A selective preview, compiled and written by Michael Atkinson, Ben Kenigsberg, Dennis Lim, and David Ng
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
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
Nicolas Philibert, often called the French Frederick Wiseman, trains his patient, unobtrusive eye on a rural schoolhouse. Dictation and arithmetic have never been this enthralling.
Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman are genus-crossed lovers in an ancient war between vampires and werewolves.
YOSSI & JAGGER
Gaysploitation goes global with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” romance from Israel.
Because rent control prevents them from getting her booted, Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore attempt to kill the batty old woman in the apartment upstairs. Directed by Danny DeVito.
The Rock and Seann William Scott hunt for hidden loot, scuffle with greasy psychopath Christopher Walken, and blow shit up in the process. Peter Berg directs.
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
Carl Franklin and Denzel Washington reunite for another detective story. Washington is a framed Florida police chief rushing to solve a double homicide before his colleagues discover he’s a suspect.
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 acting—especially from four-foot-five Peter Dinklage—defuses 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.
The favorite character actor of directors Andre Techiné and Claire Denis, Jacques Nolot directs and stars in this romantic drama about a day in the life of a Parisian porn house.
Be still our hearts—an honest-to-God John Grisham courtroom thriller. Good cast, though: Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz.
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 original—which 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 vaudeville—gets inevitably remade, with prettier teenagers.
Bruckheimer-Schumacher’s Erin Brockovich, sort of. The true story of the titular journalist (Cate Blanchett), who exposed the Dublin organized-crime scene until her murder in 1996.
IN THE CUT
Perhaps the only director capable of giving Meg Ryan her long-overdue career makeover, Jane Campion returns with a psychosexual thriller about a writer who becomes involved with a homicide detective. Rumor has it the rom-com queen gets very naked with Mark Ruffalo.
The Long Bow Group’s Tiananmen Square chronicle, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, was one of the most important documentaries of the ’90s; this time, the filmmakers take on the no less enduring trauma of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In his Columbine-inspired Palme d’Or winner, Gus Van Sant finds a clearer thematic use for the formal experimentation of Gerry: Shooting mostly in shallow focus, often in extended tracking shots, he expertly approximates the feel of walking through high school in an oblivious haze.
Mathieu Kassovitz’s first English-language film features Halle Berry as a psychiatrist (!) who wakes up to find she’s a patient in her own mental hospital. The last time a French director went this Hollywood, the result was Alien: Resurrection.
THE SINGING DETECTIVE
Compression (to under two hours) and relocation (to Eisenhower’s America) do no favors for Dennis Potter’s metafictional Möbius of a miniseries, but Robert Downey Jr. digs into his psoriatic role with typical relish.
Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola, USA) returns to a detention-center setting, following two girls, inmates at Waxtler’s Children Center in Maryland, over three years.
The New Republic‘s fallen wunderkind Stephen Glass gets his biopic close-up, with Hayden Christensen as the fabricator par excellence. Next up, Derek Luke in Caught: The Jayson Blair Story.
THE MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS
Are we still in the game?
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED
Directors Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain set out to profile Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and ended up filming a coup.
IN MY SKIN
In Marina de Van’s body-horror tour de force, self-mutilation is not (as in so many other movies) a self-esteem issue but an expression of existential panic and extreme corporeal alienation. Witty, beautiful, terrifying, heartbreaking, at times almost unwatchable, it’s as gruesome and inspired a riff on the mind-body split as we’ve ever seen outside the Cronenberg oeuvre. One of the year’s best films, and the most exciting debut feature in ages.
OFF THE MAP
Campbell Scott’s Sundance-approved film is a coming-of-age story about a young girl in New Mexico (Valentina d’Angelis) learning how to live with her father’s depression and her mother’s eccentricities. Joan Allen and Sam Elliott play the parents.
Director Nathaniel Kahn undertakes a pilgrimage in search of the father he barely knew—renowned architect Louis Kahn, who died mysteriously some three decades ago, leaving behind three families.
MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
Patrick O’Brian’s all-consuming, habit-forming imperial sea saga runs 20 volumes, and here’s the first movie, 34 years after the book’s debut. With Russell Crowe as Aubrey, Paul Bettany as Maturin, and Peter Weir as possibly the best choice among Hollywood semi-hacks to capture the 1813 naval wars, the movie has a Swiss-cheese lifeboat’s chance of emerging faithful to O’Brian in any sense. But we’ll give it some rope.
“Of?” Alejandro González Iñárritu’s American debut. Naturally, it involves a freak accident that conjoins a terminal Sean Penn, a woebegone Naomi Watts, and a paroled Benicio Del Toro. González Iñárritu might be developing into a satirist of happenstance. But then, he might not.
William Macy plays a fortune-reversing loser in this old-Vegas anti-noir by writer-director Wayne Kramer (no, not the MC5 guitarist).
Ron Howard’s annual holiday-season bid for sainthood, in a genre he hasn’t ruined yet: the western. As a grudge-bearing woman and her crotchety father searching the prairie for a kidnapped granddaughter, Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones will doubtless be asked to personify archetypes, and provide pretentious counterpoint to The Searchers. Big yawn.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS
Denys Arcand’s crowd-pleaser follows up on the talky ensemble of his 1986 art fart, The Decline of the American Empire.
DR. SEUSS’ THE CAT IN THE HAT
You knew it was coming, after the chintz radiation of Ron Howard’s Grinch, and how in hell they will hyperextend this tiny toddler parable into a loud, garish, witless feature is, for now, a blessed mystery. Mike Myers stars, presumably under the personality-obscuring, foot-thick layer of makeup that helped reap the Grinch’s deep-nine figures.
THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE
If Jacques Tati had made an animated feature, it would’ve looked something like this. Director Sylvain Chomet assembles a panoply of mute, anamorphically distended caricatures and sets them loose in the most impressive fantasy megalopolis since Babe: Pig in the City.
Terry Zwigoff, taking a break from sophisticated-underground-comic-ness, adapts another old Coen brothers script, about two bandits (Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac) posing as a mall Santa and his elf, and the eight-year-old who teaches them the error of their ways. Hopefully, it’s more original than it sounds.
Argentine new wave key player Pablo Trapero follows up the underseen Crane World with a police-corruption drama. A country yokel tries to make it as a cop in the big city.
In Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical film (emphasis, presumably, on the “semi”—it’s set in the present day), a family of Irish immigrants learns to get by in New York.
In this adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel, Yale students time-warp back to France, 1357, to collect their history professor. Richard Donner directs.
THE LAST SAMURAI
Tom Cruise is a Civil War warrior gone to Japan to help the emperor combat renegade samurai, but eventually he defects over to the cause of the honorable lone wolves instead. Lavish Oscar bait directed by Ed “0-for-6” Zwick in a post-Crouching Tiger world.
December 5, 12, and 19
Belgian director Lucas Belvaux tells three synchronous, interlocking stories in three movies, each with an assigned genre—thriller (On the Run), comedy (An Amazing Couple), and melodrama (After the Life). Although the triptych eventually acquires the warm familiarity of a good miniseries, it’s hard not to wish that Belvaux had further elaborated any one episode.
Documentary about an American power company’s efforts to run a utility business in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, where, initially, almost no one was willing to pay for electricity.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING
The new biopic craze is getting certifiably out of hand, with Colin Firth as Vermeer! Scarlet Johansson is the eponymous subject, and the director is a BBC vet.
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE
Nancy Meyers orchestrates a love triangle among playboy Jack Nicholson, playwright Diane Keaton, and, um, doctor Keanu Reeves.
STUCK ON YOU
Having helmed the key films of the last decade on a number of important medical issues—mental retardation (Dumb and Dumber), amputation (Kingpin), multiple personality disorder (Me, Myself & Irene), and even misplaced ejaculation (There’s Something About Mary)—the fearless Farrellys will now chronicle the travails of a pair of very brave conjoined twins (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear).
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
If a hobbit and an orc mated, would the offspring be a horc or an orbbit?
MONA LISA SMILE
Julia Roberts hem-alters Dead Poets Society to fit her slim figure, playing a free-spirited 1950s Wellesley teacher persecuted by conservative administrators, parents, and students. Next she’ll play Mary Baker Eddy.
A young man (Billy Crudup) reconstructs the life story of his ailing father (Albert Finney) from the old man’s grossly exaggerated tales. Ewan McGregor plays Finney as a younger man. Sounds schmaltzy, but Tim Burton’s directing.
John Lee Hancock takes the free rein he earned with The Rookie and goes hog wild in this massive historical nightmare, which will undoubtedly sing the praises of American heroes as they invade Mexican territory and slaughter thousands of Mexicans. Dennis Quaid is Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton is Davy Crockett, Jason Patric is Jim Bowie. Has to be better than John Wayne’s 1960 version, and even that got a Best Picture nomination.
Charles Frazier’s bestselling, award-vacuuming Civil War novel gets the I-wanna-nutha-Oscar Anthony Minghella treatment, with Jude Law as the tale’s Ulysses, and colorful scenery provided by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, and Natalie Portman. It will be grown-up, but will it be worth the ass-time?
The new, serious Neve Campbell enlists Robert Altman to helm her vanity project—an ensemble drama set in the world of professional ballet.
Philip K. Dick adaptations are either hit (Blade Runner, Minority Report) or miss-by-a-mile (Impostor). This one, directed by John Woo and starring Ben Affleck as a memory-deleted engineer, sounds more like the latter. J.Lo doesn’t co-star.
This PJ Hogan-directed adaptation—not to be confused with next year’s J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, about the writing of Peter Pan—sounds pretty straightforward. But Ludivine Sagnier as Tinkerbell? That makes us wish we hadn’t grown up.
THE FOG OF WAR
Subtitled Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara. Master bullshit-detector Errol Morris takes on 40 years of United States governmental sedition and chicanery by way of McNamara’s center-stage participation and his autumnal utterances of regret. Philip Glass provides aural anxiety.