What we’ve seen this year has been an all-out, unprecedented siege by independent filmmakers—aided and abetted by laissez-faire distributors and exhibitors—an assault upon the present administration, timed for campaign body blows and so pervasive as to seem coordinated. Not even Nixon was faced with such shock and awe. Of course, Dubya would never see something as front-brain-demanding as a nonfiction film except in a straitjacket with eyes clamped open, Clockwork Orange–style. (While Bill Clinton claimed to love High Noon—an acerbic black-and-white critique of American self-interest made 40 years before he took office—Bush 2 has only expressed ardor for that beeriest and most mush-minded of late-Hollywood fantasies, Field of Dreams.) But having nearly 30 left-hook-swinging docs find theatrical release is akin to having the usually complacent popular media turn on you like a pent-up Siegfried & Roy jungle cat.
So, seatbelts, people: The almighty Year of Radical Movie Chic rolls thunderously onward. The major rockets, initially spurred into theaters by Michael Moore and his exploitation of the common media’s failure to inform their citizenry, may have already been launched by the end of summer’s dog days, but many of them will take the whole autumn to rain down upon the public consciousness, big city by big city. Waiting in the aisles, The Yes Men documents the titular cabal of progressive pranksters as they spoof the WTO in unsuspecting public forums, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst chronicles the germination of the Symbionese Liberation Army in another age of governmental oppression and homicidal ambition, and Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, stooping to praise the Democratic nominee rather than safely train a scope on neocon usury, might be going a bit too far.
And what is Jean-Luc Godard’s new mosaic, Notre Musique, if not politics as art? A characteristic, nonfiction statement of outrage, ardor, quixotism, and ethical reason, this breath of fresh autumnal air suggests that the new millennium might be JLG’s renascence—if only someone had had the programming foresight to retro the old man all election season long. Elsewhere, the subtexts are raging out of control. The teen-fluff farce First Daughter, despite its safe-to-assume awfulness, revisits the same queasy concern for the Bush daughters (or even the Kerry coeds) that David Mamet so mercilessly exercised earlier in the year with Spartan. In a different camp altogether Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police slams both interventionist imperialism and Orwellian martial power with the bobble-heads of Thunderbirds-style puppet animation. Think of it as a counterweight to Alexander‘s un-Troy-like endorsement of cut-and-kill.
If subliminal critique won’t rankle the Stupid White Men, maybe sex will: Gods and Monsters‘ Bill Condon has manufactured the biopic Kinsey, with Liam Neeson’s Dr. Alfred Kinsey bucking Eisenhower-era propriety by investigating how, why, and what people fuck—here’s to hoping the movie’s more fun than Kinsey’s work. And barring all else, we can turn to Pedro Almodóvar, whose Bad Education is his most provocative, and his most explicitly gay, film in years, a mirrored hall of movies and memory which also, not incidentally, excoriates the Catholic priesthood.
Just to hammer the point home, Film Forum is going great guns subversive in its retro-revivals, spending the fall getting all ired-up again at Gillo (The Battle of Algiers) Pontecorvo’s Burn! (1969), in which Marlon Brando plays out the legend of ultra-colonialist William Walker; Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980), a profligate epic supposedly damned for its abundance instead of its resoundingly seditionist thrust; and Stanley Kubrick’s beloved Dr. Strangelove (1964), still the most daring vision of big-dick militarism ever put on film.
Compiled and written by David Blaylock, Ben Kenigsberg, and Joshua Land
A DIRTY SHAME
Well, well, well—it’s a real John Waters movie, replete with squirrel fucking, “criminally enlarged” hooters, and dirt fetishism. Tracey Ullman could plausibly be the next Divine, and we’ll never look at spring water the same way again.
For those who found the Mandy Moore vehicle Chasing Liberty too progressive, here’s the long-awaited Fox spin, with an (alas) chaste Katie Holmes in the title role. It’s a sign of the times that Michael Keaton seems a stalwart choice for president.
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Walter Salles (Central Station) tries to adapt the memoirs by Alberto Granado and Che Guevara from their trip through South America. More road movie than political rant, the film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the soon-to-be Cuban revolutionary.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
A failure approaching his 30th year of atrophy, pub crawler Shaun finds his hidden talent could be killing off the zombie population that is taking over London. This simple, amiable romantic comedy out-grossed 28 Days Later in its native England.
THE YES MEN
Their high jinks have enraged TV talking heads, the World Trade Organization, and George W. Bush, but the Yes Men still remain fairly anonymous. This documentary follows the intrepid activists as they continue trying to make a fool out of the globalization establishment.
This Sundance prizewinner follows the intertwining careers of ’60s-inspired bands the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Director Ondi Timoner followed both bands for seven years, giving the film a longitudinal scope that looks to distinguish it from other recent music docs.
GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY
The Year of the Political Documentary continues with this profile of the Massachusetts senator from Pumping Iron co-director (!!) and longtime Kerry friend George Butler. We can only hope Kerry’s career benefits as much as Arnold’s did.
I ♥ HUCKABEES
David O. Russell returns after a five-year absence with this “existential comedy” about a group of characters whose lives converge around the titular Wal-Mart–type store. The superlative cast includes Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, and, uh, Shania Twain.
Sticking it to Disney once again, DreamWorks does its own Finding Nemo, with voices by (deep breath) Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, and Martin Scorsese (!). As long as it’s scarier than Open Water we will be happy.
Most of the hype surrounding Jonathan Caouette’s homemade self-portrait has centered on its supposed budget, but it’s more than able to stand on its merits. The film’s quasi-experimental form includes documentary footage of Caouette’s troubled childhood and the sound mix seeks to re-create his state of mind.
Two white-collar drones accidentally build a machine that provides them with the secret of the universe. After only one viewing, it’s impossible to tell whether this Sundance prizewinner is a brattish stunt or a future cult phenomenon à la Donnie Darko, but its audacious temporal layering makes it a singular experience.
Even though The Washington Post has already proclaimed gay marriage the new abortion, this tale of an abortionist in 1950s England is sure to still pack people in, if solely on director Mike Leigh’s name value.
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
Antoine Fuqua directing a documentary about the blues? All the subtlety of producer Martin Scorsese’s PBS examination of the genre has been replaced by showy camera shots and overediting. Bruckheimer house band Aerosmith is on the same bill as B.B. King; need we say more?
Christian Bale stars as the NIN-ishly named Trevor Reznik in a thriller about an insomniac industrial worker losing his grip on reality. Directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9).
Widely regarded as a highlight of the recent Cannes festival, the latest film from legendary Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene tackles the subject of female circumcision.
Laura Linney effectively plays her You Can Count on Me character in Dylan Kidd’s follow-up to Rodger Dodger. Portraying a fussy middle-aged woman with a tepid sex life, she romances a young artist (Topher Grace) who eerily resembles her teenage crush.
SHALL WE DANCE?
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE
Inspired by the “Supermarionation” techniques in the original Thunderbirds, South Park‘s Trey Parker and Matt Stone originally wanted to do an all-puppet remake of The Day After Tomorrow. When that didn’t pan out, they settled for an only marginally less audacious alternative—a marionette show involving a terrorist-fighting, Bush-baiting international police force.
SEX IS COMEDY
The second Catherine Breillat film to arrive in New York theaters in as many months, this self-reflexive work about the difficulties of shooting a sex scene was actually made before the director’s Anatomy of Hell. If the title can be trusted, any laughs should be of the intended variety this time around.
Alexander Payne’s follow-up to About Schmidt features Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as best friends taking one last road trip before one’s wedding. With one character a failed writer and the other a past-his-prime actor, we suspect that existential issues lurk.
Having already completed four films in the Grudge series, Takashi Shimizu dilutes his elaborately nonsensical J-horror mythos once more—this time by directing an English-language remake. In the lead, Sarah Michelle Gellar attempts career resurrection.
After flexing his dramatic muscles opposite Tom Cruise in Collateral, Jamie Foxx goes it alone in this biopic of late soul-giant Ray Charles. The soundtrack is sure to be gold, but let’s hope this PG-13 flick doesn’t sugarcoat Brother Ray’s life. Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate, Proof of Life) directs.
David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) tries to create a 1970s B-movie aesthetic out of a Southern Gothic story of brothers running from their homicidal uncle.
At long last. Oliver Stone makes his return with a project that took as long to realize as his Born on the Fourth of July (and was at one point slated to star that film’s Tom Cruise). As the conqueror of the known world, Colin Farrell will get his chance to justify all the premature Brando comparisons.
In this sophomore feature by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), Nicole Kidman believes that a 10-year-old boy is her dead husband reincarnated. The rumor mill has it that the two even take a bath together. (Ewww.) On the bright side, co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière is a former Buñuel collaborator, and Lauren Bacall plays Kidman’s mom.
Answering the requests of those who considered Toy Story 2 and The Iron Giant among the best films of 1999, Pixar and director Brad Bird join forces with an animated adventure about a family of superheroes living in suburbia.
THE POLAR EXPRESS
A computer-animated feature extrapolated from live-action shooting, Robert Zemeckis’s adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s well-regarded bedtime story is sort of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit in reverse (or a 3-D cousin to Waking Life—take your pick). Could be nifty, but let’s hope it’s more than an extended demo tape.
With this biopic of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, Hollywood may (a) finally give Johnny Depp that long-deserved Oscar, and (b) make amends for Hook and last year’s Peter Pan.
Gods and Monsters‘ Bill Condon tackles the life of Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), whose pioneering studies on human sexuality ensured him a mention in intro psychology textbooks the world over. Laura Linney plays Mrs. Kinsey.
LA PETITE LILI
Claude Miller puts a modern Gallic spin on Chekhov’s The Seagull. In all likelihood, most of the film will just be more Ludivine Sagnier auditioning for Audrey Tautou’s scraps.
Possibly the sunniest film noir ever made, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a mystery involving the relationship between a young film director and a man who claims to be his boyhood love from a Catholic boarding school. And yes, there is a sexually abusive priest involved.
BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON
Just in time for Thanksgiving, a sequel to the 2001 adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel, starring a festively plump Renée Zellweger.
BEYOND THE SEA
Not yet finished ruining his career, Kevin Spacey directs himself in this biopic of crooner Bobby Darin. Here’s hoping that wife Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) catches him lifting weights and smoking pot in the garage, otherwise we’re in for two long hours of preparation to watch Darin die in that level of sanctimony only Spacey can attain.
Never at a loss for self-confidence, French master Jean-Luc Godard borrows the tripartite structure of his newest film, another Cannes favorite, from no less than Dante. Divided into sections entitled Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, the film reportedly deals with contemporary issues of war and terrorism.
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT
Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou reunite for a drama about a woman struggling to get to her fiancé during World War I. The Weinsteins filmed Cold Mountain in Romania—isn’t that enough to free us from a European remake?
GUERRILLA: THE TAKING OF PATTY HEARST
Documentarian Robert Stone looks at the Symbionese Liberation Army’s 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, turning her from an airy socialite into an iconic bank robber and then back to a pardoned airy socialite.
Mike Nichols directs this adaptation of Patrick Marber’s award-winning play about the sexual entanglements between two couples. Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman (as a stripper!).
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
Zhang Yimou’s intermittently dazzling martial arts encore doesn’t quite soar to the trippy heights of Hero: The loss of Chris Doyle is sorely felt, and the R&J melodramatics are, to put it mildly, conventional. But given the rest of Zhang’s post-Gong career, we’ll take what we can get.
THE LIFE AQUATIC
Bill Murray stars as an oceanographer in the fourth feature from Rushmore director Wes Anderson. We can’t quite figure out what the hell this movie’s about, but we’re psyched anyway.
Steven Soderbergh does penance for the box-office failure of Solaris. Could be worse.
Martin Scorsese takes his shot at Oscar glory with this Miramax-produced period epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a vengeful young man . . . wait, what? Oh, Howard Hughes. DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes.
LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
The popular Addams Family–meets–Harry Potter children’s series gets a big-screen treatment, with Jim Carrey hamming it up as Count Olaf (no, not Nosferatu‘s Count Orlok).
James L. Brooks directs this story about the language barrier between an immigrant housekeeper and her employers. Another prestige picture for Adam Sandler—Frank Coraci and Steven Brill must have been busy.
MEET THE FOCKERS
Having churned through countless rewrites, the once anticipated sequel to Meet the Parents comes with the uninspired casting of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the title characters. What was wrong with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara?
The Pulitzer Prize–winning play gets the Hollywood treatment with its story of budding romance between mathematicians Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal. John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) directs.
Newmarket spends some of their Christ money to prepare a controversy over The Passion of the Pederast. In the film, a convicted pedophile (Kevin Bacon) returns to the free world and falls in love with an adult woman (Kyra Sedgwick).
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
He could probably have had any director in Hollywood, and Lord Lloyd Webber settles on . . . Joel Schumacher. While the Batman & Robin director’s presence ensures a degree of dissonance in the mise-en-scène, the casting (Emmy Rossum as Christine, Dracula 2000‘s Gerard Butler as the Phantom) might make for an interesting duet.