ted Hughes, but today, if you're going to finally drive the Plath convertible all the way off the cliff, the lovably tragic Paltrow family should ride shotgun.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
The Tobe Hooper originalwhich grows nastier and more metaphorically explosive with each passing year, due to the all-too-convincing 1970s daylight as much as to the cannibal family vaudevillegets inevitably remade, with prettier teenagers.